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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 31

Genesis—How to be Read

Genesis—How to be Read.

In the light of this little parable you will see what is the nature of the reading which I would give to Genesis.

The purpose of the writer was to convey to a community of children, with a bias towards idolatry, a notion of certain great truths,—that God made the world, that He made man, that not the less did lie make woman, and of the same flesh and blood—an assertion of woman's equality which has been wanted in the East in every age,—that man sinned and needed a Saviour. And the lesson is given much after the manner in which I described the origin of the loaf of bread.

When I open the first chapters of Genesis, everything warns me that I have entered a region which, whatever it is, is not the region of matter-of-fact prose. There is a serpent who talks; the trees have magical qualities; the animals come to be named; there is a woman who is made from the rib of a living man. I find the most startling anthropomorphisms. The Creator works his week and rests his Sabbath; He deliberates, consults, considers His work and finds it good, talks familiarly with man, and "the voice of the Lord" is heard walking in the garden in the cool of the day." Is there any other example in literature of an apparatus of figure like this to which we would venture to give a literal use? Or if this stood anywhere else in the Bible should we venture so to use it? If we try to constrne literally, we are stopped by impossibilities. The serpent is a literal serpent, we are told, yet no one would contend that he literally eats dust. The serpent's head is to be bruised, and theologians agree that this is figure. So that we have a literal serpent with a figurative head, which is to be figuratively bruised by a figurative heel, which is figuratively to he bruised in its turn. In other words, our thoughtless attempt to dispense with common sense, and treat figures as though they were realities, is rebuked by the starting up in our path of absurdities and impossibilities.