Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 30.djvu/411

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395
THE WEEK OF SEVEN DAYS.

seven ancient planets, will by some be regarded as objectionable, on the ground that it appears to conflict with what appears to such persons to be the literal interpretation of Holy Scripture. It may be said that the sacred writer plainly informs us that God created the universe, the planets included, in six days, and rested on the seventh, and that the number of these days can, therefore, have no dependence on the heavenly bodies which were created upon one of the days. And I quite admit that this kind of difficulty is prima facie very plausible; I have felt it strongly myself; I do not wonder that others should feel it. But it may be observed that, when we speak of the "literal interpretation" of this portion of Holy Scripture, we are using language which, when examined, has no definite meaning. The whole history of creation is necessarily supra-literal. "The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." "What literal meaning is there here? "God said, Let there be light, and there was light." How can this grand description be taken literally? "God said. Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." How can we assign to such transcendental language any sense which can properly be called literal? And so on throughout the whole creative history. Consequently the literal theory must be simply and completely given up, as in the very nature of things impossible; and the question arises, "What shall we put in its place? The answer seems to be, that such a picture or sketch of the origin of things was accorded to the sacred writer, and placed at the head of Holy Scripture, as was fitted to the comprehension of man, and fitted to introduce the subsequent portions of the "Word of God. The tenacity with which a large number of persons adhere to what they regard as the "literal meaning" of the first chapter of Genesis, proves with what wonderful skill the chapter has been written; but when we come to consider what the literal meaning of the phrase "literal meaning" is, we find that the words are in their nature totally inapplicable to such a composition as that with which we are dealing; and having realized this fact, we may, perhaps, find that there is another mode of interpretation which is more reasonable, more free from difficulties, and which yet deprives the sacred narrative of no particle of its meaning. To supply such a mode of interpretation is the purpose of this essay; if any of those who read it find that it has thrown light upon a dark subject, and assisted them to see their way through a difficulty connected with Holy Scripture, my purpose in writing it will have been abundantly accomplished.[1]Contemporary Review.

  1. Nothing that is here said contradicts the principle of St. Augustine's treatise, "De Genesi ad Litteram." The literal meaning, in St. Augustine's sense, is in antithesis to the spiritual or allegorical. I do not think that the great Christian philosopher would have found fault with the views contained in this paper.