A flash of color caught my eavesdropping eye as the person next to me was flipping through a magazine. It was an advertisement, something about “Everything you need to know about the Bible.” At the top of the page in big white on red letters it said “BE AN INSTANT EXPERT.” Uh, wait; hold on! That’s all I could take in as the person rudely turned the page without my approval. When I got home, I did what every good researcher does, I googled it. It turns out, the advertisement was for a new Time Life book called Everything You Need to Know About the Bible: From Genesis to Revelation, Your Illustrated Guide. Then I did what any normal consumer does, I found it on Amazon.com. I’ll be the first to admit my Bible knowledge is a little weak, and if I can become an expert for $11.57, why not?
The Amazon page has its usual helpful “Look inside” feature, so I was able to take a gander. The book has beautiful illustrations, something you’d expect from Time Life. It starts out with a summary of the first four chapters of Genesis, hitting some of the high points. They explain the early belief in the cosmos as a sphere, with the dome containing the heavens, and the earth a flat disk floating on a sea. They speculate on the location of the Garden of Eden, and mention the boilerplate view that “more recent scholarship favors the theory that Moses or a later editor compiled the accounts in Genesis into a single book known as the Torah.”
It is in their account of Genesis Chapter 3 where things get interesting. They paraphrase some of the text, and actually quote the important verse 14-16 section (NRSV). They then summarize the chapter:
Genesis 3 manages to touch on each of these heavyweight philosophical issues:
• the origin of evil and its effect
• humans’ eventual triumph over evil
• the relationship of woman to man
• the origin of pain in childbirth
• the reason for toil
• the origin of death
• the origin of clothes, and why we wear them
• the reason for humans’ alienation from nature
• the source of humans’ alienation from God
• the origin of sacrificial worship
And these are just a few.
The book of Genesis, especially the first four chapters, provides a framework for articulating some of the deepest questions we have as human beings, where we come from, why we are here, and how we relate to one another and God.
I’m sure by now you’ve come to the same conclusion I have – they left out Jesus! No protoevangelium here. (They left out the Holy Trinity too.) The first three chapters of Genesis are a nice narrative that encourage us to philosophize on our origins and relationship to ourselves, the earth, and “God.” While the sneak preview ended with Chapter 4, I get the feeling that this book isn’t a Law and Gospel tour de force. Alas, I doubt my Bible knowledge is going to be advanced as much as I’d hoped, and I’m certainly not going to become an “instant expert,” at least not on salvific issues. Of course I already knew that. If you’re looking for beautiful illustrations, this might be your book. If you’re looking for what God wants you to know, you might want to start with The Layman’s Bible instead, i.e. the Catechism. Martin Luther reflected on his own “expert” status in his preface to the Large Catechism:
I am also a doctor and preacher, yea, as learned and experienced as all those may be who have such presumption and security; yet I do as a child who is being taught the Catechism, and every morning, and whenever I have time, I read and say, word for word, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, etc. And I must still read and study daily, and yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and am glad so to remain.
Lord help us to ever remain like Luther, humble disciples who will never, ever, be instant experts.