Is a literal reading of the first chapter of Genesis necessary to our faith?
I think the discussion that followed was a good start for the first class. Our church has people from a wide range of backgrounds. There are people who believe that the 6 days of creation were literal. There are people who believe that evolution was God's mechanism for creating man. I think it's going to be an interesing study.
A few things that I didn't realize - the idea that the first chapter of Genesis may not be literal isn't a new idea.
Origen, the church father, scholar, and theologian who was born about 150 years after Jesus died, wrote:
Now who is there, pray, possessed of understanding, that will regard the statement as appropriate, that the first day, and the second, and the third, in which also both evening and morning are mentioned, existed without sun, and moon, and stars— the first day even without a sky? And who is found so ignorant as to suppose that God, as if He had been a husbandman, planted trees in paradise, in Eden towards the east, and a tree of life in it, i.e., a visible and palpable tree of wood, so that anyone eating of it with bodily teeth should obtain life, and, eating again of another tree, should come to the knowledge of good and evil? No one, I think, can doubt that the statement that God walked in the afternoon in paradise, and that Adam lay hid under a tree, is related figuratively in Scripture, that some mystical meaning may be indicated by it. (On First Principles, Book IV)Many medieval rabbis (and Torah scholars) considered the creation story to be symbolic rather than literal. From The Jewish Virtual Library:
Maimonides, one of the great rabbis of the Middle Ages, wrote that if science and Torah were misaligned, it was either because science was not understood or the Torah was misinterpreted. Maimonides argued that if science proved a point, then the finding should be accepted and scripture should be interpreted accordingly.This can be found in the The Guide to the Perplexed written by Maimonides. See also the Maimonides entry in the Stanford Philosophical Encyclopedia.