Do the writings of the church fathers support a literalist interpretation of Genesis 1? Young earth creationists have maintained that they do. And it is sensible to look to the Fathers as a check against our modern biases.
But before enlisting the Fathers as ammunition in our contemporary Christian debates over creation and evolution, some cautions are in order. Are we correctly representing the Fathers and their concerns? Was Basil, for instance, advocating a literal interpretation in the modern sense? How can we avoid flattening the Fathers' thinking into an indexed source book in our quest for establishing their significance for contemporary Christianity?
Craig Allert notes the abuses of patristic texts and introduces the Fathers within their ancient context, since the patristic writings require careful interpretation in their own setting. What can we learn from a Basil or Theophilus, an Ephrem or Augustine, as they meditate and expound on themes in Genesis 1? How were they speaking to their own culture and the questions of their day? Might they actually have something to teach us about listening carefully to Scripture as we wrestle with the great axial questions of our own day?
Allert's study prods us to consider whether contemporary evangelicals, laudably seeking to be faithful to Scripture, may in fact be more bound to modernity in our reading of Genesis 1 than we realize. Here is a book that resets our understanding of early Christian interpretation and the contemporary conversation about Genesis 1.
BioLogos Books on Science and Christianity invite us to see the harmony between the sciences and biblical faith on issues including cosmology, biology, paleontology, evolution, human origins, the environment, and more.
"This book is a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand the unique features of patristic exegesis. Allert provides a judicious and much-needed defense against making the early Fathers conform to various conservative versions of interpreting Scripture. Using the Genesis creation account, the reader is invited to see that the ancients were far more imaginative and biblically minded than we credit them."
"This is a brave and much-needed book. A church that tries to ignore the Fathers of the church deprives itself of a valuable resource. Craig Allert seeks to show how attention to how the Fathers understood Genesis 1 deepens our own understanding of creation. He cuts through a lot of misunderstanding and ignorance of the Fathers enabling us to hear them once more. Professor Allert's proposal is not so much 'Back to the Fathers' as 'Forward with the Fathers.'"
"Navigating the first chapter of Genesis, especially in light of present-day controversies, is tricky business. Craig Allert's presentation of early Christian readings of this text will help readers to understand ancient perspectives and their applicability to present concerns."
"In this book Allert explains the concept of church father and their interpretations of Genesis, discusses the erroneous uses of the Fathers, and directs us to a fuller understanding of them. He treats Basil and Augustine in particular, especially Basil's homilies on Genesis. This book is an excellent antidote to fundamentalist and creationist misreadings of Genesis 1."
"Early Christian Readings of Genesis One is a welcome and needed call for more careful, rigorous use of the church fathers' views on creation. . . . Early Christian Readings of Genesis One helpfully draws attention to the complexity of patristic exegesis of Genesis, and calls us out into deeper waters than most of us have yet waded."
Part I: Understanding the Context
1. Who Are the Church Fathers, and Why Should I Care?
2. How Not to Read the Church Fathers
3. What Does "Literal" Mean? Patristic Exegesis in Context
Part II: Reading the Fathers
4. Basil the Literalist?
5. Creation out of Nothing
6. The Days of Genesis
7. Augustine on "In the Beginning"
8. On Being like Moses