Interpreting Eden: A Guide to Faithfully Reading and Understanding Genesis 1-3

By Vern S. Poythress, Foreword by D. A. Carson

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Interpreting Eden: A Guide to Faithfully Reading and Understanding Genesis 1-3

By Vern S. Poythress, Foreword by D. A. Carson

... Show All

"No interpreter of the creation narratives can avoid interacting with this book."

Derek W. H. Thomas

Christians have long discussed and debated the first three chapters of the Bible. How we interpret this crucial section of Scripture has massive implications for how we understand the rest of God’s Word and even history itself. In this important volume, biblical scholar Vern Poythress combines careful exegesis with theological acumen to illuminate the significance of Genesis 1–3. In doing so, he demonstrates the sound interpretive principles that lead to true understanding of the biblical text, while also exploring complex topics such as the nature of time, the proper role of science, interpretive literalism, and more.

Read Chapter 1


Vern S. Poythress

Vern S. Poythress (PhD, Harvard University; ThD, University of Stellenbosch) is Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Biblical Interpretation, and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he has taught for four decades. In addition to earning six academic degrees, he is the author of numerous books and articles on biblical interpretation, language, and science.

Product Details

Category: Biblical Studies
Format: Paperback
Page Count: 400
Size: 6.0 in x 9.0 in
Weight: 19.06 ounces
ISBN-10: 1-4335-5873-4
ISBN-13: 978-1-4335-5873-3
ISBN-UPC: 9781433558733
Case Quantity: 28
Published: March 31, 2019

Table of Contents

Tables and Illustrations
Foreword by D. A. Carson
Introduction: The Need

Part 1: Basic Interpretive Principles

  1. God
  2. Interpretive Implications of God's Activity
  3. The Status of the Bible
  4. Interacting with Scientific Claims
  5. Three Modern Myths in Interpreting Genesis 1
  6. The Genre of Genesis
  7. Summary of Hermeneutical Principles

Part 2: Exegetical Concerns  

  1. Correlations with Providence in Genesis 1
  2. The Water Above (Gen. 1:6–8) 
  3. Correlations with Providence in Genesis 2–3

Part 3: Interpreting Genesis 1–3 as a Larger Whole

  1. Time in Genesis 1
  2. Implications for Modern Views of Genesis 1
  3. Attitudes and Expectations
  4. The Days of Genesis 1
  5. Factuality and Literalism

Appendix A: Genesis 1:1 Is the First Event, Not a Summary
Appendix B: The Meaning of Accommodation
Appendix C: A Misunderstanding of Calvin on Genesis 1:6–8 and 1:5
Appendix D: Multiple Interpretations of Ancient Texts
Subject Index
Scripture Index


“This is not the usual book on Genesis 1–3. It takes up many of the same problems other books do (such as the length of the creation days), but it expects you to think much harder about them than you were expecting to. Perhaps, for example, you might approach this book looking for arguments defending literal interpretation. Well, Poythress will tell you that the term literal has at least five meanings, so theses about literal versus figurative interpretation generally need more careful formulation than we usually give them. But none of these careful distinctions has the aim of compromising the inerrancy of Scripture as God’s Word. Indeed, you will emerge from this book with a greater sense of how Genesis really is the Word of God. Indeed, you will learn much about how, as Poythress says, we should ‘read the Word of God in the presence of God.’ This is how biblical and linguistic expertise ought to be used in expounding the Bible.”
John M. Frame, Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy Emeritus, Reformed Theological Seminary

“This new book by Vern Poythress is a remarkably wise and comprehensive analysis of multiple recent approaches to interpreting Genesis 1–3. Drawing on several decades of detailed biblical research, Poythress effectively answers modern views that simplistically attribute ‘scientific error’ to Genesis, and he demonstrates convincingly that Genesis 1–3 must be understood as prose narrative that purports to describe actual events, not as fictional or allegorical literature. But he also wisely cautions against ‘overinterpreting’ Genesis 1–3 by claiming that it contains scientific information that was not the intention of either its human or divine author. Highly recommended!”
Wayne Grudem, Distinguished Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies, Phoenix Seminary

“We always owe our thanks to Vern Poythress for his characteristic of careful and thoughtful engagement with the biblical text and with other interpreters; how much more on these texts and topics! Besides attention to linguistic details, Poythress always draws the reader to the bigger issues connected to interpretation and to the Christian worldview. This will be worth your time to read, study, consider, and digest.”
C. John Collins, Professor of Old Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary

“Poythress is a genius of our time. Interpreting Eden tackles massively complex issues (some far more complex than I had initially thought) and points a way forward. From this point on, no interpreter of the creation narratives can avoid interacting with this book.”
Derek W. H. Thomas, Chancellor’s Professor of Systematic and Pastoral Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary; Teaching Fellow, Ligonier Ministries

“This is a fascinating, helpful, and well-written book. Vern Poythress has managed to engage in a meaningful way with the serious questions raised today about reading Genesis 1–3 carefully, with hermeneutical finesse, and, at the same time, has interacted with related modern scientific theories with discernment. One does not need to agree with all his conclusions to learn from his way of treating questions, discussions, and competing views fairly and with wisdom. This book helps us think more clearly and deeply about some of the issues that concern us the most.”
Richard E. Averbeck, Director of the PhD in Theological Studies and Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School