Genesis I-II is `primeval history’ or `prehistory’. It is concerned with beginnings: the origin of the world, and also the origin of things that play an important part in the lives of human beings, such as sin, death, marriage, conflict (between husband and wife, within families and communities and between nations), the nature of God and his relationship with human beings, judgment, forgiveness and covenant. The OT believers are confronted with the same world as their counterparts in Babylon and Ugarit. They are also aware of the mythologies of surrounding nations, in which those nations seek to account for the world as they see it, though from a very different perspective; and they present their own explanation of the way things are, an explanation that puts God at the centre. That is not to suggest that this is a human attempt to explain origins. It continues to be divine revelation, but revelation given in a form that would make most sense to those who would receive it rather than necessarily appealing to modern standards of scientific and historical enquiry.
-Robin Routledge, Old Testament Theology: A Thematic Approach (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2005)
This section brings out a lot of helpful information when reading the Old Testament
1. The main aim of texts in the Old Testament, such as Genesis 1-11 and others, is to teach about theology (who God is, who we are, and how this relates to the world around us) not history or science. That is why the texts are not at all interested in explaining facts like where the wife of Cain came from. It does not make-up anything about history and science but it is not concerned with it. If, thus, we are going to let the bible speak we must approach the texts as they were meant to be read as theological. Not as discussion starters about whether or not Adam had a belly button.
2. The texts of the Old Testament were written in a world like ours with real world questions. Work was hard, relationships where rampant with conflict, and death was an unwelcomed guarantee. My, how things have not changed much. The Old Testament is not a collection of abstract historical facts but a revelation of God’s workings in this broken world with broken people. Texts like Genesis 1-11 are giving explanations to the real issues and problems people in that day, and ours as well, face.
3. There is an apologetic purpose in the Old Testament narratives. They were not written in a bubble. Surrounding people had their own explanation of how the world came to be and how a person was suppose to live. The Hebrews needed counters to these ideas and so we have the Old Testament. The text was not just written to inform but to delineate.
4. The Old Testament was written for the people of the day to understand it. When the bible starts talking about the “foundations of the earth” and such it is not making a scientific claim about the tetonic plate structures. God is using the language and understanding of the people He is speaking with to adequately communicate His truth in a comprehensible manner. It was not God’s aim to give secret scientific information to his followers so that they would know the different magma layers of the earth while others didn’t. His aim was that they would know Him! And thus, for humans with small brains and small language capacities He spoke in forms they could understand.
5. All this should make us give praise to our loving and compassionate God who stoops down to bring His word to us. He is not distant but speaks our frail language to our limited minds about the issues which matter to our well being. He wants us to know Him, to know Christ, and to be in relationship with Him. How low the infinite becomes so we could live with Him!