Schleiermacher on the historicity of the creation stories

In the part in The Christian Faith on creation and preservation, Schleiermacher takes a surprisingly (to me, anyway) modern-seeming approach to the biblical creation stories. He argues that the doctrine of creation is intended to safeguard two points: (1) that everything that exists other than God is ultimately dependent on God and (2) that God was under no “external” constraints in creating, such as being limited by some pre-existent “stuff.”

Consequently, Christians have no religious stake in any particular scientific or speculative account of the origins of the world. Schleiermacher notes that

further elaboration of the doctrine of Creation in Dogmatics comes down to us from the times when material even for natural science was taken from the Scriptures and when the elements of all higher knowledge lay hidden in Theology. Hence the complete separation of these two involves our handing over this subject to natural science, which, carrying its researches backward into time, may lead us back to the forces and masses that formed the world, or even further still. (Christian Faith, 40.1)

He concedes that the “Mosaic” account of creation was accepted as historical by the Reformers, but notes that the various Protestant confessions do not commit the church to that view. He also observes the allegorical interpretation of the “six days” was offered by the Jewish philosopher Philo and that “there always survived a somewhat obscure but healthy feeling that the old record must not be treated as historical in our sense of the word” (40.2).  Even if it was conceded, however, that the account in Genesis was historical, “it would only follow that in this way we had attained to a scientific insight we could not otherwise have acquired” (40.2). This would not be an article of faith in the proper sense, because it does not provide a greater elucidation of the feeling of absolute dependence.

Schleiermacher takes this route in part because of his separation of philosophy and natural science from religion. Religion is rooted in the experience of absolute dependence, and everything related to dogmatic theology is an elaboration of that experience, as it occurs in the community of faith. But even if we don’t go all the way with Schleiermacher here, we can still agree that what faith says about the dependence of the world on God is a different kind of claim from the theories offered by science about the world’s origin and development.

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2 thoughts on “Schleiermacher on the historicity of the creation stories

  1. It’s not that I expected him to take the literalist position–it’s more that his discussion seems so contemporary, like it could’ve been written yesterday (language aside).

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