Hebrew the Heartbeat of the Bible
Language is the key to any culture. A person can read about Americans all they want to, they can write papers on us and even books ... these books may be helpful and enlightening to some extent. But until a person actually learns "American" they do not understand how Americans think ... and how they think shapes what they think.
Three-fourths of the Bible is written in a language called Hebrew. A few passages are written in Aramaic which is also a semitic language. The NT is written in Greek that is also shaped by the Hebraic background of the authors. The great Reformer Martin Luther once wrote,
"The Hebrew language is the best language of all, with the richest vocabulary ... If I were younger I would want to learn this language, because no one can really understand the Scriptures without it. For although the New Testament is written in Greek, it is full of hebraisms and Hebrew expressions. It has therefore been aptly said that the Hebrews drink from the spring, the Greeks from the stream that flows from it, and the Latins from the downstream pool."
The culture, the worldview, that is showcased in Hebrew is decidedly different than that displayed in classical Hellenistic thought (and by extension much of Enlightenment thinking). Hebrew is dynamic, energetic and "earthy." The implications of this are immense if we are to let the Bible itself tell us what is "biblical" or what is "spiritual." So Hebrew is a language of the "senses" that is life. Abstract thought is conveyed through the concrete. Here are some examples of a rather literal translation in a few places ... In Hebrew we:
"lift up the eyes" rather than "look" (Gen 22.4)
"burn in one's nostrils" rather than "be angry" (Ex 4.14)
"unstop someone's ears" rather than "reveal something" (Ruth 4.4)
become "stiff-necked" rather than "stubborn" (2 Chron 30.8)
"gird up [our] loins" rather than "get ready/brace yourself" (Jer 1.17)
These are just a few examples of what Hebrew really is like. Further God in Hebrew is never an abstraction but described with vivid "earthy" language. The Hebrews know nothing of this dichotomy of spirit and body that moderns influenced by Plato subscribe too. The word "soul" used in the Hebrew Bible (nephesh) as in "my soul thirts for you O God ..." (Ps 42.2) does not refer to some inner part of the person but is rather a way of refering to oneself ... "why are you so downcast Bobby Valentine." The psalmist is longing for God, not just an immaterial unseen part of him.
If we want to get into the culture of the Bible we have to immerse ourselves in the thought and language of the Bible. We have to let the blood of the Hebrew language flow through our veins as we hear Paul, John, the Revelator and most of all Jesus! The Greek of the NT is not Plato's Greek. We have to embrace the contour of Hebraic thought ... no not everyone will learn Hebrew. But we can so immerse ourselves in the Story that we see that what is said in the "New Testament" really does flow out of the "Old Testament." There is no theme, not one, in the New Testament whose source is not in the Hebrew Bible. If the source is in the Hebrew Bible then the source also shapes what is meant and how it is to be understood.
And for those reasons I think Genesis does in fact belong at the head of the Christian canon and not Platos Timaeus.