What part of Genesis should we believe? All of it!
There are no contradictions in Scripture
Published: 15 March 2012(GMT+10)
Andrew Bolt, an Australian conservative columnist usually fair to Christians.
There is an odd tendency among skeptics to think that they are the original discoverers of some alleged inconsistency in Scripture. The authors themselves had no idea of the ludicrous contradictions they are said to have penned, sometimes only paragraphs apart from each other. And for the almost 2,000 years since the last documents of Scripture were written, Christians and Jews have read their holy books in vain. Apparently scholars, pastors, and laypeople alike have been blinded to the shoddy worksmanship that wouldn’t be tolerated in a cheap novel, let alone in the documents that form the foundation for our faith. It might surprise such skeptics to know that they are not the first generation to be skeptical of the claims of Scripture, and even that the books of Scripture were written in a skeptical world.
Andrew Bolt, a politically conservative columnist in Melbourne, Australia, is only the latest to show that even otherwise intelligent skeptics can say some extremely ignorant things about Scripture. It’s especially disappointing because Bolt has often defended Christians against unfair attacks, and acknowledged the beneficial effects of Christianity on Western science and culture. His blog post “Which Genesis story should we believe?” starts out with a confident assertion that Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth cannot be correct.1 But as with so many skeptics, his downfall is not only his complete ignorance of Greek, but also of conservative scholars who do know Greek and have plausible explanations for these things.
Bolt’s source is Robin Lane Fox, a historian whose works indicate that his area of expertise is Alexander the Great, who was a few centuries before the New Testament. Fox is also an avowed atheist, so hardly a dispassionate analyst.
Luke and the census of Quirinius
Andrew Bolt says that Jesus was born in 4 BC, which is around the time everyone agrees He was born (maybe even a few years before then). He says that He was born during the reign of Herod the Great, which is also true. But then he says that Jesus is claimed to have been born during the governorship of Quirinius around a decade later. Well, obviously someone can’t be born on two different dates ten years from each other!
It’s disappointing when people who are known for this standard of rubbish spread it around, but all the more so when it comes from a usually fair source.
The translation of Luke 2:2 Bolt is presumably relying on says something along the lines of “This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.” But the word translated ‘first’ can also mean ‘before’, and it fits the Greek grammar very well to have it read something like, “This census took place before Quirinius was governor of Syria.” This, if Luke is talking about 10 years before Quirinius, makes perfect sense. It is only fair that if there are possible ways to take the Greek, but one of them leads to an inconsistency, while the other fits with the other facts, we assume that the author meant the one that fits with the other facts. In short, there are good reasons to give the benefit of the doubt to the document, not to the critic. See also The census of Quirinius: Did Luke get it wrong?
Mary and Joseph’s hometown
Bolt also claims that Matthew says that Mary and Joseph came from Bethlehem before Jesus’ birth, while Luke has them living in Nazareth. In reality, Luke clearly says that they were from Nazareth, while Matthew doesn’t have any geographical indicators until he mentions that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Furthermore, after they get back from Egypt, Matthew says that they go back to Nazareth. So no discrepancy there.
Bolt quotes Fox’s assertion that “Luke’s real source for the view that Jesus was born in Bethlehem was almost certainly the conviction that Jesus fulfilled a hope that someday a descendant of David would arise to save Israel.” But conservatives date Luke’s writings to the early sixties (my own view—see Gospel Dates and Reliability), and even those who would date it after the Fall of Jerusalem still date it to the early 80s, far too soon for this sort of legendary material to spring up, and soon enough that Luke could still interview eyewitnesses, and consult written accounts. There is no competing legend for Jesus’ birthplace, and that Matthew (which was almost definitely composed by the sixties) also cites Bethlehem as the birthplace gives strong evidence for this detail’s historicity.
Two contradictory creation accounts?
Bolt argues that the account of creation is as contradictory as the accounts of Jesus’ birth. Genesis 1 clearly has man created after plants and talks of the creation of male and female in the same sentence, while Genesis 2 specifies that before man was created “no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up.”
Bolt appears to be using the new NIV revision, which leaves out some important words here. The 1984 version of Genesis 2:5 has it right:
“and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up” (emphasis added).
The modifier “of the field” is in the Hebrew in both cases (הַשָּׂדֶה hassadeh), and it’s important—certainly the phrase should not have remained untranslated. The verse goes on to specify the reason for the absence of these plants: “for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground”. So it seems to be talking specifically about plants that require some form of human cultivation. In any case, positing a contradiction between Genesis 1 and 2 would imply that the author/editor of Genesis forgot what came only a few paragraphs before!
Adam and Eve
Bolt’s other contention is that while Adam and Eve seem to be created at the same time in Genesis 1:27, the account in Genesis 2 has events between the creation of man and woman. But the account in Genesis 1 has very little detail about how God’s creation of male and female took place—the only chronological limitation is that it had to happen on Day 6. Genesis 2 has the following events taking place on Day 6
- God created man out of the dust and breathed life into him—he became a living being
- God placed man in the Garden of Eden
- God commanded him to work the garden, gave permission to eat from all trees except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil
- God brings the animals to Adam to name—Adam names them (in Scripture, this was an exercise of authority, as per the Dominion Mandate of Genesis 1:28).
- God puts Adam to sleep, makes Eve out of his rib.
- Adam meets and names the woman and explains why (later given the personal name Eve).
How old was Jesus when He died?
Bolt says, “I wasn’t aware that Christ must have been at least 40 when crucified, if historical references in the Bible are accurate, and probably closer to 50—rather than the 30 or so almost universally portrayed.” One can only assume he’s referring to John 8:57, but as Carson notes, this is “a round figure, and no indication of Jesus’ age at the time, despite the deductions made by a number of church Fathers.”2 So the clear statement by Luke that Jesus was “about thirty” in 3:23 should be taken as a more conclusive statement of Jesus’ age.
There are good reasons to give the benefit of the doubt to the document, not to the critic.
Chronological markers in John put the duration of Jesus’ ministry at around 3 years, taking into account the various feasts Jesus celebrated with His disciples. So Jesus could have been anywhere from His early to late thirties when He was crucified. Note that a window of under a decade for a particular event that happened 2,000 years ago is pretty impressive, by historical standards.
Nothing surprising to biblical scholars
Bolt notes that “All this will sound tiresomely familiar to Bible scholars.” He’s right—there’s nothing new here, and a Google search (or a search of creation.com!) would have sufficed to set him straight on most of this. It’s disappointing when people who are known for this standard of rubbish spread it around, but all the more so when it comes from a usually fair source.
- Bolt, A., Which Genesis story should Christians believe? 13 March 2012, blog.news.com.au, accessed 13 March 2012. Return to text.
- Carson, D. A. The Gospel according to John. (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), p. 358. Return to text.