‘Does it matter which is right?’
Did God really mean to teach real history in Genesis?
Published: 7 November 2005; edited and republished 23 February 2008 (GMT+10)
A questioner asks why Genesis should be taken as real history. Isn’t it just an account written for primitive people telling us simply that God created, so we should leave the details to ‘science’?
Isn’t it possible that, since the ancient Israelites would not know about the universe beyond simple concepts, God simplified his description of the creation to a point where they could understand it?
Isn’t it possible that implying that ancient people were stupid is an example of what C.S. Lewis called ‘chronological snobbery’ (in Surprised by Joy)? God used simple language so that all people can understand, yet complicated enough to allow for constant scholarship. However, even in this straightforward language, if God had wanted to communicate evolution or long ages as the manner in which He created, there are many ways He could have done so. See:
- How long were the days of Genesis 1? What did God intend us to understand from the words He used?
- Genesis according to evolution: If evolution over millions of years was the way God created, He could easily have said so in simple words.
After all, the common Israelite knew nothing of advanced physics or biology. How could God explain things such as space-time, or the warping characteristics of gravity, and so on, in any way OTHER than a metaphor?
He didn’t have to, any more than those concepts need explanation to young school children who are regularly taught about evolution and long ages. As explained above, all He would need to get the message of long ages across is the many Hebrew long-age words available. One is עוֹלם (‘ôlām) or עלם (‘ōlām)—its Greek equivalent is αἰῶν (aiōn) from which we derive the word eon. Another is עֵת (‘et), as Hebrew scholar Ting Wang points out. Leading South African geneticist James Allan made another cogent argument:
I then realized that had God wanted to say a billion years rather than six days, He could have said it, very simply, in the way He spoke to Abraham: ‘I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted’ (Gen. 13:16). In the same way He could have said, ‘I took as many years as there are particles of dust on the earth to create the heavens, the earth, the seas, and all that is in them’ and it would have sounded very impressive but He said six days. Would He have said this if it were of no concern?
Further, why would God create a universe that seems to contradict His message if he wanted us to believe the Genesis creation story 100% literally?
God is hardly deceiving anyone when He explained the timeframe and order of events in propositional form; rather, people deceive themselves when they ignore this revelation and instead interpret the data by uniformitarian axioms (which ignore revelation).
This is a leading question that assumes that relatively recent conjectures about a vast age for the universe are correct. In fact, there is no contradiction, as shown in ‘Young’ Age of the Earth & Universe Q&A, in particular, The earth: how old does it look? God is hardly deceiving anyone when He explained the timeframe and order of events in propositional form; rather, people deceive themselves when they ignore this revelation and instead interpret the data by uniformitarian axioms (which ignore revelation).
It is sad that so many in the church are like Lucy in the parable of the candle. She demanded that her companions calculate elapsed time based entirely on measurements of a candle interpreted by her preconceptions about the past. But she rejected a priori the eyewitness report that constrained the possible elapsed time, and which eventually showed that her assumptions about the past had been erroneous. Please see further explanation in Creation challenge: leave the Bible out of it, so I don’t have to re-invent the wheel.
That isn’t saying it’s LIES or MYTH, that’s saying that God simplified the story so that simple people could understand it.
You need to distinguish between Adaptation to human finitude and accommodation to human error: the former does not entail the latter. A mother might tell her four-year-old ‘you grew inside my tummy’—this is not false, but language simplified to the child’s level. Conversely, ‘the stork brought you’ is an outright error. Similarly, God, the author of truth, used some simplified descriptions (e.g. using the earth as a reference frame, as modern scientists do today) and anthropomorphisms, but never error.
If God MADE science, then what does it matter which is right?
Indeed, God did make science possible, since His propositional revelation in the Bible provided a set of axioms that make experimental science possible. So it is no accident that science flourished in a Christian framework but was stillborn in other cultures, as explained in The Christian origin of modern science. So why not believe what He has written?
More importantly, my belief in scientific creation explanations doesn’t interfere in ANY way with my belief in Christ.
What about the fact that He is Creator (John 1:1–3, Colossians 1:16)? And what about following what He said about creation, e.g. ‘Scripture cannot be broken’ (John 10:35), even the parts most often mocked by critics, including a recent creation (Mark 10:5–9) and global Flood (Luke 17:26–27). See also The times are changing and so should we?
The point of Genesis 1 is not to limit the human imagination or our exploration of the universe, the point of Genesis 1 is to show the God MADE the world, He controlled its creation, and He made man in his image.
This could have been stated just using v. 1 and 26–27. Yet God chose to reveal a sequence of creative events, using the waw consecutive verbs that are used for Hebrew narrative sequences, as explained to a theistic evolutionist. Indeed, the days of creation contained a creative command, rapid fulfillment and assessment before each day closed, as explained in Clearing up creation confusion.
Also, the other Bible authors, writing ‘God-breathed’ Scripture (2 Timothy 3:15–17) as they were ‘moved along by the Holy Spirit’ (2 Peter 1:20–21) were not as limiting as you. Whenever they discussed something from Genesis 1–11, they took it as history.
But you have a problem anyway, even with your narrow polemical approach to Genesis (Genesis is just about theology), because in the view of leading evolutionists, man was not made in God’s image, but evolved from animals; man is just an intelligent ape. Also, God did not make anything; it all arose in a big bang, where nothing ‘exploded’, without a cause and ultimately, some of the fundamental particles formed at that time became you and me. In fact, in this view, ‘god’ evolved—the idea of God emerged to help in the survival of the fittest.
So, if you are to retain the theology of Genesis, you must fight the views that attempt to destroy its history.
The fact that 1 chapter of 1 book of the Bible is dedicated to the entire creation of the universe, while 4 entire books are dedicated to the life of Jesus, shows us that we are shifting the focus of the Good Book by spending this much time on Creation.
How many times does God need to say something before it is important? He only told Adam once about not eating the forbidden fruit!
How many times does God need to say something before it is important? He only told Adam once about not eating the forbidden fruit! Also, Genesis 1–11 is foundational to the four Gospels, because it provides the reason for why God the Son, Second Person of the Trinity, took on human nature (Philippians 2:5–11). He became the Last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45), a descendant of the first Adam, so how can the first Adam be a metaphor?
This means that Jesus can be our Kinsman-Redeemer (Isaiah 59:20) which requires blood relationship to those He redeems (Hebrews 2:14). And Jesus’ chosen Apostle Paul explained that Jesus came to die for our sins and rise from the dead, conquering the death that the first man Adam had brought with sin (1 Corinthians 15:21–22). But if you remove Genesis 1–3 with its account of the first Adam, there is no foundation for the work of the Last Adam. See First Adam—last Adam: Both are vital to the Gospel ... but exactly how.
Note that we cannot decide the importance of various parts of Scripture based on how many words they represent, otherwise we should conclude that the Old Testament is far more important than the New Testament.
Note that village atheists such as Richard Bozarth and Frank Zindler see the connection between the history of Genesis and the Gospel better than many in the church, sadly. Yet these same church members wonder why 2/3 of their young people leave the church after leaving home. The same church leaders should realize that our culture is more like the Athenians on Mars Hill (Acts 17), and how Paul had to preach to them from creation.
- Is Genesis poetry / figurative, a theological argument (polemic) and thus not history? (Critique of the Framework Hypothesis)
- Genesis: Bible authors believed it to be history: ‘The important thing is that God created, isn’t it?’
- Can we know the truth?