Genesis: History … or Mystery?
Philosopher George Santayana said, ‘Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’ But what would happen if there were no history to learn from?
The Bible records some 4,000 years of history. Even most non-Christian historians, archaeologists, etc. would agree that there is approximately 2,000 years of history between Jesus and the Patriarch Abraham. A simple addition of the genealogies from Abraham to Adam provides us with another approximately 2,000 years. So fully half of the recorded time in the Bible occurs in Genesis chapters 1–11! Clearly this must be an important part of our history.
Can we trust Genesis 1–11 as written?
Many Bible scholars/commentators would declare that Genesis 1–11 is just a metaphor, allegory, poetry, mythology, or at the least that it cannot be understood as history as plainly written, even though they profess the Bible as the word of God. It’s notable that none of these compromises was thought of before the rise of uniformitarian geology—see Philosophical naturalism and the age of the earth: are they related? And we see this in the excuses that are made for denying that God’s Word means what it says:
‘ … God’s upper level activity of issuing creative fiats from his heavenly throne is pictured as transpiring in a week of earthly days … is a literary figure, an earthly, lower register time metaphor for an upper register, heavenly reality.’1
‘The study of paleontology has rendered it virtually impossible for a serious scientist to make a case for a six day creation about six thousand years ago … the first chapters of Genesis should use the kind of language technically known as ‘mythological’ to explain the origins of the universe.’2
Many Christians believe the days described in Genesis were perhaps ‘millions of years’ of undetermined time rather than 24-hour days. They also claim that there are gaps in the genealogies, although once again, no one saw them before the rise of modern uniformitarian geology, precisely because they are not in the text (see Biblical chronogenealogies and The Genesis 5 and 11 fluidity question).
Many also deny the global Flood, saying what is described in the Bible can be interpreted as merely a local event somewhere in Mesopotamia. But is Genesis really that hard to understand? Apparently not …
‘It is of course admitted … it would be most natural to understand the word [day] in its ordinary sense; but if that sense brings the Mosaic account into conflict with facts, and another sense avoids such conflict, then it is obligatory on us to adopt that other.’3
‘ … the most straightforward understanding of the Genesis record … is that God created heaven and earth in six solar days, that man was created in the sixth day, that death and chaos entered the world after the Fall of Adam and Eve, that all of the fossils were the result of the catastrophic universal deluge which spared only Noah’s family and the animals therewith.’4 (Note that the author, however, does not believe the Genesis account as plainly written.)
So the reinterpretation of Genesis is the result of Christians accepting the evolutionary dogma taught in public schools and through the media and trying to fit it into Scripture.
But an abandonment of Genesis 1–11 as ‘real’ is an admission that approximately 50% of the time recorded in the Bible isn’t real history! How then can Christians that say half of the Bible’s history is just a metaphor (or cannot be taken as plainly written) really expect intelligent people to accept the ‘other half’ as ‘real’—events that are critical to salvation, atonement, etc?
I confess I soon lose my way when I try to follow those who walk delicately among ‘types’ and allegories. A certain passion for clearness forces me to ask, bluntly, whether the writer means to say that Jesus did not believe the stories in question, or that he did? When Jesus spoke, as of a matter of fact, that ‘the Flood came and destroyed them all,’ did he believe that the Deluge really took, place, or not?—Thomas Huxley, 1897.
‘I confess I soon lose my way when I try to follow those who walk delicately among “types” and allegories. A certain passion for clearness forces me to ask, bluntly, whether the writer means to say that Jesus did not believe the stories in question, or that he did? When Jesus spoke, as of a matter of fact, that “the Flood came and destroyed them all,” did he believe that the Deluge really took, place, or not?’5
‘If Adam may be held to be no more real a personage than Prometheus, and if the story of the Fall is merely an instructive “type,” … what value has Paul’s dialectic.’6
Huxley was intellectually consistent and made valid points, which many skeptics have repeated since.
‘It becomes clear now that the whole justification of Jesus' life and death is predicated on the existence of Adam and the forbidden fruit he and Eve ate. Without the original sin, who needs to be redeemed? Without Adam's fall into a life of constant sin terminated by death, what purpose is there to Christianity? None.’7
And Darwin’s modern pit bull terrier, leading misotheist Clinton R (Richard) Dawkins, says:
‘Oh but of course the story of Adam and Eve was only ever symbolic, wasn’t it? Symbolic?! Jesus had himself tortured and executed for a symbolic sin by a non-existent individual. Nobody not brought up in the faith could reach any verdict other than barking mad!’8
So what are the conclusions that many have made?
‘The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ’s divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.’9
Are these quotes the ranting of an ardent atheist? Well, yes, but they are from a ‘Christian’ Bishop, John Shelby Spong (see detailed refutation of his works)! Heretical as they are, these conclusions are the inevitable end result of applying the idea of millions of years and evolution to Scripture. The Bible gets modified, while the belief in ‘evolution’ remains.
Most Christians in the western world would admit that despite many Christian influences (churches, schools, radio stations, book stores etc) the culture is becoming less ‘Christian’ all the time. As God’s people we must make a united stand to affect those around us for Christ, but that stand can only succeed if it is based on the authority of the Word of God.
As a non-believer growing up, I was not impressed by what I saw as the hypocrisy of Christians wanting me to believe one area of the Bible as plainly written while squirming and re-interpreting other parts. I was an atheist but I wasn’t stupid. Atheists know that without Genesis as history, Christianity will fall. No wonder the opponents of Christianity have applied so much effort to discredit this area of Scripture.
‘Christianity is—must be! totally committed to the special creation as described in Genesis, and Christianity must fight with its full might, fair or foul against the theory of evolution.’10
I couldn’t agree with an atheist more ...
- Is Genesis poetry / figurative, a theological argument (polemic) and thus not history?
- Should Genesis be taken literally?
- Genesis Questions and Answers
- 10 dangers of theistic evolution
- Meredith Kline, Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 48:2–15, 1996. Return to text.
- Scripture Union, Salt Magazine, Milton Keynes, UK, p. 29, Jan/Mar 1998. Return to text.
- Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, p. 571. Return to text.
- Pattle P.T. Pun, A Theology of Progressive Creationism, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 39(1):14, March 1987. Return to text.
- Thomas H. Huxley , Science And Hebrew Tradition Essays, pp. 207, 208, 1897. Return to text.
- Thomas H. Huxley , ref. 5, p. 236. Return to text.
- G. Richard Bozarth, The Meaning of Evolution, American Atheist, p. 30, 20 Sept. 1979. Return to text.
- Richard Dawkins, The root of all evil? broadcast on Channel 4, 16 January 2006. Return to text.
- Bishop John Shelby Spong, Episcopal Bishop of Newark, A Call for a New Reformation, from home page for the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, 4/9/99. Return to text.
- G. Richard Bozarth, ref. 7, p. 19. Return to text.