Hebrew scholar affirms that Genesis means what it says!
Interview with Dr Ting Wang, lecturer in biblical Hebrew
Dr Ting Wang earned his M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary in California (Escondido) and his doctorate in Biblical Studies at the Hebrew Union College, Jewish Institute of Religion (Cincinnati, Ohio). He now lectures on biblical Hebrew at Stanford University in California,1 and is a pastor for the Youth and Children’s Ministries at Korean Central Presbyterian Church. Dr Wang is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature and the National Association of Professors of Hebrew. He has also been a college instructor in biblical and classical Greek. Dr Wang lives in Palo Alto with his wife, Becky.
While the creation evangelism message is helping to win many people to Christ, there is strong resistance within parts of the church. While most attacks focus on the science involved, many otherwise conservative theologians claim that Genesis really doesn’t mean what it says, is not meant to be a historical record, or that it’s not really so important anyway. Since Genesis was written in Hebrew, I asked a real Hebrew scholar, Dr Ting Wang, about what the author really meant.
Why would anyone want to study biblical Hebrew so deeply? Dr Wang gives his own testimony:
‘The Lord used the Bible to save me. I was very despondent during my second year of university, so I bought a Bible, and read it as a “last resort”?. The words were unlike any I had encountered before—Jesus, the bread of life, the one who eats this bread would never hunger; Jesus, the light of the world; “if anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” [John 7:37–38].
‘This sounded so good to a parched and desperate soul, and subsequently God made it clear to me that whatever I did in life would have to revolve around the Word of truth. By His grace, I was able to study both Hebrew and Greek for years. And why did I want to? The Word is so important that I did not want to read a translation!’
Old and New Testaments
Many in the church say that the New Testament is all that matters, or act as if this were true. But Dr Wang explained why the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) is important for Christians today:
‘The Law is a schoolmaster pointing the way to Christ (Galatians 3:24). Jesus Himself said that if one does not listen to Moses and the Prophets, one will not understand the New Testament, for one will not believe even if someone rises from the dead [Luke 16:31]. Indeed, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus explained that the Old Testament essentially taught about Him [Luke 24:27].
‘Moreover, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that He did not come to abolish the Law and Prophets, but to fulfill them—that until heaven and earth disappeared with a roar, nothing in the Old Testament would become obsolete [Matthew 5:17–18, cf. 2 Peter 3:10]. Jesus explicitly said, “Scripture cannot be broken” [John 10:35].
‘God has elevated above all things His name and His Word (Psalm 138:2), and the person He esteems “trembles” at His Word (Isaiah 66:2). And despite the fact that the heavens continuously declare the glory of God, how else but from the Old Testament would we learn details about Creation and the Fall?’
What type of book is Genesis?
A number of theologians claim that Genesis is not meant to be taken straightforwardly, that it is really poetry or allegory, or just a polemic against the surrounding paganism. But Ting said:
‘Because Scripture is living and active, relevant to past, present and future, it escapes easy categorization. Genesis is world history, particular history and theocentric anthropology [God-focused study of man]. It is prophecy, promise, wisdom, covenant—words that ‘God breathed’ (2 Timothy 3:15–17, 2 Peter 1:20–21)—“the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8). From a secular perspective, Genesis has been called a historical record of origins, which is also accurate.’
What does ‘day’ mean?
Many ‘old-earth creationists’ claim to believe that Genesis was truly history, but they want to fit in the billions of years proposed by scientists who weren’t there. So they assert that the creation days were really long periods of time. Dr Wang firmly refutes this suggestion:
‘The semantic range [list of all possible meanings] of the English word “day” is not unlike the range of the Hebrew word (yôm). No-one denies that “day” can mean a period or era in some contexts in both languages. For example, that’s what we mean if we say, “in Martin Luther’s day … .”
‘Similarly, in Proverbs 25:13 we find “as the cold of snow in the time/‘day’ of the harvest.” However, it’s totally improper to claim “day” can mean “era” in a different context. For instance, “on the last day of Luther’s life … ,” “day” clearly must mean an ordinary day—the modifier “last” and the context—Luther’s passing—render the meaning clear.
‘In Genesis 1, yôm comes with “evening” and “morning”, and is modified by a number. So it’s obvious that the Hebrew text is describing a 24-hour day—the exegetical burden of proof rests crushingly upon those who view otherwise (notice too that in Jeremiah 33:17–22, God’s covenant with the day and the night, so that both will come at the appointed time, is as unalterable as the promise that a son of David will reign). But no amount of evidence will convince those who are persuaded to play devil’s advocate—just like the serpent in Genesis 3, they must ask, “Did God really say?”’
Some have claimed that biblical Hebrew had no long-age words available. However, Dr Wang showed the falsity of this:
One of the most familiar passages in the Hebrew Bible is found in Ecclesiastes 3:1–8, the “God makes all things beautiful in his time” passage. In Hebrew, two words for “time” appear. The passage begins “There is a season (זְמָן zeman) for everything, and a time (עֵת ‘et) for every activity under heaven: a time (עֵת) to be born and a time (עֵת) to die, a time (עֵת) to plant and a time (עֵת) to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal … ,” and so on. Whereas זְמָן is only used in the later books Esther, Ecclesiastes, Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, (עֵת) is used throughout Scripture, and would be an appropriate term to communicate an indefinite period of time, though most likely used without a number.
The goodness of God’s creation, and what went wrong
The most common objection to Christianity is, ‘Why would a good God create a world full of suffering?’ However, this was not the way God originally created things. Ting points out:
‘“Good” (Hebrew tôv), used seven times in Genesis 1, indicates that there was no sin or death or pain. These were introduced after the opposite of good, “evil”, was unleashed through the eating of the forbidden fruit. The first death was evidently the animal(s) whose skin(s) God used to clothe the naked and shameful Adam and Eve. Prior to this God-initiated sacrifice to save people (foreshadowing greater grace and sacrifice to come), diets were vegetarian (Genesis 1:29–30).
‘Moreover, the Fall affected all of creation, which is in “bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21), groaning under its effects, longing for redemption. The curses listed in Genesis 3, though succinct, describe the universality of the Fall—enmity within creation for generations to come, pain, male-female relationship problems, a cursed ground, painstaking work, death. “Good” in Eden meant what it will mean in Heaven, much as salvation history comes full circle—no tears, no pain, no death, the Tree of Life, river(s), the presence of Emmanuel (and no need for the sun for the Lamb is its light in Revelation 21:23—similar to the “light” in Creation before the creation of the sun on Day Four).
‘The distinction is that in Eden, the good was pre-evil, whereas in Heaven the good is forever post-evil. In Eden there was night, in Heaven there will be no more night (Revelation 22:5).’
Long-agers believe that the fossil record was laid down over millions of years, which would leave no room for a global Flood. Conversely, if there was a global Flood, that would have laid down much of the rock and fossil record quickly, so there would be no need for millions of years.
So a faith commitment to long-age ideas entails a local flood (if they believe in one at all). So is this possible from the Hebrew? Dr Wang is emphatic:
‘The Hebrew word for “all”, (kol), generally means “all”, “all kinds”, or “every” without hyperbole [exaggeration].
‘On both lexical [word meaning] and contextual grounds, Noah’s Flood is comprehensive. Recounting the biblical sequence of events, initially, all people had become corrupt, God would destroy them and the earth, floodwaters would destroy all life—every land creature that breathed through its nostrils (Genesis 7:22). Everything on Earth would perish, God would “wipe” from the face of the earth every creature he had made; the Ark would hold every kind of wild animal, every ground creature, and every bird.
‘Subsequently, all mountains under Heaven were under water by more than 15 cubits, every living thing on Earth perished—all creatures, all humankind. Every living thing on land died. Everything was wiped out. Only Noah and the others on the Ark were left. It’s hard to imagine how God could have been clearer.’
Why do so many theologians reject Genesis as it is written?
Since the Hebrew grammar is so clear that Genesis should be read plainly, why do many church leaders reject this? ‘This is a very good question,’ replied Dr Wang, ‘and can be answered on different levels.’
‘On the one hand, it is common to “study the Scriptures” (John 5:39), and disregard God. Remarkably, in the situation from which this John quote is taken, Jesus Himself was standing right in front of His disputers! There is a veil over people’s hearts when they read Scripture (2 Corinthians 3:15), the “god of this age”has blinded minds (2 Corinthians 4:4), the things of God are foolishness to the world and cannot be understood apart from the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14).
‘In a more mundane sense, many theologians would rather not face the calumny of the world, forsaking the foolishness of the Gospel for the “wisdom” of the world, seeking the esteem of scholars and scholarship rather than the “well done, good and faithful servant,” from the Lord.’
Why is Genesis creation important for Christians?
‘God as Creator is essential and foundational to Christianity,’ said Dr Wang.
‘The wisdom of people is not to be trusted, as reasonable as it may seem. How reasonable was Eve’s “good for food, pleasing to the eye” “and taking the fruit and eating?” Sounds good to me! Let’s eat! And once again, how much like the Serpent’s “did God really say?” in Genesis 3 is the approach most people take towards Genesis 1 and 2?
‘Often, people will use the old argument that we should concentrate on preaching the Gospel, rather than get distracted by “side-issues” such as Creation. But if we cannot believe the record of Creation, then why believe the record of the New Creation (“if anyone is in Christ, he is a New Creation; the old is gone, the new has come!”—2 Corinthians 5:17)?
‘Evolution, of course, would say that death (through the Unholy Trinity of evolution: Time, Chance Mutations and Natural Selection) formed and shaped the first humans. This imperils the parallels between death from the first Adam and life from Christ. And if Christ is not raised (and the first Adam did not bring death), then we are to be pitied more than all people (1 Corinthians 15:17–19).
‘God as Creator is also central to his sovereignty. So He has mercy upon whom He has mercy (Romans 9:15–21), upon those called by His name. God communicates the fact that He is Creator to Jonah, Habakkuk and others (especially Job) who question the justice of their situation.
‘In all things, God points to the fact that He is the Potter, we the clay; He the Creator, we the creature (Romans 9). Everything about our relationship with Him is based upon this distinction.
‘Moreover, God’s creating and His acting are inextricably related. His acting now is based on His creating then. His creating out of nothing, ex nihilo, is His calling what is not what is (1 Corinthians 1:28), creating streams in the desert (Isaiah 43:19).
Isn’t it wonderful to be able to totally trust the words of our Creator, who means what He says, from the very first verse in the Bible, as this respected Hebrew scholar attests?
Thank you very much, Dr Wang.
- Dr Wang’s views do not necessarily represent those of Stanford University as a whole.