Christianity stands or falls on the historical accuracy of Genesis1
Published: 8 November 2016 (GMT+10)
Thomas Huxley (1825–1895) was a prominent nineteenth century agnostic and a friend and supporter of Charles Darwin. Regarding biblical authority he wrote,
“I am fairly at a loss to comprehend how anyone, for a moment, can doubt that Christian theology must stand or fall with the historical trustworthiness of the Jewish Scriptures… if Abraham is more or less a mythical hero … the Story of the Deluge a fiction; that of the Fall a legend; and that of the Creation the dream of a seer; if all these definite and detailed narratives of apparently real events have no more value as history than have the stories of the regal period of Rome—what is to be said about the Messianic doctrine, which is so much less clearly enunciated: And what about the authority of the writers of the books of the New Testament, who … have not merely accepted flimsy fictions for solid truths, but have built the very foundations of Christian dogma upon legendary quicksands?”2
More recently, a blogger argued,
“The writings of the bible were put down on paper by (mostly) old men who acted out of complete ignorance (for example the world was created in 7 days and is about 6,000 years old). We now know that that is COMPLETE nonsense so why should anyone have to abide by this rubbish?”3
Today, this argument reigns supreme. Science, we’re told, has proven the biblical account of human history to be nonsense and, hence, Christianity was built on nothing more than “legendary quicksands”. The media continually assert that the truth of evolution has been established beyond all reasonable doubt and that anyone who denies this has no more sense than a ‘flat-Earther’. Such is its general acceptance that well-known broadcaster John Humphrys stated on BBC Radio’s Today Programme, “We now know that evolution is a fact. Well, I mean there are some slightly bonkers people out there who don’t believe that I suppose. But, nonetheless, we do know that.” Indeed, so confident was he that Darwin had explained how microbes had become men, he even posed the question, “What else is there to answer?”4
Faced with such an onslaught, many church leaders today prefer to avoid the origins issue altogether. They say that it doesn’t really matter how the universe came into being or how life began or whether Adam and Eve were real people. However, while these questions might be unimportant to them they are clearly very important to others. The writers of the New Testament clearly regarded Genesis as literal history; if they were wrong in this then why should anyone believe what they wrote about anything else?
How did Christ and His Apostles view the Old Testament?
Rudolph Bultmann was Professor of New Testament at the University of Marburg, Germany and one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century. Although he regarded much of the Bible as mythical, he had no doubt that Christ Himself held to the inerrancy of Scripture. He wrote, “Jesus agreed always with the scribes of this time in accepting without question the authority of the (Old Testament) Law.”5 Indeed, according to Jesus, “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35) and “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). When referring to the Old Testament, He would often assert, “It is written”, making clear that He considered Scripture to be the final authority in all matters of faith and life. Along with the Pharisees He regarded the Old Testament as truly God’s Word. When quoting Genesis 2:24, for example, He affirmed that it was God speaking (Matthew 19:4, 5) even though the passage itself does not specifically state this.6
In his second letter to Timothy the Apostle Paul wrote, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Commenting on this verse, and the New Testament in general, Frederick C. Grant, Professor of Biblical Theology at Union Theological Seminary wrote, “Everywhere it is taken for granted that what is written in scripture is the work of divine inspiration, and therefore trustworthy, infallible, and inerrant.”7
From this it might be understood that Professor Grant held to a similarly high view of Scripture. Not at all! In fact, like Bultmann, he believed much of the Bible to be based on myths. Despite this, and along with many other liberal theologians, he recognised the Apostles’ unswerving commitment to the Old Testament as the Word of God and as unquestionably trustworthy in everything it teaches.
It is not difficult to see why scholars understand this to be true.8,9 In the Apostle Paul’s thinking, the Jews had been “entrusted with the oracles [the very words] of God” (Romans 3:2). When referring to the Old Testament he had no hesitation in affirming, “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers …” (Acts 28:25). Similarly, when quoting from the Psalms, the Apostle Peter stated that, while the words came from the mouth of David, it was the Holy Spirit speaking (Acts 4:24, 25). Moreover, he affirmed that “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20–21).
Both Jesus and His Apostles undoubtedly regarded Genesis as history. Jesus, for example, affirmed the creation of Adam and Eve (Matthew 19:4), the murder of Abel (Luke 11:50, 51), the Noahic Flood (Matthew 24:37–39) and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Matthew 10:15). Moreover, for Him, these were not simply interesting stories; rather they provided the basis for understanding important spiritual truths. Similarly, the Apostle Paul built his teaching on events recorded in the Old Testament, such as the doctrine of Original Sin (Romans 5) and the role of men and women in the church (1 Timothy 2:12–14). The writer to the Hebrews referred to the accounts of Abel, Enoch and Noah as real events that happened to real people (Hebrews 11). Significantly, this letter was written to encourage Christians who were facing serious persecution; but what use are mythical characters to those potentially facing death? The idea that anyone would think that such people might be helped by reminding them of stories suitable only for Sunday School children is absurd. The writers of the New Testament undoubtedly accepted the first book of the Bible as historical and Huxley was right: if Genesis is wrong, Christianity was built upon no more than “legendary quicksands”.
No side issue
In 2014, I undertook a speaking tour of southern Spain where I met a Christian head teacher. During our conversation he told me why he became involved in the creation ministry. He explained how he came to realise how hard it could be for youngsters of Christian families when their science teachers argued so confidently that science contradicted the Bible. He had come to see the real inner turmoil of these kids when they had no answers. Seeking to reassure them by saying that the origins debate really doesn’t matter just wasn’t an option.
Nor is this an appropriate answer for adults. If evolution is true then the Gospel becomes irrelevant. If God didn’t originally produce a perfect world with a sinless human couple, then there never was a ‘Fall’ and people will inevitably start to question whether there’s really any need for a saviour. If people gradually emerged from animals through selfishness and ‘survival of the fittest’ then the concept of sin is meaningless—it is just a human instinct bred into our nature by the evolutionary process. If the world has always been the violent and miserable place it is today, then, if there is a Creator God, surely He is responsible for it. It would be hard to find a set of beliefs that, while sometimes masquerading as evangelically faithful, depart in greater measure from the plain teachings of the Bible.
The real answer
The church must return to “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). This holds that Jesus not only spoke the truth but was, in His very person, the truth (John 14:16). He was and is God’s Word and cannot have taught error (John 1:1, 14). We can confidently assure people that Jesus was right, that the Bible can be trusted and that if they seek the truth about these matters they will find it (Luke 11:9). We can point them to the many articles in Creation magazine and the many books and DVDs available from our webstore which demonstrate the folly of evolutionary beliefs and the truth of the biblical account of creation and human history. Contrary to media propaganda, it is not those who believe Scripture who are in difficulties; rather it is the atheists. At Creation Ministries International we do all we can to make this known and to point people to the Creator and saviour, Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible—God’s infallible and Holy Word.
References and notes
- This first appeared in Update, CMI (UK/Europe) February 2016; other CMI offices, May 2016. Return to text.
- Huxley, T., Science and Hebrew Tradition, Appleton and Company, New York, p. 207, 1897. Return to text.
- A reader’s comment on: Phillips, M., Pinch yourself! A Tory Prime Minister is upholding the idea that traditional morality is bigotry, dailymail.co.uk, 14 February 2011. Return to text.
- The Today Programme, BBC Radio 4, 1 February, 2011. See also Statham, D.R., Creationists are slightly bonkers, says award-winning BBC broadcaster, 15 February 2011; creation.com/bonkers. Return to text.
- Bultmann, R., Jesus and the Word, Scribner, USA, p. 61, 1958. Return to text.
- For more on this, see Livingstone, D., Jesus Christ on the infallibility of Scripture, 6 April 2004; creation.com/infallibility-bible. Return to text.
- Grant, F.C., An Introduction to New Testament Thought, Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, p. 75, 1950. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., The authority of Scripture, Apologia 3(2):12–16, 1994; creation.com/the-authority-of-scripture. Return to text.
- Edwards, B.H., Nothing but the Truth, Evangelical Press, chs. 6, 7 and 8, 2006. Return to text.
The problem of dealing with sin without Genesis, and trying to get any consensus on what is sin, is that it changes in every culture and every generation. Without the Bible, there is no consensus, there is no certainty that something is wrong, now, then and always. Only in the Bible does God tell us directly and personally, what His rules for life are; and sin is whatever disobeys that. We'd love to sidestep it, but God is not into sidestepping. Genesis is the foundation, the clear account of sin spoiling God's perfect world, as it still does. The basis of the argument mankind has with the Bible is that it doesn't put us in control. Praise God for that!
I agree with the article. If Genesis 1-3 is mythical, then Paul's argument in Romans 5 falls flat on its face - and with it, the center of Christianity. No Adam = no original sin = no need for a Saviour = no Christianity. To my mind it takes more faith to believe in evolution (with all of its holes) than it does to believe in Christianity, which must include a true, historical, Adam and Eve.
Genesis IS compatible with science...it is the fundamental interpretation of it that isn't.
By the 'fundamental interpretation', I assume you mean that one held by Christ and His apostles, i.e. that Genesis provides a historical account of creation and early human history. By 'science' I assume you mean ideas like theistic evolution. If so, then there can be no doubt the Genesis is incompatible with your 'science'.
At CMI we simply teach the same view as Christ, His apostles and the early church. This, I would suggest, is a very safe position to hold. And this, too, is demonstrablly perfectly compatible with real science.
The stories in Genesis themselves, raise questions that cannot be answered by the Bible. For instance. Why did God need to look for a helpmate among the animals for Adam? According to the scriptures, God knew the end from the beginning, and therefore he would have known what he was going to do.
It is obvious that the writer of Genesis thought there was a huge body of water up above the firmament called heaven, and that was the great deep that was referred to when the writer said" the fountains of the great deep were broken, and the windows of heaven were opened, and it RAINED." There was no mentioning of water from under the Earth springing forth in order to flood the Earth. There is no logical explanation for Cain's wife, or the land of Nod at all. If you say he married his own close kin, then you fly in the face of God's own Commandments against such things.
There is a God. He can best be described as the laws of physics, as far as we can understand them.
The scriptures state that there is no power but that of God, and the powers that be are ordained by him. There is no power of evil, unless it is allotted by God himself. Either we do not understand what the scriptures actually say, or they are a serious mess up compiled by fallible men, taken from writings of fallible men. These are just a few of the obvious holes in the teachings taken from the scriptures. I want to go on record stating that God is real, and he runs this world as he sees fit. I do not believe he does so only through the confinements set out in the scriptures, nor your renditions of what is true and what is not. Have a blessed day.
My sense is that your mistake is to argue, “I do not understand all of the Bible therefore the Bible cannot be true.”
Jesus said, “Seek and you will find” (Matthew 7:7) and this has been my own experience. As I have sought God and searched the scriptures over the years I have found answers to many of my questions—even those that seemed unanswerable. The necessary starting point, however, is to be in humble submission to Christ and to the Bible as God’s word. There can be no doubt that Jesus regarded the Old Testament to be accurate and reliable and we should approach it with that in mind.
I would recommend that you read our Creation Answers Book as this will probably answer many of your questions.
The ‘firmament’ is not a biblical concept—see here. Also, if the ‘great deep’ refers to a heavenly sea above ‘the firmament’, it would seem strange that its springs resulted in a flooding of the earth below.
The bible says that in order to be saved, I must believe on the Lord Jesus, and I do. If I also have to believe in the age of the earth then on this I too will be judged. However, there is no exact date given. Will my place in heaven be a little further away from the Lord because I came close on this date but not bang on? Furthermore, the date that has some consensus is a date that is arrived at by assumptions. I believe what is written in the bible is true, every word of it, however I will not be carried away by assumptions when there is more than one assumption to be made.
What matters here is not the exact date of creation, which we accept cannot be known with certainty. For example, an article in our Journal of Creation stated, "Accounting for all presently known relevant details and assuming the Babylonian Captivity began in 587 or 586 BC, we can say with confidence that the Bible places limits on the year of creation between 5665 and 3822 BC."
What does matter, however, is whether we base our beliefs about creation and Earth history on the Bible's teaching or so-called 'science'. Those who opt for the latter generally end up putting the Fall before sin, despite the Bible's clear teaching that sin came before the Fall.
We have never argued that salvation is dependent on belief in a recent creation.
Personally I find Dominic's article and Lester's comments complementary and not contradictory. The law is the tutor that leads us to Christ. Galatians 3:24. What relevance has Jesus to those who do not want to live a God-fearing life?. As a teenager I rebelled against religion, and was angry towards Christians who considered themselves better than others, like the Gentiles thought about the Jews. I was enthusiastic about Darwin and evolution, and believed that geology and palaeontology exposed the hypocrisy of those who built their religion on the "sacred scriptures" - until I became a medical student and did a science degree, which taught me to examine the facts for myself, and not just accept what other people said.
When I researched deeper into the life of Darwin and how he developed his theory of evolution by natural selection, and how palaeontologists interpreted rocks and fossils I realised that much of what I had accepted as fact was unproven theory - often put forward by people who did not want to believe in God and the Bible, and, as Peter wrote in 2 Peter 3:4-6, "willfully forget" the Genesis account of Creation and the Flood. In fact, I could not then, nor since, find anything from the fields of true science that contradicts anything in the Bible.
Furthermore, if human beings were only an advanced animal, and life was a matter of the survival of the fittest, why did I want to become a doctor, and help the sick, and weak, and elderly to survive and live a better life? Where did the virtues of goodness, &c. fit in with a world of chance. In God's mercies, I began to see myself as a sinner in need of salvation, and a deep-seated longing for the truth made me receptive to the gospel and allow God to plant faith in my heart to be Jesus' disciple for the past 45 yrs.
Great article Dominic – thank you. The view that Geoff W from Oz expresses is unfortunately that also held by many blinkered church leaders. “Don’t worry about Genesis (creation and the flood) just tell the people about Jesus and the gospel”. That approach is fine for a decreasing number of people who, although not believers, acknowledge the existence of a God. But whilst Jesus is undoubtedly the stumbling stone for atheist and agnostic alike He is too far down the apologetic road for most people to even start considering.
The majority of Mr and Mrs Publics and their children have already accepted the atheistic dogma that they are continually fed by the media; that Evolution is true and therefore there is no God. Most are more than happy to have an excuse not to believe. If God doesn’t exist they can live their lives to suit themselves; religion becomes irrelevant or at best a sop for the weak, superstitious and/or the foolish. Why should they bother about Christianity, or indeed any religion? BUT when people are able to see that macro-evolution is a nonsense (like the Emperor’s suit of clothes) then they have to face the fact that the only alternative must be a Creator God. Convince them of that then they are ready to hear the good news of the gospel and of Christ.
Whilst belief in Biblical creation is not an essential for saving faith and many older Christians may well have accepted Christ without concerning themselves about Biblical creation, it is not so easy for our children. It is vitally important for Christian children to be equipped with the evidences for Biblical creation before they leave home for University or the world. Dominic alludes to this in the section headed “No Side Issue”.
So well done Dominic and CMI – keep up the good work!
There is one fact on which Christianity stands or falls, the resurrection of Christ, as explained in 1 Corinthians 15. If you believe not only that the Bible is true, but also that the truth is found in the Bible, then the claim that Christianity stands or falls on the historical accuracy of Genesis is shaky.
Genesis tells us there were two trees in the garden, the tree of life, and the tree of knowledge. Have these species been identified biologically? I don't think so. Still there is a tendency within CMI to rely too heavily on the tree of knowledge. Knowledge puffs up while love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1). We see it in a tendency to use knowledge to distance oneself from others.
Biblical knowledge is extremely valuable, but not an end in itself. What we need is wisdom, and for that a fear of God is the starting point.
Gods communication with man does not hang on 11 bible chapters. And especially not on our own out-of-historical-context interpretation of the historical meaning of these chapters. Genesis was not written in a scientific age as a scientific account. Rather it was handed down by mouth for thousands of years before being written, and simply states Gods authority in this earth. Put a modern spin on these words and you misrepresent Gods Authority.
By the way, what authority does Huxley own in the interpretation of scripture. How could you dream of taking Huxley's straw man argument as your foundational position.
The genre of Genesis is made clear by the fact that Christ and His apostles regarded it as historical narrative and literally true.
You are correct in saying that Genesis is not a scientific account. It is a historical account. Historical accounts can be 100% true without mentioning science.
How do you know that the information given in Genesis was handed down by mouth for thousands of years before being recorded in writing? Some of it is written in the present tense by people who lived before the Flood. This suggests that a written form was on board the Ark.
Huxley is not using a straw man argument. His error was his refusing to believe the testimony of Christ and His apostles that Genesis is a true account of history.
Bless the Lord for this article and ministry.
It hits me very personally, as my beloved pastors believe in the GAP theory with millions of years in creation. The only reason I can see such caring, committed, faithful Christians doing this is to try to reconcile with the intimidation of modern atheistic scientific dogma. This underlying division with my seniors has been very painful and the object of much prayer.
My question is: How do you read 1 Timothy 6:20?
20 O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called:
21 Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen.
When I read 'avoiding... oppositions of science falsely so called' it would seem to suggest either:
1) don't get distracted and divided by disputing over false scientific theories, or
2) don't get distracted and divided by following false scientific theories.
Is Timothy saying don't argue with, or don't be drawn astray, by false science?
Or both, as the situation would recommend?
Grace be with thee. Amen.
My view is that the primary meaning is as your sense 2). I understand 'scientific theories' here to refer to so-called 'knowledge' which arises out of human philosophy rather than biblical revelation, which would include the so-called 'science' of evolution.
I just wanted to say I'm very happy with your response, and indeed those of other the commenters too. Many thanks for your good work.
I would encourage those who say we should focus on the resurrection (or Jesus) instead of the Scriptures (the Genesis record, for example), to consider the testimony of the Apostle Peter. In his second letter (2 Peter 1:16-21), he declares that he, and the other apostles, were eyewitnesses of the resurrection, and watched Jesus minister and perform miracles. And in spite of that, he says that the Scriptures provide "a more sure word of prophecy" on which to base our faith. In other words, the infallible Word of God is a firmer foundation for faith than personal experience.
The Word of God never changes, while we may misinterpret or forget personal experiences. Remember, the Jews saw God split the Red Sea, and still doubted His power and provision for them only 3 days later, when they got thirsty! God had said He was taking them out of Egypt to bring them into a Promised Land, but they only saw their current situation. Like so many of us today, they tended to focus on what they could see and understand rather than on what God had said. Testimonies can lend support to what we believe, but they cannot provide a solid foundation for those beliefs. Only the Word of God can do that.
What you do Dominic, and CMI, is to tell the story in the same order as our Creator does. He sure has a point in starting with presenting who He is which is the starting point for everything. Your article is foundation. Put this start in doubt and the gospel is not relevant.
Judaism stands or falls on Genesis. Christianity stands or falls on Jesus. ;-)
The problem with this argument is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ stands or falls on the truth of Judaism. As Jesus said, "salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22).
Atheist Frank Zindler argued,
"The most devastating thing though that biology did to Christianity was the discovery of biological evolution. Now that we know that Adam and Eve never were real people the central myth of Christianity is destroyed. If there never was an Adam and Eve there never was an original sin. If there never was an original sin there is no need of salvation. If there is no need of salvation there is no need of a saviour. And I submit that puts Jesus, historical or otherwise, into the ranks of the unemployed. I think that evolution is absolutely the death knell of Christianity."
(Frank Zindler, in a debate with William Craig, Atheism vs Christianity video, Zondervan, 1996.)
I agree with this article. But as an evangelist I think that Christianity can be established on the historicity of Jesus first.
1) I establish the Bible's historicity about Jesus by normal historical processes.
2) Then its divine inspiration can be seen through its prophesies, its continuity, its testimony about itself, and its observable realism.
3) Then Jesus' resurrection can be established as historical.
4) The dominoes follow from the resurrection:
If Jesus rose,
- he must be divine (as prophesied and demonstrated),
- so why did God die?
- to bear our sins (as prophesied and demonstrated)
- for our forgiveness, to be put right with God.
From here I agree with the article that if sin has no meaning for the enquirer, then that must be explained in terms of creatures and their Creator. Still, this can be done with a call to the conscience without having to establish Genesis 1-11.
I do agree that eventually the historicity of Genesis 1-11 does need to be established for the enquirer's foundations to be fully sound. But the historicity already established becomes an ally in this endeavour: "If the Bible is historically sound from Genesis 12 onwards, then that in itself is reason to believe it is also sound from Genesis 1-11, too. Then arguments from Scripture have some weight for the enquirer, so that "science" doesn't remain their primary reference point.
Do I make sense, or have I missed something?
In my experience, different people face different obstacles in coming to Christ. I'm sure that, for some, the approach you outline is helpful. However, for others, 'science' is a major stumbling block. They have been indoctrinated into believing that evolution is a fact and this causes them to doubt the truth of the Bible. Some ministers respond to this by arguing that it doesn't matter whether Genesis is historical narrative, and whether or not God created in six days is a side issue. My article sought to respond to this error.