William Lane Craig contra The Genesis Account
Did the Apostles believe “cleverly devised myths”?
Published: 26 March 2019 (GMT+10)
William Lane Craig is one of the best-known Christian apologist and debaters in the world today. Unfortunately, in the last few years, he has severely departed from his calling and strengths to attack biblical (‘young earth’) creation. I suggest new readers check my critique William Lane Craig’s intellectually dishonest attack on biblical creationists for more details.
Since that critique, Dr Craig has made even more serious concessions to secularism, departing from biblical truth.
Historical Adam and Eve
As an example of his wobbling on Adam and Eve as the first man and woman:
One of the things that I remember Venema [Theistic evolutionist Dennis Venema from Biologos] saying to me—he looked me in the eye and he says, You have Neanderthal DNA in you. He says a certain percentage of your DNA is from Neanderthals. That really shook me. I was stunned to discover that. And yet this is true. Actually this is one of the things that also impacts these estimates of when Adam and Eve existed. Because if there is genetic input into the human race from Neanderthals and other archaic humans then that means you don’t need to explain the genetic diversity of the present population based on one human couple alone because you’ve got outside sources interbreeding with the descendants of Adam and Eve introducing additional genetic material into the human genome. Therefore that needs to be taken into account, and nobody has done that yet.1
Dr Venema is also adamant that the genetics prove that there was no ancestral human couple, and that humans and chimps are 95–98% similar. However, both of which have been refuted by geneticist Dr Richard Buggs, Reader in Evolutionary Genomics at Queen Mary University of London, who says that the evidence points to < 85% similarity (see discussion in Can evangelicals agree on ten theses about creation and evolution?).
Furthermore, the Bible is very clear that Adam and Eve were the sole progenitors of the human race, with no pre-Adamic or para-Adamic people. The account flatly contradicts ideas such as God selecting one couple out of many humans of the time. Furthermore, there are plenty of other accounts where God selects one people, family, or group from lots of people—e.g. Noah and his family from the antediluvian world, Abraham chosen from all the people after Babel, God’s covenant people Israel who came from Abraham, and the faithful remnant from Israel. Yet there isn’t the slightest hint of this occurring with Adam and Eve.
But Europeans having Neandertal DNA is something that Dr Craig could have easily discovered years ago from creation.com, e.g. Neandertal genome like ours, by Dr Robert Carter, a geneticist at least as well qualified as Venema.
But since we don’t swallow uniformitarian dating methods as blindly as Dr Craig does, we have a much more biblical explanation. That is: the Neandertals were fully human descendants of Adam and Eve, and even of Noah, and existed after the Babel dispersion, as we have explained many times, most recently by Dr Carter in Are Neandertals pre-Flood people?
But Craig’s concession catches him on the horns of a dilemma:
- Neandertals must have been humans, i.e. the same created kind, which is why they could interbreed with Adam’s descendants. But if they were not descendants of Adam then this interbreeding would contradict Paul who explicitly called Adam ‘the first man’ (1 Corinthians 15:45)
- Neandertals were not human, as old-earth, progressive creationist Hugh Ross believes. But if Neandertals were not of the same kind, then how could they interbreed with real humans? Ross: bestiality—an appalling example of where consistent old-earth creationism can lead because if current humans contain neandertal genes then we have animals in our ancestry. See Old earth apologetics gone real bad.
In an interview with the New York Times, well known as an anti-Christian source that was once a sympathetic trumpet for Stalin in the USA,2 Craig folded on biblical inerrancy, including in Genesis:
Nicholas Kristof: You don’t believe the Genesis account that the world was created in six days, or that Eve was made from Adam’s rib, do you? If the Hebrew Bible’s stories need not be taken literally, why not also accept that the New Testament writers took liberties?
William Lane Craig: Because the Gospels are a different type of literature than the primeval history of Genesis 1–11. The eminent Assyriologist Thorkild Jacobsen described Genesis 1–11 as history clothed in the figurative language of mythology, a genre he dubbed “mytho-history.” By contrast, the consensus among historians is that the Gospels belong to the genre of ancient biography, like the ‘Lives of Greeks and Romans’ written by Plutarch. As such, they aim to provide a historically reliable account.3
One wonders why a secular Assyriologist should be taken as, well, Gospel truth on the genre of Genesis. But indeed the Gospels are a historically reliable ancient biographies. But one thing Craig repeatedly ignores is that these reliable Gospel writers and their chief subject, Jesus Christ, affirm Genesis as history!
Kristof: How do you account for the many contradictions within the New Testament? For example, Matthew says Judas hanged himself, while Acts says that he “burst open.” They can’t both be right, so why insist on inerrancy of Scripture?
Craig: I don’t insist on the inerrancy of Scripture. Rather, what I insist on is what C.S. Lewis called “mere Christianity,” that is to say, the core doctrines of Christianity. Harmonizing perceived contradictions in the Bible is a matter of in-house discussion amongst Christians. What really matters are questions like: Does God exist? Are there objective moral values? Was Jesus truly God and truly man? How did his death on a Roman cross serve to overcome our moral wrongdoing and estrangement from God? These are, as one philosopher puts it, the “questions that matter,” not how Judas died.
So when faced with a village-atheopath–level attack on the Bible, Craig just punted. A common and reasonable explanation for Matthew 27:3–8 and Acts 1:18–19, but not the only one, is that he hanged himself, as Matthew says, and eventually the branch broke. This would result, as Acts says, in Judas “falling headlong” (which Kristof omits), so his body broke open, as bloated dead bodies can do.
The questions that Craig raises do indeed matter, but the Bible is the place to find answers. If this has mistakes, then why should we trust its answers?
Some evangelicals have criticized my previous Craig critique on the lines of “Yeah, I know he’s weak on creation but he’s so good in many other areas.” Actually, that was my own position for many years, even before I joined CMI over 20 years ago, and even including the time of writing the critique, as should be clear from its introduction. But now, this is becoming harder to defend when he calls Genesis “mytho-history” and says, “I don’t insist on the inerrancy of Scripture.” (See also the discussion in Evolution v the reliability of the Bible.)
Craig v CMI’s The Genesis Account
One of many criticisms in my critique is that he went so far as to blame us for an argument used by one of his heroes and one of our opponents, the discredited progressive creationist Hugh Ross.
But in a recent article, he addresses a few points raised in The Genesis Account.4 However, he ignores other places in the same book, and sometimes even in the same chapter, where arguments like his are addressed in turn.
The first interpretation that we want to consider is the most straightforward interpretation of Genesis 1 – what we could call the literal interpretation (sometimes called the 24-hour day interpretation). For example, my doctoral mentor, the great systematic theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg, cites the eminent German Old Testament scholar Gerhard von Rad in support of the scientific character of Genesis chapter 1. Pannenberg argues that, primitive as it might be, nevertheless the intention of Genesis 1 is to give a scientific account of the origins of the world and of life.
We would say a historical account. But here is Craig’s quote from von Rad via Pannenberg, which invokes the discredited Documentary Hypothesis:
This account of Creation is, of course, completely bound to the cosmological knowledge of its time. But it is a bad thing for the Christian expositor completely to disregard this latter as obsolete, as if the theologian has only to deal with the faith expressed in Genesis 1 and not with its view of nature. For there can be no doubt that the Creation story in the Priestly Document seeks to convey not merely theological, but also scientific, knowledge. It is characterized by the fact, which is difficult for us to understand, that here theological and scientific knowledge are in accord with no tension between them. The two sets of statements are not only parallel, but are interwoven in such a way that one cannot really say of any part of Genesis 1 that this particular statement is purely scientific (and therefore without importance for us) while that one is purely theological. In the scientific ideas of the time theology had found an instrument which suited it perfectly, and which it could make use of for the appropriate unfolding of certain subjects—in this case the doctrine of Creation.
This is in line with what we have pointed out for decades: while the more liberal Hebrew scholars don’t believe Genesis, they realize that the original readership would have taken Genesis straightforwardly. We have often quoted James Barr on this, and Refuting Compromise Ch. 3 documents many more, and so did Creation and Change before that (and in its updated edition).
Pannenberg thinks that such primitive science has now been overtaken by modern science, and therefore it needs to be corrected. But Pannenberg finds motivation in the biblical author’s approach to trying to integrate theology with a scientific view of the world. The science of the P author is now obsolete and no longer valid, but nevertheless his project of trying to integrate theology with science is a worthy one, and we should follow his example in trying to integrate theology with the science of our day.
Similarly, young earth creationists take the aim of Genesis chapter 1 to be to communicate scientific information about the origin of the world and humanity. The difference between young earth creationists and theologians like von Rad and Pannenberg is the young earth creationists take the account to be accurate. God created the world in six consecutive 24-hour days about ten to twenty thousand years ago. This interpretation reads the text in a prima facie way. That is to say, it takes the text at face value; it takes the text literally to say what it says.
So young earth creationists are in good company when they take Genesis straightforwardly. The difference is that Biblical creationists hold the same view of Scripture as Jesus did, while Pannenberg and von Rad do not, and this is evidently true of Craig as well. So, how can one claim to present a consistent Christian apologetic if one disagrees with the founder and Savior Himself?
Note also, none of the major creationist organizations would accept an age of ten thousand years, because the biblical text can’t be stretched even up to 8,000 years, even using the inflated Septuagint numbers. So Craig is woefully outdated in his understanding of what YECs really teach, although if he had done more than flick through a few pages of The Genesis Account, he would have known that.
This raises the question as to what do we mean by “literal?” By literal, I mean that it’s not to be taken figuratively. The young earth creationist, Jonathan Sarfati, in his commentary on Genesis 1 to 11 says that young earth creationists are perfectly prepared to recognize metaphors and other figures of speech in Genesis 1 to 11. For example, when the flood narrative says that the windows of heaven were opened, they don’t imagine this to mean that there are literal windows in the firmament. Rather, they recognize that this is a metaphor for rain. So by “literal” Sarfati means merely the grammatico-historical meaning of the text which doesn’t exclude figurative language.
At least Craig correctly said “raises the question” instead of the “begs the question” which is the logical fallacy of assuming the conclusion of an argument in the premises. And indeed, in my commentary I explain that ‘literal interpretation’ has classically meant the grammatico-historical or originalist approach, and this is what Augustine and Tyndale meant by it.
The problem with Sarfati’s characterization is that it ignores genre and is so general as to be almost useless. Even poetry should be interpreted literally in that sense, namely the grammatico-historical sense. What we want to know is whether Genesis 1 to 11 is to be read as a literal account of what actually happened.
It doesn’t ignore genre at all. It helps to determine genre. The literal interpretation, properly understood as the grammatical historical interpretation of poetry is poetry. Genesis 1–11 is not that, despite many claims, and Craig seems to be finally abandoning his earlier claims that Genesis is more poetic, e.g.:
Look at Bruce Waltke’s commentary on Genesis, for example, where he lays out a lot of the sorts of parallel structures that he sees in Genesis 1 that would be exactly indicative of the kinds of concerns that you would think are perhaps indicative of a more poetic kind of narrative.5
At other times, he can’t seem to make up his mind, e.g.:
Rather, this is using literary and metaphorical devices for describing his creation of humanity. In fact, the whole narrative in Genesis 1 is an incredibly carefully crafted piece of Hebrew literature. It really is unique. There is nothing like this in Hebrew literature elsewhere. Scholars are generally agreed that it is not poetry (it is not a Hebrew poem) nor is it a hymn exactly (though it seems to have strophe or verses). But it is not just straight forward prose either.
The underlying historical events actually happened, but nevertheless the narrative is told in poetic imagery and figurative speech that shouldn’t be pressed for literal precision.
If Genesis 1–3 is a kind of historical-figurative genre of writing; that is to say, it is covering historical events but it is using poetic or figurative language to describe them, then it would be making unwarranted demands upon this text to interpret it literally.6
But note that this is different from von Rad and Pannenberg who say that the account was meant to be taken straightforwardly. Such is the nature of Genesis compromise: the various ways are mutually incompatible; they just agree that it should not be taken as written!
Anyway, in the main article addressed here, Craig continues:
Sarfati does defend a non-figurative interpretation of Genesis 1 to 11 on the grounds that it is of the genre of history. He identifies the genre of Genesis 1 to 11 as history. Now we’re getting somewhere. The key chapter in Sarfati’s commentary justifying his view that Genesis 1 to 11 belonged to the genre of history is chapter 2 entitled “Genesis is History, Not Poetry or Allegory.” Immediately one notes an insufficient range of alternatives. We may all agree that Genesis 1 to 11 is neither poetry nor allegory. These chapters are prose narrative.4
I could also say “we’re getting somewhere.” Too many people have claimed that Genesis is poetry, including Craig as shown above (!), or allegory. So it’s reasonable to address one error at a time. But his next claim is disturbing:
But that doesn’t imply that they belong to the genre of history. Sarfati tends to conflate narrative prose with history. For example, he observes that the early chapters of Genesis frequently use a construction in Hebrew called the “waw-consecutive.” Waw is the Hebrew word for “and.” In the waw-consecutive you have a verb in the imperfect tense. This is a singular mark of a sequential narrative. A narrative typically begins with a perfect tense verb, and then it continues with imperfect tense verbs. Applying this to Genesis 1, the first verb in Genesis 1 is bara–create. In the beginning God created. That’s in the perfect. The subsequent verbs are in the imperfect, and this is exactly what one would expect, Sarfati says, from a historical narrative. But it’s also what one would expect from a non-historical narrative. Myths are narratives as are folk tales and legends. They relate a story involving a sequence of events, but they’re not historical narratives. Sarfati conflates narrative style with historical narrative.
But this is a misrepresentation because I did no such thing. It is unreasonable to expect that an answer to one error would deal with all the others, especially when I deal with the others elsewhere in the book! I.e. the part Craig quoted refuted the error that Genesis is poetry. Elsewhere, I addressed the claim the Genesis was myth. Craig would have known this had he not cherry picked a few points from an 800-page commentary. OK, maybe we can’t expect him to read everything, but it is not reasonable to take a critical position without first thoroughly researching the issue. I addressed his claim extensively.
For example, Chapter 1 refutes the liberal Documentary Hypothesis that Craig swallows. It further provides reasons to believe that Moses edited extremely ancient documents to make them understandable to people who had just left Egypt, as per the traditional date of composition. And in much of the same Chapter 2 that Craig quotes from, there is plenty to address his claims. E.g.:
[Genesis] presents itself as a book about history—recounting events in the past in a manner clearly meant to convey that they really happened [p. 34]
Then on p. 47 (footnotes omitted):
OTHER BIBLE WRITERS TREAT GENESIS AS HISTORY
The rest of the Bible treats Genesis as real history. The other writers of the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments, treat the people, events, timeframes, and even the order of events, as real, not merely literary or theological devices. One feature of this commentary will be showing how other passages of Scripture cite or allude to a particular verse in Genesis, and how this verse is understood.
As stated, this section provides some examples, and the commentary notes many others. Furthermore, it documents that most exegetes throughout history have understood Genesis as teaching real history, not myth—e.g. Josephus, Basil the Great and most other Church Fathers (and even Augustine and Origen were YECs), Thomas Aquinas, and all the Reformers including Luther and Calvin. In fact, many of them explicitly state that the world had not even reached 6,000 years old at the time of their writing. A Creation magazine article extracted from the commentary that explains more is Genesis is history! And as above, Craig’s own Doktorvater Pannenberg taught that the intention of the author was to provide real history, even if Pannenberg didn’t believe it.
But since Jesus and the Apostles clearly treated Genesis as history, it’s very dangerous for Craig to claim that it was not! In fact, they went out of their way to disclaim that they would “follow cleverly devised myths” (2 Peter 1:16)! But if Genesis is myth, then that’s exactly what they were doing in many teachings that treated it as historical.
Craig continues in the same vein:
In the section of his chapter entitled “Numerical analysis of the literary genre of Genesis,” he cites a statistical study of the verb forms in narrative and poetic texts. The study shows that Genesis 1:1 to 2:3 is statistically classified as narrative with a probability of 0.9999 percent. From this he concludes, “This analysis shows that Genesis is almost certainly historical narrative and not poetry.” This is a non-sequitur. From its being narrative, it doesn’t follow that it is history; only that it’s not a poem. It is narrative prose, but it doesn’t follow that it’s history.
Once again, Craig demands that I address every false claim in the same place. This was addressing the false claim that it was poetry. Elsewhere, I show that it is not myth either.
Sarfati goes on to ask: if Genesis were history, how would you expect it to look? He says we can answer that from the style of the undisputed historical books in the Old Testament like Exodus, Joshua, Judges, and Genesis chapters 12 to 50.
That was part of it. It does indeed have the same verb pattern as these, so it is narrative not poetry. Furthermore, the rest of Scripture treats Genesis 1–11 as equally historical.
This argument, however, backfires, for such a comparison is precisely what leads scholars to differentiate Genesis 1 to 11 from such historical narratives.
Clearly not though, as I pointed out in the same chapter on p. 47, which Craig ignores.
For example, the prominent evangelical Old Testament commentator, Gordon Wenham, observes that when Genesis 1 to 11 is compared with Genesis chapters 12 to 50 a striking difference emerges.
However, there is no toledot statement to begin Chapter 12. Rather, the 6th toledot of Genesis, the Toledot of Terah, or ‘what followed from Terah’ is Genesis 11:10–25:11 with no break in the narrative. As I state on p. 47 (references omitted):
Moreover, Genesis 1–11 moves seamlessly into Genesis 12–50, with no change in style. David Clines, formerly the President of both the Society for Old Testament Study (1996) and Society of Biblical Literature (2009), notes:[I]t is most significant that there is no clear-cut break at the end of the Babel story. Clearly, Abrahamic material begins a new section of the Pentateuch, but the precise beginning of the Abrahamic material—and therewith the conclusion of the pre-Abrahamic material—cannot be determined. In the final form of Genesis, there is at no point a break between primeval and patriarchal history.
Indeed, there are several other passages of Scripture that cite people from Genesis 1–11 then move on to people from Genesis 12–50 without the slightest hint that the former are less historical.
- 1 Chronicles 1–8: a concise but comprehensive genealogy from Adam and Noah through the 12 tribes of Israel through the kings of Israel and Judah until after the Babylonian Exile.
- Luke 3:23–38: genealogy of Christ through Mary through David (via his son Nathan) through Abraham, Noah, then finally Adam, “the son of God” (Note: not the descendant of ape-like ancestors!).
- Hebrews 11: the ‘heroes of faith’ hall of Fame, lists Abel, Enoch and Noah without any hint that they were less real than any of the others listed.
And the reality of the history is foundational to crucial teachings about faith and morality. Furthermore, it’s clear that the New Testament authors presupposed that their readers, as new converts in the first churches, received detailed instruction in Genesis.
So there is nothing in the genre or other biblical interpretations of Genesis 1–11 to hint that it’s not historical. Rather, the motivation for denying its history is just unbelief in the subject matter.
Chapters 1 to 11 are full of parallels with ancient Near Eastern traditions so that it looks as though Genesis is reflecting these oriental sagas both positively and negatively. Genesis 12 to 50, by contrast, are quite different, says Wenham. Abraham and his descendants are the exclusive concern of these chapters, and there is no suggestion that the patriarchal stories are adaptations of oriental sagas.
But this has nothing to do with the historicity of Genesis 1–11, which as shown does not have a break after this section. Rather, because of the highly supernatural elements, the veracity is attacked, and we have a version of the pagan copycat nonsense. But you wouldn’t know from Craig’s piece that I had a section in the same chapter, WAS GENESIS A POLEMIC? (pp. 59–63), where I address claims that Genesis was either borrowed from or was a polemic against pagan myths such as the Enuma Elish. Chapter 17 does the same thing with claims that the Flood account was borrowed from the Gilgamesh Epic.
Hermann Gunkel, who was one of the earliest proponents of the view that Genesis 1 to 11 has a background in ancient Near Eastern myths, in his book The Legends of Genesis (1901), contrasted the early chapters of Genesis precisely with the Old Testament historical books and he remarks, “Contrast these narratives with Israelitish historical writing such as the central portion of the second book of Samuel, the most exquisite piece of early historical writing in Israel.”
Again, this is not a difference in genre but of subject matter. So once again, when the Apostles referred to Genesis as history, were they really following “cleverly devised myths”?
For comparison, the Gospels have many similarities to historical biographies of the time (bioi), and have many evidences of reliability, as Craig himself pointed out (cited above).7 Craig would presumably agree that they should not be dismissed as historical because of the many miracles they contain, especially the Resurrection. Actually, there is no ‘presumably’ about it, because Craig has extensively defended the Resurrection!
Sarfati’s mistake may be that he restricts his analysis of literary genre to grammar and style. Those are the two elements that he considers in determining genre—grammar and style.
Again, overlooking that I also differentiated between real history and myth. Some of us can multitask.
But we must also reckon with the function of a literary text in the culture in which it was related. This is precisely the burden of Old Testament scholar John Collins’ new book Reading Genesis Well, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in this subject. Collins’ criticism of those who insist on what is called the “plain meaning of the text” which ignores function apply directly to Sarfati’s analysis.
Not if it’s as bad as a previous work, Science and Faith: Friends or Foes—see review.
The question is whether the text is of the type that intends the reader to take it literally. Von Rad gives no evidence at all for his view that Genesis 1 is primitive science. He simply asserts it.
As shown, apart from replacing ‘science’ with ‘history’, the NT writers and most exegetes before the rise of uniformitarian geology, agreed!
Clearly Genesis chapters 1 to 3 are intended to be historical on some level at least. Adam and Eve, for example, are presented in chapters 2 and 3 as the first couple of the human race – the progenitors of the entire human race. Adam and Eve are treated as historical individuals, not just symbols of mankind but as actual people who are connected to descendants by the genealogies in Genesis 1 to 11 and finally to indisputable historical figures like Abraham. And we mustn’t overlook, after all, the central figure of Genesis 1 to 11, namely God himself. God is clearly not meant to be just a symbol or a mythological figure, but a real personal agent who created the world and humanity and then goes on to call the nation of Israel to be his special people. So the central figure of the Genesis narrative is a literal personal individual who is the creator of the world and the God of Israel.
Indeed, Paul and the early church explicitly taught that Adam was the protoplast (πρωτόπλαστος prōtóplastos) or first-formed man, not an archetype, e.g. “For Adam was formed first, then Eve (Ἀδὰμ γὰρ πρῶτος ἐπλάσθη, εἶτα Εὕα, Adam gar prōtos eplasthē eita Heua”, 1 Timothy 2:13).
On the other hand, the Genesis narrative is undoubtedly also meant to be symbolic or metaphorical in certain respects. For example, the name Adam (the name of the first man) just is the Hebrew word for man.
Tell me something I haven’t already covered, for a change. On p. 249 of TGA:
In “Let us make man”, ‘man’ is the Hebrew word ‘ādām אדם, and here means ‘mankind’. The next verse makes it clear that both sexes are included here. Of course, most English readers are far more familiar with the same word as the proper name for the first man: Adam. As will be shown, there are many places where it’s clear that this is an individual, not a metaphor for humanity. Hamilton explains a rule of thumb (although he later goes on to note that some translations don’t follow this):
As a general rule, when ‘āḏām appears without the definite article, we may translate it as a personal name, following the rule that personal names are not normally preceded by the definite article. When it occurs with the definite article (hā’āḏām), we may translate it as “man”.
So why the same name? Because what could be a better name for the progenitor of all humanity than to one signifying just that?
And Eve is interpreted by the author to mean the mother of all living.
The author was quoting from Adam!
So Adam and Eve are not just historical individuals, but they also represent humanity.
But they must be at the very least historical individuals, denied by his buddies like Venema and the rest of the BioLogos crowd, despite some efforts to downplay this denial.
Adam is, in a sense, every man created by God.
What is this even supposed to mean? No other man, apart from Jesus, started off sinless.
In the creation story that we have in Genesis 2 we clearly have metaphorical or anthropomorphic descriptions of God. God is described as walking in the garden and looking for Adam and Eve and saying, “Where are you?” And they’re hiding from God, and God must find them.
Oh please. Addressed on TGA p. 358:
Although the first couple avoided God, God didn’t avoid them. He called out to the man … “Where are you?” Of course God knew perfectly well. But these questions were for teaching, in this case of their sin and need for repentance. Later on, Jesus, God Incarnate, frequently used questions to teach and to refute critics (sometimes referred to as the ‘Socratic Method’). Hamilton explains further that God is “the good shepherd who seeks the lost sheep”. So he first asks gentle questions rather than “Why are you hiding?”, which would show up the “silliness, stupidity, and futility of the couple’s attempt to hide from him.”
Or, again, when God creates man, it says that he fashions him out of the dust of the earth and then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Clearly this is not intended to be a kind of literal CPR that God performs on Adam by blowing into his nose. So there are also literary and metaphorical devices that are plausibly being used in these chapters as well.
Regardless of what type of literary devices invoked, Paul affirmed this as historical: “The first man Adam became a living being; … The first man was from the earth, a man of dust” (1 Corinthians 15:45,47). Further, on TGA pp. 302–303:
“THE MAN BECAME A LIVING CREATURE”
This is yet another huge problem for any attempt to reconcile molecules-to-man evolution with Scripture. Theistic evolution teaches that man evolved from living creatures. But in Genesis, man was made from non-living matter, with no suggestion that the ‘dust’ is intended as a metaphor for something living. Nonetheless, a common theistic evolutionary dodge is to regard ‘dust’ as a metaphor for the ape-like ancestors from which man allegedly evolved. But consider Genesis 3:19, where God judged Adam:
… till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
If the theistic evolutionists were right, then it logically follows that upon death we should become an ape-like ancestor. This is a reductio ad absurdum of the theistic evolutionary dodge. It shows once again that ‘solving’ one problem with eisegetical pretzelizing of the text creates far more problems than it ‘solves’.
In fact, the whole narrative in Genesis chapter 1 is an incredibly crafted piece of Hebrew literature. It is really unique. As I already said, it is not poetry. It is not a hymn. But it’s not just straightforward prose either. Collins calls it exalted prose. It is a highly stylized piece of writing with a certain parallelism that is characteristic of poetry. For example, you have repeated again and again “and God said . . . and God made . . . and it was so” on the various creative days.
This is nothing like the parallelism of Hebrew poetry.
It’s a carefully stylistically structured chapter that exhibits a great deal of literary polish.
But I never disputed that. It is certainly extremely elegantly structured prose, as per TGA pp. 50–51:
GENESIS 1: STRUCTURED PROSE, NOT POETRY
Despite the lack of parallelism, Genesis 1 has a repetitive structure, a common device in ancient literature to aid memorization. However, there is not the slightest linguistic or archaeological evidence or precedent for claiming that this implies anything non-historical about the content. There are four basic themes on each creation day, with minor variations that will be discussed in the specific commentary.
Even the number of the Hebrew letters in Genesis 1 is carefully chosen.
Yes, as per the section The number seven, pp. 15–16.
So it’s not just a simple police report or a scientific report of what happened. Therefore, most evangelical exegetes will say that these narratives are meant to be taken in a sense that is both historical and figurative. The underlying historical events actually happened, but nevertheless the narrative is told in poetic imagery
Yes, exactly, “The underlying historical events actually happened”! But this is precisely the dispute with many.
or figurative speech that shouldn’t be pressed for literal precision.
But it shouldn’t be blatantly contradicted either, in either the time frame, details, or order of events!
So Genesis 1 seems to be a kind of historical but figurative genre of writing. That is to say, it covers historical events but using poetic or figurative language to describe them. If that’s correct, then it would be making unwarranted demands on the text to interpret it literally; in particular it would be unwarranted to press the Hebrew word yom for day to mean that the world was created in six consecutive 24-hour days.
Why not? Already discussed in my previous refutation of Craig.
Moreover, there’s no reason to think that God would speak Hebrew. The narrative is told in the language of the author who’s writing, and we read it in the language of our English Bibles. But God himself doesn’t speak Hebrew, I think we can presume.
Oh really? In TGA p. 449, I argue the contrary, although I won’t be too dogmatic on the issue:
The meanings of the names make sense only in Hebrew, or something very like it. This suggests that this language was the first human language. If so, then Babel added other language families but didn’t alter the language of the Messianic Line. Non-Hebrew names appear only after the Tower of Babel, in Genesis 14—the four invading eastern kings. Some have suggested that the Hebrew names and the associated words (and the word plays, mentioned more than once already) were translated from an unknown, hypothetical primordial language that was not Hebrew. However, I see no evidence for that, and one problem is that there is strong continuity between Genesis pre-Babel and post-Babel, which points to either a written or oral tradition from Noah to Abraham at least.
In fact, Collins pointed out to me at a recent conference that there are certain kinds of anachronisms in Genesis 1 to 11 that also show its non-literal character. One example of this would be when Adam is presented with Eve as the helper that is suitable for him, he cries out, This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman because she was taken out of man. The Hebrew words there for “man” and “woman” (ish and ishah) in fact didn’t exist prior to the time of the monarchy. This is a development linguistically in Hebrew around 1000 BC or so. So Adam, in the primeval history, couldn’t have made this pun because that didn’t exist. It’s an anachronism in the language of the author.
This would be so only by accepting liberal nonsense about the authorship and date of Genesis, dating it to long after Moses’ time. But as stated earlier, this would deny the universal testimony of Christ and the Apostles that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, albeit probably as the editor of Genesis, as well as the internal evidence showing its much earlier date.
As usual with Genesis compromisers, the compromise doesn’t end there—many other doctrines are affected as well. And as usual, if they bother addressing biblical creationist arguments at all, it’s only on the most superficial level.
References and notes
- Craig, W.L., Focus on Adam and Eve, Podcast transcript, reasonablefaith.org, 9 Sep 2018. Return to text.
- Its star reporter Walter Duranty (1884–1957) was a cheerleader for Stalin’s evolution-spawned genocide in the 1930s, including the Ukrainian genocide called the Holodomor (Голодомо́р = ‘extermination by famine’). See Taylor, S.J., Stalin’s Apologist: Walter Duranty: The New York Times’s Man in Moscow, Oxford University Press, 1990. Return to text.
- Kristof, N., Professor, Was Jesus Really Born to a Virgin? I question William Lane Craig of Talbot School of Theology and Houston Baptist University about Christianity, nytimes.com, 21 Dec 2018. Return to text.
- Craig, W.L., Excursus on Creation of Life and Biological Diversity (Part 2): The Literal Interpretation, Podcast transcript, reasonablefaith.org, 19 Dec 2018. Return to text.
- Craig, W.L., Creation and Evolution (Part 4), Podcast transcript, reasonablefaith.org, 15 May 2013. Return to text.
- Craig, W.L., Creation and Evolution (Part 2), Podcast transcript, reasonablefaith.org, 28 April 2013. Return to text.
- I recommend the new concise and informative book Can We Trust the Gospels? (Crossway, 2018), by former CMI contributor Peter J. Williams, now principal or Tyndale house, Cambridge and chair of the International Greek New Testament Project. Return to text.