The Creation foundation for the Gospel
The first article of the Nicene creed states: “We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” Creation is a core doctrine of Christianity that all branches unanimously affirm. Even the most ardent compromisers feel the need to pay lip service to it, even if they deny every biblical detail about creation.
When we defend biblical creation, people often object, “But it’s not a salvation issue!” The implication is that because people can be saved while holding different views about origins, it is less important and not worth being ‘divisive’ about. We can agree that it is not a salvation issue, per se. However, it is a Gospel issue.
Genesis introduces the God who saves us
Who is God to judge us? When we share our faith, we can’t assume that people have a biblical view of God. In fact, in today’s society, it is probably safe to assume that they do not! When God reveals Himself, particularly to people groups who lack acquaintance with Him, He often does so by differentiating Himself as the Creator, distinct from and higher than any other gods.
The New Testament authors do the same. When Paul spoke at Mars Hill, he went back to creation to challenge key errors held by the Epicureans and Stoics in his audience (Acts 17).1
In Lystra, Paul and Barnabas similarly identified their God as the Creator of heaven and earth (Acts 14:15). Paul was given the luxury of three years of evangelism and discipleship of the believers in Corinth, and his later letters to them are filled with sophisticated references to Genesis. That Paul could reference Genesis so often as a precedent for his theology indicates that teaching Gentile believers about creation was a key element of discipleship for Paul.2
This has important implications. God is a good Creator whose laws are beneficial. And when we rebel against His law, He has the right, and even the obligation, to uphold those laws by judging those who break them.
Genesis explains why we need the Gospel
To understand the origin of sin and why we have to be saved, we need Genesis. The creation account in Genesis 1–3 makes it clear that God did not create the world to include sin and death, but that they were intruders introduced by Adam’s rebellion in Eden. Paul makes this especially clear in his great chapter on the Gospel and bodily resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15. Paul first defines the Gospel by which we are saved: believing in Christ’s atoning death, burial, and resurrection on the third day (vv. 1–4). But then he connects Jesus’ resurrection with the reason He came to die: the sin and death of Adam:
For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (vv. 21–22).
A few verses on (v. 45), he explicitly calls Adam “the first man”, not one of a population of humans that evolved from a population of ape-like ancestors. And Paul contrasts Adam with Jesus whom he calls, “the last Adam”: the first man was made from the earth and had to be given life, while the second man is the life-giver from Heaven.
Those who reject a historical interpretation of Genesis may claim that the story of the Fall is true on a spiritual or metaphorical level; but the Bible presents it as true on a historical level. And this was foundational to Paul’s Gospel message. Adam is not just the person who sinned in Eden, but the ancestor of every person ever born on Earth, including Jesus. Luke 3:23–38 comprises an unbroken genealogy from Adam to Christ via undoubtedly historical figures like Abraham and King David. It is far more internally consistent when people who reject the historical truth of Genesis also reject the spiritual aspect.
Genesis gives us the first proclamation of the Gospel
Directly after the first sin, God makes proclamations to the serpent, Eve, and Adam. God curses the serpent and declares war between the woman, the serpent, and the offspring of both. And he tells the serpent that a particular Offspring will crush the serpent’s head, and the serpent would crush His heel (Genesis 3:15). This is often called the protevangelion, because it is the first proclamation of the Good News that there would be salvation from sin.
God’s proclamation to Eve confirms this. She would bring forth children in pain—but the children she, and her female descendants, would bring forth would include the promised Offspring who would crush the head of the serpent.
Genesis introduces the way we can be saved
While about 4,000 years would pass between Adam and Christ, the way to have a relationship with God was introduced long beforehand. Enoch “walked with God”—this shows that God is relational, and Enoch was saved in a rather unique way when God took him to Paradise bodily.
Noah believed God when He told him about the worldwide Flood—something never seen before or since—and Noah believed Him and built the Ark which saved his family (our ancestors) and the animals they took with them.
Abraham is the first person who is explicitly said to have been saved by grace through faith: “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). This is presented as a definitive case study of salvation, and it is important enough that it is cited three times in the New Testament.
In Romans 4, Paul says that because this was before Abraham’s circumcision, it shows that righteousness comes by faith apart from works or the law. In Galatians 6, Paul cited the same verse to show the Galatians how foolish it was to revert to circumcision, that is, to the Law, after having received salvation through faith in Christ.
Interestingly, James 2 uses this same verse to argue that faith without works is dead. Yes, Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness, but that very faith showed itself through his works when he offered Isaac on the altar. Offering Isaac didn’t save Abraham; rather, it was evidence of the genuineness of Abraham’s saving faith.
Salvation grounded in time and space
Christianity is unique in that the foundational claims of our faith are historical. Jesus’ life and ministry can be put on a map and a calendar. The biblical characters are not fairy-tale heroes and villains, they were real people who lived in places that we can identify today. That is not only true for the New Testament but goes all the way back to the beginning, where we find the foundations for our faith.
So as Christians, we shouldn’t be trying to figure out how much of the Bible we can disbelieve and still be saved. Rather, we should be wholeheartedly embracing all of it, including the foundational chapters of Genesis.