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Genesis as history: a discredited interpretation?

Published: 18 May 2019 (GMT+10)

Thomas M. writes:

Defending an old Roman Catholic interpretation of Genesis 1–11 is NOT defending the Bible—it is defending an interpretation of the Bible that even the Roman Catholic Church abandoned over a century ago as academically indefensible! As the pastor of a theologically conservative evangelical church, I love the Bible; and when radicalized Christian fundamentalists make a mockery of the Bible and the Christ at the center of it, I feel very badly for the souls that are rejecting the Bible as fiction because of their foolish teaching.
At the close of Creation Week …
If fossils pre-date the Fall, the Garden of Eden would’ve been on top of rock filled reflective of long ages of death and suffering before Adam’s sin.

CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:

Thanks for writing in. There are several quick-fire points that can be made in response. One, that the Roman Catholic church interpreted Genesis 1–11 the way we do is no argument against our interpretation. Two, the Reformers also interpreted Genesis 1–11 the way we do (What the Reformers believed about Genesis). Three, if our view is “academically indefensible”, what is your alternative? See Creation compromises for pretty much all the alternatives that have been offered, and why we reject them. Four, Christ himself said that “from the beginning of creation he made them male and female” (Mark 10:6). And there’s no legitimate way to avoid the young-age implications of Jesus’ words (‘From the beginning of creation’—what did Jesus mean?). So, if we place Christ at the centre, as we of course should, we should respect His teaching on the order and history of creation.

And of course, you’re concerned with the credibility of the church. But does your method really help? We’re not the ones bending the Bible backwards to try to make it compatible with the secular academy. Of course, they think we’re bending the physical evidence backwards to fit the Bible. So, to them we look crazy, but you look like you’re unwittingly undermining your own cause. So, what looks better: crazy people or ‘useful idiots’? You overestimate how credible a ‘deep time friendly’ church looks to the world. They can read Genesis, too.

And, in all honesty, if someone could show me a legitimate way to make the Bible compatible with deep time, I’d embrace it. But I can’t see it. I simply can’t. The Bible doesn’t bend that way. I’ve seen all the different methods to try and make it bend that way, from the simplistic to the sophisticated, and none of them work.

You haven’t held back about why our perspective troubles you. Allow me to expand on why yours troubles us. Jesus came to die for sinners, and through his death and resurrection to reconcile all of creation to God (Colossians 1:20). This meant fixing the problem Adam caused; i.e. his sin bringing death and suffering into the world (Romans 5:12, Romans 8:19–23, 1 Corinthians 15:20–22). Take away the proper reading of Genesis 1–3 as a world made very good (i.e. full of fertility and life, and lacking suffering and evil) bound to decay in death and suffering as a judgment for Adam’s sin, and you take away the biblical reason for Jesus’ redemptive work (The good news without the bad news is no news at all!).

Why? If the world was originally made in the condition we find it in today, there is nothing to redeem or restore. You could say that God, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, will transform the world into a perfect world, but that’s not the Creation-Fall-Redemption narrative of Scripture. That’s not the story Jesus claimed to be the climax and fulfilment of. It’s a different story (see Redemptive history and evolution don’t mix and Remembering God’s mighty acts: The Bible calls us to read its narrative in ways that contradict ‘deep time’.

So, fossils before any biblically defensible date for the Fall is a problem for evangelicals like yourself who believe in deep time. Fossils are a record of death and suffering. Death and suffering were the result of Adam’s sin, both for us and for the world at large. Fossils (including human fossils) before the Fall implies that death and suffering were not the result of Adam’s sin. Therefore, fossils before the Fall denies the truth of the biblical historical-redemptive narrative Jesus claimed to be the fulfilment of (Drawing power: People get the point when they see these two pictures).

Genesis 1–11 speaks not just to the real world of history and science, but about the real world of history and science. That doesn’t make it a scientific textbook, or any such nonsense. But it does mean that its truths are about the same real world we use science to understand. There’s no shutting off Genesis 1–11 into a realm of myth, fable, and mystery; it’s a text that tells us about the real past (Genesis as ancient historical narrative). And there’s no way to make it compatible with the deep time evolutionary narrative.

But that doesn’t really bother me. Why? The assumptions secularists use to read the physical evidence to reconstruct the past also conflict with what we should use when starting from Scripture (Historical science and miracles). And reconstructing the deep past is trickier and more tendentious business than people often think (CSI and evolution). So, the secularist’s empirical objection is merely the creationist’s research opportunity (Unsolved mysteries). And we see fruit in our labours more than you might expect (see Age of the Earth for some examples). Not that we expect to invincibly convince the greater portion of secular scholarship. Again, the presuppositional abyss between us and them is too great to bridge, at least at present.

We, too, want to keep Christ at the centre. But He’s the fulfilment of the biblical narrative as it is, not as long-agers might want it to be. So, we submit to Scripture, and let the chips fall where they may. If that means rejecting deep time, then so be it. And it certainly looks like that’s what we should do, and there’s no good exegetical reason to reject that seeming picture.

Helpful Resources

15 Reasons to Take Genesis as History
by Dr Don Batten, Dr Jonathan D Sarfati
US $3.50
Soft Cover
The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $39.00
Hard Cover
Creation, Fall, Restoration
by Andrew S Kulikovsky
US $24.00
Soft Cover
From Creation to Salvation
by Lita Cosner
US $14.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Matthew R.
There is one other point I felt was pertinent regarding Thomas's statements. He stated, "... when radicalized Christian fundamentalists make a mockery fo the Bible and the Christ at the center of it, I feel very badly for the souls that are rejecting the Bible as fiction because of their foolish teaching. I would have him (and others like him) consider this: You are being taught as fact that the world & universe are billions of years old and that all life evolved from lower life forms over millions/ billions of years, and your pastor is telling you to accept most or all of this as truth. Now when you consult your Bible and see that what it states regarding creation & the early history of the earth is clearly at odds with what you've been taught (and told by your pastor to accept), what other logical conclusion can you come to except that the Bible must be a work of fiction? Therefore I would ask: which side is REALLY the one that is causing souls to reject the Bible as fiction (and frequently to reject their faith as well)? Honestly, in consideration of this point, I often find it laughable that creationists are the ones that are being accused of causing people to reject their faith.
Peter C.
Thomas M, I am pretty sure a lot of us would love to see your counter argument to this excellent answer.
As a Pastor we would expect you to be able to either point by point give a Biblical alternative, or humbly agree if you cannot counter it.
But also you would surely already know these answers as this great resource has been around for so many decades giving life changing scientific and biblical answers to many preposterous ideas both secular and spiritual.
Thanks again CMI for another well reasoned responce.
Tan E.
Reading the pastor's writings, I wonder who was mocking the Bible and Christ. Can we really not accept at least the plausibility of a literal interpretation? What good reasons does he have to reject it? People reject the Bible because they accept the Lie (evolution) and suppress the Truth. If there was no real Adam, was there real sin, and if no real sin, why do we need salvation and the Saviour? The centre of Christ's mission is to save sinful humanity from their sins (remember the name Jesus) Besides, Christ Himself and the Apostles verified the historical interpretation of the Scriptures. For God's sake, don't trouble His servants who are defending what He said. I feel badly for Christians who said they love the Bible and yet cannot take God at His words but read into and distort their intended meanings. If Genesis 1-11 are mythical where do you draw the line between chapters 11 and 12, did we really cross from myth into history? Remember the serpent's question, "Has God indeed said...?"
Gian Carlo B.
Excellent rebuttal. He could’ve easily used academics like John Walton who don’t support a historical Genesis interpretation, but even his has problems. Problems that totally backfire on him. To be honest, the Genesis cosmology interpreted under a YAC is not at all incompatible with today’s Digital Physics from the innovations of QIT and quantum physics. There’s no problem in creating the Earth first before the sun or even star clusters under a Digital Physics framework. So YAC’s cosmological interpretation of Genesis being unscientific or not compatible? That’s obviously nonsense.
Dan M.
"As the pastor of a theologically conservative evangelical church, I love the Bible", Well, except the parts you don't agree with. When I got saved, I had to decide whether I believed the whole gospel or not. You can't pick and choose what part you want to believe. Ether it is all correct and makes sense or it is full of mythology and can't be trusted. Fortunately it summarizes what is wrong with the creation, (that Jesus Himself said He was responsible for making) and presents a final fix, (Jesus Himself). Also the fossil record makes sense only if there was a very good creation followed by great flood. There are a plethora of other observations that confirm the scriptures as far as I'm concerned but you have to study it for yourself. I suspect you haven't read much of the creationist literature yourself due to an absence of point by point rebuttal?
Seth C.
That the Bible was written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit is true for Joshua on forward. The first five, on the other hand, was penned by a man who was God's neighbor for forty years.

Can you imagine the conversations God had with Moses during those forty years? I'm sure not a single one of them went like this:

"Moses! I see you are writing a book."

"Yes. I'm going to call it 'The Beginning'."

"Fascinating. What is it about."

"The Beginning."

"Hey, I was there for that! Want any input?"

"No, I'm good. It's really an allegory for Good and Evil."

"Okay, but make sure you don't make it look like I made everything in seven days. People might start to think I'm some kind of miracle worker."

"...Seven days. Got it."
Shaun Doyle
Graham P.
Radicalized Christian Fundamentalists: one supposes that the poor widow who gave her last few coins, in the Bible, was a Radicalized Christian Fundamentalist. William Wilberforce, who believed that Britain oughtn't have slaves, was a Radicalized Christian Fundamentalist. Louis Pasteur, who defied all the world to assert that cells only comes from cells, was undoubtedly a Radicalized Christian Fundamentalist. Jesus Himself must have been a Radicalized Christian Fundamentalist. The countless Chinese believers who have been tortured to death over the last 100 years were certainly Radicalized Christian Fundamentalists. What's wrong with leaving everything and following Christ?
David S.
“...let God be true, but every man a liar, as it is written, that thou mightiest be justified in thy sayings and mightiest overcome when thou art judged.” To those who are ashamed to take God at his word, judge God if you must. You cannot, however, win that proposition. God will overcome your unbelief and be justified in everyone’s eyes in the end. Better to just bite the bullet and get on board with Jesus, who was not ashamed in the least of His Father’s true word, to the point of giving up His very life.
Mike D.
As I've said before. Our starting point & base should ALWAYS be the INERRANCY of Scripture. I plant my flag there & keep it there & never move it even when it's challenged. It's my fallback position w/o fail.

When challenged, I keep my flag firmly planted on INERRANCY & then search for the answer while never moving my flag off INERRANCY!

With all the sites available today, unlike the past, through the internet. Like CMI, ICR, APOMOGETICS PRESS, SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH etc. It's unlikely I won't find the answer I need within those groups.

It works out perfectly. I never moved from my home base of INERRANCY & then found the answer which solidifies my faith even more.

Sadly, too many move their flag first thing & then rarely look & research for the answer that's out there.

In the very rare case I don't find the answer. I still never move my flag. Because I know in whom I believe! The answer will be found at some point but in no way will I move my flag off INERRANCY regardless!

I know I trust explicitly in God Thee Father, Son Jesus as Savior & Creator, & Holy Spirit. Blessed are those that believe!
Richard D.
Wow.... Useful idiot....! And when no longer needed.... tossed aside.... And one then has to ask the spiritual question, "Who is the real puppet master?"
This guy does not get it, the clear historical account of Genesis...And the power of God's Word to set us free, "You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free!" Jesus Christ "The Word made flesh!"-And Jesus supported Genesis as real history!
The historical narrative of Genesis provide the framework to clearly understand that the evidence we have today points clearly to a young earth and special creation, and the worldwide judgement of sin by the flood of Noah's day. As well as away from evolution and an old earth. (John 3:12- Jesus' affirmation)
The pastor has chosen, and his choice is Darwin and his disciples as his final say, as his framework .... And this in the face of all that Creation Ministries International offers to help Christians and unbelievers see the lie of the rebellious heart of Darwin and his followers, as well as all the bad fruit evolution produces. I truly believe who has final say in ones life tells a lot about what or who really is God in our life...who we revere and fear. Especially when we kick against the goads!!! All I can say is...Wow...! The Lord's return is drawing near... and pray for his congregation... That they will know God's Anointed by their fruit.
Robin M.
Outstanding summary response, plus many links for further explanation if needed!
Kate S.
Excellent response. Thank you!
Michael S.
One of the best summarizations that gives succinct, iron-clad reasons for why old ages just don’t add up. So very well written. Thank you!
Geoff C. W.
@Thomas M. Ask yourself why you believe in an old earth. And if it's because someone told you it was old (a teacher? a parent?), ask yourself how they know. If you chase down that rabbit hole, you will eventually come to someone who thought up evolution, or embraced it, because they wanted to reject the idea that there is a God. So you're basing your beliefs on atheistic dogma. Not good!
Muslims do the same thing in their beliefs in an Allah. They haven't come to those beliefs because they have studied the options and decided that that one was correct. They have simply, for the most part, believed something said (through 'brainwashing') by someone they trust. Go down THAT rabbit hole and you will eventually come to someone adopting Islam in order to avoid death or heavy taxes.
False teachings always have a motive. When that is recognised, it's easier to come to the truth.
Neil O.
Good response! And a useful framework for Creation evengelising. However, you say, "And, in all honesty, if someone could show me a legitimate way to make the Bible compatible with deep time, I’d embrace it."
Though, I 'get' the conciliatory intent, given the wealth of Creationist science-based fatal flaws in the Deep Time paradigm, wasn't that 'an olive branch too far? (so to speak).
Otherwise, congratulations on a great additional working tool for such myself.
Shaun Doyle
The key is it must be legitimate. In other words, I need to be shown that the best way to read the Bible is in a way that is compatible with deep time. It won't do to make a case for it being possible. I need to know that I'm on better exegetical ground that I currently stand, otherwise I won't budge. I take this as a simple acknowledgement that, while I'm firmly convinced the Bible teaches a chronology and event sequence hopelessly at odds with the 'billions of years' evolutionary picture, it is theoretically possible that I could be convinced that I'm wrong. Practically speaking, though, I don't think it could happen.
S H.
As important than the points being made... as a self-declared pastor of a church is it helpful or does it honour the Bible and Jesus to call other Christians 'radicalized Christian fundamentalists' and accuse them of 'making a mockery of the Bible and Christ'? The Bible says that people will know Jesus because of our love for one another and that our conversation should be seasoned with grace (inside and outside). I do understand that we all mess up and allow our inner-frustrations to get the better of us (I know I do so I'm not judging here!) but personally I want to try to honour other Christians, even where we disagree. Sometimes in our quest to love God and his Word we can delve too deep into the overly intellectual world of the limited human mind and miss God's very simple but deeply profound truths. I do pray God's blessing on you, his revelation knowledge from the Holy Spirit and must commend you for wanting to defend Jesus and God's Word.
Bruce B.
Thomas M.’s letter fills me with deep disappointment. Since becoming born-again 21 years ago I have striven, with varying degrees of success and failure, to learn as much as I can and to follow as closely as I can the teachings and ways of our Lord Jesus. This process also involved learning to recognise the deceits such as ET and not to be lead astray by them. It is shattering to hear from Thomas that I am ‘a radicalised Christian fundamentalist’. How he knows this about me I’ve no idea, I don’t believe we’ve ever met. It seems that simply reading God’s word is insufficient for Thomas so much so that he must enlist the aid of men to help him understand what God really meant when He gave us Genesis 1-11.
Despite this discouragement I will continue to lean heavily upon the wisdom, knowledge and faithfulness of all my friends at CMI as they continually strive to do God’s will and work. May the Lord bless you all.
Michael D.
Dear Thomas,
I would like to respectfully question the use of the highly charged words "radicalization" and "fundamentalist" in your comment. I feel that these very emotive terms are unnecessary in promoting clear thinking and logical debate about these issues. In these divisive times we live in, words such as these are often used to smear an opposing viewpoint without carefully examining and considering it. I have personally come to a belief in young earth creation through my own study of the scriptures. In particular I examined all the references in the gospels that Jesus made to the Torah and Genesis in particular, I counted about 55 in the gospels, but there may be more. I came to the inescapable conclusion that our Lord took the books of Moses literally and believed that the creation of humankind was very close to the beginning of creation. That is what I base my belief on. Having previously been a, evolutionist/nihilist/atheist, I have found that the knowledge of God as my Creator has transformed my life, and given me great joy in witnessing to others. I find ministries such as Creation.com are very helpful in equipping me with very good scientific evidence showing that the evolutionary paradigm is lacking and the biblical narrative is credible. I don't base my faith on this evidence however, but on the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, who said,"Sanctify them through Your truth, Your Word is truth" (John17:17). Contrary to what you said I have found that knowing and believing the full truth of the biblical historical narrative from Genesis 1:1 onwards has actually been very effective in sharing the gospel, as many have been led to believe that "evolution" obviates the need for a Creator and most importantly a Saviour. Respectfully Yours in Christ,Mike
James K.
Here’s an idea ‘pastor’ Thomas. Instead of compromising with the world why not follow the bible entirely and stop trying to worm your way through loopholes? I know about quite a few ‘christian’ girls from ‘conservative evangelical’ denominations who have committed sodomy with atheist guys thinking that it doesn’t count as premarital relations and God is fine with it. Their actions are correlated with how false teachers like you have disrespected and completely tarnished the clear teachings of scripture. Do you think the atheists respect you? The atheists laugh at you as they mock those ‘christian’ girls. The church has been compromising for over 100 years and it is not getting better.
Zach S.
"Academically Indefensible"? I have a legit question; Do these people even bother to read creationist material? or kept up with the latest discoveries in Molecular Biology, Genetics and Physics? and/or read up on the ever increasing soft-tissue, DNA, blood cells, carbon 14, and more recently even SKIN found in dinosaur/dragon bones? Because it seems to me the creation model is becoming more and more feasible by the day and evolution is literally collapsing under it's own weight.
Shaun Doyle
Most who criticize us don't bother reading creationist material. The few who do often misunderstand it, or seek to impose their own presuppositions on our research programs.
Richard L.
The fundamental issue here is whether you interpret the world in the light of the revealed truths of scripture, or interpret scripture guided by the flawed academia of the world.

If you take the second stance, then everything in scripture is open to the compromise of fallen human reasoning - salvation, marriage, euthanasia, abortion to name a few - and anyone with half an eye can see that happening.

Academia of every spectrum always has a vested interest because of a bias toward a philosophical starting point. The problem with starting points is they have an end goal. An informed starting point is crucial for a truthful outcome. Choose whether you want to be informed by the Word or the world.
Louis C.
Brilliant tour de force of all the reasons to reject bending the Bible to fit secular views about history! Thanks!

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