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Is Genesis infallible?

Published: 22 November 2014 (GMT+10)

Robin B. from New Zealand wrote in response to ‘What if Jesus tells you you’re wrong?’:

Photo: iStock bible

Lita, your reply to AK is based on the premise that Genesis is the infallible Word of God and is literally and exactly true. Who actually wrote Genesis is speculation, but whoever it was must have been either Moses or a post Moses individual as we find references to Yahweh, a post Moses term. So where did Moses or another author get his information? As fundamentalists we may respond it was direct revelation from God. Pragmatists however may argue it was from oral tradition passed down through the generations down to Noah and his children through the Patriarchs and eventually finishing with Moses/post Moses author. Most fundamentalists don’t like the pragmatist interpretation as is allows an error-prone human element into holy writ, so would go for the Divine origin as the source Moses or whoever the collator/author of book of Genesis got via revelation. A 6,000 year universe or billions of years universe is something I don’t think God is perturbed about.

 However you cannot compare Genesis to NT scripture. Genesis covers an alleged history of thousands of years, whereas the gospels and epistles found in the New Testament were written within 60 years of Jesus crucifixion and are eyewitness accounts or third party accounts from eyewitnesses, plus beliefs and teachings of Apostles of the fledgling first century Christian church. They are theological and make no scientific claims.

CMI however try to interpret Genesis scientifically whereas believers such as myself and possibly A.K. interpret allegorically rather than literally. To compare the book of Genesis to the eyewitness accounts of the Gospels is erroneous in my view. The book of Genesis was not penned by an eye-witness.

Lita Cosner responds:

Dear Robin,

Well, you have one thing right. My reply was absolutely “based on the premise that Genesis is the infallible Word of God and is literally and exactly true.” I might quibble a bit over the ‘literal’ part, because I do believe there are various kinds of figurative speech throughout the Bible (for instance, when David longs to hide in the shadow of God’s wings (Psalm 17:8), he doesn’t literally think God has feathery appendages). But I believe the plain sense of Scripture is the best when it comes to interpreting the Bible.

I also believe that Moses was the author of the first 5 books of the Bible, because Jesus affirmed that he was (for instance, John 5:46). I have no problem with Moses having existing records that he compiled into the book of Genesis; the ancient conception of authorship most definitely included what we would call more of an ‘editor’. And Genesis itself has the toledot structure that seems to indicate pre-existing documents. This is perfectly consistent with the fact that God inspired Scripture by superintending what the human authors wrote (2 Peter 1:20–21).

If God didn’t care what we believed about the age of the earth, why would He include so much chronological data in Scripture? Even if the age had no theological implications, the fact that it is in Scripture would make it important. But see Did God create over billions of years? for the reasons why we believe the age of the earth is actually a Gospel issue.

We can compare Genesis to NT Scripture, because the same God inspired them both. And while I agree that the purpose of Scripture is not primarily to make scientific claims, both the Old and New Testaments certainly make historical claims that impinge on science. For instance, Peter affirms a global Flood from which only 8 people were saved in the Ark (1 Peter 3:20). Jesus affirmed the historical Adam (Matthew 19:4–5), and Paul made him the centerpiece of his arguments about atonement (Romans 5:12–21) and the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15). If the NT authors took Genesis as authoritative, which they certainly did, but Genesis is full of error, then we can’t preserve the NT either, because Genesis is its foundation.

CMI does not interpret Genesis scientifically. But we believe it is a true historical account, and that will necessarily have an impact on scientific theories (more specifically, in the area of historical science where we try to reconstruct what happened in the past). The book of Genesis was not compiled by an eyewitness, but it was inspired by an eyewitness, the Creator Himself.

Helpful Resources

The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $35.00
How Did We Get Our Bible?
by Lita Cosner, Gary Bates
US $3.50
15 Reasons to Take Genesis as History
by Dr Don Batten, Dr Jonathan D Sarfati
US $3.50

Readers’ comments

R. D.
To Lita's comments in reply I might add another - I'm astonished that Robin doesn't seem to realise that to self-identify as "fundamentalists" in this day and age is foolhardy. Perhaps in NZ that word still retains its proper meaning - if so then great, but it has probably been 20 years or so since it has been used as anything other than a slur just about anywhere where I've taken note of.

And in addition to Renton's comments, I'd add that I am quite sure that indeed Genesis was redacted (edited) by Moses and that the toledot indicate the original individual authors of the various sections. This includes Adam for Genesis 2:4b-5:1a, so I'd agree that it was indeed human eyewitness testimony and probably almost entirely unaltered to this day. And this indeed makes God the only possible inscriptor (so to speak) of Genesis 1:1-2:4a, as He was the original inscriptor of the ten commandments. However, Lita is of course quite correct that we have no explicit statement of any of this anywhere elsewhere in the canon, whereas we do have Christ's explicit confirmation of Mosaic authorship of the Torah in several different places. She is also correct that there are a handful of unmistakeable "editor's comments" in Genesis as we have it now, as Dr Taylor noted in the linked article from 1994. This makes Genesis broadly comparable to Mark's and Luke's Evangels, and much of Acts. Only Matthew and John are direct eyewitness testimony in New Covenant Scripture.
Richard L.
Amen, Lita!

Hi Robin, 4 thoughts:

1. The name YHWH was not only known as early as Moses' time; it was know right from the beginning. Eve references YHWH by that name (Gen. 4:1). Whoever is telling you otherwise is giving you wrong speculation, NOT something reliable.

2. Your wording suggests the influence of the Documentary Hypothesis on you. Please note: (1) the authors of that idea were anti-miracle theologians wrongly believing that writing had to have started long after Moses' era--thus, oral transmission, (2) they built a mountain of speculation upon ZERO hard evidence (no extant transitional document exists, no historical redactor/editor has ever been identified). Please cease your obligation to such "hollow deception".

3. Please look the Holy Spirit in the eye. Don't forget him-- a danger, given the influences in which you've immersed yourself. His quality of the inspiration process is just as perfect in Genesis as it is in the New Testament. Please see the hurt in his eyes when you say that the NT is more reliable.

4. Please liberate yourself from destructive influences, by meditating on the character of God, the Communicator --- the Creator. The Creator is all-powerful, all-present and all-knowing. As such, he is the ultimate-expert communicator. He is committed to truthfulness: he is the ultimate-expert, absolutely truthful communicator. He gifts us with communicative ability; thus, he is the most-skilled communicator. The Holy Spirit is the ultimate-expert, absolutely truthful, ultimately-skilled communicator. And he safeguards his precious scripture. Does your thinking adequately reflect this. Please be liberated!
Dave G.
Regarding Lita Cosner's closing comment, "The book of Genesis was not compiled by an eyewitness, but it was inspired by an eyewitness, the Creator Himself." — the 28th chapter of Job speaks to this truth in no uncertain terms.
Verses 24-27: "For He looks to the ends of the earth And sees everything under the heavens. When He imparted weight to the wind And meted out the waters by measure, When He set a limit for the rain And a course for the thunderbolt, Then He saw it and declared it; He established it and also searched it out."
Note that "He SAW it and DECLARED it (emphasis added)". He was the eyewitness and the One Who declared it through the divinely-inspired record.
Renton M.
I'm sure that on reflection Lita would agree that the last sentence in her response is not correct. Some of Genesis was written by [human] eye witnesses, in fact probably most of it was, including much of Genesis 2.
Lita Cosner
Renton, thanks for this comment. While, as the article stated, I believe that Genesis likely did come from precursor documents (the toledoth structure, and descriptions of pre-Flood landmarks as if they were current lend themselves to that interpretation). However, even if they were written by eyewitnesses 1) we would not be able to appeal to them for the trustworthiness of the account, because neither Genesis itself nor the rest of Scripture talks about them explicitly, 2) we would not be able to say that their testimony was completely true and unembellished, and 3) at the very least, the Genesis 1 narrative has God as the only possible eyewitness, and He is also the only eyewitness who can ensure infallibility.
John F. K.
Lita Cosner, I like your reply. Well stated. During our season of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for you and the work of CMI.
Charles S.
As I see it , Robin asked questions and presented concepts based upon preconceived or reconciliatory conclusions that attempt to make the Bible conform to naturalistic science while ignoring the wonderful works in progress that reconciles science to scriptures. Robin, please do not discount these very good works in progress.
Ronald W.
You have provided a logical weel thought out response as usual. I personally feel that people have a problem accepting Genesis as history because of what passes a 'science' in this age. As an 'adult learner' who is enrolled in college now, I can honestly say that critically analyzing the accepted scientific theories is unacceptable to say the least. I am so glad that I have the truth of God's word to keep me anchored as I progress through a predominantly humanistic education system. Many thanks to you and the rest of the CMI staff as well.
Darren J.
I liked this article , short , sharp , and to the point. Thanks .
Jane V.
If one part of Scripture is not true the whole thing is not true since it hangs together. The Apostle Paul says: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. ….For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. …. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. …The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven.” ICor. 15.
The Bible is our primary reference for making sense of ourselves and the universe. Christians uncertain about the truth of Genesis need to ask themselves some tough questions: If man evolved from apes at what point did the ape/man beings become spiritual beings? Did ape/man beings sin and when did that happen since they died? Will ape/man beings be in heaven? If God lied about how he made the earth and Adam is he not also lying about there being a heaven at all? If Genesis is not true the whole Bible is not true. “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” Col.2:8
Howard K.
Thank you for the opportunity to say "Amen" to your defense of the infallibility of the Old Testament. I think you did a good job of answering the question. I particularly liked your statement, "Even if the age of the earth had no theological implications, the fact that it is in Scripture would make it important." I also noticed that you quite properly ignored the groundless assertion that "Yahweh" is a post-Mosaic word. (How I wonder, could anyone actually think that he knew that to be true?)

While it is true that the New Testament is sufficient to establish the trustworthiness of the Old, the historical fact is that the Old was used by Jesus and his apostles as the authority to authenticate the message of the New.

Furthermore, I think it is likely that the materials Moses used were official documents compiled by eye-witnesses, and handed down in the family from Adam through Noah to Abraham, etc. There is much to suggest this; as you may be aware, since Henry Morris set forth this thesis in "The Genesis Record" decades ago.
William W.
Lita Cosner slams it right out of the ball park with another home run! The feedback CMI has to deal with is very telling of the extent of damage the school of 'higher criticism' has wreaked on the foundation of our faith. Saddled with confusion and doubt, yet an attitude of surety, shows a gross lack of discernment. But faithfully the Creation Ministries team addresses any and all comers! I thank God and you all for this crucial work and the equipping you provide for everyone.
J. D.
What an amazing thing to open my mail this morning and find just the article I needed. This was a topic that came up for discussion last night with my husband and hence my family. I can do this with my children , giving them an even stronger foundation, and hopefully take it further with my husband without him getting heated. You have laid everything out so clearly and plainly. THANK YOU for the good work that you do.
Damien S.
Great response Lita :-)

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