Minister and Bible scholar: Genesis is history!
Jonathan Sarfati interviews Rev. Dr Peter Barnes
Peter Barnes, M.A. (Hons), B.D., Dip.Ed, Th.D. is the minister of Revesby Presbyterian Church in Sydney, Australia. He earned his doctorate for a thesis “Living in a Halfway House: The Rise of Liberal Evangelicalism in the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales, 1865–1915”, about the rise in his denomination of ‘higher’ biblical criticism (which is now largely defeated). He is also a lecturer on church history, from the Church Fathers to the Reformation and its aftermath. He is married to Lyn, and they have six children and seven grandchildren (so far!).
Rev. Dr Peter Barnes is well known in Australasia for very logically argued articles and books defending biblical reliability and morality. Even before I joined CMI 20 years ago, I had benefited from his book The Gospel: Did Paul and Jesus Agree?1 This refutes liberal critics who claim that Paul was the real founder of Christianity and departed from Jesus’ teaching. In reality, Jesus was looking forward to His death and Resurrection, while Paul was looking back at Jesus’ victory over sin and death. Later, I had the privilege of speaking in Dr Barnes’ church. So I was happy when he consented to be interviewed.
Biblical criticism: the good and bad kinds
Since his thesis was on biblical criticism, I asked him to elucidate. Dr Barnes explained that there are two types, ‘higher’ and ‘lower’. Despite the negative connotations of the word ‘criticism’, he explains that lower criticism is no threat to the authority of Scripture, but in fact tries to determine from the available manuscripts what the Holy Spirit inspired. For example, he says:
There are some passages of the New Testament which may or may not constitute part of the original text. One example concerns the last twelve verses of Mark (Mark 16:9–20). There are arguments for and against its inclusion in Mark’s Gospel.
But most of the differences are not even translatable, e.g. whether a particular proper name has an article (‘the’) or not. By contrast, higher criticism is dangerous because:
It takes upon itself to criticize Scripture itself. There is a rationalist underpinning to it, and so it attacks difficulties as rank contradictions, and is happy to say that parts of Scripture are wrong, even radically wrong. This is an assault on the inerrant Word of God.
Effect on faith
This was hardly just an academic exercise for Peter. He was raised in a liberal church, i.e. one that had swallowed higher criticism’s attack on God’s written word:
I do not believe that I ever heard the Gospel preached. I read a lot, including an aborted attempt to read through the Bible when a 13-year-old (I sank halfway through Leviticus).
Fortunately, the Holy Spirit and the Bible He inspired could not be thwarted even by an apostate church. As Dr Barnes says, “It was reading Romans later, along with Augustine, which led me to salvation by God’s grace in Christ Jesus.”
Genesis and the Gospel
The first book of the Bible has come under the attack of higher critics, fuelled by evolutionary ideas. This is a dangerous threat to Christianity, as pastors like Rev. Barnes are fully aware. He says that while he doesn’t preach on Genesis every week, it is foundational:
Adam was a real man in a real place. His sin brought death into the world (Romans 5:12–19).2 Christ, “the last Adam”, came to undo the work of “the first man, Adam” in dying for our sin and rising from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:21–22, 45).3
Also, if we have no confidence about where we have come from, we can have no confidence about where we are going. If Genesis is a myth, so too might Revelation 21–22 be.4
But what sort of literature is Genesis, and how does science relate? Dr Barnes explains:
We ought not to claim more than we ought regarding the science of the Bible. Ecclesiastes 1:5 says that the sun rises and sets. We still use that language today in every weather report. It speaks of the sun as we see it.
However, Genesis does more than speak of nature in that way. There is a genealogy in Genesis 5 and another one in Genesis 11, both affirmed by the historian Luke (3:23–38). These deal with real people in real places.5 Genesis is not myth, nor, in the first place, polemic. It presents itself as history, not poetry.6
History of interpretation of Genesis
Some critics of a literal Genesis claim that CMI’s view is a modern invention, while the early church treated Genesis as allegory. Dr Barnes points out that the vast majority of Church Fathers treated Genesis as history. The critics usually bring up two or three who supposedly did not, but “they were the exceptions”, and even then the evidence is not on the critics’ side, as he explains:
For all his love of allegory, Origen (182–254) still saw the Bible as history. However, he thought the world was a few thousand years older than Genesis would appear to allow.7
The other main ‘exception’ is Augustine (354–430). But this hardly helps the critics, since “he went the other way, and seems to have believed that the earth was relatively young,8 but was created in a millisecond, not six days.”9
Closer to our own time, what about the Reformers, such as John Calvin (1509–1564)? Again, the critics have misrepresented them:
Alister McGrath (1953– ) says that Calvin did not regard the days of creation in Genesis 1 as literal days. That is not true, as Calvin makes clear in his comments on Genesis 1:5 where he responds to Augustine without actually naming him:
“Here the error of those is manifestly refuted, who maintain that the world was made in a moment. For it is too violent a cavil to contend that Moses distributes the work which God perfected at once into six days, for the mere purpose of conveying instruction. Let us rather conclude that God himself took the space of six days, for the purpose of accommodating his works to the capacity of men.”10
In the next century—the 17th—we have the Westminster Standards. Question 15 of the Larger Catechism asks: “What is the work of the creation?” It gives the answer as “The work of creation is that wherein God did in the beginning, by the word of his power, make of nothing the world, and all things therein, for himself, within the space of six days, and all very good.”11 One could easily add to these references.
Rise of long-age interpretations
Contrary to what many critics claim, it is the old-earth interpretations that are recent. It is no coincidence that they arose when uniformitarian geology became dogma in the early 19th century. They are clearly a reaction to the alleged ‘science’ rather than coming from the Hebrew text. Dr Barnes explains a few of them:12
The gap theory, which invents a long time gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, was popularised by Thomas Chalmers who died in 1847, twelve years before Darwin published On the Origin of Species. Chalmers held strongly to the inerrancy of Scripture, but the gap theory is less than convincing—the Hebrew just doesn’t allow for it, and it puts fossils, therefore human and animal death, before Adam’s sin.
The day-age theory, which claims that the creation days were millions of years, was also advanced about the same time. I held to it for about a year after I became a Christian. However, the ‘there was evening and morning’ pattern in Genesis 1 makes that difficult to hold, as well as putting death before the Fall.
The framework hypothesis, which was not thought of until the 20th century by the Dutch theologian Arie Noordtzij (1871–1944),13 was then defended by American theologian Meredith Kline (1922–2007).14 This agrees that the days were ordinary days, but that does not mean that they should be read as straightforward history; rather the days were a literary framework. They all look like rather desperate attempts to evade the obvious in order to avoid a fight with evolutionists.
These theologians presumably think that evolution is proven, so we must ‘pretzelize’ Scripture to conform to it, no matter what the cost. Dr Barnes argues that there is nothing to be afraid of:
The evolutionary hypothesis is lacking in scientific backing. It is, as Michael Denton says, “still a theory in crisis”.15 So much of the Church has raised the white flag when there was no substantial enemy on the attack.
References and notes
- Evangelical Press, 1994. Return to text.
- Cosner, L., Romans 5:12–21: Paul’s view of a literal Adam, J. Creation 22(2):105–107, 2008; creation.com/romans5. Return to text.
- Cosner, L., Christ as the Last Adam: Paul’s use of the Creation narrative in 1 Corinthians 15, J. Creation 23(3):70–75, 2009; creation.com/1-corinthians-15. Return to text.
- Cosner, L. and Bates, G., The new earth: Christ’s victory over the Fall, creation.com/new-earth, 20 April 2014. Return to text.
- Freeman, T.R., The Genesis 5 and 11 fluidity question, J. Creation 19(2):83–90, 2005, creation.com/fluidity; Sarfati, J., Biblical chronogenealogies, J. Creation 17(3):14–18, 2003; creation.com/chronogenealogy; Cosner, L., How does the Bible teach 6,000 years? Creation 35(1):54–55, January 2013; creation.com/6000-years. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Genesis is history, Creation 37(2):50–52, 2015; creation.com/genesis-is-history. Return to text.
- Origen, Against Celsus 1.19, Ante-Nicene Fathers 4:404. He defended “the Mosaic account of the creation, which teaches that the world is not yet ten thousand years old, but very much under that.” Return to text.
- Augustine, The City of God 12(10): “They are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6,000 years have yet passed.” Return to text.
- See also Zuiddam, B., Augustine: young earth creationist, J. Creation 24(1):5–6, 2010; creation.com/augustine. Return to text.
- Calvin, J., Genesis, 1554, p. 78, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, UK, 1984; or see creation.com/calvin. Return to text.
- This follows the Westminster Confession of Faith 4(1–2): “It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good.” Return to text.
- These views have also been refuted in our books such as Batten, D., Ed, The Creation Answers Book, chapters 2–3, 6th Edn, CBP, 2014; creation.com/s/10-2-505. Return to text.
- Noordtzij, A., God’s Word and Testimony of the Ages: The Old Testament in the Light of Eastern Excavations, 1924. Return to text.
- Kline, M.G., Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 48:1–15, 1996. Return to text.
- Dr Michael Denton (1943– ) is a British-Australian biochemist/geneticist and agnostic non-creationist who wrote the classic Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (1985) and the update Evolution: Still a Theory in Crisis (2016). Return to text.