Explore
Click here to view CMI's position on climate change.
This article is from
Journal of Creation 33(3):40–42, December 2019

Browse our latest digital issue Subscribe

A biased survey of the history of Genesis interpretation

A review of Since the Beginning: Interpreting Genesis 1 and 2 through the ages by Kyle Greenwood (Ed.)
Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 2018

by

book-cover

Our doctrine of inspiration is primarily Christological, not a result of the academic study of the documents of Scripture. This is because, even if we can point to hundreds of places the Old Testament has been confirmed by archaeological finds and contemporary documents, no amount of proof is sufficient to establish inerrancy. And even if we were able to prove that the biblical documents are completely accurate, that would not mean they were necessarily inspired by God. So Christ’s explicit statement that Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35), and His authoritative use of the Old Testament serves as the foundation for our own view.

Since the Beginning is a very academic book. The contributors span the Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Christian faiths, which is the first indication that the book can have no unified theological outlook. The assumptions at play are nearly uniformly theologically liberal. One wishes for the book at some point, at any point, to take a stand against evolution, against uniformitarianism, and against the worldly skepticism that dominates mainstream academia. Unfortunately, you can’t always get what you want.

Are all views equally valid?

Since the Beginning introduces us to views across a wide spectrum. As the editor of the book, Kyle Greenwood, states:

“We will incline our ears to Christian theologians, Greek Sophists, and Jewish rabbis, sometimes in dialogue with each other, and other times with no one in particular. In other words, we will hear the words of prophets, philosophers, and preachers ‘since the beginning’ to the present day” (xx).

From the believing Christian standpoint, however, not all opinions about Genesis are valid. We believe that Genesis is the inspired Word of God that exists to tell us how God created the world, how mankind fell and sin and death were introduced into the world, and what God promised to do to restore creation. Ultimately, Genesis points us to Christ.

Genesis means nothing

The reader of Since the Beginning will be interested to know that apparently we’ve rediscovered how the ancient Hebrews viewed the world, and it was apparently just like the modern-day liberal! For instance, “the highly stylistic prose of Gen. 1 indicates to the reader/hearer that the interests of its author lie in the theological message of its contents, not in its scientific precision” (p. 4). Therefore the days are not literal days. But wait, the discerning reader may ask, what about Exodus 20 and 31, both of which are “predicated on the six-day creation week” (p. 5)?

“[I]t is likely more accurate to speak of an underlying Sabbath tradition behind Gen. 1 than to suppose that Gen. 1 prescribes Sabbath law. That is, Sabbath observance would have likely already been in place before its codification in the Ten Commandments or Gen. 1” (p. 5).

But note what this presupposes—that it was not written by Moses or even close to contemporaneously with him. The context of Exodus claims to be that the Israelites have been newly freed from Egyptian slavery—not an arrangement that is conducive to a tradition of having a day of rest every week. The gift of the Sabbath is an indication that God is not a taskmaster like the Egyptians, but that He is gracious to His people. If Since the Beginning is correct, it is a false history which is based upon a false cosmology—it means nothing.

Adam

It should surprise no one that this book does not view Adam as the literal first man or the man responsible for unleashing sin and death upon humanity. This is not from the biblical text itself, but from the assumption of evolutionary history.

A biased history

Any summary of positions throughout history will be biased, because even in the act of deciding who and what to include, one must exercise discernment. But Since the Beginning routinely includes those who interpret Genesis figuratively, while excluding or discounting those who interpret it plainly. For instance, “Philo comments that to consider that the earth was created in six literal days (i.e. twenty-four-hour periods) would be a sure indication of great simplicity” (p. 30). While immediately acknowledging that Philo’s view was that God created instantaneously, the book does not go into his philosophical reasoning that neither the book nor any modern interpreter would agree with.

wikipedia.orgjosephus
Figure 1. Flavius Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews interpreted Genesis as history.

Josephus (figure 1) is counted in the ranks of those who do not interpret Genesis literally, given that he “indicates no concern with the length of days”. However, anyone who bothers to read Antiquities will note that in 1.29, Josephus says, “and this was indeed the first day, but Moses said it was one day”. Furthermore, he says that Moses begins to speak philosophically “after the seventh day was over” (1.34), indicating that the first six days are not speaking philosophically.

One particularly egregious misrepresentation is the quote from Irenaeus, “to believe in God and continue in his love, than by knowledge of this kind to be puffed up and fall away from love” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.26). They use this as a support to call for ‘hermeneutical humility’. But in this context, Irenaeus is refuting a type of gnostic numerology and other ‘secret knowledge’. That’s why he speaks of knowledge “of this kind. Irenaeus views the gnostic philosophy as puffed up knowledge, not the biblical account, which he takes plainly (for instance, in 5.23), and has no problem drawing both philosophical and historical conclusions from Genesis. So this would seem to be a rather blatant misrepresentation of Irenaeus.

Biased theology

The book calls Jude 14 a ‘nondescript’ verse in reference to its mention of Adam (p. 61). Yet Jude 14 calls Enoch the seventh from Adam. This is hugely significant, because it means that Jude believed that Enoch was literally the seventh generation from Adam, indicating that Jude took Genesis as history.

The book argues:

“ … the NT writers do not engage Genesis (or any other OT document) as a way to preserve its ‘original’ meaning, much less to verify the historicity of past people and events, but rather they draw out the implications of the central Christian claim that Jesus Christ is risen Lord” (pp. 73–74).

However, this ignores the fact that all of the NT documents were written for specific purposes, none of which include rewriting the Old Testament, which the NT authors assumed their audiences had access to. Furthermore, those documents have many examples of refuting false traditional views, like Jesus contradicting the Pharisaical traditions and Paul’s polemics against the Judaizers. Yet they never hint at reinterpreting Genesis history.

Interpretation in light of Darwin?

No book on the history of the interpretation of Genesis would be complete without a chapter on the influence of evolution on the interpretation of Genesis. And given the overall liberal tenor of the book, one shouldn’t be surprised that the willingness to reinterpret Scripture based on scientific ideas is taken as a mark of ‘humility’ (p. 243). Yet at least the chapter correctly recognizes that creationists “generally allow for at least some derivation to take place within species (or ‘kinds’ or other preferred boundaries) at least by a sort of Lamarckian trait inheritance over time” (p. 242, note 6). Although it’s not clear why he thinks creationists are Lamarckian, at least they acknowledge that creationists allow for intra-species change.

There is a recognition that:

“ … one of the challenges posed by Darwinian biology for biblical interpretation concerns the massive time frames required for chance mutation to render known species. Humans come to exist in a differentiated form only over millions of years of gradual development” (p. 244).

Biblical creation is equated with ‘fundamentalism’. Long-age readings of the Bible such as day-age and gap theory as well as progressive creation are viewed more favourably, but it is noted that they are still problematic. The answer, it is argued, is in ‘demythologizing’ Scripture as promoted by Bultmann (figure 2) and following Barth’s ostensibly more ‘incarnational’ theology.

Of course, following Barth’s and Bultmann’s theological methodology allows Genesis to be compatible with evolution or any other following scientific theories—by denying that Genesis speaks about real events that happened in history at all. The six days of creation become nothing; Adam becomes no one, and thus the salvation offered by Christ is solely spiritual and individualistic; and, the eschaton is only a personal enlightenment, if even that.

bultmann
Figure 2. Bultmann’s method of ‘demythologizing’ Scripture is presented as a solution for harmonizing Genesis with evolutionary theory.

Conclusion

Since the Beginning contains the standard liberal ideas about Genesis, most of which were not covered for the sake of space. Most readers of the Journal, for instance, are familiar with the ways in which liberals try to get around the idea of the six days of creation.

The real usefulness of the book is in its breathtaking honesty about the only way forward regarding a synthesis of the Bible and evolution. It isn’t even a compromising view, because compromise involves give-and-take. This is a unilateral demand that Christians surrender completely at every point where evolution contradicts Genesis. What is left is not biblical, and it certainly is not what Jesus and the apostles would have recognized as Christianity.

Helpful Resources

As It Is Written
by Kenneth L Gentry, Jr.
US $14.00
Soft Cover
The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $39.00
Hard Cover

Readers’ comments

David G.
As do all 'liberal' interpretations of Genesis in their aim to remove it from the real world, this collection seems to coalesce around the situating of our 'life world' not as something created by the everlasting God. Rather, it would seem to have it as something that just is...paving the way, it would seem, to compatibility with the basic beliefs of monism, or as Dr Peter Jones puts it 'one-ism'. Under either term, a world of which god is merely a part, and not the one who spoke it into existence.
Richard L.
Oh, that the book editor--and all contributors who call themselves Christians--would look the Holy Spirit in the eyes, and see the sorrow that they have inflicted upon the 3rd Person of the Trinity!

To youth groups and older children, I have operationalized Isaiah 66:2b's "tremble at my Word" in the following way:
1. On whatever topic upon which God touches in the Bible, when he speaks clearly enough, we know that that is the way is was, is, or will be.
2. Since God has made an effort to put a detail in the Bible, let us do God the courtesy of making an effort to notice that detail and to try to understand it.
3. Whatever God visibly emphasizes in the Bible, let us likewise emphasize it, and never de-emphasize it or try to explain it away--even if it pushes us out of our comfort zone.

A moment of reflection reveals to us--especially to those who are adults with children--and when we truly have competency and care in what we are saying, that anything less than the above response in them is a grief and sorrow to us. And the inadequate response is a lack of respect for us (whether the kids are consciously aware of this, or not).

How much more so for our responses to God and to his perfect Word, inspired within perfect quality control! Yet, as Lita indicates, the scholarly articles in the reviewed book consistently and comprehensively fail that test.

Oh, that the authors would instead repent and then see, having "ears to hear"! Because their articles fail, in this way, they have clearly left their first love (for academic respectability and misinformed conscience)--but seem unaware of it.
Dee M.
Thank you Lita for taking the hit for us. We appreciate you diving in and helping us discern what books really mean. Thank you for protecting us from these heresies.
Eddie C.
I am simply finding compromising on the Word of God for the appearance of solidarity with the world repugnant these days. I guess it always has been, but with the stench of the "woke" culture rapidly spreading through the Christian church here in the US, the days of tolerance for compromise have passed. These church are "blown around by ever wind of doctrine". On the other hand, you'd be hard pressed to find a church that will not compromise on Genesis that is swaying to the "social justice doctrine" and accepting "critical theory" into the church as if its compatible with the Bible. Compromise has always been a slippery slope and the churches that have compromised are approaching the bottom right now.
R R.
"Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools [...]"
Norman P.
Thank you Lita: that's another book I don't have to read, and why. This is all part of the massive apostasy now in view, which only goes to rejoice the heart of all the 'Enochs' of our day (Gen 5:21-24; Heb 11:5-6; Jude 14ff): for as with Noah, a day is coming when the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea (Is 11:9b), to be with Christ is far better.

Comments are automatically closed 14 days after publication.