Hebrew professor affirms Genesis as real history
Jonathan Sarfati chats with Dr Stephen Schrader
Dr Stephen R. Schrader has served as Old Testament Department Chair and Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament, Baptist Bible Graduate School, Springfield, Missouri, since 1995. Previously, he taught these subjects at some other biblically sound leading seminaries. He earned both M.Div. and Th.M. specializing in Old Testament and Hebrew from Grace Theological Seminary, Winona Lake, Indiana. His Th.D. was earned in the same place for a dissertation on Nuzi Customs and Selected Patriarchal Narratives. Dr Schrader has three children by his first wife of 41 years who died of cancer in 2008, and 10 grandchildren; he is now married to Jean and they live in Alabama.
I met Dr Schrader when he honoured me by attending one of my church talks. He has been defending biblical (‘young earth’) creation in print for at least 30 years. I asked how he became a Christian; he explained that like many in America (in his case, Evansville, Indiana), he went to church from an early age, but never heard the Gospel. Fortunately, a close friend confronted him with Scripture—the hope one can have in Jesus Christ, and the stern choice of 1 John 5:12: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” Thus Stephen says that in 1960:
I confessed my sin and unbelief and the need for Jesus Christ to be my Saviour from sin. The ‘lights’ came on instantly and I have had a strong desire to live for Him and know His word ever since being saved. It has been a real blessing to study and meditate upon God’s word each day as Psalm 1:2 conveys: “but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Also the words of Jesus in Matthew 4:4: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Old Testament study
When Dr Schrader wanted to study the original languages of the Bible, his pastor encouraged him to attend Grace Theological Seminary. There, he studied under Dr John C. Whitcomb, Jr., co-author of the famous The Genesis Flood (1961)—the book which kicked off the modern biblical creation movement. Dr Whitcomb thoroughly taught recent Creation, the Fall, and the global Flood.
This seminary specializes in archaeology and languages of the Ancient Near East, and in particular, the study of words that only occur once in the text (hapax legomena). Dr Schrader points out, “The 39 books of the Old Testament are important to master, because they provide the foundation for accurately interpreting the New Testament text.”
What does the Hebrew teach about Genesis 1–11?
Since Dr Schrader is a Hebrew scholar, I asked him for his thoughts on the genre of Genesis. He responded:
I am convinced the creation account is a genuine historical narrative and not an artistic account. A poetic account would show parallelism, while Genesis is full of a certain verb type called the waw consecutive that makes it clear that it was written as a historical account. It is interesting that the waw consecutive appears 55 times in just 34 verses in Genesis 1:1–2:3. The use of this verbal form in the prologue to the historical narrative of Genesis, Genesis 1:1–2:3, is therefore significant and consistent with the narrative material found in the rest of the book of Genesis.
Also, many think the meaning of ‘day’ is hard to understand. But Dr Schrader first compares Scripture with Scripture:
The pattern is set by God’s testimony in Exodus 20:11: ‘For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.’
He further points out that Genesis 1 is clear enough even without that:
Yôm (day) is modified in Genesis 1:1–2:3 by a numerical qualifier, so each day must be a literal day. Note Moses’ use as ‘day one’ (v. 5), ‘second day’ (v. 8) and so on. When yôm appears with a numerical qualifier in the Old Testament, it is never used in a figurative sense.
And I love how the phrase “evening and morning” ends days 1–6 and ties each successive day together, but is not repeated at the end of the 7th day as God had finished his work of creation in six days and rested on the seventh day to set a pattern for mankind.
But what about Genesis 2:4, “in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens”? Dr Schrader points out that this is a different syntactical construct (beyôm or “in the day”) best translated ‘when’, indicating the whole week of creation in summary fashion. “But yom employed in Genesis 1 always refers to a normal literal day when used as a singular noun.”
Why is Genesis 1–11 important?
Skeptics often mock the first 11 chapters of Genesis about the Creation, Fall, Flood, and the confusion of languages at Babel. And some in the church think that these are side issues. So why is a proper understanding of Genesis important? Dr Schrader expounds:
The most important thing is the revelation of a Sovereign GOD, who created the whole world in six literal consecutive 24-hour days by just speaking His word, who John reveals to be our saviour Jesus Christ (John 1:1–3)! And no human being was present (cf. Job 38:4). So all men have had to take His written word concerning His awesomeness in creating this world. Man did not evolve but was directly and supernaturally created by God on Day 6.
Genesis refutes the concept of evolution and tells us that the earth is a relatively recent creation, and that man is not the result of millions of years of evolution. Genesis also reveals that God saw that everything He had created in the six days was ‘exceedingly good’. There was no physical nor spiritual death up to this point in history.
Then there was a literal temptation by Satan to destroy man’s innocence. Adam and Eve ate and disobeyed God’s clear command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There was a literal judgment scene in Genesis 3:8–19 in which God interrogated Adam (3:9–12) and then Eve (3:13) and pronounced judgment upon Satan (3:14–15) before Eve (3:16) and Adam (3:17–19).
Indeed, this was the origin of death and suffering, as Paul affirms in 1 Corinthians 15:21–22, 45. All views that try to marry millions of years with the Bible always place both human and animal death before sin. Further:
In chapters 6–9 God destroys the whole world by a global Flood. So things have not always been the same (“since the beginning of creation”) as the scoffers during the last days assert (2 Peter 3:4–7). Things have only been the same since the end of the Flood, as Genesis 8:21–22 reveals.
Dr Schrader points out that even when God pronounced judgment, He also promised a Redeemer:
In Genesis 3:15, God gave the promise of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the seed of the woman Eve, who would ultimately defeat Satan at the cross through His death and resurrection. The contrast between “the first man, Adam”, and “the last Adam” (Messiah, Jesus Christ) is conveyed in 1 Corinthians 15:45–49 providing the contrast between “earthy” and “heavenly” in origin.
Earlier, Paul had explained that the whole reason for Jesus coming to die physically for our sins, then rise physically from the dead, comes from the fact that our ancestor Adam sinned and brought physical death into the world (1 Corinthians 15:21–22). The long-age views put physical death of both humans and animals before Adam’s sin. But then if death is not related to sin, how could Jesus’s death pay for our sin?
The skeptics’ attacks on Genesis do not end with the early chapters. Genesis records some practices of Abraham and Isaac that seem odd to modern sensibilities. Dr Schrader’s doctorate was on some important archaeological evidence that sheds much light on this: Nuzi Customs and The Patriarchal Narratives. So first, Dr Schrader explained what ‘Nuzi’ means:
The Nuzu or Nuzi Tablets, found by Chiera and Speiser at Nuzi (near Kirkuk) on the Tigris river in 1925, date from the fifteenth century BC, and contain a strong Hurrian influence in the type of Akkadian used in several thousand tablets discovered.
Old Testament scholar Gleason Archer says ‘they serve to confirm the historicity of many of the customs and usages practiced by Abraham and the other patriarchs prior to the Egyptian sojourn’.1 But Dr Schrader cautions concerning the implementation of several “supposed parallels” that have been asserted by Archer and other scholars as verifying a precise parallel with the OT texts.
Historically, skeptical archaeologists went too far and claimed that many of the accounts of Genesis were borrowed from the Nuzi customs. First, Dr Schrader reminds us that Abraham lived in the 21st century BC, at least 500 years before the Nuzi texts. Jacob went down to Egypt in 1876 BC and the Exodus was 1445 BC. So the Nuzi is nearer the end of a development than the beginning. Thus the patriarchal customs can be found well before, and independently of, Nuzi. He says:
Comparative legal material gives some indication of how simply and straightforwardly the data of the patriarchal narratives go along with the usage in the first half of the second millennium BC, especially the early part.
Second, previous researchers had helped to refine the claims made about them,2 and Dr Schrader’s work refined the supposed comparisons into two groups: ‘Invalid parallels’ and ‘Nuzi Customs Attested Elsewhere’. Among the former are, as Dr Schrader summarizes:
- Supposed Nuzi parallels for Abraham calling his wife his ‘sister’ (Genesis 12:20–20; 20:2ff.; cf. Isaac, 26:6–11). The problem is that the Nuzi tablets are not clear on relationships, while in Genesis, Abraham and Isaac said that their wives were their sisters instead of wives, because they (probably justifiably) feared that the rulers might take the wives and kill the husbands.
- The supposed role of the teraphim or ‘household gods’ (Genesis 31) as constituting the title-deeds to inheritance, inspired by Nuzi documents, seems also to be fallacious. Rachel simply took them for her own protection and blessing, just like modern drivers do with a statue of a ‘saint’ on the dashboard of their car. Unfortunately, as Dr Schrader points out, “Rachel, like most Israelites historically, did not fully separate herself from her polytheistic heritage and idol worship (see Genesis 35:2; Exodus 32; Joshua 24:2).”
- Again, much has been made of supposed sale of birthright, and oral deathbed blessings. Here too, the Nuzi evidence is not what it was thought to be, since the legal validity required witnesses and certain procedures on top of the oral statements.
In the second category:
- Slave girls bearing children for a wife, as per Hagar and Abraham (Genesis 16) and Bilhah and Zilpah with Jacob (Genesis 30). The even earlier Law Code of Hammurabi refers to a man who has children by a concubine or a slave girl, and if he ever calls them ‘My children!’, then they are entitled to an inheritance.
References and notes
- Archer, G.L., Survey of Old Testament Introduction, p. 176, Revised Paperback Edn, Moody Press, Chicago, 1985. Return to text.
- Selman, M.J., The Social Environment of the Patriarchs, Tyndale Bulletin 27:114–136, 1976; Comparative Customs and the Patriarchal Age, in: Millard, A.R. and Wiseman, D.J., Essays on the Patriarchal Narratives, pp. 93–138, IVP, Leicester, 1980. Return to text.