What to do with Genesis

One issue I’ve been mulling over for the last few years is the relationship of Genesis’ primeval history to modern science. I grew up believing that the world was 6,000-10,000 years old, that God created the world in 144 hours, and that geologists and evolutionary biologists were bent on twisting the scientific evidence in order to destroy the Bible.

While doing undergraduate biblical studies, I set aside the “creation vs. evolution” debate in my mind, focusing on the literary and theological world of the Hebrew Bible rather than the historical. However, since Christianity is an historical religion—it makes claims about things that actually, physically happened in history—the question kept coming around again. Recently, I encountered the debate as a part of the Enns controversy at Westminster. That debate was technically over the role of Scripture and the Westminster Confession of Faith, but competing perspectives on Genesis 1-11 were part of the mix.

So, as an evangelical with quite a bit of biblical training, some understanding of Hebrew, but little or no expertise in the fields of biology and geology, I ask the question: how much must I, as a Christian attempting to be faithful to Scripture, assert about the “historicity” (and that’s a loaded word, of course) of the Bible?

I will give two examples at the ends of the spectrum. It is widely acknowledged that Jesus’ parables are not historically factual; when Jesus begins, “There was a certain Pharisee who did such-and-such,” he does not actually mean that there was such a man, though there may have been. On the other hand, if the accounts of the bodily resurrection of Jesus are not broadly historically reliable, if Jesus did not rise from the dead physically in history, then our faith is in vain.

In terms of the necessity of a corresponding historical event, the biblical historiographical accounts fall somewhere in between these two extremes. Must there have been over 600,000 fighting men in Israel at the beginning of the wilderness wandering, or is this an exaggeration? Must Job have been a real person, and if so, need he have conversed with his friends in poetic, first-millennium-BCE Hebrew while scraping his boils with shards of pottery? Need we say that all the multicentenarian ages recorded in Genesis 4-9 be literally true in a modern sense, or could we say that this is a way of honoring ancestors by ascribing extremely old age?

What say you? What must we affirm in order to say that the Bible is true?

About Benj

I’m a native North Jerseyan, transplanted to Pennsylvania...lived and taught in Eastern Europe for six years…Old Testament professor, ordained minister, occasional liturgist…husband to Corrie…father to Daniel and Elizabeth.
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2 Responses to What to do with Genesis

  1. v02468 says:

    I think our understandings of the mythos of the ancient near east should be rewiring how we think about much of the old testament. There’s a series of posts that Art Boulet is posting that I think you may find helpful – http://aboulet.com/2009/06/05/consistent-errancy-4/

    There’s also a new book by John Walton out that I can’t wait to get my hands on – http://www.amazon.com/Lost-World-Genesis-One-Cosmology/dp/0830837043/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1245459346&sr=8-2

  2. Pingback: Best of 2008 and 2009 | think hard, think well

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