There are a massive number of issues to study while in seminary. But one of the main ones that continues to pique my interest is the issue of the historicity of Genesis 1, Genesis 1-3, and ultimately the historicity of Genesis 1-11. It started in second year when Dr. Smith asked me to write a paper on the genre of Genesis 1, and it has developed in conversation with both creationists and others who might give more “push back”.
This is a question that has often come up for discussion in Reformed Churches, including in more conservative circles. It was one of the many issues that lead to the formation of the United Reformed Churches, when some observed the trajectory of men like Howard J. Van Til towards theistic evolution. Sometimes this issue will get suppressed among all the debates over systematics. But it might pop up right between a discussion on justification and a discussion on eschatology. It has given rise to websites, books, public debates, and papers.
In the context of these conversations, I want to dispel three myths propagated about the creationist position: the poetic myth, the fundamentalist myth, and the scholarly myth.
1) I don’t think the question is whether or not there is a poetic element to Genesis 1. Many who believe it is historical, also believe it contains at least elevated prose.
2) I don’t think the question is whether or not one has a fundamentalist and reductionist view of the Bible. Many who believe it is historical, also believe that there are types and maybe even allegories in the text.
3) I don’t think this is a matter of creationist scholars ignoring OT backgrounds. Many who believe it is historical, have a deep wealth of knowledge in OT backgrounds.
NT Wright doesn’t want us to get caught up into questions like, were there 6 days, or 8 days, or 5 days. This is another myth that should be dispelled. Just because a scholar or a pastor argues that a day is a day, doesn’t mean he is saying that Genesis 1 is all about that. Wright would also argue that it is a Temple story (something that Walton also argues). I would respond, why can’t a theological truth be built on real history? Why the big deal about the days? Why does it have to not be a regular work week (ie Exodus 20:8-11)? Why can’t a day just refer to a day, especially if God has belabored the point that it was ‘evening and morning the first day’?
I was just listening to this speech from Kevin DeYoung where he argues that Jesus assumes the historicity of the Old Testament (a pretty obvious point). He has an excellent little quip in there about taking Jesus more seriously than the German philosophers of the 19th century. It even makes sense academically in that Jesus is the primary text, whereas the German philosophers are a very distantly removed secondary text. Jesus refers to the historicity of Genesis right in Matt. 19: 4-6:
He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Jesus assumes the historicity of these passages. He also teaches on marriage based on content within the first three chapters of Genesis. We can talk about God’s love for mankind in Genesis 1, His creativity, the presence of the Trinity, the image of God, male and female, understanding man in his created state, we can possibly talk about the world being God’s temple. We can talk about the symbolism of earth and stars (symbols and types often leap out of the history in the Old Testament). We can talk about the Dominion Mandate. One might say that Genesis 1 is written like a symphony and it leads to many of the latter poetic descriptions of the creation of the world in the Old Testament. But why suggest that Genesis 1 is a parable, like Wright does? Why not also listen to the historical flow of the text?
There are a number of other myths that I may write about another day. But I would urge anyone who has been sucked in by anti-creationist rhetoric to reflect on the careful arguments and the thought that creationist scholars have put into this important topic.
A personal note. As a student preparing for the pastorate it is my calling to speak honestly and truthfully and with clarity about the text of Holy Scripture. I would sooner be maligned as unacademic than step out from under the authority of God’s Word into the wild unknown of scientific speculation and changing theories. I still need to be convinced of a reason not to see the importance of history extending into Genesis 1.