100 Answers in 100 Days

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Sharing answers to the various questions of faith I have faced, and which others have been challenged with also.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Why I Take Genesis Literally

A friend of mine, both a theist and an evolutionist, believes that the two world views are not in conflict. In his mind, he simply can’t understand why Christians such as myself are so opposed to Evolution since it poses no threat, as far as he’s concerned, to the existence of God. I answered him, “It’s possible that a god could have set the wheels in motion for evolution, but it certainly wouldn’t be the Christian God who gave us the book of Genesis.” We then began to discuss whether Genesis should be taken literally or not, and so I thought I’d share just a few comments as to why I think it should be.

A First Man
The first point to make, which I think eliminates a lot of other questions right up front, is whether there was a literal first man, Adam. In my mind, I think the Bible is very clear that there was. In Genesis 5 we have a genealogy beginning with Adam. It lists the descendants of Noah. I suppose we would then have to ask ourselves whether the rest of the people in that Genealogy really existed as well, but again I think the Bible is fairly clear that they did, especially when we look at something like Hebrews 11, whose very purpose is to give us real exemplars of faith throughout history, and includes a few of the names in this genealogy. Adam is also listed first in the genealogy of 1 Chronicles; a genealogy that most definitely consists of real people. At what point in the genealogy would the first real person be mentioned if they weren’t all real? And finally we have the genealogy in Luke’s gospel as well, whose purpose is to trace the lineage of Jesus Christ right back to the first man. In this way, the Biblical authors themselves certainly appear to consider Adam an actual person.

Literal Days
The next question is whether the six days of Creation were 24 hours or not. There are a few reasons why I think they were. Firstly, the Bible says:

And God said, Let there be light, and there was light. ... God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1:3,5).

The fact that God called the light “Day” suggests a period of time familiar to the Israelite readers - a 24 hour day. Light already has a name - it’s “light”. But by relating “light” to “day” and “darkness” to “night”, the Text is saying that the flow of time was set in motion. It then immediately follows on that “there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” Later, Adam is created on the sixth day, but evidently survives the entire day; it cannot be a “millions-of-years day”. Furthermore, plants are created on day 3 before the sun on day 4. How long do you suppose plants can survive without the sun? I think these are literal 24 hour days.

Literal Events
The next thing we want to ask is whether the Genesis 1 account speaks of actual events. Let’s start from the beginning:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2).

Before the light was created and the periods of 24-hour time were set in motion, the Earth existed for some unknown period of time as nothing but water. It was “without form” - there was nothing you could point to and say “That’s the Earth.” That is, the Bible is saying that what would later become the Earth was initially “without form”. It doesn’t actually take the form of the Earth until verse 10. That this was literally water is confirmed by Peter:

...the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. (2 Peter 3:5-6)

If we believe in a literal Noah’s flood (the deluge referred to), then I think we should believe in the literal water of Genesis 1:2. And if we believe in the literal Genesis 1:2, why wouldn’t we take the rest of Genesis 1 literally?

The Garden of Eden
When we come to Genesis 2, we read about the Garden of Eden, and how God forbade Adam to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Was there really a Garden, and was there literally such a tree? It seems to me that the writer of Genesis, (that is, Moses), intends for us to take this as a literal place. He speaks of four rivers coming out of Eden, and two of these rivers are still known today - the Tigris and the Euphrates. Now the Garden itself would have been destroyed by the flood, so there may be little chance of finding this Garden today. Whatever it’s location was, it would no longer look like the paradise it once was. As for whether there’s an angel still guarding its entrance as the story describes, it would be difficult to know since angels need not be visible to us, and we wouldn’t see it if we did find the location today. But there’s no reason to deny the story because it includes angels; the Bible certainly affirms the reality of angels, and a God powerful enough to do all of these things. In that sense it is consistent with the rest of the Bible in its depiction of angels.

So to the question of Evolution fitting the Bible; it absolutely doesn’t. We certainly have a first man, which doesn’t fit any reckoning of Evolution. And we don’t have billions of years for the Earth’s existence. Even if the “waters” existed for billions of years, it is certain that there was no evolution going on, nor was there geological activity going on. And we have a place of origin in which Adam was formed in a single day, without biological parents. As Luke’s genealogy puts it, “Adam, the son of God.”

Other Creation Myths
Aside from the agenda to make evolution compatible with the Bible, there is another reason some Christians don’t take the Creation account literally. This is because of the apparently striking parallels to other creation myths of the time, which also have, for example, man created out of the ground by the gods. In some people’s view, this is more than just coincidence, and not having had enough exposure to those texts, I can’t really say. But they believe that Moses simply wrote in a fashion that the Israelites were already familiar with, rather than trying to record actual events. However, it’s been known for a long time that almost all cultures have a flood story. Yet far from being a problem for the Biblical story of Noah’s flood, it has served to bolster the argument that the flood literally took place. We understand that all of these stories exist because the truth of the flood has been passed down verbally from Noah to successive generations. They vary as people have altered the story, but Bible believing Christians know that the Biblical account is the truth. Likewise, I don’t think that what Moses wrote was necessarily the first time God had revealed these things about Creation to Mankind. Adam himself knew that he had been created from the dust of the ground, as he was told by God “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 2:19). And so the story of how Man was created from the dust would have been passed down even to those cultures that existed at the time of Moses. We see references to the creation account in Job also, such as the creation of man from dust (Job 10:8-9), and Job lived around the time of Abraham, long before Moses wrote.

Now there are a lot more “what about this’es” and “what about that’s” which we could discuss, but as I’ve heard one preacher say, “If you believe Genesis 1:1, you shouldn’t have any problem with the rest of Scripture!”

By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Hebrews 11:3)

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