Sunday, August 19, 2012

If Genesis is not History, then its Theology Lacks Foundation

This is a letter I wrote to a Christian who denies that Genesis 1-11 are historical. Instead, he argues that the theology of Genesis can stand without the history of these chapters. In a prior challenge, I tried to point out that we can’t have the theology of the Cross without the history of the Cross – the historical fact that Jesus actually died for us. I tried also to argue that Jesus’ theological points depended upon Genesis being historical (Matthew 19:4-6 on “divorce,” for example).

Thanks for your gentle response to my invasive challenge. While we both agree that sound interpretation must attempt to recover the original meaning of Gen. 1-11, you approach it with a lot of assumptions that are not really part of the text:

  1. That Moses (or whomever you might suppose wrote Genesis) was writing from an ANE (ancient near-eastern) worldview.
  2. That the Bible is unconcerned about history, biology and even the physical world.
  3. Instead, Genesis 1-11 is merely “God’s love letter to us.”
These are powerful assumptions that will determine the way we look at the text. Nevertheless, I don’t think it is possible to approach the text without assumptions or paradigms. The question then becomes, “Which paradigm enables us to see the text as it was intended?”

I think that the most reliable paradigm, if the Bible is truly the Word of God, is the light shed on Genesis from the rest of Scripture, namely that of the NT. Therefore, if Jesus, Peter, Paul and John regarded Adam, the Fall, the Garden and the creation accounts as historical, this should take precedence over other considerations, especially when the theology they derive from these accounts depends upon the historicity of Genesis.

For another example, Peter reasons that God means business about a future judgment. He cites His past (historical) judgments as evidence – the flood and Sodom (2 Peter 2:4-9). If these accounts were merely parabolic, then we’d have no reason to believe that the future judgment is any more than parabolic.

Theistic evolutionists tell me that we need to be humble and tentative about our interpretations. (If only they were as humble about Darwin!) However, a tentative faith is an anemic and uncertain faith, one that will not be able to bear the weight of our lives.

This is really a big matter. If we are going to deny the historicity of Genesis, then we are to also deny everything that later inspired writers derived from Genesis. If the historicity of Genesis 1-11 – the foundation for subsequent theology - is discarded, then the house built upon this foundation will also eventually be discarded.

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