The historicity of Genesis 1-11 is often debated by secularists, which in turn has influenced the thinking of many evangelicals since the early 20th century.
BY STEVE CHA
There are two predominant views concerning evolution:
An impersonal and unknowable force brought about life through a multi-billion year evolution process. This view is held by atheists, agnostics, and people who adhere to non-theistic philosophies.
A personal force (God) brought about life through a multi-billion year evolution process. This view is held by liberal Protestants and a number of mainstream evangelicals.
If evolution is fact, then what can be said about the events portrayed in Genesis 1-11? Progressive Christianity claims that this section is meant to be taken figuratively. It is not literal history, but a story or lesson meant to communicate a theme or message about God and humanity. Liberal scholars have even theorized that Genesis 1-11 was written as a story to communicate truth to an audience that could not understand the complex truth of evolution at the time.
Despite the theories surrounding the literary nature of Genesis (at least in the first 11 chapters), the fact is, Genesis 1-11 is historical, much like Chapters 12-50. They all fall under historical narrative, and was always understood in that sense by ancient Israel and scholars who have studied it until the 20th century. There are a few good reasons (Top 5) why we can trust, and must believe, that Genesis 1-11 is historical and not fictional:
1. The integrity of Scripture affirms it. If God exists and He has given His special revelation to us, then that document (the Bible) must sensibly speak truth, since God is true by nature (John 1:14). John 17:17 affirms that the words of God are true. Genesis 1-11 reveals the historicity of the 7-Day Creation, Adam and Eve, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel. As I mentioned, some argue that this section is symbolic or even poetic. However, this theory cannot be substantiated. There is no identifiable difference of writing style between Genesis 11 and 12-50 that would categorize one section to be a totally different genre than another. To deny Genesis 1-11 while affirming the events of Genesis 12-50 is to have a strong anti-supernatural stance. If we believe that God is omnipotent, then we should conclude that He can perform supernatural deeds, which includes creating the world and even overriding the fixed laws of the universe if He chooses.
2. The clarity of Scripture affirms it. Psalm 119:130 states, “The unfolding of your word gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” The Bible is meant to be understood by those who read it seeking earnestly to understand and obey. Its meaning cannot be so esoteric, or relative
to the times and culture, that the simple-minded would need to attend a university or be a scientist to decipher its meaning. The normal sense of the language in Genesis 1-11 reveals the historicity of the 7 Day Creation, the instantaneous creation of mankind, and the Tower of Babel judgment. God has revealed His word so that its meaning can be readily understood by following the logical rules of grammar in the text and the historical contexts in which those words were penned. The result is a Bible that reveals its meaning in an obvious sense, and has spiritual truths that are binding for all generations. In other words, Scripture communicates literal truth, and not allegory (at least not a kind that is not explicitly explained by the authors of the text).
3. Ancient Israel affirms it. As with other texts in the Bible, Genesis 1-11 has only one intended meaning by God to the recipients, which means that both evolution and creation cannot be true at the same time. God created the world in only one way. There is no indication from other texts in the Old Testament, the New Testament, or apocryphal writings that the Israelites understood the world to be made through an evolutionary process. To claim that God perfected the world through evolution and hid this truth from Moses (because the evolution concept was too “difficult for them to grasp at the time”) is to cast suspicion on God’s integrity as a communicator of important truth. How likely is it that such important truths are not clearly explained to God-fearers like Moses, but is discovered by God-opposing atheists like Charles Darwin? The fact that the theory of evolution has done more damage than good to the cause of the gospel (since it teaches that there is no God and thus no moral absolutes) is already an indicator of its error.
Even the meaning of the Sabbath is based on the truth of the creation account. Because God created the world in six literal days and rested on the seventh, the Israelites were expected to honor this creation account as part of their worship to Yahweh. The 4th commandment would have no real meaning apart from the historicity of the creation week account. Such a command for the Israelites would be quite mysterious, if not meaningless, if God had not created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th.
4. Empirical observations affirm it. Evolutionists claim that the world evolved through billions of years, and that there was never such an event as a worldwide flood or the scattering of individuals from a site called Babel. Once again, such claims are based on the presupposition that there is no such thing as the supernatural, which includes God and all He is capable of doing. If evolution is true, then life in the world should continually be evolving into a better, more beautiful, and more advanced state.
That is not what we see today, as we observe the order, beauty, and resources of the world degrading and running out. This is the 2nd law of thermodynamics, which means all things in the world tend to go from order to disorder, and not the other way around. There is no verifiable evidence that evolution is happening right now, that cells mutate drastically as to change the DNA makeup of species to successfully cross over into another species, or that life arises instantaneously from non-life. The design of life and fixed laws of nature indicate that life must have come from a first Cause – a personal Being who designed the world in a specific manner.
The Bible reveals that God created everything ex nihilo (out of nothing) and according to its own kind (Gen. 1:12; 24). God revealed this truth to Moses so that Israel would understand which God created the world, how He did it, and why He did it. It is also meant to inform us so that we are not in the dark concerning our purpose in life.
If there was no God who created the world in 6-days and rested on the 7th, why does the world run on a weekly cycle of 7 days (in which people find an inclination to typically rest one day from work)? Why are there fossil records all over the world, even on mountaintops, if there was no catastrophic flood? Why are there flood accounts in many early traditions of Middle Eastern and Asian history? Why are there various languages in the world (if there were no Babel dispersion event)? How did they originate (instead of just one language to make communication simple)?
5. The theology of the gospel affirms it. If theistic evolution is true, then most major doctrines of the Christian faith are distorted. If Adam was not instantaneously created, and there were more primitive forms of humans evolving before him, then who exactly is Adam? If sin entered through Adam, then why was there death before him in the other evolving species? If Adam was one of many Neanderthal people who developed over millions of years, does this mean that only Adam’s line incurred the curse of original sin, while other Neanderthal races were unaffected by sin?
Of course, this poses a problem to the gospel message. If Adam was not a real person, who is to say that Jesus was real either? If the original man did not fall into sin, then who is to say that we really need the righteousness that Jesus provides through His death and resurrection? This would make the Apostle Paul’s theological treatise on Adam and Jesus a vain analogy (Rom. 8:12-20). If the historical creation account were not true, then who is to say that marriage is defined as exclusively between man and woman (Gen 2) or that marriage is a lifelong covenant not to be broken? If the Tower of Babel incident is not real, then what is the significance of the Pentecost event in Acts 2?
Much more can be said to about this topic. But the real challenge for Christians struggling with this issue is the Lordship of Christ. Are we submitting to God’s word and accepting it by faith, or are we caving into academic and cultural relevance? Do we follow the wisdom of God or the wisdom of the world? To deny the historicity of Genesis 1-11 poses theological problems and strikes at the foundation of God’s word. If one gets Genesis wrong, then there is no telling how much more he can get wrong in other parts of the Bible. True science and history will always be validated by the words of Scripture, as many historical discoveries have attested.
The problem is not the clarity of Scripture, but sin in men’s hearts, which leads to distrust of God and compromise with the world’s system.
Steve Cha is the teaching pastor of Grace City LA.