Without question a spiritual battleground in both contemporary culture and modern evangelicalism is Genesis 1-11. Those who accept an atheistic understanding of evolution (instead of the theistic variety proposed by compromised evangelicals) can be expected to ridicule and reject the teaching of Genesis 1-11, but for the last hundred and fifty years, and particularly since the evangelical compromises made in the 1940s, it has become standard fare for professed Christians to find some way to shoehorn the “assured results of modern science” into the narratives of Genesis. A pre-commitment to these ideas as scientifically proven and reliable forces believers to reinterpret Genesis to accommodate them. Instead of beginning with the proper exegesis of Scripture and reading the created order through that, the creation is presumed to be self-interpreting and thus a valid starting-point for determining the age of the earth and other such matters.
But Genesis, like the rest of the Word, demands to be the fixed starting point for all of human thinking, never mind its own interpretation! Outside sources and information are certainly helpful, and must be used (how would we know what various Greek and Hebrew words mean if we did not have access to the work of scholars who have analyzed thousands of manuscripts and cultural artifacts?), but should these be the starting point for the interpretation of a text? Or should the text itself set the rules for how it is to be understood, including things like genre, author, time of composition, and how words are used in the genre under discussion? We cannot presume faithfulness to the Word of God while starting outside of it, independently of it, in our thinking and even in the text’s own interpretation.
This week’s message dealt with how foundational Genesis is to the rest of the Bible and in understanding the world in which we live. While Mike Snavely covered numerous topics in a rapid, summary fashion, I would like to focus on his reasons for reading and studying Genesis; this is why Genesis is being undermined by a spiritual worldview that views it as unreliable and ahistorical.
- Genesis Explains the Past and Present World
First, Genesis is invaluable because it explains our world, both past and present. This is a monumental point. Anyone who looks around them can see there is something shockingly wrong with our world. Senseless violence; utter indecency; sexual promiscuity and untold perversion; anger, strife and conflict of all degrees; political corruption; financial greed; hypocrisy and brutish senselessness; the rapid breakdown of marriage and the family; and significant issues in medical and social ethics are just a few areas where “haywire” would be a charitable designation. But Genesis explains not only where all these awful things came from (as a result of both man’s sin and God’s curse on the creation in response to it), but it shows the drastic differences before that—no death, no animal violence, no aging or relational disunity. Genesis provides the key to the past and the present.
- Genesis enables us to understand the Rest of the Bible
Building off of this, Genesis also provides an initial framework for understanding the rest of the Bible. Think of it this way: In at least initial form, Genesis 1-11 in particular, and the whole book in general, reveals God as omnipotent and eternal Creator and the only true God, the personal Lord to whom we are accountable; that God reveals Himself through speech and the creation; that humans are purposeful beings with meaning who exist within a moral universe; that God intends a fruitful relationship with Himself, others, and the creation, but that sin is so destructive and deadly that it twisted all aspects of that relationship and cast man into spiritual deadness and alienation from God and others; God created man for His glory to rule as His image on his behalf, and so humans have an integral role in the execution of God’s program; God is relentlessly merciful and pursues the hearts of those who rebel against Him through promises, revelation, and covenant; God is uncontestably sovereign over all things and orchestrates even the smallest events to accomplish His good and holy purposes; God is a Savior who has a plan to redeem man and restore the creation; God is devastatingly holy and pure ad so He hates sin and requires conditions to be met (which He initiates, defines, and accomplishes) in order for sinners to be reconciled to Him. All of this, and more, that is utterly foundational to the storyline of the whole Bible finds its origins here. Obviously the other 65 books reveal more facets and layers to all of these issues; they are not treated in their fullness here. But they start here. And without Genesis, the rest of the Bible would not make any sense. We would only have hints and allusions to who God is and where things went wrong and what God’s plan is. Some of these would be clearer than others, but without the initial backdrop of Genesis (which if it is only partly, or not at all, historical, then introduces a subjective guessing game of where we draw the line to move the book from poetry/polemic/allegory/myth to actual history, and calls into question various foundational doctrines in its earliest chapters), we would have an incomplete picture of God’s revelation and character…and the Bible would be like picking up a television show in the middle without the possibility of DVR!
- A right understanding of Genesis helps us recognize and refute compromise
Third, Genesis must be studied because it enables believers to recognize and refute compromise. We cannot understand what error is if we do not rightly understand truth. In order to understand compromise we have to know truth, so we can know what deviates from it. This is where proper exegesis becomes pivotal. Because the meaning of the Scripture is the Scripture, if we do not have the right meaning, we do not, in fact, have what God said. We have something else. So if we are not interpreting Genesis correctly, we do not have God’s words and we are in fact attributing to God something He did not say. (This is aside from the fact that the reason people misinterpret Genesis 1-11 s because they have conceded altogether too much authority to science and man’s fallible interpretation of the creation.) We have to know things like genre, grammar, and authorial intent to rightly understand any text, and the Bible is no different. When someone, maybe a pastor, comes to you and says the days of Genesis are really long ages of untold millions of years, how will you show them they’re wrong? Where will you go in the text to disprove that, and why? When a seminary or college professor says theistic evolution is a possibility because Genesis 1 is really just poetic, how will you refute them exegetically? How will you prove that “day” in Genesis 1 actually means a 24-hour day, and not something else? You cannot do any of these things—which are a part of contending for the faith (Jude 3)—if you do not understand Genesis, and how things like genre and grammar and such work. This is why a facile reading of the text is not sufficient. While no one has to be a Bible scholar, rigorous study is virtually indispensable.
- Genesis helps us gain firm ground on what we believe
As already mentioned, Genesis is the bedrock of everything else. This is why accepting half-historical or allegorical readings of Genesis 1-11 are so pointless. What is true and what isn’t? What is historical and what is a literary device? Who decides? Even among those who reject a six-day creation, the lines seem to be drawn more individually than anything else. Instead, accepting a literal reading of the first 11 chapters especially provides a firm foundation for how we understand God, ourselves, the world, and how all of these fit together and unto what purpose. It provides a solid rock upon which to build, a proper framework in which the place both the Bible and the world.
- Genesis enables us to build Christian values
Perhaps it is this final point which is the most practical. A full-blown evolutionary framework views humanity as an accident, life as meaningless (unless we add utterly subjective and self-defined meaning to it), moral absolutes as nonexistent, and hopelessness and confusion as the end game. Obviously, Christians who accept theistic evolution will not go this far, as they are restrained by whatever commitment to orthodox theology they may have. But the point is evolution’s fruit is one of death, destruction, and nihilistic despair. It is only as people are inconsistent with that that they avoid its inevitable results. And that is really the point. In order for a biblical value system to emerge from one who accepts some or all of evolutionary worldview, to that degree they must be inconsistent with that worldview (sometimes radically so). They must embrace the very values which conflict with the belief system they are attempting to integrate with the Bible! Such wretched double-mindedness is not God’s call upon His beloved ones. Instead, He demands the root and the fruit be a seamless continuum, as part of the “whole,” or fully integrated, hearts He gives in response to the Psalmist’s prayer (Psalm 86:11; cf. Ezekiel 11:19, Jeremiah 32:39).
God’s people have faced threats upon their fidelity in every dispensation. Ours is no different. Rightly understanding and fully surrendering to God’s words to and claims upon us in the very first book of the Bible will not only glorify Him, but provide a matchless foundation upon which to grow in grace.