Reading Genesis Literally?

Have you read Genesis chapters 1 and 2, or through chapter 11? How about all 50 chapters? Do you read it literally or non-literally? Here’s a perspective to help avoid confusion. ◊

I was researching an issue raised this week by a friend about the differences between Calvinists and Arminians. This is an ongoing debate between Christians that spans centuries. The issue is over the concept of “predestination” or God’s pre-election of individuals for salvation. Simply put, in very over simplistic terms, is that Calvinists (John Calvin, 1509-1564) believe God pre-selects or predestines people to salvation. Arminians (Jacobus Arminius, 1560-1609) believe that man has total free will.

The answer is actually that both have a point – God knows everything in and outside of time and draws us to Himself, and man has complete freedom of will to respond to God or not. Caution to us all to be grace-filled and loving in our debates but firm in fundamental truths. Rigid extremism on some of these theological topics on either side can drive an unfortunate and unnecessary wedge between God-fearing factions.

But the entire Bible, the Word of God, is much too rich and deep and crucial to treat with rigid extremism that puts the other side in a box of our own making. At the same time, Truth should not be compromised. The total narrative story of God’s creation and restorative plan of love and complete redemption is the key to understanding the Holy Scriptures and the purpose of life. Wisdom sees all points of view, acknowledges and appreciates them, but upholds Truth and always with a deep sense of the wonder and mystery of God.

And such is the case with Genesis, particularly the first 11 chapters, which in recent years has become the battleground for many intra-Christian debates as well as science vs. religion arguments between Christians and secularists alike. The effort here is to raise up a perspective that may help cut through some apparent confusion on the matter.

Restrictive Boxes 
First of all, any study of the Bible has to involve the removal of our own restrictive boxes of mental prejudices and perspectives. For instance, if we say that we do not believe in miracles because they are scientifically impossible, or that we only believe in the systematic scientific method of analyzing data or information through observation and repeatable testing, then how does one acknowledge creation at all? Or the existence of Jesus, let alone the turning of water to wine? Or the raising of Lazarus? Or Christ’s own resurrection? If we say we don’t believe in Biblical creation but believe in evolution, ask ourselves why. Is it not because we can’t fit the creation story into our own restrictive box of logical reality?

The hard truth is that even the existence of God is supernatural. Accepting that premise is getting over a big hurdle and moves one on their way to understanding the larger story of the Biblical narrative.

Literal Genesis
The creation of the heavens and the earth in Genesis Chapter 1 is also supernatural. It’s not natural. It can’t be created scientifically. Only Holy God did it. The drill-down perspective of the creation of Adam and Eve and the special Garden of Eden in Chapter 2 is not inconsistent at all with Chapter 1 as it moves from the general to the specific. It is supernatural, as is the engagement in Chapter 3 with the created enemy, Satan, who causes this first couple to fail in their obedience to God. It’s sin. And this concept of sin in a wholly material world of chance is outrageously foolish to any person who must see, touch, feel, and test in order to believe.

Yet, Jesus references this episode. Was Jesus deluded? Did He not understand science? We call Jesus good, even God, yet actually have trouble fitting him into our full box of logical reasoning. Satan really doesn’t exist, does he?

So, where does one draw the line? What about Cain and Abel in Chapter 4? Do we believe they were the only children Adam had? We wonder where did Cain get his wife? It’s found in the text upon deeper study. What about all those genealogies listed in Chapter 5? Are these a made-up list? These are actual people and lines of descendants from Adam to Noah. And what about Noah and the Flood account in Chapters 6-9? Was the Ark real or is this just a children’s story with giraffes sticking their heads out of a boat? True study of the Biblical text and geological evidence of fossils widely distributed by a global flood has greatly unsettled Darwin’s premise. Post-flood descendants of Noah’s sons in Chapter 10 and the supernatural episode of the Tower of Babel in Chapter 11 lend credence to origins of races scattering across the globe.

Again, how do we deal with the fact that Jesus himself references the Flood? Was Jesus misguided? Did Darwin know better than Jesus because he had a better grasp of science to guide his hypothesis on the Origin of Species?

Finally, we get the supernatural introduction of Abraham in Chapter 12 and the covenant promise of God that leads to the birth of Isaac ultimately in Chapter 21 – that all the nations of the world would be blessed by his offspring. This is the origin of the nation of Israel who, through Jacob, Joseph, and Moses in Chapters 22 through 50 delineates the exodus out of Egypt of the people of Israel into the land of the promise.

The rest of the Old Testament is the larger narrative of a disobedient people who ultimately produce, as presented in the New Testament, the Savior of the world, the Word, Jesus Christ, whose lineage can be traced back to Adam. The promised blessing to the whole world has come full circle.

One couldn’t make this up, let alone have it play out throughout real human history and supernaturally and spiritually impact millions of people who have fallen for God and surrendered their very lives to Him.

The larger story is incredibly rich in reality, beauty and depth. And supernatural truth full of the mystery and wonder of God.

Do you believe in the Bible? Read it literally, with wisdom, for all it’s worth.
In the beginning god created the heavens and the earth. – Genesis 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. – John 1:1-3

Categories: Archaeology, Creation, Discipleship, Evidence, Evolution, Faith, Israel, Jesus, Old Testament, Theology

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