Genesis 1-11: Myth or History?
Prof. David J. Engelsma
l believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven
This is first in the Christian creed.
It is very simple: the Christian knows God as Creator
and, therefore the truth about the origin of the world and himself by
faith—by faith only. Implied is that this knowledge of God as
Creator is derived from Scripture, especially from the outstanding
revelation of God as Creator in Genesis l and 2. For faith looks to, and
is informed by, the inspired Word of God.
Knowledge of God as Creator is not only first. It is
also fundamental. It is fundamental to our knowledge of God as Redeemer
and, therefore, to knowledge of our redemption. Upon both of these
articles, faith in God as Creator and faith in God as Redeemer, depends
the third: "I believe in the Holy Ghost." Where the doubt of unbelief
concerning the Creator is entertained, trust in the redemption of the
cross and hope of the resurrection of the body are a lost cause.
This is the issue in the present controversy over the
historicity of Genesis 1-11 in reputedly orthodox churches and seminaries.
Rightly, the controversy centres on the days of Genesis 1 and 2.
In a few years, the churches that tolerate the
question, "Genesis 1-11: Myth or History?" as a serious question (to be
answered, of course, by "science") will be struggling with the question,
"Luke 1 and 2: Myth or History?" Soon thereafter, I Corinthians 15 will be
Will Reformed and Presbyterian churches confess the
first article of the Christian faith in the teeth of the scientism,
evolutionism, higher criticism of the Bible, and sheer ridicule of faith
of our day?
This is the real question.
Prof. David J. Engelsma
Everything about the topic of this polemical essay is
wrong. There is absolutely no reason to set Genesis 1-11 off from the rest
of Genesis, the rest of the Old Testament, and the rest of the Bible as a
special, indeed dubious, kind of writing. There is no question whether
Genesis 1-11 is historical. There may be no question about the historicity
of Genesis 1-11. Merely to allow for the possibility that Genesis 1-11 is
mythical is unbelief. Seriously to pose the question about Genesis 1-11,
"Myth or History?" is to do exactly what Eve did when she entertained the
speaking serpent's opening question, "Yea, hath God said?" (Gen. 3:1).
Tolerance of doubt concerning the truthfulness of God's Word is revolt
against Him and apostasy from Him.
Nevertheless, the topic is forced upon us by the
controversy of the present day. And it serves well to sharpen the issue:
Genesis 1-11 is either myth or history. That section of Scripture is not,
and cannot be, a third thing: mythical history, or historical myth.
The topic is not seriously intended, as though it were
an open question to the writer, and may be an open question to the reader,
whether Genesis 1-11 is myth or history. Genesis 1-11 is history, not
myth. This must be the presupposition, proposition, and conclusion of this
article. Genesis 1-11 demands it.
It is shameful that the topic is necessary in the
sphere of Reformed churches. Has it really come to this in the Reformed
churches, that the historicity of Genesis 1-11 must be defended? One can
reply, correctly, that this is also the case in all the other churches,
Protestant as well as Roman Catholic. Nevertheless, the Reformed believer
so feels the shame of it that also the Reformed churches have proved
vulnerable to the assault on Genesis 1-11 that he has no joy in publishing
an article that makes this known. His spirit is rather that of David in II
Samuel 1:19-20: "How are the mighty fallen! Tell it not in Gath, publish
it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines
rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph." He experiences
the sting of the apostolic rebuke in Hebrews 5:12: "For when for the time
ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be
the first principles of the oracles of God."
Humiliating though the topic is, the issue must be
confronted: the historicity of Genesis 1-11 is widely and increasingly
denied, in evangelical and Reformed circles; and the historicity of the
opening chapters of the Bible is of fundamental importance.
In this issue, the gospel itself is at stake among us.
If we agree that Genesis 1-11 is myth, the divinity of Scripture—its
"God-breathedness," as II Timothy 3:16 puts it—is denied, and thus is lost
Scripture's authority, reliability, clarity, sufficiency, and unity. If
Genesis 1-11 is myth, the message of Scripture is abandoned, for Genesis
1-11 is the foundation of the doctrine of justification by faith alone and
the source of the gospel of grace. Martin Luther is our teacher here. Of
the early chapters of Genesis, he said: '"certainly the foundation of the
whole of Scripture."
The force then of the sorry, embarrassing topic of this
piece is, "What are we to make of the foundation of the whole of
Scripture? myth? or history?"
The foundation of the whole of Scripture and,
therefore, also of all that the whole Scripture teaches is a myth, the
Christian church is being told today, by her own ministers, theologians,
and scholars. A myth is a story that explains an important aspect of human
life and experience. Often the story is of a theological, spiritual, and
religious nature. But a myth is a story that never happened. The
storyteller casts the myth in the form of events, events that occurred on
earth among men. Usually these events involved the gods and their
relationships with men and women. But these mythical events have no
reality in actual fact; they are unhistorical. If read or listened to for
entertainment, the myth is fictitious. If taught as the factual
explanation of a certain aspect of human life, the myth is a lie.
C.F. Nosgen gives this definition of "myth": "Any
unhistorical tale, however it may have arisen, in which a religious
society finds a constituent part of its sacred foundations, because an
absolute expression of its institutions, experiences, and ideas, is a
Heathen religions abound in myths. The Greek myth of
Pandora's box explains evil in the world as the result of a woman's
opening a box contrary to the instruction of the gods. The Babylonian myth
Enuma Elish explains creation from the killing and dividing of a
great monster, Tiamat.
Scripture speaks of myths. In the Greek of the New
Testament, Scripture speaks of myths explicitly: the Greek word is
muthos, "myth." The King James Version uniformly translates this Greek
word as "fables." But Scripture denies that the biblical message is based
on, or derived from, myths: "For we have not followed cunningly devised
fables (Greek: muthos), when we made known unto you the power and
coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (II
Peter 1:16). It warns the saints, particularly ministers, against myths:
"Neither give heed to fables (Greek: muthos)" (I Tim. 1:4).
Nevertheless, Scripture prophesies that in the last days, under the
influence of unsound teachers—"mythologians," we may call them—professing
Christians will turn from the truth to myths: "And they shall turn away
their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables (Greek:
muthos)" (II Tim. 4:4).
This prophecy is now fulfilled in evangelical and
Reformed churches in that men and women hold Genesis 1-11 for myth. They
have turned from Genesis 1-11 as truth to Genesis 1-11 as myth. This is
widespread. This prevails. Otherwise, we would not be forced to the
shameful extremity of defending the historical reality of the events
recorded in Genesis 1-11.
Many Reformed people in North America learned that
Genesis 1-11 is regarded as a myth, in reputable and influential Reformed
circles, with the publication of the book, The Fourth Day, in 1986.2
Since the author of the book was then a professor at Calvin College, the
book and resulting controversy brought to light that the view of Genesis
1-11 as myth is held, taught, and tolerated at Calvin College.
Four years later, in 1990, a similar work came out of
Calvin College. This was titled, Portraits of Creation: Biblical and
Scientific Perspectives on the World's Formation.3
In a chapter entitled, "What Says the Scripture?" John H. Stek, at that
time a professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary, boldly
asserted that Genesis 1 draws on heathen, Egyptian myths; is
non-historical; is a "metaphorical narration"; and is, in short, a
"storied rather than a historiographical account of creation."
A third instalment of Calvin College's ongoing denial
of the historicity of Genesis 1-11 followed in 1995. In his book, The
Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church's Response to Extrabiblical
Evidence, professor of geology, Davis A. Young rejected the
historicity of the account of the flood in Genesis 6-9. On the basis
mainly of geology. Young declared that "there is no evidence whatsoever to
indicate that human or animal populations were ever disrupted by a
catastrophic global flood." The account of the flood in Genesis is
exaggerated—description of some local flood or other once upon a time in
the region of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers: "The flood account uses
hyperbolic language to describe an event that devastated or disrupted
Mesopotamian civilization—that is to say, the whole world of the Semites."4
But it would be a mistake to suppose that the
mythologizing of Genesis 1-11 goes on only at the college of Howard Van
Till and Davis Young and at the seminary of John Stek. It goes on almost
everywhere in evangelical, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches. Rare is
the church, seminary, or college where it is not found and tolerated, if
not approved. Among the theologians, scholars, and teachers, it is the
prevailing view. This means that in a very short time it will be the
prevailing view of the people, if it is not already.
One strategic centre for teaching the myth is the
Christian school, not only the Christian colleges, but also the Christian
grade schools and high schools. The Christian schools in North America are
full of the teaching that Genesis 1-11 is myth.
To be sure, the term "myth" is seldom used in Reformed
and evangelical circles. Those who are, in fact, teaching that Genesis
1-11 is myth will usually disavow "myth" as the proper description of that
part of Holy Scripture. There is good reason for this. "Myth" has
unsavoury connotations. The Bible expressly denounces myths. Only the most
radical (and candid!) of liberal theologians—the Rudolph Bultmanns—boldly
call the Bible stories in Genesis 1-11 "myths." Hence, the evangelical and
the Reformed mythologians are careful to use other terms. However just as
a rose by any other name smells sweet, so a myth by any other name still
We ignore the liberals like Hermann Gunkel, who called
Genesis 1-11 "legend," and the neo-orthodox like Karl Barth, who called
the passage "saga." Our concern is the extent to which Genesis 1-11 is
regarded as myth in reputedly conservative circles. In The Fourth Day,
Howard Van Till described the opening chapters of Genesis as "primal, or
primeval history." The committee of the Christian Reformed Church that
advised synod on the views of Van Till and his colleagues referred to
Genesis 1-11 as "stylized, literary, or symbolic stories."5
The Dutch Reformed scientist and author Jan Lever had
earlier written two books that were translated into English in which he
attacked the Reformed confession that Genesis 1-11 is historical. In his
Where are We Headed? A Christian Perspective on Evolution, he
vehemently denied that Genesis 1-11 is "an account of historical
events.... Anyone who reads the Bible with common sense can reach the
conclusion that a literal reading of the Genesis account is wrong."
Rather, the opening chapters of the Bible are a "confession about God."6
A recent book by notable evangelical theologians and
other scholars, The Genesis Debate, has a number of these men
insisting that Genesis 1-11 is unhistorical, indeed allegorical. One
scholar is bold to state an implication of this view of Genesis 1-11 that
fairly bristles with doctrinal implications, namely, that it is absurd to
think that the human race descended from two (married) ancestors.
Nevertheless, so the editor informs us, this scholar, like all the others,
is "committed to the full inspiration and authority of Scripture."7
Another prominent evangelical, Charles E. Hummel, in an
InterVarsity publication, The Galileo Connection, contends that the
first eleven chapters of Genesis must be seen as a "literary genre"; they
are a "semipoetic narrative cast in a historico-artistic framework."
Genesis 1-11 is not a "cosmogony," but a "confession of faith."8
The Fuller Seminary theologian Paul K. Jewett prefers
the designations "primal history" and "theologized history." Authoritative
science has enabled us moderns to recognize the "childlike limitations of
the understanding" of those who wrote the first eleven chapters of the
Bible. Theirs was a "prescientific simplicity" when they told the story of
"God's making the world 'in the space of six days.'"9
Bruce Waltke, who was professor of Old Testament at
Westminster Theological Seminary at the time, wrote in Christianity
Today that we must not read Genesis 1:1-2:3 as historical. Rather. we
must take "an artistic-literary approach." He quoted Henri Blocher
approvingly: the passage is "an artistic arrangement ... not to be taken
literally." Waltke concluded that Genesis 1:1-2:3 is a "creation story in
torah ('instruction'), which is a majestic, artistic achievement,
employing anthropomorphic language." 10
To refer to no others, in his book, The Doctrine of
the Knowledge of God, John Frame, at the time professor of theology at
Westminster Seminary in Escondido, California, wrote that he is open to
the possibility of interpreting Genesis 1 and 2 "figuratively" because of
the findings of geologists that the earth is very old.11
All of these men studiously avoid the use of the word
"myth," although a couple of them give the game away by their description
of the kind of stories they think to find in Genesis 1- 11. Having denied
that Genesis gives us "a picture of reality," Lever goes on to affirm that
Genesis "does provide us with the fundamentals for a life and world
view, a religious perspective on the nature of this reality, its
finitude and its dependence upon God in becoming and in being."12
This is the textbook definition of myth.
Similarly, Bruce Waltke explains his own figurative
interpretation of Genesis 1:1-2:3 by quoting H. J. Sorenson in the New
The basic purpose is to instruct men on the ultimate
realities that have an immediate bearing on daily life and on how to
engage vitally in these realities to live successfully. It contains
"truths to live by" rather than "theology to speculate on."13
This is the classic myth.
Avoidance of the term "myth" is of no significance.
What is important is that the events recorded in Genesis 1-11 never really
happened, never really happened as Genesis 1-11 records them as
happening. Genesis 1-11 is not history, but myth. This world never did
come into existence by the Word of God calling each creature in the space
of six days, and then in the order set forth in Genesis 1. The
human race never did originate from a man, Adam, who was formed by the
hand of God from the dust, and from a woman, Eve, built by the hand of God
from a rib of the man as we read in Genesis 2. Sin and death never did
enter the world by the man's eating a piece of forbidden fruit at the
instigation of his wife and by the temptation of a speaking serpent as
Genesis 3 tells us. There never was the development of agriculture,
herding, music, and metallurgy as Genesis 4 reveals. There never was a
universal flood as taught in Genesis 6-8. There never was a Tower of Babel
occasioning the dividing of the nations by confounding of the language as
set forth in Genesis 11.
Genesis 1-11: Myth!
This is the prevailing opinion in evangelical,
Reformed, and Presbyterian seminaries, schools, publishing houses, and
churches at the beginning of the 2lst century.
Myth is also the implication of the
"framework-hypothesis." This is an explanation of the six days of Genesis
1 and of the seventh day of Genesis 2:1-3. The theory is occasioned by
doubt concerning the literality of the account in Genesis 1:1-2:3 because
of the loud testimony of modern scientists that the universe is billions
of years old and that its present form is due to evolution.
The framework hypothesis denies that Genesis 1:1-2:3
makes known what actually took place in the beginning. Rather, the very
human, but inspired author told a story whose point is that God created
the world in some unknown way and over the span of unknown time. (In fact,
the defenders of the framework hypothesis will be found holding that God
created the world exactly as evolutionary science decrees: by evolutionary
process over billions of years.) The storyteller of Genesis, so runs the
hypothesis, hung his story on the framework (utterly fictitious!) of six
days of creation and one day of rest. There is nothing factual about the
days with their evening and morning, including the seventh day: nothing
factual about the order of the days; nothing factual about the individual
acts of creation on each day, or about any of the details whatsoever.
Presumably, the unreality of the passage would extend also to God's
trinitarian conversation within Himself before the creation of man in
This is how one of the leading proponents of the
theory, who also did much to popularize it among conservative Reformed
people both in the Netherlands and in North America, described it.
In Genesis 1 the inspired author offers us a story of
creation. It is not his intent, however, to present an exact report of
what happened at creation. By speaking of the eightfold work of God he
impresses the reader with the fact that all that exists has been created
by God. This eightfold work he places in a framework: he distributes it
over six days, to which he adds a seventh day as the day of rest. In
this manner he gives expression to the fact that the work of creation is
complete; also that at the conclusion of His work God can rest, take
delight in the result; and also ... that in celebrating the Sabbath man
must be God's imitator. The manner in which the works of creation have
been distributed over six days is not arbitrary.14
The name by which this understanding of the
foundational chapters of the Bible calls itself is itself the refutation
of the theory: "framework hypothesis." The faith of the church may not,
and does not, rest upon a "hypothesis." The church's faith must be
absolutely certain knowledge that has clear, infallible, divine revelation
as its object and that receives Genesis 1:1-2:3 for what it itself and all
the rest of Scripture claim that it is: history.
The rejection by the framework-hypothesis of the
historicity of Genesis 1:1-2:3 implies the mythical character of the more
detailed description of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2:4ff., the mythical
character of the account of the fall in Genesis 3, and the mythical
character of the rest of Genesis 1-11, which depends upon Genesis 1-3. For
Genesis 1:1-2:3 includes the account of God's creation of a first man and
a first woman in His own image. If this account is not historical, neither
is the tightly linked account of the fall of these two fabulous persons.
Ridderbos himself acknowledged that the
framework-hypothesis implies death in God's world long before, and
altogether apart from, any possible "fall" of humans, which according to
Genesis 3:17-18 and Romans 8:19-22 is the cause of death in the creation.
Ridderbos also admitted that the framework-hypothesis opens up the church
to Jan Lever's teachings of man's biological descent from the beasts.15
Fundamental to the historicity of Genesis 1-11 is the
reality of the days of Genesis 1:1-2:3, each consisting of one evening and
one morning; the factuality of their order, as of the acts, or rest, of
God on each of them; and the literality of the record of them.
What explains the view of the opening chapters of
Scripture as mythical?
This view has not been the tradition of the church for
some 1700 years after the apostles. All freely acknowledge that the
tradition of the church has been to take Genesis 1-11 as historical. Much
less is this view the tradition of the Reformation. Luther is
representative of the tradition of the Reformation in his lectures on
Genesis. Referring to Eve's temptation by the serpent, Luther wrote:
Through Moses [the Holy Spirit] does not give us
foolish allegories; but He teaches us about most important events, which
involve God, sinful man, and Satan, the originator of sin. Let us,
therefore, establish in the first place that the serpent is a real
serpent, but one that has been entered and taken over by Satan, who is
speaking through the serpent.16
A little later in his commentary, reflecting on the
first three chapters, Luther wrote: "We have treated all these facts in
their historical meaning, which is their real and true one."17
"Nobody," he added, "can fail to see that Moses does not intend to present
allegories, but simply to write the history of the primitive world."18
Neither is the view of Genesis 1-11 as myth due to
exegesis of the chapters themselves, or to exegesis of the New Testament
passages that refer to Genesis 1-11. The most liberal of the critics of
Genesis 1-11, including Julius Wellhausen and Gerhard von Rad,
acknowledged that Genesis 1-11 purports to be history and science. The
writer thought that he was giving a cosmogony and intended to give a
history. Wellhausen wrote:
Yet for all this the aim of the narrator is not
mainly a religious one. Had he only meant to say that God made the world
out of nothing, and made it good, he could have said so in simpler
words, and at the same time more distinctly. There is no doubt that he
means to describe the actual course of the genesis of the world, and to
be true to nature in doing so; he means to give a cosmogonic theory.
Whoever denies this confounds two different things—the value of history
for us, and the aim of the writer. While our religious views are or seem
to be in conformity with his, we have other ideas about the beginning of
the world, because we have other ideas about the world itself, and see
in the heavens no vault, in the stars no lamps, nor in the earth the
foundation of the universe. But this must not prevent us from
recognizing what the theoretical aim of the writer of Gen. 1 really was.
He seeks to deduce things as they are from each other: he asks how they
are likely to have issued at first from the primal matter, and the world
he has before his eyes in doing this in not a mythical world but the
present and ordinary one.19
Although von Rad excluded Genesis 1:1-2:4a from this
analysis, he judged concerning the rest of Genesis 1-11 that
with the Jahwist it would be misdirected theological
rigorism not to recognize that what he planned was, as far as might be
with the means and possibilities of his time, a real and complete
primeval history of mankind. No doubt, he presented this span of history
from the point of view of the relationship of man to God; but in the
endeavor he also unquestionably wanted to give his contemporaries
concrete knowledge of the earliest development of man's civilization,
and so this aspect too of J's primeval history has to be taken in
Is there anyone who dares to deny that Christ and His
apostles regarded the persons and events recorded in Genesis 1 -11 as
historical, and taught the New Testament church so to regard them, in
Matthew 19:3-9; John 8:44; Matthew 24:37-41; Romans 5:12-21; I Corinthians
11:7-12; I Timothy 2:12-15; II Peter 3:5-6: Acts 17:26, and other places?
No one derives the conception of Genesis 1-11 as myth from sound exegesis
of these New Testament passages. Indeed, the recognition of Genesis 1-11
as historical by Christ and the apostles in New Testament Scripture is an
extreme embarrassment for the evangelical and Reformed mythologians.
There is not the slightest opening in the confessions
of the Reformation—binding documents for all Reformed and
Presbyterian theologians—for taking Genesis 1-11 as myth. On the basis of
Genesis 1-3, in Articles 12-17, the Belgic Confession teaches
creation, the creation of man out of the dust, and the fall of man by
means of the devil speaking through the serpent as history. The
Heidelberg Catechism does the same in Lord's Days 3 and 4. The
Westminster Confession of Faith explicitly requires that the days of
Genesis 1 be understood as historical reality: "It pleased God the Father,
Son, and Holy Ghost ... in the beginning. to create, or make of nothing,
the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the
space of six days. and all very good" (4:1).
Why then have evangelical and Reformed men come to
question the historicity of Genesis 1-11?
This has been possible because of the doctrine of
Scripture that has gained entrance into the churches. Scripture is
regarded as a human book formed by a historical process. In Genesis 1-11
Scripture is a weak, fallible word of man on origins. John Romer is
probably a little strong for some evangelical and Reformed defenders of a
figurative interpretation of Genesis 1-11, but he does accurately indicate
what is going on in these circles as regards their doctrine of Scripture.
In a semi-popular work on Scripture titled Testament, Romer states
that the book of Genesis introduces us to the "world of myth." "Myth," he
describes as "a sacred tale ... carefully designed [to] deal with the
deepest issues of the day." How this has come about in the Bible, Romer
explains this way:
This whole process began when the sagas of
Mesopotamia were carefully re-examined by the authors of Genesis and the
thoughts and structures of that most ancient story were turned to the
purposes of Israel and their most singular and solitary God.21
Second, and no less significant, is the desire of
evangelical and Reformed scholars to accommodate the church's thinking to
the thinking of the world, the desire to make Christianity conform to the
culture. This runs deep and strong in contemporary Protestant theology.
The churches have abandoned the antithesis: the absolute spiritual
separation between the world of the ungodly and the holy people of God,
between the mind of the enemies of God and the mind of Christ in His
One aspect of this suicidal mania is the conviction
that to be respectable, to be attractive even, to educated modem man, the
churches must adapt their thinking, their confession, and their Scriptures
to the most recent scientific theory. They call the latest scientific
theory "general revelation." Since the reigning theory is Darwinian
evolution, Genesis 1-11 must dance to the tune played by that infidel
scientist and his atheistic theory.
The Roman Catholic writer, Zachary Hayes, is
refreshingly honest as to the reason why both the Roman Catholic and the
Protestant churches now regard Genesis 1-11 as mythical. "The flat [sic],
historical interpretation of Genesis is gone from virtually all
theological presentations outside strictly fundamentalist [sic]
circles ... The account is largely fictional in character and contains
many symbolic and mythical elements ..." The cause of the churches' new
view of the opening chapters of the Bible is not exegesis of Scripture:
"It would be quite incomplete to try to account for these changes solely
in terms of the internal development of biblical exegesis." Rather, the
cause is modern scientific theory, particularly Darwinian evolution: "The
familiar theory, which was laden with inadequacies from the start, has
become almost incomprehensible for a Christian who views the origins of
the human race in terms of some form of evolution." Hayes gives fair
warning: "One cannot open up the possibility of holding some form of
evolution without opening a Pandora's box. Those who open that box must be
willing to assume responsibility for dealing with the kinds of problems
which emerge in many areas of theology."22
Many evangelical and Reformed scholars and churches are
less candid in their explanations, or less developed in their thinking but
they all indicate that their revised view of Genesis is due to the
pressure of modern science, that is, the theory of evolution. The
Christian Reformed "Committee on Creation and Science" consigned all of
Genesis 1-11 to the realm of the unhistorical. The passage is a "special
kind of historiography"; it gives us "primeval history." The reason for
this analysis of the passage was "the impact of general revelation upon
our understanding of special revelation." "General revelation" is modern
evolutionary scientific theory.23 N. H.
Ridderbos indicated the underlying reason for his framework-hypothesis
concerning Genesis 1 and 2 when he argued that "on any other view ...
there arise grave difficulties with respect to natural science.24
What the cowardly churches are doing was perfectly
symbolized by one of the most ironic incidents in church history. Upon the
death of Charles Darwin, the Church of England buried that atheist, who
did as much to destroy the church of Jesus Christ as any man in the modern
era, with full honours in Westminster Abbey, with old, admitted reprobate
Thomas Huxley carrying the casket. This really happened.
None of this implies that the mythologians do not take
Genesis 1-11 very seriously and that they do not find much fine, spiritual
meaning in this unhistorical section of Scripture.
On the contrary!
The story of creation brings out Israel's dependence on
Jahweh, Israel's rejection of the heathen deifying of the creation, and
Israel's confession that their God is God alone. The story of the fall is
Israel's recognition that man is inherently sinful and needs redemption.
But none of this fine, spiritual and helpful
application of Genesis 1-11 carries any weight, for it all rests on ...
myth. It is all man's explanation of man's fictitious
account of things. It all lacks ... well, reality. It is not
sound doctrine. It is not truth.
I need to pay as much attention to Genesis 1-11, if it
is myth, as I do to the story of Pandora's box, or to the myth of Marduk
slaying and cutting up the monster Tiamat, or to the fairy tale of "Little
Red Riding Hood." When the preacher who takes Genesis 3 as myth tells me
that I need a redeemer in view of man's fallenness, I have but one
response: "Did man really fall just as recorded in Genesis 3?" If not, I
need no redeemer; rather, I need to evolve higher.
When the theologian who explains Genesis 2 as a myth
calls me to live in one-flesh fidelity with my wife (and I notice that as
the churches increasingly accept Genesis 1-11 as myth, they decreasingly
call me to live in one-flesh fidelity with my wife), I have this question:
"Is Genesis 2 a factual account of a historical institution of marriage by
the Creator Himself?" If not, I am not bound by any law of faithfulness in
marriage. I may live just as I please in marriage, or outside of marriage.
The child of God must have history in Genesis
1-11. Christianity must have history there, history that is clearly and
reliably set down by divine inspiration.
The foundation of the entire Scripture (such was
Luther's description of Genesis 1-11) is history. The events recorded
there happened, in and with time. They happened as is recorded.
Only if they happened as Scripture records them as happening are
the events historical. The subtle mythologians, aware of how much is at
stake here, assure us that they maintain the "historicity" of the events
in Genesis 1-11. What they mean is that the myths found on the opening
pages of Scripture have a certain rootage in things that did really happen
in the dim and distant past. What these things may have been, how they
actually happened, and in what way they are related to the mythical
representations of them in Genesis 1-11, however, no one knows.
The highly reputed evangelical Henri Blocher is
representative. In his exposition of the opening chapters of the Bible,
with regard particularly to the account of the fall in Genesis 3, Blocher
strongly affirms the importance of "the historicity of the content of
Genesis 3." Such is the importance of the historicity of Genesis 3,
according to Blocher, that "along with ethical monotheism and the doctrine
of sin ... nothing less than the gospel is at stake." The unwary Christian
and the trusting church suppose that Blocher is teaching that Genesis 3 is
history. They are deceived. Blocher denies the reality of the two trees,
the reality of a speaking serpent, and the reality of the creation of a
woman-Eve—from a rib of a man—Adam. Blocher subtly distinguishes between
"a historical account of the fall" (which, according to him, Genesis 3 is
not) and "the account of a historical fall" (which, according to him, it
is). Although Genesis 3 is "the account of a historical fall," the chapter
is not historical. It is mythical.25
Genesis 3 is historical inasmuch as, and only inasmuch
as, it is not only the account of a historical fall but also a historical
account of the fall. In Genesis 1-11 the Holy Spirit describes events as
they happened. Genesis 1-11 is reality.
But the reality of Genesis 1-11 is far more than that
the events merely took place. They took place as acts of the triune,
living God. which He did before His own face, according to His counsel.
His purpose with them was to give Jesus Christ the pre-eminence in all
things (Col. 1:13-20). This is the historicity of Genesis 1-11.
is its reality, its truth. And all this history was written down by Moses,
who wrote not one word of his own private interpretation or by his own
will, but who wrote as he was moved by the Holy Ghost (II Pet. 1:20-21).
Genesis 1:1-2:3 is not excluded from the inspired
account of historical events. As a historical Genesis 1-11 is fundamental
to the rest of Scripture, a historical Genesis 1:1-2:3 is fundamental to
the rest of Genesis 1-11. And the content of Genesis 1:1-2:3 is the
"days"—six days of divine creation, each consisting of one evening and one
morning, and one day of divine rest. If the days of Genesis 1 and 2, their
order, and the speech and acts of God on the days are not historical, that
is, if the events of Genesis 1 and 2 did not happen as Genesis 1 and 2
record them as happening, nothing in Genesis 1-11 is historical. The issue
in the controversy, "Genesis 1-11: Myth or History?" is the historicity of
Genesis 1:1-2:3, that is, real days of one evening and one morning, in the
order given, with God's doing on each of them what the passage says He
Because Genesis 1-11 is history, the passage has
meaning for mankind, especially the believing church. What a
superstructure of meaning is reared up on, and supported by, the
foundation of the history of Genesis 1-11. Genesis 1-11 sets forth the
origin of all things: the universe, including time and space; man:
marriage and the family; the basic ordering of man's life in a week of six
days of work and one day of rest; sin; the curse and death, not only for
the human race, but also for the brute creation; the gospel and the
Saviour who is promised by the gospel; the antithesis between godly and
ungodly; and the nations.
The origin of Israelis also to be found in the first
eleven chapters of Genesis. Israel's origin in Scripture is not in Genesis
12 in the call of Abram. Rather, it occurs in Genesis 9:26 in the blessing
All of this solid reality of origins fades into a mist
of fantasy if Genesis 1-11 is mythical.
Not only is Genesis 1-11 the all-important account of
the origin of all things, but this passage is also the foundation of all
Christian doctrines and ethics. It is the foundation of all the great
doctrines of the faith: creation, fall, and redemption; man as the image
of God; original sin and total depravity; atonement and. thus. the
satisfying of the justice of a righteous God; and salvation by a
substitute—a federal head, just as Adam was a federal head.
Upon Genesis 1-11 depends also the doctrine of an
eschatological destruction of the world, out of which will come a new
world of righteousness. The one historical evidence that the believer can
appeal to against the scoffers who challenge his hope of an end of the
world at Christ's coming is the flood (II Peter 3:1-7).
If Genesis 1-11 is not history, all these doctrines are
The figurative interpretations in evangelical and
Reformed churches of the opening chapters of Genesis are presently serving
the theory of theistic evolution. If theistic evolution is the real
explanation of the origin of our world, death has been in the world from
the very beginning as a natural part of the process of evolution and man
has been morally weak and sinful from his appearance from the primates.
Since theistic evolution is the means that God used to create the world
and man, God Himself is responsible for death in the world and for man's
sinfulness. There is then no such thing as original sin, particularly
original guilt that is imputed to every child of a real Adam, who, being
sinless, disobeyed a command about a piece of fruit. And if there is no
original sin, indeed no sin at all, there is not, and need not be, a
Redeemer, who delivers by becoming sin for sinners.
Just as all doctrine is lost, if Genesis 1-11 is a
myth, so also are lost all the ethical teachings of the Christian
religion. Genesis 1-11 is the foundation of the Christian life. It is the
foundation of the calling to love, fear, obey, and serve God our Creator
and Saviour. This is the primary duty of our life. And this is the primary
cause of the attack on the doctrines of creation and the fall by the
theory of evolution, which attack is accommodated by reducing the opening
chapters of the Bible to myth. Darwinian evolution is not physical
science, not even mistaken physical science. It is spiritual revolution
against the sovereign Creator, before whom men and women must bow and to
whom they are responsible.
Genesis 1-11 is the foundation of the calling to love
the neighbour, for the passage teaches that the neighbour is created and
put next to us by God.
It is the foundation of the calling ordinarily to marry
and then to live faithfully with the one woman or the one man for life. At
the beginning of the 21st century in depraved Western society, it is
necessary to specify that Genesis 1-11 is the foundation of the calling to
marry someone of the opposite sex.
The opening chapters of Genesis are the foundation of
the order in the home that consists of the willing headship of the husband
and father and of the equally willing submission of the wife and mother.
Genesis 1-11 is the foundation of work—six days of
work, as it is the foundation of the rest of the weekly Sabbath.
Third, the importance of Genesis 1-11 as historical
truth is this, that on the historicity of Genesis 1-11 depends our
knowledge of God. Upon Genesis 1-11 depends our knowledge of God as
Creator, as covenant Friend, as Judge, and as Saviour. "In the beginning,
God!" To transform Genesis 1-11 into myth is to make atheists out of us.
This is what has actually happened in churches where Genesis 1-11 came to
be regarded as mythical. Before a church succumbs to the thinking that
Genesis 1-11 is myth, believers in this church should do themselves and
their children a favour and examine the churches that have already yielded
to the mythologians—the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands
(Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland: GKN), the Presbyterian Church (USA),
and others. They are full of people who no longer believe in the Christian
God and are ready, therefore, to worship the idols.
Charles Darwin himself is an example. Doubt about the
historicity of the opening chapters of the Bible made an atheist out of
him. Warfield gives the chilling account of Darwin's religious development
in his essay on the Life and Letters of Charles Darwin.
As he [Darwin] wrought out his theory of evolution,
he gave up his Christian faith—nay, ... his doctrine of evolution
directly expelled his Christian belief. How it operated in so doing is
not difficult dimly to trace. He was thoroughly persuaded (like Mr.
Huxley) that, in its plain meaning, Genesis teaches creation by
immediate, separate, and sudden fiats of God for each several species.
And as he more and more convinced himself that species, on the contrary,
originated according to natural law, and through a long course of
gradual modification, he felt ever more and more that Genesis "must go."
But Genesis is an integral part of the Old Testament, and with the truth
and authority of the Old Testament the truth and authority of
Christianity itself is inseparably bound up. Thus, the doctrine of
evolution once heartily adopted by him gradually undermined his faith,
until he cast off the whole of Christianity as an unproved delusion ...
Here is the root of the whole matter. His doctrine of evolution had
antiquated for him the Old Testament record; but Christianity is too
intimately connected with the Old Testament to stand as divine if the
Old Testament be fabulous.26
The secular thinker, John Herman Randall, Jr., has
warned the church that the truth of a Creator God is ruled out by
The very form of nineteenth-century evolutionary
science has made that idea [namely, an "external Creator"] all but
impossible and substituted for it the notion of a God as immanent. as a
soul or spirit dwelling within the universe and developing it through
If Genesis 1-11 is myth, atheism is warranted. On the
day that I am convinced that Genesis 1-11 is mere myth, because God
Himself convinces me through evolutionary science (I write nonsense), on
that day I will renounce Christianity and Christianity's God. And if at
the end of the day I must stand before God to give account of my apostasy,
I will defend my renunciation of Christianity with a defence that He
Himself will not be able to gainsay. "You yourself," I will say, "made the
Christian faith and the knowledge of yourself depend upon Genesis 1-11,
but this worthless "Scripture" was only a myth. I put no stock in myth,
and no self-respecting God, worthy of my time and worship, should have put
any stock in it either."
But this is foolish talk. Genesis 1-11 is history. And
the true church has always proclaimed it as history.
The reason why the true church and the genuine believer
have always received Genesis 1-11 as history is not extra-biblical
evidences that prove, or are thought to prove, the historicity of the
biblical record. Extra-biblical evidences for the truth of creation as
taught in Genesis 1 and 2 mean as little to the church as someone's
finding a piece of wood on Mt. Ararat would mean for the church's belief
of the biblical account of the flood. The church's faith concerning
Genesis 1-11 does not rest at all on anything outside Genesis 1-11 and
outside the rest of Scripture. Just for this reason, nothing, absolutely
nothing, can shake the church's faith concerning the historicity of
I have to smile when the evangelical and Reformed
mythologians pile up their impressive findings and authorities, to
convince us that Genesis 1-11 is myth, or primeval history, or literary
genre, or some other euphemism meaning unhistorical. The mythologians do
not understand. If an angel from heaven appeared to tell us that Genesis
1-11 is myth, not only would we not believe him, but we would also curse
him as a devil and deceiver (Gal. 1:8-9).
Believers receive Genesis 1-11 as historical because
Genesis 1-11, the Word of God, claims to be historical. Read it! Believers
receive Genesis 1-11 as historical because it is the testimony of Jesus
Christ and the apostles that the Old Testament passage is history. Hebrews
11:3 testifies to the historicity of the account of creation. Matthew
19:3ff. testifies to the historicity of the entire account of Adam and
Eve. Romans 5:12ff. testifies to the historicity of the record of the
fall. I Peter 3:20 testifies to the historicity of the Genesis flood. Acts
17:26 testifies to the historicity of the account of Babel. And believers
receive Genesis 1-11 as historical because the Holy Spirit witnesses in
our heart that the testimony of God the Holy Spirit on the pages of Holy
Scripture is true, whereas every man is a liar.
But how can anyone maintain that Genesis 1-11 is
history, it will be asked, in the face of the contradiction of this by
general revelation, by "Science," and by virtually all the scholars within
the churches as without.
First, the Reformed believer permits nothing to set
aside, or overrule, the teaching of Scripture. Is not the great
Reformation-principle just this: "Scripture alone"? With specific
reference to God's revelation of Himself in creation and history, general
revelation does not control Scripture. Rather, the believer receives and
interprets general revelation in the light of Scripture. The notion that
the revelation of Scripture on origins in Genesis 1-11 is quite obscure so
that it must be enhanced and corrected by the brighter light of general
revelation is folly on the very face of it. As regards origins, Scripture
is perfectly clear. It could not be clearer. In comparison with general
revelation, as regards the truth of creation, God "makes Himself more
clearly and fully known to us by His holy and divine Word" (Belgic
In addition, the content of general revelation
regarding creation is limited. General revelation makes known only that
God made the world. It testifies to the Creator (Rom. 1:18ff.). Scripture
reveals far more. Scripture reveals how the Creator brought the
universe into existence.
Second, the Reformed believer is not awed by "Science."
As regards genuine science—the investigation into and knowledge of some
aspect of creation in submission to the Word of God—the Reformed faith is
no enemy of science; nor is science an enemy of the Reformed faith. There
is even a good case to be made, that the Christian faith, especially
through the Protestant Reformation, gave birth to modern science. But the
Reformed believer is well aware, or should be, that "Science," that is,
autonomous man's sovereign reason and research, is one of modern man's
favourite gods. In maintaining the authority of God's Word in Genesis 1-11
and in confessing the wonder of biblical creation, the Reformed believer
is obeying the first commandment: Thou shalt have no other gods before me,
specifically the god, "Science."
Besides, the Reformed believer does not confuse modern
evolutionary scientific theory with science. Modern evolutionary
scientific theory is sheer nonsense. It is unproved, unprovable
foolishness. The theory was proposed, not because it was proved, but
because unbelieving scientists found the alternative—creation—repugnant.
The philosopher, Fichte, expressed the real reason for the adoption of
evolution as the explanation of origins. Creation, he said, is the basic
error of all thinking and of all religion, because creation confronts man
with a sovereign God.28
Darwin himself freely admitted the lack of evidence for
the notion that is basic to his evolutionary theory, namely, the
development of one species from another by "intermediate links." In
The Origin of Species, he wrote:
Why then is not every geological formation and every
stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not
reveal any such finely-graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps is the
most obvious and serious objection which can be urged against the
In his ecstatic welcome of Darwinian evolution, the
Anglican clergyman Charles Kingsley, managed to combine all of these
errors—honouring general revelation above Scripture, worshipping
"Science," and confusing the latest theory of a scientist with science.
"Science is the Voice of God—her facts, His words—to which we must each
and all reply, 'Speak Lord, for Thy servant heareth."'30
Third. science cannot possibly get at the events
recorded in Genesis 1-11, to analyse, judge, and confirm them. Creation
itself was a wonder. As a wonder it is as little accessible to the
scientist's tools of investigation as is the resurrection of Jesus. The
wonder is known only by faith, which humbly and thankfully receives God's
Word about the wonder.
In addition, between God's work of creation, as
described in Genesis 1 and 2, and present-day science lie two barriers
that scientific effort cannot penetrate: the fall with the attending curse
on all creation and the flood which destroyed the world that then was,
bringing about an entirely new form of the world (Gen. 3:17-18; II Peter
3:6). No scientific instrument can reach back beyond the flood. The world
before the flood cannot even be known by any scientific theory, since
scientific theories work on the basis of the principle of
uniformitarianism. But as the apostle declares in II Peter 3:1-7, it is
not true that "all things continue as they were from the beginning of the
creation." In the flood—the real, historical flood of Genesis 6-8, not the
pitiful, mythical puddle of a local flood in the region of the Tigris and
Euphrates Rivers31—the watery "world that
then was perished"; out of the flood came the present fiery world. The
only knowledge that anyone has, or can have, of the world before the flood
is that given by God Himself in Genesis.
Fourth, the opinions of the scholars, particularly the
theologians. that Genesis 1-11 is myth, mean nothing to the Reformed
Christian. At the Reformation, virtually all the scholars opposed the
Reformation and its gospel. Learning and scholarship were the enemy. For
the most part, it is the same today. This is not a reflection on learning
and scholarship, but on the vainglorious, treacherous, cowardly men and
women who use these good gifts of God to criticize His Word, deny His
wonderful works, and wreak havoc on His church.
Recently, A. M. Lindeboom has written a book on the
spiritual destruction of the once glorious Reformed Churches in the
Netherlands (GKN). These churches have fallen away from Christ. They
believe nothing of the gospel. They practice every corruption, no matter
how vile. This awful—and rapid—apostasy began with an arrogant
intellectualism that challenged the authority of Scripture. The challenge
began at the opening chapters of Genesis. The reason? "The doctrine of
evolution, which is taught in schools and universities everywhere in the
world as an established fact." The title of Lindeboom's book is De
theologen gingen voorop—The Theologians Led the Way.32
Fifth, the believer who reads Genesis 1-11 as history
cannot be moved by ridicule. There is such ridicule. Nor does it come only
from "liberal" quarters. "Do you still believe such absurdities as
creation in six real days, God's forming a man out of real dust by His own
hand, God's forming a woman out of a real rib of the man, and a speaking
This cannot move the believer, because by the grace of
God he has already believed a far more impossible impossibility and a much
more ridiculous absurdity: the incarnation of God by a virgin birth, in
order to redeem sinners by a cross. What is creation in six real days,
forming a woman from a rib, and a speaking serpent in comparison with
this? The Christian glories in the absurdities of the faith. If he does
not, with Tertullian, quite believe because the truth is absurd, the
absurdity of the truth certainly poses no problem to his faith. Does not
the Word itself tell him that God's wisdom is foolishness to the ungodly
world and to the mind of the natural man? (I Cor. 1:18-31; 2:14) With
Abraham and Mary, the Christian believes the impossible, because his
God—the God of Christianity—does the impossible.
This brings us to the heart of the issue, "Genesis
1-11: Myth or History?" namely, Jesus Christ.
Out of a mythical Genesis 1-11 comes a mythical Christ.
This is necessarily so. First, the thinking that sets
Genesis aside as a human word must also set aside the gospels as a human
word. Second, if there never was a historical fall from the sinless height
of a historical creation of a historical Adam, there is no need for a
historical Jesus. Third, the Bible itself makes Jesus analogous to, and
dependent upon, Adam (Rom. 5:12ff.). No Adam, no Christ! Fourth, Jesus
Christ comes out of the womb of the promise of Genesis 3:15: "And I will
put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed;
it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." But to whom did
Jehovah God speak the words in which this promise—this "mother-promise"—is
found? To the speaking serpent! Deny the historicity of Genesis 3, deny
the historicity of the speaking serpent, and you annihilate the promise
whence Jesus the Christ has come. No speaking serpent, no Saviour!
A mythical Genesis 1-11 means a mythical Christ. But a
mythical Christ did not die for our sins. A mythical Christ cannot forgive
us our very real sins. A mythical Christ will not go with us through the
valley of the shadow of death. A mythical Christ will not raise our body
from the grave. Only the historical Christ did and will do these things.
The historical Christ makes a historical Genesis 1-11
the foundation of Himself and His work. His coming is by promise made to
Adam and Eve in a garden in Eden in view of their disobedience to God's
command concerning the tree of knowledge of good and evil. He came to
redeem men and women originally made by God in God's own image from the
sin and death of the fall. As Adam's disobedience, so Christ's obedience
(Rom. 5:12ff.). As Adam's plunging all into death, so Christ's making
alive (I Cor. 15:21-22).
The historicity of Genesis 1-11 is the foundation of
Jesus Christ in another way. Christ was God's goal, or purpose, in
creating the world, as well as in God's providential government of the
course of the creation thereafter:
By him [Christ] were all things created, that are in
heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be
thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were
created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all
things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the
beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he might have
the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness
dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to
reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things
in earth, or things in heaven (Col. 1:16-20).
Creation was for Christ. Every event in Genesis 1-11
happened for the sake of Christ. The end that the beginning of Genesis 1:1
and all that follows in Genesis 1-11 look to is the new world of
Revelation 21 and 22, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and renewed by
His Spirit. Upon the historicity of Genesis 1-11 depends the reality of
the coming Day of Christ, our hope.
There may be no compromise with the denial of the
historicity of Genesis 1-11. But the evolutionary theory of origins
necessarily involves the dismissal of the opening chapters as
non-historical. Among many others, David Lack, himself an ardent proponent
of Darwinian evolution, has stated this bluntly:
While Darwinism was widely supposed to contradict the
accuracy of the Bible. what it actually challenges is the literal
rendering of the first three chapters of Genesis, and if these are
properly to he regarded as allegorical, no conflict need arise.33
There may be no compromise, therefore, with the
evolutionary theory of origins. None.
Benjamin B. Warfield's surrender of the historicity of
the biblical account of creation to Darwinian evolutionary theory was
shameful. Warfield made epochs of the days of Genesis 1, allowed for what
today is known as the theistic evolution of all the forms and species
other than man, and found acceptable the biological development of man
from the apes as regards the body. So far would Warfield go with
Darwin. Only the soul of man could not have derived from the beasts. This,
God had to slip into brutish Adam as a kind of aboriginal deus ex
If under the directing hand of God a human body is
formed at a leap by propagation from brutish parents, it would be quite
consonant with the fitness of things that it should be provided by His
creative energy with a truly human soul.34
As regards the biblical account of the creation of Eve,
which cannot be harmonized with theistic evolutionary theory and which is
virtually impervious to exegetical manipulation, Warfield, though he
recognized the difficulty, suggested that the creation of Eve from a rib
of Adam could somehow be explained away so as to allow for the
evolutionary development also of the body of the woman.
I am free to say, for myself, that I do not think
that there is any general statement in the Bible or any part of the
account of creation, either as given in Genesis 1 and 2 or elsewhere
alluded to, that need be opposed to evolution. The sole passage which
appears to bar the way is the very detailed account of the creation of
Eve. It is possible that this may be held to be a miracle (as Dr.
Woodrow holds), or else that the narrative may be held to be partial and
taken like the very partial descriptions of the formation of the
individual in Job and the Psalms, that is, it teaches only the general
fact that Eve came of Adam's flesh and bone.35
At the end of his consideration of the life of Charles
Darwin, self-confessed unbeliever and enemy of the Christian faith,
Warfield could write: "We stand at the deathbed of a man whom, in common
with all the world, we most deeply honor."36
Warfield refused to oppose the evolutionary theory of
origins with its concomitant reduction of the opening chapters of Genesis
to myth. Instead, he approved it. Thus, Warfield contributed greatly to
the destruction of his Presbyterian Church as a Christian body. Warfield's
error is now doing grave damage to conservative evangelical, Reformed, and
Presbyterian churches on a wide front. In almost all the conservative
churches and seminaries, the theologians are appealing to the great
Princetonian in defence of their own acceptance of evolution and rejection
of the historicity of Genesis 1 and 2. 37
This appeal to Warfield is not without its value. It
indicates how far those who make the appeal have gone in their own
thinking and how far they are willing to have their churches go. Usually
these theologians are quite reticent about their own views, contenting
themselves with striking out against the "fundamentalism" and
"anti-intellectualism" of those who insist on a literal reading of Genesis
1 and 2 as history. By appealing to Warfield, these men show, at the very
least, that they are open to epochs of millions of years, theistic
evolution as the explanation of all the forms and species other than man,
the biological descent of man from the beasts as regards his body, and
even "Adam's" begetting of "Eve's" body from a primate. How such thinking
answers the question, "Genesis 1-11: Myth or History?" is plain to all.
What explains the vulnerability of Warfield and other
otherwise orthodox men of his day to the pressures of evolutionary
scientific theory? The explanation is fourfold. First, the assault on the
doctrine of creation and on the inspiration of Genesis 1-11 by the enemy
of the Christian faith and its God in these last days is powerful and
Second, Warfield was mistaken in his thinking about
general revelation. He supposed that general revelation and Scripture are
two equal authorities for Christians. Indeed, in practice Scripture must
give way to general revelation. Warfield then naively identified the
latest scientific theory with general revelation. Worse still, Warfield
thought that God's revelation of Himself in creation to unbelievers, for
example, Charles Darwin, resulted in right knowledge of God as Creator, so
that the Christian church is required to yield to Darwin's proclamation of
the truth of God. Darwin is virtually a herald of God in the world!
Warfield confused general revelation with natural theology.38
Third, Warfield was not sufficiently impressed with the
total depravity of the mind, or reason, of the ungodly. This is also a
fundamental error in Warfield's apologetics. Ungodly scientists, for
example, Charles Darwin and Thomas ("Dr. Beelzebub") Huxley. do not think
neutrally, much less favourably, about God and His Word on the basis of
raw data. They theorize in enmity against God and His Word. Their
scientific theories are the weapons of their warfare against the church.
Fourth, Warfield's attitude toward the culture of the
world of the ungodly, especially the culture of the universities,
learning, and science, was not antithetical. It was not the attitude of
spiritual separation and warfare. Relations between the Presbyterian
Church and its colleges, on the one hand, and the surrounding culture, on
the other hand, were friendly. The world would bless the church through
its learning, and the church would Christianise the world with its
theology. No doubt, the theory of common grace helped to frame this
Whatever the reasons, by his concessions and
compromise, Warfield sold out the historicity of Genesis 1-11.
There may be no compromise with Darwinian, or any
other, evolutionary theory of origins. History has abundantly proved the
truth of Darwin's own confidence, that the slightest concession to his
theory invariably will result in complete surrender.
It early became a maxim with Darwin that those who
went a little way toward his doctrine would eventually go much farther,
and that those who went a great way, would eventually become converts.40
On the contrary, faithful churches, with their
seminaries, must nail their colours to the mast on this issue. The
Protestant Reformed Churches require all candidates for the ministry to
believe from the heart and to confess the historicity of Genesis 1-11,
particularly the historicity of Genesis 1 and 2, that is, the seven days
of creation and rest. The ministerial candidates must promise that they
will not tolerate but oppose every form of the lie of the mythical nature
of the opening chapters of the Bible. All members of the churches are
required to believe the historicity of Genesis 1-11.
"Suffer the Little Children"
To us, the issue, "Genesis 1-11: Myth or History?" is
not intellectual and academic.
In the Protestant Reformed Churches, the covenant
children begin their catechism instruction at the age of five or six.
These are the questions and answers that they learn in the first lessons
of the first book:
Who is your Creator?
Did God create all things?
Yes, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
How do we know about this creation?
God tells us about it in His Word, the Bible.
Who are our first parents?
Adam and Eve.
How did Satan come to Eve?
He used the serpent to talk to Eve.
What did God promise?
A Saviour, to save us from our sin.
We want these little children to go to heaven. If they
come to doubt all these answers as myth, they will go to hell as
unbelievers. Whoever is responsible—parent, preacher, schoolteacher,
theologian, or synod—it were better for them that a millstone were hanged
about their neck and that they were drowned in the depth of the sea.
These little ones, who cannot discern between their
right hand and their left hand, must believe a historical Genesis 1-11.
And the theologians are called, and privileged, to lead
1 C. F. Nosgen, cited in
Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. ed. Gerhard Kittel, vol.
4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1967), p. 765. For a forthright acknowledgment
that "myth" is, in fact, man's own creation of history, see W. Taylor
Stevenson, History as Myth: The Import for Contemporary Theology
(New York: Seabury Press, 1969).
2 Howard J. Van Till, The
Fourth Day: What the Bible and the Heavens are Telling Us about the
Creation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986).
3 Portraits of Creation:
Biblical and Scientific Perspectives on the World's Formation, ed.
Howard J. Van Till, Robert E. Snow, John H. Stek, Davis A. Young, Calvin
Center for Christian Scholarship (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990).
4 Davis A. Young, The Biblical
Flood. A Case Study of the Church's Response to Extrabiblical Evidence
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995). The book was reviewed in the November,
1995 issue of the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal. The
quotations are found on pages 311-312 of the book.
5 "Report 28: Committee on
Creation and Science," in Christian Reformed Church in North America:
Agenda for Synod 1991 (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Reformed Church, 1991),
6 Jan Lever, Where are We
Headed? A Christian Perspective on Evolution (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,
1970), pp. 25, 27. See also Jan Lever, Creation and Evolution
(Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids International Publications, distributed by
7 The Genesis Debate:
Persistent Questions about Creation and the Flood, ed. Ronald
Youngblood (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1990). H. Wade Seaford, Jr. scoffs at the
descent of the race from two parents on p. 163. Youngblood praises
Seaford's commitment to the inspiration of Scripture on p. viii.
8 Charles E. Hummel, The
Galileo Connection: Resolving Conflicts between Science & the Bible
(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986). See particularly pp. 214, 217.
9 Paul K. Jewett, God,
Creation, and Revelation: A Neo-Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids,
MI: Eerdmans, 1991), pp. 16, 478-484.
10 Bruce Waltke, "The First Seven
Days: What is the Creation Account Trying to Tell Us?" (Christianity
Today, April 12, 1988), pp. 42-46.
11 John M. Frame, The Doctrine
of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1987), pp. 314-315.
Frame calls this figurative interpretation a "revised exegesis."
12 Lever, Where are We Headed?,
13 Waltke, "The First Seven
Days," p. 46.
14 N. H. Ridderbos, Is There a
Conflict between Genesis 1 and Natural Science? (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1957), p. 45.
15 Ibid., pp. 70-71. To
his credit, Ridderbos did not try to hide these implications of the
framework-hypothesis. Neither did he minimize the importance of them. He
spoke of "two profound problems."
16 Martin Luther, Luther's Works,
vol.1, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia, 1958), p. 185.
17 Ibid., p. 231.
18 Ibid., p. 237.
19 Julius Wellhausen, Prolegomena
to the History of Ancient Israel, (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1973),
20 Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament
Theology, vol. 1 (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), pp. 158-159.
21 John Romer, Testament (New
York: Henry Holt and Company, 1988), pp. 33, 39.
22 Zachary Hayes, What are They
Saying about Creation? (New York: Paulist Press, 1980).
23 "Report 28," pp. 379-384.
24 Ridderbos, Ibid., p. 46.
25 Henri Blocher, In the
Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis, trans. David G. Preston
(Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1984), pp. 156-170. As evidence
that the explanation of the opening chapters of Genesis as non-historical
necessarily involves the denial of the fundamental Christian doctrine of
original sin, Blocher's next book did this very thing: it denied original
sin both as regards original guilt and as regards inherited corruption
from our first parents. See Henri Blocher, Original Sin: Illuminating
the Riddle (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999).
26 Benjamin B. Warfield, "Charles
Darwin's Religious Life: A Sketch in Spiritual Biography," in Studies
in Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1932), pp.
549-550. Warfield knew. This makes all the more inexcusable Warfield's
grievous compromise of the Christian doctrine of creation in the interests
of accommodating Darwinian evolution and, with this, his mythologizing of
Genesis 1 and 2. This article on Darwin's religious life is included in
the recent volume of selected writings by Warfield on evolutionary
science, Evolution, Science, and Scripture
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2000). The editors, Mark A. Noll and David N. Livingstone, intend that the book defend and promote theistic evolution
and a "non-literal interpretation of the early Genesis narratives" among
evangelicals, Reformed, and Presbyterians.
27 John Herman Randall, Jr., The
Making of the Modern Mind. A Survey of the Intellectual Background of the
Present Age (Cambridge, MA: The Riverside Press, 1940), p. 276.
28 See Paul K. Jewett, God,
Creation, & Revelation: A Neo-Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids,
MI: Eerdmans, 1991), p. 439.
29 Charles Darwin, The Origin of
Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured
Races in the Struggle for Life (New York and Toronto: The New American
Library, 1958), p. 287.
30 Cited in David Lack,
Evolutionary Theory and Christian Belief: The Unresolved Conflict
(London: Methuen, 1957), p. 68.
31 For the denial of the historicity
of the account of the flood in Genesis 6-9, see Davis A. Young, The
Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church's Response to Extrabiblical
Evidence (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995). The book indicates how deeply
into Genesis 1-11 the myth has penetrated in confessionally Reformed
churches and colleges today.
32 A. M. Lindeboom, De theologen
gingen voorop: Eenvoudig Verhaal van de Ontmanteling van de Gereformeerde
Kerken (Kampen: Kok, 1987). The quotation is from page 20, which is
part of the chapter titled, "In the Grasp of Modern Science." The titles
of the opening chapters of the book and their sequence tell the tale: "The
Arising of Intellectualism"; "In the Grasp of Modern Science"; "Criticism
of Scripture Begins" [with Genesis 1]; "Criticism of Scripture Continues";
"Concerted Advance" [upon all of Genesis 1-11]. The next chapter has the
title, "The Son of God." It details the attack of the Dutch theologians in
the GKN upon the Godhead, work, death, resurrection, and second coming of
Jesus Christ. De theologen gingen voorop! On the spiritual
condition of the GKN, in addition to Lindeboom's book, see the GKN
theologian H. M. Kuitert, Do You Understand What You Read? On
Understanding and Interpreting the Bible, trans. Lewis B. Smedes
(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970) and I Have My Doubts: How to Become a
Christian without being a Fundamentalist, trans. John Bowden (London:
SCM Press, 1993).
33 Lack. Evolutionary Theory,
p. 34. Lack, of course, is urging Christians to give up the view that
these chapters are literally true" for the view required by evolutionary
science, namely, that they are "allegorical." Lack is honest.
34 Benjamin B. Warfield, Critical
Reviews (New York: Oxford University Press, 1932), p. 138. Warfield is
reviewing James Orr's God's Image in Man.
35 Benjamin B. Warrield, "Evolution or Development," in
Evolution, Scripture, and Science: Selected Writings, ed. Mark A. Noll
& David N. Livingstone (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2000), p. 130.
36 Warfield, Studies in Theology,
37 Instances of this widespread
appeal include David N. Livingstone, Darwin's Forgotten Defenders: The
Encounter between Evangelical Theology and Evolutionary Thought (Grand
Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987) and Noll & Livingstone, eds., Evolution,
Scripture, and Science.
38 Rom. 1:18ff. teaches that the
ungodly, including ungodly scientists (probably ungodly scientists
especially), immediately hold under the knowledge of God that they
have from creation, changing the truth of God, for instance, the truth of
God as Creator, into a lie. This is all that they can do as totally
depraved sinners. God's sole purpose with general revelation for the
ungodly is to render them without excuse. David Livingstone traces the
surprising readiness of evangelicals to accept evolution to "the
longstanding Puritan assurance that God had revealed himself both in the
book of Scripture and in the book of Nature" (Darwin's Forgotten
Defenders, p. 169).
39 In his book, Darwin on Trial,
Phillip E. Johnson notes that the early supporters of Darwin's theory of
evolution "included not just persons we would think of a religious
liberals, but conservative Evangelicals such as Princeton Theological
Seminary Professor Benjamin Warfield." Johnson offers two reasons for this
support: "(1) religious intellectuals were determined not to repeat the
scandal of the Galileo persecution; and (2) with the aid of a little
self-deception, Darwinism could be interpreted as 'creation wholesale' by
a progress-minded Deity acting through rationally accessible secondary
causes." See Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin on Trial
(Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1991), p.188.
40 William Irvine, Apes, Angels, &
Victorians: The Story of Darwin, Huxley, and Evolution (New York:
Time, 1963), p. 174.
"In the Beginning God...." by Homer C. Hoeksema—an on-line book on
the scriptural truth of creation, over against evolution.)