One of the most important developments in evangelical and Reformed churches and schools in recent times is the denial of the historicity of Genesis 1-11. The churches and schools either teach or accept the teaching that the events recorded in these chapters never happened.
The worlds were not framed by the Word of God in seven successive commands over six days of one evening and one morning each. The human race did not originate by a man’s being formed from the dust and by a woman’s being made from a rib of the man. The Adam and Eve of Genesis 2 and 3 never existed. Sin and death did not enter the world by the tempting of the woman by a speaking serpent and by the eating of forbidden fruit by the man. There has never been a time when there was no death and when all the animals ate plants. A universal flood never occurred. Mankind is not now divided into nations because God once confounded the language of the race at a Tower of Babel.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, in the first eleven chapters of Holy Scripture is historical.
Genesis 1-11 is myth.
Myth is stories that are presented as history but that never happened. The myth concerns some aspect of human life that is of great importance to men and women. One can learn valuable truths from myths. Usually the myth involves the gods and their relationships with mankind. The Greek story of the entrance of misery into the world of humanity by Pandora’s opening the box contrary to the command of the gods is a myth.
The myth did not happen. It may be based on something (we know not what) that happened once in the distant past. It may serve as the basis for a people’s religious and social practices. But the myth itself did not actually take place. It has no reality in time and space. It is not truth. The gods and persons of the myth are fictitious. The actions are fabulous.
The story of the myth is not divine revelation but the invention of men. The mythmakers were clever, religious, and profound men, but only men. The author of the myth was Hesiod or Homer, not Zeus.
The view that Genesis 1-11 is myth is widespread and prominent in Reformed and evangelical churches, seminaries, colleges, and Christian high schools and grade schools. Where it is not approved, it is permitted.
The reason for doubt about the historical reality ofGenesis 1-11 is the testimony of modern science about origins. Modern science’s explanation of origins is evolution. This contradicts Genesis 1-11 at every point. The evangelical and Reformed churches and schools are bowing to the authority of modern science. Evolution is reality and truth. Genesis 1-11 is myth.
Referring to the account of the fall in Genesis 3, the influential Paul Ricouer has written:
Every effort to save the letter of the story as a true history is vain and hopeless. What we know, as men of science, about the beginnings of mankind leaves no place for such a primordial event (quoted in Henri Blocher, In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984, pp. 157, 158).
Accordingly, the evangelical Henri Blocher concludes that nothing in Genesis 2 and 3 is to be taken literally – not the trees; not the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib; not the speaking serpent.
The denial of the historicity of Genesis 1-11 is monumental error with enormous consequences for the Christian faith. It is far, far more serious an issue than some that receive much more attention from concerned Reformed church members, e.g., women in church office. Denial that Genesis 1-11 is history means the loss of the doctrine of the inspiration of the Bible. If it is myth in its opening, foundational chapters, Scripture is exposed as the literary production of men, rather than being divine revelation as it claims. With the denial of the historicity of Genesis 1-11 is lost every cardinal doctrine of the gospel. Ricouer is happy to draw out the implication of his denial of the historicity of Genesis 3 for the doctrine of original sin:
The harm that has been done to souls, during the centuries of Christianity, first by literal interpretation of the story of Adam, and then by the confusion of this myth, treated as history, with later speculations, principally Augustinian, about original sin, will never adequately be told (quoted in Blocher, In the Beginning, pp. 157, 158).
Denial of the historicity of Genesis 1-11 is the destruction of the foundations of the Christian religion, and, therefore, of Christianity. The religion that must, and will, take form in those churches where Genesis 1-11 is interpreted figuratively as myth will be another religion from historic, creedal Christianity. Christianity rests on the foundation of the events – the historical events – recorded in Genesis 1-11. The Son of God took on human flesh to redeem men and women who have fallen into sin and death by the disobedience of one whom God had created good (Rom. 5:12-21; I Cor. 15:21, 22). The work of Jesus Christ is the raising of the creation of God, subjected to curse and vanity by Adam’s sin, into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Rom. 8:19-22).
If biblical creation and the biblical fall are mythical, biblical redemption is mythical also. If the Adam and Eve of Genesis 1-3 are mythical, the Jesus Christ of the gospels is also mythical. “As by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin . . .” (Rom. 5:12).
The evangelical and Reformed theologians who deny the historicity of Genesis 1-11 realize the importance of the historicity of these chapters. Such is the importance of “the historicity of the content of Genesis 3,” according to Henri Blocher (who denies that Genesis 3 actually happened), that “along with ethical monotheism and the doctrine of sin . . . nothing less than the gospel is at stake” (In the Beginning, p. 170). Therefore, these theologians, and the churches that follow them, still speak of the “event-character” of the chapters and still affirm that the chapters are “history.”
This is confusing to the people of God. How can the theologians or the church’s study committee affirm the “event-character” of Genesis 1-11 when they do not believe that anything set forth in the chapters actually happened? How can myth be history?
Exactly this, nevertheless, is the position of these theologians and study committees. They have an explanation. The events recorded in Genesis 1-11 – creation, fall, flood, and Tower of Babel – may very well be based on real happenings in the hoary past, although these “real happenings” were not the same as the stories in Genesis 1-11 and although we know nothing about these “real happenings.” Therefore, we may speak of the “event-character” of Genesis 1-11. Because the stories in Genesis 1-11 derive, ultimately, from some historical facts or other and because the Christian church lets these stories function in the life of the members to influence their history, we may call these stories “history.”
Such is the tortuous defense of the deceptive reference to Genesis 1-11 as historical by those who do not believe that anything recorded in the chapters actually happened. This is the sense of Henri Blocher’s distinction between “a historical account of the fall” (which, according to him, Genesis 3 emphatically is not) and “the account of a historical fall” (which, according to him, Genesis 3 equally emphatically is).
The question that the Christian faith puts to these theologians and study committees about Genesis 1-11 is simply this: Did it happen? Not, did something happen, or even, did something like Genesis 1-11 happen? But, didGenesis 1-11 happen? Did God, by speaking, create light on the first day of one evening and one morning, prior to creating the sun? The question is not whether a woman eventually appeared in an evolutionary process superintended by God. But the question is, did God make the woman Eve from a rib of the man Adam on the sixth day of one evening and one morning?
Did it happen?
And then, because the proponents of myth as history and the advocates of the event- character of fictitious stories are hard to pin down (and because the stakes are high – Christianity itself is at stake), the Christian faith presses its simple question by asking, “as revealed in Genesis 1-11?” Not, did a fall once take place?, or, did a significant flood once happen? But, did the fall take place exactly as revealed in Genesis 3?, and did the flood occur exactly as revealed in Genesis 6-8? For, of course, the fall and flood revealed in Scripture are the only fall and flood we can ever know, the only fall and flood that the Christian faith is interested in, and the only fall and flood there are. The Christian faith is as little interested in unsubstantial falls and floods behind the fall and flood of the Bible as it is in a vague and shadowy Jesus somewhere behind the Jesus made known, truly, in the gospels.
Did it happen? As revealed?
Only then is Genesis 1-11 history.
Only then is it the foundation of the Christian religion.
Only then is Christianity truth.
Only then is Jesus Christ Savior and Lord by His death and resurrection.
In the Grand Rapids Press of April l&1992, the religion editor describes the faith of the preacher in Grand Rapids’ notoriously liberal Fountain Street Church as regards the “Easter event.” The avowedly liberal preacher “doesn’t profess to believe in Jesus’ literal, bodily resurrection, at least not as it’s commonly understood.” For him, “the dusty remains” of Jesus’ body are still in the grave.
The reason why this liberal cannot believe a literal, bodily resurrection is the testimony of modern science to modern man: “The modern mind ‘cannot believe in the literal resurrection of the body, no matter which god you think it happened to.”‘
Nevertheless, the liberal preacher “doesn’t discount the essential reality of the Easter story.”
“For him it is not the literal, but the symbolic, mythical and metaphorical meaning of Easter that holds such transforming power.”
Where in evangelical and Reformed churches the question, “Did it happen? as revealed?,” has to be asked now concerning Genesis 1-11, the same question will have to be asked in only a few years concerning the resurrection of Jesus as revealed in the gospels.