Episode #63: The Historicity of Genesis, Part 2

by &

In the second part of this three-part series, pastors Derek and Cliff consider the genre and text of Genesis 1 & 2 as they ask the question, “Is the creation account reliable history?”


Derek: Welcome to With All Wisdom, where we are applying Biblical truth to everyday life. My name is Derek Brown and I’m here today with Cliff McManis. We are both pastors and elders at Creekside Bible Church of Cupertino, California, and we both have the privilege of teaching theology at the Cornerstone Bible College and Seminary in Vallejo, California. And today we are on part two of our discussion on the historicity of Genesis. And I encourage you to go back to WithAllWisdom.org so you can listen to part one. I would encourage you to do that, and you can also find some great articles in other podcasts there as well. So let’s get back to our topic. Cliff, in the first episode, you gave us a history of how we got to the place where a lot of Christians who believe the Bible, who believe in Jesus, who trust Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins, don’t believe in the historicity of Genesis. They don’t believe that Moses wrote it. They accept the scientific community’s view of evolution, Darwinian evolution, as true, and therefore can’t accept Genesis at face value. And you explained how we got to this place and that was a really helpful history. Now we need to talk about some biblical facts—some theological facts that hopefully help shed light on this whole discussion. And also, I hope what this will do for our listeners is bolster their confidence in the historicity of Genesis. So why don’t you take it away again, Cliff.

Cliff: Thanks, Derek. I’ll start off with a commercial, if I may, by advertising. There’s a lot of literature out there and a lot of books to read on this topic. Good, bad, and ugly. And there’s a lot of good books. So where do you start? Well, I’d say if the serious listener out there wants to delve deeper into these issues regarding the study of Genesis, a book that I would recommend is actually a textbook I use at our seminary in the Genesis class. It’s called Coming to Grips with Genesis: Biblical Authority in the Age of the Earth. It is actually written by thirteen different authors. They’re all excellent. Terry Mortenson—he’s a friend of mine, actually. He is the editor. This was kind of his vision—to put this whole thing together—and he works with Answers in Genesis as one of their scholars is an author in that book. John MacArthur actually wrote the foreword along with Henry Morris, and they just cover it from a lot of different points of views—from a Hebrew point of view, from theology, from archeology. So it’s just a great resource—very in depth and comprehensive. Every true Christian apologist that wants to know more about this whole issue on the historicity of Genesis should probably start there with that book.

Derek: I can vouch for that book. It is quite excellent and well-written. A heavy hitter. Excellent book.

Cliff: All right, well, let’s move on to the next topic, which is simply the fact that I would like to say today, Derek, that Genesis is history.

Derek: Well, I agree with you.

Cliff: So that’s my answer to the question that was posed: Genesis is history. I would like to affirm that Genesis is history. If you’re a Christian out there and you love your Bible and you love reading the Bible, you don’t need to be discouraged, but you can be comforted knowing that when you open up your Bible and you start reading Genesis, you are reading history. It’s not just any history. It’s unique history. Why? Because it is inspired. It is God-breathed history written by God’s prophet, Moses, and preserved by his Holy Spirit throughout the ages. It’s perfect history, completely accurate. Everything that it talks about with respect to history is literal history, at least where normal language makes it plainly clear that it’s intended to be literal history. Like the Jewish people that came from Abraham. They’re introduced in the book of Genesis, and that’s the origin of their history.

If you were to ask the historical question about the literal nation of Israel and the Jews who exist today—where they come from—and you did a historical study, you would end up in the book of Genesis, before Genesis 12. So it’s a history of the Jewish people. The Jewish people came from Abraham, who eventually came from a guy named Adam through Noah. So it’s a selective history. People need to realize that there’s not a history book that isn’t selective.

Derek: I’ve heard people challenge that. Oh, selective means that part of it can’t be true. Some of it’s not true.

Cliff: No, selective can mean different things in different contexts, right? In this case, what I mean is that there was a lot of history that God could have included in the book of Genesis from the time of Adam until the time when Joseph died. Adam lived in about 4,000 BC and then Joseph died in 1800 BC. God was selective, and he decided, I’m not going to put everything that transpired in history. I’m only going to put in there what I think is important and what people need to know regarding the beginning of the world and the history of the Earth. And so he chose out of the true facts of history what he was going to have in Scripture. So that’s what I mean by selective. It was God’s sovereign choice.

So I should say divine selection. So it’s selective history. It’s religious history. So it’s not just history that God had written through prophets, but it’s history as things actually happened with God’s theological interpretation of historical events. That’s the challenge for humans as we study history that’s not in the Bible. You can try to chronicle events, but without God’s divine interpretation, we don’t know what that means. What’s the significance of the Grand Canyon? What’s the significance of Napoleon Bonaparte and his rise in what he did? What’s the theological significance of that? Well, we don’t know, right? Because we’re not God. He didn’t tell us. But in Genesis, you have God’s theological interpretation of the events of history. Here’s why I raised up Abraham. Here’s why I made a covenant with him. Here are the implications and here’s how it impacts eternity for all people.

So it’s a theologically interpreted history written by God. And so it’s spiritual history, and then also it is foundational history. It literally lays the foundation for the rest of the Bible and Genesis because it talks about the beginning and creation as history. It lays down the foundation for the rest of human history and eternity, actually. Revelation completes the story that God began in Genesis. So it’s not just history, it is unique history. The book of Genesis covers a time period from 4,000 BC when God created Adam and Eve to the time when Joseph died, which is 1800 BC. How do we know it was 4,000 BC? Well, there’s a few things: Genesis five and the genealogy and a couple other genealogies, and even Luke three. You put all those together and they kind of give us a historical timeline according to the Bible, if you took it literally at face value.

Even Jesus commenting in Mark chapter 10:6 and following helps us out there. Genesis is written by Moses, or it was written by Moses. That is highly contested today, even in theological seminaries, even in evangelical seminaries, and even in so-called highly respected evangelical seminaries. It’s sad. It’s just time and time again. Through history, a solid conservative biblical seminary starts up, they hold the line, they hold the traditional view that it’s actually accurate, taking the Bible at face value. And with time and the next generation, they began to drop the ball and compromise. And all of a sudden they’re rejecting particular books, and authorship of books, that we know and believe to be historically true, and Genesis would be one of those. So we’ve got that today. So evaluate your own seminary and see if the professors there believe in the traditional views of the authorship of the books of the Bible. Did Moses write Genesis? Did the Apostle John write the gospel of John? That’s being questioned by well-known seminaries that we thought we could trust. Derek, I just heard about another one. So you and I, we teach at the Cornerstone Seminary. I’m on the board there, and you’re the Dean there. So we believe in Mosaic authorship, right?

Derek: We believe in Mosaic authorship. We believe in the historicity of Genesis.

Cliff: Awesome. Do we believe that John wrote John?

Derek: Yes, sir.

Cliff: Okay, good. Should we compromise on that? Nope. So Genesis was written by Moses. How do we know that? Well, I would say the entire testimony of the Old Testament itself attests to the fact and affirms that Moses wrote Genesis, because the Jews who came after Moses and after Joshua, whether it was David and King Solomon, or the prophets like Ezra and Nehemiah and the Jewish tradition, they took the first five books of our Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) and called them the Torah or the pen, which is Hebrew. And then there’s the Pentateuch, which comes from Latin and Greek, the five books that were called the Law or the book of Moses, literally. The Law of Moses. So that refrain is very common throughout the rest of the Old Testament.

Ezra’s a perfect example. So Ezra, a prophet of God and a godly man, in around four 50 BC, he wrote Ezra, Nehemiah, and he probably wrote Chronicles. He was highly gifted by God. He was a prophet of God. He was a priest, and a faithful man of God. He took the Old Testament literally at face value. He referred to the first five books of the Old Testament as the Law of Moses. As a matter of fact, in Ezra 32, “As it is written in the law of Moses…”—what does that mean? That just simply means that Ezra believed that Moses wrote the entire Torah, which would include Genesis, right? That was the unanimous opinion of Old Testament prophets, right? So how do we know that Moses wrote the first five books in the Bible, including Genesis? Because of the testimony of Old Testament prophets, and Jewish tradition held that Moses wrote Genesis and the whole Torah. Even the Jews of Jesus’ day, they were Bible scholars. They were the experts of the Old Testament, including the scribes and the Pharisees. That’s the one thing that the Pharisees and Jesus agreed on. Actually, it’s hard to think of what the Pharisees and Jesus agreed on. I can’t think of very many, but they believed, and Jesus believed, that Moses wrote Genesis. And I think that the Pharisees and Jesus both agreed that Genesis was history.

That was the view. There was no alternative view, right? Jesus did not believe in Darwinian evolution. The Pharisees did not believe in the framework hypothesis that was invented in 1950 and all these other kooky views. So the Jewish tradition affirmed for centuries, and rightly so, that Moses wrote Genesis. And it was true history, as I already said that Jesus believed Genesis was history. Jesus believed that Moses wrote Genesis. How do we know that? Several places. But in John 7:19, Jesus said, “Moses gave you the Law.” And what did he mean by the Law? The Law of Moses, the first five books in the Old Testament. He said that more than once. John 7:19, Luke 24:44—same thing. Jesus gave a Bible study beginning with Moses. That’s the beginning of the Law. That’s Genesis. So Jesus believed Moses wrote Genesis. The New Testament authors believed Moses wrote Genesis. In John chapter one, verse 17, John the Apostle writes, “The Law was given through Moses,” which would include Genesis. From the time of John the Apostle to his death, the early church unanimously believed that Moses wrote Genesis and that it was true history. Nobody deviated from that unless they were a heretic.

From the time of Augustine in the fifth century, all the way up until the Reformation, the church unanimously believed that Moses wrote Genesis and that it was true history. From the time of the Reformation until the 1950s, the majority of the church believed that Moses wrote Genesis. So if you’re a Christian and you don’t believe Moses wrote Genesis or that Genesis is true history, you are in the major super minority with respect to biblical history. Going back to Moses himself, I think Moses believed Moses wrote Genesis. That’s my personal opinion. When I get to heaven, I’m going to ask him. Now, I have specifics here of why you as a Christian, if you take your Bible at face value, you can rest assured and believe that Genesis is history. A few points here. Number one: Genesis is history by virtue of its genre. Now you’re a theologian, Derek. Have you got just a quick definition of genre and its so-called significance in theological circles these days?

Derek: So genre just refers to the type of literature, how it’s written. It’s the significance in the use of its words and how the words are used. And genre is significant because some are saying that the genre of Genesis is poetic. And you do have, in the Bible, you have a lot of poetry. In the Old Testament, you have a lot of Hebrew poetry. And in poetry, you have language that is not meant to be taken in a literal way. It’s meant to be taken metaphorically, and it teaches you true things, but it’s teaching you in a metaphorical way. And so you apply that to Genesis and you say, Genesis is poetic. And it’s these things that are being described in Genesis 1, with regard to creation of the earth, they’re not to be taken literally. That’s not literally how it happened. This is metaphorical language that teaches us that God created. And this is generally how he did it. The main idea is that God created, but to receive it as a metaphor, largely speaking. And that’s significant because I think you’re about to argue that, actually, if you classify Genesis as poetry as in that genre, then you actually are misclassifying it. It’s not poetry at all. Now, there is a little bit of poetry in Genesis 2, but by and large, it’s not. Poetry is a historical narrative. And that’s the genre.

Cliff: Yep. Your definition that you laid it out is very simple, very clear. Genre speaks of types of literature, right? Types of literature, whether like you said, it’s narrative or prose, which are stories versus poetry, that kind of thing. And you’re right. So I think that Genesis is history by virtue of its genre. And I take the traditional view, which since the time Moses wrote it in 1400 BC all the way up until just sometime in the mid 1900s, where people started proposing that, no, Genesis is not narrative. It’s poetry. And that has just gained ground to become very popular, so that now people say it without blinking an eye. Oh yeah, Genesis is poetry. Or actually, what they’ll say is Genesis 1 through 3 is poetry, or Genesis 1 through 11 is poetry. So it used to be the more common view to say that Genesis 1 through 11 is poetry, and that 12 through 50 is narrative.

And if it was narrative or in story form, then that allowed for history. But because Genesis 1 through 11 is poetry, you can’t take it as history. You have to read it in a different way. So it affects your hermeneutic. So you have to adjust your hermeneutic depending upon the genres. And if you had to tweak and manipulate and change your hermeneutic every time you found a different genre in the Bible, you would be in big trouble. You’d be changing your hermeneutic all the time. So I personally have a grammatical, historical, literal hermeneutic that I apply to the Bible, and I never changed my hermeneutic because my hermeneutic can accommodate all kinds of different genres and metaphors and everything else. But we are told by some so-called experts in theology that you need to change your hermeneutic depending upon the genre. Therefore, you can’t read Genesis 1 through 3 the way you read the rest of Genesis, or Genesis 1 through 11 is poetry and you have to read it differently than the rest of Genesis. So an example of this would be my friend Denis Lamoureux, who is a theologian and also a dentist. And I didn’t know he was a dentist. And he’s a so-called expert on the book of Genesis, as you know. You’ve read one of his books. He’s written a mammoth book on hermeneutics, which you and I would not agree with, but it is with the premise that you tweak your hermeneutic depending upon the genre, and you just keep changing all over the place. Now, Leland Ryken wrote a study Bible called the Literary Study Bible. And he says there are over 180 different genres in the Bible.

Derek: I knew that. I knew he said there were a lot.

Cliff: Yeah, it’s over a hundred. And I’ve read through most of ’em. I’ve never heard of them. Now, if I was going to go with Leland Ryken, who I think is the president of Wheaton Seminary, or Wheaton College, or Philip Ryken (I think both contributed on that work), I would ask them if I have to change my hermeneutic every time I’m confronted with a new genre, and then there are over 100 different genres in the Bible, that I have to come up with over a hundred different hermeneutics. That’s complex. I feel sorry for the average lay person or Christian, like my son. When he was seven years old and he just wanted to read the Bible and asked, “Can you read the Bible to me?” So I did. So we started reading through Genesis at nighttime, one chapter at a time. I just read it at face value. And lo and behold, he actually understood it as I was reading it. Now, one time, I did say, “Oh, by the way, young Timothy, do you know what the genre is? Because you might have to adjust your hermeneutic.” I never said that.

Derek: I’m glad you told that story because I was getting a little concerned. I always regularly tell our young professionals that you don’t need a theological degree to read the Bible. You just need to know how to read. And I was getting a little concerned here, because of the way you’re describing all these genres, that actually I was going to go back and tell ’em, no, you actually need a theological degree! So I’m encouraged by your story about your son.

Cliff: So there are two misleading, very popular notions that are out there that you’ll be confronted with regarding genre number one—that Genesis 1 through 3 or Genesis 1 through 11 is poetry. And we can just say categorically, no, it’s historical narrative and it’s Hebrew narrative, and anybody that knows Hebrew that’s honest, will agree. Genesis 1 through 11 or Genesis 1 through 3 is actually no different, for the most part, from Genesis 12 through 50, in terms of the Hebrew. So it is not poetry. And then another beef that I have with people who say, well, if it’s poetry, you don’t take it literally. Well, I mean, we understand metaphors and analogies and parables and the proverbs or whatever. If you’re confronted with a poetic section of Scripture, like the book of Lamentations, the entire thing is poetic.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t literal truth being communicated. Because at the bottom of every poem is literal truth. So there is literal truth involved. It communicates truth. So in the end, even poetry that you’re going to find in the Bible is going to give you a literal truth in the end. You just have to figure out what is the literal truth God’s communicating through these artistic means that he’s chosen to do? Now, there’s a lot that can be said about that. Another false thing I need to address regarding what they’re saying in hermeneutics today is this is a very popular phrase: genre determines meaning, right? Genre determines meaning. That’s new. And that’s been circled around for the last two plus decades, whereas up until the last twenty or thirty years, historically, we would say that context determines meaning, which is universally accepted and has been all throughout history. So just keep that in mind. That’ll help you as a Christian as you’re reading your Bible. Genre doesn’t determine meaning; context determines meaning. Is genre a reality? Yeah. It’s important. And actually, I think one of the great things about genre and the different genres in the Bible is it shows you the diversity, the creativity, the artistic beauty of God and his mind.

So Genesis is history because it is Hebrew narrative. It is in story form, not poetry, and you can read it accordingly. Number two: why is Genesis history? Because of the framework by which Moses wrote it in the super structure, the skeleton that he has in the book of Genesis, because it’s a long book. It’s fifty chapters in English. I can’t imagine how long that papyrus scroll was. Who knows if it was 30, 40, 50 feet—maybe it was more than one scroll!

Derek: While having to deal with all those Israelites, too.

Cliff: Yes. I’m assuming, maybe, it wasn’t a scroll, but he was in Egypt and they had papyrus down there. So he wrote Genesis. He didn’t divide it into chapters. Okay, I’m going to do some poetry in 1 through 3, as he’s licking his quill. There’s my poetry section! Now I’ll move on to quasi-poetry, which is chapters 4 through 11. Then when I start chapter 12, I’ll get into the good historical stuff with the guy named Abraham. That isn’t how he did it. He wrote it as one piece. The whole book of Genesis goes together. When Moses wrote it, there weren’t chapter divisions like we have in our Bible with 50 different chapter divisions. He didn’t write it with verse divisions, although he wrote with divisions. And he had 10 or 11 different formal divisions in his work with a phrase, the Hebrew word is “Toledoth.” It was translated just like it sounds. It is a Hebrew word.

And you can first find it in Genesis 2:4, if you opened up your Bible there. The last time he uses that in is in Genesis 37 with the story of Joseph, meaning this is the story of this generation. These are the generations of Jacob. So from 37 to 50, it is the Toledoth or the story or the genealogy or the history of Joseph. And so Moses did that with the Toledoth, starting in Genesis 2:4. And then he does it 10 or 11 different times all throughout the whole book. And those function like hinges in his book, keeping that papyrus leaf together. And those are his sections in the book.

Those are really his chapters of the book. So he didn’t have 50 chapters, he had 11, and he divided them with that one word, Toledoth, which is translated, “these are the genealogies of.” Now, New King James does something interesting that’s totally legit. New King James, in Genesis 2:4, says, “This is the history of.” This is the history of, at the beginning of the book.

Derek: So this dividing up that some evangelical scholars will do, saying this section is not historical. In light of the Toledoth framework and structure, that claim that some parts are history and some parts are not, is totally arbitrary.

Cliff: Completely arbitrary. And get this. So as you know, Derek, I teach a Genesis class, and I invite world renowned scholars in the evangelical world on Genesis to be guests in my class so that my students can ask them questions live. And I have had, several times, the greatest evangelical scholar of the book of Genesis in my class. He would be John Walton. I mean, that’s what people say. I don’t think he’s the greatest scholar. John Walton is up there though, because he’s been doing it so long. But he does not like to take Genesis 1 through 11 literally. So he used to, in his early fundamental days, but he’s abandoned that position, and now he makes a clear distinction between Genesis 1 through 11 as more poetic and symbolic versus 12 through 50.

So all my students got to ask him a question, and then it was my turn. So I asked John Walton, “You seem to make a distinction between the genre and the tenor of Genesis 1 through 11 as though it’s more poetic and symbolic versus 12 through 50.” And he said, “Yeah, that’s right.” And I said, “Is that based on the Hebrew grammar or the content of those chapters?” And he paused. He was silent. He smiled because he didn’t know how to answer, and then he fessed up and he said, “I’d have to say it is based on the content of those chapters and not on the Hebrew grammar.”

So to me, that just said it all. So now Denis, who would call himself a scholar of the book of Genesis and has written much on it, says that Genesis 1 through 11 is not history, it’s poetry. History starts in Genesis 12, according to Denis Lamoureux. That’s a common view among these kinds of evangelicals. And that, for the most part, the content of Genesis 1 through 11 is not historical or reliable or even real. So Noah wasn’t a real guy, because I’ve asked him that. He’s been a guest of my class many times. He loves to come in and just talk and answer questions and even debate with me, and we have a good time. So I had a question for him, too.

I said, “Well, Denis, you’re telling me that Genesis 1 through 11 is not history, and it’s symbolic and poetic, but 12 through 50 is history. So do you believe that the proper names mentioned in 12 through 50 are real people? Like you’ve got Abraham in chapter 12 and throughout, and then you’ve got Jacob and Isaac and Joseph. Do you believe those are all historical, real people?” “Yeah, I think so.” “Well, Denis, what do you do with the fact that Abraham, who you say is historical, is in chapter 12, but Abraham’s also in chapter 11?” Oops. He forgot about that one. So that posed a problem. That is a problem. So the Toledoth is the actual structure, the divinely given structure, by which Moses used to construct and put together this beautiful masterpiece that has such great continuity. If you look at it in the Hebrew text, and the Toledoth advances one section onto the next in a historical, chronological, temporal sequence.

Derek: So the folks who are making this division of historical and non-historical, it’s not based on any signals in the text having to come at the text from the outside. Something else from the outside is shaping their view. It’s not coming from the text itself.

Cliff: I believe you said it was completely arbitrary. It’s arbitrary and artificial. And John Walton agreed with it. So I appreciate his honesty.

Derek: Well, we have got a lot more to cover, Cliff, so we have got to come back. So that’s what we’re going to do. We thank you for listening to this second part of the historicity of Genesis. Please go back and listen to the first part at WithAllWisdom.org. We’re going to be back to finish up. And until then, keep seeking the Lord and his Word.

Related Articles