Gen 1-11 as history
Fri, 13 Aug 1999 15:28:49 EDT

Recent discussion between Glenn Morton and others on Gen 1-11 (which
resembles very closely a discussion I had with Glenn off list and I therefore
just listened in this time) has led me to offer a somewhat different
position, as follows:

The most common way for those who no longer take Gen 1-11 as literal
historical truth to explain why they do not accept it as historically
accurate is to point to some of its literary features and then say the genre
is different from that of Gen 12-50. This is partially acceptable; but the
fact remains that on the whole the Church took it as literal history until
the middle of the nineteenth century, including the age of the universe as
just 6000 years. And, it seems apparent that the Israelites also took it as
literal history, and that Jesus if he did not believe it was literal history
nevertheless, accommodated his teachings to their acceptance of it as literal
history. This past history of interpretation suggests that the genre of Gen
1-11 is not significantly different than that of Gen 12-50 or it seems that
at least educated Christians and Jews before c. 1850 would have recognized it
was a different genre.

I suggest, therefore, that the genre of Gen 1-11 is substantially no
different than that of Gen 12-50. This is not to say they are identical in
genre. There are differences; but, from the viewpoint of the history of
interpretation, I think we have to say that Gen 1-11 was intended by the
human authors to be taken as essentially historical. However, very few
people on this list including myself and even Glenn Morton take Gen 1-11 as
historically accurate. Is there any justification for this? Or, as the YEC's
say, are we just rejecting God's word on the basis of unbelieving science?

If we work only with the biblical revelation that all Scripture is
God-breathed, it is an easy thing to slip into the rationalistic position
that therefore, everything spoken in Scripture represents God's opinion,
representing his knowledge of truth in a final absolute way. But, if we
accept ALL of Scripture we come to realize that some of Scripture was only
given on a temporary basis. As Paul says, "But, before faith came, we were
kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which WAS LATER TO
BE REVEALED. Therefore the law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ,
that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are NO
LONGER UNDER A TUTOR." Gal 3:23-25. If God is willing to temporarily give a
covenant which was not "faultless" and then later give a "better covenant"
(Hebrews 8:6,7), we see that God is willing to give or use ideas which do not
represent God's viewpoint in a final absolute way. So when the perfect came
in Jesus Christ, they are rightfully set aside.

Similarly, and perhaps more trenchantly, some of the ethics in the OT were,
according to Jesus, given because of the Israelites' "hardness of heart."
They were accordingly not perfect in a final absolute way, and Jesus rejected
them, EVEN THOUGH INSPIRED BY GOD. Mark 10:5. But, they were only given
temporarily. When the perfect came in Jesus Christ, they are rightfully set

The NT revelation shows, therefore, that God has divinely inspired ideas,
apparently out of consideration for the juvenile mentalities of the
Israelites, which do not represent his best, final absolutely true opinions.
It is perfectly in accord with the revealed ways of God, therefore, that he
would inspire or use historical accounts (again apparently out of
consideration for the juvenile mentalities of the Israelites) which are later
found to be not "faultless" and which should be set aside when something
better is discovered.

The fact that He has left it up to us to discover that the "history" of Gen
1-11 is, like the OT religion and ethics inspired by God but not perfect in a
final absolute way and only intended to be accepted temporarily, does not
change the principle involved. I would, in fact, argue that no historical
account in the Bible is ever claimed to be a revelation from God as history
qua history; but that God has from the beginning left the writing of history
qua history (not the theological lessons therein) to man and that, therefore,
it is never better than the human sources available at the time and that
correction of such history was from the beginning expected and acceptable to

Paul S.