Re: If Genesis isn't historically true, then it can't be God's word (was Yet more denigr...)

Stephen Jones (
Fri, 01 May 98 07:05:07 +0800


On Wed, 22 Apr 1998 20:29:08 -0500, Glenn Morton wrote:

GM>...if Genesis isn't historically true, then it can't be God's word...

If "historically true" means *literally* "historically true", eg. as
in a newspaper report, then I ask, "Why not?" The Bible specifically
says that God's word can be and was given "in various ways":

"In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets
at many times and IN VARIOUS WAYS..." (Heb 1:1).

It is clear that these "various ways" does include literal historical
prose (eg. Samuel, Kings, Acts), but it can also include poetry and
songs (eg. Job, Psalms), and parables (Gospels), as well as
real history in symbolic form (Daniel, Ezekiel, Revelation).

In respect of Genesis 1-11, I see no reason therefore why one of the
"various ways" it could be is real history in symbolic form. If
Genesis 1-11 is a compressed account of thousands of years of
history, then it is difficult to see how else it could be presented,
without being longer than the rest of the Bible! Please note that I
do *not* say that "Genesis isn't historically true", but I do not
believe it is always strict literal history.

For example, the story of the talking snake ("Heb. nachash, a
snake..."--Strong's Hebrew-English dictionary), in Genesis 3 may not
be literal history, but instead may be real history clothed in the
garb of a symbolic story, summarising and giving theological meaning
to a complex historical reality, ie. that early man listened to the
tempting voice of Satan and was seduced by pride into rebelling
against God. Ramm says:

"It is argued that the picture of God working like a potter with wet
earth, anthropomorphically breathing life into man, constructing
woman from a rib, with an idyllic garden, trees with theological
significance, and a talking serpent, is the language of theological
symbolism and not of literal prose. The theological truth is there,
and this symbolism is the instrument of inspiration. We are not to
think in terms of scientific and anti-scientific, but in terms of
scientific and pre-scientific. The account is then pre-scientific
and in theological symbolism which is the garment divine inspiration
chose to reveal these truths for their more ready comprehension by
the masses of untutored Christians. This is the view of James Orr
who wrote:

`I do not enter into the question of how we are to interpret the
third chapter of Genesis-whether as history or allegory or myth, or
most probably of all, as old tradition clothed in oriental
allegorical dress-but the truth embodied in that narrative, viz. the
fall of man from an original state of purity, I take to be vital to
the Christian view.' (Orr J., The Christian View of God and the
World, 1897, p185)

(Ramm B.L., "The Christian View of Science and Scripture," [1955],
Paternoster: London, 1967 reprint, p223)

Even ardent literalists "spiritualise" this story, by claiming that
Satan spoke through a snake. *But the actual text doesn't say that*.
It says that a *snake* talked and nowhere in the text does it mention
Satan or the devil at all. In fact AFAIK nowhere in the Old
Testament does it say the snake was Satan. Although there are
allusions (eg. Rom 16:20), it is only in Rev 12:9 and Rev 20:2, the
last book of the Bible, that the snake is finally identified as

"The great dragon was hurled down--that ancient serpent called the
devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to
the earth, and his angels with him." (Rev 12:9); "He seized the
dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound
him for a thousand years." (Rev 20:2)

But note: the *snake* is identified *as* Satan, not that Satan
talked through a snake! Since Revelation is the most symbolic book
of the Bible, it is easy to interpret this as saying that the story
of the talking snake was symbolic history.

So it seems that the historical-literalist has an insoluble problem
with Genesis 3, because each of the limited number of choices
available are self-refuting to his position:

1. If he claims it literally was a snake, then it fails: a) in
common sense (how did a literal snake talk?); b) theologically (where
does Satan come into it?); and c) Biblically because Rev 12:9; 20:2
identifies the snake as Satan.

2. If he claims it was Satan talking through a snake, he is
`spiritualising' the text because the text does not literally say
that. It is the *snake* which is cursed (Gn 3:14), and unless Satan
*is* the snake, Satan gets off scot-free. Besides, again Rev 12:9;
20:2 says that the snake *was* Satan.

3. If he claims that the snake was symbolic for Satan (which I
believe), then he has ceased to be a literalist.

This one example shows that the historical-literalist program is
impossible consistently to implement in Genesis 1-11. A more
flexible approach is therefore called for.


Stephen E (Steve) Jones ,--_|\
3 Hawker Avenue / Oz \
Warwick 6024 ->*_,--\_/ Phone +61 8 9448 7439
Perth, West Australia v "Test everything." (1Thess 5:21)