The Genesis Debate: Please Just Let the Bible Speak for Itself

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The verse that begins the Bible has a lot of baggage. This solitary verse has become one of the more dissected and scrutinized sentences in human history.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

It seems simple enough.

If you study of Genesis, one of your main points of emphasis should be to let the text speak for itself. We don’t seem to struggle with this when it comes to other areas of our Bible, but for some reason when it comes to Genesis 1-11 Christians start to get shifty eyes and sweaty palms. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can actually just study this area of Scripture like we do all the rest–taking into account the historical, literary, grammatical, and biblical context of the passages and working to discover the meaning through sound exegetical and hermeneutical processes.

I think we get antsy on these first few chapters because our culture is pretty restless on the subjects these texts address. When we take it as it is written, these aren’t flowery religious platitudes rolling off the page in poetic verse. This is historical narrative that claims not simply to touch the lives of those who want to believe, but of every breathing thing. The “beginning” talked about here is THE beginning. These chapters claim to hold the keys to both the origin of the universe, and the One who originated it. This isn’t stuff that simply touches Christians or Jews, it’s not written as our version of the “creation myth.” It presents itself as historical fact, confronting ever human being who reads it with the claim: this is where you come from, this is Who created you, and this is why.

Where we get into trouble is when we ask verses like Genesis 1:1 to say more than they intend to say. Genesis 1:1 has a twofold purpose: “It identifies the Creator and it explores the origin of the world.”[1] That’s it. This text gives us the who and the what.[2] But we want more, don’t we? We just really, really, really, really want this text to give us the when and every possible detail of the how.

Modern science (populated by both Bible-believers and Bible-disbelievers) tends to come at these issues from the opposite direction. Unlike Genesis, modern science works on the when and the how in order to make judgments about the who and the what. Interestingly, as you research the origin issues from every angle, the who and what presuppositions that each scientist takes into the debate seem to back up the when and how that he or she postulates. I think this goes for Ken Ham, Richard Dawkins, and everyone between. If we’re wanting to talk about “myth” in regards to this subject, how about the myth of scientific objectivity? The premise that geneticists, geologists, anthropologists, or (yep) even conservative theologians, can operate prejudice-free in a bubble of academic objectivity should be harder to swallow than anything we read in the first chapters of the Bible.

Whether we want it to be cleaner than this or not, I think for the Bible-believer there is a clear path. We have to let the text speak for itself. We must look for our answers in the text. And when the text addresses something definitive (like who and what and aspects of how) then the issue should be settled for us. On the other hand, when the text stays silent on certain details, we need to get comfortable with the tension.

[1] John Sailhamer, Genesis Unbound, p. 112.

[2] I think Genesis 1:2ff also gives us everything we need to know about the how as well, though we always pine for more.