Science disputes the biblical claims about creation, including our two first parents, and about Jesus, including his miracles and his resurrection. But I believe in the historicity of Genesis 1-11—for the same reason that I believe that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, crucified, and raised from the dead.
As a pastor and preacher, my faith and Christian worldview are not based on cleverly devised myths but on real historical facts. When I say I believe in the historicity of Genesis 1-11, I mean that the story told in those chapters—whatever literary devices are used to convey the message—is solidly based on historical facts. Like the rest of the book, Genesis 1-11 is a historical narrative, not a parable or myth.
It is this historical foundation that makes Christianity, as well as Old Testament Judaism, unique compared to other world religions. Without that foundation, Judaism and Christianity become just like the other religions of the world—the creation of human beings to explain the world around them.
The creation story in Genesis is part of the covenant document God gave to Israel at Mount Sinai. It acts as a historical prologue of the covenant, explaining Yahweh’s claim upon the people he had just delivered from Egypt and offering a brief history of the relationship between Yahweh, the sovereign King, and his servant people Israel.
In chapters 1-11, Yahweh says, “I am the Creator—I made you. I created you in my image and likeness. I made you perfect and placed you in a perfect world. However, your first parents sinned, breaking the covenant of works I made with them. Then, in my amazing grace, I did not destroy you under the promised curse but promised to send a child of the woman to bear the curse for you and to complete the covenant of works for you.”
The Son of the woman (Gen. 3:15) is Jesus, the second Adam, the new head of the human race. By his obedience Jesus fulfilled the covenant of works God made with the first Adam and removed the curse of Adam’s fall.
God’s creation of human beings in his own image and the historic fall of our first parents are not minor parts of the biblical account we may conveniently remove. For if we deny that Adam is historical, what reason do we have to believe in a historical fall? And if the fall is not historical, then God did not make humans perfect, but sinful. We are left with a totally different understanding of sin, grace, and the cross. We might as well throw our confessional documents away.
I cannot believe that the New Testament authors, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, were just reflecting the naïve pre-scientific views of their day. Like them, I believe that the author of Genesis was recording historical facts—standing on the principle that Scripture interprets Scripture, and that my Savior, who really did rise from the dead, was not wrong about a real Adam and Eve.
I believe in true science and in the Bible, God’s self-revelation to us about himself, us, and our world. And I know they cannot conflict. So where there are apparent contradictions, let us re-examine our science and our interpretation of the Bible. But let us proceed with caution, knowing that the Spirit Jesus promised would lead us into all truth has always led the Christian church to confess and believe that Genesis 1-11 is historical.
What actually happened in history mattered to the authors of the Bible. And it should matter to us.
- Van Ee writes, “I believe in the historicity of Genesis 1-11—for the same reason that I believe that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, crucified, and raised from the dead.” Is it possible to believe that Adam and Eve were not historical persons but still believe in the virgin birth, crucifixion, and bodily resurrection of Jesus? Or would that be a necessarily unreasonable position for someone to take?
- What reasons are there to believe that Genesis 1-11 present us with historical facts? What reasons might there be to question that?
- If the Genesis account is not historical, argues Van Ee, “then we are left with a totally different understanding of sin, grace, and the cross.” What would those look like without a historical Adam and Eve and an actual fall as described in Genesis?
- Van Ee agrees that we need to take both Scripture interpretation and the discoveries of science seriously and that, when we do, they place before us apparent contradictions. He advises caution in too quickly allowing the results of scientific investigation to alter our interpretation of Scripture. Why should we take that warning seriously? What’s at stake here?
- Do you agree that the Christian church has always confessed the historicity of Genesis 1-11? How ought we to respond to those who do confess the virgin birth, the crucifixion of Jesus, and his resurrection but who do not believe that all of Genesis 1-11 was intended by the author to be understood as historical narrative?