Genesis, History, and Morality (Schaeffer)

 If a person denies the factual historicity of Genesis 1-3 that person has cut himself or herself off from some of the major truths of biblical Christianity.  Others have explained this well: if you deny the fact that Adam was a historical human being, you are far out of step with Jesus’ teaching (Mt. 19:5) and the apostle Paul’s (Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15:22).  It is not a Christian position to believe that Adam was a mythical figure.  Denying the historicity of Adam and Eve opens the door to many theological problems.  Francis Schaeffer expanded on this and said denying Genesis 1-3 also leads to moral problems:

There was a time before the fall, and then man turned from his proper integration point by choice, and in so doing, there was a moral discontinuity; man became abnormal.  Remove that and the Christian answer in the area of morals is gone.  Often I find evangelicals playing games with the first half of Genesis.  But if you remove a true, historic, space-time fall, the answers are finished.  It is not only that historic, biblical Christianity as it stands in the stream of history is gone, but every answer we possess in the area of morals in the area of man and his dilemma, is gone.

Francis Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent, p. 35

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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The Original Homeland of Man

Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview The following paragraph from Kingdom Prologue is one that I’ve appreciated for a long time:

The original homeland of man might well have been named Immanuel.  God was with man, man’s dwelling-place was God’s dwelling-place.  That was the greatest glory of paradise and the supreme and ultimate blessedness of human life.  The covenant servant had been created for friendship and fellowship with his Lord.  He was qualified for this holy communion by the nature with which God’s creating hand endowed him.  And he found to his delight that his transcendent Maker was not a god far off, but the immanent Immanuel.  Man did not have to make a long pilgrimage to come to God’s dwelling.  There was no great wilderness to pass through, no perilous ascent on high or journey down into the depths was necessary to find God.  For man was by creation’s arrangement a house-guest at home in the house of God.

Kline goes on later to echo Augustine – and ultimately Paul – by nothing this fact: we’ve gained more in Christ than we lost in Adam!

Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue, p60.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Mesopotamian Myths and the Genesis Flood

An Old Testament Theology: A Canonical and Thematic Approach Bruce Walke wrote a nice piece comparing and contrasting the Mesopotamian flood myths and the Biblical account of the flood.  Here it is (most of it, anyway):

“There are three Mesopotamian myths: 1) the Sumerian account with the hero Ziusdra, 2)the Old Akkadian account with the hero Atrahasis, and 3) the Old Babylonian account with the hero Utnapishtim.”

“As is well known, the Mesopotamian flood narratives closely approximate the biblical account: 1) a hero builds a boat to preserve the human race through a universal, devastating flood from which a new world emerges…. 2) The hero sends birds to survey the earth’s new terrain after the flood.  3) When the humans emerge from the boat, they offer sacrifices to their gods.”

“The biblical narrative, however, stands apart in significant ways, both in wisdom and in theology.  For example, the dimensions of Noah’s ark are those of modern ships, but the Babylonian ship…is an unstable cube.  Noah sensibly first releases the raven, which braves the storm, can feed on carrion, and can remain in flight much longer than the dove.  …The hero in the Babylonian parallel, however, sends in sequence a dove, a sparrow, and then a raven.”

“The most radical difference in the two accounts is the Bible’s investing the story with a covenant concept.  In the Mesopotamian accounts, overpopulation or humanity’s noise interrupts the sleep of the gods and provokes their wrath, and the hero’s wisdom and bravery saves him.  In the Bible, humanity’s wickedness arouses God’s anger, and Noah’s righteousness, not his wisdom and bravery, motivates God to save him.  The biblical narrative is calculated to place all wisdom on God and to promote human trust and obedience to him.  In the Mesopotamian account, the gods gather around the sacrifice like flies because they are hungry; in the biblical account, Noah’s sacrifice assuages God’s heart with regard to sin.”

Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, p. 291.

shane lems

Walking On The Sea In Royal Freedom

Product Details In III.1 of Church Dogmatics Karl Barth spends quite a bit of time discussing the text of Genesis 1 and the days of creation.  In his discussion of day 3 and the separating of the waters from land (Gen. 1:9-10), Barth elaborates on the “waters” in a fascinating (sort of) redemptive historical way (III.i.IX.41.1).  Notice how he goes from Genesis 1 to Paul’s ministry, back to Genesis 1, and then to Revelation.

“It is self-evident that in this submission and limitation the roaring of the sea must also have a part in the triumphant song: ‘The Lord reigneth” (1 Chron. 16:32).  On the other hand, it is certainly no coincidence that according to the Old Testament the Israelites were not a seafaring people like the Phoenicians, although the tribes of Zebulun, Asher, and Dan had lived by the seashore and in havens for ships (Jud. 5:17, Gen. 49:13, cf. Deut. 33:18).  Of an expedition such as that ascribed to Solomon in 1 King. 19:28ff, we can say only that (like his new and positive attitude to the horse) it is one of the extraordinary and even – we must say – Messianic features of this immediate son of  David.”

“We are told in 1 Kings 22:49ff that a similar venture on the part of Jehoshaphat immediately came to grief.  And in view of its starting point and disastrous end, Jonah’s voyage is no exception to the rule.  The Old Testament ranks a sea voyage (Ps. 107:22ff) with desert-wandering, captivity, and sickness as one of the forms of extreme human misery; of the misery from which it is the gracious and mighty will of God, which we cannot extol too highly, to redeem us.”

“It is thus the more noteworthy that the most striking Messianic deeds of Jesus are his walking on the sea in royal freedom, and his commanding the waves and storm to be still by his Word.  And when we are finally given in Acts 27-28 an accurate description, down to the last nautical details, of Paul’s stormy but ultimately successful voyage from Caesarea through Crete and Malta to Puteoli, it is certainly not done merely for the sake of historical completeness or out of curiosity, but because the New Testament author, too, knows the sign of the sea and sees in this occurrence an emulation of Solomon, Jehoshophat, and Jonah, a confirmation of the hymn of praise in Psalm 107:13ff, and finally, in connection with the miracles of Jesus himself on the sea, the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecy concerning God’s lordship over the dangerous sea, and therefore a confirmation of Genesis 1:9-10.”

“In the new heaven and the new earth, as we learn from Rev. 21:1, there will be no more sea; i.e., man will be fully and finally freed from each and every threat to his salvation, and God from each and every threat to his glory.”

K. Barth, Church Dogmatics III.I, p. 148-9.

shane lems

The Miraculous Nature of the OT

 Nahum Sarna’s Understanding Genesis (New York: Schocken Books, Inc. 1966) is a great resource for studying the first book of the Bible from a Jewish perspective.  I especially liked the introduction, where Sarna talks about OT studies in general in light of higher criticism and fundamentalism.  In one section of the introduction, Sarna explains how amazing it is that some written documents from biblical Israel actually survived through the ages.  Here’s an edited summary of his explanation (found on pages xviii-xix).

1)  In a predominantly illiterate society the circulation of the written word would of necessity have been strictly limited.  Neither the demand for, nor the means of, commercial mass distribution existed.  The labor of hand copying on the part of scribal specialist restricted the availability of the finished product and hence reduced its chances of attaining repute.

2) The prospects for survival in Israel were infinitely more uncertain than elsewhere.  The strategically exposed nature of the land as a bridge between continents and as an arena of unceasing contention between the great powers, meant that it would be more frequently plundered and more thoroughly devastated than any other in the Near East.  The meager material and monumental remains of ancient Israel bear eloquent, if gloomy, testimony to this truth.  [2 Maccabees and 4 Esdras bear witness to this.]  No wonder then, that the volume of epigraphic finds in Palestine has been so slender.  Inscriptions and books were simply destroyed in the wake of man’s inhumanity to man.

3) Another factor was the climate.  The land of Israel was not blessed with the type of rich alluvial soil characteristic of Mesopotamia which yielded an inexhaustible supply of cheap, durable writing material in the form of baked clay.  The Israelite scribe had to make use of far more expensive and highly perishable papyrus and animal skins.  Unfortunately, the climactic conditions of Palestine, unlike those in Egypt, are thoroughly inhospitable to the preservation of such materials. More often than not, the writing materials used were highly perishable so that only for extraordinary reasons would a work be copied from generation to generation to defeat thereby the natural ravages of time.

4) Until the Hellenization of the East, it is extremely unlikely that anyone in the ancient world, outside of the congregation of Israel, had the slightest interest in the Jewish people, its history and literature.  Since, with very brief exceptions, Israel was neither an imperialist nor a mercantile power, there was little opportunity for the dissemination of its cultural productions beyond its own national frontiers.  A copy of the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh epic can turn up at Meggido in the territory of Israel, but it is unlikely in the extreme that any specimens of Israelite literature from biblical times will be unearthed in Egypt, Syria, or Mesopotamia.

We can summarize it like this: Why it is amazing that we actually have extant texts from biblical Israel?  1) Because texts themselves were rare and were never mass-produced, 2) Because Israel was ransacked by enemies so many times, 3) Because the climate and writing materials used made it difficult to preserve texts, and 4) Because no other nations around Israel cared enough about Israel to read and reproduce her texts.

It is not surprising that many of Israel’s texts did not survive (i.e. “the Book of the Wars of the Lord”,” the “Book of Jashar” among others; cf. Num. 21:14, Josh. 10:13, etc.).  What is surprising is that some texts did survive – the collection of texts we now call the Old Testament.  As the Westminster Confession says in 1.8, God preserved and “kept pure” the OT and the NT “by his singular care and providence.”  What is also surprising is that the Hebrew Bible has “captured the hearts, minds, and loyalties of so many diverse peoples, totally removed racially, geographically, and culturally from its Israelite source” (Sarna, xix).

Indeed, the word of God is “enduring” (1 Pet. 1:23).

rev. shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

Boice on Theistic Evolution

Genesis, 3 volumes (Boice Expositional Commentary) I found J. M. Boice’s critiques of theistic evolution quite helpful.  Here’s a shortened and edited version.  You can find the entire argument in volume 1 of his commentary on Genesis (p. 52-55). 

First, there is a problem with the supposed truth of evolution itself.  The theistic evolutionist believes in evolution, as we have seen.  But evolution is not necessarily true, as we have also seen.  Indeed, there are important reasons for rejecting it.  One main reason for rejecting evolution is the lack of fossil evidence.  To be sure, the evolutionist reads the fossil record differently, seeing in it a sketchy but adequate history of the development of higher forms of life from lower forms.  But the record is at best incomplete and may, as creationists hold, actually provide better evidence for the creationist’s view than for the evolutionist’s.  As we said in the last chapter, it is not merely a question of a few missing links.  There are hundreds of missing links.  …The creationist may well ask the theistic evolutionist whether he does not hold his position, not so much because of the scientific evidence for it, but only because it is the accepted (and only acceptable) theory in his field of work.”

“[Second], the theistic evolutionist might appeal to the Bible as suggesting a pattern of God’s dealings with the human race, which he also sees in evolution – general development according to fixed laws with only an occasional supernatural intervention.  But we must ask whether this is really the biblical picture.  …According to evolution, the development of life on earth has proceeded over a period of several billion years with at best two or three divine interventions.  Is this the pattern we find in Scripture?”

Third, we may ask whether the method of creation viewed by the theistic evolutionist does justice to the biblical record.  [Concerning man], there does seem to be something of a method, at least in Genesis 2[:7].  This suggests that in the creation of man God began, as it were, ‘de novo.’  That is, God started with inorganic matter into which he then breathed life.  It does not suggest that man developed from the lesser animals.  We could always say that man is made of dust even though the actual steps of his creation involved a lengthy development through lesser species.  But we run into further difficulties when we get to the case of Eve, for Eve is said to have been created from Adam.  This does not correspond to any evolutionary theory.  …[Also consider] the singularity of Adam.  In Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:22-23 and 45 comparisons are made between Adam and Jesus.  It is basic to this comparison that Adam was an individual whose act affected his progeny.  Does this fit in with evolutionary theory?”

“[Fourth], our last criticism is from Davis Young when he says that theistic evolution leads ‘logically and ultimately to the death of biblical religion.’ …Biblical religion must by its very definition start with the Bible and make all other theories subject to that.  [If evolution is the starting point] an ability to hear the reforming, correcting word of God in Scripture has been lost.”

“What should the Christian’s proper position be?  An openness to all truth certainly, but not the kind of openness that allows scientific theory or any other theory to sit in judgment on the truthfulness of God’s written Word.  Actually, the Christian’s task is the opposite: to bring every thought into subjection to the written word (2 Cor. 10:4-5).”

J. M. Boice, Genesis, Volume 1, 52-55.

shane lems

Young Earth?

As I noted earlier, I’ve been reading through John Walton’s book, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.  It is certainly worth reading; Walton makes a good case that we should read Genesis 1 as a text that is all about the functions of the created order.  There’s a lot more to it (and it is tough to summarize in one post), but I do think many of his points are valid.  Here’s one little section from the middle of the book where he briefly discusses some other views of Genesis 1.   This is the section about the young earth view of Genesis 1.

First, he says the challenge the young earth creationists (YEC) face

“is to account for all of the evidences of great age of the earth and of the universe.  They do this by offering alternate theories allegedly based on science.  For example, they typically account for the visibility of the stars by suggesting that light was created in transit.  Most propose that the geological strata were laid down by the flood, and some contend that the continental drift has all taken place since the flood.  They commonly use the idea that God created with the appearances of age to account for some of what is observed.”

Walton sees flaws in this approach (as do I).  He says,

“I would contend that this view goes too far in its understanding of what we need to do to the biblical text.  It goes too far in its belief that the Bible must be read scientifically, and it goes too far in its attempts to provide an adequate alternative science.  It uses a particular interpretation of the biblical text to provide the basis for scientific proposals about rock strata, an expanding universe, and so forth.”

“The YEC position begins with the assumption that Genesis 1 is an account of material origins and that to ‘create’ something means to give it material shape.  It would never occur to them that there are other alternatives and that in making this assumption they are departing from a face-value reading of the biblical text.  … Reading the text scientifically imposes modern thinking on an ancient text, an anachronism that by its very nature cannot possibly represent the ideas of the inspired human author” (p. 108-109).

There is more to this argument – I’ve just picked a few paragraphs to summarize things I thought were worth pondering.  I’ll probably post more on this later, but I do think this book is a must-read for those of you who are interested in the discussion about the ancient text of Genesis 1 and the modern [scientific] interpretations.

shane lems