Genesis: Real, Reliable, Historical
by Andrew A. Snelling, Ph.D. *
Introduction to Earth's Catastrophic Past
Why Take Genesis Seriously?
The first eleven chapters of the Bible have been relegated by many to the category of myths, not real history. These are said to contain spiritual truth, but they cannot be taken seriously as records of real people and events. Many sincere Christians who believe the Bible do not know what their pastors believe about the historicity of Genesis. Is it safe to assume that these believe in the following truths?
- God created everything in six 24-hour days.
- Adam and Eve were real people.
- God cursed a perfect world as a judgment for sin.
- Noah constructed an Ark by which two of every kind of air-breathing, land-dwelling animal were saved along with Noah's family from a global flood.
- The confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel produced the language groups that are found around the world today.
An alarming number of Christian leaders and teachers instead believe that God "created" through evolutionary processes over millions of years, that Adam and Eve descended from a hominid population, and that there has never been a global flood, suggesting that the account of Noah and the Ark is a story adapted from a Babylonian myth.
Mainstream Christian orthodoxy regarded the opening chapters of Genesis as just as real and reliable as the rest of the Bible until 150-200 years ago. So what has happened?
This downgrading of the early chapters of Genesis has coincided with the rise of uniformitarian philosophy as the cornerstone of modern geology and of evolution as the core of modern biology. Christians have been ignorant of the process that has gradually changed their whole approach to the Bible. Consequently, Christian churches throughout the world reject the early chapters of Genesis as history, resulting in all manner of compromise intended to force geological ages and organic evolution into the Scriptures. Many Christians have shelved this apparent conflict as being divisive, too difficult to resolve, or irrelevant to the Christian faith.
Genesis as Reliable History
Yet the conflict still rages. What makes it more intense is that in the ranks of those Christians who have not compromised the historicity of Genesis are many scientists with doctoral degrees from the modern education system.
The Creation Science Movement in Great Britain and the Creation Research Society, which now boasts a membership of over 600 individuals with graduate degrees in science, have sought to remain faithful to accepting Genesis as reliable history. The Institute for Creation Research employed scientists with Ph.D.s to work full-time in creationist research, writing, and teaching. Other creationist groups were subsequently formed so that today there are creationist organizations in all corners of the globe.
So why would thousands of highly-trained scientists not only believe Genesis to be reliable history, but base their scientific research on the details and implications of that history? It stems foremost from their Christian convictions.
The Bible never claims to be a textbook on history or science, but if God is who He claims to be, then He has all knowledge and power, and never makes mistakes. Therefore, if the Bible is the Word of God, then it must be truthful, even when it touches upon matters of history and science. Otherwise, this Creator God is a liar. The very character of God requires the first eleven chapters of Genesis to be a trustworthy record.
The subsequent pages of Genesis recount the early history of the nation of Israel, beginning with Abraham. Few conservative Christian scholars would deny the historicity of these later chapters in Genesis. Yet many regard the creation account as a form of ancient Hebrew poetry, even though the genre throughout the first eleven chapters of Genesis is no different to that used in the remainder of the book. The conflict occurs not with the language but with the supposed scientific facts that insist on a multi-billion-year-old earth and organic evolution. A choice has to be made between Scripture, which is authored by God, and modern science, authored by men.
Liberal Christian scholars insist that Genesis was written perhaps as late as the post-Babylonian exile. But such claims overlook that in the pre-Flood world, people built cities, had tools of brass and iron, and made musical instruments. In Genesis 5, the record of Adam ends with the expression "this is the book of the generations of Adam." There is no reason to suppose that Adam and his descendants were not able to write and keep records, remembering that on the sixth day of creation Adam named all the animals, thus demonstrating his intellectual capacity.
Moses, the traditionally recognized author of Genesis, simply had to compile the book of Genesis from the records kept by Adam and his descendants. Thus Genesis reads as eyewitness accounts.
If the Creator God of the Bible is who He says He is, then not only is He capable of accurately telling us about the early universe, the earth, and man, but He is capable of having the details truthfully recorded and transmitted through successive generations.
Jesus Regarded Genesis as Real History
If Jesus was (and is) both the Creator God and a perfect man, then His pronouncements are always and absolutely trustworthy. And Jesus referred directly to details in each of the first seven chapters of Genesis fifteen times. For example, Jesus referred to Genesis 1:26-27 when He said in Mark 10:6, "But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female." Man was created male and female "from the beginning of the creation," not after millions of years. In the very next verse, Jesus quotes directly from Genesis 2:24 when He said, "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh." Five times Jesus refers to Noah and/or the destructive global Flood as real history. If He, as the Creator, was actually a witness to the events of Genesis 1-11, then we have no alternative but to regard these opening chapters of the Bible as reliable history.
The Apostle Peter's Prophecy
Peter spent three years traveling in the company of Jesus Christ Himself. Then Peter was a witness to Jesus' death and the bodily resurrection. Peter and the other disciples also received extraordinary ability and authority with the gift of God's Holy Spirit. Thus the books of the New Testament that bear his name not only come from his pen, but have the authority of God.
In 2 Peter 3:5-6, the apostle Peter prophesied that there would be scoffers who would come in the last days choosing to be ignorant of the fact that God created the heaven and the earth, and that God later destroyed everything on the surface of the earth by a global watery cataclysm.
Peter stated in 2 Peter 3:3, "knowing this first." This denotes Peter placed first priority on this prophecy, which is about those who would reject the account of creation and the global Flood in Genesis 1-11 as real history.
What is quite remarkable is the explanation Peter gives as to why these scoff and reject the physical evidence that He created the heavens and the earth and sent a global mountain-covering flood. 2 Peter 3:4 tells that these scoffers' philosophy will be that "all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation." This is an apt description of the philosophy of uniformitarianism, popularized by Charles Lyell in the 1830s, that "the present is the key to the past." Thus we can extrapolate geological processes shaping the earth today back in time to explain how earth’s rock features were formed.
It was on the basis of this philosophy that billions of years of slow and gradual geological processes became the foundation for modern geology. This provided the timescale necessary for the theory of organic evolution to explain the development of all life on the earth, instead of accepting that God had created it all.
Peter wrote an accurate description of these scoffers more than 1,700 years ago. Peter believed that the opening chapters of Genesis were real history and he predicted what we see today--the rejection of special creation by God and the rejection of the global Flood.
The Reliability of the Whole Bible Depends on Genesis as History
It is impossible to reject the historicity of the book of Genesis without repudiating the authority of the entire Bible. If Genesis is not true, then neither are the testimonies of those prophets and apostles who believed it was true. In the Old Testament, for example, Adam is mentioned in Deuteronomy, Job, and 1 Chronicles, while Noah is mentioned in 1 Chronicles, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. There are at least 100 quotations or direct references to Genesis 1-11 in the New Testament. Furthermore, every one of those eleven chapters is alluded to in the New Testament, and every one of the New Testament authors refers somewhere in his writings to Genesis 1-11.
In not one of these Old or New Testament references to Genesis is there the slightest evidence that the writers regarded the events as myths or allegories. The word genesis means "beginnings" or "origin," so Genesis 1-11 records for us God's provision of the only reliable account of the origin of the universe, the solar system, the earth, the atmosphere, and the oceans, of order and complexity, life, man, marriage, evil, language, government, culture, nations, and religion, not to mention rocks and fossils. Thus Genesis 1-11 is of such foundational importance to all history that without it there is no true understanding of ourselves or our world.
What we believe about our origin will inevitably determine our beliefs concerning our purpose and our destiny. Naturalistic concepts provide no hope of there being anything more than what we see around us. On the other hand, an origin at the hands of an all powerful, loving God guarantees a meaning to our existence, and a future. By not taking Genesis seriously, many Christians have in fact undermined the rest of the Bible they claim to believe and follow. They are also in danger of unwittingly accusing Jesus Christ of being a false witness, deceived, or a deceiver.
The Pivotal Importance of the Flood
The creation account in Genesis 1 is undoubtedly profound. However, the global Flood in Noah's day is of pivotal importance in understanding the present geology of the earth. Furthermore, more than any other branch of science, geology has been most affected by uniformitarianism. This philosophy and evolution have brought about rejection of Genesis 1-11, even by Christians. It is no wonder that the apostle Peter was led to single out those who reject the Genesis accounts. But God has also left in the rocks, fossils, and living world evidence that unmistakably testifies to the trustworthiness of the Genesis record.
Therefore, Earth's Catastrophic Past will focus on the global Flood as described in Genesis, and the scientific evidence that has convinced many that Genesis must be taken as history. The evidence we can observe today should be consistent with what we read in Genesis, because if it is God's Word, even details of science and history must be correct.
This book first re-examines the biblical record. Then it deals with the non-geological arguments that are often used to discount Genesis. The next task is to build the framework for a scriptural geology. The Flood description implies catastrophism and utter devastation, and therefore we would expect the field data to be in harmony. The radioactive dating methods, geological processes, coal beds, oil, mineral deposits, and more can be seen only as perceived problems, not real ones.
By the end of this study, readers will have their faith restored in Genesis as real, literal history, and be convinced that the scientific evidence, correctly discerned and applied, is indeed consistent with God’s record of our origins and history found in Genesis 1-11.
Abridgement of the Introduction to Andrew Snellings' new book Earth's Catastrophic Past, published by the Institute for Creation Research in Dallas, Texas.
* Dr. Snelling is Director of Research at Answers in Genesis and Editor-in-Chief of Answers Research Journal.
Cite this article: Snelling, A. 2009. Genesis: Real, Reliable, Historical. Acts & Facts. 38 (9): 12-14.