We here continue to examine William Lane Craig’s claim that Genesis 1-11 is not meant to be read as literal history.
Craig: The accounts of the origin and Fall of man are clearly metaphorical or figurative in nature,…
Lisle: There is not the slightest hint in Scripture that the origin and fall of man recorded in Genesis are anything but literal, historical facts. The apostle Paul writes, “For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22). Here, the literal historical actions of Adam and their effects are compared and contrasted with the literal historical actions of Christ and their effects. Namely, the real actions of Adam had an effect on all humanity by making men mortal. Likewise, the real actions of Christ guarantee the future resurrection of all men. These are only possible if the actions of Adam in Genesis and the actions of Christ in the Gospels actually happened. A metaphorical or figurative fall of man cannot produce effects in the real world. So, why does Craig think that Genesis 1-11 cannot be literal history?
Craig: …featuring as they do an anthropomorphic deity incompatible with the transcendent God of the creation account. The anthropomorphic nature of God, merely hinted at in chapter 2, becomes inescapable in chapter 3, where God is described as walking in the garden in the cool of the day and calling audibly to Adam in his hideout.
Lisle: In other words, Craig is arguing that the biblical God would not literally walk in a garden or speak audibly to people, presumably since God is an omnipresent Spirit. Thus, he thinks Genesis is non-literal. However, by such reasoning, Craig would have to reject the Gospels as non-literal! After all, Jesus (who is God) literally walked in a garden (John 18:1), and spoke audibly to people (John 18:6). Would Craig argue that the Gospels are “mytho-history?” Would he claim that the actions of Jesus in the Gospels “are clearly metaphorical or figurative in nature, featuring as they do an anthropomorphic deity incompatible with the transcendent God of the creation account?”
Some might object, “Oh, but God taking on human nature is unique to the New Testament.” But that is not true. God can take on human nature whenever He pleases. He can create a physical body for Himself and interact physically with His creation. This is not limited to the New Testament. God did this multiple times in the Old Testament. He would appear as a man in a physical, though temporary, human body in order to interact with His people. In the New Testament, God the Son permanently took on human nature in Christ (Philippians 2:6-8). There is absolutely nothing about this that is “incompatible with the transcendent God of the creation account.” On the contrary, if God could not take on human form, then that would be incompatible with the all-powerful God of Scripture who does “whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115:3).
Let’s look at just a few Old Testament examples of God taking physical form to interact with His creation. In Genesis 32:24-30, Jacob physically wrestled with God. God had taken the form of a man to physically interact with Jacob. Would Craig insist that this is mytho-history since God is portrayed as a man? And yet Craig has said that Genesis 12-50 is clearly historical. In Genesis 18, the Lord and two angels physically appeared to Abraham as men. Would Craig argue that this is “incompatible with the transcendent God of the creation account?” If not, then neither can he rationally argue that Genesis 3 is figurative when God took on human form to interact with Adam and Eve. Many such examples could be cited. God can and has appeared in human form many times. So Craig’s argument fails.
Craig: Other aspects of the narratives would be fantastic, even to the Pentateuchal author himself, if taken literally.
Lisle: Not at all. Moses clearly believed that what he wrote in Genesis actually happened. The style throughout the book is historical narrative. The author gives not the slightest hint that anything in the text is fictional or metaphorical.
Craig: The idea of an arboretum containing trees bearing fruit that, if eaten, would confer immortality or yield sudden knowledge of good and evil must have seemed fantastic to the author.
Lisle: Then why did Moses write exactly that? When Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit, Moses writes that “the eyes of both of them were opened and they knew that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7). Indeed, they did suddenly have experiential knowledge of evil as evidenced by their shame. Moses treats these events as if they actually happened, without the slightest hint of figurative or non-literal language.
Craig: We are not dealing, after all, with miraculous fruit, as if God would on the occasion of eating supernaturally bestow upon the eater immortality or knowledge of good and evil against his divine will.
Lisle: Here Craig distorts the exegetical meaning of the Genesis account to make it seem silly. Does the Bible state that the fruit of such trees was “miraculous?” Not at all. The tree of knowledge of good and evil was aptly named since it tested the way in which Adam and Eve would know good and evil. Would they obey God knowing about right and wrong from His Word? Or would they learn about evil experientially by disobeying God? The account makes perfect sense if we let the text mean what it says. It was always God’s intention that Adam and Eve would know good and evil. They would either learn about right and wrong through obedience or through disobedience. Adam and Eve experienced shame because they had sinned. This doesn’t require “miraculous fruit.”
Nor is the Tree of Life necessarily miraculous. Free access to this literal tree may have represented the unbroken relationship that man initially enjoyed with his Creator. If the Tree of Life was the physical mechanism by which God enabled humans to live eternally, who is Craig to say that is impossible? Scientists still do not know the exact physical mechanisms responsible for aging and inevitable death in humans or animals. So, how can anyone declare that the natural chemistry in the Tree of Life couldn’t possibly prevent aging or death?
Craig: Then there is the infamous snake in the Garden.
Lisle: Genesis 3 refers to the ‘serpent.’
Craig: He makes for a great character in the story, conniving, sinister, opposed to God, perhaps a symbol of evil, but not plausibly a literal reptile, such as one might encounter in one’s own garden, for the author knew that snakes neither talk nor are intelligent agents.
Lisle: Moses knew that serpents don’t normally talk today. He also knew that donkeys don’t normally talk today. And yet, Moses writes of a donkey that spoke to Balaam in Numbers 22:28. Would Craig conclude that Numbers 22:28 is non-literal on the basis that Moses “knew that [donkeys] neither talk nor are intelligent agents?” Or would he recognize that Moses records an actual historical event that is highly unusual?
Moses knew an inanimate staff cannot normally transform into a living serpent. And yet, Moses records that this very thing happened in Exodus 4:2-3, 7:10. Should we reinterpret this event as non-literal since serpents don’t normally transform from staffs today? Or should we accept this as real (albeit highly unusual) event on the basis that Moses records the details in historical narrative? The style and context of a text determine how it should be interpreted – not our personal opinions of the reasonableness of the content.
Many events in Scripture are highly unusual. This does not give us permission to doubt the historicity of such events.
Craig: Again, the snake’s personality and speech cannot be attributed to the miraculous activity of God, lest God become the author of the Fall.
Lisle: No. The Bible attributes the speech to Satan (Revelation 12:9, 20:2; John 8:44; 1 John 3:8). Craig has committed the bifurcation fallacy. He presents only two options: the serpent spoke by the power of God, or the serpent didn’t literally speak at all. He then eliminates the first option, concluding that the second must be true. But the correct option is left unstated: the serpent spoke by the power of Satan. We know that demons have the ability to possess animals or people under certain circumstances and can speak through them (e.g. Matthew 8:28-32).
Craig: When God drives Adam and Eve from the Garden and posts cherubim and a flashing sword at its entrance to block their re-entry, this is doubtless not intended to be literal, since cherubim were regarded as creatures of fantasy and symbol in ancient Israel.
Lisle: Note that Craig provides no evidence for his claim that “cherubim were regarded as creatures of fantasy and symbol in ancient Israel.” That is because the claim is false. Cherubim, like seraphim, are a class of angelic beings. The Bible depicts them as real beings who serve the Lord in the heavenly Temple (Ezekiel 10:3-5). Ezekiel saw them in his visions (Ezekiel 10). Cherubim were physically depicted on the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:18-20, 37:7-9), and in the earthly tabernacle (Exodus 26:1, 26:31, 36:8,35).
Craig: It is not as though the author thought, what realism requires, that the cherubim remained at the entrance of the Garden for years on end until it was either overgrown with weeds or swept away by the Flood.
Lisle: Why not? What evidence does Craig present that Moses didn’t believe exactly that? There is absolutely nothing in the text that precludes the Cherubim guarding the entrance to the Garden of Eden until it was destroyed by the Flood.
Craig: Since the Pentateuchal author has an interest in history, he intends for his narrative to be at some level historical, to concern people who actually lived and events that really occurred. But those persons and events have been clothed in the metaphorical and figurative language of myth.
Lisle: Craig has yet to present a cogent argument for his claim that the history recorded in Genesis is “clothed in the metaphorical and figurative language of myth.” There is simply no evidence for this in the text. Moses reports the events of Genesis 1-11 in the same historical narrative styles as Genesis 12-50. There is no evidence from the text of an abrupt change in style from the absurd category of “fiction-facts” to “fact-facts” at chapter 12. On the contrary, the events and genealogies of Genesis 1-11 flow naturally into the events and genealogies of Genesis 12-50. Craig’s attempt to separate Genesis 1-11 from Genesis 12-50 has nothing whatsoever to do with the text. Rather, it is based on his acceptance of secular origins stories and their incompatibility with the literal history of Genesis.
Craig: If the stories are not meant to be read literally, what central truths do they convey? The following come almost immediately to mind:
Lisle: First, the narratives in Genesis are meant to be read literally. They are written in the normal historical narrative style characteristic of Hebrew history. The same attention to details, names, and dates is used in other historical books of the Bible such as Exodus, 1-2 Kings, and 1-2 Chronicles. There is no evidence of the parallelism that is ubiquitous in poetic sections of the Bible such as Proverbs or Psalms. There can be no doubt that the author of Genesis 1-11 intended the events recorded therein to be understood as literal, historical events. And there is absolutely no evidence in Scripture that any biblical author, prophet, or Apostle took Genesis as non-literal.
Second, Craig commits what I call “the point is” fallacy. This is the error of deriving a generalization from allegedly fictional instances. Suppose Jim argued the following:
“Seth is a really bad driver. He was in three accidents just this year. He has received over 5 speeding tickets. He never wears his seatbelt or uses his turn signals. Clearly, he is a bad driver.” Suppose we found out that none of the supporting details are true. That is, we find that in fact Seth has never been in a car accident. He has never received a speeding ticket. He always wears his seatbelt and uses turn signals. Should we conclude that Jim is correct in his assessment that “Seth is a really bad driver?” Suppose Jim responds, “Well, it doesn’t really matter whether those details are literally, historically accurate. The point is Seth is a really bad driver.” Would that be logical?
Jim’s conclusion that “Seth is a really bad driver” cannot be sustained if the specific details are not literally, historically true because the generalization is based on those details. If the details of Seth’s driving habits are not literally true, then we cannot derive any truthful generalization about whether Seth is a good or bad driver. Truth cannot be based on fiction. So, Craig is attempting to draw conclusions about the real world from events he believes did not literally happen – at least not as recorded. This is erroneous. What conclusions does Craig think we can draw from a “mytho-historical” Genesis?
Craig: 1. God is one, a personal, transcendent Creator of all physical reality, perfectly good and worthy of worship.
Lisle: If Genesis 1-11 is not straightforward history, then how can we know that God is this way? If “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” is not straightforward history, but metaphoric or symbolic and clothed in the language of myth, then how do we really know that God is literally, historically the Creator of all physical reality? If God used evolution – a slow and bloody process of creatures killing other creatures and extinction of the weak to make room for the strong – then is He really “perfectly good and worthy of worship?” We can hardly imagine a more cruel and malicious way to bring about life than through millions of years of death and suffering.
Craig: 2. God has designed the physical world and is the ultimate source of its structure and life forms.
Lisle: If Genesis is straightforward history, then this would indeed follow. But if Genesis has elements of myth mixed with history, then how do we know that the creation of the physical world and all life is part of the history rather than the myth? How does Craig know that the creation of the universe and life described in Genesis is not a metaphor or figurative language representing something else, if Genesis is “mytho-historical?” By the way, the big bang and Darwinian evolution (both of which Craig embraces) are supposed to work without any supernatural intervention.
Craig: 3. Mankind is the pinnacle of the physical creation. Though finite, he is a personal agent like God and therefore uniquely capable of all Earth’s creatures of knowing his creator.
Lisle: That would only make sense if Genesis 1:26-28 is literally, historically true. But Craig claims that Genesis 1-11 is clothed in the language of myth. If it is not straightforward, literal history that “God created man in His own image,” then how can we possibly conclude that “mankind is the pinnacle of the physical creation?” The literal truth of the latter claim depends on the literal truth of the former one.
Craig: 4. Mankind is sexed, man and woman being of equal value, with marriage given to mankind for procreation and mutuality, the wife being a helper to her husband.
Lisle: That presupposes that Genesis 1:27 and 2:20-24 are literally, historically true. If Genesis 1:27 is not straightforward history, but “fantastic if taken literally,” then how do we know that both men and women are made in God’s image? The basis for marriage is that Eve was made from Adam’s rib. Thus, Adam says, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” But Craig doesn’t believe that is literally true. He instead believes that God selected a male and a female from a group of hominids and elevated them to be the first two humans – Adam and Eve. If that were so, then marriage would have no historical basis and would be merely a cultural trend that can change over time. Yet, Jesus took the biblical doctrine of marriage to be based on the literal history recorded in Genesis, and He even quotes Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 in Matthew 19:4-5.
Craig: 5. Work is good, a sacred assignment by God to mankind to steward the Earth and its creatures.
Lisle: That would only be the case if God literally, historically created Adam to work the garden and have dominion over the creatures of the earth as stated in Genesis 1:28, 2:15. But if Genesis 1:28 and 2:15 are not straightforward history, then we don’t know why God created man or even if God created man. The basis of our work ethic cannot be derived from a myth that didn’t literally happen.
Craig: 6. Human exploration and discovery of the workings of nature are a natural outgrowth of man’s capacities, rather than divine bestowals without human initiative and effort.
Lisle: If Genesis 1-11 is not straightforward history, but metaphorical and figurative, then how can we know from the text what any of man’s actual capacities are?
Craig: 7. Mankind is to set apart one day per week as sacred and for refreshment from work.
Lisle: The Bible is explicit that the reason we have a seven-day week with one day dedicated to rest is because that is how God historically created – as a pattern for us to follow (Exodus 20:8-11). But Craig does not believe that God created in six literal days. So he has no rational basis for a literal seven-day week. In Craig’s view, God merely said He created in six days while actually taking millions of years. And so if Craig were to consistently follow God’s example, he would work for millions of years and rest for millions of years. But when anyone asked him about it, he would mythically/figuratively say, “I work for six days and rest for one.” After all, according Craig, that is what God did.
Craig: 8. Man and woman alike have freely chosen to disobey God, suffering alienation from God and spiritual death as their just desert, condemned to a life of hardship and suffering during this mortal existence.
Lisle: That assumes that Genesis 3 is straightforward history, which Craig denies. If the details of Genesis 3 are not literally true, if Adam and Eve did not literally eat the forbidden fruit in disobedience to God, then we have no basis for believing that they sinned. What really, historically happened with Adam and Eve is anyone’s guess if Genesis 3 is clothed in the language of myth. We cannot derive a general truth from fictional details.
Craig: 9. Human sin is cumulative and self-destructive, resulting in God’s just judgement.
Lisle: If Genesis 3 does not record straightforward history, then how do we know that? Craig is attempting to draw a general conclusion from specific instances that he believes are fictional. That is not rational.
Craig: 10. Despite human rebellion against God, God’s original purpose to bless all mankind remains intact, as he graciously finds a way to work his will despite human defiance.
Lisle: This assumes the literal, historical truthfulness of Genesis 3:15-24, which Craig rejects. When Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit, God confronted them and pronounced punishment. But He also promised to send a Savior – a Descendant of Eve who would crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). God then graciously clothed Adam and Eve in the skins of a slain animal or animals – perhaps a picture of Christ who would die in their place and clothe them with His righteousness (Isaiah 61:10, Zechariah 3:3-4).
Also, Craig’s Molinism is apparent here, as if God needs to “find a way to work his will despite human defiance.” Craig presents this as if God were merely trying to make the best of the bad hand He had been dealt. No. God was not surprised or frustrated by Adam’s sin. It was God’s plan all along to use human rebellion to show the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy (Romans 9:22-23). God doesn’t cause or approve of human sin, but He planned it and uses it for His glory (e.g. Genesis 50:20, Acts 2:23).
Craig: Such truths do not depend upon reading the primaeval narratives literalistically.
Lisle: Actually, they do. Truth cannot be grounded in non-literal or fictional stories. Craig is attempting to draw generalizations from specific instances that he believes did not literally happen as written. This is illogical. We cannot conclude that “Seth is a bad driver” if all the supporting examples are not literally, historically true. Likewise, we cannot conclude any of the general truths illustrated in Genesis 1-11 if the specific instances did not actually happen as stated.
We know that God is the Creator because Genesis 1:1 is literally true. We know that humans are made in God’s image because Genesis 1:26-27 is literally true. We know that marriage is God’s creation because Genesis 2:21-25 is literally true. We know that God judges sin because the events of Genesis 2-3 really happened. We know the penalty for sin is death because of the literal history recorded in Genesis 2:17 and 3:19. We know that God is merciful because the events of Genesis 3:15, 21 really happened as written. If none of these events are literal, historical reality, if they are merely figurative metaphors for something else, then we cannot conclude any generalizations from Genesis.
To be clear, a fictional story can illustrate a truth, but it cannot justify a truth. For example, we can use a fictional story to illustrate a principle like loving our neighbor. And so, if someone asks, “What does it mean to ‘love my neighbor?’” a parable will do. But such a story cannot be the justification for loving our neighbor. That is, it cannot provide the rational foundation for why we should love our neighbor since a true principle cannot be grounded in fiction. The justification for such a principle must be based on real history. Namely, God made man in His own image, and thus my neighbor has inherent value and dignity. Moreover, God literally, historically commanded His people to love their neighbor (Leviticus 19:18), and God blesses obedience and punishes disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:1-14,15-68). So, the reason for accepting the truth of the principle “love your neighbor” is based on real history, and cannot be based on fiction.
But there is a larger issue here. Our understanding of Scripture needs to be derived from Scripture, and not our philosophical preferences. When we interpret a text in a particular way, we need to have a biblical reason for that interpretation. That is exegesis. What Craig is doing is eisegesis – the opposite of exegesis. He is reading into the text based on his philosophy – his arbitrary opinion of what is possible and what is “fantastic.” Craig takes the opinions of secular scientists on origins as fact, and then attempts to interpret the Scriptures in light of secular claims. But he cannot do this consistently because secular scientists also reject the resurrection of the dead, the virgin birth of Christ, Jesus turning water into wine, calming the storm, and so on. These Craig accepts as literal, historical events despite the objections of secular scientists. Yet he rejects the literal history of Genesis on the basis of objections of secular scientists. Inconsistent.
None of the biblical authors interpreted Genesis 1-11 the way Craig does. Whenever the events of Genesis are recounted in later Scriptures, they are always taken as straightforward history. In the next installment, we will examine Craig’s attempts to deal with the fact that the Apostle Paul treats the events recorded in Genesis as real history.