We begin with a brief review of our analysis of William Lane Craig’s claims regarding Genesis 1-11 from his recent article on the historical Adam. We have seen that Genesis 1-11 has all the markers of historical narrative. Namely, it is written in the same literary style as the other historical books with long chains of the Hebrew waw-consecutive. It lists details that are not germane to the point of the narrative, such as specific names and ages of persons (even those not involved in the main events) and highly detailed chronologies. These indicate history and would bog down a fictional/mythical story. Furthermore, these chronologies flow seamlessly into the historical figures mentioned in Genesis 12-50 – a section of Scripture that even Craig admits is straightforward history. In contrast, myths like the Epic of Gilgamesh are usually written in poetic form; yet Genesis lacks the key characteristics of Hebrew poetry. Clearly, Genesis 1-11 matches the literary form and style of Genesis 12-50.
And what about the content? Contrary to Craig’s claims, the content of the creation account in Genesis is starkly different from the content of Ancient Near Eastern origins myths. Pagan origins stories generally involve a very old universe that exists in a state of chaos, until a chaos monster is slain which brings about the good world of today. Genesis starts with God who speaks the universe into existence in six days, each step being good until the final result is “very good.” Humans introduce death into the world by sinning against God. The events are recorded with none of the obvious symbolism or analogies present in parables, but rather as literal events. All other references in Scripture to Genesis 1-11 take the narrative as literally historical. Furthermore, the Bible states that the events in Genesis 1-11 have repercussions in the world today – something that is only possible if such events literally happened. And so, if we are going to be rational and take the text as written, we must admit that Genesis 1-11 is straightforward history.
This of course contrasts with the secular claim that the universe began in a big bang billions of years ago, and that life came about as a result of evolution. Many Christians have been duped into believing that such secular speculations are “science” or at least supported by science. Nothing could be further from the truth since science is predicated upon the literal historicity of the Bible including biblical creation as we have explored previously. Therefore, Christians who have mindlessly accepted evolution but still profess to believe the Bible must somehow deal with the fact that Genesis contradicts the secular origins stories. Rather than admitting that they don’t believe Genesis 1-11, the usual tactic is to say, “I believe it, just not literally. I don’t interpret the text the way you do.” This of course could be done with any portion of Scripture that a person doesn’t want to accept. A person could equally well declare “I do believe that Jesus rose from the dead – just not literally. The Gospels are written in the form of myth.” However, the Bible does not give us permission to interpret the text any way we like. We must interpret it according to its context. And we have seen that Genesis 1-11 lists the events that happened in the world in straightforward, non-poetic narrative, just like Genesis 12-50. Thus, we must interpret them accordingly.
All other books of the Bible that refer back to Genesis do so as if the events recorded therein actually happened as written. Yet, William Lane Craig has stated that he believes that Genesis 1-11 is not to be taken as straightforward history. So, how does he attempt to reconcile the biblical references to the history in Genesis with his belief that Genesis 1-11 is not straightforward history? We continue to analyze his recent article on The Historical Adam.
Craig: When we turn to the New Testament, we find the figure of Adam widely deployed, most importantly by Paul.
Lisle: It is clear that Paul understood Adam and Eve to be real people, and the events of Genesis 1-11 to be real history with real consequences in the world today. See for example, Romans 5:14-15; 1 Corinthians 15:22-23; 2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 2:13-14.
Craig: Many scholars have attempted to distinguish between the literary Adam and the historical Adam. The literary Adam is a character in a story, specifically the stories of Genesis 2–3. The historical Adam is the person, if such there be, who actually existed—the actual individual whom the stories are allegedly about.
Lisle: It seems that Craig is going to suggest that New Testament references to Adam are not necessarily always asserting the historical reality of the person (the historical Adam), but possibly references to a character in a fictional, allegorical, or embellished story (the literary Adam).
Craig: By way of analogy, the Pompey of Plutarch’s Lives is the literary Pompey, whereas the Roman general who actually lived was the historical Pompey. What we want to know is how closely the literary Pompey of the Lives resembles the historical Pompey. Similarly, we want to know how closely the literary Adam of Genesis 2–3 resembles the historical Adam, if such there be—or more precisely, whether New Testament authors assert that the literary Adam of Genesis 2–3 closely resembles the historical Adam.
Lisle: Is there any evidence in the New Testament that the authors thought of Adam as merely a literary character in a story rather than a historical person? Is there any evidence in Scripture that any of its authors thought that the events recorded in Genesis were not real history, but merely a mythical story with useful illustrations?
Quite the opposite. Most of the biblical references to the events of Genesis would make no sense unless Genesis is real history. For example, a fictional story cannot have real-world consequences – something that Craig himself concedes later in his article. Yet, the apostle Paul takes the events of Genesis 3 as the historical basis for the real-world phenomenon of death.
Craig: This distinction implies a further distinction between truth and truth-in-a-story. A statement is true if what it states is the case. A statement is true-in-a-story if it is found in or implied by that story. So if I say, for example, that Gilgamesh slew the Bull of Heaven, my statement, though true-in-the-Epic of Gilgamesh, is false.
Lisle: This is a legitimate distinction for a fictional or embellished narrative. As a more recent example, it is true-in-story that Indiana Jones found the lost Ark of the Covenant, and yet this is not true in reality since the movie in which such events took place is a work of fiction. Likewise, Craig is essentially suggesting that claims like “The serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely will not die!’” (Genesis 3:4) may be true-in-story, but not historically true, since he takes the events of Genesis 1-11 to be at least partly “not straightforward history.”
Statements that are true-in-story but not true in reality belong to a class of literature known as fiction. In fiction, the author presents a narrative that is not intended to match reality. It is clear that William Lane Craig believes that some of the statements in Genesis 1-11 are fiction, in the sense that they did not really happen as stated. Indeed, he claims that the serpent is “not plausibly a literal reptile” since “snakes neither talk nor are intelligent agents.” Yet the text states that the serpent did speak to Eve (Genesis 3:1,4-5). Presumably, Craig would argue that the serpent speaking to Eve is true-in-story, but not true in reality. If so, that would make that particular statement fiction.
Now, Craig might not want to admit that this is what he is doing. I have never heard him call particular statements in Genesis 1-11 “fiction.” But a statement in a narrative that is true-in-story and yet not true in reality is – by definition – fiction. Craig can call it myth, or mytho-history, but he takes at least some of the straightforward narrative as not having actually happened. And that would make it fiction.
In fairness, I have to add that Craig does not take all the statements in Genesis 1-11 as fiction. He does accept that there is some historicity to Genesis 1-11. For example, he believes that Adam and Eve really existed historically. But Craig argues that many of the details in Genesis 1-11 are not true, and yet are true-in-story. That would make Genesis 1-11 at least partly fiction. Of course, a fictional story can contain elements of real history. But it remains fiction.
The problem of course is that the events of Genesis 1-11 are recorded in the same historical narrative style as Genesis 12-50 with its straightforward prose, its attention to detail in names and ages, and the content of the first eleven chapters flowing seamlessly into the remaining chapters. Genesis is not written as a parable, poem, myth, or fictional story. Thus, to assert that Genesis is myth (or mytho-historical) is a violation of exegetical principles. Moreover, there is no evidence that any biblical author thought of Genesis 1-11 as anything other than straightforward history.
Craig: Truth-in-a-story does not, however, preclude truth.
Lisle: That is quite correct. In an accurate history book, truth-in-story and truth are one and the same. Therefore, Craig needs to give more consideration to how we know whether a story is intended to be taken as fiction or as history. A fictional story such as a parable can illustrate a true principle. But so can a literal, historical narrative. Thus, although the New Testament authors are free to use a non-historical story to illustrate a point, they can also use the literal history recorded in Scripture to illustrate a point. Is there any evidence that biblical references to the events of Genesis 1-11 treat them as non-literal, non-historical, or allegorical?
We have already seen that Genesis 1-11 bears all the markers of history, a series of events that flow seamlessly into Genesis 12-50. And Craig does take Genesis 12 as history. Furthermore, a mythical/allegorical story cannot have consequences outside the story. Only true history can account for present realities. And there are many places where the Apostle Paul uses the real historical events of Genesis to explain present realities such as death (e.g., Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22) or the roles of men and women (1 Timothy 2:11-14). There can be no doubt that Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, took the events of Genesis 1-11 as straightforward history. In Matthew 19, Jesus quoted Genesis 1-2 as the basis for marriage. The reality of marriage cannot have a foundation in fiction. Thus, Jesus clearly understood Genesis 1-2 as literal history.
Craig: In the Epic of Gilgamesh are, or are implied, statements, such as “Gilgamesh was an ancient Sumerian king,” which are both true-in-the-epic as well as true.
Lisle: This is because a fictional story can reference or include literal historical events.
Craig: The relevant question for us is whether New Testament passages referring to Adam are intended to assert truths or merely truths-in-the-stories-of-Genesis.
Lisle: This is Craig’s attempt to justify his rejection of the literal history recorded in Genesis 1-11 despite the fact that other biblical authors refer to such events as having really happened. He is claiming that some biblical references to Genesis may simply be asserting truth-in-story rather than factual history. But we have already seen that Genesis itself bears the markers of historical narrative, and there are many biblical references to the real-world consequences of the historical events of Genesis. That would not be possible if such events were not literal history. In any accurate historical narrative, there is no difference between truth-in-story and truth.
Craig: These distinctions are not drawn in order to weasel out of commitments on the part of New Testament authors to the truth of the Genesis stories and, hence, of the historical Adam.
Lisle: These are exactly Craig’s attempts to weasel out of a commitment to the exegetical reading of Genesis 1-11 as literal history. It is really pretty obvious. No biblical author made any comments that would suggest that Genesis is something other than straightforward history.
Craig: They are essential to our treatment of many New Testament passages, which, if interpreted as asserting more than truth-in-a-story, would be plausibly false.
Lisle: And how do we decide what is “plausibly false?” Most secular scientists would assert that turning water in wine, walking on water, calming a storm by speaking to it, and resurrection from the dead are all plausibly false. Should we interpret these events recorded in the Gospels as merely literary events – true-in-story, but not true to history? Should we use Craig’s philosophy to distinguish between the “historical Jesus” and the “literary Jesus?”
There are people who do exactly that. That is, they would say that Jesus turning water into wine is true-in-story, but not literally true. They would claim that Christ’s resurrection from the dead is true-in-story in that it is what the Gospels teach. But they would deny the historical reality of Christ’s resurrection. Of course, the literal history of the resurrection is a requirement for salvation (Romans 10:9-10). Craig uses the opinions of secular scientists to determine what is possible, and then uses that false standard to judge which of the events of Genesis are merely truth-in-story, but historically false. If he were to apply that standard consistently to the rest of Scripture (which thankfully he does not), then he would have to deny the historical resurrection of Christ for exactly the same reason.
Who or what determines what is plausible or possible? Is it not God? God can do whatsoever He pleases (Psalm 115:3). Therefore, we cannot reject as implausible a talking donkey (Number 22:28), a floating iron axe head (1 Kings 6:5-6), feeding five thousand men with five loaves of bread and two fish (Matthew 14:16-21), creation in six days (Exodus 20:11), a talking serpent (Genesis 3:1), or Eve being made from one of Adam’s ribs (Genesis 2:21-22). When reading Scripture, the standard for interpreting the text is not what men say is possible or plausible. The standard is Scripture. We are to live by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). Those sections that are written as parables to illustrate a kingdom principle, we interpret that way. Those sections that are written in a poetic style with heavy use of metaphor, we interpret accordingly. And those sections that are written in historical narrative, we must interpret as historical narrative.
And what about all the New Testament passages that cite events in Genesis 1-11 as examples? Are these merely references to a story that didn’t happen in history? What about New Testament references to non-biblical literature? More to come.