In this final segment, we continue to critique William Lane Craig’s claim that Genesis 1-11 is mytho-history. The New Testament often quotes from the Old Testament as if the events recorded therein actually happened. Craig attempted to show that some such references may not be endorsing the historicity of such events, but merely using them as literary illustrations. However, none of the examples he provided suggested anything other than a reference to actual historical events. There is nothing wrong with using a fictional story to illustrate a point. But there is no evidence that any biblical author thought of Genesis as anything but straightforward history.
Craig: In every case, we must pay close attention to the context in order to determine whether the New Testament is asserting a figure’s historicity or referring to the figure illustratively.
Lisle: There is a subtle bifurcation fallacy in Craig’s claim here because a literal historical event can be used as an illustration. The question is not “history or illustration” but rather “historical illustration, or non-historical illustration.” Consider this example, “Just as Jesus fed 5000 men with only five loaves of bread and two fish, so God today can use small resources to accomplish big things.” That illustrates a point using a biblical reference to Christ’s ministry. But the illustration only works if Jesus literally did in history what is recorded in the text. Therefore, it would be absurd to argue that the person making such an illustration is merely referencing the literary Jesus without implying that such an event literally happened in history.
Craig: Turning to the many texts concerning Adam in the New Testament, we find that some of them do not necessarily go beyond illustrative reference to the literary Adam of Genesis. The statements of our Lord concerning Adam are plausibly illustrative. He begins by drawing attention to the literary Adam: “Have you not read . . .?”
Lisle: Jesus used this exact phrase when referencing other real historical events recorded in Scripture, including references to David (Matthew 12:3), the priests (Matthew 12:5), and God speaking to Moses from the burning bush (Mark 12:26, Matthew 22:31-32). In all these instances, Jesus was not merely referencing a literary character for purposes of illustration. Rather, He was citing recorded history to draw a conclusion about the present. Namely, if God actually said to Moses in history that He was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then we must conclude that there is a resurrection since God is God of the living (Matthew 22:31-32). However, if the narrative of God speaking to Moses were just a story that didn’t necessarily literally happen, then Jesus could not rationally draw any conclusions about the real God since reality is not affected by what happens in fiction.
Jesus can and did use non-historical narratives to illustrate a truth; that is what parables are. But Jesus did not use non-historical narratives to ground a truth. Truth cannot be epistemologically grounded in fiction.
Craig: He [Jesus] then cites Genesis 1:27, “male and female he created them,” and weds this statement with Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” This forms the basis for Jesus’s teaching on divorce. Jesus is interpreting the story of Adam and Eve to discern its implications for marriage and divorce, not asserting its historicity.
Lisle: Hardly. Jesus is not referencing an allegorical or mythical story to illustrate marriage. Rather, Jesus is citing the historical basis for marriage! The very text Jesus quotes specifically says this, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Matthew 19:5; Genesis 2:24). That is, the reason people get married today is because God created Eve from Adam’s rib as a helper suitable for him (Genesis 2:20-22).
A non-historical story cannot have “implications for marriage and divorce” in the real world. If Jesus were referring to a non-historical, allegorical, or mythical story, then He made a bad argument; fiction cannot explain why marriage is what it is. Only history can do that. But, of course, Jesus is God and would therefore never make a bad argument. Matthew 19 shows that Jesus believed in the literal historical details of the creation of Adam and Eve as recorded in Genesis 1 and 2, and that such details are the reason why marriage is what it is today.
As I illustrated in a previous article, imagine someone said, “The reason we celebrate Independence Day on July 4th is because that is the day David Levinson and Steve Hiller saved the world from invading extra-terrestrials in the movie Independence Day.” That would be absurd because the fictional events in a movie do not affect the real world. Rather, The United States celebrates Independence Day on July 4th because that is historically when the final draft of the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress. Many other nations celebrate their Independence on a different date because of the various events that actually happened in their respective histories.
Craig: Similarly, many of Paul’s references to Adam may be understood not to go beyond the literary Adam.
Lisle: There just isn’t any Scriptural evidence of that. And Craig provides none. There is nothing in any of Paul’s writings to suggest that he believed that some of the events of Genesis 1-11 were not literal history. On the contrary, many of Paul’s citations of Genesis would make no sense if it were not straightforward history, as we will see below.
Furthermore, Christ said that his coming would be like in the days of Noah (Luke 17:26-27) and Lot (Luke 17:28-29). Christ makes these claims back to back, referencing two examples of judgment in the Old Testament, one from Genesis 6-8 (which Craig insists is not straightforward history), and the other from Genesis 19 (which Craig says is straightforward history). Yet, Jesus presents both events as if they both really happened. It should be obvious that Jesus did not embrace Craig’s position on Genesis 1-11.
Craig: By contrast, in Romans 5:12–21, Paul’s exposition of the effects of Adam’s sin upon the world does imply the historicity of Adam and his fall into sin.
Lisle: Quite right. Genesis 3 records the history of the fall of man. But Craig is inconsistent because he insists that this section of Genesis is not straightforward history and in particular that a talking serpent is not plausible. Yet, the curse of death upon man (to which Paul refers in Romans 5:12-21) is recorded in Genesis 3:14-19 right alongside the curse upon the serpent to crawl on the ground. Paul applied this passage in Genesis as if it were straightforward history with repercussions in the world today. If Genesis were non-literal, mytho-historical, then Paul could not rightly conclude that death came into the world as a literal result of Adam’s (allegedly non-literal) sin.
Craig: For an action that is wholly internal to a fiction cannot have effects outside the fiction; only a historical action can have real-world effects.
Lisle: Exactly. And this refutes Craig’s position. The Bible frequently refers to the events of Genesis 1-11 having real effects in our modern world. In particular, death entered the world as a result of Adam’s sin (1 Corinthians 15:21-22). This eliminates any notion of death existing for millions of years before Adam existed, as would be required for evolution.
What are some of the effects in our modern world that the Bible attributes to the historical events recorded in Genesis 1-11? The earth (Genesis 1:1), the sun, moon, and stars are all attributed to original creation (Genesis 1:14-19). The separation of land from seas (Genesis 1:9-10), the existence of plants (Genesis 1:11-12), sea animals and flying animals (Genesis 1:20-21)), land animals (Genesis 1:24-25), and human beings (Genesis 1:26-27).
The existence of thorns and thistles on certain plants was introduced at the curse and was not part of the original creation (Genesis 3:18, 1:31). Likewise, the curse brought about pain in childbirth (Genesis 3:16), unpleasantness and difficulty in work (Genesis 3:17,19), and of course death (Genesis 3:19). Genesis also explains the origin of clothing (Genesis 3:21). The Bible presents these as the historical explanations for why the world is the way it is today. How do I know that the Bible is presenting these as actual historical events and not fiction? As William Lane Craig rightly explained,
Craig: Paul’s expressions “before the law was given” and “from Adam to Moses” show that he is referring to real epochs of human history, which were affected by Adam’s act.
Lisle: Yes. And that history includes events recorded in Genesis 3-11, which Craig previously claimed was not straightforward history. Remember, Craig says that Genesis 1-11 is mytho-history, while Genesis 12-50 is straightforward history. But Paul makes no distinction. Paul presents Adam’s actions as recorded in Genesis 3 and the events that followed as real history.
Craig: It follows that Adam and his sin are asserted by Paul to be historical.
Lisle: Yes. And yet Adam’s sin is recorded in Genesis 3 – a section of Scripture that Craig takes to be not straightforward history. But Paul does take it as straightforward history with consequences in the world today.
Craig: What Paul asserts of the historical Adam does not, however, go beyond what we have already affirmed on the basis of our genre analysis of the primaeval history of Genesis 1–11—namely, that there was a progenitor of the entire human race through whose disobedience moral evil entered the world.
Lisle: This is another example of “the point is” fallacy. If Genesis 1-11 is not straightforward history, but mytho-history or allegorical, then we cannot conclude that “there was a progenitor of the entire human race through whose disobedience moral evil entered the world.” That conclusion could only follow if the events recorded in Genesis 3 are straightforward history. If they were allegorical, symbolic, or otherwise non-literal, then we could not know what really happened unless the symbols are explained.
If God did not literally say in history, “but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” as recorded in Genesis 2:17, then we would not know that eating from that tree is sin and results in mortality. And if Genesis 3:6 is not literal history, then we don’t know that Adam actually ate from the tree. Therefore, how can we conclude that he sinned? How can we know that “that there was a progenitor of the entire human race through whose disobedience moral evil entered the world” if the events in Genesis didn’t really happen as stated?
Logically, the argument can be stated as follows:
1. Eating from the forbidden fruit is sin (Genesis 2:17)
2. Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:6)
3. Therefore, Adam and Eve sinned.
Craig wants to accept the conclusion, but he rejects the premises from which that conclusion follows. That is not logical. We cannot base a general conclusion on a text whose details didn’t literally occur.
Craig: If the biblical Adam is, or was, a historical person who actually lived, then the obvious question arises: When did he live? Given the mythical nature of the primaeval history of Genesis 1–11, it is to modern science that we must turn in the attempt to answer this question.
Lisle: We have already seen that there just isn’t any rational basis for claiming that Genesis 1-11 is mythical in nature. And here we see evidence of Craig’s true motivation for his rejection of the history recorded in Genesis 1-11, namely “modern science.” Of course, what many people often mean by “modern science” is the “majority opinion of scientists.” And since the majority of scientists are not Christians, their view of origins is secular, anti-biblical, and ultimately false. And frankly, it is not very scientific at all.
As a scientist myself, I must point out that scientific evidence regarding human origins is fully consistent with the literal history recorded in Genesis. I plan to post some articles on this topic in the near future. But Craig has accepted secular speculations about human origins as if they were factual and scientifically supported. This is why he rejects the straightforward history of Genesis 1-11. It is certainly not for exegetical reasons. Rather, it is an attempt to reinterpret God’s Word in light of man-centered philosophy. This is exactly what the Apostle Paul warns against in Colossians 2:8.
The rest of Craig’s article merely repeats the secular interpretations of fossils of humans and primates. Creation scientists have already refuted such speculations (see for example Marvin Lubenow’s excellent book Bones of Contention), so we will not repost them here. In closing, let us consider why this issue is so important.
That death is the penalty for sin is central to Christian theology. And this doctrine is first articulated in Genesis 2:17. All evolutionists require death to exist long before humans supposedly evolved, thereby undermining this fundamental Christian doctrine. If death existed long before Adam sinned, then death cannot be the penalty for sin. And if that is so, then why did Jesus have to die on the cross? Indeed, all major Christian doctrines have their foundation in the history of Genesis.
However, there is another issue at stake: perspicuity. The doctrine of perspicuity is that the Bible is fundamentally clear and understandable in its main teachings, such as creation and the Gospel. This doesn’t mean that there are no difficult portions. Rather, it means that the main teachings of the Bible are fundamentally understandable. And what could be clearer than the straightforward narrative of Genesis? The Bible is not a symbolic code that needs to be deciphered. It is not an allegory or puzzle to be solved. Rather, it is God’s Word to mankind. God is a linguistic Being and knows how to communicate with His creatures.
The reason there are various interpretations of Genesis 1-11 has nothing to do with any alleged ambiguity in the text. Rather, the problem is that people do not want to believe what the Bible says. Let’s just be honest: it is not popular in secular academia to believe in biblical creation. One of the reasons the Biblical Science Institute exists is to help unbelievers over intellectual stumbling blocks. People have the misconception that there is scientific evidence against biblical creation. There isn’t. But that issue should have no bearing on the interpretation of the text. The Scriptures should be interpreted exegetically – based on what they actually say in their grammatical historical context. We dare not interpret them based on what we consider to be plausible or even possible. For with God, all things are possible.