The original question was:
My evangelical theological college teaches the early chapters of Genesis were written as a moral polemic against the multi-god, violent, and sexually immoral creation stories of the pagans, therefore we don’t need to regard Genesis 1-11 as real history. What do you think?
Answer by Diane Eager and John Mackay
To answer this Pastor’s real question, we need to know what is meant by “polemic”. The Oxford dictionary states:
Polemic: A strong verbal or written attack on someone or something.
Polemics: The practice of engaging in controversial debate or dispute.
Any member of a university debating society knows that the winner of a debate is not necessarily the one who is correct. In fact, neither side of a debate needs to even tell the truth – they just need to express their ideas in the cleverest way.
The ancient Greeks engaged in this practice, and the ones who excelled were known as “sophists”. This is where we get the word sophisticated – meaning worldly wise, especially about fashion and culture, or being smart, but not necessarily truthful. So both the modern criminal lawyer wanting to get his guilty client off the hook, and the ancient sophists are skilled at rhetoric – the art of persuasive speech, designed to impress an audience, irrespective of whether they speak the truth.
What does the Bible say about itself?
We would remind those theological colleges who call themselves evangelical Bible believing institutions, the Creator God is the Lord Jesus Christ, whom they claim to be proclaiming.
In His prayer for his disciples Jesus asked God the Father to sanctify them, i.e. set them apart for His service, in the truth, and then declared “Your word is truth” (John 17:17), with the context being any immediate revelation by Jesus plus the entire written Old Testament documents. The Apostle Paul reminds us some 30 years later that all Scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16), referring by then to the Old Testament and much of the newly written New Testament. Likewise the Apostle Peter by 68AD states that “cleverly devised myths” have no place in proclaiming Christ, and that God’s word is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 16-21).
Therefore, we likewise must not treat God’s Word from Genesis to Revelation as a mere source book of quotes for use in sophisticated arguments against other people’s ideas, or the best ‘story’ out of a whole bunch about the origin, history and destiny of the world. The Bible repeatedly states the truth from beginning to end. The God of Genesis, the Gospels and Revelation is the God of the real world, not just theological theory. Therefore, what He says about the physical world is as true as what He says about moral behaviour and spiritual things. This is important because in the end only truth has lasting authority.
Therefore, we should follow Jesus’ way of dealing with Jewish critics and sceptics who wanted to get involved in religious polemics. Jesus never set out to just stir up controversies, or merely win an argument with clever ‘polemics’. His recorded methodology was simply to teach the truth. All who were prepared to humble themselves and learn from Him recognised He taught with authority. (Matthew 7:28-29, Mark 1:22)
There were some who didn’t recognise Jesus’ authority, and deliberately tried to trap him with controversial questions and foolish scenarios. One example: The sceptics at the time of Jesus’ earthly life were the Sadducees, who didn’t believe the resurrection. They tried to debate Jesus using a hypothetical story about a woman who was married seven times, by asking whose wife would she be in the resurrection. Jesus firmly put them in their place, telling them they did not know the Scriptures nor the power of God. (Matthew 22:29) Jesus then told the Sadducees the truth about resurrection based on Scripture.
Similarly, we would ask modern polemic theologians: what is it about Genesis that they don’t know or understand; and, why don’t they believe that God, who is the Creator Jesus, has the power to do exactly what Genesis says? If God is omnipotent (all-powerful) and omniscient (all knowing) why couldn’t He create the universe in six days, create living things according to their kinds, and later on send a world-wide flood in judgement of human sin? At the end of the age God is going to make a new heavens and earth. How long is He going to take to do that? There is no mention of any time, and the omnipotent, omniscient God could do it in an instant. How poor a theology is that which only promises believers a new heavens and new earth after a few billion years?
What about Parables?
Some theistic evolutionists make the point that since Jesus taught with parables, which were made up stories used to teach a truth about what the Kingdom of God, therefore Genesis could be also be considered a parable. But do you remember the old Sunday School definition of a parable: “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning”, with the emphasis on ‘story’. So note well: the Biblical text always clearly identifies when a parable is being used; Jesus never claimed any of the parables were real history; and neither did the people who heard them nor did those who recorded them in the Gospels. The parables were designed to help people understand spiritual truths by using characteristics of familiar earthly things, e.g. sheep, seeds, vineyards, fields, etc.
Furthermore, parables did not did not use the personal name of God, nor did they involve real historical people. That’s also why the account of the rich man and Lazarus is not a parable, because it names real people such as Abraham, and most of the story is set in the afterlife, not on earth. (Luke 16:19-30)
Jesus and Genesis
Genesis tells us what God and numerous real historical people did in this real physical world. Whenever Jesus refers to people and events described in Genesis, His context indicates He was speaking about real history, and his critics accepted this, even if they did not like what he was saying. For example: Jesus refers to the days of Noah and the Flood, and compares them to the time He will return to judge the whole world. (Matthew24:37-38, Luke 17:26) If the Genesis record of Noah and the Flood was not a historical narrative describing a real world-wide judgement then Jesus’ warning of a world-wide judgement to come has no meaning.
Finally, Jesus did more than teach the truth – He is the truth (John 14:6). Therefore, to suggest any part of the inspired Word of God is just a clever story given in response to pagan myths, is an insult to Jesus. If the God of the Bible cannot be trusted to tell the truth from beginning to end, as well as tell you whenever he is using a parable, then evangelical Christians have no authority to persuade people to believe the Bible and turn away from other gods.
So a personal challenge: What kind of god are you proclaiming? One who waited until human beings started inventing their own gods and origin stories before he bothered to reveal the truth merely as a morally cleaner, more clever ‘story’? The idea that God was somehow caught on the back foot, and felt compelled to write a morally uplifting creation myth to give people something better to believe, instead of the popular pornographic pagan myths, is insulting to the righteous Creator God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who inspired the Scriptures.
The fact is God took the initiative to reveal Himself and give accurate information about the world He had made, so that people of all generations from Adam on could know their Creator, Judge and Saviour.
The Apostle Paul reminds us that the people who believed pagan myths with their many gods in the form of “images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” were not those seeking to know God, but those who had deliberately turned away from him. (Romans 1:21-22) Any other stories about the origins of the universe and all that is in it, whether they be evolution, or gods slaying one another and indulging in aberrant sex, are inventions made up by rebellious people who have turned away from God, even if they preserve grains of the original. Only Genesis is the original and accurate historical narrative about creation, judgement and salvation, and will stand any honest scrutiny.
Our strong counsel is that theological colleges and churches should be standing firm on Genesis as the real history of the real world, inspired by the real God. Otherwise they face the mockery of pagans who can see that the god of theistic evolution is just as made up as their godless theories are.
SYMBOLIC? Surely Genesis is just a symbolic account of creation with the point being God did it. Answer here
GENESIS DAYS? Are they 2 parallel symbolic lists of 3 days of forming and 3 of filling? Answer here
HERMENEUTICS? Can we read Genesis without using hermeneutics that require 6 days to be literal? Answer here
SIX DAYS: Do any doctrines depend on the six days of Creation, or is it just an interesting but irrelevant issue? Answer here
HUMAN EVOLUTION? Does it create any problems for evangelical Christians who believe it? Answer here
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