Can We Take Genesis Literally?
Updated: Mar 2
"In the beginning God..." - Genesis 1:1
Around seventeen minutes past noon on February 26, 1993, a thunderous explosion rocked lower Manhattan in New York City. The epicenter of this explosion was the parking garage of the World Trade Center that carved out a nearly 100 foot crater several stories deep and injured more than a thousand people. The bomb was placed in a van that was driven into the parking garage underneath the North Tower. A group of Islamic extremists conspired to take down the World Trade Center but were unsuccessful in their attempt. The goal - destroy the foundation underneath the North Tower then both towers will come tumbling down. Fortunately, despite the injuries and damage that was done, these terrorists were unsuccessful thanks to the strong foundation that the World Trade Center was built upon. Sadly, they succeeded in their second attack eight years later on September 11, 2001.
Satan has been using the Theory of Evolution to put doubt into the minds of Christians that God created the entire universe in six literally twenty-four hour days. This raises a big question: can we take Genesis literally since science appears to disprove the creation account in the first two chapters of Genesis? What about the rest of scripture? Where do we draw the line between a literal translation of scripture - the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments - and a figurative translation of scripture? Can we trust that the scriptures are the inerrant and infallible Word of God if we cannot take the creation account in Genesis literally?
If the first three chapters of Genesis are not taken literally, then one or more of the following foundational doctrines found throughout the rest of the scriptures are in doubt, thus invalidating the authority of scripture:
The Doctrine of God
The Person and Deity of Christ
The Person and Deity of the Holy Spirit
The Creation of Man in the Image of God
The Origin and Consequences of Sin
The Doctrine of Salvation
Is Evolution Science?
There is this popular thought that evolution is science. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines evolution as a "cumulative inherited change in a population of organisms through time leading to the appearance of new forms: the process by which new species or populations of living things develop from preexisting forms through successive generations." The National Geographic Society states that the age of the earth "is estimated to be 4.54 billion years old, plus or minus about 50 million years."
Thus, all life on earth evolved from a population of organisms over a period of 4.54 billion years, plus or minus 50 million years. But is this science? I earned a four year engineering degree. The study of engineering requires that the student be well grounded in advanced mathematics and science. Science is defined as "the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation, experimentation, and the testing of theories against the evidence obtained." Based on this definition, the theory of evolution has never been fully tested using the scientific method: observation, experimentation, and testing. However the issue here is not evolution, but the attempt by a number of theologians to reconcile the Biblical account of creation with evolution.
Who Created God?
This question is often asked, where did God come from? The question falsely assumes that God didn't always exist. If God didn't always exist, then who created Him? The answer is very simple: no one created God. He exists throughout all eternity.
Deuteronomy 33:27 - The eternal God is a dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.
Isaiah 43:10-13 - “You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, So that you may know and believe Me And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me. “I, even I, am the LORD, And there is no savior besides Me. “It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, And there was no strange god among you; So you are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And I am God. “Even from eternity I am He, And there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it?”
Micah 5:2 - “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.”
God exists outside of time. He created time, space, and matter as we know it. We see this in Genesis 1:1: In the beginning (time) God created the heavens (space) and the earth (matter).
How Long is One Day?
In order to reconcile the Biblical account of creation with evolutionary science, many theologians teach that "one day" in Genesis 1 is millions of years. Some would often quote 2nd Peter 3:8 - "with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day." If this is what you are going to use to define what "one day" is in Genesis 1, then replace "thousand years" with "millions of years" in order to be consistent with evolutionary science. This passage is not a mathematical equation (i.e. one day equals one thousand years). It is a figure of speech pointing to a spiritual truth: The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2nd Peter 3:9).
The same word for day (yôm) found in Genesis 1 is also found in Exodus 20:8-11:
8 “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9 “Six days you shall labor and do all your work,
10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.
11 “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.
God could have created the entire universe over billions of years. He also could have created everything Ex Nihilo (out of nothing) in less than a second! But the scriptures are consistently clear - God created the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them in six twenty-four hour days and rested on the seventh day. Why? By creating the heavens and the earth in six twenty-four hour days and resting on the seventh day, God gave man a pattern of work and rest. It would be unreasonable, and more importantly unscriptural, to assume that "one day" in the context of Genesis 1 is something other than a literal twenty four-hour period.
Another method that is used to reconcile the Biblical account of creation with evolutionary science is "Theistic Evolution" - the idea that God set evolution in motion. In other words, God started the process then evolution took over! This process is also referred to as "God-guided Evolution." Supporters of Theistic Evolution attempt to harmonize evolutionary thought with belief in God and reject the conflict between religion and science; they hold that religious beliefs and scientific theories do not need to contradict each other.
Theistic Evolution presumes that God acted supernaturally in some way to bring about life as we know it. Special creation, as defined in Genesis, teaches that God created life directly, either out of nothing and from preexisting materials (i.e. the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground - Genesis 2:7). Thus Theistic Evolution is incompatible with the Biblical account of creation.
The Appearance of Age
Genesis 1 teaches that the earth sprouted vegetation, plants were yielding seed, fruit trees were bearing fruit, the waters were teeming with swarms of living creatures, winged birds were flying, great sea monsters and other creatures were moving on the earth, and the man and woman were told to be fruitful and multiply. Wouldn't all of these need time to develop and mature? We need to keep in mind that the who God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1) came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. In John 1:1–3,14 we read:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was in the beginning with God.
3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 2:1-10 records the first miracle performed by Jesus - turning water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana. The headwaiter testified that he did not know where this wine came from but it was "good wine" instead of the poor wine that is normally served after people have drunk freely (v10). The narrative teaches that the water in the six stone twenty to thirty gallon waterpots were filled to the rim and immediately turned into wine. What makes wine good? The best wines improve with age. The water that Jesus turned into wine had the appearance of wine that improved with age!
Foundational Doctrines Found in Genesis 1-3
The Doctrine of God
The name of God (ʾĕlōhîm) is mentioned 32 times in Genesis 1. He is the subject of the various activities described in this chapter, such as creating, speaking, separating, calling, seeing, making, placing, and blessing. The Lord God (YHWH ʾĕlōhîm) is mentioned 11 times in Genesis 2. The name God by itself denotes deity as the creator of all things. The word Lord (YHWH) indicates the personal and relational nature of God. The singular use of the name God indicates that He is monotheistic (the one and only God) as opposed to polytheistic (one of many gods).
In Genesis 1:26 we read that the one and only eternal God consists of more than one person - Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness." Matthew 28:19 teaches that God consists of three persons - “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." This passage teaches there is only one name, not three individual names. Thus there is only one God, not three individual God's. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were present when the heavens and the earth were created.
The Person and Deity of Christ
Jesus Christ is the Word who was with God and who is God (John 1:1). He was in the beginning with God (John 1:2, Genesis 1:1). All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being (John 1:3, Genesis 1-2). He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him (Colossians 1:15-16). For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form (Colossians 2:9). We know from Micah 5:2 (mentioned earlier) that Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem, is the eternal God - His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity.
In Genesis 3:8, the man and woman heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. This is the first theophany in the Old Testament - an appearance of God to human beings in a manner that can be processed by human senses. This theophany is the preincarnate Christ - Jesus before He came in the flesh.
The Person and Deity of the Holy Spirit
We see the very first mention of the Holy Spirit in Genesis 1:2 - The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.
The Holy Spirit is not some kind of power, force, or abstract energy. He is a person in the same sense that the Father and the Son are persons. The words 'Us' and 'Our' in Genesis 1:26 are personal nouns. The prophet Zechariah proclaims to the Jews of the post-exilic period, that it is not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts (Zechariah 4:6). Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Helper who, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). Jesus also refers to Him as the Spirit of truth who will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.“ He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you (John 16:13-14). It was men, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who wrote the scriptures - But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2nd Peter 1:20-21). All Scripture is inspired by God (2nd Timothy 3:16).
The Creation of Man in the Image of God
Human evolution is the lengthy process of change by which people originated from apelike ancestors. Scientific evidence shows that the physical and behavioral traits shared by all people originated from apelike ancestors and evolved over a period of approximately six million years. One of the earliest defining human traits, bipedalism -- the ability to walk on two legs -- evolved over 4 million years ago.
Source: Smithsonian Institution - humanorigins.si.edu/education/introduction-human-evolution
Does this lengthy evolutionary process fit with the creation of the first man?
The first man, Adam, was supernaturally and directly created by God (Genesis 1:26-27, 2:7). God created Adam in His own image (ṣelem) - a likeness or representation of God. Adam was created from the dust of the ground. Unlike the rest of the creatures created before him, God personally breathed the breath of life into his nostrils. God created the first woman (Eve) from a rib taken out of Adam (Genesis 2:22). God created Eve because it was not good for Adam to be alone (Genesis 2:18). After creating the first man and woman in His own image, God blessed them and said to them “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth" (Genesis 1:28).
The first definition of Biblical marriage is found in Genesis 2:24 - For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. When questioned by the Pharisees about divorce in Matthew 19:3-5, Jesus answered them from Genesis 1:27 (male and female He created them) and Genesis 2:24. The apostle Paul also referenced Genesis 2:24 in Ephesians 5:31.
We can say the following without any doubt:
God created man and woman in His own image.
God did not create sea life, birds, and every creature that moves on the earth, including apelike creatures, in His own image.
The first man was created during the sixth twenty-four hour day. Adam was fully mature and possessed intelligence - The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field (Genesis 2:20).
Likewise, the first woman was formed from a rib taken out of Adam during the sixth day. She was fully mature.
The supernatural and direct creation of man by God is completely incompatible with the human evolution of man from apelike creatures over a period of six million years.
Merriam-Webster defines racism as a belief that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. Britannica defines racism as the belief that humans may be divided into separate and exclusive biological entities called “races”; that there is a causal link between inherited physical traits and traits of personality, intellect, morality, and other cultural and behavioral features; and that some races are innately superior to others.
If you take God at His word that man was directly created in the image of God. then all of us are descendants of the same set of parents, Adam and Eve. Thus we are all part of the same God-created human race. Our founding fathers recognized this truth when they wrote the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The Origin and Consequences of Sin
Romans 5:12 states - through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.
Genesis 3, the Fall of Man, provides the narrative for this passage. In Genesis 2:16-17 God gave this very simple command to Adam - “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 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.” There were plenty of plants and trees in the garden that Adam could have eaten from. But the serpent deceived Eve - if you eat from this tree or touch it, you surely will not die! In fact, if you eat from this tree your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:2-5). Eve, being deceived by the serpent, ate from the tree (Genesis 3:1-5). Eve gave Adam fruit from the tree and he ate it (Genesis 3:6). Once they realized they were both naked, they tried to cover their nakedness with sewed together fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). Thus through one man (Adam) sin entered into the world resulting in the condemnation of physical and spiritual death.
The Doctrine of Salvation
The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life; And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel” (Genesis 3:14-15).
This passage points forward to the defeat of the serpent (Satan) by a future descendent of the woman. The bruised head of the serpent is more serious than the offspring of Eve being bruised on the heel. Genesis 3:15 as been labeled the "Protoevangelium" - the first announcement of the gospel of Christ. The verse introduces two elements that form the basis of the gospel - the curse of death on all of mankind because of Adam’s sin and God’s provision of a Savior who would take the curse of sin upon Himself. Luke 3:23-38 provides the genealogy of Jesus through his mother Mary. The narrative ends with the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God (v38).
Cain and Abel were the first two sons of Adam and Eve (Genesis 4:1-2). Seth was the third son of Adam and Eve. His son was Enosh. Adam had relations with his wife again; and she gave birth to a son, and named him Seth, for, she said, “God has appointed me another offspring in place of Abel, for Cain killed him.” To Seth, to him also a son was born; and he called his name Enosh. Then men began to call upon the name of the LORD (Genesis 4:25-26). The promised seed that will bruise the head of the serpent came from the line of Seth.
The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them (Genesis 3:21). One or more animals had to be killed so that their skin could be removed in order to make garments from them for Adam and Eve. Thus the death of animals was required to cover their nakedness. This points to the atonement of sins through animal sacrifices that God instituted in the law He handed down to Moses. God eventually provided atonement for our sins through the sacrificial death of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
The bottom line is this: the Biblical account of creation and the fall of man documented in the first three chapters of Genesis are completely incompatible and irreconcilable with the Theory of Evolution. Those who attempted to reconcile Genesis 1-3 with evolution have put the authority of scripture in doubt. These first three chapters are foundational to the rest of scripture, especially the core doctrines of scripture that must never be compromised in order to satisfy those who believe that evolutionary science discredits the Biblical account of creation and the creator of the universe - God! All scripture is the inerrant and infallible Word of God and must be taken literally. This is where I stand, and it is my hope that other like-minded believers will stand with me.
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture cited in this post is taken from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update.