Can you recall God’s interrogation of Job in chapter 38 the book of Job? God questions Job if he can say how God created! And can Job answer? No. The whole point of God’s questioning is to expose that Job does not know (and therefore cannot challenge God). He doesn’t know because God has not revealed it in special revelation.
The Genesis account doesn’t give us the scientific mechanism of creation. Rather, creation is described as what “seems to the popular eye to occur.” And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Does this mean we deny that the creation narrative is historical? Not at all. It is historical, it really happened, but it is not intended to give scientific information. Genesis is Scripture, correct? What is the intended teaching of God’s Word?
Q. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.
–Westminster Larger Catechism Q/A 5
So why do so many people treat Genesis differently than the rest of the Bible?
Genesis is not primarily about general history of the world. It’s a selective history. It’s not a video recording of all history, capturing all the details. Obviously it isn’t, for where is Cain’s wife from? If we insist that all historical details are included in the Genesis account, then we’ve got problems. How could Cain build a “city” if only he and his wife lived there? The narrative doesn’t tell us everything there is to know. It tells us what is needed in God’s purpose of the text. It provides Redemptive History.
The original audience, the author(s) of the text, the intent of the author(s).
Who were the first listeners of the text? What was their background, their current situation? What questions would they need answered? Do you think they were asking how old the universe was?
What kind of literature is the creation narrative? Are we even supposed to interpret according to strict literalism? That would require zero figurative language (is that even possible?). Genre is vital to proper understanding of the text.
Do we expect a scientifically precise language to be used? All figures of speech would be out. The Bible uses common human expression. It’s not telling us astronomy. To try to ascertain the location of the earth, or it’s shape, is to misunderstand the purpose of the Bible.
For quite a while, evangelical Bible readers have come to these opening chapters with certain expectations, born out of a Western, modernist, scientific presupposition. The expectation is that this part of the Bible that tells us of God’s creating the world will tell us how he did it, and how long it took. What has been ignored is, what was the purpose of the text, as Moses gave it to the Israelites delivered from Egypt?
“Yes, I’m sure they were concerned about evolution, and God was giving them specific answers to modern scientific concerns.”
Indeed, the Bible gives answers, but it also corrects the questions we ask. The Bible is for our instruction, yet we are not the original recipients. We must put ourselves, as much as possible, in the place of the original hearers of the text we are studying. They were a particular people in a particular situation, and God was speaking into that context. On top of our sin and finitude, we are also prone to chronological snobbery. But, we must allow Scripture to shape even the questions we bring to it.
Here’s a taste of the original context of the first hearers of Genesis:
Pagan worldviews and creation myths. Where was Israel before receiving Genesis? Egypt. For how long? Four hundred years. God delivered them from a pagan nation, and they were going to claim a land that was occupied by, more pagans! Lots of unbelief surrounded them. Naturally, since the Hebrews alone were God’s people.
Perhaps that sheds light on the purpose of Genesis 1-3? What would God’s covenant people need to know, freshly redeemed from captivity?
Who is God, what is real, how do we know things, who are we, how should we live. Then, after hearing the creation narrative, they would be wondering why doesn’t that good creation, the garden, match our experience now? The account of the fall of man is given, explaining why the world is the way it is now.
The Genesis account can be understood more clearly in light of the background of the original hearers.
Scripture interprets Scripture (Analogy of Scripture)
The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.
–Westminster Confession of Faith 1.9
Christ and Redemptive History
Remember the Grammatical-Historical method of interpretation? It focuses on grammar, and interprets the text on it’s own merits.
The tendency is to isolate the text from the rest of Redemptive History, and not interpret the text in that larger context.
Rather, we should interpret with a Redemptive-Historical-Grammatical method, not limiting the meaning of a text based on its own merits but within the context of Redemptive History, based on its place in the timeline, and in light of Jesus Christ. We must interpret Genesis within the larger context of Redemptive History, including eschatology. Do we think this portion of Scripture can be properly understood when divorced from the rest of God’s Word?
We have the fullness of revelation. We have been provided the fuller meaning. We can understand Genesis better than the original audience, and even better than Moses, because we are looking back to the reality, while they only had types and shadows.
Christ himself said that our interpretation must be Christocentric. That is what the New Testament authors did. Our method of interpreting Genesis must be that of the the New Testament.
The big question is: what is the ultimate authority for determining a proper hermeneutic? What will be the bottom line to say “this is the correct way to do it”? According to what will you say, “that’s a correct hermeneutic” or “that’s a bad hermeneutic”?
Because of sin and our finitude, and the nature of special revelation, the only way to properly understand anything is to submit to God’s revealed perspective. This even applies to hermeneutics. It will be on God’s authority that we say “that’s a correct hermeneutic.” So the answer is: the Triune God speaking through His Word (the Bible) alone is the only infallible authority in our quest for a proper hermeneutic.
We aren’t trying to find length of days, or interpreting according to “science” (whatever that happens to mean at the time). Christ interpreted, starting with Moses, the things concerning himself. The Apostle’s interpreted that way. That’s what we must do. Yes, Genesis obviously has implications for science, but the primary meaning of Genesis, like all of Scripture, is Jesus Christ.
This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the Gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament.
–Westminster Confession of Faith 7.5 (God’s Covenant with Man)
Do we think that we can properly understand the first Adam, without reference to the last Adam?
Do we think we can understand the creation without considering the new creation?
We read “in the beginning God created . . .” but then in the New Testament it is revealed that “the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.”
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
All things were created through Him,
and apart from Him not one thing was created
that has been created.
Life was in Him,
and that life was the light of men.
That light shines in the darkness,
yet the darkness did not overcome it.
For everything was created by Him,
in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions
or rulers or authorities—
all things have been created through Him and for Him.
He is before all things,
and by Him all things hold together.
We must interpret Genesis in light of Christ. Does that sound strange? It shouldn’t. Paul wrote that Adam was a type of Christ! He calls Jesus the second Adam, and that both are representatives. We learn that Christ’s work is connected to Adam. See 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5.
We must interpret Genesis even in light of eschatology. That probably sounds really strange, since we tend to isolate eschatology from Redemptive History (it’s ironic that we do that to the beginning and end of the Bible). But it shouldn’t sound strange. There’s a new creation. There’s a restoration of all things.
The two big, key hermeneutical presuppositions to remember throughout our study of Genesis are:
1. Larger context of Redemptive History
2. Centrality of Christ
As Richard Belcher of RTS says, we don’t “find” Christ in the Old Testamnet, but are confronted with Him. All the threads finally make sense in light of Christ. We expect the Old Testament to testify about Christ! We don’t read Christ back into the Old Testament. Rather, we acknowledge that we don’t understand the Old Testament properly apart from Christ.
“We don’t read our Bible’s as if we are Jews, locked in the Old Testament without Christ . . . We read our Bible’s backwards.”
So what is the point of our studying Genesis?
Do you want to know your Savior better? Christ is revealed in Scripture. Christ is the goal and ultimate meaning of the Scriptures. All of Scripture testifies about Christ. Including Genesis 1-3. We see special connection between Christ and this part of the Bible throughout the New Testament. We will understand the fulfillment, in Christ, if we understand what it was he was supposed to fulfill. As Jesus did on the road to Emmaus, “Then beginning with Moses . . . He interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27)
We want to know God in Christ better. Understanding the beginning will help us understand the fulfillment. We’ll understand Christ’s work better if we understand what it is connected to. We will appreciate Christ more, and be moved to worship him.
The hope is that this study will strengthen us in what to believe concerning God. As said before, the Christian worldview is taught in the beginning.
Paul wrote that all Scripture is profitable. We will know God better. We’ll know who we are, better. We’ll understand the whole of Scripture better. We will understand the failure of Adam, better. And will will know the person and work of the second Adam, Jesus Christ the promised Redeemer, better.
If we have engaged in “Bible study”, even of the Old Testament, and have not met Christ there, then we have not interpreted adequately. If we claim to have exegeted the text yet have not been confronted with Christ, then we have not completed our exegesis. Our interpretation is incomplete if Jesus is not there.