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Genesis: Fables, faith-building truths or both?

Can we trust Genesis? 

Does it give an accurate account regarding the early history of humanity? Does it record real history or simply provide a life-guiding myth?  

Two recent books cover these questions in great detail. 

In Print | Craig CottongimWhile many of us in Churches of Christ are confident that Genesis rests on solid ground, Restorationist Thomas Campbell once cautioned that we are only one generation away from apostasy. These books help us to understand current debates surrounding Genesis and help us articulate solid reasons why we trust this foundational text. This helps us pass these truths to our next generation and enter into discussions with skeptics regarding Scripture.  

Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither?: Three Views on the Bible’s Earliest Chapters ” helps us to see our interpretive struggles honestly. It is the latest volume in Zondervan’s “Counterpoint” series. Each book in this series examines a single theological topic from the educated perspectives of diverse viewpoints. These are fascinating books on some relevant topics, and this title is a wonderful addition to the series.

The editor, Charles Halton, is assistant professor of theology at Houston Baptist University. All three of his expert contributors believe the Bible is the Word of God. They focus their essays on three passages from Genesis — the narrative of the Nephilim in Genesis 6:1-4, Noah and the Ark in Genesis 6:9-9:29 and the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9

James Hoffmeier argues that Genesis records accurate history and is fully reliable in its theology. Gordon Wenham argues rather that Genesis is a “Proto-History,” conveying essential truth in the same way a painted portrait does for its subject, as opposed to the way a photograph conveys facts and information. 

Kenton Sparks argues for reading Genesis as “Ancient Historiography,” or myth that is based in factual events. If these second two academic options are disconcerting, we need to keep in mind that these are the very cultural influences our young people face daily — especially in academia — and we need to be prepared to address these ideas as well.  

Many believers have had their faith shaken because of supposed scientific “facts.” Therefore, should science concern us? 

John Walton’s “The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate
is a great case study on how to interpret Scripture. Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, places Genesis in its cultural context, referencing Egyptian texts, mentioning the influence of the Mesopotamians, Sumerians and Babylonians, and including one of the most concise and comprehensible comparisons of the Genesis origins narrative to another ancient text — the Gilgamesh Epic. 

Such study will “help all Bible students read the whole of Scripture with fresh eyes” writes New Testament scholar N.T. Wright. The book includes a discussion by Wright of the apostle Paul’s references to Adam in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15.  

A weakness of the book is its focus on scriptural evidence without discussing human origins science. Walton doesn’t name any theological peers with different views. This weakens the force of his subtitle. 

Conversely, contributors in Halton’s “Three Views” engage each other passionately and touch on contemporary contributions from science. 

Both books remind us we are not the original audience the Bible addressed and would be helpful in any class on apologetics or theology. 

Walton’s book is invaluable in teaching anyone about the proper methods of interpretation, either in academic or congregational settings, while Halton’s “Three Views” offers a model for healthy dialogue. 

Without the ability to form our own opinions and gracefully discuss them with respectful tolerance, believers often divide over doctrine. Our people would benefit greatly from Walton’s methods of interpretation and from his charitable example.

CRAIG COTTONGIM has ministered for Churches of Christ in Arkansas, Illinois and Tennessee for more than 20 years and is currently part of a church-planting team in Kingsport, Tenn. Contact him at [email protected].

Filed under: Features Reviews

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