Genesis chapter two has caused much controversy in various ways, and I hope to tackle some of those now before examining the chapter in greater depth. There are those who maintain that chapter two contradicts chapter one (therefore making the entire Creation account false, unreliable, irrelevant, etc.), or that they are two separate accounts of different events (God created man on two separate occasions). There are those who believe these chapters are a myth, allegory, literary, fiction, poetry, analogy, or something else; all this is done primarily to dismiss Genesis as a historical account and prevent it from being used for any scientific purpose. Finally, Genesis has contributed to countless political controversies and current events that shape our world and culture.
It’s my intent to briefly examine how these chapters have been interpreted, and the impact those interpretations have on our faith and culture. The Bible certainly has elements of allegory, literary writing, poetry and analogy, and we can enjoy such writing and admire its beauty; however none of this should take away from the historicity of the Genesis accounts.
Allegories have a hidden spiritual meaning that transcends the literal sense of a sacred text. They’re an expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence. We can see an allegory in Ezekiel 16 regarding an unfaithful Jerusalem; in fact it’s quite clear that it’s an allegory, and I don’t think anyone would dispute this simply because the plain reading of the text justifies it. In this example there are definite symbolic fictional figures meant to speak truth about Jerusalem’s unfaithfulness. But to describe the Creation account in Genesis as an allegory (as the Pope declared) is to imply that none of what is described in it actually happened. This, in turn, has far-reaching consequences; it becomes an attack on the entirety of God’s Word by altering the very foundation and meaning of Christianity and the gospel message of Christ Jesus. It implies that nothing happened when God spoke (or that it took a very long time for his commands to be fulfilled- in which case it can’t be a true allegory); it means that Adam and Eve were fictional characters that never existed, so sin becomes increasingly subjective, and death is natural and good since that’s the way God allowed things to be; marriage is anyone’s guess; our work week is based on events that never transpired, etc. Where does that leave Jesus? Supposedly he died for our sins, but if we’re not truly descendants of Adam- who supposedly brought sin and death into the world by disobeying God (Romans 5:12-19), then where did this sin come from? Death would have reigned since the time of the first living organism, and sin, if it’s defined as disobedience to God, must have occurred at some undefined point in time by some living or non-living entity. It almost sounds as if Christ came along to clean up God’s mess, and that man has little or no responsibility in the matter, except that he’s somehow assigned responsibility by association.
I’ve heard many arguments in favor of interpretations of Genesis that are not literal, but they all have major problems that impact Christian theology and treat religion as nothing more than subjective, with little to do with reality. Christians don’t necessarily intend to do this, but it’s a progression that happens when trying to harmonize scripture with secular beliefs and cosmology. When we accept evolution and the Big Bang as truth, and we conclude that a literal reading of Genesis contradicts what the secular world is teaching us, then we’re forced to reinterpret Genesis differently, as if we’re trying to appease and accommodate those that don’t even believe in God. I don’t think anyone benefits from throwing in the towel and allowing secular science to dictate what we’re allowed to believe and how we’re allowed to express it. In fact I think this causes more harm than good. It means we’re missing solid witnessing opportunities at best, and at worst could cause believers to abandon their faith once they realize that Christianity is built upon a crumbling foundation and uncertainty. In other words, if the events in the Creation account of Genesis never happened, then we need to rely upon the secular world to rescue us from our own religion and tell us how we really came to be. Christianity then becomes pointless, forcing us to ask, ‘who or what is God (god), and does he even exist’? I think it becomes a slippery slope when we abandon scripture in favor of what the world teaches.
Scripture, however, tells us to separate from the world (1 John 2:15-16). And if we rely upon God’s Word rather than the teachings of man, then we have a solid rock and foundation of truth on which to stand. If the Genesis account is a real, historical event, then the Christian faith has real meaning and will impact our culture in the very ways it has. Sin and death suddenly are no longer natural events in the progression of the universe, but are the results of Adam’s disobedience (Genesis 3:17-19), which is what prompted God to send His son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross (John 3:16, Romans 6:23).
I suggest that a plain reading of Genesis one and two calls for a literal interpretation. This was the predominant view since Moses recorded the account nearly 3,500 years ago and wasn’t largely questioned until Charles Darwin wrote his Origin of Species in 1859. Most Hebrew scholars recognize that the writer of Genesis intended the word “day” to mean an ordinary 24 hour period. In fact, James Barr (one of the best Hebraists in the world) of Oxford University wrote, “So far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Gen. 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that (a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience (b) the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story.” So if Moses intended us to take Genesis literally, and if this is what God revealed to him, then it makes sense that we should take it literally too, even if there’s pressure to conform to the patterns of this world.
In addition, Jesus himself touched upon the Genesis account when he said, “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Mark 10:6-8). He also spoke about the Creation account in Mark 13:19-20 and Luke 11:50-51. From these passages I think it’s fair to conclude that Jesus agreed with a literal Creation account; he wasn’t referring to them as if they were fiction. Jesus was relating real, historical events to current and future events.
I believe a literal 24-hour day makes the most logical sense in interpreting Genesis, and that the events described in it are actual, historical events. These events, in turn, have a real impact on the universe itself, how we understand it, as well as our everyday lives- from marriage to the very number of days in a week and the seasons in a year. This interpretation is also the foundation for the gospel message and the work Christ did on the cross.