Martin Luther once wrote the following about Genesis, “The first chapter is written in the simplest language; yet it contains matters of the utmost importance and very difficult to understand. It was for this reason, as St. Jerome asserts, that among the Hebrews it was forbidden for anyone under thirty to read the chapter or to expound it to others.” Dr. Steven Lawson once said, “Tell me what you believe about Genesis 1-3 and I will tell you what you believe about the rest of the Bible.” These two quotes have been proven true again and again simply because throughout Church history there have been many interpretations of Genesis, especially of the first three chapters. Drawing the attention of both Christians and non-Christians alike, and the peculiar thing about Genesis is that most everyone thinks they know what Genesis teaches. Ask anyone in the western world what the book of Genesis teaches and you’ll probably hear something like, “Genesis teaches how God made the world,” “Genesis is about what Christians believe about the planet’s origin,” “Genesis shows how God created everything.” To a degree these answers are correct. But, though Genesis does speak of God’s creative action in making all things I think there is much more to Genesis than merely how God created the world. In fact, I would say the rest of the Bible gives us a framework as to how we should not only think about Genesis, but interpret Genesis as well.
But before we begin to dig into the text of Genesis itself, we must do some groundwork first not only to see what the controversies are, but also to see the Christ-centered approach we’re to take today. Much of the controversy surrounding Genesis as a whole and Genesis 1-3 is directly related to two things: science and the length of the creation days. These two things are obviously related. If one believes in evolution you’ll be prone to see the days of creation as long periods of time if you see creation as a work of God at all. So too, if one rejects the theory of evolution you’ll most likely be prone to see the days of creation shorter periods of time detailing the acts of God in creating the world. There has been and still is today two main viewpoints the Church takes on the Genesis account.
1) Old Princeton:
B.B. Warfield and Charles Hodge were and perhaps still are the largest voices of this viewpoint. They taught the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin and Moses’ account in Genesis 1-3 were in harmony with one another. They believed God created everything ex nihilo (out of nothing), but once all was made in that initial creation everything else, including man’s body, developed in an evolutionary fashion. Or you could say it like this: God was the first cause while evolution was the secondary cause. Many people believe the reason they believed and taught these things was the apparent contradiction between the Genesis account of creation in 6 days and the evidence of geology, which tries to show that the earth is much older. In an effort to reconcile these two positions Warfield and Hodge believed the word ‘day’ in Genesis 1 refers to indefinite periods of time rather than 6 24-hour periods. Others in more modern times (i.e. Hugh Ross) have rehashed this view labeling it the ‘Day-Age view’ which you can probably deduce from the name, refers to the idea that a day could have lasted an entire age in Genesis 1.
2) Creation Science:
Opposed to that first view is the view called ‘Creation Science’ put forth by Henry Morris. Morris says ‘the only way to interpret Genesis 1 is to not interpret it at all, but rather, simply accept it as it is.’ 6 literal 24-hour days in which God made all things. He goes further. Morris also believes Genesis 1 stands alone as credible scientific data, giving us everything that constitutes our physical universe. I want you to see that what Morris is doing is far more subtle than simply trying to reconcile science and the Bible. Morris is teaching that the most prominent purpose of Genesis is to be the science book of the Bible, giving us all the scientific data we need to know about the creation of the world. Morris once said, “The Bible believing Christian goes to the Bible for his basic orientation in all departments of truth. The Bible is his textbook of science as well as his guide to spiritual truth.”
Now, you should know that I disagree with both of these views, and I think you should reject them also because at root of both is the belief that Scripture must be either reconciled with science or Scripture must be saying something scientific in order to have relevant meaning for us today. We ought to reject as error any view of the Bible that makes the Bible bow to another agenda other than its own, even if the entire world seems to be going the other direction. Warfield and Hodge saw the evolutionary and geological evidence in nature and were pushed to redefine Biblical terms in Genesis 1. Henry Morris saw the evolutionary and geological evidence in nature and was pushed to see the Bible as his own science book. The world around these men drastically impacted how they interpreted Scripture. We need to be reminded that Scripture and Scripture alone interprets Scripture. Or as the Westminster Confession 1.9 says, “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, it must be searched and known by other places in Scripture that speak more clearly.” This is our goal as Bible readers: interpreting the text as Jesus intends us to. Doing this does not mean we try to make Jesus appear in every verse, but to show where every verse properly fits into redemptive history. Jesus is the Chief and culminating figure on this stage. This stage is set for Him, and all that transpires on the stage relates to Him. Therefore we do not fully understand anything on the stage until we’ve identified its relation to Him.
So we’ve come to our first question: if we’re going to reject the two majority viewpoints or interpretations of Genesis, how then should we interpret the creation account in Genesis 1-3 and the rest of Genesis? To answer that question we must ask another, and upon answering this other question we find our answer to the first. This other question is this: what is the purpose of Genesis? Is its purpose scientific? Is its purpose historical? Or is it something else? I think the correct answer is not a scientific approach, or a completely overly literalistic historical approach. Rather, we should see Genesis as having a theological purpose. Don’t misunderstand me, of course Genesis is intended to convey information, but it’s meant to convey theological information not scientific information. And of course Genesis is intended to convey historical information, but we should see its history not as general history about the earth or its age, we should see it as redemptive history. So since we should see Genesis as having a theological purpose, conveying redemptive history to its readers, our purpose comes closer into view. So, laying my cards on the table for you to see, I think (and clearly I believe you should think as well) that the book of Genesis should be approached and interpreted Christologically, that is, through the lens of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. If we embrace this idea we then see that Genesis, and specifically Genesis 1-3, isn’t the science book of the Bible, but the entry point to the Person and Work of Christ.
Alister McGrath agrees and says, “…before setting out the concepts of creation found in the Old Testament, it is important to establish a fundamental point of interpretation. For Christians, the Old Testament is to be read in the light of the New Testament, and especially in the light of Christ.” E.J. Young also agrees and says the Bible “…always places creation in the light of the central fact of redemption, Christ Jesus. When we examine the first chapter of Genesis in the light of other parts of Scripture, it becomes clear that the intention is not to give a survey of the process of creation, but to permit us to see the creative activity of God in the light of His saving acts…”
I believe this is how we should approach and interpret Genesis and I believe this is how we approach every other book in the Bible, because this is how the Bible itself states we should interpret it. For example: Romans 5:14 says, “Adam, was a type of the One who was to come.” 1 Cor. 15:45-49 makes a strong connection and contrast between the work of Adam and the work of Jesus, going so far as calling Jesus the ‘last Adam.’ Also Luke 24:27 says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, Jesus interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” We learn from these verses (and many more we’ll study in a moment) that in the person and failed work of the first man Adam we get a preview or foreshadow of the Person and successful Work of the ‘last Adam’ the God-Man Jesus Christ. In other words, Adam was a type of Christ and in reading the Genesis account we should see that typological (foreshadowing) theme presenting itself to us. This is the aim of redemptive history. It shows us that a true understanding of mankind can only be gained in an understanding of the true Man Jesus Christ. It shows us that the work of the first Adam prepares the way for the greater work of the second Adam. In this manner the work of the two Adams are inseparably connected, so much so that one cannot read truly Genesis rightly without giving attention to the work the two Adams.
This was how Jesus preached. He Himself proclaimed from all of Scripture, how all of Scripture found its consummation in Him. Therefore, we have our exercise before us. Searching through Genesis to see how it lays the groundwork, prepares us, and foreshadows Jesus Christ through types and shadows giving us the entry point to His Person and Work. To that exercise we now turn.
Genesis in General:
It is largely debated in scholarly circles, and largely believed in popular circles that the first five books of the Bible were written by a group of unknown scholars. This theory is called the Documentary Hypothesis. Because it is not our purpose here to debunk such a view I’ll simply state that the Church has always held the Documentary Hypothesis to be wrong, and that we here at SonRise Community Church stand within the historic orthodox Christian position which sees Moses as the author of the first five books of the Bible.
Now that we’ve accepted Mosaic authorship of the first five books of the Bible, two questions come to us concerning Genesis. When and why did Moses write Genesis? Moses wrote Genesis sometime during the Israelite Exodus from Egypt or the Israelite wandering in the wilderness. As for why Moses wrote it we again need to remember what we’ve already said. Rather than analyzing Genesis with a view to 21st century scientific questions, we should analyze Genesis within the religious and theological context of the Israelite Exodus and wilderness wandering. If seen in that light we then understand a different meaning behind both the creation account and the book as a whole. Israel had left Egypt, a land given over to idolatry and paganism. They were preparing to enter into the promise land, a land currently occupied by idolaters and pagans. Genesis would have been a great encouragement to Israel because Genesis begins with God’s people (Adam and Eve) being safe in Eden while Genesis ends with God’s people (Israel) safe in Egypt. Even though Genesis 3-49 is a horrid, sinful, and a sinful family history, God is still leading His people to where He wants them to be. This would’ve comforted the wandering Israelites as they were headed into the unknown promise land. This also serves to be a great encouragement for the Church, because as Israel was wandering throughout the wilderness toward a promised land, so too the Church is sojourning as aliens in this present world, waiting for God to come and fully usher in the age to come when we will cross the greater ‘Jordan river’ and enter into the greater promise land. Just as God brought Israel to the promised land, so too will He bring the Church to glory.
Let’s begin digging into the text itself.
Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Right away notice a few things.
1) First, notice the difference between the way Moses begins Genesis and the way a common fairy tale begins. Moses says, “In the beginning…”, how do fairy tales begin? “Once upon a time…” This is meant to teach us that the events of Genesis are a real historical account. Creation, fall, and the promise of redemption, the flood, and the tower of Babel are all real occurrences. Adam and Eve, Noah, and Abraham’s family are all real people. It is popular in our generation to believe that Adam and Eve, the garden, the serpent, Noah, the flood, and basically the events of Genesis 1-11 are nothing more than mere myth, given to us in Scripture to teach us lessons, not to tell us real history. The reality lost in believing chapters 1-11 are filled with myth and real historical people who encountered real historical events is that we lose the greatest thing that could ever be given to us, the gospel itself. I am not overstating my case here. If we don’t believe Adam and Eve were real people what do we believe the fall was? A metaphor meant to teach us a greater lesson? That the fall of man is a figurative dilemma and not a realistic death? If that’s the case, do we really need a Savior to come and die for sinners if sin is merely a metaphor and not reality? Adam foreshadowed Christ, in that just as sin passed to all men through Adam, so too in Jesus, righteousness passes to all who believe. If Adam and Eve weren’t real people, if they didn’t really exist, there is no need for salvation because no fall would have taken place, and sin would have not entered the world. If sin never entered the world, there is no need for salvation, and if there is no need for salvation there is no need for Christ, and where there is no need for Christ there is no life to be found at all. We must see the necessary implication on the gospel if we deny the existence of Adam and Eve. To love the gospel is to love the historical reality of our first parents. So bound up with the reality of the first Adam is the grander reality of the Second Adam. If we lose the first, we lose the Second. Do not be fooled, this is a slippery slope. If we see Adam and Eve as myth, what’s next? Noah? The flood? The Exodus? The Cross? As soon as we give way to the false notion that Genesis 1-11 are myth, it is really only a matter of time before we begin to believe the entire Bible is just a grand legend someone made up.
2) Second, notice the phrase “In the beginning…” What other Bible book begins with the exact same phrase? The Gospel of John begins like this in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Both the beginning of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament start in the exact same place, in the exact same manner. Seeing this repetition we should ask the question: why? I think the answer is simple: Moses through Genesis means to introduce the work of the Creator in Creation while John in his Gospel means to introduce the work of the Creator in New Creation. Moving from the Creator’s in creation to the Creator’s work in new creation is in line with how the New Testament fulfills the Old Testament.
3) Third, notice that in the phrase “In the beginning…God…created…” we are introduced to the main character of the Genesis narrative, God. We learn much in this introduction. We learn God exists, we learn God is not silent, we learn God is eternal, we learn God is fully independent, and we learn God is powerful and strong. That Moses begins the creation account with the person of God we can conclude that Genesis is more concerned with God the Creator than with the time or details of God’s creation. God, the author of the great play, has walked on the scene. He is about to make the stage on which the drama of redemption will be acted out. This God has made the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:2 – “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”
The phrase “…without form and void…” is the Hebrew phrase ‘tohu vabowhoo.’ I know a seminary professor who teaches Hebrew who used to look out over his students lamenting their lack of ability to retain the Hebrew language and say about them ‘tohu vabowhoo.’ But back to the point, in Genesis 1:2 we’re introduced to the Person of the Holy Spirit, and are told that He is hovering over the dark and deep waters. The word for Spirit in Hebrew is ‘ruach’ which could also be translated as ‘wind’ or ‘breath.’ Question: where else do we see the Holy Spirit hovering over water in the Bible? I’ll give you five occurrences. We see it 1) Genesis 7:15 when it says the ‘breath of life’ entered the ark safely, 2) Genesis 7:22 when the ‘breath of all life’ on the dry land died because of the flood, 3) Genesis 8:1 when a ‘strong wind’ blew the flood waters back and caused the flood to recede, 4) Exodus 14:21 where another ‘strong wind’ blew the waters of the red sea to drive them back making way for God’s people to safely go through, and 5) Matthew 3:16-17 when the Spirit of God hovered over the Son of God at His baptism in the Jordan. All these uses exist to show us a pattern which God purposely uses to prepare His people for the coming of the Messiah. Meaning, that as we see the act of creation in Genesis 1:2 where the Spirit hovers over the water, we see the same thing when the Holy Spirit brings the people of God to safety during Noah’s flood and the parting of the Red Sea. It is not a coincidence that we find all of this same Genesis 1:2 activity when we see the Son of God Jesus Christ at His baptism.
Matthew 3:16-4:1 says, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’ Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Note that just as the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters in Genesis 1:2, the same Spirit of God is blew back the waters of the flood, the waters of the Red Sea, and hovered over the Son of God as He was in the waters of baptism. We’ve already seen new creation in the pairing of Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1, but here in Genesis 1:2 we see more of the new creation theme presenting itself in the Holy Spirit’s activity. Hovering over the waters of Genesis 1:2 and blowing back the waters of the flood shows creation, seeing the Spirit hover over the water’s of Jesus’ baptism shows new creation.
Within this theme we also find something we haven’t mentioned yet. Where did Israel go after they passed through the Red Sea on dry ground? Into the wilderness. Where did Jesus go after His baptism? Into the wilderness, led by the Spirit. Is it a coincidence that we see the almost the exact same Holy Spirit activity at work in the Exodus and Jesus’ baptism? What is this to teach us? The coming of Christ not only brings new creation, it brings a new and greater exodus as well, where God will once again save His people from Satan, sin and death, the greater pharaoh, taking them ultimately to a new and greater promised land in glory. This shows us that Jesus at the beginning of His ministry in Matthew 3 and 4 is re-telling the story of Israel. You see Israel was tempted in the wilderness and almost the whole time they grumbled and complained. Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by the devil himself and remained faithful to God. Lesson? In Exodus 4:22 God calls Israel ‘My firstborn son’ – Jesus is showing that He is the true and faithful Israel (or Son) of God. Because of this He will lead the new and greater exodus in the power of the Holy Spirit.
I am glad to see this, because I know my own sin. The Spirit hovers over deep and dark waters, and we see God by the power of the His Word order and bring life to the darkness. The same was true in the flood, the same was true at the Red Sea, and the same is true in our salvation – God, by the power of His Spirit, brings life and light where there was only death and darkness before. Rejoice Church, there are no aspects of creation, including those of disorder and wickedness, over which God is not ultimately bringing a redemptive order.