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Trusting Genesis and the Christian Faith

Posted: Tue Oct 09, 2018 1:33 pm
by steve
This correspondence came to me today. I thought I would share it:


I Hope you’ll have the time to reply. I’ve never asked you any questions before because I enjoy the search for theological truths. I’m an evangelical but I have a friend who recently attended and interdenominational farming internship. She now, as best as I can tell, has taken up the liberal view of the Bible. It started with what she calls the “deconstruction of Genesis” and has rapidly progressed to her questioning hell, the act of being saved, and what sin is. She told me that she views the Bible as fallible because Paul was and man and makes mistakes, like any other human. She believes that the Old Testament is a collection of oral traditions and is mostly symbolic. All stemming from her “deconstruction of Genesis”.

So my question is how do we know Moses wrote Genesis? Is Genesis the literal creation story or just symbolism? Is the Bible infallible?

Thanks Steve, I won’t be offended if you don’t have the time to reply.


Hello Cameron,

Not everything depends on a literal interpretation of the creation week in Genesis 1. However, I believe a literal interpretation is correct and entirely rational. If the story is not literal, it still would be affirming that God is the Creator, and anyone who says they do not believe the story is literal should be asked whether they still believe that God is the Creator. If not, they are essentially atheists—and hold an entirely irrational and indefensible position.

There have been critics of Genesis and the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) for centuries. In the 1700s there were already unbelieving critics claiming Moses did not write these books, because (they said) writing was not yet invented in his day. This was before they found the law code of Hammurabi, which was written 600 years before Moses' time.

Ever since the late 1800s, liberal critics have claimed that the Pentateuch is the product, not of one writer (i.e., Moses), but of four separate traditions that originated independently among the Jews at different times, and were passed along orally until, perhaps, 550 BC, when someone sloppily combined them in their present form. This is called "the Documentary Hypothesis." It is the general belief of modern liberal Bible scholars, but it has no firm basis for being accepted. That is, the arguments against it are better than the arguments for it (though liberal educators would never mention this fact). Their arguments can be found critiqued in my introductory lectures on the Pentateuch and Genesis, which you can find at these links: ... eteuch.mp3 ... uction.mp3

Many people foolishly suppose that, if you question or reject the inspiration of Genesis, then the whole Christian faith goes out the window. This is absurd. A person could entertain doubts about the inspiration of the records, without casting anything like reasonable doubt on the truth of the stories. For example, we read historians (and newspapers) all the time which we do not count to be "inspired" writings, but whose stories we assume to have happened and been reported fairly reliably. I believe that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, and that he was an inspired writer, but even if I were to question this, I would have to find separate reasons for discounting the historical nature of the stories contained in it. Anyone who doubts, for example, the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has nothing but their own skepticism to fall back on for their rejection. No one else need take such doubts seriously.

Concerning the matter of Jesus Christ (the person upon whose history the veracity of the Christian faith rests), we have excellent historical records—far better than exist for the belief in any other famous character from ancient history—e.g., Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, Julius Caesar. The reason for this is that, unlike these other historical figures, we have several written accounts by men who actually knew and traveled with Jesus of Nazareth, and recorded what he said.

While skeptics may claim that these records were not written by the people to whom they are attributed, or that the writers were not writing honestly, we may simply and frankly ask, "Why should I believe you, instead of them?" The identities of the authors of these books have come down to us from people living very close to the time of writing, who would be in a far better position to know who had given them these documents than would be some upstart skeptic, living 2,000 years after, who has no personal knowledge of the matter. Furthermore, it is hard to imagine any motive that the apostles would have to write falsehoods about the man they had accompanied for several years. They had nothing to gain from telling such a story, other than their own martyrdoms.

Of course, we do not only have the eye-witness accounts from friendly sources. We also have confirmation of Jesus' existence from hostile historians writing near the time of His activities. Two Roman historians (Tacitus and Suetonius) make passing references to Jesus Christ, and two Jewish sources (Josephus and the Talmud) also mention Him—though not sympathetically. Thus we have a plethora of prima facie reliable testimony concerning Jesus as a historical character who founded the Christian Church.

While anyone is free to doubt any of this, any reasonable person may, with far better grounds, say "I doubt your doubts." If the evidence for the events in the life of Christ is judged to be unreliable, this is an arbitrary judgment against the weight of evidence that actually exists. What evidence exists for a contrary opinion? None, actually. The "scholarly" attacks against scripture rest upon mere gratuitous skepticism. We may be forgiven for not indulging in such.

What about Paul? Was he fallible? Of course! All the apostles were fallible. One needs only to recall all the mistakes Peter made in the Gospel accounts—and even once (in Galatians 2) when Paul had to correct him publicly. James and John (embarrassingly) tried to jockey for a positions at the right and left hand of Jesus in His kingdom. There is no reason to assume that Paul was an infallible man, any more than these other apostles. But what has that to do with his reliability to speak about things within the realm of his expertise?

Paul saw visions of Jesus on several occasions, and was even caught up into heaven, on one occasion, where unrepeatable mysteries were revealed to him. He also associated with the other apostles, who had heard and followed Jesus personally, and who themselves recognized Paul as a reliable source of Christian truth. Paul's credibility was further enhanced by the many miracles that Christ worked through him, in order to confirm his message. The fact that Paul was willing to be beaten, imprisoned and martyred for his testimony places his veracity in a category far above that of those who would dispute his teachings. The fact that Jesus chose and appointed Paul to be His messenger places the onus of Paul's reliability back on Christ Himself. Was not Jesus, reigning at the right hand of God, capable of choosing, out of all people on the planet, a man who could be trusted to communicate the truths revealed to him?

When someone says, "Paul was a fallible human being!" I am tempted to respond, "and what are those who criticize him—gods?" Given the choice between believing Paul and believing them, we are not choosing between a fallible witness and an infallible one. How shall we choose whom to believe?

If I am interested in knowing the kind of information that is communicated in Paul's letters, whose authority might I most reasonably trust—Paul's, or a bunch of late-arriving critics who are 2,000 years removed from the information? The fact that the critics may be called "scholars" is not impressive. There were "scholars" who once insisted that germs spontaneously generate from non-living matter. The scholars of an earlier time insisted that the Hittites, Belshazzar and Sargon II never existed. The Bible said that they did exist, and further archaeological discoveries proved it. Scholars are not infallible, any more than are eye-witnesses (like Paul). However, I am more inclined to listen to a competent and unbiased eye-witness than to a "scholar" whose opinions are based merely on...well, his opinions!

Remember that scholarship is not monolithic. There are conservative scholars as well as liberal scholars. In the liberal universities, the liberal scholars are favored, simply because they are liberal. On the other side of the aisle are the somewhat more circumspect, careful scholars, who would say, "Not so fast! There is still an abundance of the best kind of evidence in support of the older theories of biblical reliability." You won't hear about these scholars, often the most prestigious of their generation, in the liberal schools. For the most part, the choice of following the liberal position or the conservative one comes down to the question, "Do I want to be hip, or correct?"

I cover all of these matters in much greater detail in my lectures on the individual books of the Bible and in my series entitled "The Authority of Scripture." You might recommend that your friend listen to the latter—or at least you should listen to them yourself. You can find them at this link: ... Scriptures

You ask if the Bible is infallible. I would say the Bible is the result of a revelation from God, and is therefore not of human origin, merely. As such, whatever it affirms can be trusted—no less, and considerably more, than any contrary declarations from people who have no first-hand knowledge of that whereof they speak. However, even if someone can find reasons for doubting the doctrine of the inspiration of scripture, that person has not yet taken even the first necessary step in discounting the historical reliability of those who wrote it.



Re: Trusting Genesis and the Christian Faith

Posted: Tue Oct 09, 2018 8:57 pm
by Paidion
Steve, in my opinion, you are right in nearly everything you wrote in the above post. Indeed, the only thing I question is the following statement with regards to Josephus:
Two Roman historians (Tacitus and Suetonius) make passing references to Jesus Christ, and two Jewish sources (Josephus and the Talmud) also mention Him—though not sympathetically.
In my copy of Josephus, I read the following in Chapter III, Section 3:

Now, there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man, if it is proper to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works,—the teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first, did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day.

Now I aware that some claim that Josephus did not write this paragraph, but that it was a Christian interpolation. However, I have encountered no evidence of this—only affirmations of it.

Re: Trusting Genesis and the Christian Faith

Posted: Tue Oct 09, 2018 9:59 pm
by steve
As I understand it, the only objection to the authenticity of that passage in Josephus is that it sounds too much like a Christian wrote it. Its style, and manuscript evidence, seem to point to its authenticity. As for the "Christian-sounding" portions, some believe that what Josephus actually wrote was less laudatory of Jesus, and that someone later altered it so as to be in its present form.

In 1972 Schlomo Pines, a non-Christian Jew who was an expert in many ancient Middle Eastern languages, discovered a 10th century translation of Josephus' Antiquities written in Arabic by a Melkite historian Agapius. It appears not to have suffered the scribal corruptions of all the manuscripts that have been handed down through the Western Church. Here's how it reads as translated by Pines into English:

"At this time there was a wise man called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. Many people among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive. Accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have reported wonders. And the tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to this day."

Re: Trusting Genesis and the Christian Faith

Posted: Wed Oct 10, 2018 2:16 pm
by Paidion
Thank you for taking the time to look into that, Steve. Until you posted those words from the translation into Arabic, I wasn't aware that the Arabic version existed. After reading it, It did occur to me that perhaps that translation was made by Muslims who believed Jesus was a good leader, but not divine, and not even the Messiah (though they regarded Him as a prophet, second only to Mohammed).

However, Josephus himself, although a Jew, wrote, "The Antiquities of the Jews" in the Greek language for the benefit of his gentile patrons, and so I would think the existing manuscripts in Greek would be more likely to be closer, if not identical, to that which Josephus wrote.

The essential difference seems to be that whereas the Greek version affirms, the Arabic version suggests only a possibility that He was the Messiah. Instead of "He was the Anointed One (the Christ)" it has "He was perhaps the Messiah." But even if Josephus had allowed only for the possibility of His having been the Messiah, it does seem to allow that his reference to Jesus was at least somewhat sympathetic.

Re: Trusting Genesis and the Christian Faith

Posted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 9:18 am
by Singalphile
That's a good response, Steve.

There are a few things that I don't like to see (from other people in general):

1. The equating of the word "literal" with the word "true".
2. A person departing from God because he or she doesn't think, for example, that the universe is a few thousand years old. (Whether it is or isn't is beside the point.)
3. Assuming that writings from thousands of years ago, in a far different culture and language, should be interpreted as if they were written to suit our sensibilities.

We might as well all leave Jesus because the planet is not flat!

The woman might in fact be in danger of leaving the faith ... or maybe not. I would take her back to the key facts of Christianity. Does God exist and does He reward those who seek Him? Is Jesus the anointed one, the Son of God, the Lord, who died and was raised? Are you with sin? Then I would check her life. What does she say about lying, greed, pride, murder, hatred, adulterous/homosexual behavior, etc.? That's how I would try to judge with righteous judgment (John 7). Not by her opinions about how many people wrote/compiled/edited Genesis, or whether every book of the Bible is "inspired" or "infallible" and in what sense, or to what degree the OT is literal.