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Don Stewart :: Is It Important to Interpret the Events of Genesis in a Literal Manner?

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Don Stewart
A crucial question concerns how we are supposed to interpret the accounts in the early chapters of Genesis. Are they to be believed literally or should we look for some poetic or symbolic interpretation? As we shall see, it is imperative that we interpret the early chapters of Genesis in a literal manner.

The Accusation

The charge is commonly made that the early chapters of Genesis are not historical. Since the truthfulness has been challenged we need to respond to these challenges. Some Bible teachers may feel that it is a waste of time to go into the specific details that are revealed in Scripture. They also believe that it is a waste of time to investigate the three hundred names and places as recorded in the Book of Acts. Just as one's faith is strengthened by discovering that every person and place mentioned in Acts are real people and real places, one's faith is also increased by discovering that the events recorded in Genesis are in accord with real science and genuine history.

Foundational Truth

First, we must realize that Genesis records many things that are absolutely foundational to the truthfulness of the Bible. The Book of Genesis was written to record for us the beginnings of many events and institutions that are essential to understanding biblical history. These include:

1.The beginning of the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1)

The beginning of the human race (Genesis 1:27)

The beginning of the institution of marriage (Genesis 2:24)

4.The beginning of sin into our world (Genesis 3:1-7)

.The beginning of the plan of salvation for humanity (Genesis 3:15)

The beginning of the human family (Genesis 4:1-15)

The beginning of godless civilizations (Genesis 6:1-7)

The beginning of the various nations (Genesis 10:1-32)

The beginning of different languages (Genesis 11:1-9)

.The beginning of the covenant people (Genesis 12:1-3)

The Book of Genesis, therefore, is foundational to the authority of Scripture. It provides us the answers to many questions regarding our existence. The beginning of the universe and the earth, man and woman, love and marriage, good and evil, sin and salvation are all chronicled in the Book of Genesis. We know the origin of disease and death because it is revealed to us in the early chapters of Genesis. When one strips away the authority from Genesis the authority of the rest of Scripture is gone. Without an actual historical Fall of humanity and the entrance of sin into the universe, there is no need for a Savior.

Answers To Basic Questions

Where did the world come from? Did it evolve or was it created by God? Where did humanity come from? What was the extent of the Flood? Were Adam and Eve actual people?

The Source

The first eleven chapters of Genesis is the source to the answers of the most basic questions concerning our existence. It gives us the answers as to the beginnings of the universe, the earth, life, marriage, civilization, sin and salvation, and many other topics. Therefore it is of utmost importance that we understand what it is teaching.

Central Issues

The first few chapters of Genesis deal with the basic issues of life-where the universe, and humanity came from. It also explains the source for all the problems in our world. It places all of these in a historical context.

Written As History

The Book of Genesis has been written as history. Old Testament authority Walter Kaiser makes the following observations about the first eleven chapters of Genesis.

There are 64 geographical terms, 88 personal names, 48 generic names and at least 21 identifiable cultural items (such as gold, bdellium, onyx, brass, iron, gopher wood, bitumen, mortar, brick, stone, harp, pipe, cities, towers) in those opening chapters. The significance of this list may be seen by comparing it, for example, with the paucity of references in the Koran. The single tenth chapter of Genesis has five times more geographical data of importance than the whole of the Koran. Every one of these items presents us with the possibility of establishing the reliability of our author. The content runs head on into a description of the real world rather than recounting events belonging to another world or level or reality (Walter Kaiser, in New Perspectives on the Old Testament, ed. by J. Barton Payne, Waco, Texas: Word, Inc., 1970, p. 59).

Testimony Of Scripture

The rest of Scripture gives a loud and clear testimony that the events in the Book of Genesis occurred exactly as they were recorded. There are never any doubts cast upon the truthfulness of the events. To the contrary, many of the arguments for the need for Christ's death for the world's sin are based upon a literal understanding of Genesis.


It is clear that the only consistent way to interpret the early chapters of Genesis is the same way the rest of Scripture interprets them. The early chapters of Genesis are written as actual history. They are crucial to the Christian faith and must be understood literally. They are the basis for the rest of Scripture and are to be taken seriously if the message of the Bible is to be taken seriously. As the psalmist wrote:
If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:3).

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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