Genesis metaphorical or literal?


(Renee Trudeau) #1

One of my leaders shared that he believes Genesis is not literal. I really respect him, but his conclusion that the story of Adam and Eve is metaphorical disappointed me. Why would a strong Christian come to that conclusion and does that type of conclusion mess with salvation?


(SeanO) #2

@Reneetru There are a few parts to that question and I would like to try to address each. The below article from William Lane Craig I found particularly helpful because he directly addressed some of your major questions.

May the Lord Jesus grant you wisdom and discernment as you study the matter of Adam and Eve. Please do continue the discussion and ask any further questions or push back against any of these ideas.

What Does the Bible Say

It seems clear from reading the New Testament that the apostle Paul clearly believed in a historical Adam whose sin lead to the fallen state of the world because he contrast Adam’s sin with Christ’s sacrifice.

Romans 5:15 - For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

I Cor 15:22 - For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

Jesus clearly believed in the early pages of Genesis - talk about the marriage covenant in the context of Adam and Eve and referencing characters such as Abel and Noah as historical figures.

Matthew 23:35 - “so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.”

‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” (Matthew 19:4-5)

Why Would Someone Believe in a Metaphorical Adam/Eve?

There are two typical reasons that I have encountered and sometimes they both apply:

1 - A person may believe Adam/Eve are mythical because they believe Genesis 1-3 is a poetic myth with theological implications and not historical
2 - A person may believe Adam/Eve are mythical because they feel that Genesis the idea of all people descending from 2 ancestors cannot be reconciled with modern science

William Lane Craig’s response to the argument that it is genetically impossible for all humanity to come from two ancestors - “What we need to understand is that these are genetic estimates based upon mathematical modeling and projections into the past. We know that that kind of mathematical modeling is based upon certain assumptions that may or may not be true, and can sometimes be wildly incorrect in their projections. So, although Coyne has a great, great deal of confidence (I think he even speaks of scientific certainty), that, I think, is hyperbole. It could well be the case that these mathematical models are simply incorrect. I don’t want to minimize the challenge that is presented by the genetic data, but it is not as cut and dry as what Coyne presents it. I talk a little bit about this in the Defenders class in the section of Doctrine of Man where we look at the question of the origin of humanity.”

The Implications for Salvation

I would like to distinguish between the implications of denying Adam and Eve on the theology of salvation and on an individual’s salvation.

  • denying Adam and Eve does not keep an individual person from knowing Jesus. An individual can still be saved and hold this belief.
  • denying Adam and Eve may cause a theological problem because if all did not descend from Adam then the idea that in Adam all die and so in Christ all live does not still follow (1 Cor 15:22). The logic behind salvation does seem to be impacted on some level by this belief, though I am sure this point is debated.

William Lane Craig’s argument that salvation does not rely on historical Adam and Eve - “Before we conclude that the sky is falling, the sky is falling, it isn’t true that the whole story of human sin and redemption falls to pieces if you deny the historical Adam and Eve. As I share in the Defenders class, the doctrine of original sin, though common to Catholicism and most Protestant denominations, is not characteristic of Eastern Orthodoxy. The Eastern churches – like Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox – do not hold that all of mankind falls in Adam’s sin and inherit original sin from Adam. They do believe in a historical Adam. That is true. But it isn’t the case that the whole story of sin and redemption falls apart without Adam and Eve. For the Orthodox Christian, Adam is simply the floodgate, so to speak, through which sin enters into the world and then spreads to the rest of humanity. But it could have entered at any point when you think about it. There was nothing particularly special about that point. So, as important as Adam and Eve are, we mustn’t think that the doctrine of original sin is inherent to Christianity because it is just not. It is part of Catholicism and Protestantism for the most part, but it is not characteristic of Orthodoxy.”

Some Helpful Past Discussions

These are past discussions on Connect that may help you understand different positions on Genesis - especially Genesis 1.


(Renee Trudeau) #3

Thank you for the prompt response! I enjoy William Lane Craig! My faith is simple, but strong and deep. My college education is an associate degree, but I did earn a 4.0 so I have some intelligence. I also continue to learn from great men and women of God. I have been listening to Ravi for years and I enjoyed Nabeel’s classes on you tube video. I listen to the teachers on RZIM as well as taking classes at my home church. However, when a highly educated Christian comes up with a theory like this, I tend to feel intimidated. He seems so confident in his conclusion and he is teaching others! I will try to share these verses with him as a discussion and see if he is open to other ideas. Sometimes things get difficult when they don’t need to be. I pray God calms my spirit because I feel a touch of turmoil. Thanks again!


(Cody Davis) #4

Doesn’t the word “dust” in the original Hebrew mean too small to see? Couldn’t that have meant God created man with atoms, DNA, and other elements?


(Jamie Hobbs) #5

To take that a step further, God also made those atoms and other elements. I believe the evidence, as Sean has already mentioned, is overwhelmingly in favor of Genesis being literal. However, even if someone believes the creation account in Genesis is figurative, that still leaves us with a universe that came from somewhere. All of creation, every atom, screams for a Creator, as nothing can come from nothing apart from the power of God.


(Cody Davis) #6

I agree, but my point was shouldn’t that argue in favor of the literal?


(Jamie Hobbs) #7

It does argue in favor of the literal, but not necessarily in favor of creation ex nihilo. God didn’t use what was already there and make everything from that (creation ex materia), but had to make the building blocks themselves. But yes, your point that it argues for a literal Genesis is valid.


(SeanO) #8

@Reneetru I am so glad to hear of your commitment to learn more about your faith and to grow in grace and knowledge of Jesus. Very encouraging! I also find it frustrating when people teach things as if they are the truth when it is only one possible viewpoint and especially when I know it to be false. But I have peace because I truly believe that when we seek God with all of our heart He will lead us to the truth and I believe that is true for other people as well. It is definitely easier with wise, fair-minded, godly teachers and I pray that everyone may sit under such teaching, but even if the road is not as smooth I believe those who seek will find. I also think we can have peace because God only expects us to work within our sphere of influence. We can and should pray for truth to be spoken in areas where we do not have influence, but we do not have the power to actually intervene without influence, so we should leave it in God’s hands.

On another note, how well do you know this Bible teacher? We were taught in seminary that we needed to have ‘trust bucks’ with people before we would be able to successfully challenge ideas that they hold dear. Do you have relational capital with him that would pave the way for a successful conversation on this topic? That is just a question to consider - do as the Spirit leads.

Another possible approach may be to ask if the teacher would not mind presenting the possible views rather than only this one view.

May Jesus help this teacher to be fair-minded when presenting his own views and give you peace in your heart that God will guide those who seek Him into all truth - though the road may be more rocky for some than others. The peace of Christ be with your spirit.


(Melvin Greene) #9

Fascinating discussion! Thanks for starting this conversation thread, Renee. I can understand your frustration with someone who you look up to that makes a “truth statement” like that which goes against popular belief. I feel the same when I read that some scientists will state that evolution is a scientific fact. There may be evidence that would support evolution, but there are no concrete certainties.

I really don’t have much to add to this discussion that hasn’t already been said. I would just say that we always need to guard our hearts against pride, or arrogance when it comes to what we think we know. God has revealed just so much information. I’m not saying that we can’t discover new information through scientific inquiry, but we have to be careful, especially with what is revealed in scripture. Case in point, I grew up being taught that God created everything in a literal 6 day time period. However, after listening to Dr. John Lennox in his lecture on " 7 Days That Divide the World", and other scientific articles, I realize that the Genesis account of creation isn’t so cut and dried. Like Dr. Lennox said, the text in the Genesis account of creation is more complex than what we think it is. So, the bottom line is that we need to be careful on how we read scripture and not presume to conclude that it conclusively says something when in reality it doesn’t.

Just to add my two cents worth, I will say that in my humble opinion, the Genesis account of Adam and Eve is a literal account. I do believe that God, some how, started the human race that way. I admit that it does leave some questions like, “Where did Cain find a wife?”. That one always puzzles me. Another one is, “Why are there two accounts of the creation of man?”. Genesis 1:26-31 states that God created man on the sixth day and gave them dominion over the earth and blessed them and told them to multiply and fill the earth. Then in chapter 2 starting with verse 4 we read another account of the creation of mankind but in a different way. What’s up with that? Is this a clue as to where Cain found a wife? I’m not saying I believe that. It’s just an idea that rattles around my brain from time to time.

Bottom line is that God doesn’t reveal everything to us. Suffice it to say that in the beginning, God created everything and that’s something I can hang my hat on.


(Jamie Hobbs) #10

Just my two cents to add to yours, specifically about the two questions you raised. My understanding of these two is as follows:

Where did Cain find a wife?
The most reasonable answer here is that he married one of his sisters, as all of the first generation would had to have done. The Bible doesn’t say that he found a wife in the land of Nod, but that he “knew” his wife there and bore a child (Gen 4:17). Most likely he took his wife with him when the Lord banished him east of Eden. The question of incest comes up here sometimes, but that was not forbidden until much later in history. Indeed, it was necessary to “fill the earth and subdue it”, both at the beginning and following the flood.

Why are there two creation accounts?
It is actually two tellings of the same creation account with a different purpose. In Chapter 1, Moses tells the story of Creation as passed down to him, with the importance being the omnipotent power of God and the fact that He did it in 6 days, with rest on the 7th. That would be important later during the commissioning of the Ten Commandments and in setting the example of the Sabbath. In Chapter 2, the same account is told with specific emphasis on the creation of man. He goes into more detail about Adam and Eve, their purpose, and God’s love for them. I do not believe the two are mutually exclusive, nor that they tell of a second creation. Jesus never mentioned a second creation of man, but did say “But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’” (Mark 10:6) One creation in that case. Also, Paul said, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” (1 Cor 15:22) He specifically named Adam here, so if Adam was the second creation of man, then the first creation of man did not sin, which is not compatible anywhere in the Scriptures.

Please let me know if you have questions about my points. God bless you, sir.


(Melvin Greene) #11

No questions, @Jamie_Hobbs. You articulated your answer quite well. It definitely makes sense. Thank you for that clear and concise answer, sir!


(Cody Davis) #12

Valid point but where exactly in the Bible does it say He didn’t use something what wasn’t already there?


(Renee Trudeau) #13

He is about 20 years older than me and I am over the hill! Hahaha! He is a pastor and a counselor. I first knew him as a counselor to guide me through a rough time after my dad died. Only recently have I heard him teach and I was perplexed that he had such a conclusion. I do believe that he would be approachable but I needed to get more info before I get into such a conversation. I asked the question on here to gain additional insight.


(SeanO) #14

@Reneetru Sounds like you definitely have a relationship with him. May the Lord bless your guys’ talk with mutual understanding and growth in the Lord.


(Jamie Hobbs) #15

If God used already-existing materials to create everything, you still have the question “where did those materials come from?” to deal with. Something or someone would have had to create them too.


(Renee Trudeau) #16

Thanks so much for your input and insight. God Bless.