I did a sermon two Sundays ago called, “Should We Read Genesis Literally?”, in which I feared some would throw me out as a heretic:
Genesis, and the Creation account especially, can often make people feel like they have to choose between their faith or their rational mind when it comes to figuring out some of the strangest verses in the Bible.
What is typically lost when we read Genesis is the foundational approach needed for reading any book of that Bible and that is the essential question: What was the original author’s purpose for writing this book?
Do you know who wrote Genesis?
Do you know when it was written?
Do you know who it was written to and why?
If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you cannot read Genesis accurately and biblically. If we ignore the author’s original purpose for writing a book and we simply read it for the purposes we want, we are reading in an unbiblical way.
Moses and his scribes wrote Genesis in approximately 1450 B.C. Genesis 12 talks about Abraham, who lived in approximately 2100 B.C. Did you know Genesis was written 650 years after the time of Abraham? And who knows how many years after the time of Noah, Adam, and Eve? It was not a newspaper written for you this morning by Adam, Noah and Abraham, so don’t read it that way. It was written as a sermon to a specific congregation, who had just gone through some very traumatizing life experiences.
God revealed the truth of Genesis to Moses and his scribes after the Hebrew people had been freed from 400 years of slavery by being miraculously rescued from their Egyptian captors via the 12 plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. These people had no identity and worshiped the Egyptian gods. They had been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years! That is 5-7 generations of people! Abraham and Yahweh (God) were nothing more than faint myths and very distant memories. Assuming Yahweh had abandoned them and forgotten about them, they had no idea who they were, or what their purpose going forward was. So God gives them Genesis. If you were to preach a sermon to congregation with no faith, no identity, and no purpose, I bet I can guess exactly what you would preach to them: You would tell exactly how old the universe is, what the fossil records mean, and that dinosaurs were aboard Noah’s ark! All of their calamities would be solved and they would once again become the righteous people of God instantaneously.
I hope you get my point. My point is not to argue for or against a Young Earth Creationism or Intelligent Design or Creative Evolution…my point is that none of these things are the point of Genesis!
It’s fine to have intellectual discussions about these things, but what I typically see if people attempting to evangelize people to their viewpoint, rather than taking a humble view of Scripture that there are some things we simply don’t know, so let’s focus on the clear things that we do know, that God revealed to us so we can follow him (Sound familiar? See Deuteronomy 29:29). I always thought our job was to evangelize people to the saving love and forgiveness of Jesus, not how old the earth is?
And the worst part of this, and the reason I preached on this and am writing this blog, is because these arguments actually push so many people away from Jesus.
The fact is, people are basing if they should put their faith in the saving work of Jesus based on if there were dinosaurs on Noah’s ark or not and if they can bend their mind to agree to this. I don’t think this was ever God’s intention with his book about the salvation of the world.
The topic of the various theological views of creation have always been an accepted thing to talk about in academic seminary circles (i.e. see Grand Rapids Theological Seminary’s upcoming Talking Points about Creation in Scripture on March 18th, where my former profs Mike Wittmer and David Turner are speaking), but when it comes to church it feels like there is immense pressure to cater to the most conservative of the viewpoints, or else be labeled a heretic.
If this is the case, Crossroads must be a bunch of heretics because the response to my above sermon was overwhelmingly positive. We even had a guy in his 40s who finally accepted Christ that day because this issue was final thing holding him back.
The title of this post is purposefully written as a trick question. YES we are to read Genesis literally: Literally the way Moses wrote it; not the way we decide we want to read it, changing the message of the book, attempting to make it say things the original author never intended.