Friday, May 2, 2008

Was Jesus Wrong About Genesis?

In response to my previous post on evolution, one of my creationist readers, Gary, asks a very good question:

Does it bother you, or cause you to question anything, that Jesus confirmed the Genesis account of creation? It seems that a "Christian" who is a "theistic evolutionist" should have a bit of a problem with Jesus' point of view.


My answer is no, and coincidentially, theologian Chris Tilling recently addressed this very issue on his blog, where he points out the assumption of this question borders on heresy:

A line of reasoning often used is this: 'Evolution is bad because Jesus believed the creation stories literally, therefore you evolutionists say Jesus is wrong'.


I think some operate under a christological error in these discussions, one that borders on the heresy of Doceticism. Jesus' worldview was in so many ways that of other 1st century Palestinian Jews. Had you asked him if the earth was flat, he would have almost certainly said 'yes' (cf. here on James' blog). Had you asked him if there was a literal Adam or Eve and serpent, I think he would have been puzzled by the 'literal' tag, but I suspect that if you had pressed him he would have said that he believes in a literal Adam and Eve (though I cannot prove these statements. I am making historical judgments, and I see no reason why he would not have believe these things – modern science did not develop for centuries. Though as noted, the whole metaphorical / scientific categorisation would have probably puzzled him). This is why, had you time travelled and asked 1st century Jesus to tell us about Michael or Chris or James, he would not have turned around and said 'Oh yes, Michael/Chris/James will be born in almost 2,000 years from now', and then proceeded to tell the details of your life to Peter and the disciples. He wouldn't have had a clue about you or me as he was fully human. You may know the song about Jesus hanging on the cross, and that when he was there he 'thought of me, above all'. But I really don't think he did think of me on the cross. He wouldn't have had a clue who you or I am. He was fully a first century man. This is why Jesus didn't tell the world about a cure for cancer, or instruct people on basic sanctity in relation to bacteria and such like, or detail the way to make penicillin, projects that would have saved thousands upon thousands of lives, many more than hundreds of his miracles put together.



God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. I affirm the orthodox teaching of the incarnation, that Christ is fully God and fully man. Right now, Christ is exalted to God's right hand, and in his intra-trinitarian relationship with his Father and the Spirit, I believe he does now know me. And you. But as he grew as a man, Luke 2:52 tells us: 'Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour'. I can affirm what Luke says here, and at the same time affirm Hebrews 13:8, that Jesus is the same yesterday today and forever.

So was Jesus wrong about a flat earth, or about a literal Adam, Eve and serpent in the garden? Well, had we lived in the first century as Palestinian Jews, we would have all believed the same. So it is not really fair to judge Jesus on these matters in light of later pictures taken of the (spherical) earth from the moon, and so on. If one day someone proves that the world is not spherical but multi-layed across multi-dimensions, would I be wrong now to believe the world is spherical? Well, according to present day knowledge I would not be wrong, but at one level of factuality I would be wrong. But it would be unfair to judge me according to the later knowledge too strictly. So I would have to say, at one level of discourse, at the strictly factual, Jesus would have been wrong about a flat earth and about the serpent in the garden (though as I said, I cannot prove he believed these things literally, but I think he would have said he did – why shouldn't he – if we were to have pressed him with our modern categories that would have been largely alien to him). But Jesus was sinless, and whether he - as he very probably did - believed the earth was flat (cf. Matt. 4:8-9) does not change this. As my friend Josh McManaway pointed out, Origen and some of the other Fathers would say Jesus is 'ignorant' on certain matters, but they really mean that he was nescient (not knowing things you need not know.), which is to be distinguished from 'ignorance' as often understood (not knowing things you need to). He noted in IM chat: 'In talking about things like Matt. 24:36, certain Fathers (Basil, Irenaeus, Origen, and Gregory of Nyssa) said that Jesus was ignorant (they meant nescient) about the day. This position is to be contrasted with the Scholastics who generally follow Chrysostom in saying that Jesus actually did know, but chose not to disclose it with his followers'.


So to go to the gospels and to say 'Jesus didn't believe in evolution, he assumed the creation stories', is a questionable manner to reject the theory of evolution for a number of reasons.



Read it all here (including lots of great comments).

11 comments:

Gary said...

Jesus did indeed believe in a literal Adam and Eve. He believed the entire book of Genesis was literally true, including the six day creation, and the Flood. But there is no evidence he believed the earth was flat.

Jesus' confirmation of the truth of Genesis is an excellent way to demonstrate that Christianity and evolution are irreconcilable. If Genesis is not real history, then there is no foundation for anything the Bible says. It also destroys Judism.

If Jesus was wrong about Genesis, he loses credibility and there is no reason to believe anything he said about anything else. And, if Adam was not a real man and sin didn't come to the human race through him, there was no reason for the incarnation, and no reason for Jesus to die on a Roman cross for our sins.

If evolution is true, then the Bible certainly is not true. And if the Bible is not true, then Christianity is a fable.

By the way, I do not believe in Doceticism.

Chuck Blanchard said...

Gary:

First, I did not mean to imply that you beleive in Docetism (but can see how my port could lead to that conclusion). My apologies. Again, I thought you asked an outstanding question, I want my answer to be respectful.

In response to your comments, I have a few points:

First, I don't accept that the divine nature of Jesus means that he was all knowing during his time on earth. As Chris Tilling points out in his comment, many Early Fathers discussed this issue and came to the conclusion that he was not. ("Origen and some of the other Fathers would say Jesus is 'ignorant' on certain matters, but they really mean that he was nescient (not knowing things you need not know.), which is to be distinguished from 'ignorance' as often understood (not knowing things you need to). ") That means that Jesus could have wrong about matters--such as evolution.

Second, Jesus was speaking to a First Century Palestinian audience. Since he was not on Earth to give us a science lesson, even if Jesus was all knowing, it makes sense to me that he would use the stories and traditions of creation accepted at the time.

Third, I don't think that a literal Adam makes the incaration meaningless. To me it is enough that human nature is inherently sinful and that the death of Jesus was necessary to remedy that sin. (I also note that penal substitution is not the only Christian view of the atonement, and that most of the other atonement views accepted by christian thinkers do not figure an Adam at all).

Finally, the danger of equating creationism with Christianity is that you push potential beleivers away. The reality is that the scientific evidence of evolution by natural selection is overwhelming, and if you make rejection of evolution arequired beleif for a Christian, you will cause many to give up their belief in Christ. The acceptance of evolution is not rare in Christian thinkers--including the current Pope, with som nuances.

Gary said...

Chuck,

"Jesus could have (been) wrong about matters--such as evolution."

Well, if he was, he could also have been wrong about everything else he said. In fact, if he was wrong about one of the great questions of life (Where did I come from?), then his credibility is very much in doubt. Why trust him if he can't get such an important question correct?

Or, maybe Jesus was lying? Think of the implications...if Jesus was lying, then he cannot be God. And if Jesus is not God, he can't save people from their sins and my faith in him is vain.

Although Genesis is not a science book, it is a history book. If it is not historical, then the foundation for the rest of the Bible crumbles. Too much of what the Bible says depends on the historical accuracy of Genesis.

The Bible, both old and new testaments, clearly says that sin came by Adam. Unless he was a real man, that would not be possible. Again, if the Bible is wrong about that, then how can it be trusted about anything else?

Creation is a Bible doctrine. Evolution is not. I won't go so far as to say that a person cannot become a Christian unless he or she understands this Biblical doctrine. But, I am puzzled as to why a real believer would reject it.

There is no scientific evidence that "molecules to man" evolution has occurred. None. That is a belief, not a fact, that you and others are pretending is real science.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a scholar by any means, but Gary, I think you need to look at that word "history".... where it says "story". The Bible is an ORAL tradition from the beginning, which did NOT take place in 7 calendar days, no matter what your Sunday School teacher said. It was stories handed down from generation to generation, until written language EVOLVED. The Bible doesn't PROVE anything; the Bible is the oral-into-written tradition of the Hebrew people. The New Testament didn't start getting written down until about 70 CE; Mark's was the first gospel, and Matthew and Luke "borrowed" his to make theirs.
Literalism is still believing the world is flat. Surely you don't believe THAT anymore???

Anonymous said...

Here's a different story of Creation, written by Langston Hughes, I think. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byqRyMtxfCs

Listen to it, and see if you don't think it could have happened this way... because surely God did smile.;^) An interpretation, a different interpretation, a story, and a beautiful one, too. Not IN the Bible but FROM the Bible, in words that the people who heard it could understand and relate to.

As my mother used to say, "There's more than one way to skin a cat!"

Gary said...

anonymous,

I never did believe the earth is flat. And the Bible doesn't say that it is.

I suppose any history book doesn't PROVE anything, if you refuse to believe what it says. And it could be in error even if you do believe it. The same could be said of mathematics.

I have tried to "prove" that the Christian faith, being dependent as it is on the Bible, is incompatible with the theory of evolution. I have not tried to prove that the Bible is true, only that if evolution is true, the Bible cannot be and therefore, Christianity is a myth. I have also said that there is no scientific evidence for macro evolution.

Chuck Blanchard said...

Gary and Anonymous:

In large measure, I think we are seeing a dispute viewed, in the main, on our different views of the Bible. I was raised in a tradition (Lutheranism) that made no claims that the Bible was inerrant or free of error. I was taught that it was the inspired Word of God, but given that it was written by humans, it was not free from error. Gary, I suspect, comes from a different tradition.

Now, I am first to admit that my view of the Bible raises problems and issues that Gary's does not have--notably, how do you discern what comes from Grod and what comes from man. What is true and what is not? That is why I rely on tradition, reason and experience, in addition to Scripture in making these calls. But I also think that believing in a literal and inerrant Bible is setting our(and our children's) faith up for a challenge that it cannot withstand.

Gary, on the issue of scientific evidence of macroevoultion, I am afraid you are wrong. There is abundant evidence of macroevolution--in addition to pretty good fossile evidence of the development of species, there is also quite compelling evidence in DNA itself. Our junk DNA includes bits of DNA that were essential to our predescessor species, but not to us.

I will also note that virtually every example I have seen on creationists sites and books about the lack of fossil evidnece for this or that species is usually quite outdated and wrong.

thanks to both of you for your comments. (Especially to Gary, for his courage and grace is expressing his views on the blog of a somewhat liberal Anglican!).

I look forward to a dontinued dialogue. God Bless you both.

Gary said...

Chuck,

Could the Bible really be "the Word of God" if it is wrong? It's not much of a "God" that can't get written what he wants written. Even I can do that. But God can't??? I don't mean for this to sound mean, but the God you believe in isn't very impressive. And he is downright pathetic compared to the God revealed in Scripture.

If Genesis is wrong about the creation, then either the Bible is not the Word of God, or God is trying to deceive us. If it isn't the Word of God, then it is just an old fictional story and can't be considered true. If it is the Word of God, but isn't true, then God is trying to deceive us, which begs the question: What else in the Bible is God lying about?

"Believing in a literal and inerrant Bible is setting our faith up for a challenge it cannot withstand."

I think you mean that Genesis, and some other parts of the Bible, if taken literally cannot stand up to the challenge of "science". To that I would say fine. If it can't stand up to reality then let us all admit that and henceforth consider it nonsense. With one qualification: let's be sure we are using real science and not philosophy and speculation pretending to be scientic fact, which is what I consider evolution to be.

Gary said...

Chuck,

Could the Bible really be "the Word of God" if it is wrong? It's not much of a "God" that can't get written what he wants written. Even I can do that. But God can't??? I don't mean for this to sound mean, but the God you believe in isn't very impressive. And he is downright pathetic compared to the God revealed in Scripture.

If Genesis is wrong about the creation, then either the Bible is not the Word of God, or God is trying to deceive us. If it isn't the Word of God, then it is just an old fictional story and can't be considered true. If it is the Word of God, but isn't true, then God is trying to deceive us, which begs the question: What else in the Bible is God lying about?

"Believing in a literal and inerrant Bible is setting our faith up for a challenge it cannot withstand."

I think you mean that Genesis, and some other parts of the Bible, if taken literally cannot stand up to the challenge of "science". To that I would say fine. If it can't stand up to reality then let us all admit that and henceforth consider it nonsense. With one qualification: let's be sure we are using real science and not philosophy and speculation pretending to be scientic fact, which is what I consider evolution to be.

Gary said...

Sorry about the double post. Either me or my computer got confused.

gb46 said...

Talk about coincidences -- I just finished a similar discussion on an Army forum on the same subject.

The biggest problem with bible literalism is that it flies in the face of 1500 years of theology, beginning with the 13th book of Augustine of Hippo's "Confessions". In doing so it throws out, or at least marginalizes, half of God's revelation to us -- the Created Word of the world around us dubbed by theologians such as Thomas Aquinas as the "Book of Nature".

If we believe that we were given dominion and stewardship of all Creation, then one of the things we are obligated to do is to try and figure out how it works -- how God did it -- so that we can take care of that responsibility. That is the essence of science. We then have to reconcile the two Books -- Scripture and Nature -- whenever the two conflict. In the case of Genesis 1, which can be summarized as "God created everything, and it was good", the synthesis is pretty simple: "This is how God created..."

Of course, since we're not God, we don't get everything right the first time (or the second, or the third, or...). That's why scientific theories such as evolution get revised all the time. On the other hand, we keep trying. It's a much better option than siding with the atheists on something like "Evolution proves that God doesn't exist."