Does Figurative Genesis Lead to a Mythical Jesus?

Compromise is a tricky thing. Sometimes it’s helpful, like when negotiating a deal, but sometimes it’s dangerous, like when interpreting Scripture.

When discussions occur regarding the historic nature of Genesis 1 and the literal nature of the six day account, any relaxation of literal interpretation is sometimes seen as the first step towards interpreting all of Scripture figuratively. The obvious danger is that one might even end up questioning the historic nature of the Resurrection. However, we can look at the Scripture itself to see if this is a valid concern, by observing how other Scripture treats each of these accounts.

Since there was no human present at creation, the narrative we are given is a divinely communicated prophetic word. It may well be literal, but it is certainly not an eyewitness account.

Considering specifically the six day time frame, there are two verses which echo that detail: Exodus 20:11 and 31:17. Exodus 20:11 is ambiguous in its reference because the word used for “rest” is different than in Genesis. It can mean either cease, or cease and be refreshed. Exodus 31:17 makes this clear by explicitly stating that God was refreshed. This is an obvious anthropomorphism, clearly not literal, so creates uncertainty about the literal reference to six days.

Other references to the creation account do not mention the specific time frame, and are generally poetic, such as in the Psalms, or indirect, such as Jesus’ statement. One exception is the restated creation details in Genesis 2, which seem to fundamentally conflict in the order of events. Although this apparent conflict can be resolved by unusual language translation choices, it’s not the most apparent reading.

Now consider the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this case there are four highly consistent accounts of these events. John’s account claims eyewitness authority (John 21:24), and he confirms that in a letter by stating that they physically encountered Christ (1 John 1:1). Peter echoed this in one of his letters, specifically stating that they were eyewitness of the Transfiguration and in particular, did not follow made-up stories (2 Peter 1:16). Paul not only testified about his own encounter with the resurrected Christ on several occasions (Acts 22:6-11, 26:12-18, 1 Corinthians 9:1), but also explicitly listed a number of other witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). In addition to these personal witnesses, Luke’s writings (Luke and Acts) are based on his own investigations (Luke 1:3), independently validating many details. And all of this is fulfillment of many detailed prophecies made centuries earlier.

Compare this to the Genesis 1 account. Instead of many specific predictions, there are a handful indirect and poetic statements. Rather than four consistent narratives, there are two seemingly contradictory accounts. Instead of eyewitness testimony, the account is a prophetically-spoken word. Instead of multiple independent investigations and corroborating statements, there are only two other six-day assertions that include figurative references themselves. Pay attention to the nature of God’s voice in these two cases, and the difference is striking. One could safely conclude that, when it is truly important for us to take something as literal historical truth, God makes that abundantly clear. But He did not do so with the Genesis 1 creation account.

Here we see the most dangerous form of compromise — the one that takes our focus from the Word itself and leads toward simply listening to other people talk about the Word. The difference between these two accounts is clear, yet that fact is completely obscured when bold statements are made. Such statements are fun to listen to, and lead toward strong emotional responses, but are not based on Scriptural truth. They lead us down the path of easy condemnation instead of diligent study. Over time, we increasingly enjoy having our emotions stimulated instead of being encouraged to study. It becomes easier and easier to listen to popular opinion instead of listening in prayer.

The way to avoid slipping down the slippery slope of popular opinion and charismatic speakers is to hold onto the Word and the Author. Be like the Bereans: search the Scriptures yourself and test what you hear.

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4 Responses to Does Figurative Genesis Lead to a Mythical Jesus?

  1. Great post! Thank you!

  2. Absolutely, fairness demands it for continuity of scripture. But myth does not so profoundly affect history the way Jesus’ coming in the flesh has. Secondly, He could not then be a priest who shares our afflictions, also sapping the authority of the bible. It is literal, but about where you live, your place on the inside, e.g., Gen. 1; 3; the light, of understanding. Not photons, planets, solar systems, or the universe. The truth, the thinking of Christ and testimony.

    • jim0211 says:

      Hi Bruce, Not sure whether you’re suggesting narrative continuity that would lead to literal interpretation, or not. Genesis 1 isn’t continuous, although by itself that proves nothing. But I agree that the important thing is the reality of Christ’s work, and the real implication that has for our lives. Thanks for the comment!

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