I posted last week on a comment suggesting that I view Genesis 1-11 as “just collected stories.” The statement surprised me because I do not view Genesis as “just” collected stories – they are arranged and edited for a purpose and we need to study them carefully for that purpose and meaning. We are not looking for truth amidst error.
The first comment on the post came back and refined the question a bit – in a fashion we would do well to consider. I am shortening the comment a bit here, but you can see the entire comment on the earlier post (link here).
Yes, it is possible that the author of Genesis was writing in a way that is not meant to be read as literal history (the genre argument). The problem is that the rest of scripture treats Genesis as historical (which is not to dismiss difficulties in understanding certain details).
In the entire book of Genesis, I would say that a central theme is history, where did the Jewish people (and all of mankind) come from? … Likewise, to me, Adam is important not as a “scientific” detail, but as an historical reality. He is mentioned in genealogies alongside Abraham and David. Is this history or a “later interpretation” to be discarded?
The genealogies and the use of Adam by Paul and Christ himself disallow treating Genesis as less than historical if indeed we are letting the text speak for itself rather than looking for some more “authentic” interpretation. And seeing Adam as less than historical changes the story of who we are, why we are here, why there is evil in our world, etc.
This comment brings up two separate reasons for preferring a view of Genesis as historical. I would like to pose these as questions and discuss them today.
Do the genealogies, especially those in the NT, support or require a view of Genesis as history?
Does the use of Adam by Paul require a view of Genesis as history?
I leave off Christ – because Jesus never refers to Adam by name and only alludes to him to support God ordained marriage (Mt 19 and Mk 10). I don’t see this as a reference to Adam specifically as an individual – the allusion only requires that the point of the story in Genesis 2 be true. On the other hand we could pose the question slightly differently.
Does the use of Noah by Jesus require a view of Genesis as history? (Mt 24 and Lk 17)
I find the biblical genealogies unconvincing as a line of argument in support of the literal historicity of Genesis 1-11 and of Adam in particular. The most significant reason for this conclusion is the differences in the two genealogies we have for Jesus – Matthew 1 and Luke 3. They are more or less completely different from David to Joseph with no real correspondence, from the chosen son of David (Nathan or Solomon) to the identity of Joseph’s father. We can find attempts at harmonization all over the place – in the early church fathers up to the present. The most common popular harmonization I’ve heard is that found here:
…they split with David’s sons: Nathan (Mary’s side) and Solomon (Joseph’s side).
There is no discrepancy because one genealogy is for Mary and the other is for Joseph. It was customary to mention the genealogy through the father even though it was clearly known that it was through Mary.
As I said this is a common view, often given quite matter of factly in evangelical circles, although it doesn’t seem to stand up to scholarly scrutiny. Even here, though, we have to admit that this interpretation is read into Luke only because Luke disagrees with Matthew. A plain literal reading of Luke alone will not lead to this conclusion on any level.
(We can find a discussion of these genealogies in many places on the internet (here is one and another on wikipedia) and in books. I found this document quite interesting: New Light on the Genealogies of Jesus,)
Personally I think that because both texts claim to be the lineage of Jesus through Joseph they are fulfilling a function in placing Jesus in History, but they are not, and were not ever intended to be, precise historical records. The three sets of fourteen generation in Matthew also provides another clue to a function other than historical record. The genealogies are true in that they truthfully fulfill the function for which they were intended.
I don’t find this discussion challenging to faith or to my trust in scripture as a faithful witness. It does does not call into question on any level the apostolic witness to the life, death, or resurrection of Jesus; or to his identification as Messiah of God. In fact, one of the key functions of both genealogies is to affirm that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah of God descended from David.
When we look at scripture as the inspired word of God we need to rest in this and let the data – scripture itself – tell us what this entails. Our understanding of Scripture must be shaped by the text we have before us. Our theory has to fit the data – we shouldn’t massage (or harmonize) the data to make it fit our theory.
Discrepancies in scripture are not problems to be solved (data to be massaged), but data that helps us understand the nature and function of scripture in its various forms as the word of God.
So what about Adam? In Luke the link from Abraham to Adam simply repeats the OT witness. The link from David to Abraham does the same. Jesus is of the lineage of David, descended from the Israelite patriarchs. He is therefore connected to Genesis 1-11 in the way that all Jews were. I don’t see this as a specific claim for the existence of a unique and individual Adam, nor does it require such to be true. I have not considered the OT genealogies specifically here – but there is no real reason to think that they were intended to be literal historical records in the modern sense. They make important connections (to the truth revealed in Gen 1-11 among other things) and serve a function.
Noah and Adam as referenced by Jesus and Paul. The reference by Jesus to Noah is a little more complicated – although I think he was referring to the common knowledge of his audience to make a point rather than attesting to the literal truth of Genesis 6. Paul’s use of Adam we have discussed at length on other posts and will again in the future I am quite sure. Rather than go over thoughts I have had, I would like to stop here and open this for conversation.
What do you think?
How do you view the biblical genealogies – especially the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke?
Does the inclusion of Adam and Noah in the genealogy recorded by Luke and the reference by Jesus to Noah and by Paul to Adam require a literal historicity for these individuals and for a global flood?
If you wish you may contact me directly at rjs4mail[at]att.net