Everything You’ve Heard about How Often Jesus Quoted Genesis Is Wrong

I grew up in a young earth creationist evangelical home. As a child, I read literature from the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and Answers in Genesis (AiG). I heard Ken Ham speak at a conference, and I visited to the Creation Museum almost as soon as it was open. One argument I heard both ICR and AiG use was that we should view Genesis was literally true because Jesus believed it was literally true. We knew that, they said, because Jesus quoted heavily from Genesis. This argument was used to combat theological evolution—i.e. the idea that the Bible and evolution can be reconciled by taking a less literal view of Genesis.

Of course, this argument is predicated on the assumption that Jesus quoted heavily from Genesis, an idea I hadn’t even thought to fact check until, well, today. I recently came upon the following image on James McGrath’s blog and bookmarked the post to come back to it later. Well, here I am, and have I got a story for you! Let’s start with the image itself. 


The image’s text reads: “Roughly half of Christ’s references to Scripture were quotations from Genesis. He obviously understood the importance of origins to Christian doctrine.” But as James McGrath wrote in his post, “that claim is verifiably false.” He explained as follows: 

This is a clear example of them (1) assuming that what is central to them simply must have been important to Jesus, (2) not bothering to actually check, (3) asserting as truth what they have not in fact investigated, and (4) not knowing the Bible well enough to have avoided making this mistake in the first place. 

When I read this, I was taken aback. I haven’t been a young earth creationist for close to a decade now, but I would have thought that ICR and AiG would at least make sure they were accurate on something obvious like, well, what the Bible says. There are plenty of Christians who would argue that ICR and AiG approach the Bible incorrectly, but this is something different entirely. This is simply factual. 

My curiosity piqued, I began following the link trail. It seems I wasn’t the only one to be curious. The author of the blog Naturalis Historia has an excellent and thorough takedown of the image—a takedown that includes tracking down the source of the quotation.  

At first I thought there must be a simple explanation for this error. Maybe a part-time employee of ICR just mangled the quote on the graphic and they meant to say something other than what it sounds like it says.  But, this is not what happened.  This quote is, in fact, a quote.   It comes from the book, Creation Basics & Beyond: An In-Depth Look at Science, Origins, and Evolution.   This book was authored by all of the staff of ICR and carries with it the claim that it was “written and reviewed by experts” to assure the reader that it is as “accurate as humanly possible.”

Maybe the quote in the image was taken out of context?  I was so intrigued by the origin of the quote that I had to purchase the Kindle version of the book to find out for myself.  Rather than alleviating my concern about the truthfulness of the meaning of the quote, the context in which the quote appears only heightens my concern about author’s knowledge of scripture.

Here is the original quote and its surrounding text from Chapter 9: How should we then interpret Genesis?, by Jason Lisle, Ph.D. and James J. S. Johnson, J.D., Th.D. (Kindle location 1443)

 If you have ever read any one of the gospels, you are undoubtedly familiar with the fact that Jesus often quoted the Old Testament Scriptures. He would often respond to His critics with “it is written” and “have you not read,” followed by a relevant scriptural quotation (e.g., Matthew 4:4; 12:3). But it sometimes surprises people to learn how much Jesus quoted from the book of Genesis.

In fact, Jesus quoted from Genesis about as much as all the other books of the Old Testament combined. Roughly half of Christ’s references to Scripture were quotation from Genesis. He obviously understood the importance of origins to Christian doctrines.

Using the literal hermeneutic that YEC’s have taught me is required for reading texts I can come to no other conclusion than that Lisle and Johnson believe and intend to communicate to their audience that Jesus quoted Genesis more than any other Old Testament book.  But this is untrue.  Jason Lisle is a Ph.D. in physics, though in this book he portends to critique non-YEC theological positions.  The second author of this chapter has a theology degree.  How could these authors have written this in light of the obvious fact that Jesus only quoted Genesis one time? Surely “quote” means “quote” or does ICR have some special definitions of terms that only they are privy too?

Yes you read that right—Jesus only quoted from Genesis once. I grew up hearing, over and over again, that Jesus relied heavily on Genesis, quoting from it frequently as an obvious sign that the book was both extremely important and to be understood literally. All this, and he only quoted from it once? I tracked down this quotation, and, well, here it is: 

Matthew 19:4-6

And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

Surely that can’t be it, right? Jesus does reference the book of Genesis more than once (you can see some of these references here), but there’s a difference between referencing Genesis and quoting from Genesis. Indeed, the longer version of the quote used on the image makes it clear that the authors were aware of this difference and clearly meant to say quotes and not references. After all, they clearly refer to the way Jesus sets up his quotes with “it is written” and “have you not heard,” and the examples they provide are quotations rather than references (and neither from the book of Genesis, I might add). 

If you’re interested in looking at a list of Jesus’ quotations from the Old Testament, you can find one here. While the page is (unfortunately) from Jews for Jesus, it demonstrates well how infrequently Jesus quoted from Genesis as compared to the other books of the Old Testament. 

Last year, the Biblia Blog compiled a list of the four books of the Old Testament from which Jesus quoted the most, with links to each verse. It turns out that those books are Psalms (11 times), Deuteronomy (10 times), Isaiah (8 times), and Exodus (7 times). Genesis doesn’t even make the list, in spite of the fact that the ICR’s Jason Lisle and James J. S. Johnson claim that “Jesus quoted from Genesis about as much as all the other books of the Old Testament combined.”

But okay, let’s give the people at ICR a break and assume (in direct opposition to a straightforward reading of what they actually wrote) that they were talking about references, not quotes. The website Blue Letter Bible has compiled exhaustive lists of all of Jesus’s references to Old Testament books. There find 102 such references in Matthew, 39 in Mark, 68 in Luke, and 49 in John. That’s 258 references total. How many of these come from Genesis? The answer is 18. That means that 7% of all of Jesus’ references to the Old Testament were references to Genesis. 

There’s no way to slice this that doesn’t paint ICR as flat out lying in an effort to make Genesis sound more important and central to Jesus’ life and ministry than it actually was. And don’t think Answers in Genesis is off the hook here either—both Lisle and Johnson also write for AiG. Naturalis Historia describes the problem as follows: 

Ironically, in the introduction to the book in which this incorrect quote is found we find the following statement:

 Although this book is written primarily for non-experts, it was written and reviewed byexperts.  This helps ensure that the book is as accurate and up to date as is humanly possible. Every contributing author is a researcher/speaker/writer in full-time apologetics ministry at the Institute for Creation Research.  The writers include five Ph.D. scientists (two in biology, one in physics, one in astrophysics, one in geology), a medical doctor/professional engineer, two science writers with master’s degrees in science, and two writers with doctorates in theology.

. . . ICR and AiG take every opportunity to proclaim themselves experts in areas of science and theology.  For example, unlike most secular literature every chapter  of this book lists the degrees next to the authors names under the chapter headings.

. . .

So the content in this book was written by experts and was reviewed by experts.  It should then be disconcerting that these experts can’t even catch simple factual errors.

It is disconcerting, but it’s more than that. This isn’t just a simple “mistake.” Someone at some point thought it sounded good to say that Jesus quoted more from Genesis than any other book and didn’t bother to double check it. There’s no way you get from the reality that only one of Jesus’ dozens of quotes from the Old Testament come from Genesis, or the reality that only 7% of his references to Old Testament books are from Genesis, to stating that Jesus quotes from (or references) the Old Testament more than any other book unless your intent is to deceive.

Yes, it’s true, it could be that this was sheer sloppiness. Maybe someone said “I bet Jesus quoted from Genesis more than any other Old Testament book” and everyone else said “Yeah, I bet so!” and that was the end of it. But if that is the case, it exposes some incredibly serious problems with the “scholarship” that goes on in places like ICR and AiG, because that is not how scholarship is supposed to work. And honestly, it’s not just about scientific scholarship at this point, it’s also about biblical scholarship. 

If we can’t even trust ICR to get the Bible right, how can we take anything it says seriously? 

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