– by Lita Cosner
When professing Christians deny Biblical creation, we often point them to the Words of Jesus and the New Testament authors, which clearly affirm their own belief in Biblical creation. Because Christians are, by definition, people who believe what Jesus taught and clearly believed, this should be the end of the discussion, right? Not quite. While they may concede that Jesus, Paul, and others referred to Genesis, they often come back arguing that they did not do so in certain contexts, such as evangelism; or they argue that certain details of the Genesis narrative aren’t mentioned. And this is somehow taken as an argument against taking a historical view of Genesis as important for the Gospel and the Christian worldview. So, is what the New Testament doesn’t say a problem for Biblical creation?
An incomplete record?
Of course there are details in Genesis 1-11 that aren’t referenced in the New Testament. If you only stuck to the first century AD revelation of God’s Word, you wouldn’t know that there were animals on Noah’s Ark, or that God confused the world’s language at Babel. So does that mean that these ‘omitted’ details are unimportant for the Christian’s faith? To give an answer to this, first we have to look at what sorts of documents were combined into the New Testament, and whether we would expect to find these sorts of details. And then we have to look at how the New Testament uses the details of Genesis that it does specifically cite.
The New Testament as a group of occasional writings
The New Testament documents are ‘occasional’ – meaning, they were written for a specific audience and a specific purpose. The Gospels, each in their own way, argue that Jesus is the Messiah. The Acts of the Apostles records the spread of the Gospel after Jesus’ ascension, and the epistles of Paul, Peter, John, James, and Jude are addressed to specific people or congregations answering specific problems. All have greatly benefitted Christians for nearly 2000 years.
Authors used references for ‘arguments’
Considering the nature of these writings, we wouldn’t expect to find a lot of long treatises about Genesis – particularly if the audience was already presumed to have that as part of their background. What we would expect to find (and do find) are references to events in Genesis which establish the precedents the authors need for the particular arguments they’re trying to make. For instance, when Paul wants to tell the Church in Rome how salvation ‘works’ in Romans 5:12-21, he essentially points back to Adam and says, “You know how sin spread to everyone when Adam sinned? Well, in the same way, we get Christ’s righteousness when we believe in Him!”
Jesus referred to the flood
When Jesus wants to tell His followers what His return is going to be like (Matthew 24:36), He points back to the global flood and basically says, “You know how people were going about everyday life with no clue that anything was coming, until the moment that they were swept away? That’s what it will be like!” In both above cases, these teachings would be meaningless unless Adam and the flood were real history.
Genesis and the Jews
When Jesus is talking to the Jews of His day, there’s obviously no need for Him to tell them all about Adam, the Fall, and the rest of the history leading up to Abraham. That’s because they had a common foundation of belief that Genesis is an accurate historical record. So no wonder we don’t see certain types of references. But the fact that He is able to cite Genesis in debates with His detractors (Matthew 19:3) as absolutely authoritative – without having to demonstrate that it is authoritative – shows not only that He took it as authoritative, but that they did too. In a similar way, when the Apostles converted Jews, they would already have had this pre-existing belief in Genesis and the rest of the Old Testament Scriptures. Thus, in many ways, creation was a ‘non-issue’ in this environment, because everyone accepted it. To claim that an absence of details is somehow support for now saying Genesis doesn’t mean what it says is to really clutch at straws.
Genesis and the Greeks
When the Gospel began to spread to the Gentiles, however, it was hardly the case that creation was accepted by everyone—quite the opposite. They were likely raised to believe in the Greco-Roman pantheon, or various schools of pagan philosophy. This doesn’t stop Paul from going back to Genesis for his foundation when he gives his speech at the Areopagus (or Mars Hill); in fact, it is the reason that he does so: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth…” – Acts 17:22-26.
Paul’s teachings from Genesis
This is a fascinating use of Genesis by Paul, because he simultaneously makes several points. First, he begins his argument with reference to the ‘unknown god’ inscription. Next, he uses God’s creatorship to correct their errors about the nature of God. Since He made everything, and is the author of life, He neither lives in their temples, nor does He need their offerings. And by referring to the history of man’s origin given in Genesis, Paul proclaims the truth about God in relation to mankind.
Genesis and Christians
Of course, the goal of evangelism was to make Christians out of both the Jews and the Greeks. And all of the letters in the New Testament were written to Christians, both individuals and congregations. Once a person was converted, the apostles weren’t content to leave him there, but they proceeded to teach the convert an entirely new worldview and way of thinking. He would have been taught to believe in the entirety of God’s Word, including the Old Testament (2 Timothy 3:16). And we see evidence of this in the New Testament letters. For instance, the Corinthian church was largely Gentile—most of these church members probably had very little if any exposure to Genesis before conversion. Yet in his letters to the Corinthians, Paul cites Genesis no fewer than 8 times! This indicates that at least a basic knowledge of Old Testament history was part of the instruction of the new believer—otherwise Paul would have had to go into detailed explanations about what all this means. This was especially important in establishing Christian doctrines, many of which were founded on this historicity of Genesis.
The Genesis foundation of the Gospel
The New Testament authors considered the entire Old Testament to be inspired, and they frequently cite it with the expectation that their audience will already know what they’re talking about. This means that Gentiles especially would have needed instruction in what they were supposed to believe in order to even begin to find Paul’s letters, for instance, intelligible.
The NT rests on the OT
Indeed, many of the New Testament’s arguments and theology are built on the foundation of the Old Testament Scriptures. So, if one abandons the authority of that foundation, then the New Testament itself is no longer trustworthy. Furthermore, many of the references to Genesis were just ‘passing’ references, or references without much context given beyond what’s necessary for the argument. This is actually further evidence that the early church taught believers about Genesis—and taught them to take it as authoritative. Paul doesn’t argue with the Corinthians about whether they should believe Genesis – he assumes that they do. For him, that’s just part of being a Christian. In a sense, what the New Testament doesn’t say is powerful affirmation of the importance of Genesis in the earliest church. If believing Genesis was good enough for Jesus and the apostles, then it should be good enough for us.
LITA COSNER has a B.A. in Biblical Studies from Oklahoma Wesleyan University and an M.A. in New Testament from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. She is the full-time Information Officer for CMI-USA. For more: creation.com/cosner
Article source: JOY! Magazine (June 2019)