Kuitert in the United States and Canada

As a speaker, Dr. Kuitert proves to be an interesting lecturer and the material which he presents keeps his audiences spellbound. The words come naturally without effort and without elaboration. No one in the audience will ever get the feeling that the lectures are beyond his range of understanding, and no one will ever accuse Dr. Kuitert of being a stuffy scholar who momentarily has left “the ivory tower” to meet the public. As a learned theologian he has talent and capability to address audiences which are not theologically schooled but which are highly interested in the developments which take place in the world of theology.

Yet this learned scholar, who speaks in terms understandable to all, fails to clarify some of the most important questions. For example, Kuitert maintains that in our day we must understand Genesis 1–3 not literally and historically but figuratively. However when he makes these assertions, he does not mention any books, journals, or articles where his ideas may be found. References to any theological works used to substantiate his views are lacking while he speaks. Of course, repeated interruptions of a theological discourse can be rather annoying, but when there is a complete absence of references the audience senses that something is amiss.

If his views concerning the first chapters of Genesis come forth out of Scripture, Dr. Kuitert would not bypass the question: why must I understand Genesis 1–3 figuratively? Then he would prove from the pages of Holy Writ that the book of Genesis teaches a figurative approach to the beginning of this first book of the Bible. But in his lectures, Dr. Kuitert failed to prove from Scripture that his new view of Genesis ought to be accepted. Admittedly, he did say that understanding Genesis 1–3 figuratively is not doing violence to Scripture, and that he who reads these chapters as history does violence to Scripture, because the reader must be aware of the literary genres in the first chapters of Genesis.

But, then, does Genesis indicate that we arc reading a different type of literature in the first chapters of this book? The question must be answered negatively when we look at the structure of Genesis and consider its division and purpose in detail.

A scholar who has made some real progress in the study of the Old Testament is the late Dr. Edward J. Young. who in 1949 published his Introduction to the Old Testament in which he presents, to be specific, a detailed outline of Genesis. And in one of the last articles written by Dr. Young and published in the January-April 1968 issue of the International Reformed Bulletin, he gives a concise summary of this detailed outline. For the sake of its clarity and simplicity, I write it out in full.

In the first place, therefore, it should be noted that the book of Genesis is divided into two main divisions, I. The Creation (1:1–2:3) and II. The Generations (2:4–50:26 ). This latter section is again divide into ten sub-divisions, each entitled “Generations.” Thus, to take an example, the division which runs from 10:1 to 11:9 bears the heading, “These are the generations of the sons of Noah.” The nature of this large second division of Genesis, then, is genealogical, and its purpose is to trace the history of the chosen race from its very beginning in Adam until it becomes a people which goes down into Egypt. In that Genesis two and three are an integral part of this genealogical section of Genesis, it may be expected that they are to be regarded as presenting straightforward history, as do the other chapters of this section (pp. 46f.).

When Dr. Young writes that the purpose of Genesis 2:4–50:26 “is to trace the history of the chosen race from its very beginning in Adam until it becomes a people which goes down into Egypt,” he is in good company. Also the Old Testament scholar Dr. W. H. Gispen, in his book Schepping en Paradijs (p. 106), translates Genesis 2:4 as history. This is his version of the text, “Dit is de geschiedenis van de hemel en van de aarde, toen zij geschapen werden op de dag, dat Jahwe God aarde en hemel maakte.” Actually the Hebrew word used for history in 2:4 is the word toledoth whkh can be translated 1. history, and 2. generation. The context, as a rule, is decisive in determining whether the translation should be history or generation. In Genesis 10:1, which reads, “Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah,” and then the names of the descendants of Noah follow, it is rather obvious that the translation should be generation. But in Genesis 2:4, where there is no list of names, the context indicates that the meaning history is intended.

A study of the original text of Genesis two and three also points irrefutably to the fact that the account in these two chapters is written as history. The tone and tenor of the account is that of history. This is evident especially from the continual use of a particular verb form used in Hebrew to describe historical incidents. Every indication that the two chapters are not to be read as a historical account is absent in the Biblical text.

Not only does the section Genesis 2:4–50:26 present a historical account of man and his descendants; already the first chapter of Genesis provides every indication of an account which actually happened. The unity of the book of Genesis simply demands that the first chapter is historical because it is closely related to the rest of the book. That is, section 2:4–50:26 finds its origin in the creation account of Genesis 1:1–2:3, and the information in the first chapter of Genesis is an introduction to what follows. Genesis one is straightforward, trustworthy history.

Let us also look at the last verse of chapter three and the first verse of the fourth chapter. For if the assertion that Genesis two and three are a special type of history writing is correct, we certainly must find some indication of a change at the beginning of chapter four. In other words, chapter four must be of an entirely different literary genre; it must be clear from the context that this chapter no longer presents a special type of historiography.

Genesis 4:1, however, does not in any way indicate that there is a new beginning similar to Genesis 2:4, which introduces a new section with the words “This is the history…” Instead, Genesis 4:1 simply has the coordinating conjunction and. This simple conjunction connects the account recorded in chapters three and four, for chapter four is a continuation of the information given in the preceding chapter. There is no break; no new beginning. In fact, the same repeated use of the particular verb used in Hebrew to describe historical events is found in chapter four and forms the connecting link in this simple narrative. Also the content of this chapter points to and is based on the information given in chapter three. Adam is mentioned without any introduction, so is Eve. She is referred to by the name which she received from Adam, “and the man called his wife’s name Eve” (3:20). The context shows clearly that chapter four is a continuation of the history of man which has its beginning in Genesis 2:4.

The book of Genesis itself is a unit which cannot be broken up into different literary genres. The book is a historical account of creation and God’s covenant people. He who does not read the first chapters of Genesis as a historical account violates the unity of the first book of the Bible. Separating Genesis 1–3, or even Genesis 1–11, from the rest of the book and calling these chapters a special type of history, goes contrary to the testimony of Scripture and the structure of the book called Genesis.

In conclusion, I want to say that no one wishes to stand in the way of progressive, creative theology which comes forth from a careful study of the Biblical text; but theories foreign to the Scriptures must be forcefully rejected. Also, when the believer does not place himself above the Bible but listens patiently to what its words convey, progress in theology is made to the glory of God and the well-being of the Church.

Dr. Simon Kistemaker is Professor of Bible of Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa.