The First Chapter of Genesis and the Authority of the Bible

On Tuesday, June 4, 1968, Dr. Harry M. Kuiterl, Professor of Ethics and Theology at the Free University of Amsterdam, addressed tile Christian Reformed Ministers’ Institute held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The following is a summary of those remarks which were presented tinder the above title.

I. The Exegesis of Genesis 1

The Creation account in Genesis 1 should not be read as a story of how creation actually happened. Such a view would not take into account the origin of the creation story. God uses man in his historical context, and this must be recognized. Where then did the creation story come from? Israel took the story from an account that was currently making rounds among the heathen nations surrounding Israel. The story of creation as found in Genesis 1 finds many parallels with other non-Scriptural stories. The author of Genesis 1 “confiscated” the narrative of creation and placed it in the framework of 6 days, as any good Israelite would do. Thus the author filtered the narrative of creation according to the theology of Jahweh, the Covenant God. Thus we must view the story of creation as a covenantal work, not as a mechanical work.

The creation account was used originally by Israel as a teaching model for the strengthening of Israel’s faith. It is thus a statement of faith in Israel’s God. The story gives no scientific or historical truths. It rather is a confession that Jehovah is Lord of creation. When one speaks of the way creation actually happened, he can better forget Genesis 1 and 2. Simply because it is in the Bible does not mean that it actually happened. We must go back to the origin of the account and remember that it is only used as a teaching model to help the faith of Israel.

II. Significance for Scripture

Why does this particular exegesis of Genesis 1 meet with such disfavor today? The main reason is that it takes into account the human factor of Scripture. This exegesis brushes away the traditional view of inspiration which restricts the human factor in Scripture. The traditional view of inspiration has been maintained because it gives certainty to faith; it is a neat, water-tight assurance of our faith. Because the Bible says so, we believe that it is true. Thus our theory of inspiration maintains the certainty of our faith. Now we must break through this “‘certainty” complex. Certainty of faith must not be grounded in the inspiration of Scripture, but rather in the message of Scripture. And the message of Scripture is Jesus Christ. The important thing, then, is that our faith is centered in the Christ of the Bible, not in the inspiration of the Bible. If all Scripture is equally inspired, then all the men of Scripture would be equally important. Our faith does not, however, reside in Adam and Eve, but in Jesus Christ. Christ is much more important than Cain and Abel. And yet if inspiration were as we traditionally thought it, then Christ would be no more important than any other person in the Bible. We must remember that the Bible does not make Jesus important; Jesus makes the Bible important.

III. The Implications for Dogmatics

This kind of exegesis of Genesis 1, 2, and 3 necessitates a complete change in our dogmatics. Traditionally the pattern of dogmatics has been creation -fall-redemption: the paradise story, followed by the fall into sin by Adam and Eve, and the coming of Jehovah with redemption through Christ. This must all be changed because the creation account. the paradise story. and the fall as recorded in Genesis 3 are not historical. Further, the doctrinal position that death results from the fall of man into sin must also be removed from dogmatics. We must change this entire traditional dogmatic basis which the first chapters of Genesis have held for us. We must begin some new pattern for dogmatics. Genesis 1 must be for us as it was for the ancient Israelites, namely a teaching model, an aid to our faith in the greatness of God. Seen in this light our dogmatics will be brought back to the original basis which Scripture intended it to have.