This article first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume 44, number 4 (2021). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal please click here.
With every edition of the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL, it is our mission to further equip readers to exercise truth and experience life. Vladimir Lossky said it best: “Christian theology is always in the last resort a means: a unity of knowledge subserving an end which transcends all knowledge. This ultimate end is union with God or deification.”1
In a brilliant commentary on Genesis, the erudite St. Ephrem the Syrian (c. 306 – c. 373) rightly depicted “the paradise narrative as a paradigm of deification, an interpretive framework for the history of redemption, and a spiritual geography for the conceptualization of deifying union with God as the goal of the Christian life.”2 Suffice it to say, St. Ephrem, like the church fathers as a whole, set a high premium on the proper interpretation of Genesis in understanding what it means to be truly human.
Given the importance of Genesis as foundational to a proper understanding of Scripture, Fazale Rana’s feature length Summary Critique of William Lane Craig’s In Quest of the Historical Adam, in this issue of the JOURNAL, immediately caught my attention (pp. 32–38). Craig misreads both science and Scripture. Worse still, Craig invokes a novel interpretive framework clearly in conflict with “what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.”3
Respecting science, Craig holds that Adam and Eve were fashioned some 750,000 to a million years ago through a process by which God selected two members of an animal species (hominins) on which He “performed biological and spiritual renovations” (34). Underlying Craig’s contention is a commitment to theistic evolution. And in this he is, regrettably, not alone. Under the pretext of a proper reading of science, a growing number of Christian theologians, scholars, and apologists contend that God used evolution as His method for creation. While I critique this dangerous contention in my Ask Hank column (46–47), it is the worst of all possibilities for the origin and development of life. Nobel Prize–winning evolutionist Jacques Monod was right to say that “the struggle for life and elimination of the weakest is a horrible process, against which our whole modern ethic revolts.”4 He expressed surprise that a Christian would defend and promote such a horrifying ethos.
I, too, am surprised. Surprised that a credible Christian luminary would defend a process that is increasingly out of step with the evidence. An ethos in which it is as crucial that the unfit die as that the fittest survive. A cruel hoax for which the arguments are astonishingly weak. Imagine that by way of random mutation and natural selection, hippo-like animals evolved into whales replete with blowholes, sonar, and diving mechanisms — and that in a mere matter of ten million years. Or countenancing an evolutionary “tree of life” — an evolutionary icon clearly uprooted by the Cambrian Explosion as well as categorial evidence in the fossil record. Imagine acquiescing to the fantastical notion that reptilian scales evolved into feathers for flight!5
Craig’s Scriptural contentions are equally fantastical. He supposes that if the creation of the world in six days or the account of Eve being tempted by a talking snake were taken literally, the Genesis account would be rendered false. Such thinking belies a gross misconstrual of the literal principle of biblical interpretation. To read Genesis literally is to read it as literature. This means that we are to interpret its pages just as we interpret other forms of communication — in the most obvious and natural sense. As such, Genesis opens with a literary mnemonic by which we are daily reminded of God’s creative prowess. The first six days outline a hierarchy of creation that culminates in humanity as its crowning jewel. On the seventh day, the Creator, in whom we ultimately find our Sabbath, rests. As such, the history of creation is remembered and recalled through its association with the continuous seven-day cycle of life.6
The same can be said respecting the Genesis account of the Fall. To read this account literally means to read it in its most obvious and natural sense. Thus, when Moses uses the symbolism of a snake, we do violence to his intentions if we interpret him in woodenly literalistic fashion. When Moses describes Satan as an ancient serpent or when St. John describes him as an ancient dragon, they do not intend to tell us what Satan looks like. They want to teach us what Satan is like. If we think Satan to be either a slithering snake or a fire-breathing dragon, we not only misunderstand the nature of fallen angels but might also suppose that Jesus triumphed over the work of the devil by stepping on the head of a snake (Gen. 3:15) rather than through His passion on the cross (Col. 2:15).7
Craig’s interpretive innovations lie not only in his misunderstanding of the literal principle of biblical interpretation but in supposing a “mytho-historical” paradigm completely unhinged from the brilliance of apostolic fathers — fathers commissioned to properly transmit “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3).8 The tradition of the Fathers was not “an independent instance, nor was it a complementary source of faith. ‘Ecclesiastical understanding’ could not add anything to Scripture. But it was the only means to ascertain and to disclose the true meaning of Scripture. Tradition was, in fact, the authentic interpretation of Scripture. And in this sense it was coextensive with Scripture. Tradition was actually ‘Scripture rightly understood.’”9
Modern interpretive innovators increasingly turn literary masterpieces such as Genesis into a wax nose. In the vernacular of St. Irenaeus, they “weave ropes of sand,” and in doing so “dismember and destroy the truth.”10 In this instance, rendering Genesis mytho-history also dismembers and destroys the very genius of Genesis. Far from ignominiously rendering Genesis mytho-history, we should revel in its surpassing eloquence.
With inspired brilliance, Moses interlaced a historical narrative with both symbolism and repetitive poetic structure, and employed the powerful elements of story (character, plot, tension, resolution) to set the foundation for the rest of redemptive revelation. The very chapter that references the Fall also records the plan for restoration of fellowship — a plan that takes on definition with God’s promise to make Abram a great nation through which “all peoples on earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). As such, Abram’s call is the divine antidote to Adam’s fall. And yet this is but a glimpse of the author’s genius. Genesis is forged so that its main message is as easy to remember as it is to recall.
As noted previously, Genesis begins with a literary mnemonic by which we are daily reminded of God’s creative prowess. Furthermore, the rest of Genesis is structured such that it may be remembered using our ten fingers. With one hand we recall primeval history: the accounts of the heavens and the earth, Adam, Noah, Noah’s sons, and Shem — father of the ancient Near East. With the other five fingers, we remember the accounts of Terah (father of Abraham), Ishmael, Isaac, Esau, and Jacob — who was renamed Israel.11 Again, what the genius of Genesis does not permit is for us to render its majestic tapestry mere mytho-history.
No one understood that more clearly than the aforementioned St. Ephrem the Syrian. In a brilliantly concise distillation, Thomas Buchan points out that in the writings of Ephrem, “paradise occupies and operates as a liminal space: it is the part of the created cosmos intended to serve as the venue for divine and human communion and as such it is special and set apart in relation to the rest of creation.”12 Ephrem imagines the Edenic garden as a mountain like unto Mount Zion — a mountain dwarfing all others. Its paradisiacal peak reaching to the very habitation of God. He “imagined that the Tree of Knowledge was planted halfway up the mountain, while the Tree of Life was located, with the Shekinah, at the mountain peak.”13
If Adam and Eve had rejected the serpent, they “would have eaten from the tree of life and the tree of knowledge would not have been withheld from them; from the one they would have gained infallible knowledge and from the other they would have received immortal life. They would have acquired divinity with their humanity.”14 Instead, they were exiled from the Edenic garden and from traversing the slope leading upward toward the peak of deification.
But “the rest of the story,” as famed radio broadcaster Paul Harvey would have it, is that of a Second Adam who “clothed” Himself in fallen humanity. “In his temptation and obedience on the mountain in the wilderness, Christ rehearsed the events and reversed the effects of Adam’s temptation and disobedience on the mountain of paradise, rehabilitating human free will and reiterating the proper paradigm for its use.” And “it was above all in his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead that Christ returned Adam/humanity to the life of Eden.”15
The point here is that there is much to learn from the great fathers of the faith. In place of incessant innovation in the modern epoch, we would do well to remain faithful to both science and Scripture. For to buy into scientific paradigms that do not comport with reality is neither wise nor safe. Moreover, to dismember and destroy the tapestry of Scripture through incessant innovation is singularly imprudent.
Far better to follow in the train of men like Intelligent Design theorist Stephen Meyer, who submits his own predilections to a right reading of both the Book of Nature and the Book of Knowledge. As noted in Douglas Groothuis’ review of Meyer’s book Return of the God Hypothesis (40–44), Meyer recognizes the force of biology’s big bang (Cambrian Explosion) in shattering the pretext of the theistic evolutionary paradigm, just as he recognizes the force of big bang cosmology in support of the opening words of Genesis— “In the beginning God…”
I hope you will take the time to read through the entirety of this wonderful edition of our flagship publication and in the process become ever more equipped in the exercise of truth and the experience of life. God knows we need it. —Hank Hanegraaff
- Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, trans. Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius (1976; repr., Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002), 9.
- Thomas Buchan, “Paradise as the Landscape of Salvation in Ephrem the Syrian,” in Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions, ed. Michael J. Christensen and Jeffrey A. Wittung (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 148.
- Vincent of Lérins (d. 456), Commonitorium 2.
- Jacques Monod, “The Secret of Life,” interview with Laurie John, on Australian Broadcasting Co., June 10, 1976; as quoted in Henry M. Morris, The Long War Against God: The History and Impact of the Creation/Evolution Conflict (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), 58.
- Some of this paragraph is adapted from Hank Hanegraaff, The FACE That Demonstrates the Farce of Evolution (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1998), 27, 36; and Hank Hanegraaff, The Creation Answer Book (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012), 159, 160, 161.
- Some of this paragraph is adapted from Hanegraaff, Creation Answer Book, 36–37, 63.
- Some of this paragraph is adapted from Hanegraaff, Creation Answer Book, 63–64.
- Scripture quotations are from NIV1984.
- George Florovsky, “The Function of Tradition in the Ancient Church,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 9, no. 2 (1963), reprinted in Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader, 2nd ed., ed. Daniel B. Clendenin (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 99.
- St. Irenaeus (c. 130 – c. 200), Against Heresies 1.8.1.
- Previous two paragraphs partially adapted from Hanegraaff, Creation Answer Book, 36–37.
- Buchan, “Paradise,” 148.
- Buchan, “Paradise,” 149.
- Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis, 2.23.1, St. Ephrem the Syrian: Selected Prose Works; Commentary on Genesis, Commentary on Exodus, Homily
on Our Lord, Letter to Publius, ed. K. E. McVey, trans. E. G. Matthews Jr. and J. P. Amar (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1994), in Buchan, “Paradise,” 150.
- Buchan, “Paradise,” 152. Previous three paragraphs adapted from Hank Hanegraaff, Truth Matters, Life Matters More: The Unexpected Beauty of an Authentic Christian Life (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2019), 105–106.