Observations on life; particularly spiritual


Sampling the abyss

The abyss 2 400pxThe abyss is the largest and deepest habitat on the planet, covering half the world’s oceans, but it remains the most unexplored environment on earth. During the “Sampling the abyss” voyage in 2017, over 100 different fish species were collected from the deep ocean at depths of up to 4800 metres in Australian waters. That’s an example of how the word “abyss” is used today. But what does this word mean in the Bible? For example, when Jesus cast the demons out of the demon-possessed man, the demons begged Jesus “not to order them to go into the Abyss” (Lk. 8:31NIV). So what is “the abyss”?

Old Testament usage

The equivalent Hebrew word is the noun tehom (Strongs #8415), which means deep. It occurs 36 times in the Old Testament and is used in three ways.

The first refers to the sea or the depths of the sea (Gen. 1:2; Ex. 15:5, 8; Ps. 135:6; Ezek. 26:19). For example, when Pharaoh’s army drowned in the Red Sea, the Israelites sang “The deep waters (tehom) have covered them” (Ex. 15:5). And the psalmist says that all the creatures of the ocean depths (tehom) praise the Lord their creator (Ps. 148:7).

The second refers to subterranean water from deep within the earth (Gen. 7:11; 8:2; 49:25; Dt. 8:7; 33:13; Ps. 33:7). For example, Canaan was “a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs (tehom) gushing out into the valleys and hills” (Dt. 8:7).

These are the most common meanings of abyss in the Old Testament. But there is a single instance of another meaning.

The third is a figure of speech for times of distress and trouble. In a prayer for help in old age the psalmist says that God will restore them from their troubles.

“Though you (God) have made me see troubles,
many and bitter,
you will restore my life again;
from the depths (tehom) of the earth
you will again bring me up.” (Ps. 71:20).

Here God has permitted troubles and “the depths of the earth” stands for the psalmist’s distress and trouble, and not subterranean water. Tehom is also used in this way in, “Deep (tehom) calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls (Ps. 42:7). Here the psalmist is depressed because of his troubles (Ps. 42:6, 11).

But the word “abyss” is used differently in the New Testament.

New Testament usage

The Greek adjective abussos (Strongs #12) means very deep or bottomless. It means “a deep hole”—so deep that it seems bottomless or immeasurable. Paul (AD 57), Luke (AD 60) and John (AD 95) used the word. It occurs 9 times in the New Testament and is used in two ways.

The place where demons are imprisoned

Luke says that the demons didn’t want to be sent to the abyss (Lk. 8:31). The NLT calls it “the bottomless pit” or “the underworld”. Instead, Jesus sent them into a herd of pigs who rushed into the Sea of Galilee and drowned.

Demons or evil spirits describe angels who rebelled against God. Some demons seem to be free to roam and others are locked in the abyss (Rev. 9:1-2). Their leader is called Destroyer (Rev. 9:11).

Jude said, “the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these He (God) has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day” (Jude 6). This seems to describe demons imprisoned in the abyss  until the day of judgment.

And Peter said, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell (Tartarus in Greek), putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment” (2 Pt. 2:4). According the NET, “Tartarus was thought of by the Greeks as a subterranean place lower than Hades where divine punishment was meted out, and so regarded in Israelite apocalyptic as well”. It seems as though “Tartarus” is equivalent to the “abyss”.

According to John, in the future, demons from the abyss will empower a great political leader who will persecute God’s people (Rev. 11:7; 17:8). After this Satan will be bound in the abyss for 1,000 years (Rev. 20:1-3). Then Satan is released “from his prison” (Rev. 20:7). Finally Satan will be thrown into the Lake of Fire to be “tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev. 20:10).

Demons are spirits who inhabit a different world to ours. And the abyss is where they are imprisoned pending their final judgement. It’s probably a spiritual place, and not necessarily a physical place.

Now we will look at the other meaning of abyss.

The realm of the dead

Paul taught that people don’t have to go to great lengths to obtain salvation – ‘Faith’s way of getting right with God says, “Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will go up to heaven?’ (to bring Christ down to earth). And don’t say, ‘Who will go down to the place of the dead (abussos)?’ (to bring Christ back to life again)’ (Rom. 10:6-7). This is a quotation from Deuteronomy 30:11-14 where Moses says that the law of God was easy to understand and was readily available; “what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach … the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it” (Dt. 30:11, 14). So Paul is using this to say that the Christian gospel is also readily available. We don’t have to go up to heaven to get it because Jesus has already brought it down to earth. And we don’t have descend into the realm of the dead to bring Christ up from among the dead, because Christ has already risen from the dead. Faith will cause us to fully believe in the incarnation and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Because, if we declare with our mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead, we will be saved (Rom. 10:9).

So in the New Testament the word “abyss”  is used as a metaphor for the place for the containment of demons and for the realm of the dead.

Lessons for us

In the Old Testament the abyss usually means the sea, the depths of the sea, or subterranean water from deep within the earth. In the New Testament it usually means the place where demons are imprisoned. This shows how words can change their meaning over time.

It also indicates that there is a spiritual world that’s different to our physical world. We ignore it at our peril. Because that’s where God dwells and He is the source of our salvation.

Do you realize that God’s salvation is readily available to us? (When Paul taught this he used the abyss to mean the realm of the dead) We just have to believe in what Jesus did for us (in coming to earth, dying, resurrecting back to life, and ascending to heaven) and accept it as payment for our sin. But we can’t do this after we die. It’s too late!

Meanwhile, we don’t need to be afraid of demons or evil spirits because God has ultimate power over them.

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon

Written, June 2018

The book that reads you

June-18_BibleReads_JPG 400pxIn the months leading up to my decision to become a Christian I read the Bible intensely. I remember being impressed that an ancient book could be so relevant in a modern world. Yet, two things stood out most of all for me.

Firstly, the sense I had that God was present as I read. I had never felt this before with any other book. It seemed as though how I responded mattered to God. And the Bible exposed me. It read me accurately. It knew the wrong things I had done – the selfish thinking and pretending to be somebody that I wasn’t. As I read I struggled with the knowledge that experiences can be manufactured by the mind. Did I want there to be a God? Or was God revealing Himself to me? Over time, my struggle with skepticism decreased.

The second thing that stood out was how impressive Jesus was in the four gospel accounts of His life. At the end of Jesus’s famous, Sermon On The Mount, Matthew, the author of the gospel reports that, ‘crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority’ (Mark 1:22). I can appreciate this sentiment. Jesus really does teach with wisdom and authority. Elsewhere in the gospels people are in awe at His power over the physical world – demonstrated repeatedly with various, extraordinary miracles. Given the integrity of Jesus’s words, it didn’t seem reasonable that those events were clever deceptions.

So, despite the age of the Bible, it read my need and provided a solution – Jesus. It was Jesus who spoke of the possibility of knowing God and it was Jesus who died on the cross to make the hope of a fresh start with God possible.

In the Bible, the book of Hebrews describes what I, and many others have experienced. It says:

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Everything is naked and exposed before His eyes, and He is the one to whom we are accountable.

So, if you’ve never read the Bible, then my encouragement to you is … find a copy and begin by reading the shortest biography of Jesus – Mark’s gospel.

Bible verse: Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires”.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for speaking to us through the Bible in ways that soften our hearts and move us to you.

Acknowledgement: Written by Malcolm Williams, Director of Outreach Media.

Images and text © Outreach Media 2018

Genesis 1-11: Fact or fiction?

Gen 1-11 2 400pxDoublespeak is saying one thing and meaning another, usually its opposite. In 1984 when Big Brother and the Party say “peace” they mean “war”, when they say “love” they mean “hate”, and when they say “freedom” they mean “slavery”. And today “tolerance” can mean “intolerance”. Doublespeak deliberately obscures, distorts, disguises, or reverses the meaning of words to manipulate public opinion. It’s used in advertising and politics. Is the beginning of the Bible a type of doublespeak where words don’t have their usual meaning?

The Bible is a library of 66 books that were written over a period of more than 1,500 years by many different authors. It was written to be understood by ordinary people, so it shouldn’t be difficult to interpret. Fathers were to teach it to their children (Dt.  6:4-9; Eph. 6:4). Timothy knew it from infancy (2 Tim 3:15). And the Bereans were commended for checking Paul’s teaching against the Old Testament (Acts 17:11).

The original aim of this post was to examine the literary genre of Genesis 1-11. But then I realized that such studies are often a means to say that this portion of the Bible doesn’t mean what it seems to say. But there is no direct correspondence between genre and whether the content is fact or fiction. For example, God’s spectacular victory over the Egyptian army is described in prose (Ex. 14:23-31) and then in song (Ex. 15:1-12, 21). In this case, prose and poetry are both based on historical fact. Likewise, Christian hymns and songs are often based on Scripture. In this case poetry is based on the facts in Scripture. So, although poetry and prose are different genres (styles), the genre doesn’t indicate whether their content is factual or not. Poetry can be factual, and prose can be figurative. Nevertheless, I will look at the genre first.

Just as there are different types of painting (landscape, still life, and portrait), there are different types of literary works. Literature can be divided into poetry, drama, and prose. And prose can be fiction or non-fiction. The Bible is comprised of several types of literature.

Accurate exegesis and interpretation (understanding) takes into consideration the purpose and style of a given book or passage of Scripture. In addition, some verses are meant figuratively, and proper discernment of these is enhanced by an understanding of literary genre (category, type or classification). An inability to identify literary genre can lead to serious misunderstanding of Scripture. The main literary genres found in the Bible are: law, history, wisdom, poetry, narrative, prophecy and apocalypse, and letters (see Appendix A).

Genesis is the first book in the Bible. As it describes the background to the rest of the Bible, it’s the foundational book of the bible. Some claim that the early chapters of Genesis are more poetic and theological than factual by suggesting it’s an epic myth, exalted prose, semi-poetic, or a defence of monotheism. In this post, we will evaluate this claim.

The purpose of Genesis

The book of Genesis is summarized in Appendix B. The Bible says that this book was produced by Moses (Lk. 24:27, 44). As the events recorded in Genesis occurred before his lifetime, presumably he compiled and edited its content. He did this during the Israelites journey to the Promised Land. So, the book was written for the Israelites and the context is the exodus. The content of Genesis indicates the information they needed to know and the questions that they were asking. These included:
Why are we (Israel) traveling to the promised land?
Why were we (Israel) living in Egypt?
Why do we (Israel) have 12 tribes?
Why do we (Israel) practice male circumcision?
What was our (Israel’s) special relationship with God?
Who were our (Israel’s) ancestors and where did they live?
The history of our nation (Israel).
The origin of our nation (Israel).
The promises given to Abraham.
Where did the patriarchs come from?
The origin of nations and languages.
God protects the godly and judges the ungodly.
Why is humanity now in an alienated relationship with God?
The prevalence of evil.
The origin of evil.
The origin of marriage.
The origin of humanity.
The origin of animal and plant life.
The origin of the earth.
The origin of the universe.
God’s immense power.

Moses was selective in the material that he used. He “spoke from God as he was carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pt. 1:21NIV). Moses documented enough information to answer their main questions without going into detail. So, Genesis describes the main features of the past, in order to help the Israelites understand their present circumstances.

Looking at the main genres found in the Bible (see Appendix A), it’s clear that the one most suitable for addressing these topics is “history”. To investigate whether Moses used this genre, we will look at the literary genre of Genesis 1-11 in particular.

Is it figurative language?

Figurative language is language that uses words or expressions with a meaning that is different from the most literal interpretation. Figurative language uses exaggerations or alterations to make a linguistic point. It is very common in poetry, but is also used in prose and nonfiction writing.

Metaphors, similes, personification, hyperbole, and symbolism are examples of figurative language. But there are many others like alliteration, onomatopoeia, oxymorons, puns, synecdoche, metonymy, irony, and idioms.

There is chiasmus in Genesis 1-11 (Gen. 2:4; 9:6; 6:1 – 9:19; 11:1-9). This is a figure of speech in which two or more phrases are presented, then presented again in reverse order to make a larger point. Chiasmus was particularly popular in the literature of the ancient world, including Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, where it was used to articulate the balance of order within the text. The chiastic structure makes narrative easy to remember, which is very important for a largely oral culture. Chiasmus presents facts in a particular order, but it doesn’t indicate fiction. Biblical scholars have identified many chiasms throughout the Bible. For example, Genesis 17:1-24 is a chiasmus in the life of Abraham.

Some claim that there is number symbolism in Genesis 1 (see Appendix C). But this is a weak argument for saying that this Bible passage is symbolic rather than factual. And it doesn’t change the meaning of the Hebrew words from their usual meaning. And like chiasmus, this doesn’t make the language figurative. Instead it shows that it was written to be easily remembered and passed on aurally.

In other post, I have shown that the framework hypothesis method of interpreting Genesis 1 is questionable and not robust. This assumes that the days of creation are figurative categories that were chosen for literary or thematic reasons and that many of the words in this chapter don’t mean what they seem to mean. This interpretation is unnecessarily complicated and extrabiblical.

As it’s not figurative language, maybe Genesis 1-11 is poetic?

Is it poetry?

The main characteristic of Hebrew poetry is parallelism where the statements in two or more consecutive lines are related in some way. Scholars have identified various types of Hebrew parallelism, such as: synonymous (repetition of the same thought), contrastive (contrast with an opposite thought), and developmental (building on a thought).

However, parallelism is absent from Genesis 1-11 except for 1:27; 2:23; and 4:23-24. If Genesis is poetic, it would use parallelism throughout like the book of Psalms. But Genesis doesn’t look like Psalms. For a poetic account of creation see Psalm 104.

Some claim that the number symbolism in Genesis 1 means that it is poetic (Appendix C). They infer this from a comparison with ancient non-biblical accounts. But this is poor exegesis. The best exegesis uses the immediate context and so should be based on Genesis and the other books of Moses. We will use this approach. And we will use the views of other biblical characters, rather than the views of current scholars who are separated from these events by thousands of years. This shows that the people referred to in Genesis really existed and the events referred to in Genesis really occurred.

There is repetition in Genesis 1-11 (see Appendix D), but it’s not parallelism or poetic. There are many other examples of this in the Old Testament (see Appendix E).

Just because a passage is poetic doesn’t mean that it’s fiction. Poetry is merely a literary form. On its own, it has nothing to do with whether the content is fact or fiction. It may or may not reflect a historical background. Many poetic portions of scripture relate to genuine history (Num. 24; Ps. 148; 1 Tim. 3:16b). And these are acknowledged as being divine in origin and authoritative in force (Ps. 82:6; Jn. 10:34).

As it’s not figurative language or poetry, maybe it’s parables?

Is it allegories or parables?

Parables are usually introduced with a simile or a statement indicating that they are a figure of speech. As neither of these are present in Genesis 1-11, there is no evidence of any parables. The prophet Nathan told a parable to King David (2 Sam. 12:1-7). The historical facts about David, Uriah and Bathsheba are clearly stated, and it is also clear that the parable was fictional. And the intention of Nathan in telling the story is clear, as is the intention of the writer of 2 Samuel in recording this historical event. But there are no indicators in scripture that any of Genesis 1-11 is a parable.

An allegory is a story in which the characters and/or events are symbols representing other events, ideas, or people. Paul interprets the story of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah as an allegory for the Old and New Covenants (Gal. 4:22-26). Here, Paul takes actual, historical people from Genesis (Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah) and uses them as symbols in a lesson for Christians. The evidence of scripture shows that the people referred to in Genesis really existed and the events referred to in Genesis really occurred. They are not allegories.

As it’s not figurative language, poetry or parables, maybe it’s a historical novel?

Is it a historical novel?

Historical novels are fictional stories that are based on historical characters or historical settings. The beliefs of the authors of the other books of the Bible show that the characters and settings in Genesis 1-11 are fact, not fiction. The evidence of scripture shows that the people referred to in Genesis really existed and the events referred to in Genesis really occurred. They are not a historical novel.

As it’s not figurative language, poetry, parables or a historical novel, maybe it’s a myth?

Is it a myth?

A myth is a mixture of fact and fiction that may have a moral lesson. Some believe that the biblical account of the seven days of creation (Genesis 1:1–2:3) was an abbreviated Hebrew version of a more ancient Babylonian tale. The ancient Babylonian creation myth Enūma Eliš is a poem that explains the origin of gods and people. But the gods are mortal, violent and frail, and nothing like the supreme Creator God of Genesis. It’s a song in praise of Marduk, their greatest god. Genesis 1 is about the creation, while Enūma Eliš is more about the creator. Genesis 1 is a tightly structured narrative, while Enūma Eliš, is a dramatic narrative poem.

The main problem with the mythical approach is that it confuses historical issues and literary genre. If we leave aside the question of whether the miracle stories in the Bible (including creation) are fact or fiction, the whole question of whether these stories are myths becomes extremely easy to answer. The biblical narratives are not myths because they do not possess a mythical literary form. They are straightforward and use the language of ordinary events. The biblical stories take for granted the world as we tend to experience it.

Is Genesis 1 merely an argument against pagan myths? A myth is a story blending fact and fiction that serves as a vehicle to convey truth. But if this was the case how does one decide which part is fact and which part is fiction? Does it teach us not to worship the sun but the God who made the sun? Pagans don’t just worship the physical object, but a god behind it (1 Cor. 10:19-20). The Bible does contain arguments against pagan gods (Ps. 74:13-15; Isa.  37:18-20; 45:12-20). They emphasize God’s strength and the weakness of idols. But Genesis 1 is nothing like this. Instead the pagan myths are probably derived from the original account which was passed down to Moses. The early chapters of Genesis were edited from ancient sources that pre-date the pagan ones. Normally borrowing embellishes history into a fanciful legend. In the ancient Near East, simple accounts may lead to elaborate legends, but not vice-versa. So, the simple Hebrew account of creation can lead to the embellished Babylonian creation legend, but not vice-versa.

Some scholars believe that there are three creation stories in the Bible. These are Genesis 1, Genesis 2 and a myth of the primordial battle between God and the forces of chaos known as Leviathan (Ps. 74), Rahab (Ps. 89) or the monster of the sea (Isa. 27). But this is incorrect. The introduction in Genesis 2:4 to the second section of Genesis states that Genesis 1:1-2:3 is an account of the creation of the universe. Recapitulation was widely practiced in ancient Semitic literature. It this case a broad summary is followed by a detailed account of matters of special importance. Genesis 2:5-25 is a more detailed account of the creation of Adam and Eve on the sixth day of creation (Gen. 1:26-30). So the difference in styles between Genesis 1 and 2 is due to the different subject matter. Leviathan, Rahab and the monster of the sea are symbols of the power of Egypt (Ps. 74:13-14; 89:10; Isa. 27:1). Such scholars interpret this figurative language to be narrative, while they interpret the narrative in early Genesis to be figurative! This demonstrates how presuppositions can influence one’s interpretation of Scripture!

The Bible specifically warns Christians against believing myths. The Apostle Paul says: “As I urged you … stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths … ’ (1 Tim. 1:3–4NIV).
“Have nothing to do with godless myths …” (1 Tim. 4:7).
“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of (false) teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3–4).
“Therefore rebuke them (false teachers) sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth” (Titus 1:13-14).

The Apostle Peter says: “we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power” (2 Pt. 1:16).

As it’s not figurative language, poetry, parables, a historical novel or a myth, maybe it’s a biography or autobiography?

Is it a biography or autobiography?

Genesis can be divided into sections which begin with the Hebrew word for generations or descendants (see Appendix F). It’s interesting to note the same pattern is evident in Genesis 1-11 and Genesis 12-36. So there is no evidence of a change of genre within the book of Genesis.

The Bible says that Moses wrote the Pentateuch (Ex. 17:14; 4;4; 34:27; Num. 33:2; Dt. 31:9, 24; Mk. 10:3; Lk. 24:27; Jn. 1:17). And Jesus referred to it as “the law of Moses” (Lk. 24:44; 1 Cor. 9:9), “the book of Moses (Mk. 12:26), and simply “Moses” (Lk.16:29).

It is likely that each of the generations from Adam onwards wrote down an account of the events which occurred in their lifetime, and Moses, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, selected and compiled these, along with his own comments, into the book we now know as Genesis. So Moses was the editor of Genesis. The events of Genesis occurred long before his time. The original version of Genesis 10 (which shows where people were scattered to after the incident at Babel) was written before 1870BC because it mentions the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah which were destroyed by God about 360 years before the birth of Moses (Gen. 10:19). Moses included editorial comments (Gen. 26:33; 32:32). And a description of the Jordan valley in Abraham’s time as being “like the land of Egypt”, seems to be an editorial comment by Moses (Gen. 13:10).

So Genesis 1-11 is mainly a biography and an autobiography. If it’s a biography or autobiography, can its facts be confirmed?

Comparison with Genesis 12-50

Genesis 12-50 is a historical description of the lives of four generations of Israelites: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Often, the book of Genesis has been divided into two sections: Primeval History (chs. 1-11) and Patriarchal History (chs. 12-50). But where is the boundary between these two sections? At Genesis 11:27? But the text of Genesis 11 has a similar structure to that of Genesis 12! In fact, there are no significant differences in the structure of the text in Genesis 1-11 compared to Genesis 12-50. As “patriarchal history” is generally regarded as accurate history, then there is no linguistic reason why “primeval history” should not also be accepted as accurate history. And some passages of the Bible cite characters from both sections without indicating that the earlier ones are less historical. It would be better to say that the difference is one of subject matter. Genesis 1-11 deals with the world, whereas Genesis 12-50 deals with the descendants of Abraham.

Genesis 12 would make little sense without the genealogical background in Genesis 11. As Genesis 11 includes the genealogy of Shem, this links to the genealogy in Genesis 10, and to the one found in Genesis 5. Shem is mentioned in each of these three chapters of Genesis.

Genealogies treat people from Genesis 1-11 in the same manner as those from Genesis 12-50 (1 Chr. 1-8; Lk. 3:23-38). The same applies to the list of heroes of the faith from the Old Testament (Heb. 11:4-22).

Evidence from the rest of the Bible

The principal people mentioned in Genesis chapters 1–11 are referred to as real people (historical, not mythical) in the rest of the Bible. For example, Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, and Noah are referred to in 15 other books of the Bible. And I have demonstrated in other blogposts that Adam and Eve, and Noah were real people.

At least 25 New Testament passages refer directly to the early chapters of Genesis, and they are always treated as real history. Genesis 1 and 2 were cited by Jesus in response to a question about divorce (Mt. 19:4-6; Mk. 10:6-9). Paul referenced Genesis 2-3 (Rom. 5:12-19; 1 Cor. 11:8; 15:20-22, 45-47; 2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:13-14). The death of Abel recorded in Genesis 4 is mentioned by Jesus and John (Lk. 11:51; 1 Jn. 3:12). The flood (Genesis 6-9) is confirmed as historical by Jesus and Peter (Mt. 24:37-39; 2 Pt. 2:4-9; 3:6). And Jesus mentioned the flood in the same context as He did the account of Lot and Sodom (Gen. 19) (Lk. 17:26-29). Finally, in Luke’s genealogy of Christ, he includes 20 names found in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 (Lk. 3:34-38). He traced the genealogy of Jesus back to Adam (Lk. 3:23-38). So the New Testament treats Genesis 1-11 as real history and not merely literary or theological devices. It’s a record of “actual events” in the history of humanity

Jesus Christ referred to the creation of Adam and Eve as a real historical event, by quoting Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 in His teaching about divorce (Mt. 19:3-6; Mk. 10:2-9), and by referring to Noah as a real historical person and the flood as a real historical event, in His teaching about the ‘coming of the Son of Man’ (Mt. 24:37-39; Lk. 17:26-27).

Humanity needs to be redeemed because of the fall into sin (Genesis 3). Unless we know that the entrance of sin to the human race was a true historical fact, we can’t understand God’s purpose in providing a Savior. And the historical truth of Genesis 1–11 shows that all mankind needs salvation from the penalty, power, and presence of sin.

Unless the events of the first chapters of Genesis are true history, the Apostle Paul’s explanation of the Gospel in Romans chapter 5 and of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 have no meaning. Paul writes: “For just as through the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man (Jesus) the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). And, “For since death came through a man (Adam), the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man (Jesus). For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive … So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam (Jesus), a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45). The historical truth of the record concerning the first Adam is a guarantee that what God says in His Word about the last Adam (Jesus) is also true. Likewise, the historical, literal truth of the record concerning Jesus is a guarantee that what God says about the first Adam is also historically and literally true.

So Genesis 1-11 presents as a biography or autobiography whose facts are confirmed by the rest of scripture as being historically accurate. These inspired writers treat the people, and events in Genesis 1-11 as real, not merely literary or theological devices.


The Bible was written to be understood by ordinary people, so it shouldn’t be difficult to interpret. We have seen that Genesis 1-11 is not figurative language, poetry, parables, a historical novel or a myth. But it is a biography and an autobiography that describes real historical people and real historical events. It is prose narrative, with some embedded pieces that are poetic (Gen. 1:27; 2:23; 4:23-24) and some genealogical records (Gen 5, 10, 11:10–26). And it differs from other near eastern cosmologies because they are poetic and polytheistic. The writers of the Bible affirm that Genesis 1-11 is fact not fiction. It is an account of real events. Jesus affirmed it as well. And the gospel is based on the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis. So, Genesis 1-11 isn’t a type of doublespeak where words don’t have their usual meaning.


Sarfati J D (2015) “The Genesis Account”, Creation Book Publishers.

Appendix A: Traditional genre (literature style) of the books of the Bible

The dominant genre of each book of the Bible is listed below. Note that figures of speech can occur within each of these genres.


Joshua to Nehemiah

Wisdom (also contains poetry)

Song of Songs

Narrative (biographical)
Matthew to John

Prophecy and apocalypse
Ezekiel to Malachi

Romans to Jude

Appendix B: Summary of the book of Genesis

  1. Creation (Gen. 1-2).
  2. The fall into sin (Gen. 3-5).
  3. The flood (Gen. 6-9).
  4. The dispersion (Gen. 10-11).
  5. Life of Abraham (Gen. 12-25:8).
  6. Life of Isaac (Gen. 21:1-35-29).
  7. Life of Jacob (Gen. 25:21-50:14).
  8. Life of Joseph (Gen. 30:22-50:26).

God created a universe that was good and free from sin. God created humanity to have a personal relationship with Him. Adam and Eve sinned and thereby brought evil and death into the world. Evil increased steadily in the world until there was only one family in which God found anything good. God sent the Flood to wipe out evil, but delivered Noah and his family along with the animals in the Ark. After the Flood, humanity began again to multiply and spread throughout the world.

God chose Abraham, through whom He would create a chosen people and eventually the promised Messiah. The chosen line was passed on to Abraham’s son Isaac, and then to Isaac’s son Jacob. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, and his twelve sons became the ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel. In His sovereignty, God had Jacob’s son Joseph sent to Egypt by the despicable actions of Joseph’s brothers. This act, intended for evil by the brothers, was intended for good by God and eventually resulted in Jacob and his family being saved from a devastating famine by Joseph, who had risen to great power in Egypt.

Appendix C: Number symbolism in Genesis 1

Some people quote the following to claim that Genesis 1:1-2:3 is symbolic rather than factual.

  • The first sentence of Genesis 1 consists of seven Hebrew words.
  • The second sentence of Genesis 1 contains exactly fourteen (a multiple of seven) words.
  • The Hebrew words ‘earth’ and ‘heaven’ appear 21 times (a multiple of seven). But this is incorrect, “heaven(s)” (Strongs #8064) appears only 11 times (which isn’t a multiple of seven) and “expanse” (Strongs #7549) appears 9 times (which isn’t a multiple of seven). According to Genesis 1:8 “God called the expanse Heaven (or sky)”. This is a total of 20 times (which isn’t a multiple of seven).
  • The Hebrew word ‘God’, is mentioned 35 times (a multiple of seven).
  • The Hebrew refrain ‘and it was so’ and the summary statement ‘God saw that it was good’ occur seven times. But this is incorrect, “and it was so” only appears six times (v. 7, 9, 11, 15, 24, 30; which isn’t a multiple of seven)!
  • The six days of creation and the day of rest comprise seven days.

But they don’t mention that the Hebrew word “day” appears 15 times. And “water” appears 12 times. And “God said” appears ten times. And “evening” and “morning” both appear six times. None of these are multiples of seven!

So this is a weak argument for saying that this Bible passage is symbolic rather than factual. I expect better scholarship to justify such a claim. Instead, it looks like cherry-picking to me.

Appendix D: The structure of Genesis 1

Genesis 1 has a repetitive structure, which was a common device in ancient literature to aid memorization. But it is not poetic. There are four basic themes on each day of creation.

1. God’s command
“And God said, ‘Let there be …”

2. Fulfilment
“And it was so …”. God spoke things into existence. As God is the creator of time, He needs no time for His creative acts.

3. Assessment/Evaluation
“God saw that it was good”.

4. Conclusion/Closure of the day
“And there was evening and there was morning – the Xth day”.  As the Hebrew day went from sunset to sunset, it was made up of the night-time hours followed by the  daylight hours. Each command was fulfilled within a 24-hour period (see “In six days”).

Why did God take so long to create the universe? He took six days of creation plus one day rest to give us the pattern for a week.

Appendix E: Other Biblical examples of repetitive structure

Repetition is present in many Old Testament passages.

Numbers 7 is also a numbered sequence of days. On 12 consecutive days a representative of each of the 12 tribes of Israel brought an offering for the altar.
“The one who brought his offering on the first day was Nahshon son of Amminadab of the tribe of Judah” (v.12)
“On the second day Nethanel son of Zuar, the leader of Issachar, brought his offering” (v.18).
“On the third day, Eliab son of Helon, the leader of the people of Zebulun, brought his offering” (v.24).
“On the twelfth day Ahira son of Enan, the leader of the people of Naphtali, brought his offering” (v.78).
No one teaches that Numbers 7 is a literary framework for teaching something theological and that is not history. The same should apply to Genesis 1.

Genealogies are repetitive. 1 Chronicles 1:1-9:44 gives genealogies from Adam to King Saul. As these are accepted as being factual, so should those in Genesis 5 and 11 (they overlap).

Nehemiah 3 describes the rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem in a repetitive manner. It progressively moves around the wall mentioned each section between each of the ten gates and describing who repaired each section.

Appendix F: Possible sources of the book of Genesis

The sources of Genesis are 12 family documents (see below). Eleven of these are headed by the Hebrew word toledoth (Strongs #8435), which means generations or descendants. The fact that these are referring to what follows rather than what precedes is clear in other instances of this word in the Old Testament (Num. 3:1; Ruth 4:18; 1 Chr. 1:29). So, in Genesis, the toledoths tell us what followed from the named person.

It’s possible that each of these documents was written on a clay tablet. During the exodus Moses probably compiled all these tablets into a long scroll. He may have used vellum to write on as the Israelites had many sheep.

  1. Creation of the universe (Gen. 1:1 – 2:3). There is no toledoth here, because nothing (in time) preceded creation. Time began at the beginning of this creation.
  2. “Descendants” of the heavens and the earth (Gen. 2:4-4:26). This is what followed from creation.
  3. Descendants of Adam (Gen. 5:1-6:8).
  4. Descendants of Noah (Gen. 6:9-9:29).
  5. Descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth (Gen. 10:1-11:9).
  6. Descendants of Shem (Gen. 11:10-26).
  7. Descendants of Terah (Gen. 11:27-25:11).
  8. Descendants of Ishmael (Gen. 25:12-18).
  9. Descendants of Isaac (Gen. 25:19-35:29).
  10. Descendants of Esau, born in Canaan (Gen. 36:1-8).
  11. Descendants of Esau, born in Edom (Gen. 36:9-37:1).
  12. Descendants of Jacob (Gen. 37:2-50:26).

Written, June 2018

Also see: In six days?
Adam and Eve: Fact or fiction?
Noah: Fact or fiction?


In six days?

Words 4 400px“Run”, “take”, “break”, “turn”, and “set” are said to be the words in the English language which have most meanings. Many of our words have multiple meanings, but we usually aren’t confused by them. That’s because the other important element of language is context. In this post we look at the meanings of the word “day” in Genesis 1.

Days of creation

The Hebrew noun yom (Strongs #3117), occurs 14 times in Genesis 1:1 – 2:3. Six of these are the “days” of creation, which are listed below.

“And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day” (1:5NIV).
“And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day” (1:8).
“And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day” (1:13).
“And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day” (1:19).
“And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day” (1:23).
“And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day” (1:31).

The Hebrew word yom has several meanings, with the most appropriate one usually being indicated by the context. In this post we look at what the word yom in these verses meant to the ancient Hebrews. Our method includes a study of the text, the context and how Moses used this word.

Other instances of “day” in the first section of Genesis

We will begin by looking at the other instances of the word yom in the first section of Genesis (Gen. 1:1 – 2:3). As it describes events that occurred before the creation of humanity, this account came from God. But it may have been edited by Moses. The first instance is “God called the light ‘day’, and the darkness He called ‘night’” (1:5). Here yom means the daylight period of a 24-hour day (approximately 12-hours). The remainder of the 24-hour day is called “night”.

The next instances of yom are in this passage, “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day (12 hours) from the night (12 hours), and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days (24 hours) and years (12 months), and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.’ And it was so. ‘God made two great lights—the greater light (sun) to govern the day (12 hours) and the lesser light (moon) to govern the night (12 hours). He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day (12 hours) and the night (12 hours), and to separate light from darkness” (1:14-18). The first instance of yom in this passage means the daylight period of a 24-hour day. While the second means “24-hours” because it’s associated with the word “years”. The remaining two instances of yom mean the daylight period of a 24-hour day.

The final instance of yom is in this passage, “By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done” (2:2-3). In this passage, the word yom is described by the adjective “seventh”. Previously each of the six days of creation was described by a numerical adjective, “one” to “six”. As this is the next “day” in a series of days, it has the same meaning that yom has in the other six days of creation, which is discussed below under the subheading “Interpretation of the days of creation” (See Appendix A).

So in this section of Genesis, the instances of the word yom apart from the days of creation can mean:
– a 12-hour period (sunrise to sunset), or
– a 24-hour period (sunset to next sunset).

Instances of “day” in the second section of Genesis

The instances of yom in the second section of Genesis (Gen. 2:4-4:26) are listed below. This section begins, “This is the account of the heavens and the earth (the universe) when they were created, when (in the day that) the Lord God made the earth and the heavens (the universe)” (2:4).

Adam is warned about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “when (in the day that) you eat from it you will certainly die” (2:17).

The serpent told Eve, “when (in the day that) you eat from it (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:5).

In these three instances, yom is used in the Hebrew idiom “in the day that”, which means “at the time that”, or “when”. It’s a time period of unspecified length. The time periods here are: the six days of creation, which are interpreted in the next section (2:4) and the time it takes to eat some fruit (say a few minutes) (2:17; 3:5).

After they sinned, Adam and Eve heard God “walking in the garden in the cool of the day (yom)” (3:8). This means either the daylight period of a 24-hour day or the whole 24-hour day. I favor the former.

The punishment given to the serpent and to Adam were for “all the days (yom) of your life” (3:14, 17). In this case, the plural version of yom means a 24-hour period, but the context adds “of your life” to give an expression meaning “a lifetime’. In this case yom has a figurative meaning which is a space of time defined by an associated term.

“In the course of time (yom)”, is used to describe the time period before Cain and Able brought offerings to God (4:3). The NET says that “The clause indicates the passing of a set period of time leading up to offering sacrifices”. The literal meaning is, “And it happened at the end of days”. It describes the time period when Cain and Abel grew to be adults. In this case, the plural version of yom means a 24-hour period, but the context adds “in the course of” to give an expression meaning “a portion of a lifetime’.

After being informed of his punishment, Cain told God, “Today (this yom) you are driving me from the land” (4:14). In this context, yom means a 24-hour day.

So in this section of Genesis the instances of the word yom can mean:
– a few minutes, or
– a 12-hour period (sunrise to sunset), or
– a 24-hour period (sunset to next sunset), or
– six days of creation (which are interpreted in the next section), or
– a portion of a lifetime (when yom is plural and accompanied with “in the course of”), or
– a lifetime (when yom is plural and accompanied with “of your life”).
So, here a phrase that includes the plural of version of yom can indicate a period of time period between 24 hours and a lifetime.

Interpretation of the days of creation

We have seen that the Hebrew noun “yom” can have several different meanings in the early chapters of Genesis. But in each day of creation, the word “yom” is singular. This rules out the meanings shown above that can be associated with the plural version of yom. So in this case that Hebrew text rules out “a lifetime” and “a portion of a lifetime”. This leaves the following possibilities:
– a few minutes, or
– a 12-hour period (sunrise to sunset), or
– a 24-hour period (sunset to next sunset).

And each of the six days of creation is associated with the statement, “And there was evening, and there was morning”. How does Moses use the words “evening” and “morning” elsewhere in Genesis? From appendices B and C it’s clear that “morning” usually means after sunrise and “evening” means after sunset. The only possible figurative meaning is in Genesis 49:27, which is poetic. But Genesis 1 isn’t poetic because it has no parallelism and isn’t type-set as poetry in most Bibles. It’s a numbered sequence of days like Numbers 7:12-89 and not a poem. So the meaning of these words in Genesis 1 should be “after sunrise” and “after sunset”. This seems to follow the Jewish order of reckoning time: from sunset to next sunset (rather than from midnight to next midnight). As “evening” and “morning” were part of each day of creation, the day seems to mean a 24-hour period rather than “at the time that” or “a 12-hour period”. This is supported by the Hebrew text associated with the first instance of “evening” and “morning”, which seems to indicate that having an evening and a morning amounts to having one full day (Appendix D).

It is instructive to see how God and Moses interpret the days of creation. The words of the fourth commandment were spoken by God (Ex. 20:1). These say, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Ex. 20:8-11).

Clearly the “six days” of labor in this passage are the same period of time as the “six days” of creation – they both use the plural yom with the adjective “six”. They both mean six 24-hour days. And the “seventh day” of Sabbath rest is the same period of time as the “seventh day” that God rested after creating the universe – they both use the singular yom. They both mean one 24-hour day.

Similarly, this is repeated when “the Lord said to Moses” (Ex. 31:12), “Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.’” (Ex. 31:14-17).

Clearly the “six days” of work in this passage are the same period of time as the “six days” of creation – they both use the plural yom with the adjective “six. They both mean six 24-hour days. And the “seventh day” of Sabbath rest is the same period of time as the “seventh day” that God rested after creating the universe – they both use the singular yom. They both mean one 24-hour day.

Can this “day” mean long periods of time?

Some people suppose that the “days” of creation in Genesis 1 are long eras of time. However, we have seen that the only meanings of yom in this section of Genesis are either a 12-hour period (sunrise to sunset), or a 24-hour period (sunset to next sunset).

We have also seen that in the second section of Genesis a phrase that includes the plural version of yom can indicate a period of time of up to a lifetime. But the occurrences of yom in Genesis 1 are singular, not plural. This is consistent with the NET Study Note that says, “The exegetical evidence suggests the word “day” in this chapter refers to a literal twenty-four hour day” (see Appendix E).

The other meanings of yom in the Old Testament are given in Appendix F.

Another explanation that is given for disregarding this interpretation of yom is to say that Genesis 1 is a symbolic or poetic genre rather than history or prose. This topic is addressed in a coming post on “Genesis 1-11: Fact or fiction”, which shows that Genesis 1 is not Hebrew poetry and it is not symbolic.

Can there be a day before the sun exists?

One objection to this interpretation is that 24-hour days can’t exist without the sun. The sun seems to be created on the fourth day of creation (Gen. 1:14-16). However, all a day requires is a light and a rotating earth. And the light doesn’t have to come from the sun. Was there a light on the first day? Yes (Gen. 5:4). Was there a rotating earth on the first day? We are not told specifically. But there is light and darkness and evening and morning. So we can’t rule out the possibility of a rotating earth on the first day of creation.

Why six days?

Why did God create the universe in six days and not in an instant or six seconds or six minutes or six hours or six weeks or six months or six years or six eras of time? The Israelites were told it was a pattern for the observance of their weekly Sabbath under the law of Moses (Ex. 20:8-11; 31:14-17). They were to work for six days and then observe the Sabbath on the seventh. As we are under the new covenant and not the law of Moses, we are not required to keep the laws of the Sabbath (they are not included in the New Testament commands to Christians). So God’s six days of creative work and one day of rest gives us the pattern of the seven-day week. There is no astronomical explanation for the week being seven days like there is for the length of a day (a rotation of the earth), a month (a rotation of the moon) or of a year (a rotation of the earth around the sun).

Are the days just a literary device?

It has been suggested that the seven “days” in the first section of Genesis (1:1-2:4a) is just a list of events or categories and not a chronological sequence. In this case the number and ordering of the “days” were chosen for literary or thematic reasons. They are a metaphorical framework that God used to describe the creative process. By looking at three foundations of this interpretation, we will see that it would not have been understood this way by the ancient Hebrews.

First, it is assumed that similarities between day 1 and day 4 (both mention light or lights), mean that these are two different ways of describing the same event. So the events described on day 4 add more detail to those described on day 1. Likewise for days 2 and 5 (both mention water and atmosphere), and days 3 and 6 (both mention land and vegetation). Therefore, Genesis 1 describes three events in no particular sequence. But water was created in day 1, so in this respect day 1 is also similar to day 5. And the heavens in which the sun and moon were placed were made on day 2, so in this respect day 2 is also similar to day 4. And the sea is mentioned in days 3 and 5, so in this respect day 3 is also similar to day 5. So the parallels are selective and other parallels are ignored! Obviously, water, land and the atmosphere needed to be created before creatures could inhabit these. That’s common sense, and not a literary technique!

Second, if the seventh day is still continuing, then the other six days are metaphors and not 24-hour periods. But we have seen that the seventh day isn’t a long period of time (Appendix A).

The third justification for the framework approach is that 24-hour days don’t make sense if is assumed that God used natural processes to create and not  miraculous means. This is based on the presupposition that as miracles are not observed today, they have never happened. And so the events attributed to each day couldn’t be achieved in 24-hours. An interpretation of Genesis 2:5-6 is used to claim that God used natural means during the creation period and not supernatural ones. But Genesis 2:5 is in a section that describes what happened on day 6 in more detail, and it refers to cultivated plants, not those created on day 3. And the psalmist says this about creation, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth … Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere Him. For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm” (Ps. 33:6-9). And this is also what the writers of the New Testament believed, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Heb. 11:3). So the process of creation didn’t take a long period of time; God spoke and it was done. His creation was miraculous. And there are other nature miracles in the Bible like the Israelites crossing the Red Sea and the Jordan river on “dry ground” (Ex. 14:21-22; Josh. 3:15-17).

If we apply the framework hypothesis to Genesis 1, what stops this approach being applied to Genesis 3 (with a talking snake), Genesis 6-8 (with a global flood), Christ’s miracles and Christ’s resurrection? Nothing! So, it finishes up saying that most of the Bible is metaphorical; it doesn’t mean what it seems to mean. But the prophets and apostles didn’t devote their lives to metaphors. Their preaching was based on historical facts, not metaphors. Many of them died as martyrs. And they wouldn’t have been willing to give up their life if the Biblical account was mainly metaphors.

Some consider Genesis 1 to be an illustration  to teach the theology of six days work plus the Sabbath. But this is back to front – the Sabbath was based on the historical events of Genesis 1, not vice-versa (Ex. 20:8-11).

Our study of the text and context indicates that the ancient Hebrews would have understood each “day” of creation to mean the 24-hours from sunset to next sunset. And they would have understood that the sequence of seven days comprised one week, which was the model for 6 days work and one day Sabbath rest. So the framework hypothesis is extra-biblical.

What about the rest of the Bible?

We have looked at what the word yom in Genesis 1 meant to the ancient Hebrews who took part in the exodus. But the Bible is a progressive revelation. Truth gets added as we move from the beginning to the end. What do the scriptures that were written after the Pentateuch say about this topic?

Did any of the other authors of the Old Testament mention the creation? Yes they did, but none of them specifically mention how long it took. Instead they seem to assume that it’s already known from the Pentateuch.

Did any of the authors of the New Testament mention the creation? Yes they did, but none of them mention specifically how long it took. Instead they seem to assume that it’s already known from the Pentateuch. But one author does refer to it implicitly.

The writer of Hebrews quotes from Genesis 2:2, “For somewhere He (God) has spoken about the seventh day in these words: ‘On the seventh day God rested from all His works’” (Heb. 4:4). In this verse the Greek noun hemera (Strongs #2250) is translated “day”. This singular word is also used seven other times in the book of Hebrews. In these instances it means:
– “In the day” (or “during the time”) of testing in the wilderness in 3:8. This was a period of about 38 years.
– “Every day” (or “daily”) in 3:13; 7:27; and 10:11. These are 24-hour days.
– “A certain day” (or a certain “time”) in 4:7.
– “Another day” (or “another time”) in 4:8
– “When” in 8:9.
So the singular noun hemera has several meanings in this book, but none of them means a long period of time. Could “the seventh day” in 4:4 have any of these meanings? Yes, it could be a 24-hour day that is referred to as “the seventh”. That’s the only one that makes sense in conjunction with the adjective “seventh”. Therefore, in Hebrews 4:4 “the seventh day” means a 24-hour day, like the 24-hour days described in Hebrews 3:13; 7:27; and 10:11. The adjective “seventh” implies that “the seventh day” followed six other 24-hour days (which were the six days of creation). By the way, there is no suggestion in this passage that “the seventh day” was a long period of time.

Did Jesus mention the creation? Yes He did, but He didn’t specifically mention how long it took. But Jesus showed that He accepted the Pentateuch as describing historical events. For example, in Matthew 19:4–6 He quotes from Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24, which are the chapters of the Bible that describe the six days of creation.

Jesus told the Jews that they must accept the words of Moses (Jn. 5:45-47). At that time faithful Jews believed that the Pentateuch was factual because it was the foundation of their faith. And in it Moses wrote that God created the universe in six days (Ex. 20:11). This was a fundamental belief of faithful Jews, including Jesus and the apostles.

What about the fact that Christians are under a different covenant and no longer under the Old Testament law of Moses? Like Genesis 1-11, the six days of creation occurred before God’s promise were given to Abraham and the old covenant was given to Moses. So, the new covenant through Jesus doesn’t affect how God created the universe. But through Jesus we can anticipate God’s new creation (Rev. 21:1-22:5).

What about 2 Peter 3:8?

When writing to Christians in about AD 66, Peter warned them not to forget the promise that Christ would return to judge the world. As they were in danger of forgetting this promise which had been given about 35 years earlier, he wrote, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Pt. 3:8). 1,000 years is 365,000 days, which would be a long period of time for people living in Peter’s time. So the verse says that for God a short period of time is like a long period of time and a long period of time is like a short period of time. It’s two conflicting similes that doesn’t make sense unless time is irrelevant to God. Comparing 1,000 years with one day may have been a Hebrew idiom for comparing long and short periods of time (Ps. 90:4). From God’s eternal perspective, there’s no significant difference between one day (a short period of time) and 1,000 years (a long period of time). Just because there had been a time delay, didn’t mean that God had forgotten to keep His promise.

Some people use this verse to say that in the Bible one day can symbolize 1,000 years or a long period of time. But if this is the case, the verse also says that 1,000 years or a long period of time can symbolize one day or a short period of time. This doesn’t make sense because these have opposite meanings. Instead, the word “day” in this verse is used in two similes which together indicate that God doesn’t experience time like us. This makes sense because God crested time.

What about billions of years?

How do scientists calculate the age of the universe and the time it took to form? Three methods have been used. One is based on assumptions about stellar evolution. Another is based on assumptions of an expanding universe and the Big Bang theory. And a third is based on Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. They all seem to use the size and rate of expansion of the universe; parameters whose magnitudes are inferred because they can’t be measured directly. Instead they are measured by remote sensing. And they all use mathematical models that assume what happened in the universe over billions of years because it can’t be measured directly. And they assume the existence of entities like dark energy and dark matter. If the assumptions are wrong, then their estimate is wrong. It’s a circular method because the answer is based on their presuppositions.

The Bible says that God created the universe is six 24-hours days, but scientists claim that it formed naturally over about 14 billion years. The difference between these two periods of time is huge. Orders of magnitude are used to compare very large differences between numbers. It this case the difference is expressed as the power of 10. For example, 1,000 is one order of magnitude greater than 100, two orders of magnitude greater than 10, and three orders of magnitude greater than 1. In this case, 14 billion years is about 12 orders of magnitude greater than 6 days. This is a factor of 1012, which is 10 with 12 zeros after it! Or 10,000,000,000,000 times greater!

The 14 billion years comes from the naturalistic assumption that the present is the key to the past. But history goes forwards, not backwards. And causes go before their consequences (or effects) and not after them. It’s more accurate to say that the past is the key to the present. Scientists can only observe the present. As any statements they make about the past are based on assumptions, their accuracy is based on the accuracy of their assumptions. Because of this, there is a huge uncertainty in their estimation of the age of the universe.

Elsewhere I have shown how history trumps science when dealing with the past. This is because a reliable eyewitness is superior to forensic science in the investigation of crime. Consequently, reliable history is better than ancient forensic science in investigating what happened in ancient times.

Can the Hebrew language express long periods of time?

If the creation of the universe took much longer than six days, what Hebrew words are available to communicate this?

“Years” is mentioned in Genesis 1:14 and a “thousand” is mentioned in Genesis 20:16. The Hebrew word eleph (Strongs #505), translated “thousand” occurs 505 times in the Old Testament. And the Hebrew word shanah (Strongs #8141), translated “years” occurs 876 times in the Old Testament. The largest number mentioned specifically in the Old testament is Jeroboam’s 800,000 troops (2 Chron. 13:3). Olam (Strongs #5769) can mean “long duration”, but it usually seems to mean “forever” or everlasting”.

A characteristic of the natural world can also be used in a simile to convey a large number. For example, God told Abraham, “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” (Gen. 22:17). And He told Jacob “I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted” (Gen. 32:12).

So the Hebrew language can express long periods of time.

A mature creation

One of the reasons why the Hebrew account didn’t need to mention long periods of time, was that God created a mature universe. Adam and Eve began life as adults, not babies. The fruit trees were already producing fruit. All natural processes and cycles were operating in equilibrium, not in their initial phases. Stars and galaxies were positioned in the universe. This happened in six days. There is no mention of matter being concentrated in a dense ball as is assumed by the Big Bang Model. And there is no need for evolutionary development from the simple to the complex. It’s easy for God to create complexity. He can do it instantly.


A study of the text and context indicates that the ancient Hebrews would have understood the noun yom in each “day” of creation to mean the 24 hours from sunset to next sunset. The idea that these could be large periods of time is extra-biblical and is not based on exegesis of the Hebrew text.

All of the authors of the Old Testament and the New Testament, and Jesus Christ, would have also believed that God created the universe in six days, each of which were 24-hours long. This trumps extra-biblical opinions. And God’s six days of creative work followed by one day of rest seems to be the source for the 7-day week in our calendar.

Because of the way it’s calculated, I’m skeptical of the claim that it took about 14 billion years to create the universe. It’s a huge amount of time. But the real uncertainty in this number is also huge.

Appendix A: Length of the seventh day  

The entry for “Day” in Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon includes:
“2. Day as a division of time:
d. day as defined by evening and morning Genesis 1:5,8,13,19,23,31 (compare further בֹּקֶר, עֶרֶב); see also Genesis 2:2 (twice in verse); Genesis 2:3, Exodus 20:11 (twice in verse), Exodus 31:17 (twice in verse).”
This lexicon associates the seventh day with the other six days, which is the case for Exodus, 20:11; 31:17. Remembering the Sabbath every week is consistent with the day of rest being 24-hours like the other days of creation and not a month or a year or some other length of time.

Because it was not a day of creation, the seventh day is described differently. It lacks the command (“God said”), fulfilment (“and it was so”), assessment (“God saw that it was good”) and conclusion (“there was evening, and there was morning”) of the other six days. Instead, the conclusion to day seven is “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created” (Gen. 2:4a).

On the other hand Vine thinks that in Genesis 2:3 yom refers to the entire period of God’s resting from creating the universe, at least until the return of Christ. When the Jewish leaders criticized Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath, “In His defense Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I too am working’” (Jn. 5:17). It is clear from the context that Jesus is referring to God’s providential and redemptive work and not to His creative work.

And some use Hebrews 4 to claim that the seventh day is unending. But this is poor exegesis. Hebrews 3:7-4:13 warns against unbelief. That’s the context. The writer uses two illustrations. One is the Israelites who rebelled against God during the exodus and so they never entered God’s rest – “They shall never enter my rest” (Heb. 4:3b, 5), which is quoted from Psalm 95:11. Psalm 95:7-11 is also a warning against unbelief. The other illustration is God’s rest after the six days of creation – “And yet His (God’s) works (of creation) have been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere (Gen. 2:2) He (God) has spoken about the seventh day in these words: ‘On the seventh day God rested from all His works’” (Heb. 4:3c-4). The writer wants unbelievers (who never enter God’s spiritual rest) to become believers (who have entered God’s spiritual rest). He says, “we (believers) who have believed enter that rest” (Heb. 4:3a). So the spiritual “rest” he is addressing is different to the “rest” from creating mentioned in Genesis 2:2-3.

Appendix B: Occurrence of the word “evening” in Genesis 2-49

The Hebrew noun ereb (Strongs #6153) means “evening”. It occurs in the following passages of Genesis 2-49.

“When the dove returned to him in the evening” (8:11).
“The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening” (19:1).
“it was toward evening, the time the women go out to draw water” (24:11).
“He went out to the field one evening to meditate” (24:63).
“But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her” (29:23).
“So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening” (30:16).
“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder” (49:27). This is metaphoric language in a poem.

Appendix C: Occurrence of the word “morning” in Genesis 2-49

The Hebrew noun boqer (Strongs #1242) means morning. It occurs in the following passages of Genesis 2-49.

“Early the next morning Abraham got up” (19:27).
“Early the next morning Abimelek summoned all his officials” (20:8).
“Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water” (21:14).
“Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey” (22:3).
“When they got up the next morning” (24:54).
“Early the next morning the men swore an oath to each other” (26:31).
“Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head” (28:18).
“When morning came, there was Leah!” (29:25).
“Early the next morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters” (31:55).
“When Joseph came to them the next morning” (40:6).
“In the morning his mind was troubled” (41:8).
“As morning dawned, the men were sent on their way with their donkeys” (44:3).
“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder” (49:27). This is metaphoric language in a poem.

Appendix D: Is the “day” defined in Genesis 1:5?

Numbers can be cardinal or ordinal. A cardinal number indicates a quantity, such as one, two, three, four, five. It’s used for counting things. An ordinal number indicates position, such as 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th. It’s used for putting things in order. In the first section of Genesis (Gen. 1:1-2:4a), in the Hebrew language the number associated with yom is cardinal for day 1 (ehad, Strongs #259, meaning “one”) and ordinal for the remaining days 2-7 (Steinmann, 2002). Is this defining what a “day” is for the rest of the creation week? Steinmann found that in the Pentateuch ehad is only used as an ordinal number for numbering units of time to designate the day of a month (Gen.8:5, 13; Ex. 40:2, 17; Lev. 23:24; Num. 1:1, 18; 29:1; 33:38; Dt. 1:3). All other units of time are numbered using ordinals. Therefore, in Genesis 1 ehad should be translated as “one” and not “the first” (Gen. 1:5). This is the meaning given in Green (1985). The NASB translates it this way, “And there was evening and there was morning, one day”. And the NET says that an alternative version of this sentence is “There was night and then there was day, one day”. This statement is equivalent to saying that one rotation of the earth equals one day.

According to Steinmann, “Genesis 1:5 begins the cycle of the day. With the creation of light it is now possible to have a cycle of light and darkness, which God labels “day” and “night.” Evening is the transition from light/day to darkness/night. Morning is the transition from darkness/night to light/day. Having an evening and a morning amounts to having one full day. Hence the following equation is what Genesis 1:5 expresses: Evening + morning = one day.”

Appendix E: NET Study Note on the days of creation in Genesis 1

“The exegetical evidence suggests the word “day” in this chapter refers to a literal twenty-four hour day. It is true that the word can refer to a longer period of time (see Isa. 61:2, or the idiom in Gen. 2:4, “in the day,” that is, “when”). But this chapter uses “day,” “night,” “morning,” “evening,” “years,” and “seasons.” Consistency would require sorting out how all these terms could be used to express ages. Also, when the Hebrew word יוֹם (yom) is used with a numerical adjective, it refers to a literal day. Furthermore, the commandment to keep the Sabbath clearly favors this interpretation. One is to work for six days and then rest on the seventh, just as God did when He worked at creation.”

Appendix F: “Day” in Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon

The Hebrew noun yom is used in the following ways in the Old Testament.

  1. Day, opposed to night
  2. Day as division of time
  3. Day of the Lord (coming in judgment)
  4. Plural, days of anyone
  5. Days
  6. Time
  7. Phrases, without preposition and with, are


Green J. P., (1985) “The interlinear Bible, Hebrew-Greek-English”, Hendrickson Publishers.

Steinmann, A., (2002) “Echad as an Ordinal Number and the Meaning of Genesis 1:5”, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 45(4):577–584.

Written, May 2018

Also see: Adam and Eve: Fact or fiction?
Noah: Fact or fiction?
Using history and science to investigate ancient times
Complex creation


Do we have the right Bible?

The Bible is loaded with contradictions and translation errors. It wasn’t written by witnesses and includes words added by unknown scribes to inject Church orthodoxy (Eichenwald, 2014). That’s the opinion of Newsweek.

And Humanists reject the claim that the Bible is the word of God (Sommer, 1997). They are convinced the book was written solely by humans in an ignorant, superstitious, and cruel age. They believe that because the writers of the Bible lived in an unenlightened era, the book contains many errors and harmful teachings.

How reliable is the Bible? Is it trustworthy? Can it withstand objective scrutiny? This blogpost is based on a presentation by Tom Murphy titled, “Do we have the right Bible?”.

Has translating the Bible over and over for almost 3,000 years ruined its reliability? Don’t errors accumulate like messages get changed when they are passed along a line of people in the Telephone game (or Chinese whispers)?

Don’t the many translations of the Bible ruin its reliability?

Slide2 400pxThe Telephone game is a very false comparison. The English translations we have are not the product of a long line of translations. Our current English translations are translated directly from the original languages.

If that’s so, then why are there so many different translations then? Surely if translations are made directly from the originals then we would have only one version.

There are three main reasons we have so many different English translations of the Bible. First, translation research advances with time. Ongoing research helps us to more accurately understand and translate the original languages. Second, changes in modern English. The English language changes with time. New translations are made using modern English, so people can easily understand the Bible. Third, there are different approaches to translating. Some translators use one-word for one-word as much as possible, while others try to translate thought-for-thought.

We have so many versions, not because some shady telephone game has corrupted the text but because we are getting better at translating the Bible and we want translations in contemporary English everyone understands.

But weren’t the books of the bible written hundreds of years after the events they describe? Given that time gap, their messages could all be legends!

Could it all be legends?

Showing the biblical books are not legends begins with showing when they were written. They were not written hundreds of years later. The biblical manuscripts contain four kinds of  evidence that indicates when they were written.

Independently verifiable historical statements.
Only a writer living at the time could have known these facts, which we can verify using archaeology or extra-biblical documents. For example, statements like names of places, people, geography, and significant events. Historical accounts that are written long after the events they describe don’t include such comments. Verifiable statements like these strongly affirm the early writing of the biblical books. Famous archaeological examples include evidence for the Assyrian King, Sargon II mentioned in Isaiah 20:1 and the Pool of Bethesda mentioned in John 5:2-9. Prior to the archaeological discoveries that confirmed the historical accuracy of Isaiah’s reference to Sargon II (1843) and John’s description of the pool of Bethesda (1964), both biblical passages were considered to be blatant historical errors on the part of the biblical authors.

Historical events that are not mentioned.
Some historical events are not mentioned that definitely would have been mentioned had they already occurred. This evidence gives time frames for the writing of biblical books. For example, Acts 18:2 mentions the expulsion of the Jews from Rome (AD 41-54) but does not mention the destruction of the Temple (AD 70), therefore Acts dates between AD 41 and AD 70.

Direct manuscript evidence.
Having just a tiny surviving fragment of a book that we can date puts a limit on the latest date it could have been written. For example, as Papyrus fragment P52 from the book of John dates to about 120 AD, John must have been written before then.

Who the writer was and when they died.
Knowing the writer and when they died helps date a book. For example, multiple extra-biblical sources tell us Paul died shortly before AD 68, so all of Paul’s letters were written before AD 68.

Slide11 400pxThis evidence tells us the books of the bible were written very early. Look at the dating of the Gospels to see just how small a gap we are talking about. They were all written within decades of the crucifixion. The liberal dating is invariably later than the conservative dating for two main reasons. First, some biblical books make predictive statements (see Appendix A), like the destruction of the Temple in Mathew 24. Liberal scholars assume that such successful predictions are not possible and assume the book must have been written after the event. Second, some books (like John) show a very high view of Jesus’ divinity. Liberal scholars assume this to be a slow evolutionary development and therefore date the book later.

But these reasons rest on assumptions that presuppose Christianity cannot be true; they reject the idea that God exists and/or that He influenced the authors to make successful future predictions. They also reject that Jesus claimed to be God and that His disciples believed Him.

The Jesus legend hypothesis fails because there was simply not enough time between the historical Jesus and the written records for legends to have corrupted the narrative. Secular historian Professor A. N. Sherwin-White points out that at least two full generations are needed for legendary developments to obscure the core details in a historical narrative. For example, the two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written more than 400 years after his death, yet classical historians still consider them to be trustworthy. The fabulous legends about Alexander did not develop until the centuries after these two biographies. After 400 years, Alexander’s history is less corrupted than the Gospel accounts are alleged to be, though the largest gap between the Gospel accounts and the actual events is only about 70 years, even using the most sceptical dates.

The problems for the legend hypothesis get even worse when two other facts are considered.

The Gospels use older source material.
For example, the Passion Story included in the gospel of Mark was probably not originally written by Mark. Rudolf Pesch, a German expert on Mark, says the Passion source must go back to at least AD 37, just seven years after Jesus’s death.

The Gospels are not the oldest texts in New Testament.
Older New Testament texts affirm the supposedly legendary resurrection of Jesus. In 1 Corinthians (written about AD 55) Paul cites what is apparently an old Christian creed: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas (Peter), and then to the Twelve” (1 Cor. 15:3-5NIV). All grammatical and textual evidence tells us that the creed Paul gives came from Peter and James when Paul visited Jerusalem, reaching back to within the first five years after Jesus’ crucifixion in the very city where the crucifixion occurred.

To conclude, both Christian and non-Christian scholars are at a near-consensus that the entire New Testament was written within the first century AD, within decades of Jesus’ death. The texts are so close to the life of Jesus that legendary evolution simply cannot account for the narratives they contain.

But we don’t have the original manuscripts! How do we know that we have what Moses, David, and the Old Testament prophets really said or wrote?

Can we know what the original Old Testament texts said?

With no photocopiers, the original texts were copied by hand as they wore out or more copies were needed. The Jewish people had scribes who oversaw this. They were such meticulous perfectionists that they would count all paragraphs, words and even letters to check they copied correctly. They even knew the middle letter of every book and would count backwards to check for mistakes.

The Masoretic text is used as the source text for translating the Old Testament because we accept the Old Testament that was accepted by the 1st century Jewish community – Jesus’ community. The Masoretic text is a Hebraic and Aramaic text that circulated amongst Jewish communities between the 7th and 10th centuries AD, the oldest copy we have is from the 9th century AD.

For a long time, critics pointed out that this text is very far removed from the original manuscripts, which were penned between the 15th and 5th centuries BC. They questioned if, after so many centuries of copying, we could really have the original words. That’s where the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was helpful.

Dead sea scroll 1 400pxDiscovered in the Qumran caves in 1947, these well-preserved texts date back to between 200 BC and 100 BC. For example, the Great Isaiah Scroll is a copy of the book of Isaiah. Of approximately 1,000 scrolls found, 225 are Old Testament Books and include every book except Esther. Amazingly, there is a virtual agreement between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Masoretic text from 1,100 years later! The meticulous scribal process preserved the textual integrity for over 1,100 years! This means that we can confidently trust the Old Testament we have today. There is no evidence of grand changes through a great historical game of telephone (or Chinese whispers).

But we can go further. We currently we have four major groups of Old Testament manuscripts in three different languages, transmitted independently of each other over a span of over 1,000 years, yet they all show a high degree of agreement. In addition to the Masoretic text and Dead Sea Scrolls we also have:
The Septuagint, a Greek translation that originated between the 3rd century BC and 2nd Century AD.
The Vulgate, a Latin translation produced by the Christian priest Jerome in the 4th century AD, and
The Peshitta, a Syriac (Aramaic) translation produced in the second century AD.

By comparing all the texts available, we can reliably discern the content of the Old Testament. Of all the apparent variants in the surviving Old Testament manuscripts, none introduce wildly divergent readings from the Masoretic text that can’t be readily explained by a copyist error (such as spelling/grammar mistakes) or an easily identifiable change intentionally inserted by the scribe responsible for producing the manuscript. And the footnotes of any good study bible will point out these variants (there’s about 45 of them; of these only in 9 do translators resort to using the Dead Sea Scrolls over the Masoretic and of the 45 only one influences more than one sentence – it’s a paragraph found between 1 Samuel 10 and 11).

Also, critics assume well-used papyri disintegrate within 10 years at best, meaning many hundreds of copies of copies must separate the original text from the oldest surviving manuscripts. However, studies by historian George Houston demonstrate that ancient manuscripts were actively used anywhere from 150 to 500 years, and each copy would have been used to make hundreds more. For example, The Codex Vaticanus was reinked in the 10th century after 600 years of use. So the oldest surviving Old Testament manuscripts we have may only be a few generations of copies from the originals. For the New Testament, we could theoretically have direct copies of the original texts, or at least copies of the very first copies.

All this means that the conditions were very favorable for preserving the contents of the biblical texts. The close agreement observed across the 1,100-year gap between the Dead Sea and Masoretic manuscripts is evidence of this.

Well that covers the Old Testament. But what about the New Testament? How can we be sure we know what Jesus said, or that we know what Paul and the other New Testament authors wrote?

Can we know what the original New Testament texts said?

The New Testament text is even more certain than the Old Testament. Some surviving fragments date back to 120 AD. That’s only 35-100 years after the originals! Another big help is that there are nearly 6,000 partial or complete New Testament manuscripts in the original Greek. Add to this approximately 10,000 manuscripts of Latin translations and another 9,300 manuscripts in some 13 additional languages. All together we have about 25,000 copies of the New Testament. And these numbers are counted from databases that notoriously lag-behind current developments and do not record manuscripts contained in private collections or in the form of scrolls – it is quite likely that we have well above 25,000 copies of the New Testament to work with.

Slide22 400pxLet’s compare the date of the oldest manuscripts and number of existing manuscripts with a few other pieces of literature that historians consider accurate. For the New Testament, the time gap is hundreds of years smaller and the number of manuscripts higher by thousands compared to other works from antiquity. This shows that the New Testament is the most trustworthy document from antiquity. By comparing all the manuscripts we possess, scholars easily identify copying mistakes. This process is called textual criticism. Through this process, we can ascertain the wording of the New Testament with about 99.9% accuracy. See Appendix B for more information on copying mistakes.

Well, all this only proves that we know what these books originally said. But, how do we know the right books are in the Bible? It was just people who decided wasn’t it?

Do we have the right books?

Usually when critics argue that people decided what books should be in the bible (which is called the canon), they are using a different definition of canon than Christians do. The critic thinks the church decided to declare some books authoritative and not others – that the canon didn’t exist until church leaders conferred authority on a few books when they wrote canonical lists. But the Christian understanding is different. If God exists and He inspired human writers, then the canon began to exist the moment the author put pen to paper and the canon grew as each God-inspired book was written.

The Old Testament Canon has never been in doubt. It is the exact list of books that the Jewish community has used for thousands of years. It is the exact Old Testament that Jesus declared to be inspired and authoritative (Mt. 5:17). The only differences are in the order and grouping of the books. The oldest references we have to the Old Testament canon comes from the Jewish historian Josephus, who wrote during AD 95 in his work Against Apion that the Jews recognize 22 books as authoritative; this list of 22 books covers all the Old Testament recognized by Protestants, with the exception of Ezra,  Nehemiah and Esther. However, Josephus commends these books in his AD 93/94 work Antiquity of the Jews (which also mentions Jesus).

Regarding the Old Testament Apocryphal books. The Jewish community rejected all Apocryphal books as authoritative. Early Jews may have privately read the apocryphal books for insightful historical and/or theological observations – Josephus and prominent 1st-century Midrashic rabbis did this – but they opposed any consideration of these books as Scripture.

What about the New Testament? Did Emperor Constantine decide what counted as Scripture at Nicaea in AD 325. Are the books in the Bible just the politically motivated selections of a Roman Emperor 300 years after the fact?

Was the New Testament decided at Nicaea?

As for the New Testament, the books we have in our Bible imposed themselves on the early church; they were recognized as inspired from the beginning. It’s a common myth that the biblical books the church uses were imposed on Christianity by the Roman Emperor Constantine at the council of Nicaea in AD 325 for political reasons. This is not true. We have ample evidence to show that the New Testament books we use were considered authoritative from their very beginning.

The New Testament writers recognized each other’s words as scripture.  Peter wrote, “His (Paul’s) letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Pt. 3:16).

We also have very early lists of canonical books produced well before Nicaea that give a nearly identical list of books to our current New Testament today.

  • Around AD 180 we have records of the church father Irenaeus listing every book in the NT as cannon, except Philemon and 3 John.
  • The Muratorian fragment from AD 180, affirms 22 of the 27 books of the New Testament, in a list remarkably close to Irenaeus’.
  • Then in AD 198 Clement of Alexandria had a remarkably similar position, He affirmed the four gospels, 13 epistles of Paul, Hebrews, Acts, 1 Peter, 1&2 John, Jude, and Revelation.

Slide34 400pxBeyond these lists, we have numerous quotations from early church fathers which quote the books of the New Testament as authoritative scripture. These Church fathers frequently begin their quotation with “It is written”, the same language used before citations of Old Testament scripture. All of this predates the Council of Nicaea by 100-150 years. Therefore, the canon was not “foisted” on the church then. Nicaea could have only ratified the near 200-year consensus the church already held. It is interesting to note that a number of the later church fathers (after AD 150) condemn as heretical some of the Apocryphal texts by name (most notably Acts of Paul and The Gospel of Thomas).

There was never any concern that the cannon the church accepted was wrong. The bigger concern in the early church was that some Christians would be misled into believing that the counterfeit apocryphal books should be regarded as scripture when they really shouldn’t. This was the real reason official lists of canonical books were authorised at various church councils – to combat heretical teachers and apocryphal books masquerading as scripture.

In AD 367 Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, listed all the books that are in the New Testament canon. He also spoke up against books to be rejected because they were “an invention of heretics”. He called these “apocrypha”.

So we have the right Bible because its ancient words have been preserved since it was written.

How does knowing all this help us today?

It’s important to know that we have the right Bible because our entire faith and hope of salvation depend on the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection as documented in the Bible. Paul corrected those who said there is no resurrection of the dead by saying, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise Him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep (died) in Christ are lost (forever). If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:13-20). If the apostles were “false witnesses”, their message in the Bible would be unreliable. But knowing that the Bible is reliable gives us confidence and assurance in our Christian faith. The New Testament confirms many times that “Christ indeed has been raised from the dead”. It’s fact, not fiction.

Peter said that what the Apostles wrote was based on eyewitness accounts and not on fabricated stories (2 Pt. 2:3). “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Pt. 1:16). Knowing that we have an accurate copy of what they wrote means that we have access to eyewitness accounts. This means that the Christian faith is based on real objective historical events and not on subjective human ideas or religious concepts.

And Christians are to defend their faith. In the context of criticism, opposition and persecution, Peter said, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pt. 3:15). We need to know why we believe what we believe. Our “hope” is our confidence about God and eternity. We can have confidence that we will have eternal life if we believe that Jesus died for our sin. And all this is based on the trustworthiness of the Bible.

Sometimes critics just want to undermine our faith or the faith of our fellow believers. We defend our faith as an act of reverence to Jesus and as a support and comfort to our fellow believers who may be struggling with doubt. And sometimes the critical questions come from a seeking heart and by answering them we might be helping clear away the obstacles that may be keeping someone from coming to faith in Jesus.


The Bible is the most reliable document we have from antiquity. It’s good to know that we have the right Bible. It’s an accurate copy of the message that God gave in ancient times.

Appendix A: Predictive statements in Daniel

Daniel is an example of a book of the Bible that makes predictive statements. Even giving the book of Daniel the absolute latest possible dates critics can give (ca 200 BC based on the Dead Sea manuscript found at Qumran), the predictive statements found in the later chapters of this book still precede the actual events described. Prior to the Dead Sea Scroll findings, critics did indeed try to claim that all of Daniel’s predictive statements came after the fact. The Dead Sea discovery proved that some of the book’s predictions definitely precede the events, even if we were to say that the copies found in Qumran are the earliest manuscripts containing them.

Appendix B: How are variants counted?

Some critics, like Bart Ehrman, say that the New Testament contains over 400,000 variants from the standard text, which is more than the total number of words in the New Testament (about 138,000)! So how is this number calculated? Please note that a “variant” is not an error. It’s where texts are not perfectly matched. Most of these variations are insignificant.

These variants were counted by the number of manuscripts they are found in. For example, if a spelling mistake occurs in just one verse and this mistake is found in 2,000 of the 25,000 manuscripts we have, that one spelling mistake was counted as 2,000 variants, even though it’s just one word in just one verse. So saying there are more than 400,000 variants is a misleading statement. Furthermore, 70% of all variants are one particular scribal error called the moveable-nu; it is the Koine Greek equivalent of accidentally using “a” instead of “an” in English. Of all variants, less than 0.1% are worth even mentioning in the footnotes found in good study bibles. Only two variants affect more than two verses, the end of Mark (Mk. 16:9-20) and the story about the woman caught in adultery (Jn. 7:53-8:11). And no variants at all influence any Christian doctrine or practices. This is largely because the doctrine and practices are taught in many passages of the Bible. They don’t rely on a single passage.

It’s interesting to note that the large number of variants is mainly due to the large number of ancient manuscripts. These increase the accuracy in determining the text of the original manuscript. So, it’s actually a strength and not a weakness!


This blogpost was sourced from a presentation by Dr Tom Murphy (a chemist) titled, “Do we have the right Bible?”.


Eichenwald K (2014) “The Bible: So misunderstood it’s a sin”, Newsweek 23 December 2014.
Sommer J C (1997), “Some reasons why Humanists reject the Bible”, American Humanist Association.

Written, May 2018

Also see: Can we trust our Bibles? How the Bible came to us.
Is the New Testament reliable?
Mind the gap

You can trust God with your data

May-18_TrustGodWithYourData_JPG 400pxThere’s good reason to be worried about what happens to our data. Smart phones and computers store so much of our personal information. For example… intimate photos, political opinions, religious beliefs, bank account details. Or those emails from when you were sacked or that argument you had with your mother-in-law. The potential for embarrassment or even blackmail from data in the wrong hands is significant.

But whose hands are the wrong hands? Google, Facebook and Amazon try to profile our every thought and action so they can either sell us things or else sell our profile to advertisers and other companies. Tim Cook, the head of Apple, says, ‘When an online service is free, you’re not the customer – you’re the product’. Recently, Apple has been telling its users that ‘Privacy is a human right’.  But then, can we trust Apple?

And is privacy a human right? It’s certainly a time in history where it’s harder than ever to leave past mistakes behind and start again. In a globalized, connected world, one can’t just escape over a border and disappear to start again somewhere else. The Internet preserves and reveals all kinds of mistakes that we’d prefer to be forgotten.

In case you weren’t aware, since God is our maker, He has access to all our data. In the Bible, King David prays to God and says, ‘Even before I speak a word, O Lord, You know it all’ (Psalm 139:4). Therefore, since God knows about our every evil thought, word and deed, the question is, ‘What will God do with our data?’ Will He punish us by exposing our mistakes and shaming us before everyone?

No. You’ll be relieved to know that God’s radical promise to those who come to Him in repentance and prayer is that He will entirely erase this data. 2000 years ago, at the cross, God put all our shame and embarrassment onto Jesus. And since our crimes have now been dealt with, God has decided to forget about them. In the 8th Century before Jesus came God spoke through the prophet Isaiah saying:

I am the One who takes away your sins because of who I am. And I will not remember your sins“.

So, turn to God in prayer, acknowledge all your secrets to Him and thank Him for His kindness to you in Jesus.

Bible verse: Isaiah 43:25, “I am the One who takes away your sins because of who I am. And I will not remember your sins”.

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for dealing with my sensitive data. Please help me to live a life without shame.

Acknowledgement: This blogpost was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2018

Noah: Fact or fiction?

Plagiarism 400pxPlagiarism involves stealing someone else’s work and using it without acknowledgement. Plagiarism checkers are available online. But when plagiarism is detected how can we determine which is the copied version? Or whether both were copied from another original. If we know when they were written, that could indicate that the most recent version is copy. The story of Noah’s flood in the Bible is like other ancient flood stories. People speculate about which was the original account or whether they were both derived from the same event.

The story

Because of the wickedness of humanity in antiquity, God destroyed the earth with a great flood but spared Noah and his family (Gen. 6-9). God told Noah to build a huge boat to carry two of every kind of animal. Then the earth was covered with water, drowning everyone and everything that once roamed the land. Noah, his family and the animals on the boat survived and repopulated the planet. An Israelite named Moses edited these records about Noah when he compiled Genesis about 1450BC (see Appendix A).

Many scholars think that this is a religious legend or myth that came from older Mesopotamian flood stories mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Their explanation is that over time the account of flooding by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers may have been embellished. And according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Noah is a “symbolic figure”.

In this post, we will evaluate these claims by looking at what the Bible says about Noah. Was he a real historic person or is he symbolic or mythical? Did he live on earth or did he come from someone’s imagination? Is he literal or literary?

Old Testament

Noah is also mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 54, Isaiah predicts that Judah will be restored after it goes into captivity. “To me (God) this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you (Judah), never to rebuke you again” (Isa. 54:9). He recalls the covenant that God made with Noah after the flood (Gen. 8:21; 9:11). The restoration will be a new beginning with no more judgment, just like the covenant with Noah. This means that a Jewish prophet who lived about 700BC (about 750 years after Moses) believed the story about Noah and the flood. So, he confirmed that the account about Noah in Genesis was factual.

Ezekiel was a Jew taken into exile in Babylon in 597BC. In 591-592BC, he predicted the fall of Jerusalem and Judah (which occurred in 586BC).
“If a country (Judah) sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its people and their animals, even if these three men—Noah, Daniel and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign Lord.
Or if I send wild beasts through that country (Judah) and they leave it childless and it becomes desolate so that no one can pass through it because of the beasts, as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, even if these three men (Noah, Daniel and Job) were in it, they could not save their own sons or daughters. They alone would be saved, but the land would be desolate.
Or if I bring a sword against that country (Judah) and say, ‘Let the sword pass throughout the land,’ and I kill its people and their animals, as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, even if these three men (Noah, Daniel and Job) were in it, they could not save their own sons or daughters. They alone would be saved.
Or if I send a plague into that land (Judah) and pour out my wrath on it through bloodshed, killing its people and their animals, as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, even if Noah, Daniel and Job were in it, they could save neither son nor daughter. They would save only themselves by their righteousness (Ezek. 14:13-20).
Because of their idolatry, God was going to bring “four dreadful judgments—sword (war) and famine and wild beasts and plague (disease)—to kill its (Judah’s) men and their animals” (Ezek. 14:21). These were the four main causes of death among peoples of the ancient Near East. This judgement would occur even if three righteous men like Noah, Daniel and Job lived in the land. Only the righteous would be saved; people couldn’t rely on another’s righteousness. This means that a Jewish prophet who lived about 590BC (about 860 years after Moses) believed that Noah was a righteous man, which is consistent with the account about Noah in Genesis.

In 1 Chronicles 1, the first 11 generations of humanity are given as, “Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah. The sons of Noah: Shem, Ham and Japheth” (1 Chron. 1:1-4NIV). This means that the Jews who compiled this book in about 450BC (about 1,000 years after Moses) considered Noah to be in the 10th generation of humanity. So, they confirmed that the account about Noah in Genesis 5:28-32 was factual.

New Testament

Noah is mentioned in six passages written by Matthew, Luke, and Peter and in the book of Hebrews in the New Testament. Luke confirms that Noah was in the 10th generation of humanity, “the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel, the son of Kenan, the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam” (Lk. 3:35-38). This was written about 1,500 years after Moses.

In Matthew 24, Jesus describes the behavior of people when He returns to establish His kingdom. “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man (Jesus). For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark (boat); and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Mt. 24:37-39). This is also recorded by Luke, “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man (Jesus). People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all” (Lk. 17:26-27). As people were unprepared for the flood (they were outside the ark and they had no time for God), so they will be unprepared for the second coming of Christ (they will have no time for God). Only those trusting in Christ will be delivered when He returns. The rest will ignore God’s warnings and be judged like most of Noah’s generation. So, Jesus obviously believed that Noah was a real person and the global flood was a real event.

Noah’s faith is commended in Hebrews. “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith” (Heb. 11:7). When warned about the coming flood, Noah “built an ark to save his family”. Perhaps many of the early Jewish Christians often wondered why they were such a small minority. The story of Noah reminded them of the time when only eight people trusted God while the rest died in the flood. Just as the other heroes of faith lived historically (such as “David, Samuel and the prophets”, v.32), Noah was a real person and the global flood was a real event.

1 Peter 3 describes what happened in the days of Moses. “In which (by the Holy Spirit) He (Christ) went and made proclamation (through Noah) to the spirits [now] in prison (the unrighteous people in Noah’s day, who were now in hades waiting for the final judgment) who in the past were disobedient (to Noah’s preaching), when God patiently waited in the days of Noah while the ark was being prepared. In it a few—that is, eight people—were saved through water” (1 Pt. 3:19-20CSB). The Christians that this passage was written to were suffering. And they were a small minority. In these verses they were encouraged by the prospect of being saved from the coming judgment, just as eight people were in Noah’s day. Peter describes real people that were saved by a real ark.

2 Peter 2 gives examples of God’s judgment of sin including, “He (God) did not spare the ancient world when He brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others” (2 Pt. 2:5). Here we see that Moses warned the people to turn from their wickedness or face God’s judgment. Once again, Peter describes real people that were saved from a real flood.


The method I have used to investigate whether Noah was a real person and the flood was a real event or just a mythical story to convey a message differs from the one used most commonly. I have studied what the Bible says about this topic, whereas others usually rely on scholarship outside the Bible. The problem with scholarship that is based outside the Bible (including literature and non-experimental historic science) is that it can change from year to year. What is claimed to be true now, will probably be discredited by future generations. Such knowledge is transient and changeable. And the interpretation of literary genres is very subjective. I prefer a more objective and robust approach that is based on Scriptural facts (the text of the Bible which is unchanging). The best way to interpret a Biblical passage is to investigate the text, the context, what the author says elsewhere and what other Bible authors say about the topic. This is the approach I have used in this post.

Depending on your worldview, you may not agree with my approach. But I think that a worldview based on revelation by the Creator of the universe is more reliable than one based on naturalistic human scholarship.

We have seen that the Old Testament prophets (Isaiah and Ezekiel) believed the story about Noah and the flood. As they lived over 2,600 years closer to these events, their interpretation of Genesis will be more accurate than any modern scholar.

And the Old Testament Jews who compiled scripture believed that Noah was a real person (1 Chron. 1:1-4). As they lived over 2,400 years closer to these events, their interpretation of Genesis will be more accurate than any modern scholar.

And the writers of the New Testament (Matthew, Luke, Peter and the author of Hebrews) believed that Noah was a real person. Jesus also believed that Noah was a real person and the global flood was a real event. As they lived over 1,950 years closer to these events, their interpretation of Genesis will be more accurate than any modern scholar.

Are the Mesopotamian flood stories mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh older than the biblical flood story? Many scholars believe the Mesopotamian stories are older because they assume that Genesis was compiled in the 6th century BC. They ignore the fact that Moses compiled Genesis about 1450BC (see Appendix A). According to the Bible, Noah lived in the 3rd millennium BC. And according to scholars, Gilgamesh lived in the 3rd millennium BC. So they could possibly be describing the same event.


We have seen that the Genesis flood was an historical event which shows that people are habitual sinners who disobey God and deserve judgment. God hates sin and His patience comes to an end when He punishes unrepentant sinners. But God protects those who trust in Him. This shows that sin has consequences, and judgment is coming. If it wasn’t a real event, then its significance is reduced.

Jesus and Peter likened the flood to God’s coming judgment of the ungodly. The reality of the flood should warn us of the reality of the coming judgment by fire (2 Pt. 3-13). The account of Noah and the flood shows the prospect of being saved from God’s judgment. As the example of Noah was a real event, so there is a real prospect of being saved from God’s judgment. Trusting in Jesus is like being on the ark. But if the account of Noah is mythical and not historic, then it would be a weaker example of deliverance.

Noah lived by faith. He trusted in the revelation his generation had received about God. Since that time, we have much more revelation about God (see the remainder of the Bible). Do we live by faith in what Jesus has done in taking the punishment we all deserve for our sinfulness?


The Old Testament Jews believed that Noah was a real person and that the account about him in Genesis 6-9 describes real events. Also, Jesus, Matthew, Luke, Peter and the author of Hebrews all believed that that Noah was a real person and that the account about him in Genesis 6-9 describes real events.

Therefore, we should also believe that Noah was a real person and that the account about him in Genesis 6-9 describes real events. So, Noah was a person who lived on earth, and he wasn’t symbolic or mythical nor did he come from someone’s imagination. He is literal and not literary.

Appendix A: When was Genesis compiled?

There is no mention in the book of Genesis of the name of its complier. But because the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) is called “the law of Moses” in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, many believe that it was Moses (1 Ki. 2:3; Lk. 2:22). When he was leading Israel, Joshua said that “the book of the law of Moses” was already written (Josh. 1:7-8; 8:30-31).

Jesus referred to the three parts of the Jewish Old Testament as “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Lk. 24:44). This makes Moses the author of the first part of the Old Testament.

First century Jews said that circumcision was a “custom taught by Moses” (Acts15:1) and “Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs)” (Jn. 7:22). This may refer to the introduction of male circumcision for the descendants of Abraham in Genesis 17.

The Bible says that “the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel” was “the 480th year after the Israelites came out of Egypt” (1Ki. 6:1). Since the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel was about 966BC, the date of the exodus was about 1446BC. It’s most likely that Moses wrote most of the Pentatuech during the 40year period (about 1446-1406BC) when Israel travelled from Egypt to Canaan. As it refers to earlier events, it is possible that Genesis was compiled before the exodus.

Who wrote the original account about Noah? Based on the structure of Genesis, it seems that Noah wrote Genesis 5:1b-6:9a, which ends with “This is the account of Noah and his family”. And his sons Shem, Ham and Japheth probably wrote Genesis 6:9b-10:1a, which ends with “This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth”. These may have been written on clay tablets in the 3rd millennium BC .

Written, May 2018

Also see: Adam and Eve: Fact or fiction?
Genesis 1-11: Fact of fiction?
In six days?