THE DOCTRINAL VALUE OF THE FIRST
DYSON HAGUE, M. A.,
Vicar Of The Church Of The Epiphany; Professor Of Liturgics, Wycliffe
College, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The Book of Genesis is in many respects the most important book in the Bible. It is of the first importance because it answers, not exhaustively, but sufficiently, the fundamental questions of the human mind. It contains the first authoritative information given to the race concerning these questions of everlasting interest: the Being of God; the origin of the universe; the creation of man; the origin of the soul; the fact of revelation; the introduction of sin; the promise of salvation; the primitive division of the human race; the purpose of the elected people; the preliminary part in the program of Christianity. In one word, in this inspired volume of beginnings,
we have the satisfactory explanation of all the sin and misery and contradiction now in this world, and the reason of the scheme of redemption.
Or, to put it in another way. The Book of Genesis is the seed in which the plant of God’s Word is enfolded. It is the starting point of God’s gradually unfolded
plan of the ages. Genesis is the plinth of the pillar of the Divine revelation. It is the root of the tree of the inspired Scriptures. It is the source of the stream of the holy writings of the Bible. If the base of the pillar is removed, the pillar falls. If the root of the tree is cut out, the tree will wither and die. If the fountain head of the stream is cut off, the stream will dry up. The Bible as a whole is like a chain hanging upon two staples. The Book of Genesis is the one staple; the Book of Revelation is the other. Take away either staple, the chain falls in confusion. If the first chapters of Genesis are unreliable, the revelation of the beginning of the universe, the origin of the race, and the reason of its redemption are gone. If the last chapters of Revelation are displaced the consummation of all things is unknown. If you take away Genesis, you have lost the explanation of the first heaven, the first earth, the first Adam, and the fall. If you take away Revelation you have lost the completed truth of the new heaven, and the new earth, man redeemed, and the second Adam in Paradise regained. Further: in the first chapters of the Book of Genesis. you have the strong and sufficient foundation of the subsequent developments of the kingdom of God; the root-germ of all Anthropology, Soteriology, Christology, Satanology, to say nothing of the ancient and modern problems of the mystery and culpability of sin, the Divine ordinance of the Lord’s Day, the unity of the race, and God’s establishment of matrimony and the family life.
We assume from the start the historicity of Genesis and its Mosaic authorship. It was evidently accepted by Christ the Infallible, our Lord and God, as historical, as one single composition, and as the work of Moses. It was accepted by Paul the inspired. It was accepted universally by the divinely inspired leaders of God’s chosen people. (See Green’s “Higher Criticism of the Pentateuch.”) It has validated itself to the universal Church throughout the ages by its realism and consistency, and by what has been finely termed its subjective truthfulness. We postulate especially the historicity of the first chapters. These are not only valuable, they are vital.
They are the essence of Genesis. The Book of Genesis is neither the work of a theorist or a tribal annalist. It is still less the product of some anonymous compiler or compilers in some unknowable era, of a series of myths, historic in form but unhistoric in fact. Its opening is an apocalypse, a direct revelation from the God of all truth. Whether it was given in a vision or otherwise, it would be impossible to say. But it is possible, if not probable, that the same Lord God, who revealed to His servant as he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day the apocalypse of the humanly unknown and unknowable events of man’s history which will transpire when this
heaven and this earth have passed away, would also have revealed to His servant, being in the Spirit, the apocalypse of the humanly unknowable and unknown events which transpired before this earth’s history began. It has been asserted that the beginning and the end of things are both absolutely hidden from science. Science has to do with phenomena. It is where science must confess its impotence that revelation steps in, and, with the authority of God, reveals those things that are above it, The beginning of Genesis, therefore, is a divinely inspired narrative of the events deemed necessary by God to establish the foundations for the Divine Law in the sphere of human life, and to set forth the relation between the omnipotent Creator and the man who fell, and the race that was to be redeemed by the
incarnation of His Son.
The German rationalistic idea, which has passed over into thousands of more or less orthodox Christian minds, is that these earliest chapters embody ancient traditions of the Semitic-oriental mind. Others go farther, and not only deny them to be the product of the reverent and religious mind of the Hebrew, but assert they were simply oriental legends, not born from above and of God, but born in the East, and probably in pagan Babylonia. We would therefore postulate the following propositions:
The residuum of dubious truth, which might with varying degrees of consent be extracted therefrom, could never be accepted as a foundation for the superstructure of eternally trustworthy doctrine, for it is an axiom that that only is of doctrinal value which is God’s Word. Mythical and legendary fiction, and still more, erroneous and misleading tradition, are incompatible not only with the character of the God of all truth, but with the truthfulness, trustworthiness, and absolute authority of the Word of God. We have not taken for our credentials cleverly invented myths. The primary documents, if there were such, were collated and revised and re-written by Moses by inspiration of God.
A sentence in Margoliouth’s “Lines of Defence” deserves an attentive consideration today. We should have some opportunity, said the Oxford professor, of gauging the skill of those on whose faith the old-fashioned belief in the authenticity of Scripture has been abandoned. (p. 293). One would perhaps prefer to put the idea in this way. Our modern Christians should have more opportunity not only of appraising the skill, but of gauging also the spiritual qualifications of a critical school that has been characterized notoriously by an enthusiasm against the miraculous, and a precipitate adoption o which militates against the historicity of Genesis.
Christians are conceding too much nowadays to the agnostic scientist, and the rationalistic Hebraist, and are often to blame if they allow them to go out of their specific provinces without protest. Their assumptions ought to be watched with the utmost vigilance and jealousy. (See Gladstone, “The Impregnable Rock of Holy Scripture,” pp. 62-83).
But to resume. The Book of Genesis is the foundation on which the superstructure of the Scriptures rests. The foundation of the foundation is the first three chapters, which form in themselves a complete monograph of revelation. And of this final substructure the first three verses of the first chapter are the foundation.
In the first verse of Genesis in words of supernatural grandeur, we have a revelation of God as the first cause, the Creator of the universe, the world and man. The glorious Being of God comes forth without explanation, and without apology. It is a revelation of the one, personal, living, God. There is in the ancient philosophic cosmogony no trace of the idea of such a Being, still less of such a Creator, for all other systems began and ended with pantheistic, materialistic, or hylozoistic conceptions. The Divine Word stands unique in declaring the absolute idea of the living God, without attempt at demonstration. The spirituality, infinity, omnipotence, sanctity of the Divine Being, all in germ lie here. Nay more. The later and more fully revealed doctrine of the unity of God in the Trinity may be said to lie here in germ also, and the last and deepest revelation to be involved in first and foremost. The fact of God in the first of Genesis is not given as a deduction of reason or a philosophic generalization. It is a revelation. It is a revelation of that primary truth which is received by the universal human mind as a truth that needs no proof, and is incapable of it, but which being received, is verified to the intelligent mind by an irresistible force not only with ontological and cosmological, but with teleological and moral arguments. Here we have in this first verse of Genesis, not only a postulate apart from Revelation, but three great truths which have constituted the glory of our religion.
(1) The Unity of God; in contradiction to all the polytheisms and dualisms of ancient and modern pagan philosophy.
(2) The Personality of God; in contradiction to that pantheism whether materialistic or idealistic, which recognizes God’s immanence in the world, but denies His transcendence. For in all its multitudinous developments, pantheism has this peculiarity, that it denies the personality of God, and excludes from the realm of life the need of a Mediator, a Sin-Bearer, and a personal Saviour.
(3) The Omnipotence of God; in contradiction, not only to those debasing conceptions of the anthropomorphic deities of the ancient world, but to all those man-made idols which the millions of heathenism today adore. God made these stars and suns, which man in his infatuation fain would worship. Thus in contradiction to all human conceptions and human evolutions, there stands forth no mere deistic abstraction, but the one, true, living and only God. He is named by the name Elohim, the name of Divine Majesty, the Adorable One, our Creator and Governor; the same God who in a few verses later is revealed as Jehovah-Elohim, Jehovah being the Covenant name, the God of revelation and grace, the Ever-Existent Lord, the God and Father of us all. (Green, “Unity of Genesis,” pp. 31,32; “Fausset’s Bib. Ency.,” p. 258).
One of the theories of modernism is that the law of evolution can be traced through the Bible in the development of the idea of God. The development of the idea of God? Is there in the Scriptures any real trace of the development of the idea of God? There is an expansive, and richer, and fuller revelation of the attributes and dealings and ways and workings of God; but not of the idea of God. The God of Genesis 1:1 is the God of Psalm 90; of Isaiah 40:28; of Hebrews 1:1; and Revelation 4:11.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Here in a sublime revelation is the doctrinal foundation of the creation of the universe, and the contradiction of the ancient and modern conceptions of the eternity of matter. God only is eternal. One can well believe the story of a Japanese thinker who took up a strange book, and with wonderment read the first sentence: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” It struck him that there was more philosophy of a theological character, and satisfying to the mind and soul, in that one sentence than in all the sacred books of the orient. That single sentence separates the Scriptures from the rest of human productions. The wisest philosophy of the ancients, Platonic-Aristotelian or Gnostic, never reached the point that the world was created by God in the sense of absolute creation. In no cosmogony outside of the Bible is there a record of the idea that God created the heaven and the earth, as an effort of
His will, and the fiat of His eternal, self-existent Personality. Ex nihilo nihil fit. The highest point reached by their philosophical speculations was a kind of atomic theory; of cosmic atoms and germs and eggs possessed of some inexplicable forces of development, out of which the present cosmos was through long ages evolved. Matter was almost universally believed to have existed from eternity. The Bible teaches that the universe was not causa sui or a mere passive evolution of His nature, nor a mere transition from one form of being to another, from non-being to being, but that it was a direct creation of the personal, living, working God, who created all things out of nothing, but the fiat of His will, and the instrumentality of the eternal Logos. In glorious contrast to agnostic science with its lamentable creed, “I believe that behind and above and around the phenomena of matter and force remains the unsolved mystery of the universe,” the Christian holds forth his triumphant solution, “I believe that in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (John 1:1-3; Hebrews 1:1; Colossians 1:16). The first verse of the Bible is a proof that the Book is of God.
And so with regard to the subsequent verses. Genesis is admittedly not a scientific history. It is a narrative for mankind to show that this world was made by God for the habitation of man, and was gradually being fitted for God’s children. So in a series of successive creative developments from the formless chaos, containing in embryonic condition all elemental constituents, chemical and mechanical, air, earth, fire, and water, the sublime process is recorded, according to the Genesis narrative in the following order:
These three points where the idea of absolute creation is introduced are the three main points at which modern champions of evolution find it impossible to make
Next we have in this sublime revelation the doctrinal foundation for the beginning of mankind. Man was created, not evolved. That is, he did not come from protoplasmic mud-mass, or sea ooze bathybian, or by descent from fish or frog, or horse, or ape; but at once, direct, full made, did man come forth from God. When you read what some writers, professedly religious, say about man and his bestial origin your shoulders unconsciously droop; your head hangs down; your heart feels sick. Your self-respect has received a blow. When you read Genesis, your shoulders straighten, your chest emerges. You feel proud to be that thing that is called man. Up goes your heart, and up goes your head. The Bible stands openly against the evolutionary development of man, and his gradual ascent through indefinite aeons from the animal.
Not against the idea of the development of the plans of the Creator in nature, or a variation of species by means of environment and processes of time. That is seen in Genesis, and throughout the Bible, and in this world. But the Bible does stand plainly against that garish theory that all species, vegetable and animal, have originated through evolution from lower forms through long natural processes. The materialistic form of this theory to the Christian is most offensive. It practically substitutes an all-engendering protoplasmic call for the only and true God. But even the theistic supernaturalistic theory is opposed to the Bible and to Science for these reasons.
1:26,27. These verses give man his true place in the universe as the consummation of creation. Made out of the dust of the ground, and created on the same day with the highest group of animals, man has physiological affinities with the animal creation. But he was made in the image of God, and therefore transcendently superior to any animal. “Man is a walker, the monkey is a climber,” said the great French scientist, De Quatrefages, years ago. A man does a thousand things every day that a monkey could not do if he tried ten thousand years. Man has the designing, controlling, ordering, constructive, and governing faculties. Man has personality, understanding, will, conscience. Man is fitted for apprehending God, and for worshipping God. The Genesis account of man is the only possible basis of revelation. The revelation of fatherhood; of the beautiful, the true, the good; of purity, of peace; is unthinkable to a horse, a dog, or a monkey. The most civilized simian could have no affinity with such ideas. There is no possibility of his conceiving such conceptions, or of receiving them if revealed. It is, ... moreover, the only rational basis for the doctrine of regeneration in opposition to the idea of the evolution of the human character, and of the great doctrine of the incarnation. Man once made in the image of God, by the regenerating power of the Holy Ghost is born again and made in the image of God the Son.
Further, we have in this sublime revelation of Genesis the doctrinal foundation of:
1. The unity of the human race.
2. The fall of man.
3. The plan of redemption.
1. With regard to the first, Sir William Dawson has said that the Bible knows but one Adam. Adam was not a myth, or an ethnic name. He was a veritable man, made by God; not an evolutionary development from some hairy anthropoid in some imaginary continent of Lemuria. ... The Bible knows but one species of man, one primitive pair. ... This is confirmed by the Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 19:4. ... It is re-affirmed by Paul in Acts 17:26, whichever reading may be taken, and in Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21,47,49. Nor is there any ground for supposing that the word Adam is used in a collective sense, and thus leave room for the hypotheses of the evolutionary development of a large number of human pairs. All things in both physiology and ethnology, as well as in the sciences, which bear on the subject, confirm the idea of the unity of the human race. (Saphir, p. 206).
2. With regard to the fall of man. The foundation of all Harmartology and Anthropology lies in the first three chapters of Genesis. It teaches us that man was originally created for communion with God, and that whether his personality was dichotomistic or trichotomistic, he was entirely fitted for personal, intelligent fellowship with his Maker, and was united with Him in the bonds of love and knowledge. Every element of the Bible story recommends itself as a historic narrative. Placed in Eden by his God, with a work to do, and a trial-command, man was potentially perfect, but with the possibility of fall. Man fell, though it was God’s will that man should rise from that human posse non peccari as a free agent into the Divine non posse peccari. (Augustine, “De Civitate Dei”, Book 22, Chap. 30). Man fell by disobedience, and through the power of a supernatural deceiver called that old serpent, the devil and Satan, who from Genesis 3 to Revelation 19 appears as the implacable enemy of the human race, and the head of that fallen angel-band which abandoned through the sin of pride their first principality.
This story is incomprehensible if only a myth. The great Dutch theologian, Van Oosterzee says, “The narrative presents itself plainly as history. Such an historic fantastic clothing of a pure philosophic idea accords little with the genuine spirit of Jewish antiquity.” (Dog. ii, p. 403).
Still more incomprehensible is it, if it is merely an allegory which refers fruit, serpent, woman, tree, eating, etc., to entirely different things from those mentioned in the Bible. It is history. It is treated as such by our Lord Jesus Christ, who surely would not mistake a myth for history, and by St. Paul, who hardly built Romans 5, and 1 Corinthians 15, on cleverly composed fables. It is the only satisfactory explanation of the corruption of the race. From Adam’s time death has reigned.
This story of the fall stands, moreover, as a barrier against all Manicheanism, and against that Palagianism which declares that man is not so bad after all, and derides the doctrine of original sin which in all our Church confessions distinctly declares the possession by every one from birth of this sinful nature. (See, e.g., Art. IX of “Anglican Church.”) The penalty and horror of sin, the corruption of our human nature, and the hopelessness of our sinful estate are things definitely set forth in the Holy Scripture, and are St. Paul’s divinely-inspired deductions from this fact of the incoming of sin and death through the disobedience and fall of Adam, the original head of the human race. The race is in a sinful condition. (Romans 5:12). Mankind is a solidarity. As the root of a tree lives in stem, branch, leaf and fruit; so in Adam, as Anselm says, a person made nature sinful, in his posterity nature made persons sinful. Or, as Pascal finely puts it, original sin is folly in the sight of man, but this folly is wiser than all the wisdom of man. For without it, who could have said what man is. His whole condition depends upon this imperceptible point. (“Thoughts,” ch. xiii-11). This Genesis story further is the foundation of the Scripture doctrine of all human responsibility, and accountability to God. A lowered anthropology always means a lowered theology, for if man was not a direct creation of God, if he was a mere indirect development, through slow and painful process, of no one knows what, or how, or why, or when, or where, the main spring of moral accountability is gone. The fatalistic conception of man’s personal
and moral life is the deadly gift of naturalistic evolution to our age, said Prof. D. A. Curtis recently.
3. With regard to our redemption, the third chapter of Genesis is the basis of all Soteriology. If there was no fall, there was no condemnation, no separation and no need of reconciliation. If there was no need of reconciliation, there was no need of redemption; and if there was no need of redemption, the Incarnation was a superfluity, and the crucifixion folly. (Galatians 3:21). So closely does the apostle link the fall of Adam and the death of Christ, that without Adam’s fall the science of theology is evacuated of its most salient feature, the atonement. If the first Adam was not made a living soul and fell, there was no reason for the work of the Second Man, the Lord from heaven. The rejection of the Genesis story as a myth, tends to the rejection of the Gospel of salvation. One of the chief corner stones of the Christian doctrine is removed, if the historical reality of Adam and Eve is abandoned, for the fall will ever remain as the starting point of special revelation, of salvation by grace, and of the need of personal regeneration. In it lies the germ of the entire apostolic Gospel.
Finally, we have in Genesis 2 the doctrinal foundation of those great fundamentals, the necessity of labor, the Lord’s Day of rest, the Divine ordinance of matrimony, and the home life of mankind. The weekly day of rest was provided for man by his God, and is planted in the very forefront of revelation as a Divine ordinance, and so also is marriage and the home. Our Lord Jesus Christ endorses the Mosaic story of the creation of Adam and Eve, refers to it as the explanation of the Divine will regarding divorce, and sanctions by His infallible imprimatur that most momentous of ethical questions, monogamy. Thus the great elements of life as God intended it, the three universal factors of happy, healthy, helpful life, law, labor, love, are laid down in the beginning of God’s Book.
Three other remarkable features in the first chapters of Genesis deserve a brief reference.
The first is the assertion of the original unity of the language of the human race. (Genesis 11:1). Max Muller, a foremost ethnologist and philologist, declares that all our languages, in spite of their diversities, must have originated in one common source. (See Saphir, “Divine Unity,” p. 206; Dawson, “Origin of the World,” p. 286; Guinness, “Divine Programme,” p. 75).
The second is that miracle of ethnological prophecy by Noah in Genesis 9:26,27, in which we have foretold in a sublime epitome the three great divisions of the human race, and their ultimate historic destinies. The three great divisions, Hamitic, Shemitic, and Japhetic, are the three ethnic groups into which modern science has divided the human race. The facts of history have fulfilled what was foretold in Genesis four thousand years ago. The Hamitic nations, including the Chaidean, Babylonic, and Egyptian, have been degraded, profane, and sensual. The Shemitic have been the religious with the line of the coming Messiah. The Japhetic have been the enlarging, and the dominant races, including all the great world monarchies, both of the ancient and modern times, the Grecian, Roman, Gothic, Celtic,
Teutonic, British and American, and by recent investigation and discovery, the races of India, China, and Japan. Thus Ham lost all empire centuries ago; Shem and his race acquired it ethically and spiritually through the Prophet, Priest and King, the Messiah; while Japheth, in world-embracing enlargement and imperial supremacy, has stood for industrial, commercial, and political dominion.
The third is the glorious promise given to Abraham, the man to whom the God of glory appeared and in whose seed, personal and incarnate, the whole world was to be blessed. Abraham’s personality is the explanation of the monotheism of the three greatest religions in the world. He stands out in majestic proportion, as Max Muller says, as a figure, second only to One in the whole world’s history. Apart from that promise the miraculous history of the Hebrew race is inexplicable. In him centers, and on him hangs, the central fact of the whole of the Old Testament, the promise of the Saviour and His glorious salvation. (Genesis 11:3; 22:18; Galatians 3:8-16).
In an age, therefore, when the critics are waxing bold in claiming settledness for the assured results of their hypothetic eccentricities, Christians should wax bolder in contending earnestly for the assured results of the revelation in the opening chapters of Genesis. The attempt of modernism to save the supernatural in the second part of the Bible by mythicalizing the supernatural in the first part, is as unwise as it is fatal. Instead of lowering the dominant of faith amidst the chorus of doubt, and admitting that a chapter is doubtful because some doctrinaire has questioned it, or a doctrine is less authentic because somebody has floated an unverifiable hypothesis, it would be better to take our stand with such men as Romanes, Lord Kelvin, Virchow, and Liebig, in their ideas of a Creative Power, and to side with Cuvier, the eminent French scientist, who said that Moses, while brought up in all the science of Egypt, was superior to his age, and has left us a cosmogony, the exactitude of which verifies itself every day in a reasonable manner; with Sir William Dawson, the eminent Canadian scientist, who declared that Scripture in all its details contradicts no received result of science, but anticipates many of its discoveries; with Professor Dana, the eminent American scientist, who said, after examining the first chapters of Genesis as a geologist, “I find it to be in perfect accord with known science”; or, best of all, with Him who said, “Had you believed Moses, you would have believed Me, for he wrote of Me. But if you believe not his writings, how shall you believe My words?” (John 5:45,46).