Is the Language of Genesis 1 Merely Metaphorical?

By Wayne Jackson

Hugh Ross is affiliated with an organization in southern California called Reasons to Believe. While he professes to be a defender of the Genesis record, he actually is one of the nation’s foremost compromisers with reference to the scriptural doctrine of creation. Ross is totally committed to attempting a harmony between Genesis 1 and evolutionary chronology, i.e., the notion the earth was formed several billion years ago.

This long-age calendar is designed to provide enough “time” for the evolutionary, stage-by-stage process to develop. After all, as Professor George Wald, a prominent Darwinist, boasted, “Time is the hero of the plot.”

Recently Dr. Ross, and a colleague, Fazale Rana, debated with two creationist scholars from the Institute of Creation Research (San Diego) on the issue of the “age of the earth” and its relationship to Genesis. A report published subsequently indicated that the Ross/Rana team repeatedly stated that they take Genesis 1 “seriously and consistently,” though they do not view Moses’ account “literally.”

This is a woefully inconsistent position. Genesis 1 must be viewed literally; there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that there is anything non-literal (i.e., mythical, metaphorical, or symbolic) in the narrative.

Let us briefly raise some questions regarding the things mentioned in the opening chapter of Genesis. Is “God” a symbol; if so, of what? Are “heavens” and “earth” literal or figurative? What about the “waters” of the deep? Was that liquid water, or some mystical, spiritual substance (like that which many denominationalists see in John 3:5)? If the Mosaic narrative is profuse with symbolism, what do “earth,” “seas,” “grass,” “trees,” “stars,” “birds,” “fish,” “cattle,” and “man,” represent?

Edward J. Young (1907-68) was a world-renowned Old Testament scholar who taught for more than 20 years at Westminster Theological Seminary. In his book, Studies in Genesis One, professor Young wrote: “Genesis one is not poetry or saga or myth, but straight-forward history, and, inasmuch as it is a divine revelation, accurately records those matters of which it speaks” (105).

Dr. Young then introduced three arguments to support the claim of the literal, versus a figurative, nature of the document. (1) Chapter one is the foundation for the rest of the book — which clearly reflects literal history. (2) The recognizable traits of Hebrew poetry are conspicuously absent. For a poetic account, see Job 38:4ff. (3) The New Testament documents (including the testimony of Christ) regard Moses’ creation account as having taken place literally. Christ grounds the legitimacy of the marriage covenant upon the creation record. He further argued that the creation of Adam and Eve was at “the beginning of the creation” — not billions of years later (Matthew 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-22).

There is absolutely no responsible way to read Genesis 1 and foist upon it a symbolic mysticism.

To attempt a union between Moses and Charles Darwin is the epitome of exegetical folly and disrespect for the word of God. And yet one might be surprised to discover how many identified with the church lean towards a non-literal view of Genesis 1, to one degree or another. Some men teaching in Christian colleges have attempted to argue the “non-literal” case, e.g., the notion that the “days” of the creation week are not literal days, but are figures of speech for vast ages of history.

John Clayton, a former high school teacher in South Bend, Indiana, has virtually made a second career out of peddling the “day-age” and “gap theory” (the notion that billions of years stand between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2) views of the opening chapter of Genesis. Some people drool over him as if he were the savior of Christianity from scientific embarrassment.

Unfortunately, there are precious few in the brotherhood of Christ who have both the qualification and the determination to oppose such error.

Sources/Footnotes
  • Young, Edward J. (1964), Studies in Genesis One (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed).
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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.