Genesis 1–3 is an account of things that happened in time and space—so it’s a reality of what we might call nonfiction or historical. But it’s actual things, not made-up things, that God did that you could have seen if you were around. But, we weren’t around. The Scripture is not simply pointing to the facts but it’s also showing their significance in the plan of God—showing us who God is and what kind of God he is.
That was a real issue in the Ancient Near East because there was vast confusion with people worshipping all kinds of minor gods, finite gods, gods that aren’t real gods. So God telling us who he is is really significant. It has become significant again even in the modern world because many people don’t believe in the God of the Bible. They may believe in some kind of spiritual force or some kind of being that they call “God” but who is not the God of the Bible. So it’s really important that we reckon with who God is.
Theology, History, and Artistry
So, there’s theology as well as actual events in time and space. The primary theology in Genesis 1 is partly explaining who God is but also then who human beings are. So Adam and Eve are created, and then in Genesis 3, there are the first sins against God. That’s really significant in telling us why the world is not altogether good now. There’s been corruption—in the human heart—but then also in the world around us. So all of those things are partly theological, but they depend on real events.
So we’ve got events—what you might call history. We’ve got theology in terms of the meaning of history. We’ve also got literary artistry because God is a God of beauty. God is fully able to communicate to us in a way that draws us in, that has some of those qualities that stimulate our hearts and challenge our imaginations. Those kinds of things are characteristic of literature. All three things work together. And the three things belong together in harmony because there’s only one God who is doing all three things at the same time.
So we’ve got events—what you might call history. We’ve got theology in terms of the meaning of history. We’ve also got literary artistry because God is a God of beauty.
What you sometimes find in the world of scholarly biblical analysis is that those things are pulled apart, creating all kinds of misunderstandings and subtle misinterpretations. That happens partly because, in the modern world, one of the worldviews that we’re confronted with is a view that doesn’t think the God of the Bible exists at all. So the facts of the events of the world are just meaningless in themselves. Any meaning that’s added is done so by a human interpreter.
That means, when a person like that reads Genesis, they’re going to see the theological meanings, they’re going to see some of these literary artistry elements and say, “That’s a human addition.” And so they discount it as having nothing to do with the events themselves. So, it pulls apart what God has put together.
In the end, we have to hold the three things together. They’re not in conflict. They’re enforcing the meaning of the events—the theology and the presentation of the events, which is what you might say is the story character of Genesis.