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  • Daniel Botkin

Genesis Chapters 1-11: Fact or Fiction? Does it Matter?

There is a growing and disturbing trend among some Bible believers to view the first eleven chapters of Genesis as divinely inspired fiction, or as a mixture of fiction and fact.

“But Daniel, how can people claim to be Bible believers if they don’t believe the Bible?”

That is a good question. Here is what they seem to be saying:

They seem to believe that God intended for those eleven chapters to be included as part of the inspired canon of Holy Scripture, but they believe that God never intended for readers to understand those chapters as actual history. God never intended us to view the people in Genesis chapters 1 through 11 as people who really existed, or the events as events that actually happened. The people and the events in those stories may or may not be based on some people who actually lived, and on some events that actually happened, but God never intended for us to understand the stories as actual history. The stories are written in a different literary style, a different genre. They are divinely inspired stories, and therefore part of God’s Word, but they are not stories about events that actually happened the way they are written. They are just divinely inspired fables meant to teach us moral lessons, similar to Aesop’s fables, or American Indian legends, or fables in other cultures. There was not really an actual Garden of Eden with a magical poisonous tree and an evil talking snake. After all, we know that snakes don’t really talk, just as we know that vegetables don’t really talk when we watch a “Veggie Tales” film that teaches a moral lesson.

That is what they seem to be saying. I do not know where this erroneous view came from, or how long it has been around. And I do not know why some Bible believers are swallowing this idea, but it concerns me.

Why is it important to believe that the stories of Genesis chapters 1 through 11 are historically true? If we understand the moral lessons that those stories are meant to teach us, then why does it matter if we doubt or deny the historical truth of those stories? That is a good question, and I will give an honest answer.

I reject this non-historical view for three reasons. First, I reject this non-historical view because I have no good reason to doubt the historical truth of those stories. Four times the Bible says that with God all things are possible. (See Matthew 19:26, Mark 10:27, Luke 1:37 & 18:27.) Three times this “all things are possible” fact was stated by the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus), and once by the angel Gabriel. I’m not going to disagree with the Messiah or Gabriel. If I truly believe that with God all things are possible, then why should I doubt the historical reality of the events recorded in Genesis chapters 1 through 11?

Nothing in the text states that these stories are just fables, so why should I not believe that these events actually happened? Because snakes don’t talk? If you think that a talking snake is a reason to deny the historical reality of Genesis chapter 3, then you had better also deny the historical reality of Numbers chapter 22, which says that Balaam’s donkey spoke to him. And you had better also reject 2 Peter chapter 2, because Peter says that Balaam’s donkey spoke with a man’s voice.

A second reason I believe in the historical truth of Genesis chapters 1 through 11 is because the Prophets, the Apostles, and Yeshua Himself often referred to the people and the events in these stories, and when they spoke about them, they spoke of them as real people who actually lived and as real events that actually happened. They never once referred to any of these stories as “the fable of Adam and Eve,” or “the legend of Noah’s Ark,” or “the myth of the Tower of Babel.” They simply spoke about the people and the events as actual people and actual events.

My third reason for believing in the historical truth of these stories is because of the inherent danger of doubting and denying their historical truth. Let me explain.

If we say that the people and the events of Genesis chapters 1 through 11 are fables and are not historically true, then why stop at the end of chapter 11? What is the basis for saying the Bible is not historically true in Genesis chapters 1 through 11, but at the beginning of chapter 12 the Bible then suddenly becomes historically true?

If the stories about Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah’s Ark, and Nimrod and the Tower of Babel are not stories about real people and real events, then maybe Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are also fictional characters. Maybe the story of Joseph in Egypt is just a great work of fiction. Maybe Moses was not a real person. Or if he was, maybe the Exodus and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai didn’t really happen the way the Bible says. Maybe the entire Old Testament is nothing more than a great literary masterpiece, an inspired God-given work of fiction to teach us good moral lessons.

And why stop with the Old Testament? Maybe the New Testament is likewise not historically accurate. Maybe Yeshua, if He really existed, did not really rise from the dead in a literal sense. Maybe there was no real Resurrection and therefore there is no real eternal life for anyone.

The Apostle Paul wrote: “If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain... And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins... If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Cor. 15:14 & 17).

I realize that some parts of the Bible are meant to be understood in a non-literal, figurative sense, and some of the stories can serve as allegories without denying the historical truth of those stories. I have taught about this in the past. I have an entire chapter about it in my book Hermeneutics. But there is no good reason to deny the literal reality of the stories in the early chapters of Genesis.

Denying the historical reality of Genesis chapters 1 through 11 is a slippery slope that can turn us into the most miserable of all men. I do not want to play around at the top of that dangerous slippery slope. I urge you to avoid it, lest you become of all men most miserable.

| DB


Image: Noah's Ark on Mount Ararat by Simon de Myle. Public domain:

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