Evolution and Inerrancy: Confusing Other Genres with History in Genesis (part 1)

From the time evolution began to be considered by scientists the concept was fascinating. And it made some sense, especially after theories (like Darwin’s) helped explain how evolution might work. In fact, it made so much sense that it now seems odd that there was such opposition to the idea.

But even today, when we have so much more evidence supporting evolution, and when essentially all scientists agree that evolution is a fact, there is strong opposition to evolution in some circles—big circles! 34% of Americans still believe evolution is a lie and that we and various animal groups were all created separately.

A baffled visitor to Earth might ponder: ‘What accounts for all this disbelief in the solid science of evolution?’ We might well understand his bewilderment, but we also know the answer to his question: there is an alternative theory to our origins and it is rooted in fervent religious conviction—misguided though it may be.

The Tenacious Resistance of Young Earth Creationism

God creates the sun and moon, Michelangelo - Sistine Chapel, 1508-1512

God creates the sun and moon, Michelangelo – Sistine Chapel, 1508-1512

Beginning in the 1970s, Young Earth Creationism (YEC) took over the creationist movement, though it continues to morph as evidence against it becomes tougher to ignore. The two Genesis creation stories (chapter 1 and chapters 2-3) are the foundation of YEC, and the Genesis flood story provides them with a perceived mechanism to explain away evidence for evolution—’the flood did it all’.

A peculiar aspect of YEC is insistence that the earth, man, and animals were all created no more than 10,000 years ago (thus ‘young earth’)—usually in six 24-hour days—based on information from the first chapters of Genesis. This is typical of the detailed inferences YEC makes from Genesis, but what accounts for the absolute certainty of their views of origins that other believers reject?

I think the answer is somewhat simple—YEC misunderstands the genre of the early Genesis stories. Young Earth Creationists assume, without sufficient cause, that the early Genesis stories describe historical events when, in fact, the stories represent other genres altogether. This historical view is driven by another deep conviction that the Bible is inerrant—that it cannot make mistakes or report information that is untrue.

Now I am not an inerrantist (any longer; I used to be both an inerrantist and a Young Earth Creationist), but even inerrancy does not require the Genesis stories to be historical. The Bible is a mix of many genres: history, poetry, stories, philosophy, proverbs and so forth. Not everything in the Bible is intended to be understood as history—and I think this specifically applies to the creation stories in Genesis. They are written for other purposes.

If Genesis 1 is not Historical Then What Is It About?

Genesis 1 is a beautiful, poetic story of God creating the earth, and it reflects the common understandings of those days: an earth of land and water covered overhead by a vault containing within it a shining Sun and Moon, all the stars, and a huge reservoir of water from which we get rain. Sounds lovely—and reasonable for people unable to discover how those elements really work.

There are a couple ideas among scholars about why Chapter 1 was written. Some think it describes God building his temple, but others think it portrays God as powerful, organized, and controlled—as opposed to the chaos, violence, and mythology of the far older Mesopotamian creation story from the same area.

We are fortunate to now to have good texts of the more ancient creation story: click here for a summary. The full text is available in Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 1969, beginning with pages 60 and 150. You can also Google Marduk Tiamat for additional information and analysis if you like.

Note from the summary that:

In the beginning, neither heaven nor earth had names. Apsu, the god of fresh waters, and Tiamat, the goddess of the salt oceans, and Mummu, the god of the mist that rises from both of them, were still mingled as one. There were no mountains, there was no pasture land, and not even a reed-marsh.

There was a war among the gods, and Marduk killed Tiamat, after which he created the heavens and earth from her body:

He took his club and split Tiamat’s water-laden body in half like a clam shell. Half he put in the sky and made the heavens, and he posted guards there to make sure that Tiamat’s salt waters could not escape. Across the heavens he made stations in the stars for the gods, and he made the moon and set it forth on its schedule across the heavens.

From the other half of Tiamat’s body he made the land, which he placed over Apsu’s fresh waters, which now arise in wells and springs. From her eyes he made flow the Tigris and Euphrates. Across this land he made the grains and herbs, the pastures and fields, the rains and the seeds, the cows and ewes, and the forests and the orchards.

Afterward Marduk created mankind as a labor force.

The parallels between this creation story and that of Genesis 1 are striking. It seems that the writer of Genesis 1 drew from this earlier tradition but changed it to portray Israelite beliefs. The Genesis story involves one God—not many; the story is orderly rather than crude and chaotic; and the creation of humanity (in the image of God) is much different than the creation of a labor force in the older story.

So rather than being an historical account I think Genesis 1 is a statement about Israel’s God and an Israelite take on the much earlier, polytheistic, Mesopotamian creation myth.

But What About the Story of Eden? And the Flood? Aren’t They Historical?

The stories of Genesis 1, Genesis 2-3, and the Flood are all connected; so the question of their historicity is also tied together. We will talk about that next time.

Articles in this series: Evolution and Fundamentalism


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58 Responses to Evolution and Inerrancy: Confusing Other Genres with History in Genesis (part 1)

  1. ANTHONY PAUL says:

    Tim, there is much to like about your latest article on Evolution and Inerrancy. For one thing, I have come to see much of the early Genesis writings as allegorical or archetypal in nature and not so much historical. However, when we speak of evolution I find that I am not so much inclined to make a hasty decision to join the “scientific community” in declaring my ancestry as having descended from the trees. Consistent with my belief in an intelligent Creator is the idea that He could quite as easily have created a being whose intellect was far greater than any other creature in the animal kingdom. The Theory of Evolution is still a theory, though a very popular one I must admit. However, if one were to look to the vox populi as a definitive sign of an idea’s validity, then believing that the Garden of Eden was a real garden and that Adam and Eve were its first inhabitants is just as valid; both are based on a kind of “faith of the masses”. The argument that man is descended from the higher order primates has been argued back and forth for decades by men on both sides who understand the workings of The Laws of Thermodynamics and entropy far better than myself. I do not believe that the issue has been satisfactorily put to bed; and this, not in the same way as when we say that we have become more sophisticated in our beliefs because most of us no longer accept the fact that the earth was created in 6 literal days.

    I personally reject the idea of man as a higher order ape more because of what the evolutionists do not say than about what they have said about their “theory”. The whole thought behind man’s evolving from the higher order apes is predicated on the idea that we have moved from a primitive to yet a more advanced stage in our development. And yet there are certain disturbing little details, archeologically based and often overlooked and glossed over, which seem to get in the way of making this idea totally solid, in my mind at least: I refer to the discovery of the pyramids in Egypt as well as the mounds and temples found in Central America. These were built by cultures which were undeniably primitive when judged by any modern standard and must certainly be judged to be so by our own very much advanced techno-culture which has placed a man on the moon and has traveled to the farther reaches of our solar system. And yet there is that irritatingly disturbing rub… that for such an advanced society as our own which finds it so easy to develop theories of creation and evolution, that clearly views the “primitive” as inferior to the sacred religion of modern science… for all that, these wonders of modern science and technology cannot really understand how the pyramids were conceived, engineered, and constructed in so sophisticated a fashion. Likewise the ruins in Central America which, like the pyramids, were much more than just physical structures… they were astronomical wonders for which men would have had to have knowledge of the stars and planets to build with such accuracy. And so modern man finds himself in the uncomfortable position of having to explain not only the physical nature and possibility of these structures but even more importantly how to account for the fact that pre-Columbian cultures could have acquired and developed the ability to construct a physical reality based on mathematical and scientific knowledge not yet available (or so we believe) until much later in the human cycle of evolution.

    I will conclude my comments with one final thought… we clearly live in a secular age where things formerly considered sacred have come into serious question, and that is as it should be. But we must remember that as science encroaches on old beliefs there is still a great deal of controversy and disagreement within science itself as to the reality of the physical world (e.g., global warming, the survival of human consciousness after physical death); science has, in effect, become another form of religion in our time… often rejecting certain facts based on experiential evidence simply because it goes counter to the common core of current scientific belief. I need go no further than to look at how the field of Psychology has treated some of the work of Carl Gustave Jung to support my statement… and it continues to this very day as we watch “modern science” as it stands in opposition to the work of such luminaries as Frederick W.H. Meyers, Dr. Raymond Moody, Dr. Bruce Greyson and so many others who are doing very valuable and empirically based work in the field of the paranormal. These men (and women) are considered outsiders by the central core of established scientific thought — because science, like religion, must die a slow painful death on the rack of time before it evolves into something greater than what it is today.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Anthony, I can’t help but notice that lee has not yet commented on your post. I read your post after having made my own. I certainly agree with you that our origins are still very much unproven and thus at this point subject to belief rather than proven science. At least I think that this is the direction I have gleaned from your well written comments. Anyone who claims positive proof in my openion is only attempting to convince themselves and unfortunately they are being less than honest and add more to the problem than to the solution to the problem. Right now any belief requires faith. I happen to believe the creation account, but for other reasons than it’s proven status. Jerry Parks

      Liked by 1 person

      • ANTHONY PAUL says:

        Hi Jerry: This subject is very near and dear to my heart so I most heartily thank you for your much-appreciated comments.

        You comment, “Anyone who claims positive proof in my openion is only attempting to convince themselves and unfortunately they are being less than honest and add more to the problem than to the solution to the problem. Right now any belief requires faith.” You are absolutely correct in making this observation… if we operate as persons of intellect capable of discovering truth as we peel back the layers of knowledge we now have, then we can all rightly say that each and every one of us has valid reasons for believing as he does, always remembering that we do not hold within us the entire store of all knowledge, past, present, and future. And so, paraphrasing somewhat what Soren Kierkegaard once wrote, the final resting place for our beliefs must come from a final and fully conscious “leap of faith”.

        But here’s the good news about those of us here at Jesus Without Baggage: regardless of where our beliefs may lie, whether we are in agreement or not, I have come to understand that my brother’s beliefs are of no less value than my own because we are not bound by that sort of dogmatic brainwash which chooses to believe that all present knowledge is final knowledge never ever to accede to a higher order of reality yet to be acquired.

        Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Anthony, I am with you in not hastily buying into evolution. My transition from Young Earth Creationism was not hasty at all.

      I agree there is indeed a range of views that account for the origin and development of mankind, and you did a good job of articulating this. However, I would like to respond to a couple points. The first is the idea that evolution is only a ‘theory’ as though it is a mere guess at this point, like a group of detectives theorizing about a crime. This is not the way ‘theory’ is used in science; theory describes something far stronger–something with much more certainty.

      This is quite different from another term ‘hypothesis’ used in the scientific method. A scientist establishes a hypothesis (guess) as to how something works from initial observations and then carefully tests the hypothesis under controlled circumstances to see if the hypothesis holds up, then adjusts the hypothesis based on the results and repeats the tests until it becomes consistent. A scientific theory, on the other hand, is something that has become accepted as valid due to the testing and the evidence–and such is the theory of evolution.

      I think you bring up a good question about the builders of the pyramids, but they would be included in the term ‘modern man’. Very little noticeable evolutionary development would be detected from their time to ours, though technological advancement has continued apace. I join you in wondering how they could have built those pyramids!

      In recent years evolution has become even better established through genetics. We now have the entire human genome, along with the genomes of many other species; and it is more clear how the genetics have changed and to which other species we are most closely related. I don’t know everything, but the compelling evidence has convinced me of the fact of evolution, though I know some people disagree.

      I still want to know how the ancient Egyptian civilization built those pyramids though!


      • ANTHONY PAUL says:

        Thanks, Tim for your further thoughts on the matter. Please forgive me if I gave the impression that your belief was arrived at by other than a great deal of study and thought. I believe I have certainly come to know you better than that by now.

        Moving on, you mention the difference between a “hypothesis” and a “theory”; and if I understand how the basic philosophy of science operates, a theory is a hypothesis which has been taken to a higher order by empirical observation and testing… BUT, a “theory” about the nature of things is not the same as “a law of nature” such as we find in “The Law of Gravity” or The Laws of Relativity” etc.

        My main point here, so much better expounded by Newton in his following comment, is that modern man places way too much faith in modern science as though everything that science offers as “Truth” is in fact true in a metaphysical sense even when science has failed to prove its case in a manner which transcends the circumstantial evidence it constantly provides on this subject — evidence which I believe would not hold up in a court of law.

        Finally, you and I may not agree on this subject; but never doubt for one moment that I have the highest respect for you and the manner in which you arrive at your own belief system. In another place and another time, this would be good subject matter for endless discussion. In any case, thank you for your very much valued views.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Hi Anthony. I did not think you were implying anything negative about my transition from creationism to evolution. And I agree with you that science does not tell us much, or anything, about metaphysics. After all metaphysics is ‘beyond’ physics per Aristotle.

          For example, even Dawkins, the famous and aggressive atheist, admits that he can’t PROVE that God does not exist.


          • ANTHONY PAUL says:

            As post script to my last post… so that I am not misunderstood in the larger vein of the conversation… I am not a strict creationist in the biblically traditional sense of the word as understood by most evangelicals. I am not “young earth” or “old earth”… as I’ve said before, I view much of the OT as archetypal or allegorical. There is much The Bible does not make clear to me.

            Liked by 1 person

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            “There is much The Bible does not make clear to me.” You bet! A significant problem, especially with more conservative believers, is that they think the Bible is very clear. I am sure you have heard the constant refrain: ‘The Bible clearly says…’


  2. John says:

    Once, while sitting in an adult Sunday school class at a Missouri Synod Lutheran church, one of the church elders stated that if one does not believe the earth was created as stated in Genesis, one cannot be a member of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in good standing. That was in 2011. Needless to say my first instinct was to walk out of the classroom, but I did not.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      John, this is very sad. But the LCMS is a very conservative church. Of course the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is not.


    • ANTHONY PAUL says:

      John: Are you still part of that organization? If “Yes” I would love to hear your thoughts about why you chose to stay… if you care to share that part I’d love to hear it as one who has totally left the church because I refuse to be dictated to, spiritually bullied, compressed, suppressed, depressed and molded into their image.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am not a student of evolution, I only know what was taught me in my days at elementary, junior high, high, and college at U of B, and I remember that there was at that time no proof in the fossil records of any missing links between those different animals which were and still are claimed to have evolved into a completely different an previously non-existent life forms. That to me was a big problem, one that meant that should I decide to believe in evolution that I must do it completely on faith, I know that you are writing future articles on this subject, I will be very interested in just how you handle the problems presented for the case for evolution. A science that creates entire large animal or human replicas from a single fragment of a single bone is highly suspect science. You seem to imply that it is proven by the facts that exist within the science, I will be interested to see the facts that you are relying on for your conclusion.

    To me it takes no more faith to believe in God’s creation in Six days or Six thousand years if this is what one chooses to believe than it does to believe in evolution. Convince me if you can, you obviously have convinced yourself.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Thanks Jerry. I would be happy to accept a view of origins other than evolution if it was based on good evidence. But I must say: I did not convince myself of evolution–I was persuaded by the evidence, and my objective is not to convince other people to accept my views but to present them in order for others to determine whether they make sense.

      I agree with you that faith in the Genesis creation accounts might be reasonable if they were meant to be historical accounts–but I no longer think they are.

      You mention the absence of missing links; this is brought up all the time by creationists. Perhaps you can explain what that means, but most times when I encounter it it claims that we should find fossils that are half fish and half amphibian–but that’s not the way evolution works. In a catalog of development of a particular modern animal all the fossils we have found that are part of that development ARE ‘missing links’. Would you like to elaborate on this objection?

      You also raise the good point about constructing a model from a single bone; this is a valid concern. This actually happened some in earlier days of evolutionary study, but the errors were exposed; and who exposed them–other evolutionists! Evolutionary claims are self-corrected within the scientific community. Another point is that these limited bone reconstructions are not the norm. Most reconstructions we have are with more complete fossils and even many fossil examples of the same species.


      • Tim, I’m not so concerned with what creationists think about evolution, but what I think, if you know what I mean. The missing link issue to me is this — evolution itself states that we probably evolved from higher primate Apes. We still have those animals with us, and obviously still have humans. Where are those in between creatures. If all the fossils that exists within the history of what we call humans are a record of evolution within the human race as you suggest above, and if that is all of the record then I have no problem with the evidence for human evolution; but that is not what evolution taught me or is teaching to my grandchildren. Within the educator’s brand of evolution and even applying your explanation of the missing link to that theory there must be in existance today an entire spectrum or continuum of evolved beings between the higher primate which still exists and therefore must be evolving and the human being who is also in his/her various stages of evolution. And although, just this week, while at Burger King, I thought I might have spotted one, I however upon contemplation determined one is far from being a scientific sample from the millions of humans I encounter over time. Just saying as the young people say.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Jerry, so you encountered a humanoid at Burger King from an earlier stage of evolution! I wish I had been there to see it. You are so funny!

          You raise another common question about evolution, though you expressed it in a more sophisticated way than what I usually hear: “If we evolved from monkeys then why are there still monkeys?” I can see how this question arises, but evolution does not suggest that we evolved from apes we see today.

          Our closest genetic relative is the chimpanzee, but we did not evolve from the chimpanzee. Both we and the chimpanzee evolved from a common ancestor group that is now extinct. The path that led to chimps and the path that led to humans branched off many, many years ago and not even at the same time. The line that led to gorillas branched off even earlier, so we are more distantly related to them; these relationships are borne out by genome comparisons. If you like I can post a chart for you.

          If a teacher of evolution teaches that we descend from any kind of ape we see today then they are gravely mistaken and misinformed.


          • Since everything is created from the earths dust and returns to the earth in the form that it originated, one would expect there to be the relationship between species. But that does not as you acknowledge explain life and more especially the spiritual side of man. Believing in evolution as the means of creation or not is not the deciding criteria within Jesus teachings on eternal life — you must be born again.

            Liked by 1 person

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Jerry, I agree with you that evolution is not the deciding criteria within Jesus’ teachings, but what do you mean by being ‘born again’? What does that mean to you?


        • ANTHONY PAUL says:

          ” And although, just this week, while at Burger King, I thought I might have spotted one,”

          LOL!!! That’s Great!!!

          Liked by 1 person

  4. newtonfinn says:

    Certainly the creation stories of Genesis are neither history nor science, but rather the reworking of ancient mythology along the lines that Tim suggests. but Anthony is also correct to question the theory of evolution as it has come to dominate modern thought. A marvelous little book called “Guide For The Perplexed,” by the author of “Small Is Beautiful,” E.F. Schumacher, gets to the heart of what is wrong with the theory as currently taught and understood. First noting the difference between instructional science (chemistry, for example, which explains what happens when you mix this substance with that), and descriptive science (botany, for example, which explains and classifies the various kinds of plants), Schumacher puts evolution into the latter category. “That there has been change in the constitution of species of animals and plants in the past is amply attested by the fossils found in the earth’s crust; with the help of radioactive dating, they have been put into historical sequence with a very high degree of scientific certainty. Evolution, as a generalization within the descriptive science of biological change, can for this as well as for other reasons be taken as established beyond any doubt whatsoever.”

    But here’s the rub. “The Evolutionist Doctrine, however, is a very different matter. Not content to confine itself to a systematic description of biological change, it purports to prove and explain it in much the same manner as proof and explanation are offered in the instructional sciences. This is a philosophical error with the most disastrous consequences. …(Evolution) suddenly purports to explain not only the development of consciousness, self-awareness, language, and social institutions, but also the origin of life. …One can just see it, can’t one: organic compounds getting together and surrounding themselves by membranes–nothing could be simpler for these clever compounds–and lo! there is the cell, and once the cell has been born, there is nothing to stop the emergence of Shakespeare, although it will obviously take a bit of time. There is therefore no need to speak of miracles or to admit any lack of knowledge. It is one of the great paradoxes of our age that people claiming the proud title of ‘scientist’ dare to offer such undisciplined and reckless speculations as contributions to scientific knowledge, and that they get away with it.”

    If you like what Schumacher says and how he says it, I cannot recommend “Guide For The Perplexed” strongly enough. There is more incisive thought, practical wisdom, and spiritual lift in its 140 pages than one would have thought possible. And while the philosophical background draws upon the world’s great religious traditions, the book is, in the words of Theodore Roszak, “an unapologetic defense of traditional Christian humanism which…will light many a darkened path.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Newton, thanks for the recommend of Shumacher’s book. I agree that evolution does not answer every question and that there might be some questioning of suggestions by evolutionists regarding things like ‘the development of consciousness, self-awareness, language, and social institutions, but also the origin of life.’

      But I would say that many evolutionists believe God to be involved in the evolutionary process. They are called theistic evolutionists and include the leader of the project that mapped the human genome–Francis Collins. Some of these Christian evolutionary scientists hang out at BioLogos http://biologos.org/about-us.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I like your approach to this subject, I will pursue the book you suggest. Spirituality is perhaps a more important missing link in the evolutionary theory than is the physical. Obviously animal life has changed over time but science itself suggests that those changes occur through the gene pool. Spirituality so far as I can determine is not proven to be from genetics. You mention miracles, the very thought of studying the miraculous is out of the question, because there must always be another explanation if one is truly educated. Thanks for your comments. Jerry parks

      Liked by 2 people

    • ANTHONY PAUL says:

      Newton: Thank you for this most insightful commentary… if I may say so without appearing to appropriate your thoughts and words as my own, you have most concisely and intelligently shed a great deal of light and reason on this subject. In retrospect, while I feel that my own tome feels a bit ponderous as it winds about the subject at hand, you are very direct and to the point. Thank you for taking the time to share your point of view. I look forward to reading “Small Is Beautiful” in the near future.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Been a long while since I stopped by here, Tim, but it’s nice to be back. I think the idea of different genres in ancient literature, and how scholars identify them, is very interesting. I hope you’ll write more about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hi Jonny, it is good to hear from you! I will write more; in fact this is the first of a series on evolution. I still follow your blog, so even though you don’t blog as regularly as you did (I don’t blame you–you are a busy guy) I read each article that you post.


  6. I have to say that I still hold to the creation story view. Yet I do not take it word for word that the world was created in six days. I believe God created the heavens and the earth and all that is within them, but I feel this was done over a long period of time. As we know time as we know it is not the same with God. As mentioned above, we certainly cannot prove our beliefs and theories as fact and at most they are by faith. Yet we all know the love of God no matter what we believe in regard to creation or evolution. They main point I wanted to make was the respect and friendliness shown by those who are commenting. To many times when it comes to commenting on articles all I see is meanness, arguing and condemning attitudes among fellow believers. It really gets discouraging. It is nice to see the debate and differences of opinion on this article without all the bickering.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Done, I am so pleased that early on in the history of this blog a number of regular commenters joined with me to develop a very friendly comment section. Every once in awhile someone appears trying to force their views in a negative and aggressive way, but they tend not to stay long.


  7. Charlotte Robertson says:

    Wow, I was brought up in a Dutch Reformed family and went to a protestant school, where we were taught the theory of evolution in biology class and it never occurred to anyone that this would in any way deny God’s sovereignty over His creation. The Bible is not a science book after all.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Charlotte, there certainly is a great chasm between those who accept evolution and those who reject it; I don’t see how their perspective could be more different in foundation or in details. And I agree: “The Bible is not a science book.”


  8. David Loving says:

    Remember, science is true whether you believe in it or not.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Charlotte Robertson says:

    Science is DIScovering what God had already put in place.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. luckyotter says:

    Tim, have you heard about the Flat Earthers? Yes, there are really people who still believe the Earth is flat and that the Moon landing was a hoax.


  11. jesuswithoutbaggage says:

    Hi Lucky. Can you believe it? I used to be a Flat-Earther–because my mother was a Flat-Earther. In fifth grade, I was often selected to give the daily Bible reading in school (yep, this was a long time ago before sponsored Bible reading was removed from school). One day to prove the earth is flat I read from Revelation 7, which mentions angels standing at the four corners of the earth. Something with four corners is flat is it not?

    Of course my Flat-Eartherism did not last long, but I have had a fascination with it ever since and now know a good bit about it. So, Yes! I have heard of them; I was once one of them. How interested are you? Would you like some articles? I have collected quite a few.


  12. what do you mean by being ‘born again’? What does that mean to you?

    Ok Tim, since you were a fundamentalist thought you knew what I meant? So I am assuming that you don’t believe that being born again is as you were taught it, and therefore not to be a valid experience in the life of the believer. So I’ll begin by pointing out a few of Jesus’ statements.
    Matthew 10:20 For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.
    Luke 12:12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”
    Mark 12:36 David himself said in the Holy Spirit, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Until I put Your enemies beneath Your feet.”’
    John 3:5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
    John 3:6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
    John 14:16-17 I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.
    John 16:13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.
    John 20:22 And when He had said this, He breathed on them and *said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

    Now if one annualized these Scriptures it is not hard to see that the Holy Spirit was intended to have an active role in the life of the believer. So now having considered that fact I will ask you to consider what this means to me in my experience based on the following scripture:
    John 3:3-8 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

    I was raised going to church — a lot. I heard Hell fire sermons. I was tried and convicted from many a pulpit and found wanting. I walked the isle
    In church, I raised my hand after Billy Graham films, but nothing happened. Later in life at around 20 I started to believe that faith meant that I would never know for sure but still I must believe — that is what faith meant — right? Then I started reading the Bible for myself, the scriptures had a certain draw, something I could not explain. I developed a hunger to know what is God’s truth. By now I’m 25 years old married and a father. I now know what it means to love a son. I’m one evening sitting of all places in my living room reading The Cross and The Switchblade, and I am overcome with God’s love for me (it’s like He is right there with me), and for the first time I am loving God not trying to figure Him out. I now fully understand the price He paid to purchase me. For the first time I had no more doubts about what it meant to be born again, something had changed inside me, I was sorrowing over my part in placing His son on the cross, and I felt a cleanness that I had never before felt. I wanted to tell the world about this newness this freshness, that came as a result of my accepting God’s love and returning it back to Him. The scriptures are now not just drawing me they are coming alive to me. I could go on but I’ll through this back to you for comment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Jerry, first let me say that I read the Cross and the Switchblade and really enjoyed it–in fact I was inspired. This was about 1970 I think.

      I was not trying to be cute when I asked what you meant by ‘born again’. Fundamentalists and most evangelicals tend to have a specific understanding of the term that I think is a bit off base–that it is an specific instant when one accepts Jesus and becomes ‘saved’ and on their way to heaven, whereas a moment before they were ‘lost’ and on their way to hell. This is mostly a transactional ritual, and as you, yourself, said, it doesn’t seem to work that way.

      Thanks for including the texts in your biblical references; some people simple share the references as proof-texts. I like all your references to the Holy Spirit; I think you are on track with that. You surprised me a bit, though, with your narrative because it doesn’t seem that you treat John 3 in the same calcified way many believers do.

      I really like your statement that: “I had no more doubts about what it meant to be born again, something had changed inside me.” I agree with you that when Jesus talked to Nicodemus about being born again that was what he had in mind–a total change in perspective. One cannot just add the good news to the framework of their old religious construct like a patch on a ripped cloth; one must see things completely differently as though they are being born a second time.

      The good news is not some addition–it is a new foundation. I hope I understood you correctly. Here is an article I wrote on the subject that explores more thoroughly what I understand being born again means.

      Liked by 1 person

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  15. newtonfinn says:

    For those interested in Form and Redaction Criticism, early modes of NT scholarship, let me use Jerry’s reference to John 3:3-8 as an example to show how these analytical tools are used. And Jerry, this has nothing to do with your emphasis on the importance of the Holy Spirit. This is merely an academic exercise.

    There are ample sayings and parables in the Synoptics to indicate that the historical Jesus frequently spoke about being born again and also often contrasted the spirit with the flesh. But this passage from John runs into trouble with many NT scholars because it also talks about being born with water. While John the Baptist obviously baptized with water, Jesus apparently did not, although the early church seems to have gone back to John’s approach and made baptism by water an important ritual. This alone would cause many NT scholars to question the historicity of the passage, but it should be noted that this assessment has nothing to do with the spiritual truth of the words, something inherently beyond the scope of academic scholarship.

    But what I’m really leading up to is how the Gospel of John DOES seem to include, usually hidden within longer discourses, pointed sayings and mini-parables that echo those found in the Synoptics, enhancing the historicity of portions of John’s account. “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going.” It is here that scholars, more open to John, would say “Bingo!” This is precisely the kind of saying or mini-parable, potentially pregnant with meaning, that could easily be found within the three earlier Gospels.

    Unfortunately, these scholars would likely go on to explain that the context of the saying has been lost, so that its meaning can be only a matter of speculation. Does what seems to be the editorial gloss at the end–“so is everyone who is born of Spirit”–really help to explain what the saying means? Do those born of Spirit not know it came from God, and that the Spirit is moving them toward Him? With those who find that the ending fits, and for whom the entire passage fits together, I have no issue on a spiritual level. There is much truth to be found in John 3:3-8 apart from any historical analysis. I don’t mean to tread on anyone’s toes here, just wanted to take the opportunity to show how NT scholarship works for those unfamiliar with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Newton, thanks for this valuable contribution. I think form and redaction criticism are both useful in approaching texts even though some critics (Bultmann) sometimes seem to be overly aggressive on the redaction side.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Newton, not at all offended. A scholar I am not, much closer to a student. But I will say at least to me, the born of water statement I have come to believe is Jesus’ reference to the human birth. Perhaps this is an over simplification but water precedes that birth. It just makes things simple for me. Perhaps too simple for scholars.
      Jerry Parks

      Liked by 1 person

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  21. Hello dear friend. I happened to come across your blog and was drawn to the write ups on your belief on the non historical basis of Genesis 1-3 (to start with).

    I will like to get a background. Please help me through.

    I guess you believe in God, since you speak about Jesus and salvation through Him (right?). If this is correct, then, what do you think about Jesus mentioning Adam and Eve (male and female) as literal people in Matthew 19:4-5 and Mark 10:6-7?

    Definitely, Lord Jesus refers to Adam and Eve in this context because He goes on to quote Genesis 2:24.

    Can we start on this? I guess this conversation could get really lengthy.

    Thanks friend.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hello, Luminous! You raise a good question.

      In discussing divorce Jesus refers to the passage saying that God created us male and female and that we should leave our families and become one flesh. He does not mention Adam and Eve specifically, but even if he did we needn’t assume he understood them to be literal and historical.

      The Jews of Jesus’ day approached the OT as a body of literature and felt free to use passages and references to their own use as they saw fit. They did not necessarily take the OT stories as literal but would refer to events and individuals much as we might refer to Tom Sawyer or Robin Hood even though they are fictional characters.

      My opinion is that since the full body of evidence indicates that the Eden story is not literal or historical, it follows that Adam and Eve were not historical either.


      • Thanks for your response.

        It seems clear nonetheless that although Lord Jesus did not specifically mention the names of Adam and Eve, He meant them in the literal context.

        Take the following examples. The Jews who lived at the same time and prior understood the Genesis 1-3 as real history. Lord Jesus Himself is called the Last Adam and the Second Adam. This stresses the Apostles view of Christ as relating to the literal first man Adam. It is clear in scripture that the work of Christ is a redemptive work from the fall caused by ONE MAN: through one man sin entered the world.

        Rejecting a literal Adam means accepting that sin is not the cause of death, hence the billions of dead things that came before the acclaimed show of the human species.

        The Genesis account is a continuous story, flowing from creation to Noah, to Abraham and hence into the nation of history. If you reject Genesis 1 to 3 as literal history, you decide for yourself then how and when the Genesis script becomes literal history. Was Abraham a real person or not? What about Noah, Jacob and the twelve sons, etc? This form of rejection leaves you dangling on a thin thread and you deviate from the understanding of Jesus, His disciples and the prophets.

        How do you respond to this?

        Warm regards.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Luminous, I appreciate your interest in a discussion on the historicity of Adam and Eve; for decades I believed this myself. If you wish to convince me otherwise, I don’t see any likelihood of success. I did not abandon that belief lightly but with great care and consideration.

          On the other hand, I do not have any desire to persuade you to accept my perspective. What is your purpose in proposing this discussion? If it is simply to debate the issue I am not sure it will be of value to either of us.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thank you for your kind response once again.

            I do not intend raising a debate. I understand that you made quite some considerations before coming to accept what you believe at present.

            I was taught evolution, beginning with my secondary education and through to the tertiary level here in my country. I took a good deal of time to question what I was taught (I have a major in science). I considered the various bias in science and data interpretation which were subtly used by scientists claiming to rid science of religion.

            My personal journey in this regard enforced the authenticity of the scriptures, and a good literal view of Genesis. I believe there are lots of evidence in the world around us as illustrated in properly interpreted science. The effect of this on the faith of many is telling.

            My aim was to politely reexamine some of the points you may have concluded on…if you are willing.

            Thank you and my prayer is that anything that will serve as a hindrance to the Truth should be shown false and let God be praised.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Luminous, I would love to hear your perspective. I hope Tim sees fit to get your input on the points he sees vital to his change in belief.
            Jerry Parks

            Liked by 1 person

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Luminous, you stated: “My aim was to politely reexamine some of the points you may have concluded on…if you are willing.”

            If you are interested in my perspectives on creationism and evolution, you can see a number of articles I have written on the topic. You will find them on this resource page along with similar articles by other believers who accept evolution as factual.

            I also have a resource page regarding inerrancy should you be interested.


  22. Dennis Wade says:

    Tim, I also accept evolution as a fact until better understanding of it may change my mind.
    Strangely, enough, I find no conflict in my mind now on his topic, but I sure used to.
    One thing that helped, among many, was this quote that I wrote down a while ago. Unfortunately, I have forgotten where I found it, so I can’t give the original author credit.

    “I decided that the best possible life would have to lie within the realm of cooperating with evolution rather than working against it. So for me this implies two things: 1) Working to evolve myself as an individual to the highest degree possible, and 2) Working to help life itself evolve to the highest degree possible. It turns out these goals are highly compatible, since there’s a positive feedback loop between evolving yourself and evolving your environment. If you only work on yourself, your environment will ultimately hold you back. You’ll be like Tarzan living among the apes. And if you only work to help others, that would also be suboptimal because you’ll only be able to teach them what you know right now, but you’ll never upgrade your knowledge and grow in your capacity to teach. So a balance of both is required.

    “For me this boils down to working on my own personal growth and helping others to grow. This became my means of assessing the best possible life I could hope to live.

    “So what does it mean to grow? To me it means to continually strive to upgrade my most powerful evolutionary assets, which I perceive as my intelligence, my consciousness, and my knowledge of reality. And in order to help others grow as well, I must consequently continue to upgrade my communication skills.

    “I see the main purpose of my life as serving the process of evolution. This is more important to me than anything else. Everything else in my life is secondary compared to this and must justify its fitness for this agenda. Who cares about getting a job and making money when you have the opportunity to consciously participate in the evolution of life itself? For me all other potential ways of living are nothing but pale shadows compared to this.”

    When I read this quote, it seems that both I and the author see the point of life as being about growth and development, and evolution does seem to point to a development from simple to more complex lifeforms.
    My choice is to see this growth and development leading to a species that can finally begin to understand God’s path of love as the way to do this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Dennis, I like this perspective too. I think it is very important that we continue to grow while at the same time helping others. This can easily be applied to our spiritual life.


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