“The first three chapters of the book of Genesis are a myth! It never happened that way,” said the old professor, whose heavy accent hinted at his Belgian background. The statement itself didn’t surprise me, since I knew that many believe that way. What left me astonished was seeing my postgraduate theology professor defending that position. How could he believe that? If what was written in Genesis 1 to 3 never happened, how would that impact our faith? What happens to the structures of our beliefs if these foundational assertions are not true?
It all comes down to the ultimate question: “What is the relationship between the first three chapters and the rest of the Bible?”
In every story, the beginning is essential. It is the beginning, the introduction of a story, that provides the foundation for everything that will follow. When we watch a movie or hear a story but miss the beginning, we end up confused as to the identity of the characters and the logic behind the events of the story.
The same is true with the Bible. If its introduction—Genesis 1 to 3—isn’t true, if what we read there never happened, much of what comes later will lose its significance. Therefore, it is important to know the message of Genesis 1 to 3. This introduction serves as the foundation for the rest of the Bible. Let’s review the crucial truths that Genesis is trying to communicate.
Truth #1: God Exists
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1).1 The first thing we discover when we read this text is that God exists. The Bible begins with “In the beginning God…” Although the book of Genesis offers no evidence for the existence of God, He is presented as if already known. God is presented as the basis of existence itself. Everything exists solely because of Him. Thus, God’s existence is the foundation for all of the biblical worldview.
There are other creation narratives produced by ancient civilizations that present various gods in the creation process. The Bible, however, is clear when it affirms that the whole universe was created by the power of only one God. Many theologians have noticed that Genesis seeks to show not only that God exists, but that there is no God other than Him. By affirming that there is only one Creator, the book of Genesis makes “a polemical repudiation” of the polytheistic worldview. 2
Truth #2: God Is the Creator
At the beginning of the last century, Edwin Hubble, studying the starry sky from his observatory in Mt. Wilson, California, discovered that everything was drifting away from our solar system. He noticed that the universe was actually expanding. Ours wasn’t a static universe, as he had previously thought, but a growing one.
This led Hubble to the astonishing conclusion: If we could rewind time and observe the universe, we would be able to see it gradually shrinking. This would happen until some moment in the finite past when the universe would be compressed into a small dense singularity from which everything originated. This theory is popularly known as the “Big Bang Theory”: the great explosion that gave birth to the universe. Although we may not agree with everything in this theory, there is a conclusion that we, as Adventists, must support: the universe had a beginning.3
Although Hubble’s theory wasn’t able to explain how the universe came into being or what triggered the beginning, Genesis does provide us with the answer. It affirms that the beginning of everything was caused by divine initiative. This is one of the best arguments for the existence of God: the fact that we exist. The argument goes like this: Everything that has a beginning has a cause. The universe had a beginning. Therefore, the universe has a cause.4
Without Genesis, we don’t have the means to know this cause. The only thing we could conclude is that this cause is an immaterial one (since matter can’t create matter) and must exist beyond space and time (since both belong to the created order). Genesis provides us the missing information: It is a Being! A Being so powerful that He is able to create space, matter, and time by His word. Everything we know came into being by His word.
The repetition of the expression “and God said” in the Genesis account emphasizes this point. Absolutely everything has its origin in God. Therefore, creation is presented as distinct from its Creator.
Creation isn’t supernatural or divine. It shouldn’t be worshiped, but offers us reasons to worship the Creator, who is distinct from all of creation. The sun and moon, which have been divinized by several cultures throughout history, didn’t even receive a name in the creation account. They are simply mentioned as the “greater light” and the “lesser light” (Gen. 1:16).5 Light was created before these two celestial bodies, indicating that light and heat are not exclusively dependent on them.
Truth #3: Humans Were Made to Resemble God, Not Animals
Genesis 1:26 informs us that the human race was created according to the “image” and “likeness” of God. Our goal here is not to define what this image and likeness mean, but to show that these expressions associate us with a superior origin (God) rather than an inferior one (animal). It is through Genesis that we understand that our purpose in life is to increasingly resemble the superior model, follow a superior morality, and trust in a superior plan.
Although evolutionists insist on finding similarities between humans and primates, Genesis declares that when Adam observed the animal kingdom, he didn’t find any creatures that resembled him (Gen 2:20), not even among the primates (despite the similarities). Expressions like “image” and “likeness,” found in the Bible, “emphasize the nearness and relationship” between humans and their Creator.6 Our origin is found in a superior “Father,” not in a common animal ancestor.
Genesis 3:16-24 shows us that, with time, there was no evolution into a superior state. Quite to the contrary, there was degeneration.
Truth #4: Humans Were Made for Relationships
In Genesis 2:18 we find that God created human beings to live in community. “It is not good for the man to be alone,” He said. Human beings not only should live in community, but should also unite in marriage with a person of the opposite sex. Before Eve, no creature was suitable for Adam. By suitable, we mean someone compatible, who corresponded to him and completed him in his needs. God’s purpose in creating the female counterpart was so that both would complete each other, forming a perfect unit.
The fact that God blessed “male and female,” commanding them to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:27, 28) provides us with biblical truth that itself counters both contemporary and traditional human practices. Beginning with Genesis 1-3, the entirety of the Biblical revelation insists on the essential and normative nature of human heterosexuality. Other popular perspectives, including the belief that homosexuality is a valid alternative to God’s created plan, are seen for what they are—as the consequence of human thinking elevated above biblical revelation. Even more “traditional” viewpoints, such as the Roman Catholic Church’s centuries-old teaching that celibacy is the ideal human state, cannot stand in the presence of the biblical injunction to “be fruitful and multiply.” While we must say it with grace and compassion, we must still stand with the biblical revelation: we were not created to live in those ways.
Truth #5: Humans Should Use Nature Wisely
Genesis also informs us about God’s command that humans not remain inactive, but should rule over creation and take care of it. Genesis 1:26, 28 authorizes human beings to subdue the earth and rule over it. Through this divine command, we understand that human beings are allowed to use creation to meet their needs, so long as those needs are consistent with bringing glory to the Creator. From this text, science obtains the biblical permission—yes, even the encouragement—to study and discover nature’s secrets and meet humanity’s needs.
This text has been misinterpreted by many, however. We don’t find here the permission to mistreat and exploit nature to the point of exhausting its resources. As bearers of the image of God, human beings should reflect His character in the treatment and care of creation. The resources created by God should be used wisely. Selfishness, tyranny, violence, and abuse of power should not be found among those who have been sent to reflect God’s character. This means using all of nature’s resources for good use: using them wisely and cautiously, with the intent of promoting the well-being of all.7
Truth #6: Sin (Disobeying God) Brings Death and Suffering
God is the objective source of all morality. He is the one who determines what is correct, just, and good. Therefore, disobedience to His will is considered breaking His standards. That is exactly what sin is. It is an attitude of rebellion against divine will.
Genesis helps us understand why our existence is characterized by so many flaws and problems. Without Genesis 1 to 3, we would have great difficulty trying to understand why there is death, suffering, and pain. Derek Kidner’s commentary on the book of Genesis affirms that the whole of the New Testament and the doctrine of salvation are based in the historicity of this account.8 In other words, if Adam and Eve’s fall never happened, as described by Genesis, the argument that we need to be saved is completely lost. The New Testament then becomes only the pious reflections of those who remembered or created stories about a human being named Jesus.
Truth #7: God Has a Plan to Defeat Sin
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman…” (Gen 3:15). This text presents not only the curse upon serpents in general, but God’s sentence against the serpent, the enemy of God and humanity. Through the descendant of Eve, the serpent would receive its ultimate reward: death.
This text is the foundation for our understanding of the struggle between God and Satan.9 The first chapters of Genesis help us understand the reason for the Old Testament sacrifices, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, and the unfolding of the salvation plan. Genesis 2:17 makes it clear that the result of sin is death, and only through the death of the guilty one would divine justice be satisfied.
Genesis tells us about the enemy’s verdict and promises that the serpent (Satan) will one day meet its end. Sin will be conquered through the descendant of Eve, thus creating the first messianic hopes. This text is commonly referred to in theology as the “protoevangelium.” It is the beginning of the good news.
Genesis: The Key to Understanding Reality
We conclude, therefore, that the creation account found in the first three chapters of the book of Genesis is crucial for the understanding of the rest of the biblical record, and of reality.
Unfortunately, there are those who read the text and use it to defend the idea that Genesis’ main goal was to present theological concepts, but no concrete truths. To them Genesis is only trying to explain life through metaphors—creation being one of them.
Genesis 1-3 is only valid, however, if what was written there actually describes a real and historic event. If revelation is to have authority, it must be true and real—based, not on metaphors, but on facts.