Jesus and Genesis

Jesus and GenesisRecently ICR posted the picture to the right on their Facebook page (HT JD). Although the claim that half of Jesus’s references were to Genesis is unsupportable (see below), the idea that we must take a literal (i.e. young earth) approach to Genesis because Jesus took this approach comes up relatively often. In fact, the most popular post I’ve written (by far the most views, and continuing to pick up many more every month) is Jesus on Adam and Eve. This post looked specifically at the references that Jesus made to Genesis 2-4 and to Adam and Eve. These are few in number, and they are only indirect allusions. The most significant is the reference to the establishment of marriage in Genesis 2 found in Matthew 19 and Mark 10. It is not to Adam and Eve as unique individuals.

In light of the repeated claims that Jesus emphasized Genesis with the implication that we should as well, it is useful to look more carefully at the references that Jesus makes to Genesis 1-11 and to the rest of the Old Testament. It is too much to go through all four gospels in one post, so I decided to look at Matthew, and only at the clear Old Testament references in the red letter sections, highlighting the words of Jesus. There are other references in the narrative sections, but primarily to the prophets. The picture is not significantly different if we look at the other Gospels.

In the Gospel According to Matthew I found forty seven Old Testament references in the red letter sections, some to multiple passages (see table below). If there are others I’ve missed add them in comments below. Of these forty seven:

  • Three are to Genesis 1-11: Matt. 19:4-5, Matt. 23:35, Matt. 24:37-39.
  • Four are to Genesis 12-50: these are references to Sodom or to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
  • Sixteen are to Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy – primarily to the commandments.
  • Four are to the histories in Samuel, Kings, Chronicles – David, Solomon, and Elijah.
  • Five are to Psalms.
  • Nineteen are to the Prophets.

This list casts a far different vision than that suggested by ICR. When I look at this list, and at the passages where the Old Testament references are used, it seems to me that Jesus understood the importance of Israel to Christian doctrine. When on the road to Emmaus Jesus said to the two “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.” … “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Lk 24:44,46-47) Jesus knew his mission and carried it out. We understand this mission primarily through the history of Israel and the prophets, not through the primeval histories of Genesis 1-11. This isn’t to say that Genesis 1-11 should be ignored, simply that it doesn’t bear the primary weight in the way that Jesus expressed his mission or that the New Testament authors and the early church understood his mission.

Christian orthodoxy acknowledges that we believe in God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth. Beyond this origins plays a secondary role when it comes to Christian doctrine. We need to dig into the commandments, the histories, and the prophets … especially the prophets … to understand the gospel and the foundation of Christian doctrine. I have been reading Walter Moberly’s book Old Testament Theology: Reading the Hebrew Bible as Christian Scripture and will soon begin a look at D. Brent Sandy’s Plowshares & Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic because Old Testament theology found in the law and the prophets is the foundation for our understanding of the gospel. And The Faithfulness of God runs through the whole. We ignore this, as the common creation-fall-redemption-new creation story line generally does, to our detriment.

How do you think Jesus saw his mission? In terms of Genesis or Israel?

How does this affect the emphasis we should place on Genesis 1-11?

If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

If you would like to comment, please see Jesus and Genesis at Jesus Creed.

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