Dealing with Inaccuracy of the Old Testament

Mark, I appreciate your concern and am sure you are sincere. However, I worry that in your zeal to read modern history into ancient scripture, you miss the message of the passage. Perhaps not. In any case, have a blessed week.

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Because the Bible is some kind of unified single genre and if you analyze one part as not historical, you are required to analyze the rest as not historical. That makes no sense. Even within documents created by a single individual at a single point in time you can easily have a part that is clearly a story and a part that is clearly a factual history. It’s called embedded discourse. Your logic here is faulty. There is no “either it’s all 100% true fact or you can’t claim any of it is true fact” litmus test you can rationally apply here.

Do you think that it makes any difference who physically first recorded the history in the Bible, or when? For example, is the knowledge that the Gospels were written by Jesus’ disciples or people who knew those disciples well important? Is the knowledge that the the first five or six books were written in or attributed to the era of Moses important? It seems to me that we should reasonably expect the very beginning of the Bible to be the least historical part of it, because it was orally transmitted the longest. This would give it much theological weight, because it was so important for people to communicate, but also make it the part of the Bible that the accuracy of details is least important to.

Not every detail of Genesis must be historically accurate, just like not every detail of the Bible as a whole must be without error in order for it still to be the Good Book.

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…son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God.” Mark, I’m curious whether you see Adam as having the same biological relationship to God as Seth has to Adam. Or, do you see a place where the genealogy transitions from showing biological kinship to something else?

If so, welcome to the club! That would mean we agree that even though the format of the genealogy stays the same throughout, at some link it shifts in meaning. I might place the shift one or two links down from where you do, but we’d still be in agreement that a shift takes place.


BTW, I will soon be able to answer many of these questions, as I study the Ancient Near East in University

A post was split to a new topic: Genesis is history and can’t be forced to fit with evolutionary theory

Thank you Marshall, and thank you Christy.

To the point of the genealogy (my apologies for the earlier misspelling) of Luke 2:23-38, there is no change of genre there, nor anything to indicate that Adam - or God for that matter - are not actual beings, nor anything to indicate a transition from non-historical to historical.

The only way you get a different interpretation is via assumptions imported from outside the Scriptures, and it’s important that we all be honest about the assumptions we bring. Mine is that the Bible means what it says, and that is not unclear in Luke 2:23-38. My issue with the Biologos team is the a priori commitment to the ever changing ‘scientific consensus’ to interpret the unchanging word of God. The reverse should be true if we are truly His disciples.

Mark D. Twombly
“If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”" (Jesus, from John 8:31-32)


Oh - we all bring a whole lot more (and many of us different) assumptions than that! And you would be no different. I suspect that you too have a truckload of culturally conditioned (and thoroughly extra-biblical) assumptions that you bring to the text as well.

Call that rather an a priori commitment to truth, and an assumption that such truth properly understood will be of one piece with scriptures properly understood. Paul writes to Timothy instructing him to …

Make every effort to present yourself approved to God, an unashamed workman who accurately handles the word of truth.

This means that there can be and is such a thing as inaccurately handling the word of God. When people bind the word of God to known falsehoods, insisting that these are being taught by scriptures, that would count as inaccurately handling it. And that is what so many here stand against.

You may tend to make much of ever changing ‘scientific consensus’, but this is to misunderstand and undervalue the truth revealed in God’s very own works. Examples of scientific consensus are things like “the earth is not flat”, “the earth moves around the sun”, “the universe, and earth are billions of years old”. These may have changed back at one time … before they became scientific consensus, but they are extremely unlikely (as in we are as certain as we can be) that they will not be changing now. “Tweaked?” Yes. But not overturned. Stuff that is still “ever changing” (and there is a whole lot of that too, to be sure) could not very well be said to have reached any scientific consensus yet.

We have a high enough commitment to the Word of God (and to scriptures too, for that matter!) that we like to be sure whenever we can that we aren’t mixing in His teachings with falsehoods of our own manufacture.


You mean the ever-changing “scientific consensus” that the earth is round instead of flat, or old instead of young?

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Forgive me if this seems like a tangent. It’s relevant in my head. :smiley:

I read the Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien and I had a really hard time with the worldview that imbued the book. Everything started out perfect, created by God, and the entire history of the world was one long slow slide into corruption and mediocrity. There were small peaks and troughs, of course, but overall it was an epic fantasy of unending decline. A clock winding down because people are always messing things up.

The evolutionary worldview of the earth, obviously, is the opposite. Living things grow and experiment and do new things and expand into new niches doing things nothing ever previously did all the time.

My question is, is this really what Christianity is all about? If everyone is supposed to cling as hard as they can to the original perfection, which gets farther and farther away and is seen less and less clearly, then what is the actual point? God would have been a lot better off bringing the Rapture sooner rather than later.

Is faith a living, growing thing, or an imperfect mirror to the past?

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I’m still curious whether you see Adam as having the same biological relationship to God as Seth has to Adam. I’m hoping you can say there’s a difference between those links in the genealogical chain, since I think we agree that maintaining the unique identity of Jesus is more important than propping up a certain reading of Genesis.

Mervin, you still haven’t adequately explained Luke 3:23-38 and why belief in Adam as a historical figure is optional and not required to believe from the authoritative word of God.

No one here has adequately explained this. This is my singular question.


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Because salvation is based on believing in the historical risen Jesus Christ, not in Adam or Eve. We are saved by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. We are not saved by the work or thing of Adam. And non of the Christian creeds of the early church state anything of believing in a literal creation account is needed for salvation.


What exactly is the problem if Adam is read to mean Mankind rather than a single historical individual? Isn’t Jesus called the Son of Man as well as the Son of God?


I think it’s already been adequately answered by others here and in other threads. But I’ll just add that I don’t feel obliged to persuade anybody of this. For one thing, (speaking just for myself here anyway), this isn’t a primary issue of concern for me. If it helps your faith in Christ at the moment to cling to a sort of default, blanket historicity over everything, then … Christ’s power and wisdom to you, brother! But when you insist (as I believe you are doing here?) that this approach of yours is the only gateway to faithful understanding of the word, then I (and others here) challenge you to demonstrate from those very same scriptures why historicity must first be satisfied before God’s word is allowed to teach us anything. By that logic a whole lot of what Jesus taught must be discounted or dismissed. Granted, people back then likely just presumed historicity about much of this (genealogies back to Adam) as they had no reason to think otherwise. But we are given no reason to think they ignored or discounted what was apparent to them about God’s creation to aid in their understanding of how God works. In fact we have ample scriptural evidence to the contrary - Jesus’ parables are full of references to commonly observed things in their culture and in nature as an aide to understanding something about God. So I see the burden of proof here as being on you. And as Christy has observed elsewhere, there just is no logical or scriptural connection you’ve managed to make that should force everybody to think that historicity is the singular linchpin to understanding what scriptures teach, much less all that Christ has to teach us.


Dear Mark,
There is much wrong with this statement from my point of view. First of all, a literal interpretation of the text of any bible today is not “the authoritative word of God.” That would only be the case if God personally wrote, edited and published it as such. In addition, the Bible has three layers of meaning - literal, moral and spiritual, not just one.

Secondly, the genealogy that you ask about in Luke is not necessarily a genetic history. I have posted research in the past that discusses this issue. The genealogy listed in the Bible is a spiritual family tree that spans hundreds of thousands of years. Accurate historical dating of the lives of Abram and Joseph illustrate this point.

Finally, we have two separate stories of Adam. One is in the Garden of Eden, before being cast out in Genesis 3:24. It is a spiritual place called Paradise (Luke 23:43) and not on this Earth. The second history of Adam is as a human and father to Cain and Abel.This is dated back around 200,000 years ago.

God is a spiritual entity and so is His Word, mostly it is not literal.
Best Wishes, Shawn

I agree with @Lynn_Munter that Adam can be read as mankind or humanity. So with the links Enos < Seth < Adam < God, it can be read as God creating humankind, into which Seth is born, who is the ancestor/father of Enos. I don’t see Adam as a biological son of God (and I don’t think Luke did either), and given that, not all links in the chain can be talking about physical father/son relationships.

But genealogies shouldn’t be the foundation for our faith. As Paul twice said, disputes about genealogies don’t build faith (1 Timothy 1:3–4; Titus 3:9). Even Luke only introduces the genealogy as what “was thought” (3:23) without making any claims to its historical accuracy. Even if that caveat only suggests the first link is weak, it should lead us to reconsider attempts to base Jesus’ historicity on the strength of the whole chain.

Luke seems more interested in the numbers than the names. He shows 77 generations from Jesus to Adam, grouped by multiples of seven. Moving backward (as Luke does), the first group of three sevens covers the post exilic period (Jesus to Zerubabel); the next group of two sevens covers King David’s descendants to the exile (Shealtiel to Nathan); the next group of three sevens moves back from David to Isaac; the final group of three sevens spans from Abraham to Adam.

Interestingly, this system only works due to the addition of “Cainan” as Enos’ son, a link not present in Genesis 5’s genealogy. And even more interesting, in Hebrew enosh is a synonym for adam, with both meaning “humanity.” So Luke’s genealogy preserves the idea of Humanity birthing Cainan and Humanity birthing Seth, while Genesis gives Cain and Seth as the two surviving sons of Humanity. (In Genesis as well, the line of Cain in chapter 4 and the line of Seth in chapter 5 end up with eerie similarities in most of the names. Even an Answers in Genesis article has to admit, “The similarity of names is too conspicuous to be ignored and can hardly be explained as coincidence” – the author ends up favouring the idea that our copies of Genesis have all been corrupted by scribes who made the two lists of names more similar than they were originally.)

In all, there is much going on in this genealogy that argues against taking it as simple historical record. It’s interesting to study, but at the end of the day, it’s not the focus or foundation of either Luke’s gospel or Jesus’ gospel.


Marshall, thank you!

I was looking for a more robust explanation, and you’ve given much for me to consider and study here.

Just one brief comment on ‘was thought’ or ‘as was supposed’ in the NASB, I don’t see that as referring to anything other than Joseph being the biological father of Jesus, which he wasn’t since Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit and not Joseph (Matthew 1:18-20). It doesn’t seem to me we get to apply that throughout the genealogy.

Also your reference to controversies over genealogies in 1 Timothy and Titus I don’t believe applies to genealogies like we see in the Gospels, but fables and patently untrue myths of the surrounding culture (e.g. see 1 Timothy 4:7, Titus 1:4) which we are to ‘have nothing to do with.’

Beyond that, I look forward to further study in the items you have recommended, many thanks again!




I’m glad that helped, Mark, and many thanks for letting me know!

I agree that Luke’s “was supposed” comment probably only relates to the first link, saying that Jesus wasn’t conceived from a sexual union involving Joseph. However, that means the whole genealogy doesn’t tell us anything about Jesus’ biological descent. The chain follows Joseph, who is truly Jesus’ father – legally and parentally – but not the source of his genes. (It’s conceivable that the Holy Spirit merged Joseph’s genetic material with Mary’s, but if this was the case, we’re given no indication that Luke or any other biblical author glimpsed that mystery.)

I know that many Christians choose to read the genealogy as “Jesus, the supposed son of Joseph (but actually the son of Mary), Mary the son of Heli…”. I’m not convinced Luke wanted the “supposed” to lead us to insert a different name in place of Joseph’s, though it would be inconsistent of me to completely discount the possibility. When it comes to the last link, I read “Adam, son of God” as not only indicating a different relationship (that of creature–creator, not son–father), but also of intending what Adam means in Hebrew, which is humanity. So, while seeing different relationships (legal parent, creator) in both the first and last links seems unavoidable to avoid heresy, shifting the names (Mary, Humanity) may go beyond Luke’s intent even if those are still plausible readings of his words. That would be entering what the rabbis called pesher (in its wider sense) and later Christians called the sensus plenior.

My willingness to consider readings that go beyond my best guess of what Luke intended comes from the other issue you commented on, the references to genealogies in the pastoral letters. I think you’re right that the pastorals have a certain kind of genealogy in mind for censure: the proto-Gnostic form that shows how deity procreates over various generations to eventually end up with natural creatures. In all the Bible, the only genealogy that looks anything like this happens to be Luke’s, since taken at face value it seems to show 77 generations between Jesus and God. So I see good reason to adjust both the first and last link in order to read it in a less Gnostic sense, and I doubt Luke would be unhappy with me doing so. My reading may not exactly match his intent, but I think it’s fair to his words.

I know for some it is very important to establish the accuracy of both Matthew and Luke’s genealogies of Jesus in order to show that he did actually descend from King David and could be the Messiah. Reading Luke’s genealogy as showing Mary’s ancestors is the easiest way to iron out the differences between the two. For me, this isn’t really an issue. That Jesus was a descendant of David is among the least controversial claims the gospels make about Jesus. Given the number of wives and children both David and Solomon had, they likely had countless toddling descendants by the first century. Since one’s ancestors double each generation (2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents), by the 42nd generation from David (which is where Luke places Jesus) one would have over 4 trillion great(×40)-grandparents to consider. I expect some of them overlapped! In other words, probably everyone in Jesus’ generation, at least in that part of the world, was a descendant of David.

Given that the genealogies aren’t necessary to prop up that prophetic claim, I’m fine with them being what they are without forcing a harmonization or forcing a connection to biological descent. In particular, I think there’s profound theology in Matthew’s genealogy once one realizes that Matthew is doing theology through his provocative list.


This is an interesting observation–and I’m not totally sure where to start on the study. I kind of wonder if that’s not a Pagan point of view here; in googling a bit after reading your post, I didn’t find anything obviously pointing that out, although the majority of quotes said that the Silmarillion was mostly Pagan. The exception was the creation by Iluvatar, though it’s thought that he created Morgoth and the pantheon of smaller gods, too (I’ve not read the whole book). However, I’ve thought the same thing about some Christian literature, too… Some thoughts:

In “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” Noll argues that it’s dispensationlist, premillennial evangelicals who insist everything is worsening–in preparation for Christ’s second coming. However, Lamoureux says that the Genesis account actually incorporates 4 ancient Near East (apparently pagan) motifs–Lost Idyllic Age, De Novo Creation, Great Flood, and Tribal Formation by a founding male. So, that may be a part of the theme unconsciously incorporated into the “Fall.”

On the other hand, there are socially very active groups that seem to have a more optimistic point of view; some Catholic ones seem to come to mind, though fuzzily (I’m not sure I could name them); I wonder if the amillennial and postmillennials points of view are also more positive. Also, an OT verse, Ecclesiastes 7:10, says, “Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.”–many of our groups pick and choose verses to support what we want out of the Bible.

So, I still would like to find out more as to whether the Silmarillion is more Pagan in that respect, or not.

Thanks for the thoughts.

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