The Importance of Literary Analysis for Biblical Hermeneutics [An Excerpt]

reymondRobert Reymond’s A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith is an excellent work. I’ve been making my way through it slowly over the past few weeks. Some time last week or so, I came across Reymond’s defense of the historicity of Genesis 1-11. He defends the historicity of the text, over against the idea that they are mythological and/or poetic, by appealing to the literary themes and devices used throughout the entire book of Genesis.

The significance of this defense is that it does not depend upon extrabiblical data (e.g. word-count theories concerning authorship, other ancient near eastern religious texts, etc). What follows is a long(ish) quotation from the relevant section of Reymond’s book.


Soli. Deo. Gloria.


Modern thought, nevertheless, regards the early chapters of Genesis as at best religious saga, that is, as mythological stories that, while not actually historical, nevertheless intend to convey religious truth. The problem in these chapters for modern men and women, influenced as they are by modern scientism’s unfounded dogmatic dictum of cosmic and biological evolution, is the distinctly the universe ex nihilo and the creation of man by the direct act of God. Because of the supposed “prescientific” nature of the events that these chapters record, the trend in modern critical thought is to regard the so-called two accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 as ancient Hebrew cosmogonies comparable to the Enuma Elish of ancient Babylon, that is, as religious mythology. But the church must resist this secularistic trend and continue to hold, as it has historically done, to the historical integrity of the early chapters of Genesis. Internal evidence is strong that they are intended historically:

1. The character of the Hebrew itself,employing as it does the waw consecutive verb to describe sequential events, the frequent use of the sign of the accusative and the “relative” pronoun, as well as the stylistic and syntactical characteristics of Hebrew narrative rather than Hebrew poetry, indicate that the author (Moses) intended these chapters to be taken as straightforward historical narration of early earth history. (If one wants a sample in this section of Scripture of what the author’s poetry—with its parallelism of thought and fixed pairs—would look like, he can consider Gen. 4:23–24 .)

2. In Genesis 12–50 the author uses the new patriarch’s history, the general history of which is not doubted by contemporary scholarship (see 25:12 , 19 ; 36:1 , 9 ; 37:2 ). But he also employs the same phrase six times in Genesis 1–11 to introduce new blocks of material (see 2:4 ; 5:1 ; 6:9 ; 10:1 ; 11:10 , 27 ), the last one of which ( 11:27 ) contains the story of Abraham, whose general historicity is no longer questioned by most Old Testament scholars. Does this not suggest that he intended the first five occurrences of the phrase also to introduce blocks of historical record? And does this not suggest that he intended the entiretyof Genesis to be viewed under the rubric of the genre of history?

3. In Genesis 1–11 there are 64 geographical terms, 88 personal names, 48 generic names, and at least 21 identifiable cultural terms (gold, bdellium, onyx, brass, bitumen, mortar, brick, stone, harp, pipe, cities, towers), all suggesting that the author was describing the world that we know and not a world belonging to another level of reality or mental conception.

4. Each divine judgment in Genesis 1–11 is followed by an exhibition of divine grace: God’s covering of our first parents after he had pronounced judgment upon them; his protection and his establishing his covenant with Noah after the judgment of the Flood. But where is God’s exhibition of grace after his dispersing of the race into nations in Genesis 11 ? Does not God’s call of Abraham in Genesis 12 , in whom all the dispersed nations of the earth would be blessed, answer to the character of the Babel judgment and thus complete the judgment/grace pattern? It would seem so. Apparently, the author was not aware of the break between Genesis 11 and Genesis 12 brought about by the shift in genre between the two sections (1–11, myth; 12–50, history) that many Old Testament scholars urge must be recognized.

A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 147-148


5 thoughts on “The Importance of Literary Analysis for Biblical Hermeneutics [An Excerpt]

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