Divorce, Gender Role, and a Literal Genesis

September 20th 2018

Unlike the error of a vast number of modern theologians today, the historic way of approaching the Genesis text was to treat it as history, not as a poetic allegory.  Any attempt by the modern theologian to treat the book of Genesis as allegory should be dismissed out rightly and that theologian should be avoided (Rom 16:17). 



  • How did New Testament Christians interpret the Old Testament historically?  
  • How did Jesus interpret the Old Testament?  
  • How did the apostles interpret the Old Testament?  


Would not the answers to these questions give us clues as to how we are to interpret the book of Genesis?  The Christian is in need of some controls as to how they are to interpret the text and we are provided those controls through the way that the apostles, those who wrote the New Testament, interpreted the text.  


So with that, let’s look at some examples…


Let’s start with an allegorical example.  In Galatians 4:24-31 we see a rare passage in the New Testament in which the apostle Paul deliberately takes an allegorical approach to the Old Testament.  That said, let’s start in verse 22 of Galatians 4 for context:


22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. 

[Galatians 4:22-23]


In verse 22 the apostle Paul tells us the story of Abraham that is provided to us straight out of the Genesis text (Ch’s 17-21).  In verse 24 Paul expands his understanding of that story by means of an allegory.  Notice that the apostle is stating up front how it is, what method it is that he is using, to lay out this truth: 


24 Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. 25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. 26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. 27 For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. 28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. 29 But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. 30 Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. 31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free. 

[Galatians 4:24-31]


The apostle Paul announces his methodology from the start – “I’m allegorically interpreting the text at this point” is what he is stating in verse 24.  This serves as an example as to how the New Testament authors interpret texts allegorically. 


Our next three examples are not allegorical. In Matthew 19, Jesus is using Genesis and He is not using it allegorically.


And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. 

[Matthew 19:4-6]


This passage of text is a wonderful model for how the Church interpreted Genesis historically.  While dealing with the topic of divorce, Jesus stated in verse 4, “And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,”  Jesus is quoting from Genesis chapter 1.  Within verse 5 Jesus stated, “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife:”  This second quote comes from Genesis chapter 2.  Nowhere within this passage does Jesus indicate that He is interpreting the text allegorically.  Jesus has to literally interpret the Genesis text because of the application that He is making.  His argument is that divorce is not the original design and He is going back to origins, to Genesis, to interpret what the original design was.  This is the method Jesus used – a literal approach to Genesis.


Our second example is found in Matthew 23:35. This incidental remark demonstrates for us what Jesus’ view of Genesis was:


That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. 

[Matthew 23:35]


Jesus is speaking about Jerusalem.  Zechariah was a historical person found within the pages of your Bible.  Are we to argue that Abel was a mythological person presented to us within the early pages of Genesis?  Are we not to take the account of Abel literally?  We must ask ourselves if that is Jesus’ view, or is it that Jesus is taking Abel to be a historical person on the same scale as Zechariah?  The answer is clear - Jesus used a literal approach to Genesis.


Our final example comes to us by way of 1 Timothy 2:13 –


For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 

[1 Timothy 2:13]


The context of this passage of Scripture is not divorce, it is the role of gender in society.  The question that stems out of this passage is, “what is the model for gender role?”  The author of 1 Timothy is the apostle Paul.  Where is it that the apostle Paul goes to in order to define the model for gender role?  He goes to the Old Testament…  Why do you suppose he goes to the Old Testament for a model for gender role?  The answer is that if you want meaning, fundamental meaning of anything within the Bible, you go to origins, because that is where the meaning starts.  The apostle Paul goes back to origins, he goes back to Genesis, and he states in verse 13, “For Adam was first formed, then Eve.”  The apostle Paul is specifically referencing Genesis chapter 2.  The apostle goes on in 1 Timothy 2:14 and states:


And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. 

[1 Timothy 2:14]


Verse 14 is a reference back to Genesis chapter 3.  So with that, we now have chapters 1, 2, and 3 of Genesis all interpreted literally by both Jesus and the apostle Paul.  The point I am establishing within this exercise is that the historic way of approaching the Genesis text was to treat it as history, not as poetic allegory.  The text of Genesis, the book of Daniel, and the book of Revelation continue to be assaulted by higher criticism at a fever pitch like no other time in history.  This should not surprise the Christian, especially the Christian who realizes that they are living in the last days…


Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 

[Hebrews 12:1]






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