Is Genesis Poetry or Historic Narrative?

Helen Fryman


One of the most common statements regarding Genesis today is that it is poetic, a myth about origins, metaphorical. As soon as these presuppositions are accepted, interpretations abound. We have the gap theories, the day-age theories, local flood theories, and a plethora of others which all depend on Genesis not being a Hebrew historical narrative. However, the fact is that when Genesis is looked at from a linguistic point of view, there is no doubt but that it is intended as it was written to be a narrative of actual history.

The first five books of our Bible are referred to by Jews as the Torah -- the Law. The Torah begins with Genesis. As the foundation for all their law, Genesis is not considered by the Hebrews to be poetic, but factual. Genesis is the foundation for the other four books of the Law. All Scripture writers who referred to Genesis referred to it as actual history to be believed, not as a metaphor or a myth. Jesus also referred to the Genesis narrative a number of times, and always as literal truth.

Another indication of the intent of Genesis is in its linguistic style. Hebrew poetry is noted for its uses of parallelism [], which you can also find explained here [ ] and here []. Forms of Hebrew poetry can be found here: None of these forms is found in Genesis. Instead you will find that "history and narrative is actually the simplest form of Biblical literature to interpret. It is straight forward because it is usually the description, and sometimes commentary, on historical events in the Bible." []

The normal order for a Hebrew narrative sentence is


The order in poetic writing is


-- the same as we see it in normal English. The difference is quite obvious in the Hebrew.

"While the Hebrew language may seem frightening to some, it really is not. The style of writing of Genesis 1 is historical, using the waw-consecutive to express consecutive action (waw = and). Biblical historians use this style to: "express actions, events, or states, which are to be regarded as the temporal or logical sequence of actions, events, or states mentioned immediately before." (Ref. 7) What this means for Genesis 1 is that God describes a sequence of events that occur one after the other throughout the creation week. We see this sequence reflected in the English as 'And God said,' 'And there was,' or 'And it was,' with which each verse in Genesis I begins. Each occurrence signifies that some action followed another in a real time sequence." [ E. Kautzsch, Genesius' Hebrew Grammar, 2nd edition revised by A.E. Cowley (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910), p. 133.] by James Stambaugh. ICR Impact #251. [] {note: the waw-consec doesn't always imply actions in sequence - it can also be used to expand on an event just mentioned.].

Also on the net are some other good studies to help you see what is really going on in Genesis. There is a study of the first few lines of Genesis 1 here:

A study of the Flood narrative here:

And an article on Syntax and Semantics in Genesis One here: The argument for the perfect form of the verb is discussed. He also expounds more fully on the uses of "waw".

Simply, and again, Genesis is written as narrative literature in the Hebrew and should be accepted or rejected on its own terms. As part of the law, and, in fact, the foundational book of the Torah, to have thought the Hebrews considered it anything but historical truth would be to indicate they had no basis for their Law. They grammar and syntax of Hebrew poetry and Hebrew narrative are quite different, and Genesis is Hebrew narrative. It was quoted as authoritative by later writers of the Bible and referred to as historical truth by the Lord Jesus Christ. Any other consideration of Genesis requires tearing it out of its historic and literary context.


Note added: Another good piece of evidence for the narrative nature of Genesis 1 is the use of the perfect to begin the narrative (ie. bara) and the use of imperfects to continue it (ie. wayyomer and wayehi). This is very clear indication of classical historical narrative. (Andrew Kulikovsky, PhD., <killer@CRYOGEN.COM>)

March 11, 2000

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