Is the Genesis Account Prescriptive or Descriptive?

June 27, 2017

I was listening to a talk the other day about the roles of men and women, both in marriage and in the church. One of the points the speaker made was the importance of looking to the Genesis account to explore how God intended creation to be. For example, the speaker talked about how the woman was created to be a helper for the man (Genesis 2:18). By using the story in this way, the speaker viewed the Genesis account as prescriptive. Something about the Genesis account was designed to teach us how we should live and order our lives today.

The Genesis account is often used in a prescriptive way to support attitudes about controversial issues. For example, regarding transgender issues, the Genesis account says that God created humans as male and female (Genesis 1:27). Regarding gay marriage, the Genesis account describes the first relationship as being between a man and woman.

As I listened to the talk, I wondered about the following question: Should we think about the Genesis account in a prescriptive or descriptive way? In other words, does the Genesis account set out a model for our lives that should be followed (i.e., prescriptive) or does it simply describe how the writers of Genesis generally viewed the creation of the world (i.e., descriptive)?

I think this is an important issue that influences many Christians’ views on a variety of topics. For example, if the Genesis account is prescriptive, you may be more likely to adhere to patriarchal gender roles, because of the temporal ordering in how God created man and woman, as well as your ideas about God’s reasons for this ordering. But if the Genesis account is descriptive, this ordering likely reflects how gender roles usually occurred in the society from which the text was written, but it doesn’t necessarily tell us how gender roles should be.

It is a similar question with issues related to transgender rights and gay marriage. If the Genesis account is prescriptive, it can be argued that God created gender to be binary, and sex should occur between a man and woman. If the Genesis account is descriptive, however, the passage likely just reflects how most people thought about gender identity and sexual attraction, but it doesn’t make a moral statement about how people should be regarding gender or sexual attraction.

What do you think? Do you view the Genesis account as prescriptive or descriptive? How does your view of Genesis impact your attitudes on controversial social issues such as gender roles, bathroom access for transgender individuals, or gay marriage?


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