Question: Do I need to believe in the story of Noah's Ark and Adam and Eve as literal facts to be a Christian? Thanks, confused.
Answer: Greetings friend. It will be my pleasure to respond to your query today. In order to answer your question well, though, I must ensure that we have our definitions aligned, and to do this we’ll discuss what we mean by the word Christian—because only then can we properly understand the requirements to be one. After that we will be able to determine whether or not belief in the historical veracity of those Bible stories is indeed a requirement to be a Christian.
The world-at-large uses the word Christian very loosely. A casual user of the term might be referring to a person who belongs to one of the many Christian religions, or to designate the bulk of the people who live in a Christian country (like the USA) or to describe those whose behavior is consistent with some general notion of Christian goodness. But we have to consider the biblical definition to answer your question, and this is far more restrictive.
A Christian has a unique relationship with Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:25). He is a person who has been redeemed by the Savior’s blood (Gal. 3:13), who has been born again by the Spirit of God (John 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:23) and who has become a child of God in that particular sense (John 1:12). Please note that other people may be considered to be “God’s children” on a certain level. But this merely indicates that they are part of his creation, but they are not necessarily part of his redemption as per the biblical criteria for being a Christian. As such we will only consider these true Christians in our answer.
With the biblical definition of Christian in mind, what are the minimum requirements to become one? What things must one do in order to be saved? Do these include believing that the early Bible stories are historical facts? Why don’t we first look at the “sparest” conversion to Christianity recorded in the Bible to see what was included and what was not included.
“And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.”
(Acts 16:29–34, ESV, emphasis mine).
Take careful note of this conversion experience. First, the jailer was not a Jew. As such, he likely had no training in the Scriptures, and it was also likely that he had no knowledge of its stories…let alone belief in them! Yet, on that same day, he believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and was truly converted to the faith. How do we know? His life radically changed, he readily received instruction and he agreed to be baptized (which is testimony to conversion). This man had a legitimate salvation experience based only on belief in the Lord Jesus Christ! But I can slice salvation even thinner with a hypothetical situation—although some Christians will be uncomfortable with this scenario.
For sake of illustration, let’s say that I am talking to a person who is totally biblically illiterate and that I do not have my Bible with me. But I tell him the points of salvation on-the-fly, and to the glory of God, he sees the sense in all this—and he is saved on the spot! Remember, this man knew nothing about Noah or Adam and Eve…yet he became a Christian at that very moment—well before any Sunday school or discipleship training.
Taking your question technically then, and pushing it to the extreme, a person does not need to believe in those Old Testament stories to become a Christian. But Christianity is not a technical enterprise. It is a spiritual one—one which requires us to interact with God’s word. As such, I pray that anyone who becomes a Christian under the thinnest constraints would then become a full-bodied believer—full of the knowledge of God’s word…but you are talking about something beyond knowledge; you are talking about belief that the stories are actually true. Since the word Christian originally meant (and should still mean) “a follower of Christ,” let’s let him weigh-in on some of those old stories.
“He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” (Matthew 19:4–5, ESV)
“For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:37–39, ESV)
There it is from the lips of Jesus himself—references to Adam and Eve and to Noah. If the Lord of glory referred to these people as if their stories were true, I too believe in their historical veracity. In general terms, Jesus was extraordinarily knowledgeable about the Scriptures—and, in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, he taught that the Scriptures were more important than even his miracles! This is a stunning revelation about the power of the Scripture being above everything else.
“But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ”
(Luke 16:29–31, ESV, emphasis mine).
Let’s look at some other people who had a clue about this Old Testament business, the Apostles Peter and Paul. Peter hearkened back to Noah calling him a “herald of righteousness.” Such a statement evokes a real person as opposed to a fictional character. Paul believed in a literal Adam.
“if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly;” (2 Peter 2:5, ESV)
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” (Romans 5:12–14, ESV)
Furthermore, Paul taught that the Scripture was sufficient for everything—and although I believe that Paul knew that he too was writing Scripture, anyone who used the word Scripture during the New Testament period was primarily referring to the Old Testament. Therefore, Paul taught that Scripture—including those old stories—were God-breathed, profitable, etc. There is no room for considering that portions of Scripture are fables in this teaching.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16, ESV)
I’d like to consider one more possibility before I close. Some might suppose that it would be acceptable for us to consider the accounts of Adam and Eve and of Noah as myths—you know, like those of classical mythology, the epic of Gilgamesh and the like. Because, if we called them myths, they would still retain their value as Christian lessons—but without the burden of insisting that people believe in stories that many people consider to be fables. Would there be any harm in that?
The harm would be in not taking God at his word—which is a slippery slope. I do not advocate literalistic interpretations of Scripture…in fact, I quite fight against that kind of thing. But over the years of preparing for these battles I’ve noticed something about the story of Adam and Eve and of Noah and the flood: they don’t even sound like myths…and I know what myths sound like.
I realize this can be a lot of homework—but doing the work is the issue here, because there are many people who have opinions about this but who have not done the reading. If you read Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, the Epic of Gilgamesh, etc. and compare them to Genesis, you’ll see how profoundly different they are. The former makes no bones that they are depicting mythological characters and stories, but the latter is, in no wise, myth—neither overtly nor covertly. Once a person has saturated himself with myth, and once a person has saturated himself with Scripture, he will conclude that Genesis does not sound like, smell like or taste like myth. Its stories sound like what they are: narratives of actual occurrences in the ancient past. And if anyone says differently, ask him if he has heard this somewhere of if he's done his own reading.
So, is it necessary to believe that those old stories are true to be a Christian? No. But is it a good idea to take God at his word? Certainly! Should a mature Christian continue in prayerful study of God’s word, earnestly seeking the truth, rather than disregarding the potentially embarrassing bits? Most assuredly. In fact, that is when we find the gold.
(Note to reader: This answer generated another question which can be found at this link.)