Genesis 1-3: Science? History? Theology?

J.A. Thompson


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‘This clear, carefully reasoned lecture will be of great help to people wanting to think seriously about the relationship between Genesis 1—3 and current scientific ideas about cosmic and human origins.
If I had been able to read this when I was an undergraduate, I am sure it might have saved me about 15 years of thought and study before coming to much the same conclusions as those presented in this lecture!’

Rev. Dr Ernest C. Lucas, Bristol Baptist College, UK, and author of ‘Can we believe Genesis today?’, IVP, 2005.

‘In an area often charged with misconceptions and problems, John Thompson cuts through to the heart of the science-theology issues presented by the Genesis narrative. His clear exposition answers many of the questions thoughtful Christians feel guilty to raise that often go unanswered, while the literary approach to the text is both scholarly and evangelical. The assertion that Genesis 1—3 is neither history nor science but “sets forth in unmistakable terms certain great affirmations about God, humankind and the world” cannot be over-emphasised. This paper should be widely read by thoughtful Christians and consulted by every preacher who seeks to expound a proper biblical view of Creation. By so doing much divisive and unnecessary debate would be avoided.’

Allan J. Day, Emeritus Professor of Physiology, University of Melbourne.

‘At a time when an aggressive atheism is attacking the credibility of Christianity by reviving the old science versus religion controversy, the publication of this lecture on the first three chapters of Genesis is particularly timely. John Thompson’s perceptive and nuanced study of the literary forms in which the creation narratives are expressed shows that the profound and enduring theological truths which they convey are in no way threatened by scientific discoveries. What is critical is to understand the literary forms and the cultural milieu through which truth is revealed by God.’

Dr Keith Rayner AO, former Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne and Primate of Australia.


John Arthur Thompson was born in 1913 in Queensland, Australia. He studied science (completing a BSc and MSc) before going on to teach Physics and Chemistry at Brisbane’s Anglican Church Grammar School, known then as Church of England Grammar School (‘Churchie’). One of his students who was strongly influenced by John, Keith Rayner, went on to become the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne, and Primate of Australia.

John’s Christian commitment led to theological and biblical studies and eventually a position as Director of the Australian Institute of Archaeology. He lectured in Old Testament in the Baptist Theological College, Sydney, and then completed a PhD at Cambridge on ‘The Vocabulary of Covenant in the Old Testament’ (1960–1963).

On returning to Australia he continued lecturing at the Baptist Theological College, and following that in the Semitic (and then Middle Eastern) Studies Department at the University of Melbourne.

Several years’ experience at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, as an honorary Fellow of the American Schools of Oriental Research enabled him to come back to work full-time at the University of Melbourne, taking up again his love for Archaeology and Middle Eastern languages and culture. It was during this period that he gave the 1966 Tyndale Lecture which forms the text of this book. This was only one of a number of Tyndale lectures that John gave.

John contributed regularly in Bible translation workshops and projects with the Bible Society’s Translation Committee and Wycliffe Bible Translators. He understood the significance of translation and its associated difficulties, including the importance of cultural and literary context, having grappled with these issues frequently.

His love for the Old Testament and his deep Christian faith had a profound effect on a generation of students of the Bible whom he taught in theological colleges, Bible colleges and tertiary Christian groups. John and his wife Marion gave warm personal and prayerful support and hospitality to many students.

John has written numerous books and articles, the most well-known being The Bible and Archaeology (1962), Handbook of Life in Bible Times (1986), and biblical commentaries on Deuteronomy (1974), Jeremiah (1980), and I & II Chronicles (1994).

It was a source of deep personal thankfulness to John that this Tyndale lecture was proving so helpful to people from many different countries.

John died in November 2002, predeceasing his wife, Marion, who died in January 2005.

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