Reading Genesis Well
Reading Genesis Well

Reading Genesis Well:
Navigating History, Poetry, Science, and Truth in Genesis 1–11

C. John Collins

Zondervan Academic

What does it mean to be a good reader of Genesis 1-11? What does it mean to take these ancient stories seriously and how does that relate to taking them literally? Can we even take any of this material seriously?

Reading Genesis Well answers these questions and more, promoting a responsible conversation about how science and biblical faith relate by developing a rigorous approach to interpreting the Bible, especially those texts that come into play in science and faith discussions. This unique approach connects the ancient writings of Genesis 1-11 with modern science in an honest and informed way.

Old Testament scholar C. John Collins appropriates literary and linguistic insights from C. S. Lewis and builds on them using ideas from modern linguistics, such as lexical semantics, discourse analysis, and sociolinguistics.

Collins wrote Reading Genesis Well during his tenure as Senior Research Fellow for the Henry Center’s Creation Project during the 2016–17 academic year. Since completing the fellowship, Collins has been an active participant in numerous other Creation Project programs, writing for Sapientia, participating in the Henry Center’s public lectures and debates, and is a regular speaker at the annual Dabar Conference.


C. John Collins

C. John “Jack” Collins (PhD University of Liverpool) is Professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary, and was a Senior Research Fellow for The Creation Project. He was Old Testament Chairman for the English Standard Version of the Bible, and is author of Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who They Were and Why You Should Care (Crossway, 2011) and Reading Genesis Well: Navigating History, Poetry, Science, and Truth in Genesis 1-11 (Zondervan, 2018).


This book is full of good sense about biblical interpretation. Readers who work through the principles and examples in the early chapters will be prepared for an approach to Genesis that prioritizes the intended message of the sacred text rather than modern disputes. Those who want the Scriptures to set the agenda regarding creation will benefit from this careful appropriation of C. S. Lewis’s literary wisdom. Jack Collins has the spiritual sensitivity, exegetical skill, and theological savvy to be a trustworthy guide.

Daniel Treier, Knoedler Professor of Theology, Wheaton College Graduate School

This new book from the pen of Jack Collins is a treasure, representing the coming together of Collins’s multiple interests and competencies in a compelling case for how the early chapters of Genesis should be read. Well written and wide ranging, this book is about much more than just Genesis 1–11 or even the interplay of Bible and science; it is a guide to how to read the Bible as it is meant to be read. Collins asks the right questions and puts his readers on the path of discovering well-founded answers.

V. Philips Long, Professor of Old Testament, Regent College, Vancouver

An intelligent and well-informed discussion about reading the Bible sensibly and sensitively, especially the early chapters of Genesis. Collins brings the delightful common sense of C. S. Lewis to this confused and controversial area, and the result is a book that not only develops a coherent approach to reading but is also entertaining to read. There is an overwhelming amount of literature on the topic of how to read Genesis: It is worth taking time for this one.

Kristen Birkett, Lecturer in Ethics, Philosophy, and Church History, Oak Hill Theological College

Anyone struggling to relate Genesis 1–11 to modern knowledge should welcome Collins’s work. His literary, rhetorical, and theological analysis breaks the bonds of literalism that bind many scholars and fundamentalists, showing how the text ‘gives the faithful the divinely approved way of picturing the events and that there are actual events that the pictures refer to.’ His approach, indebted to C. S. Lewis, allows modern readers to appreciate the familiar ancient stories more richly—to read them well!

Alan Millard, Emeritus Rankin Professor of Hebrew & Ancient Semitic Languages, The University of Liverpool

Book Reviews

Reading Genesis Well has many strengths. As already noted, one of the unique features of the book is its formulation of a hermeneutical approach informed by linguistics, literary study, and rhetoric. This feature alone makes the book worth reading, regardless of one’s perspective on how Gen 1–11 should be understood. Furthermore, Collins’s application of his hermeneutical approach to Gen 1–11 presents many exegetical insights. The reader may quibble with minor points here and there, but Collins’s analysis ably balances attention to both detail and the big picture and interacts well with the secondary literature. This portion of the book therefore deserves to be consulted alongside other commentaries on Gen 1–11.

Benjamin J. Noonan

Bulletin of Biblical Research 29, no 4 (2019): 551-553.

Without doubt, this book is a “must read” for all evangelical scholars of the Hebrew Bible/OT. Collins provides a healthy but challenging approach that should create modifications in the way many individuals read the Bible. Apologists on one hand read the text with a methodology that argues a literal reading of the passage will show it is scientifically accurate, while an anti-inspirationalist or source critic will consider such an approach invalid. Between these two extremes are many who recognize that poetic and figurative language should not be used to prove doctrine, but who have yet to define precisely the relationship and purpose of figurative versus literal interpretation.

Randall C. Bailey

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 62, no 2 (2019): 373-376.

This is an extremely well-written book, both structurally and substantively . . . Collins’s attempt to apply the insights of C. S. Lewis seems at first a bit of a stretch, but the more I read this book, the more I appreciated (a) how much I need to learn about something as ‘simple’ as the reading process, (b) how much C. S. Lewis contributes to a holistic, healthy approach to this process, and (c) how hard Collins has worked to make it available to others.

Michael S. Moore

The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 82, no 1 (2020): 114-115.

Whether a reader is predisposed to take Genesis 1-11 literally, see it as non-historical, or somewhere in between, Collins provides a valuable model for discerning the rhetorical aims of Genesis 1-11, and indeed a model for reading Old Testament narrative in general. One may disagree with certain of Collins’s conclusions, but for anyone who takes Genesis 1-11 seriously as literature, Reading Genesis Well is a valuable resource and a necessary conversation partner for future study.

Timothy Howe

Evangelical Quarterly 91, no 2 (2020): 178-180.