Well, it’s hard to disagree with that. It is narrative prose. But I think Beall is assuming throughout that narrative prose=historical reporting. This is not a safe assumption, either within the Bible or without. Prose narrative has plenty of sub-genres, as John Walton points out in his response, adding, “Narrative…does not automatically require that the literature be considered historical” (69–70), a statement I would endorse so long as we are talking about historical in its intention. Tremper Longman agrees:
The bottom line is that it is wrong to equate narrative automatically with history….Poetry can be historical…and narrative, using normal prose syntax, can be fictional (66).
King Jehoash of Israel sent this message back to King Amaziah of Judah, “A thornbush in Lebanon sent this message to a cedar in Lebanon, ‘Give your daughter to my son as a wife.’ Then a wild animal of Lebanon came by and trampled down the thorn. (2 Kings 14:9 NET Bible)
Right in the middle of this short fable, the word ‘then’ represents a waw-consecutive Hebrew verb, the form that Beall understands as the giveaway for historical narrative. It clearly is not a form limited to historical reporting.
C. John Collins makes a good point in his response: “The proper contrast is not between literal-historical and figurative but instead between historically referential and nonreferential.” Is the text intending to report history? is the key question. We could suggest a range of criteria in the text that might lead us towards or away from such a conclusion, but prose form alone is a poor candidate for such a criterion.
For my part, I would note that there are some things that set Genesis 1–11 apart from subsequent, more historical narrative in Genesis, including the global scope that seeks to account for the beginnings of the world, of humanity, of human civilization and technology, and of human experience of God and worship of God, in universal terms, but on the basis of non-universal resources: witness the global sensibility of the Table of Nations in Genesis 10, yet also the fact that it can and does only report on tribes that occupy Israel’s own region.
Genesis 1:1–2:3 is all the more unique: it describes events that no human could have witnessed, which to my mind makes it quite unique as far as history-telling goes. It certainly is not an ordinary case of history-writing! Someone might answer that God told Adam, Adam told Shem, and Shem told Abraham, etc., but that person did not discover this explanation of the origin of our creation narrative from the Bible! It is a construct, a just-so story. But I do agree with Longman that “Gen 1–11 does have a historical impulse,” and would see the genealogies as a case in point.
I think an underlying concern of Beall’s is what is known in Protestant doctrinal discussion as the ‘perspicuity of Scripture’ which, ironically, since it is by this time a very obscure phrase, means how clear the Bible should be to the ordinary Christian punter. I would share this value of Beall’s, and when he protests that “the language of Genesis is not coded” and thus impenetrable unless one is an expert in ancient Near Eastern writing forms (56), he sounds a valid note of caution.
Avoiding the temptation to delve too deeply into the part of the debate about whether Genesis 1 should be understood as an ancient Near Eastern document (it is inevitably so, I think, but that doesn’t mean it’s nothing but another ANE story!), I make one last comment. As young-earth creationists often have (in my reading experience), Beall calls in the old statement by James Barr’s Fundamentalism (1977) saying that non-literal interpretations of Genesis only arose where evangelical Christians under pressure from the seemingly unarguable outcomes of science were forced to defend the inerrancy of the Genesis accounts by interpreting them non-literally, when their obvious sense is the literal one (57, quoting from p. 42 of Barr).
This strikes me as an instance of, “My enemy’s enemy is my friend.” Barr is of course saying that the natural, literal sense, speaking of the creation of the world in a week, and that, by implication of chronologically limited genealogical links, relatively quite recently, is blatantly untrue! From Beall’s point of view and that of his fellow YEC’ers, this is a mephistophelian contract, a deal with the devil, so to speak.
Finally, looking at Barr’s original argument is interesting in itself. Barr makes a historical error on the page Beall quotes, saying, “A hundred years ago, probably less, most fundamentalists would have insisted on a literal interpretation.” That refers to about 1877, and around 1877, a lot of even quite conservative Christians, not stopping at their nearly universal acceptance of a great age for the earth, had conceded the truth of some version of biological evolution! That trend would later reverse. And for all Barr’s (sceptical) literalism in this part of his book, he goes on to say that the author of the early chapters of Genesis
…was deeply interested in chronology and calendar, and he depicted the story of creation in a carefully and deliberately arranged scheme of one week.”
One final point: Beall’s bibliography shows a shockingly insular and in parts, barely scholarly reading list, and I think a lot of other OT instructors would say the same. I would mark down a student essay for an essay bibliography that looked like that.