the Design of Genesis | the Briefing - creation & evolution
Biblical theology provides strong reasons for a more literal reading of Genesis than the Briefing (produced by Matthias Media and The Good Book Company) posited in the "the Design of Genesis" issue 337 (October 2006). I had intended to insert this article, but they decided to publish a substantial chunk as a letter. Nonetheless, I thought it might be useful to make it more widely available.
Thanks to this discussion in the Briefing I have been involved in an amiable presentation of differing views at Christ Church Bromley on 2nd April 2008. The recordings are all here.1 There was a response from the noble Vernon Wilkins and Marcus Honeysett who had a different view again, and helpfully raised some issues. A response written and refined in 2008-09, but delayed in publishing as I never got OKs/responses from the brothers, however, I trust it is helpful albeit blunt. My love for theistic evolutionists/non-YECS* remains!
- A solid critique of original the Design of Genesis issue by Tas Walker from Creation on the Web
- A sometimes tedious, but generally very interesting extremely long Syndey Anglican thread discussing this whole issue at length [and I said this having read up to page 40 - it has now grown to 80+ pages! God bless them, there is some cracking stuff going out there, but no change of lines at all... ;)]. Some great arguments here, and counter-arguments. Some brutality too [the group hug at one point was great!!!]! I'm still watching and learning from this one. Big up all contributors (mostly, ho ho)!
- A response to the conclusion at the end of the 'monster interchange' in issue 339, to address some factual errors and misrepresentation of Calvin and Luther amongst other things.
- A note on being non-divisive over this issue.
A simple overview of whole article!
Whilst sharing on this subject at a camp, a brother (Michael Powell) challenged me to simplify the key arguments still further into two points. These can be summarised thus: a. why r u trying to read it like that? b. what is your God like?
The early genealogies, a seven day week, the flood, and death of the weak as a good creative method demonstrate the many struts that must be considered in a 'figurative history' reading - why on earth are you trying to read it in a figurative way?? Clearly you have reasons, but they are not in the text. This is commonly known as 'bible plus', or a negation of 'sola Scriptura'. Thus bible interpretation leaves the hands of the common man the carpenter Jesus Christ seems to have come for. Ah well, i'm sure it was always meant to be in the hands of pompous scientific intellectuals.
The second point (what is your God like) is noting that this kind of reasoning/interpretational method re:Genesis is used to support the possibility that theistic evolution was God's creative method. He used millions of years of death through competition, violence and bloodshed, the weaker getting ripped apart by the stronger. You have a different God. I'm sorry, but its time to wake up. The God of the bible don't work like that.
So you have to override so many Scriptures and alter the character of God for what, for why? Cos you want to fit in with what you believe must be true about the history of this world. Many of the same sources would tell you the resurrection can't have happened either.
The Good Book Company has generally sought to avoid divisive issues amongst evangelicals, that we may serve more people with sound Bible based products. It can be beneficial, however, to look at such issues, particularly if both sides of an argument can be presented, and people holding different views can walk away from the discussion respecting and understanding why their brethren may hold an opposing view from Scripture.
The majority of the Good Book Company hold a view unrepresented by the articles in the October issue of the Briefing. In the interests of a fair discussion I have sought to present in this article one understanding of this kind of view.
It is worth saying that we do love our brothers in Sydney and our boss in the UK despite their releasing an issue of the Briefing where we disagree with (and yet still sent out...) the balance of what was said. Having worked with these charming and godly folk in the gospel for seven years, I believe I can say that in sincerity of heart.
We could not love those we serve in the Church without putting out information on this subject to enable a balanced hearing and assessment. Then 'let each be fully convinced in his own mind'.
I conclude before I end, for while it is good to conclude from the Scriptures, not uncertain science, we agree that one may find some truth through the study of science (and other areas such as history), so you will find an appendix with some items from these fields.
When considering what the Design of Genesis is and its purpose within the biblical framework, a good starting point would be to look at the biblical context. Space prevents detailed study of the early chapters, but the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 are illuminating on the question of the original intention of God's communication in those early chapters of Genesis...
A translator for some remote tribe was translating Matthew. It seemed judicious to skip Matthew 1, since it was tangential to the 'business' of the gospel. So he began at chapter 2. The people were interested in what Matthew had to say. When he had finished he went back and translated Matthew 1. Their reaction was astounding, 'You mean Jesus is REAL? We had no idea, but you say he has ancestors, this is amazing...'. Whereupon many were converted. In their culture, everyone knew their genealogy. It defined who you were. The design of Matthew 1 hit home. They suddenly realised this Jesus was a real historical figure.
What about other genealogies, in particular those of Genesis 5 and 11? What is their design? To make public an historical basis for a fiction, or for a reality? We know the genealogy in Matthew 1 chooses to skip certain people for its own poetic series of three 14s. What about the early Genesis ones?
Unique in Scripture, the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 are marked by an absolute absence of gaps, and enough information for Bishop Usher to derive his famed chronology to the day Adam was created. More could be said2, but, to deal with one objection, the genealogies clearly refer to real people not broad families ('he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth', 'Enoch walked with God, and was not, for God took him'). When Jude refers to 'Enoch, the seventh from Adam' and his prophesying, he shows that under the influence of the Holy Spirit Jude understood Enoch to be a man who prophesied and that there were indeed no missing generations - he was the seventh from Adam.
A literal understanding of the genealogy (in Genesis 5) is strongly pointed to by the meaning of Methuselah's name (which would have been apparent to the Hebrew reader) and the timing of his death and the flood: his name means 'when he dies, it shall be sent'. God's mercy let him live the longest possible length of time, knowing that when he died, it would be sent: the flood.
Thus the mercy of God to mankind appears in the details of a genealogy and the flood. Surely it is very hard to read the genealogy non-literally, except by verbal gymnastics desired only because of extra-biblical pressures? So we have in these very unusual genealogies a stark indication that God is making public an abundantly historical record, for nowhere else did he choose to give dates of birth, and ages of lives, what else was the purpose of the divine hand in doing so? What other reading makes sense of their inclusion in the text?
1656 is the year of the flood (from creation), 600 years after Noah's birth. Noah's father Lamech died just 5 years before, and his grandfather Methuselah died that very same year. Timing is everything.
Many see creation's seven days as symbolic. In order for a reference to be 'symbolic' of something, must it not have a pre-established meaning within reality? Can the now symbolic number seven have been symbolic when it had no formerly established meaning, i.e. at the very beginning of biblical history? If so what was it symbolic of? 12 becomes a symbolic number of Israel's tribes and family fulness because, Jacob had 12 literal children. Seven becomes a symbolic number of creation fulness and original perfection because...?
Genesis 2:2-3 would lead one to think that God made the 'seventh' day holy on creation grounds. Exodus 16:22-23 (regarding prohibiting the gathering of manna on the seventh day) is interesting as a pre-Law/10 Commandments item where one is lead to think that God was taking this 'seventh creation sanctified' day seriously and fundamentally still. He seems to be viewing it, or applying it in a fairly literal manner.
Exodus 20:11, 'for in six days God made the world, and on the seventh day he rested', provides an additional reason to take it that the international seven day week is indeed based upon a reality rooted in God's very creation of the universe. Biblical theology taking into account all of Scripture (and nothing outside) would lead one to assume that God had a pretty literal understanding of a six day creation/one day rest cycle, and desired his people to understand their seven day week as a reflection of that pattern.
Jeremy Campbell remarked in a chapter called, 'The Importance of Time', from his book Winston Churchill's Afternoon Nap: 'Fifteen years ago, few scientists would have expected that seven-day biological cycles would prove to be so widespread and so long established in the living world. They are of very ancient origin, appearing in primitive one-celled organisms, and are thought to be present even in bacteria, the simplest form of life now existing.'Winston Churchill's Afternoon Nap (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986)
Google for: circaseptan rhythms site:*.gov - this will make sure to return search results only from secular government sites. It does seem that the 'seven' was very literally stamped into humans (and the animal kingdom).
Consider if evolutionary theory is compatible with Eden:
'[Natural] selection is the blindest, and most cruel way of evolving new species... ..the more cruel because it is a process of elimination, of destruction. The struggle for life and elimination of the weakest is a horrible process, against which our whole modern ethics revolts. An ideal society is a non-selective society, one where the weak is protected; which is exactly the reverse of the so-called natural law. I am surprised that a Christian would defend the idea that this is the process which God more or less set up in order to have evolution.'Jacques Monod, Interview with Laurie John, Australian Broadcasting Co., June 10, 1976.
'The evolutionary process is rife with happenstance, contingency, incredible waste, death, pain and horror.'David L Hull
If you believe in a perfectly good pre-Fall creation, you must profoundly struggle to believe in evolution with 'nature red in tooth and claw'. For survival of the fittest is antithetic to the revealed character of God: involving death of the weakest, often at the hands of, or in direct competition with, the strongest.
The Scriptures indicate that the physical groaning of creation, the bondage to decay, death and spiritual death must all have begun at some point after God described the world as 'very good' - for all these facts about our universe are frequently represented as not very good in Scripture.
Biblical theology would lead one to believe that they all commenced at the same point: 'In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die'. The curse that our action brought on the earth was so deep as to cause the ground and the world to be cursed also. The animals that were and will be at peace became wild and so on. Certainly 'death' is phrased as definitely having no part of the promised future ('Death will be no more', Revelation 21:4) in a passage that describes the future by a series of statements of what it will NOT have in it. So the Scriptures lead many to conclude that there can have been no death, no violence, no starvation, no conflict, no pain (etc.) in all creation before the Fall. Which for evolution is the death knoll.
Having studied the Scriptures, many consider that it is impossible that so much death and pain could be God's method of producing a very good creation, concluding: 'sola Scriptura demands I reject evolution, fullstop.'
The preponderance of science and scientific arguments in the Briefing's analysis of the Design of Genesis is a marked break from the rest of its exegesis which is normally so firmly and wonderfully rooted in the rock of the Scriptures alone. The validity or non-validity of a secular science based movement like Intelligent Design is surely not of much concern for Christians regarding how Genesis should be understood.
Biblical theology should guide us to use all of Scripture to understand the Design of, or God's intended reading of Genesis. Thus serious study of the subject would benefit from including much of the Old and New Testaments' literal or non literal understanding of the events in Genesis 1 to 11. From the New Testament perhaps Jesus' reference to 'as in the days of Noah', 'God made them in the beginning male and female', 'the blood of righteous Abel' and 'the Sabbath was made for man' (connecting with Genesis 2:3); Jude's to Enoch, Peter's to Noah and the flood, Paul's to 'God, who said 'Let light shine...' and Eve's deception, Hebrews' statement that 'by faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God', again Hebrews to Cain and Abel's offerings, and so on and on. The Briefing used Romans 5 to show the need for a literal Adam. We would just recommend much more of this!
If our interpretation of any section of Scripture is no longer purely derived from the rest of Scripture, but also reason or science or gut instinct, something subtle but very dangerous has happened. The Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) is breached. It is on precisely this ground that the root error of the egalitarian (as opposed to complementarian) and homosexual readings of Scripture have entered. Bits of Scripture are taken, but very quickly our world's culture and understanding are brought into play, without enough thought being given to the overarching biblical theology of the subject. Eisegesis is what has happened.
We need to read first from Scripture, understand what it teaches (and what it doesn't), then take it to the world and try and work it out, knowing what is immovable.
A good question to ask is: 'If a person had no knowledge of science, and had the Bible alone, what understanding would they come to about what Genesis 1 to 11 (or another passage) is saying in the context of the Bible'? How would he exegete it? Can we correctly understand the Bible with the Holy Spirit alone? Or are we bound to fall into significant and factual error?
In order not to be simplistic about sola Scriptura as above, a serious example is worth looking at - say the flat-earthers (from which much rhetoric and implicit argument was made in the Briefing). Investigate the use of the word kanaph (as in four 'corners' of the earth) in Hebrew in the rest of Scriptures and you will find it is decidedly non-literal in meaning. Had God wanted to imply four literal geometric corners there were other words he could have used.3 There was no need to understand it literally from Scripture.
Sola Scriptura, a doctrine evangelicals agree upon, is involved in the reading of Genesis. Observe the first three points raised: 'Why, on balance, would one take the genealogy, or the day to be non-literal'?, 'Why would one try and find evolution biblically viable as God's method of creation'? The Scriptures and their internal logic seem to point in one direction, so why would I try hard to read them in another? Is it because I am allowing accepted science a significant weighting, and I don't wish to look stupid before the world and what it believes? I recall that 'some laughed' at Paul's literal belief in Jesus' resurrection.
Let me allow Professor Gerhard F. Hasel to state the issue more clearly than I am able:
'The major weakness of the overlapping method of reckoning [Genesis 5 genealogy] is its head-on conflict with standard interpretations of time needed for prehistoric and historical reconstructions. These kinds of conflicts have led certain scholars to posit gaps in the chronogenealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 and to argue for a discontinuous line of descent... In this writer's opinion the basic issue is whether modern reconstructions of ancient history and prehistory are an authoritative norm for the interpretation or reinterpretation of the Bible. If this is the case, then modern man's historical and scientific endeavors are raised to the level of an absolute norm. It follows that the Bible must yield in these areas of conflict. A contrary view is that ultimate authority for knowledge and faith is provided in the superior revelation of God in the Bible, and whenever biblical information impinges on matters of history, age of the earth, origins, etc., the data observed must be interpreted and reconstructed in view of this superior divine revelation which is supremely embodied in the Bible.'Professor Gehard F. Hasel, Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Theology, Andrews University, 1980
If you are exegeting Genesis very substantially more figuratively than this - is it not because, in this area at least, sola Scriptura is not your interpretational control? You may only just be realising that this reformation doctrine is at stake. Or you may have intentionally departed from an absolute belief that Scripture alone may interpret Scripture, and in your exegesis there is a definite place for at least modern science. Such a view of the Bible and man's 'truths' forms the logical basis of liberalism and some involved or receiving such bible-handling do make those logical steps that others do not. By all means attempt to refute the arguments contained within these pages, but for us to stay united 'in the truth', please confine your arguments to biblical material (the truth), or we will fear you do not share our committment to this towering principle of evangelicalism and our common reformation heritage.
- What is the most natural reading of Genesis 5 and 11? What reasons cause me to see it as non-literal?
- Do the Scriptures give any pointers on how God intended Genesis to be understood at the time?
- Can I accept eons of pre-Fall evolution as compatible with Scripture? How, which verses allow me to do that?
- Do I believe in sola Scriptura? Or must extra-biblical 'facts' be considered when exegeting? How is this exegetical method different from that of liberals who end up reading Jesus' resurrection as being 'spiritual' only?
Hopefully, you will understand why many who have brought biblical theology to bear on this issue, not only reject even theistic evolution (let alone neo-Darwinian theory) as being incompatible with Scripture, but also tend towards the view that God intended a literal understanding of Genesis 1 to 11. Further, you may grasp why some who hold our view, can get 'excited' about it, because their perception is that a bigger issue lies underneath: the authority of the Word of God.
We may be wrong, forgive us; but you see we are reasoned.
For many, such reasoning will have raised a hydra of follow-on questions (which we cannot deal with here), but on this issue of the Design of Genesis, the type of questions to stay thinking about are:
Finally, peace and love to the Israel of God! Respect to those in disagreement still, and to those in agreement, all one in Christ!
As with Jesus' literal resurrection, you will find many extra-biblical reasons why this viewpoint seems the only option - some fragments:
To mention one area of cultural history. There are at least 500 legends of a worldwide deluge. Funk and Wagnall's 1950 Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend stated under the heading 'Deluge or Flood': 'A world cataclysm during which the earth was inundated or submerged by water: a concept found in almost every mythology in the world.'
To mention one from science: the fossil record. The issue of polystrate fossils (i.e. crossing 'many strata') bearing the same level of decay in one strata as in another - though allegedly tens of thousands (and more) years apart. The issue of the fossilisation of countless lifeforms that never normally fossilise - particular examples might be the thousands of jellyfish at a quarry in central Wisconsin, or millions of fish on one rocky cragg off Scotland - these things are normally rapidly devoured by scavengers, or damaged by the elements if thrown ashore. Their international super abundance as fossils in perfect condition is indicative of rapid burial and a widespread causal catastrophe (like a flood). Oh, I just can't help myself, the proportions of the ark are regarded as extremely fine, and no boat was built with these proportions until the mid-19th century when heavy ocean going liners started to get made - it was ideal for heavy sea stability. How on earth did those writers know that, unless such a massive boat was in fact built at the specific direction of God?
A helpful distinction should also be made between evolution (i.e. from plants to people, and the associated development of new information), and the natural selectivity of present information which yields local survival advantages, but generally equates to a nett loss of information within the communal gene pool - i.e. sickle cell anaemia, a survival advantage where it is warm and malaria reigns, but a distinct disadvantage elsewhere. In some societies such temporary advantages are so profound in survival that the original or variant information is lost - i.e. pygmy communities, the flightless cormorant.
I have taken the liberty of inserting a book list from Answers in Genesis (AiG), which contains much worthwhile reading. Many of AiG's founders, friends and members are very serious scientists, and some of their scientific study of the world we live in demonstrates that a literal reading of Genesis 1 to 11 makes very good sense of the evidence (though it does pose considerable problems for evolutionists etc). In their book list you will find many of the areas above and their follow-on questions addressed, as well as science and areas no doubt unmentioned.
Many of the interpretations of scientific evidence from AiG et al (for there are many creation science groups and scientists producing myriad theses and articles) seem to merit placement in the classroom alongside evolutionary interpretations of the same evidence. Only having one interpretation to opt for causes a brain bypass; and evolutionary theory, owing to its prevalence, must surely continue to be taught and understood, if not believed.
1: ^ Recordings:
http://harmlesswise.com/audio/Creation_-_Theistic_Darwinist_view_-_Genesis_1-11.mp3 - Dr Ard Louis
http://harmlesswise.com/audio/Creation_-_Young_Earth_view_-_Genesis_1-11.mp3 - Thomas Seidler
2: ^ The names in the whole genealogy which would have been apparent to the Hebrew reader are not to us, and carry a meaning - the whole genealogy, in fact, carries a wonderful gospel message. For one analysis, see http://www.joshuanet.org/articles/missler/gen5.htm
3: ^ http://www.christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-c017.html - after studying this you could check also: Job 26:10, Proverbs 8:27, Isaiah 40:22; and you should have enough grounds to reasonably conclude that, since kanaph is non-literal and the Scriptures contain other views of the world, then we are allowed a phenomenological understanding of 'four corners' in English. There are a few more texts on this one, but it is a bit of a side issue!
Links in footnotes were correct at time of writing. If you find dead ones, please let me know. In a number of cases I have saved a copy of the linked page/file, and can make this available on request.