Archive for September, 2007

A Case for Young Earth Creationism, Part 5

September 28, 2007

So far I have dealt with theological and exegetical issues related to the Bible’s teaching on creation.  But even after all of this a nagging point remains: why does the earth, according to scientific evidence, look so much older than 6,000 years?  Doesn’t this invalidate young earth creationism?

A moment’s reflection will reveal that this is not necessarily the case.  If the Genesis account tells us the basic facts about how the earth was created, then what would we expect to find when investigating this question scientifically?  We would expect the earth to look old because God’s creative work bypasses natural processes and gets to the end result in a short amount of time.  God created Adam from the dust of the earth.  He did not unite a sperm cell with an egg and take the embryo through various stages of development, on into childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.  He created Adam, an adult man, in an instant.  Bypassing the natural processes, God created a man who looked old but in actuality was not.  I imagine that if you were standing in the Garden of Eden on that day and you cut down a tree, the trunk would have rings, which we know today are indications of how many years the tree has existed.  But of course, in that unique case the rings would not be indications of time that had passed but rather indications of the power of God to call into being that which does not exist. 

Take the light of distant stars, for example.  We know that some stars in our visual range are so far away from us that it would have taken the light from these stars much, much longer than 6,000 years to reach us.  Normally, this would be an indication that the light must have started its journey much longer than 6,000 years ago, thereby proving that the stars have existed for an amount of time much longer than 6,000 years.  But if we follow the pattern of creation laid out in Genesis 1-2, then we would expect the appearance of age in a young universe.  In fact, if God created light on Day 1 and the heavenly bodies on Day 4 (as Genesis claims), then we already have evidence in place that light existed indepently of the heavenly bodies in the first place, thereby invalidating the claim that it had to begin its journey from the stars in question.

The bottom line is that creation is a miracle, and miracles do not yield results that can be traced back according to natural laws.  Of course, the biggest objection to this claim is that I am special pleading, presupposing my interpretation of the Bible and imposing that on the scientific task.  I am not calling for true science but only for the kind that will validate my views.  I appreciate that objection, and I understand it.  But I think, given our situation in this world under God’s authority, we have no other choice.  The only alternative is to let autonomous human reason decide these questions for us.  I don’t trust autonomous human reason.  I believe it is in rebellion against God and incapable of understanding his ways.  Revelation must be allowed in this discussion.

Imagine two scientists present at the wedding of Cana in John 2.  One scientist is a believer in Jesus Christ, and the other is not.  After Jesus turns the water into wine, both scientists examine samples of the wine under a microscope.  The unbelieving scientist says, “This wine must be many decades old.  It shows signs of significant aging.”  The believing scientist says, “This wine was created a few minutes ago, even though it gives the appearance of being much older.”  The unbelieving scientist then gets upset and says, “You’re not doing real science.  You’re not letting the facts speak for themselves.”  To that the believing scientist replies, “I know the Person, and he interprets the facts for me.  If I truly believe he is God in the flesh, why should I disregard what he has said and done when looking at the facts?” 

Christians should do science from an explicitly Christian perspective, seeking to take their directions from what God has already told us.  If God tells us that he creates in a short time what would normally take ages to develop naturally, why should we doubt him?  Yes, I am privileging the Christian worldview here.  I don’t intend this discussion to appeal to unbelievers much at all (that would be another discussion for another time).  But given the Christian worldview, why is it so hard to bring science under the authority of Scripture and in line with our broader theology? 

I believe the presupposition that the earth will look much older than it is must be allowed a seat at the table in this discussion.  Young earth creationism must not be forced to defend a claim that it doesn’t make, namely, that the earth looks young from a scientific perspective.  To say that would be to deny the manner of God’s creative power as it has been revealed to us. 

One more presupposition that belongs on the table is the worldwide flood of Noah.  Most scientists do not work as though it is a factor in their investigations.  But think about it: such a catastrophic event doubtless would have had major geological ramifications.  The upheaval involved would have been something beyond our imagination.  In addition, such a major event would have carried with it the aftershocks of countless smaller catastrophes that also would have played a role in altering the conditions of the earth.  A good question to ask when viewing the scientific evidence is this: is the present the key to the past?  In other words, should we presuppose the uniformity of geological change?  Most scientists believe we should.  I disagree because the Bible implies that we shouldn’t.  Young earth creationism claims that the earth not only looks older than it is, but also that the worldwide flood described in Genesis 6-9 was a catastrophic event that has not and will not be repeated.  Geological change happened rapidly and catastrophically rather than slowly and steadily. 

Obviously, I have avoided specific scientific questions here for three reasons: (1) there are too many to know where to begin and how to limit the discussion; (2) I am not competent enough to discuss them at length; I am a theologian, not a scientist, and I recognize that trying to talk like a scientist will only expose my inadequacies in this area; (3) others have treated these at length; see especially Answers in Genesis.  My purpose here has been to argue for a certain approach to science, one that is fully conversant with theology and exegesis, on the part of Christians. 

To sum up this series, I believe that young earth creationism coheres better than any other view with the total Christian worldview package.

(1) Theologically, the Christian worldview demands a historical Fall, which in turn demands a historical Adam.  In addition, it strongly suggests that the curse, which came as a result of the first sin, is responsible for death among humans and in the animal kingdom, as well as major alterations pertaining to the earth’s condition.

(2) Exegetically, the Gap theory, the Day-Age view, and the literary framework view of Genesis 1:1-2:3 all face serious difficulties.  The best way to read this account is as a poetic, but nevertheless historical version of events.

(3) Scientifically, we should not expect young earth creationism to prove a claim that it does not make, namely, that the earth will show evidence of being 6,000 years old.  If we allow it to stand in its own integrity, with the two major presuppositions in place about God’s creative work bypassing natural processes and the impact of a global flood, we can account for a good bit of what scientists have observed. 

Of course, we still see through a glass darkly.  I am quite sure that no scientific perspective will ever be able to claim a complete understanding of everything.  Questions will still remain.  Uncertainties will persist.  But that’s part of what it means to live in a world created by a God whose thoughts are higher than ours and whose ways are past finding out (of course, I don’t mean that in all respects, but certainly in some respects).  We shouldn’t expect it to be any different.

Learning How to Suffer

September 27, 2007

Over the last couple of years, I have watched John Piper suffer.  First it was a battle with cancer in 2006.  Then it was the loss of his father earlier this year.  Now it is the loss of his granddaughter, who died in the womb of her mother at full term.  These kinds of sufferings are not uncommon, nor is it necessarily uncommon for someone to face three events like this in such a short time.  But the uncommon element for John Piper is that his sufferings become public knowledge through his website, and many people, far more than are personally acquainted with him, get to read his own personal reflections on the sufferings that he faces.  When I read these very personal reflections, I see an approach to suffering that is saturated with Piper’s God-centered theology.  Even here, watching from a distance, I am learning so much about how to suffer well. 

Read this.  It will bring tears to your eyes.

And if you missed Piper’s reflections on his cancer and on the death of his father, see the former here and the latter here.

Aaron’s Words of Wisdom

September 25, 2007

Uniqueness is so common that there really is nothing special about it.

Was the Cross Legal or Personal?

September 25, 2007

I am currently taking a class on the doctrine of the atonement.  We have been reading a number of different books expressing a number of different viewpoints on what exactly the cross means and what it achieved.  In recent years the traditional Reformed view of the atonement (a view known as “penal substitution”) has come under fire from many different sides.  According to this view, Jesus died on the cross as a substitute for sinners, bearing their guilt, having their sins imputed to him, bearing the wrath of God in their place.  To my mind, penal substitution is not the only thing that can be said about the cross, but it is the central category for explaining how the atonement works.  I believe that it is biblical, even central to the gospel itself.

Therefore, I am distressed to see so many people reacting against it today.  Most of the authors we have read who have some kind of objection to it say that it portrays God’s relationship with man in rigid, legal categories rather than in the warm, personal tone of Scripture.  According to them (i.e., Greg Boyd, Hans Boersma, Joel Green, and others), the traditional penal substitution view makes God an exacting judge rather than a loving Father.  The purpose of this post is to make two points that I hope will expose the inadequacy of this objection to penal substitution.

1. The legal is personal.  I suspect that the authors I have referred to object to “rigid, legal categories” because they are drawing their understanding of the adjective “legal” from human legal systems.  Human legal systems are impersonal.  A judge represents the state, which is an impersonal institution.  The judge has not been personally offended, but he administers justice as a representative of the impersonal state.  If we understand “legal” in this sense, then it does seem to be at some distance from personal, relational categories.

However, with God, things are different.  God is a judge, but he is not a representative of an impersonal institution.  He stands over us and against as one who has been personally offended by our sins.  The cross does not satisfy some abstract notion of justice that is removed from God the personal being.  It satisfies justice as the demand of the character of a holy, personal God, and thereby repairs our broken relationship with him.  Far from depersonalizing the atonement, penal substitution gets right to the heart of the God-man relationship by addressing a fundamental legal issue that keeps God and man apart: sin.  In the biblical teaching about God and his relationship to humanity, the legal is very personal.

2. The personal is legal.  I have a closer relationship with my wife than with anyone else on earth.  We live together, sleep in the same bed, partner together in raising our son, and share the same goals and dreams for our family.  We truly have one life shared by two people (three if you count our son, though he will go his own way eventually).  The marriage relationship is the most personal relationship imaginable.  Yet it is first of all a legal relationship.  Before God and the state, we declared our vows in a legally binding ceremony that sealed our union and brought us into a state of marriage.  That was no trivial event.  It marked a turning point in our relationship.  Prior to that event, we did not live together or sleep in the same bed or share one life or any of those things.  In fact, though it has become more accepted today, I frown on the idea of two people living as though they are married when they are not legally joined to one another.  I think that is putting the cart before the horse, and I know I am not alone in that view. 

So the legal relationship of marriage is immensely important, and yet no one would accuse me of being rigid, cold, and impersonal with my wife because we sealed our union in a legal manner.  To give another example, no one believes that my father and stepmother acted in a cold, impersonal, rigid manner by going through the proper legal channels to establish themselves as the legal parents of my adopted sister.  Without the legal basis, adoption (also one of the most warm, personal relationships in human society) would not exist.

Scripture portrays our relationship with Christ as analogous to marriage, and it portrays our relationship with God the Father as analogous to adoption.  These are legal categories that are at the same time very personal.  We need to get over this false dichotomy that what is legal is necessarily impersonal and that what is personal is necessarily not tied up with legal matters.  The cross is very legal in nature.  Jesus Christ paid the penalty demanded by the law for our sins and thereby satisfied the justice of God by removing his wrath from us.  And just as in human relationships, the legal serves as a foundation for the personal relationship with God through the cross.     

A Case for Young Earth Creationism, Part 4

September 18, 2007

So far I have appealed mostly to passages in the book of Romans to make theological points about the age of the earth, but now my task is to deal with the text of Genesis 1:1-2:3 itself.  I will approach this by listing the various interpretations of the passage and showing why the literal interpretation of young earth creationism fits the totality of the evidence the best.

(1) The Gap Theory: Some approach this passage more or less in a literal manner, but they still opt for an old earth view by positing a gap of millions, perhaps billions of years between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.  Why, Gap Theorists ask, is the earth “without form and void” in verse 2?  According to them, it is because the Satanic fall occurred at some point between verses 1 and 2 and disrupted the order of God’s good creation, which had existed for a very long time.  The biblical creation account (Genesis 1:2-2:3), therefore, refers to God’s reorganization of the earth that he had actually created millions or billions of years before.

Few hold to this position anymore, and for good reason.  It hangs a truckload of data on silence.  It appears to be self-contradictory, because how could an original creation exist for billions of years without the sun, which wasn’t created until verse 16?  It does not make sense of the flow of the text, which clearly reads like a summary (v. 1) followed by a detailed account (vv. 2ff.), a writing style that happens quite often in Scripture.  The Gap Theory will not do.

(2) The “Day-Age” view: According to this view, the Hebrew word yom (“day”) does not indicate a regular day but rather a lengthy period that accounts for the millions, or even billions of years that the earth has existed.  Day-Age proponents argue that the word yom may be used flexibly, much like we use the word “day” in different ways.  For example, I might say, “In Calvin’s day it was much more common for people to be executed for heretical teachings than it is in our day.”  Obviously, I don’t mean a twenty-four hour period by the word “day” in that sentence.  I mean something like “age.”  Day-Age proponents further argue that this reading harmonizes the Genesis account with modern science.

I reject the Day-Age view because, while yom may certainly be used in various ways, context must decide its usage in every instance.  This passage clearly has regular days in view.  I know of no other examples where the word “day” can be used in a numbered sequence (“first day,” “second day,” etc.) where the meaning of “day” is not a regular day.  But that is precisely what happens in this text.  Furthermore, the repeated formula of “evening and morning” clearly indicates that a normal day is in view.  One might object that “evening and morning” do not constitute a twenty-four hour period but rather just the span of time from evening to morning, but that would be to read the passage woodenly, not literally.  The phrase “evening and morning” is simply a metonymy for the whole day, much like a person in our time might say “sun-up to sundown.”  We must not press language beyond its intention.  The Day-Age view falters on the way the word “day” is actually used in this passage.

(3) The Literary Framework view: Some argue that Genesis 1:1-2:3 is a literary description of creation, not a historical description.  On this reading, the word “day” retains its normal usage, with the understanding that the author has no intention of giving a step-by-step account of how creation actually occurred.  In reality, the world was probably created more or less the way scientists believe.  The repetitious nature of the account and its symmetrical proportions (with days 1 and 4 corresponding, days 2 and 5 corresponding, and days 3 and 6 corresponding, climaxing with day 7) indicate that the author is giving a poetic impression, not a scientific description.  The narrative was written to counter other ancient near eastern creation myths.  It seems to be deliberately shaped around the Jewish practice of the Sabbath, which is another indication that its purpose is not to describe history.

Of all the views, this one has the most to commend it if the literal view is rejected.  The passage does indeed have a number of poetic elements.  However, it is not Hebrew poetry.  If Genesis 1:1-2:3 were placed in the book of Psalms, it would stick out like a sore thumb.  It has certainly been crafted into a literary masterpiece, but it does not strictly follow the conventions of Hebrew poetry (namely, parallel line couplets).  The Masoretes did not recognize it as poetry, because they gave it accent marks consistent with prose.  It stands at the beginning of a book that clearly is not a collection of poetry but rather a historical narrative.  Other historical accounts show evidence of high literary craftsmanship.  Bruce Waltke (who does not agree with my view of Genesis 1:1-2:3, I will admit) has shown that the account of the flood in Genesis 6:9-9:19 is one giant chiasm, and yet that does not prove that it is not a historical account.  The Gospels show similar signs of literary craftsmanship, but they too intend to give us theologically interpreted history.  The literary marks of Genesis 1:1-2:3 do not prove that it is not a historical account.

The same may be said for the claim that it is a polemic against rival creation myths.  I think that is probably true, but I don’t see how that proves anything.  To my mind, the best kind of polemical account would be one that represents what really happened.  As for the account’s relationship to the Sabbath, this actually represents the strongest argument for a literal interpretation of the passage.  Exodus 20:8, 11 reads as follows:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. . . For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day.  Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

One may argue that the Sabbath practice gave rise to the creation account, but one would be doing so against the explicit declaration of Scripture.  I don’t know what else to make of Exodus 20:11 than that God gave the Sabbath command on the basis of the work he did in creation, a command that wouldn’t make much sense if God did not actually create everything in six days.  One of the foundational principles of biblical interpretation (for those with a high view of biblical authority) is that Scripture is its own best interpreter.  If we let Scripture interpret Scripture, I don’t see how we can avoid the conclusion that the earth was created in six days. 

Plus, the “literary framework view” suffers from the theological problems that I outlined in previous posts about death (at least in the animal kingdom) prior to the Fall.  For these several reasons, I judge it to be inadequate.

That leaves us with a more or less literal understanding of Genesis 1:1-2:3.  No, it is not a strictly scientific account.  It uses literary conventions, figures of speech, phenomenological language, etc., but it does spell out a clear process and timeline by which God created the heavens and the earth.  Some object that this reading is nonsensical, for how could “days” be reckoned prior to the creation of the sun, around which the earth orbits?  While that is a good point (we count days based on revolutions of the earth as it is drawn by the sun’s gravity), I don’t think the concept of time itself necessarily depends on the movements of the earth.  In other words, time exists regardless of where you are and how you are moving.  Of course, I realize that modern physics has shown that space and time form a continuum (something I am not competent to discuss in detail), but I don’t know that that would change very much in this case.  If the days were not exactly twenty-four hours, I don’t see that as a problem for my view, so long as they were lengths of time close enough to approximate a day.  This is how John Feinberg argues in his book No One Like Him

 But what about the objection that light could not exist on Day 1 prior to the creation of the sun on Day 4?  I understand that objection, but I don’t find it too hard to imagine that God could create light to exist on its own, only later to be channeled to a definite source that would, from that time on, replenish it.  And if we believe that God did it that way, then it may even help us with some of the scientific objections to young earth creationism.  But more on that later.

An Open Letter

September 17, 2007

Dear Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and other popular booksellers:

Would you please consider rearranging your “Religion” and/or “Christianity” sections so as to reflect the truth of what kinds of books you are stocking?  Why not devote an entire section to “Gnosticism”?  After all, that is what the majority of books in your “Christianity” and/or “Religion” section are devoted to.  Browsing your shelves, I see more books about the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Judas, the Nag Hammadi texts, etc. than I do about the Bible.  That’s fine if you want to sell those things, but why not give them their own section instead of lumping them together with the meager assortment of books that you carry that deal with real Christianity?

I know you’re a business, and you make decisions based on what sells.  Maybe I shouldn’t criticize you so much as I should criticize the culture for falling head-over-heels for this postmodern revision of history.  In today’s world, the Gnostic texts are to the church (primarily the Roman Catholic Church) what the shredded documents were to Enron.  They are the dark secret that a vast conspiracy kept hidden for centuries, until some brave souls finally brought them to light.  Now that we have them, we can learn so much about real Christianity from the oppressed Christian sects that produced them. 

I don’t doubt that there is much of historical value in these texts, but the books you stock on your shelves are not aimed at historians.  They are aimed at regular people looking for some excuse to ignore the claims of Christ over their lives.  If Jesus can be turned into a quasi-eastern, pantheistic, proto-feminist, he’s a lot easier to accept in a culture that has now become fascinated with all of these things.  As it turns out, the Gnostic texts give us some echoes of what might be construed as a possibility of maybe hearing something like what may turn out to be vague similarities to something like these themes in his teachings.  If that is the case, then popular culture now has a new Jesus for the postmodern world, much like the liberal Jesus (a great moral teacher) suited the modern world.  Unbelieving culture never ceases to remake Jesus in its own image and then enlist him on its side.

The postmodern revisionist narrative is a sexy one.  We’ve got conspiracy, repression, and the eventual emergence of the silenced and persecuted minority.  Now that the documents that the church wanted suppressed have come to light, the church’s narrow dogmas can be overturned, and we can get back to the religion that Jesus really founded. 

I don’t deny that the church suppressed documents.  But what if there was a good reason to suppress them?  What if the Gnostic teachings they contained were God-belittling, creation-denying, and Christ-distorting?  And have you ever really read the Gospel of Thomas?  Anyone claiming it as an ally for the feminist cause obviously hasn’t.  It is more extreme than a cross between John Piper and Wayne Grudem on steroids (not that I think Piper and Grudem are extreme, but many do).  What if the church’s response to Gnostic Christianity was God’s ordained means of preserving his truth from corruption and maintaining within the church the glorious truth that Jesus is both fully God and fully human, the bridge between God and humanity?  Gnosticism is a cheap religion.  Gnostic religions and philosophies throughout history are a dime a dozen.  But the one true incarnational religion that has ever existed invaded this world in the first century, and the full riches of it are still yet to be known.

But, of course, recognizing that would involve the recognition that one view is superior to another.  It would involve some standard of objective, revealed truth.  Postmodernism cannot accept that.  It would rather throw parties about conspiracy theories and celebrate marginalized voices, not because they speak the truth, but simply because they were marginalized.  Their repression in and of itself makes them worthy of an audience in today’s world.  They are virtuous simply because they are victims, and the degree of their victimization grows by the moment as the postmodern legends accrue, much like a fisherman’s tale grows with the telling.

I don’t see them as victims.  I see them as wolves who victimized others until the Shepherd came and fought them off.  But my viewpoint has been dominant for centuries, and that fact alone makes it oppressive and worthy of deconstruction.  My side is evil for no other reason than that it won, and winners are never right. 

I rarely buy books from you anymore (unless I’m looking for something in fiction, biography, or politics, which is not very often).  I’ve still got Amazon and a number of other internet sources.  Your complete capitulation to the revisionist history of our day has driven me away.  I feel like I have been victimized by a culture that represses everything about my faith.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll write a book about that.  Would you sell it if I did?

Sincerely (though not really, because this is not a sincere letter but rather a blog post),

Aaron O’Kelley 

Must Read

September 16, 2007

Dr. Albert Mohler, my seminary’s president, is a controversial figure, and has been ever since he became president of Southern Seminary.  His voice is heard all over the nation on the radio, through speaking engagements, and through numerous writings and television appearances.  Whenever Larry King wants a conservative Christian opinion on some cultural issue, he usually calls Dr. Mohler.

Many people (especially those on the other side of the SBC divide that started in 1979) think of Dr. Mohler as an extremist, a Falwellian Kool-Aid drinker.  Typically, those criticisms are to be expected from former Southern Baptists.  But now an anonymous voice within the SBC (on the conservative side) has publicly slandered him.  Hershael York has written a great response.  It has a very personal dimension to it, and I feel like I know Dr. Mohler a little better now that I have read it.

[HT: Justin Taylor]

A Case for Young Earth Creationism, Part 3

September 7, 2007

A strong theological argument for young earth creationism is that the first sin gave rise to the conditions of the earth as they are today, specifically with regard to those things that seem out of place in a world originally pronounced “very good.”  If you believe in an old earth, then I take it that you believe that the animal kingdom has always included carnivores.  Death has always been a part of the earth’s existence from the beginning.  Furthermore, I take it that all old earth views argue that things like natural disasters have been part of the earth’s existence from the beginning.  One would not necessarily have to argue that human death preceded sin (though some do), but certainly a number of things traditionally associated with the Fall of man would have had to precede the Fall if the earth is billions of years old instead of about 6,000 years old.  This is a theological problem because the Bible seems to link these things to the curse, which clearly came as a result of the Fall.

Take Romans 5:12, for instance: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world throughone man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned–.”  I will admit that this verse is not an airtight case.  Paul clearly has in view human death because it is viewed as a judgment for sin.  Therefore, we must affirm that human death was no part of God’s creation prior to the Fall.  But could this also extend to animal death as well? 

I think animal death may well be an implication of this verse.  If we do not accept that implication, then we must conclude that God originally designed nature to be predatory, violent, and essentially Darwinian (not necessarily that we would have to accept the whole evolutionary scheme, but we would have to accept that God designed it so that the stronger would destroy the weaker).  I can’t say for sure that that’s not the case (who am I to say what God can or cannot do?), but it seems to me, given what Scripture teaches elsewhere, that God would not have done it this way.  Here is some additional scriptural evidence:

– In the Genesis account, the first mention of animal death comes after sin (Genesis 3:21); this is an argument from silence, but given the way creation is described in Genesis 1-2, it is precisely what we would expect in a world without any death, human or animal.

– In some passages that speak of the restoration of creation, we have images of animals living at peace with one another (Isaiah 11:6-9).  Whether this indicates a literal description of the new creation or not is beside the point.  The point is that by using these images, the prophet implies that the predatory violence of the animal kingdom is something that does not cohere with God’s ultimate redemptive purpose.  Just as war among nations will be no more one day (Isaiah 2:1-4), so will war among animals be no more.  If that is the case, then it strongly implies that animal violence was no part of God’s original design for this world and must be a result of the curse. 

– Romans 8:18-25 is perhaps the most important passage on this subject.  I will not quote it in full, but instead will focus on verses 20-22: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been graoning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”  When Paul writes of the creation being subjected to futility, he seems to have in mind the curse on the ground in Genesis 3:17-19.  Something changed dramatically in this world after mankind sinned.  The earth lost its ability to produce the same kind of abundance as before.  It is not too hard to see how this curse could be related to things like draught, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.  And could it be that Paul sees natural disasters as evidence that even the creation itself is “groaning” as it awaits its liberation from the curse when the Second Adam finally restores humanity to fulfill its proper role (see Genesis 1:27-28; Psalm 8)?  But the old earth view seems to downplay significantly the radical change that has occurred in this creation as a result of the Fall.  Only young earth creationism seems to preserve this biblical teaching faithfully.

There is one objection that I want to address here: what about plant life?  Even on the young earth view, wasn’t there “death” in God’s creation prior to the Fall because the plants were given to animals and man to be eaten?  By the standards of modern science, that is correct.  Plant life did indeed die prior to the Fall because it was available for food.  But the Bible must be allowed to speak on its own terms.  In Scripture, plants are never identified as living things.  Life in Scripture is associated with breath (Genesis 2:7) and blood (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:11).  Plants do not have either breath or blood, so the “death” of plants is not a theological problem in Scripture.  If a plant or its fruit dies to nourish living things that have breath and blood, then it has served its God-ordained purpose.  This is confirmed by the image of the new creation in Revelation 22:2, where the tree of life produces fruit (clearly implying that the fruit is to be eaten).  In Scripture, there is a qualitative difference between plant life and animal/human life, and only the death of the latter strikes a note of discord in God’s good creation.

Young earth creationism’s greatest strength is that it upholds a strong view of the curse of sin and what it has done to this world.  No old earth view can compete with it on this issue.

New Link!

September 5, 2007

I would be remiss if I did not alert you, my noble constituency of readers, to a new link I have recently added to my sidebar.  My brother Andrew has recently started a blog entitled “Reformed Ninja.”  Check it out.  As you will see, he is not afraid to speak his mind (imagine that!). 

Andrew is a graduate of East Texas Baptist University (my alma mater).  He married Cortney back in March, and together they live in Tyler, Texas, where Andrew is the youth minister at a Baptist church in nearby Flint (Andrew, I hope you don’t mind me giving all that information out; I don’t think any cyber-pervs will come after you.) 

Excursus: The Variant Accounts of Genesis 1 and 2

September 4, 2007

Luke Smith asked me how I reconcile the two creation accounts of Genesis 1:1-2:3 and 2:4-25.  While I plan to write a future post justifying my interpretation of Genesis 1, I have decided to go ahead and respond to Luke’s question here so as to deal with this difficulty young earth creationism faces. 

How do I reconcile the two accounts?  First, I argue that Genesis 1:1-2:3 gives a general summary of the creation account, and Genesis 2:4-25 gives a more detailed account of the sixth day.  This does not entail a contradiction.  Parallel accounts do this many times in Scripture.  If you read Luke’s account of the resurrection in Luke 24 by itself, you get the impression that Jesus ascended into heaven on the same day he was raised from the dead.  If you read Acts 1, you find out that he appeared to the disciples over a period of 40 days before the ascension.  One account gives a general summary, and the other provides more details.  Both were written by the same author.  Likewise, I believe one author (Moses) stands behind all of Genesis 1-2.  It has always struck me as odd for scholars to argue that there are contradictions between Genesis 1 and 2 and then to use that as a basis to demonstrate that different authors wrote them.  Apparently, it is too hard to believe that one author could have written both chapters, but it is not too hard to believe that one redactor could have put them together.  If we can posit a redactor who thought these two chapters belonged together, then why is it so hard to imagine a single author who thought they belonged together?  That is a general overview.

Second, I must address some of the specific details that create chronological difficulties between the two passages.  The account in Genesis 2:4-25 (apparently taking place on Day 6) contains the following verses that seem difficult to harmonize with Genesis 1:

(1) Verse 5: “When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up…”  How could this be so if God made plants on Day 3?

(2) The same problem arises in verse 9, where God creates “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.”  Again, didn’t he already do this on Day 3?

(3) Verse 19 says, “So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them.”  Since man and land animals were created on the same day in Genesis 1, the reference to “every beast of the field” does not pose a problem.  But “every bird of the heavens” does, since birds were created on Day 5, not Day 6.  How can this possibly harmonize with Genesis 1?

I do find this a strong argument that Genesis 1 should not be taken literally.  The account in Genesis 1:1-2:3 has poetic elements and a very clear literary structure.  If the details do not harmonize with Genesis 2:4-25, that could simply be an indication that Genesis 1 was not written with a strict, chronological intention in mind.  It could be a literary celebration of the Creator’s work, much like a poem.  If this is the case, we should not press the details of the two accounts in order to harmonize them.  I am open to this possibility, but I ultimately reject it for reasons I will explain in a future post.  But let me point out that even if we understand Genesis 1 according to this “literary framework” view, that does not entail that we treat Genesis 2:4-25 the same way.  The second creation account does not bear the same marks and should be taken literally no matter what one decides with regard to the first chapter of Genesis.  And if this is the case, then one could argue that the Bible does not speak to the issue of the age of the earth, but it does rule out Darwinian evolution, since Genesis 2 clearly indicates that man was created separately from the animals.

But as I have said, I take both chapters literally (assuming, as I argued earlier, that Genesis 1 is a summary account and Genesis 2 provides more details).  How can I fit them together? 

(1) With regard to verse 5, I believe the references to vegetation there have to do with cultivated vegetation.  In other words, the point of Genesis 2:5 is not to say that plants do not yet exist; the point is that agriculture does not yet exist.  And the reason agriculture does not exist is because man does not exist yet to work the ground.  Read the whole verse: “When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up–for the LORD God had not yet caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground. . .”  This paves the way for the creation of the man in verse 7, which rectifies the deficiency.  The creation of the woman (vv. 18-23) likewise rectifies a deficiency, particularly the deficiency of the man’s being alone.  This reading not only harmonizes Genesis 1 and 2 on this point, but it also creates a nice parallel between the account of the man’s creation and that of the woman.  If one argues that Genesis 2:5 refers to vegetation in general, then the verse ceases to make any sense in its context.  How could the creation of the man rectify the deficiency that there was no vegetation per se?  The account only makes sense if agriculture is in view.   

(2) With regard to verse 9, it is important to notice that it comes right after verse 8: “And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.”  Following right on the heels of this statement we read verse 9: “And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.  The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”  This does not contradict Genesis 1, where God made plants on Day 3, because Genesis 2:9 has reference only to the Garden of Eden.  Genesis 1 describes God’s creation of vegetation in a global sense, but this account (which occurred on Day 6) pertains to the particular environment God created for the man once he had formed him out of the dust of the earth.  Verse 8 clearly singals the reader that the remaining verses of the chapter are set within the garden and not in the world generally.

(3) The same observation, then, applies to verse 19.  Although God had already created birds (and possibly animals) in a general sense, this verse describes his special creation of birds and animals to populate the Garden of Eden, matching what he had done with the trees of the garden in verse 9.  This account immediately precedes the creation of the woman in order to demonstrate that only the woman (and not the animals) corresponds to the man and stands with him before God as his equal. 

As I said, I am open to the possibility that I am wrong about this.  But having considered various viewpoints, right now I am convinced that young earth creationism faces fewer difficulties overall than the other positions.  The “literary framework” view of Genesis 1 may not need these kinds of harmonizations, but I think it faces even greater difficulties than the one treated in this post.  More details on that will come later.