Revisiting Genesis: A Response to Critics

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I recently posted an entry on this blog defending an old earth perspective on Genesis, particularly chapter one. In the comments thread pertinent to the post, a number of people have made some helpful and constructive criticisms of the arguments and positions I defend there. Here, I attempt to address these points.

One commenter — named Sam — lamented that there is even a need for debate, remarking that “It is a a grim truth that the only reason a theory like this must be created is that we as Christians can put too much weight in things outwith the Bible. A man or woman who is not a scientist will read these chapters without ever thinking that the word ‘day’ may mean ‘age’ or that the Sun may have been created well before it was mentioned. These ideas only come from attempting to rectify scientific theory and scripture, whilst placing an equal importance on each.”

This is an interesting point of concern. But my previous essay sought to demonstrate that Genesis 1 is fairly silent on the age of the earth. While one wants to properly read and understand all of what Scripture says, one does not want to fall into the trap of reading into the text what Genesis doesn’t say. Indeed, the fact that the church fathers struggled with several points of exegesis with regards Genesis 1 should be a source of reassurance that there are indeed genuinely difficult exegetical difficulties pertinent to the text, quite apart from considerations of science. To take one example, I showed in my previous entry that, regardless of what one thinks about the age of the biosphere (and the meaning of the days), it is extremely difficult to make a compelling case that Genesis 1-2 form a part of the first day. Indeed, the Scripture would seem to indicate otherwise, for all of the days begin with “And God said…”, a statement which we first read of in verse 3 of Genesis 1. If it is the case that day 1 begins in verse 3, then an unspecified period of time may have elapsed between God’s creation of “the heavens and the earth” and the first day. Such an interpretation is simply derived from a careful reading of the text, and is not motivated by scientific concerns.

Michael Boling similarly raised concerns regarding the issue of pre-Fall death. On this, I would make a couple of points. First, there is the issue that I noted previously — while one wants to be sure to see all of what the text says, one doesn’t want to see what the text doesn’t say. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that animal death is a consequence of the Fall. Even in Romans 5, which is the most commonly cited chapter regarding the Fall and its consequences, we are told (verse 12) that “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned. [emphasis added]” So the context of Romans 5 pertains to human death, and not animal death. Another verse which we are often given is Genesis 1:29-30, in which we read, “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.’” This is taken to imply that all of life was herbivorous. But it seems that such an interpretation is going beyond what the text itself actually says. The text does not say that animals were created to be herbivorous. It says they were given the green plants for food: It doesn’t tell us that plants were their exclusive diet. Michael Boling directs our attention to Romans 8:22, in which we read that “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”Again, however, the presumption that animal death did not precede the Fall is reading into the text what is not made explicit.

Another complaint made by Michael Boling is that, “we are looking forward to the new heavens and the new earth when all things will be restored to perfection.” With this I agree. But my view of the new creation is that it will not only be restored to its original condition. But that it will also be made better than the original Creation: That is to say, it will be restored and more! In light of such an understanding, I am also inclined to find this argument similarly unpersuasive.

In my previous entry, I also showed that Adam and Eve did not die, as God had said they would, on the day that they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Instead, they went on to live a full life afterwards. This is suggestive that something beyond natural death is in view here. And, indeed, “death” is often used as a metaphor in Scripture for spiritual separation from God. For example, Ephesians 2 speaks of us as having formerly beeg “dead in [our] transgressions and sins.” So I have no trouble understanding the Fall as incurring spiritual separation from God or “spiritual death”. But even if we do grant that the consequence of the Fall was physical — and not just spiritual — death for mankind, the point does nothing to prove that the earth (or even the general biosphere) is very young.

When I linked to my posting on facebook, a friend of mine complained about my interpretation, in the context of Hebrews 4, of day 7 — the day of God’s rest — as extending to the present time, remarking that “I can’t believe you explained it that way.” But this interpretation seems quite plausible to me. Hebrews 4 states that his works have been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: ‘On the seventh day God rested from all his works.'” They further complained about my interpretation of the Flood, making the following arguments:

  1. Water seeks its level
  2. The rainbow is representative of God’s promise never to send such a Flood again (but there have been “local” Floods since Noah).
  3. Why build an Ark (rather than having Noah simply leave the area)?

Point one only works if you assume that the Flood was reaching over the highest mountains, a point which I critiqued in my previous post by noting that the word translated “mountain” (har) in our English Bibles is a general term referring to any geologic relief, from a small hill up to a towering peak. So the text is quite ambiguous as to just how deep the waters were. The second point similarly fails if you take the view (as I do) that the Flood was universal with respect to its impact on human civilisation. It wiped out all of humanity save for those who were onboard the Ark. And, indeed, no such Flood ever since has done such a thing. The third point is slightly more difficult, but it is possible that God wanted to use the Ark as a prototype of Christ (the story is dripping — no pun intended — with Christological symbolism). It is also possible that He wanted to give the repentant sinner opportunity until the last minute to board the vessel, and it would have taken time to escape the vicinity of the Flood.

I would like to thank those who made interesting and constructive comments and criticisms. It is my view that this issue ought not become a divisive issue or a ‘hill to die on’ among believers. There are conservative evangelical exegetes standing on both sides of the issue. And this should encourage us to respect the views of our fellow Christian brethren who have labored diligently to come to terms with these matters.

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