“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female…'” – Matthew 19:4 (NIV)
“But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’”- Mark 10:6 (ESV)
Jesus states here that God made human beings. These passages have been used for any number of exegetical points, but the one I want to focus on now is that of certain Young Earth Creationists. Almost without fail, when I have a discussion about creationism and what the Bible says about creation, it is asserted that “Jesus was a young earth creationist.” When I ask for evidence of this claim, one (or both) of these verses inevitably are raised. But the question is: do these verses actually say what Young Earth Creationists (YECs) want them to say?
The implication the YEC wants to take from these verses is that humans were on the stage at creation, so there could not have been any millions or billions of years of time from the start of creation until humans arrived on the scene. Thus, by saying that “at the beginning” or “from the beginning of creation” humans were created and on the Earth, the YEC argues that Jesus was endorsing and giving evidence to their position.
It ought to be clear from this that the YEC must read these verses quite literally for this implication to follow. After all, the point of this passage is definitely not to speak to the age of creation–Jesus is making a point about divorce in context. Thus, to draw from these passages a young earth, the YEC must insist on a strictly literal reading of the passage and then draw out the implications from that literal reading. The problem for the YEC, then, is that on a strictly literal reading of this passage, the implication becomes that Jesus was mistaken; or at the least, that the YEC position is mistaken on the order of creation.
Read the passages again. They don’t merely say that humans were created in the beginning. Rather, they clearly state that God created them male and female “at the beginning” or “from the beginning of creation.” This must not be missed. A strict literal reading like the one required for the YEC to make their point from these passages must also take literally the word beginning. But if that’s the case, then it becomes clear the YEC reading of this passage breaks down. After all, humans in the Genesis account were the last of creation. They were the final part of creation. But these passages say at the “beginning” not at the “end” of creation. So if the YEC insists that we must take these words as literally as they want us to in order to make their point that Jesus is a young earth creationist, they actually make either Jesus, Genesis, or their own reading of the creation account wrong. Again, this flows simply from the way the YEC insists upon reading these texts. If Jesus says that humans were made at the “beginning” of creation and Genesis literally teaches that humans were the end of creation, then something has to give.
The most common objection I’ve gotten from YECs as I make this point is that my own position still would not be justified in the text. After all, if the Earth is really billions of years old, and most of that time lapsed without any humans being around, why would Jesus then say that “at the beginning” or “from the beginning of creation” humans were around? A fuller answer to what Jesus is saying in these passages is found in the next section, but for now I’d just say it is pretty clear that Jesus is making a point unrelated to the time of creation and simply using language anyone would understand. “Back in the day”; “ever since humans have been around”; “for as long as anyone knows about”; these are ways that we can make similar ideas shine through. Moreover, because a strictly literal reading of this passage to try to rule out any time between creation and humans implies the difficulties noted above, it is clear that such a reading is untenable.
A Proper Interpretation?
The final point a YEC might try to counter here would be to demand my own exegesis of this text. After all, if they’re wrong about how to read the text, how do I read it such that it doesn’t make the same implications? That’s a fair point, and I’ve already hinted at my answer above. It is clear these texts are about divorce, as that is the question that Jesus was addressing. Thus, he’s not intending to make a statement about the age of creation or really its temporal order at all. He simply says “from the beginning” as a kind of shorthand for going back to the first humans. Humans, Jesus is saying, have been created like this ever since God made them. Period. The problem the YEC reading brings to this text is nonexistent, but only when one does not try to force it to answer questions it wasn’t addressing.
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What options are there in the origins debate? – A Taxonomy of Christian Origins Positions– I clarify the breadth of options available for Christians who want to interact on various levels with models of origins. I think this post is extremely important because it gives readers a chance to see the various positions explained briefly.
Origins Debate– Here is a collection of many of my posts on Christianity and science.
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Interesting discussion, and (admittedly) not one I am familiar with. What would be at stake if Jesus *were* a young-earth creationist? He was a first-century man in a pre-scientific world, and likely held a good many ideas about the natural world that modern science would not support. And he never claimed to know everything – not even about matters of salvation: “Not even the Son of Man knows the day or the hour…” I agree that Jesus was not addressing a cosmological question in these verses, but is it a threat to faith if he subscribed to the commonly held views of his day? (Not saying you are arguing this – simply interested to know what you think.)
I don’t always chime in on your blog, J.W., but I always appreciate seeing it! Thanks for your blogging ministry.
I think many would reply that the difference is ignorance in the case of not knowing day or hour versus saying something that is specifically mistaken. Of course then you could argue the example of the mustard seed and it not actually being the smallest seed so the point is a kind of condescension to the understanding of the time. On and on it could go.
I think your point is fair, though. But the point I want to make is that if YECs want to read this as literally as they need, it doesn’t work.
YECs add that the Gospel authors portray Jesus speaking as though ancient tales about Adam, Eve, Noah, Moses, and Elijah are all true. And Paul speaks as if ancient tales of a literal Adam and other figures in Genesis, are true.
Speaking of “condescension to the understanding of his time” hypothesis. It is a handy hypothesis for universalists to entertain.
The concept of eternal punishment owes much to inter-testamental writings. So even if Jesus was God and taught such a thing it could be viewed as an accommodation to apocalyptic concepts that had risen to prominence after the OT but before he was born, and such concepts could tell us more about Jewish resentment at being a conquered nation for so long and how much they resented their conquerors, rather than teaching us literal truths of what eternity will be like. See Dalton, S.J., Salvation and Damnation (Clergy Book Service)
In fact, the “accommodation or condescension to ancient ignorance” hypothesis can explain away many things. Handy hypothesis.