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Genesis

This tag is associated with 15 posts

Book Review: “Interpreting Eden” by Vern Poythress

Vern Poythress offers a contribution to the interpretation of Genesis with his book Interpreting Eden. His arguments are primarily centered around targeting rival readings of Genesis.

One of the more controversial claims in a book full of such claims is Poythress leveling his sites on interpreting the language in the Bible about the state of the universe. Poythress is keen to demonstrate that the author of Genesis and authors of Scripture did not believe, as many have argued, that the earth had a solid dome over its sky. He draws several lines of evidence in support of his theory that, basically, these authors had an accurate view of the Earth. First, he argues throughout the work that the biblical authors write with a perspectival view in mind. That is, they are writing from the perspective of how things appear. So, for example, saying that the sun rises in the east is not a claim about objective reality but rather accurately reflects how one observing the sun from the Earth might see it.

Interestingly, Poythress couches his discussion of the “dome of the sky” language in the Bible not in interactions with experts in the Ancient Near East who make this argument and seemingly make it clear that this is exactly what the ancient Israelites believed, but rather he makes his interlocutor a “modern student” who somewhat naively reads the Bible literally (see, for example, Kindle locations 1196-1210). So, rather than critically interacting with the many scholarly accounts by experts on the Ancient Near East, Poythress presents the readings of cosmology as a cacophony of voices, strangely concluding that “My point is not to decide between various interpretations [of ANE evidence or cosmology], but to point out that the existence of variant interpretations constitutes a difficulty” (location 1228). But Poythress would hardly allow this same level of critical uncertainty when it comes to, say, biblical texts that are favored by Reformed theologians to make their point. Yet it is unclear that the many, many variant interpretations of virtually any text in the Bible present such a similar difficulty which, for Poythress, ultimately leads him to conclude that readings which allow for ANE background to be carried along with the biblical text “border… on incoherence” (1255). Would he make this same conclusion in regard to the dissonant voices of his own preferred texts to back his theological conclusions elsewhere? Doubtful.

Moreover, Poythress’s use of analogies obfuscates issues rather than clarifying him. His notion of the vehicle-cargo approach virtually insists upon a lieralistic interpretation of the analogy while he uses it to make vague and metaphorical points. Here again, he fails to interact with experts in the ANE and instead attacks what he sees as a “physicalist” reading of the Old Testament, without allowing these rival interpreters to even make their arguments. He then simply concludes that “Modern physicalist readings run the danger of not recognizing analogy and metaphor in ancient texts” (1280) despite himself acknowledging that these same modern readers make analogies between other ANE texts and Genesis!

Poythress also tries to show that a comprehensive picture of providence is required and then contradicted by some views within Christianity. He writes:

Among people who claim to be Christian, something akin to deism still exists in our time. It consists in the idea that… created things are sufficient in themselves to develop under their own power. In other words, God is basically uninvolved in detailed development. (Kindle location 424)

This appears to be a somewhat veiled jab at theistic evolutionists (or evolutionary creationists, depending upon one’s preferred parlance), who would see evolution as proceeding generally under its own power. It is here worth noting that Poythress does not acknowledge the vast diversity within those who affirm evolution and Christianity. For example, many evolutionary creationists affirm that while evolution may appear random, that does not preclude it from being directed by God or ordained and ordered by God. Indeed, Poythress himself has argued at length that we humans may perceive something as chance when it is in fact ordered by God. To then turn around and claim that this means people are only “claiming” to be Christian when they would affirm this same approach to evolution seems disingenuous at best. Moreover, Poythress goes on to say that “The deistic view affirms that God sustains the existence of the wind and the water” (Kindle loc. 431). This left me wondering what definition of deism Poythress is operating under, as deism is explicitly the view that God creates the universe but then does not interact with it. The act of sustaining existence is itself a miraculous act of God, and so would contradict a deistic perspective, which instead is explicitly mechanistic in its understanding of creation after the deistic god has created it (see, for example, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s discussion of Deism alongside the Enlightenment). So Poythress’s charge is off base and, again, seems disingenuous, particularly for him to say these people “claim to be Christian…”

Time and again, Poythress makes it clear that there is an agenda in this book. He isn’t going to the text as often as one might think, given the subtitle of the book as a “Guide to faithfully reading and understanding Genesis 1-3.” Instead, he continually uses his presupposed interpretive lens to bash his theological opponents, who are referred to as deists, who “claim to be Christian,” who are “old fashioned liberals,” who are naive, etc. This judgment-laden language ought to show readers exactly what is happening in the book. It isn’t an attempt to objectively approach the text; it is a practice in using one’s own presupposed lenses to then conclude all other positions are in the wrong. Oddly, for example, after spending quite a large portion of the early part of the book in critiquing the notion that the biblical text is a vehicle for some ANE views that may be wrong or scientifically misinformed, Poythress himself acknowledges that “distinct cultures and subcultures may have shared some stock images” (2797). Does this mean the text of Scripture is a vehicle carrying the cargo of ANE allusions to “stock images” like the “contrast between chaos and order”? It certainly seems that is what Poythress is saying, yet he already claimed that such a view is “incoherent” earlier in the book. Yet it becomes clear that Poythress himself cannot help but acknowledge the ANE influence on the biblical text. Thus, despite his aversion to seeing parts of the biblical text as ANE background, which he argues allows readers to “simply excise anything they want by labeling it in their minds as merely a vehicle” (1454) he allows himself the leeway to claim that this “stock imagery” is present. Is it impossible for Poythress, then, to decide parts of the text are “stock images” when he finds them too difficult to assimilate into his own perspective? He doesn’t seem to think so, but his own position is effectively the same, here, as those he claims to oppose. He just arbitrarily assigns his position the label of “conservative” and “inerrancy” while excluding others from the Kingdom for their “claims to be Christian.”

Ultimately, Interpreting Eden is a book that will benefit most those who already agree with Poythress’s theological presuppositions. His arguments against “physicalist” interpretations and his unsubtle attempts to paint those with whom he disagrees as “deists” make it clear there is a theological agenda at play here rather than an attempt to grapple with the very real problem many of these texts present to the modern reader (who is, ironically, his main interlocutor).

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Book Review: “Since the Beginning: Interpreting Genesis 1 and 2 through the Ages” edited by Kyle R. Greenwood

Since the Beginning: Interpreting Genesis 1 and 2 through the Ages is an invaluable resource to understanding the book of Genesis and creation. The book’s scope is impressive, encompassing not only Christian interpretations but also early Rabbinic interpretations, Second Temple Judaism, and the rediscovery of the Ancient Near East with its implications for understanding Genesis. The book is a wealth of information for anyone interested in learning about Genesis.

Each chapter in the book is full of valuable insights. Greenwood himself starts it off by tracing the impact of these creation accounts across the Old Testament. Michael Matlock’s chapter on Second Temple Jewish literature and Genesis 1 and 2 is fascinating, both for its providing a brief introduction to that body of literature and for insights into how later traditions would shape one’s reading of the text. Some Jewish interpreters (eg. Josephus) seemed comfortable expanding on the story themselves, adding whatever details they believed might add interest or even theological emphasis to the text. Of course that doesn’t undermine much careful attention to details of the texts that modern interpreters sometimes miss. Ira Brent Driggers’ chapter uses the intriguing word “appropriations” to describe the New Testament’s use of the Genesis account. Among other things of interest, this chapter leads readers to wonder exactly how NT authors used the Old Testament and what that may mean for our own interpretations. Early Rabbinic interpretation is the subject of Joel S. Allen’s chapter, in which he shows some of the ways post-destruction of the temple Judaism saw figures like Adam and Eve.

Stephen O. Presley’s chapter on the Ante-Nicene Fathers touches on a number of major early Christian thinkers and shows how the interpretation of Genesis continued to develop in sometimes divergent ways. C. Rebecca Rine’s entry on the Nicene and Post-Nicene interpretations shows how Scripture was seen as a pathway to transformation (121) and so a focus on application of the text led to some unique readings (such as creating a baseline for spiritual writings based on the 6-day pattern). Questions raised by these Nicene/Post-Nicene thinkers included wondering why days were in the narrative at all–something that some modern interpreters would be baffled by for all their own emphasis on the importance of the days. Medieval Jewish theology is the center of Jason Kalman’s chapter, which demonstrates the sometimes radical divergence Christian vs. Jewish readings of the same verses could have. Some of these readings included seeing that Genesis didn’t actually entail an order of creation whatsoever (157). Timothy Bellamah’s chapter provides the Christian Medieval contrast to the previous chapter, showing how much fruitful theology continued in this period, often dismissed. Aquinas, of course, is the giant of this era, and he gets some due attention here. The Protestant Reformers were interested in Genesis 1 and 2 in part for their own polemical purposes and in part as their project to go back to the source continued. Jennifer Powell McNutt draws from this rich Christian tradition to highlight various points of emphases by the Reformers.

Another important aspect of the book is the chapter on the Ancient Near East by David T. Tsumura. Because much of this knowledge was lost for a lengthy period of time, many interpretations of Genesis through the ages did not take into account the actual cultural milieu from which it sprang. The Protestant Reformers, for example, had no access to these materials, so their call to go ad fontes–to the source–could not actually complete the task. The interpretation of Genesis ought not to be considered a settled matter from the Reformation to today, and even allegedly literal readings of Genesis owe as much to modern discoveries as to the texts themselves. Aaron T. Smith’s chapter on Post-Darwinian interpretations shows both how yes, in some ways evolution impacted readings of Genesis, but in others it caused a true pursuit of going back to the beginning. Cosmology is central to debates over how Genesis is to be read.

If it hasn’t already become clear, it should be stated plainly that this book is an absolute treasure trove of information, with many, many strands of further research to be pursued upon its completion. Each chapter is worthy of inclusion, and each is well-written and as intriguing as the next. That in itself is an achievement because the book is consistently engrossing.

I very highly recommend Since the Beginning to you, readers. It’s a book that will have you thinking about your own reading of the text, and may even give you insight into where that reading may have its origins.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Sunday Quote!- Sarah the Matriarch as Equal to Abraham

foyh-davidson

Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Sarah the Matriarch as Equal to Abraham

I’ve been reading through Richard Davidson’s tome, Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament, a huge study of, well, sexuality in the Old Testament. One portion focuses on the narratives in the Pentateuch and the women discussed therein. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, is shown to be the equal of Abraham, argues Davidson:

Details of Sarah’s life in the Genesis narratives reveal the high valuation of this matriarch, as she and her husband are portrayed as equal partners… given their social context, Sarah and Abraham are amazingly equal… (226, 227)

Davidson’s argument lists a number of reasons to believe this is the case. Here I will quote just a couple:

Sarah is regarded as just as critical to the divine covenant as Abraham himself… ([Genesis] 17:18-19; 21:12)… Sarah’s name is changed from Sarai, just as Abraham’s is from Abram… (17:16)… (227)

These are among the total of 10 main reasons Davidson cites to demonstrate that Sarah was “no wallflower.” The high valuation of women in the Old Testament is something Davidson demonstrates, in my opinion.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Richard M. Davidson, Flame of Yahweh (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007).

SDG.

Sunday Quote!- Genesis 1-11 is Fiction?

3vgen-1-11Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Genesis 1-11 is Fiction?

Kenton Sparks argues in his chapter of Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? that Genesis 1-11 is “ancient historiography,” which is to say, largely mythic fiction. Why does he argue this, and what are the implications? He sums up his position nicely:

[I]t is no longer possible for informed readers to interpret the book of Genesis as straightforward history. There was no Edenic garden, nor trees of life and knowledge, nor a serpent that spoke, nor a worldwide flood in which all living things, save those on a giant boat, were killed by God. Whatever the first chapters of Genesis offer, there is one thing that they certainly do not offer, namely, a literal account of events that actually happened prior to and during the early history of humanity. If Genesis is the word of God, as I and other Christians believe, then we must try to understand how God speaks through a narrative that is no longer the literal history that our Christian forebears often assumed it to be… (111, cited below)

I’m sure some of this statement was for rhetorical flourish, but it is clear that Sparks has chosen to contrast his position with the staunchest literalist position. He references the Flood as global; despite many conservative scholars arguing that it is local; in the same essay he sets his position against 6-day creationism, but does nothing to hint at how his position might contrast with those who do not adhere to that perspective. As I said, I’m sure a lot of this is rhetorical flourish rather than ignorance, but his essay could have been stronger if he’d interacted with more nuanced positions.

That said, it is difficult to reconcile his statement that effectively nothing in Genesis 1-11 refers to a “literal account of events that actually happened…” with his statement that Genesis is the “word of God.” However, he does try to demonstrate this throughout his essay. I remain unconvinced that Genesis 1-11 is largely fiction, though I would find myself in agreement with Sparks at a few points in his exegesis.

What do you think? Would arguing that Genesis 1-11 is effectively fiction–theological fiction, but fiction nonetheless–undermine its viability as the word of God? What might this mean for interpretation of these early chapters?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Kenton Sparks, “Genesis 1-11 as Ancient Historiography” in Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? Charles Halton and Stanley Gundry, eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015).

SDG.

Sunday Quote!- Genre and Genesis 1-11, does it matter?

3vgen-1-11

Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Genre and Genesis 1-11, does it matter?

The central question of Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? is the question of the genre of Genesis 1-11. But does this question really even matter? Gordon Wenham argues that shouldn’t trump interpretation:

[U]ltimately we must recognize that how we define the genre of Gen[esis] 1-11 is a secondary issue: our primary concern must be the interpretation of the stories and their application today. The definition of genre refines and clarifies the message of Genesis, but disagreements about genre should not obscure our substantial agreement about the theological teaching of these stories. Whether one calls Gen[esis] 1-11 doctrine, history, fiction, or myth, it is clear that these chapters are making profound statements about the character of God and his relationship to mankind. Elucidating these truths must be the goal of every interpreter. (74,cited below)

Later in the book, Sparks argues that Wenham is mistaken and genre does determine much more about the text–even what might be considered binding to believe. What are your thoughts? How important is it to determine the genre of Genesis 1-11 in order to properly interpret it? Can we focus instead on the texts themselves?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Gordon Wenham, “Genesis 1-11 as Protohistory”  in Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? Charles Halton and Stanley Gundry, eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015).

SDG.

Sunday Quote!- Genesis as Sui Generis (Its Own Genre)?

3vgen-1-11Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Genesis as Sui Generis (Its Own Genre)?

I’ve been reading through Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? It is part of the Zondervan Counterpoints series in which authors with different views present essays and (usually) interact with each other’s views. In it, there is much debate over the genre–and thus in part the meaning–of Genesis 1-11 in particular. In his response to Gordon Wenham, Kenton Sparks argued that Genesis could not be its own genre or sui generis because:

…all intelligible discourse must conform to a significant degree with existing modes and patterns of discourse, else readers would not understand it… (102, cited below)

Thus, he asserted, we cannot see these early chapters of Genesis as standing apart or unique as a completely separate genre. To do so would be to make it unintelligible.

It seems to me that this is on-point. We shouldn’t just throw up our hands and separate Genesis from the rest of the Bible as its own genre, distinct from any other human writing. God would not have communicated in a way that we cannot understand.

What do you think? Is Genesis 1-11 completely unique? Should we give up on trying to discern its genre, or is it clearly discernible?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Kenton Sparks, “Response to Gordon J. Wenham” in Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? Charles Halton and Stanley Gundry, eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015).

SDG.

“Leave it to the Early Church”- A Young Earth challenge

3vce-mrIt’s no secret: I consume just about any book I can get my hands on related to the debate over the duration and means of creation within Christianity. Recently, I read through Three Views on Creation and Evolution, part of the Zondervan Counterpoints series. The young earth creationists (John Mark Reynolds and Paul Nelson) in this volume were more even than many I have read, and I appreciated their contribution in many ways and even found myself agreeing with portions of it. However, they did make a few remarkable claims, one of which will be my focus here. Namely, they suggested we leave interpretation of Genesis behind us and just assume the early church got it right.

Here is the quote:

Our advice, therefore, is to leave the issues of biblical chronology and history to a saner period. (100)

Why should we do that, you ask? Well, before offering this advice, Reynolds and Nelson argue:

Whatever the truth of the matter may be in regard to biblical history, we are… least likely to find it. Nothing about the education of most moderns leaves them disposed to be sympathetic to traditional readings of the biblical text… The almost overwhelming temptation is to “trim” [the portions of text which may be hard to swallow]. Suddenly, new ways of reading the text of Scripture are discovered, which to no one’s surprise allow for accommodation between at least some of the reigning paradigms and traditional religion. (99-100)

I find this simply astonishing! There are a number of reasons to reject this entire line of reasoning immediately. First, it is, in effect, poisoning the well. Second, it abandons any notion that new evidence can challenge established traditions. Third, it begs the question. Fourth, it undermines the need for the church to be semper reformanda – always reforming. We’ll examine these briefly in order.

Poisoned Well

The way Nelson and Reynolds present their argument poisons the well against any who would disagree with them. The insinuation is that the only reason anyone would come to a different conclusion is either because they don’t have an “educational” background which allows them to consider traditional readings or because they are in such a hurry to compromise the text to align with science. Although it is certainly possible that many readings come from these motivations, to suggest that we must put a ban on any future looks at the interpretation of Genesis shows the authors seem to think these motivations apply to all novel interpretations.

New Evidence

To put an interpretation of Genesis on an indisputable pedestal and say “that came from a ‘saner’ time and so we must follow it” undermines any possibility for new evidence to challenge established readings. Yet the fruit of research in many areas of biblical interpretation continues to yield great insight into the biblical text. Moreover, to make an interpretation like that indisputable is to perhaps set up stumbling blocks for future generations, who may in good faith find more evidence which challenges that interpretation.

Question Begged

By saying we need to leave the interpretation of Genesis to the past, Reynolds and Nelson have begged the question by assuming this interpretation is correct. In fact, they seem to assume it is so obviously correct that they don’t even bother to defend it. But of course this is not how theology ought to be done. We should not just relegate interpretations to the ecclesial past because we don’t want to face the challenges of today. Rather, we should explore the new evidence and new interpretations to see if they might in fact better match God’s revealed truths. By simply assuming we can leave an interpretation of Genesis as is, Reynolds and Nelson just assert their view is obviously correct without argument.

Semper Reformanda

The notion that the church needs to continually be reforming seems to be correct. When we find truths revealed in God’s natural revelation, we should be prepared to realize this may not align with our established paradigms. We need not reject these discoveries merely because the historical church didn’t know about them. Instead, we should realize that as an imperfect church waiting for our Lord’s return, we may get things wrong. We are always going to need to reform.

Conclusion

Thus, I think that any young earth creationist who simply asserts we must hold to the historic understanding of the text of Genesis is mistaken. Of course, I would also point out that the “historic” understanding is hardly what the modern young earth creationist would believe (such as the duration of the entire universe only lasting 6000 years in order to align with the creation days, etc.), but that is a matter for a different post. For now, it should be acknowledged that we should not just abandon attempts to understand God’s revelation in Genesis.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Origins Debate– Check out all my posts on the discussion within Christianity over the duration and means of creation.

Source

Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds, “Conclusion” in Three Views on Creation and Evolution edited by J.P. Moreland & John Mark Reynolds (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Responding to “Nine Questions for the Old Earth Creationist”

exoplanetOne of the podcasts I enjoy listening to is “Issues, Etc.,” a conservative Lutheran radio program that addresses a number of different views. As is the case with anything, however, once you talk to someone or listen to something long enough, you find things with which you disagree. Recently, I heard a podcast which was discussing Christianity and Science. During this podcast, the guest alleged that the Bible contradicts things like the Big Bang theory or any interpretation of millions or billions of years. As that is an area of great interest for me, I did a little more digging and found that Pastor Todd Wilken, one of the primary speakers on the radio program, had written a series of questions for Old Earth Creationists in an article titled “Nine Questions for Old Earth ‘Creationists.‘” [Note that he uses scare quotes around the word “Creationists.”]

Here, I shall respond to the Nine Questions asked of Old Earth Creationists. Before I dive in, I want to offer one major disclaimer: these topics are far more complex than one blog post can cover. I fully realize I am leaving objections unanswered and some questions unasked. Feel free to comment to clarify. Second major disclaimer: I realize that there is diversity within old earth creationism. However, I have striven to answer the questions in as broad a manner as possible.

I will be leaving the questions from Todd Wilken in bold and italic  font and my answers in this standard font. The questions are direct quotes from his article, and I take no credit for their wording.

1. What in the text of Genesis 1 requires or suggests an old Earth?

I admit that I know of no Old Earth Creationist (hereafter OEC/OECs) who holds that Genesis 1 requires an old earth. I think the question is mistaken to even use that word, but I would be happy to be corrected should someone find an OEC who does allege that the text requires an old earth. Thus, the question must be what is it that suggests an old earth? Well, as readers of this blog may know already, I think this question itself is mistaken. The text is not referring to the age of the universe at all, anywhere. On this view, although an old earth may be permissible according to the text, it is not suggested; nor is a young earth suggested. The text just isn’t talking about the age of the universe.

Now, many OECs do hold that the text suggests an old earth. Hints of this, they argue, can be found in the fact that evening and morning occurs before there is a sun. Moreover, it is not until the fourth day that days may even be measured. Others hold that the terminology in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” suggests that the creation occurred in that verse, and that the rest of the chapter (and chapter 2) narrow the focus to earth or even the Garden of Eden.

2. What are the referents of the words “morning” and “evening” in Genesis 1?

I find it extremely telling that Wilken decided to switch the order of these words around. It absolutely must be noted that the text says “evening” and morning.” Why is this? Well, if the first day is really the first 24 hour period in the history of all that exists apart from God, how is it possible for evening to come before morning? [One insightful reader noted that the Hebrews saw evening as the beginning of the day anyway… but my point is that the fact there is an evening implies there is a sun to set… which isn’t created until later.] That is a question with which the literalistic young earth creationists must contend. If they choose to read the Bible literal[istical]ly, they must be consistent. The fact that they cannot when it comes to things such as evening coming first shows that their reading is self-referentially inconsistent.

Now, to answer the actual question, that really depends on which OEC you are referring to. I would tentatively suggest that most OECs hold that the referents are simply ways to mark the beginning and ends of creation periods.

3. What in the text of Genesis 1:26-27 requires or suggests the creation of man over millions of years?

I admit that this was where I really started to wonder whether Wilken understands the distinctions between OECs and other views of creation. In asking this question of OECs, Wilken betrays an apparent ignorance of the views of major proponents of OEC.

Representative is Hugh Ross, the founder of Reasons to Believe, which is itself the largest Old Earth Creationist organization. In his work, More Than a Theory, he writes regarding human origins: “God created humans in a deliberate, miraculous act” (182, cited below). In other words, Ross (and this is the position of the entire organization, along with every other OEC I know of) holds that humankind was specially created by God in a single miraculous act. “Ah, but wait!” one might cry. “That doesn’t deny millions of years for the creation of humanity.”

Very well, a very small amount of digging shows Hugh Ross again writing, this time with Fazale Rana (also of Reasons to Believe and another Old Earth Creationist) in their work Who Was Adam? “God created the first humans… both physically and spiritually through direct intervention… All humanity came from Adam and Eve… God created Adam and Eve relatively recently, between 10,000 and 100,000 years ago” (44-45, cited below). 

Therefore, it seems this question is nonsensical. OECs hold that humankind was created specially by God and not over the course of millions of years. I admit that I think just about any OEC would be scratching their head trying to figure out why this question is even being asked because it is so far off the mark of the actual views of OECs. It is particularly remarkable because this feature is one of the very things which distinguishes Old Earth Creationism from other, non-creationist models. Gerald Rau notes this distinction: “Although differing in the timing, both [Young- and Old- Earth creationists] believe God created two humans… without progenitor. This, of course, is a radically different perspective from the evolutionary models” (147, cited below). Note his wording: “of course”; “radically different.” Frankly, anyone who has done even a cursory study of varying Christian views about the timing and means of creation would know this.

4. Where in the text of the Genesis 2 and following is the transition from epoch-long days to 24-hour days?

This question seems to be a bit strange. The word “day” is only used in Genesis 2:2, 3, 4, and 17. In verse 4 even Young Earth Creationists (YEC) have to admit that the word is being used as more than one day (the text says “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens” (ESV).

Verse 17 is also of great interest because it says, “…’but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die'” (ESV).

Did Adam die on the 24-hour day he ate of that tree? No. In fact, he and Eve went on to have children and raise them to some point. So again, we find that “day” is not referring to a 24 hour period.

But where is the transition? I don’t know. I think the question itself is confused because the word is used four times in the chapter, two of which cannot be 24-hour days.

5. What creative actions described in Genesis 1 require more than six 24-hour days to accomplish for a God Who creates ex nihilo?

The use of the word “require” is again extremely problematic. Of course any OEC would agree that God could create in any time period God wanted. God certainly could have created anything God wanted in any amount of time in which God wanted to. So no OEC that I know of would say that God required more time.

However, some OECs do argue that Adam may have needed more time to accomplish everything it is said he accomplished in the allotted times. Naming all the animals, given the untold thousands of species which exist, would have taken quite a bit of time. (Genesis 2:19 is still part of the sixth day because God is still creating and has not yet made woman.)

But, again, I do not think any OEC would say that the text “requires” God to use more than 24 hours.

dinofeeding6. Where else in Scripture is the word “day” used to designate billions of years?

Here we find yet another question that is just so incredibly off base that it is remarkable. Of course, the Bible does use the word “day” to denote that such a period, for the LORD, is like a thousand years. And the meaning of “like a thousand years” is debatable, but surely it is a long period of time [and much longer than 24 hours]. But the question of “billions of years” is just the wrong question. Again, the text is not trying to tell us how old the earth is.

If Wilken desires to dispute this, I would gladly ask him to present me with a verse in the Bible which sets the date of creation.

7. How are we to understand the connection between the six epoch-days of creation and the sanctification of a literal seventh day in Genesis 2:1-3 and Exodus 20:11?

I am often confused when YECs bring up this argument. Yes, Exodus 20:11 parallels Genesis 1-2 by having 7 days and denoting the seventh as a day of rest. Now, what about that somehow entails that they are exactly the same? I mean think about the Biblical categories of typology. Very often things correspond to each other but are not exactly the same. One might think of the use of Hosea 11:1 to Matthew 2:15. The passage in Hosea is clearly discussing the nation of Israel. In Matthew 2:15 it is applied to an individual, the Son of God. Does this automatically mean that in Hosea we must assume that “son” is being used in the same sense as “Son of God”? Obviously not. Then why ignore typological categories in other texts?

Okay, but how would an OEC answer this objection? By pointing out that the words “day” and “Sabbath” are used variably in the Pentateuch, so a direct 1 to 1 correlation is off-base. Sabbath, for example, may refer to the span of an entire year as opposed to just one day (Leviticus 25:4). Day may refer to a thousand years (Psalm 90:4).

8. Are there considerations outside the text of Genesis that require an old Earth?

I’m not sure if Wilken means to express the question of other texts, or whether he wishes to address the issue of extra-Biblical evidence.

Regarding the first possible meaning, again the answer would be “No.” I will continue to maintain that I know of no OEC who holds the Bible requires an old earth. Many would follow my own reasoning and note that the Bible isn’t trying to discuss time periods. That just isn’t a concern of the text.

9. According to the Old-Earth theory, what is the relationship between death and human sin? When did death enter the world?

Frankly, at this point it should be abundantly clear that Wilken has not interacted very much with the works of Old Earth Creationists. As was noted in the answer to question 3, many OECs hold to the special creation of Adam and Eve. Therefore, this question is similarly extremely easy to answer: human death entered the world because of sin.

A Major Issue

I think one of the main problems with Wilken’s comments are that he doesn’t seem to distinguish between Old Earth Creationists, Theistic Evolutionists, and the various varieties of design theorists. This leads him to a few confused questions which he directs towards OECs that make no sense when directed towards them. I admit that the series of questions here leads me to wonder whether Wilken is simply unaware of the distinctions between these groups or just over-simplifying and obfuscating. I suspect the former.*

Conclusion

I have endeavored to provide brief answers for the Nine Questions Wilken asks of Old Earth Creationists. I believe that some of the questions he asks demonstrate confusion about the actual category of Old Earth Creationism. Moreover, the questions that are on target have been answered repeatedly by various OECs. Whether these answers are taken as convincing is another story.

*It should be noted that Wilken’s article was published in 2002, which is prior to the works cited here. Therefore, Wilken could not have known about the works I have cited to show some of the difficulties with his paper. However, I cited these works specifically to show how mistaken these questions are. If one is going to attempt to educate concerned Christians about a topic like this, it is vastly important to be aware of the distinctions to be found within each group, and Wilken fails to show awareness of these distinctions. Moreover, we will explore Wilken’s very recent article next week, in which he continues to make these errors.

Sources

Hugh Ross, More Than a Theory (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2009).

Hugh Ross and Fazale Rana, Who Was Adam? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2005).

Gerald Rau, Mapping the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012).

Todd Wilken, “Nine Questions for the Old Earth ‘Creationist,'” 2002.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Really Recommended Posts 5/24/13

postOnce more I have gone to the ends of the internet to find some posts to recommend for you, dear readers. This week, the topics are, as ever, diverse. We have bioethics, parameters for debates, creationism, the Quran, and Nietzsche. As always, check them out. Let me know your thoughts.

Bioethics and Worldview– A fascinating post which shows how one’s worldview can guide one’s positions in bioethics. What do we value? That will come out in practice. Our society does not value life. I think that is obvious in our practices.

Convenient Explanations– Luke Nix offers some advice to Christians and non-Christians about respectful debate.

Biblical case for Long Days (VIDEO)– I found this short video informative. It gives some reasons that Bible-believing Christians hold to views other than young earth creationism.

The Bible or the Quran– A fascinating, worldview-level comparison of the Bible and the Quran. Which makes more sense of reality? Mike Robinson argues persuasively that it is the Bible.

Doug Groothuis – Nietzsche’s Evaluation of Christian Ethics– I found this very thought-provoking and insightful. Nietzsche is often seen as one of the more talented atheistic philosophers. How does his evaluation of Christian ethics play out? Is it sound? Doug Groothuis puts forth cogent arguments which must be considered.

Book Review: “The Biblical Flood” by Davis Young

bf-youngDavis Young seeks in his work, The Biblical Flood, to inform readers about the broad scope of church thought on the Biblical story of Noah’s Flood. The book’s subtitle is apt and sums up the content of the work: “A Case Study of the Church’s Response to Extrabiblical Evidence.”

Overview

Young, a Christian geologist, provides a detailed overview of the Church’s theological and scientific musings on the Flood. He develops this overview chronologically, beginning with early Jewish thought. The focus within the entirety of his book is directly centered upon how extrabiblical evidence was used to shape theology and vice versa. The relation should not be understood as binary. Throughout history, there was a spectrum of approaches to the extrabiblical evidence which included resistance (not infrequently forged by ignorance) as well as integration. Here, I will survey only the broadest outline of Young’s discussion.

Early Flood Views

Early Christians were aware of Pagan stories of floods but made little or no appeal to them as evidence for a universal flood, and in fact some argued that these other stories were clearly differentiated from the Biblical account because they were local as opposed to global. There was much speculation over the location of the Ark as well as the notion that fossils were the result of this universal deluge.

Middle Ages and Renaissance

Medieval thought regarding the Flood was steeped in the “ahistorical view of creation” found at the time. That is, the science of the time thought of creation as deductible from the character and nature of God. However, the discovery of the New World brought up many challenges to a universal deluge theory, which challenges began to get recognition. These included the vast number of species which would have had to fit onto the Ark and the discovery of people across the world. During this period, the discovery of flood stories in various cultures began to be viewed as evidence for a universal deluge (37).

New World

The New World continued to present challenges to the universal deluge theory. One of the foremost among these was animal migration. Entirely new and distinct species were discovered in the New World which did not exist in Europe. How did these animals get to these distant lands? More importantly, how did they get there without leaving any traces of themselves behind if they all only came from one location: the Ark? These challenges continue to vex those who hold to a universal deluge (60ff).

Geology’s Origins

The notion of a universal flood has contributed much to the development of geology as a science. The Christian worldview finally presented a picture of the universe which humans could explore in order to learn truths about reality. The Flood itself presented a theory about how to account for the geological features of the earth (65ff). Various features of the natural world were attributed to the flood, including the discovery of marine fossils on mountains and geological features like valleys. These early geologists were committed to an following the evidence where it led.

Diluvialism and Catastrophism

Various theories were put forward to explain the features of the earth. These included varied catastrophic notions, wherein the geological features were explained by a global, catastrophic flood. Such theories are repeated into today.

Geological Evidence Mounts into the Twentieth Century

Young establishes that the evidence against catastrophic diluvialism became weighty fairly early into the investigations of geologists (109ff). New discoveries related to mammoths and the way they died (over a period of time by a variety of causes rather than all at once) were greatly important, as the issue of these mammoths was found throughout the speculation about the flood. New dating methods were developed which were more accurate. Archaeological finds showed floods in areas of the Mesopotamia, but they were dated at different times. The discovery that humanity was widely spread over the earth and that there was no major extinction event throughout this spread raises a significant challenge for Flood Geologists (233). Other major challenges to Flood Geology include (but are by no means limited to): the dating of igneous formations, the cooling of the earth, metamorphism, and continental drift.

Theological Reflections

Throughout this period of discovery, theologians were not inert. Indeed, many theologians were at the front lines, actually participating in the discoveries themselves. Near Eastern Studies have revealed parallels with the Flood account which some have suggested show derivation. Others, however, argue these other flood stories merely show the perpetuity of such events and how ingrained they became on the human consciousness (236ff).

More recently, Flood Geologists have come into being once more. Their arguments parallel almost exactly those found spread in the early days of geology. Yet these arguments have been refuted by the evidence from the earth itself. Some continue to make false statements about the mammoths’ deaths, the formation of sedimentation, dating methods, and more. Young argues that this is largely due to the specialization of studies found within various fields like theology and geology. Theologians are rarely acquainted with the geological evidence, while geologists are rarely versed in theological language.

Theologians who were versed in geology began to see how interpretations of the text, rather than the text itself, had shaped the Christian response to geological evidence. People like Hugh Miller appealed to extrabiblical data in support of their intepretations of the Flood narrative (147ff).

Miller professed puzzlement that learned, respectable theologians would accept “any amount of unrecorded miracle” rather than admit a partial deluge. Could they not see that the controversy was not between Moses and the naturalists but between the readings of different theologians? (151)

More recently, many and varied theories of the flood as local have been developed and defended. The reaction from Flood Geologists has been vigorous, but theories of a global flood include a multitude of quotes from various scientists which would support competing theories of rock formation, sedimentation, and more. That is, Catastrophic Flood views present mutually exclusive theories for how the geological (and other) evidence came to be.

Appendix: Arkeology

The book is capped off with a discussion of “arkeology”: the search for Noah’s Ark. Young notes the array of locations which have been given as well as the mutually contradictory accounts of those who claim to have seen the Ark or evidence of the Ark. He warns Christians to remain cautious of any such claims.

Challenge

I believe that a good way to summarize the content of the book would be to view it as a challenge Young is issuing to those who allege that catastrophic theories are the only possible way to interpret the text and geological evidence. He himself writes, “If conservative and orthodox theology is to remain vital and relevant to a world in need of the Christian gospel… theologians will have to abandon their flirtation with flood geology and other forms of pseudo-science, reacquaint themselves with genuine scientific knowledge, and incorporate that knowledge into their thinking, secure in the realization that genuine insight into God’s creation… is still a gift of God to be treasured” (215).

Young’s book can be viewed through this lens. He shows how scientific knowledge challenged traditional readings of the text, but also how many theologians and Christian geologists alike interacted with this in order to gain “genuine insight” into God’s word and creation.

Conclusion

The Biblical Flood is a vitally important work. Young demonstrates that throughout history, Christianity has been largely willing to have a kind of interplay between extrabiblical evidence and theology. Unfortunately, in our time, many are ignorant of this long history and development of thought and science surrounding geology and the Flood. Theories have been developed which stand in the face of evidence from multiple, independent sources and angles.

I do not claim to have touched upon even all the major points found in Young’s work. The book is full of voluminous amounts of historical details which reveal interesting scientific and theological notions. The theory of a global flood was the one of the first major proposals for how the earth’s geological history was formed. As geological discoveries mounted, this theory was falsified. Moreover, theologians who interacted with the extrabiblical evidence had a wide array of responses, from downright rejection of the evidence or reinterpretation of it to attempt to fit a global flood to concordist views in which the extrabiblical evidence informed interpretation of the text. Which direction should we go? Young has presented a major challenge to those wishing to maintain a notion of the global flood. He presents mountains of evidence to challenge catastrophism, while also showing how, historically, thought on the Noahic Flood has comfortably incorporated the extrabiblical evidence without any necessary compromise of the text or faith. I commend the book to the reader without reservation.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.” I often ask questions for readers and give links related to interests on this site.

Be sure to check out my posts on the “origins debate” which feature a wide range of posts on issues related to varying Christian views on evolution, creation, and more.

Davis Young, The Biblical Flood (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995).

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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