Best of the GeoChristian — updated

I have updated the “Best of the GeoChristian” link up at the top of the page.

There is a good variety: posts on Christianity, geology, creationism, the environment, atheism, apologetics, and more.

I would be interested to hear if there is a post that has been especially meaningful or helpful to you, or one that you think is the best of the best of The GeoChristian.

Thanks for reading,

Grace and Peace

PCA General Assembly includes a seminar on the age of the Earth

One of the seminars at the Presbyterian Church of America’s 2012 General Assembly (their annual national meeting, held June 19-22 this year) is a presentation of the geological evidence for an old Earth, given by two geologists from Solid Rock Lectures. Here is the description from the General Assembly seminar brochure:

The PCA Creation Study Committee a Dozen Years Later: What Does Science Say Now?
Seminar Speaker: Gregg Davidson, Professor of Geology, University of Mississippi; Ken Wolgemuth, Oil industry consultant

The Creation Study Committee reported their results in 2000 without establishing a firm position on the age of the earth. The report encouraged the PCA to consider what additional scientific understanding might develop in the future to assist in answering the question of age. This seminar will provide an update on the scientific evidence for an ancient earth using examples non-scientists can easily apprehend. Pastors and theologians are generally familiar with the biblical arguments surrounding questions of the age of the earth, but few have access to scientific data that they can understand. Most rely on information from young earth organizations that do not adequately or accurately reflect conventional scientific understanding. When information from these sources is passed on to students and congregations, Christ, as the author of truth, is poorly represented. More importantly, our members are inadequately prepared to wrestle with challenges to their faith when encountering the actual scientific evidence. Church leaders need to be aware of the evidence even if convinced it is wrong. The seminar will explicitly acknowledge the authority and preeminence of scripture over natural evidence, while also recognizing that God’s natural creation can sometimes aid in choosing between plausible biblical interpretations. Gregg Davidson is a member of Christ Presbyterian Church in Oxford, MS (PCA), a professor of geology at the University of Mississippi, and a member of a non-profit organization called Solid Rock Lectures that is devoted to proclaiming Christ and reconciling science and faith conflicts. Ken Wolgemuth is a member of Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, OK (EPC), a PhD geologist working as a consultant in the oil industry, and also a member of Solid Rock Lectures.

The PCA is a theologically conservative denomination, firmly committed to the inerrancy of Scriptures. Within the PCA, there are both young-Earth creationists and adherents of an old Earth. The Old Testament faculty at the PCA’s Covenant Theological Seminary includes C. John Collins, who makes a very strong case that the Bible doesn’t set a date for creation in his excellent book Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary. Collins was the Old Testament Editor for the highly-regarded ESV Study Bible.

The PCA Creation Study Committee of 2000 could not come to a Biblical consensus regarding the age of the Earth, which is as it should be. There is enough ambiguity in the opening chapters of Genesis, that Biblically-speaking, one could go either way. The report did state, as indicated in the seminar description, that scientific evidence could be useful in determining which side is correct in this debate. One of the goals of this seminar seems to be to present the case that the scientific evidence weighs very heavily on the old-Earth side. Davidson was one of the co-authors of the article PCA Geologists on the Age of the Earth, which appeared in Modern Reformation magazine, and I suspect the speakers will make a similar geological case in their seminar.

Not surprisingly, there is opposition from the young-Earth side to the inclusion of an old-Earth perspective in the schedule. Some are concerned that only one side of the issue is being presented. In some settings this might be true, but there are a number of seminars listed in the brochure where there might be some disagreement over one issue or another, and the organizers have no obligation to include all viewpoints on all issues. I would be surprised if at next year’s General Assembly there were not a young-Earth counter-seminar to balance things out.

Others are concerned that old-Earthers are given any voice at all, especially old-Earthers who advocate evolution as well. It seems that some would prefer a young-Earth monopoly within the PCA.

The scientific evidence for an old Earth is overwhelming, contrary to the claims of the young-Earth creationists. Sea salt does not point to a young Earth. Volcanoes do not point to a young Earth. Dinosaur footprints do not point to a young Earth. Sedimentary rocks do not point to a young Earth. The Grand Canyon does not point to a young Earth. The RATE project does not provide convincing evidence for a young Earth. The young-Earth creationism movement has consistently presented poor arguments for their position, and it is important that the church has this opportunity to hear the old-Earth side.

I suspect, however, that the main thing most General Assembly attendees need to hear is not the geological evidence for an old Earth, but the case for the ambiguity of Scripture regarding the age of the Earth. The Bible does not teach a young Earth, and it doesn’t teach an old Earth; it is open-ended on the topic. This seminar on geological evidence will not convince anyone that the Earth is old if they have Biblical reasons for denying the evidence. Many YECs have only heard the Biblical case for a young Earth, have been taught that all old-Earth interpretations are merely compromises with the world, and that acceptance of them will only lead to theological liberalism or apostasy.

The young-Earth interpretation of the opening chapters of Genesis is based on three pillars, none of which is explicitly taught in Scripture:

  1. The Bible requires a young-Earth — No it doesn’t. The Bible teaches that the Earth was created in six days. Much of the debate is about whether the word “day” (Hebrew: yom) requires six consecutive 24-hour days (the young-Earth viewpoint), or if it can be interpreted in Genesis in some other way. Yom is used figuratively at least once in Genesis 1-2. Genesis 2:4 states “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)  “Day” in this passage refers to the entire creation week, not to a literal 24-hour day. If it can be used figuratively once, it might be used figuratively elsewhere in the passage. Collins develops a much more extensive case for the analogical use of yom in his commentary on Genesis 1-4 I referenced earlier.
  2. The Bible requires that there be no animal death before the fall of Adam — No it doesn’t. I’ve addressed this issue in my post Death before the fall — an old Earth Biblical perspective.
  3. The Bible requires a global flood — No it doesn’t. I written on this topic in The YEC “Did God really say?” tactic.

One can make a thoroughly Biblical case for an old Earth (or again, Biblical ambiguity about this secondary issue), without reference to geology, astronomy, or other historical sciences. Once people see this, they will be more open to what God has revealed in his creation regarding Earth’s history.

Given the potential for tension at this seminar, I hope and pray that there would be a spirit of grace upon all who speak and attend.

Grace and Peace

HT: Tim and Natural Historian

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Here are a couple YEC blog posts on the topic:

A Daughter of the Reformation — “there appears to be a move to kick Young Earth Creationists out of the PCA tent.”

Johannes Weslianus

The comments on the Johannes Weslianus (Wes White) blog give a good idea of the antagonism that can be stirred up by this issue:

“I wonder why the PCA would allow such a one-sided presentation.”

“Even in this brief announcement, the condescension is absolutely palpable.”

“I find it so disconcerting that the PCA GA would allow Biologos into its very presence. How is this not allowing the wolf into the sheepfold?”

“the assault on biblical creationism will most assuredly destroy your denomination.”

“After reading the description of the anti-YEC Seminar, I was so rattled spiritually and emotionally that I could barely concentrate for the rest of the day.”

“After calming down from last night, I decided to write to Michelle and I asked her to cancel this seminar (with reasons). Sad stuff.”

“I won’t be attending the actual Seminar. I don’t trust my ability to be gracious and to play well with others in that setting, not to mention to keep my head from exploding. “

“Can someone invite a YEC scientist, with credentials, to attend the seminar and raise objections to the so-called “evidence” that will be presented?”

John MacArthur on the age of the Earth and theistic evolution

Influential Reformed blogger Tim Challies recently interviewed the popular pastor and radio Bible teacher John MacArthur (5 More Questions with John MacArthur). One of the questions had to do with creation, evolution, and the age of the Earth:

One pressing issue in the church today is that of creation and evolution. Do you believe that a person can be genuinely saved and believe in some kind of theistic evolution? How serious a theological error is it to reject a literal 6-day creation?

In his response, MacArthur grudgingly admits that one could possibly be a real Christian and believe and in an old Earth, and perhaps even believe in evolution:

It’s a very serious error in my estimation, because it attacks the authority of Scripture at the Bible’s very starting point. It employs a special hermeneutic in order to make the Bible mean quite the opposite of what it plainly states. And once you open that door, absolutely nothing is safe from the assaults of rationalism, skepticism, and rank unbelief.

I watch the propaganda being published by organizations like Biologos, and it’s hard to resist the conclusion that many of the people who are involved in that project don’t seem to be believers at all, given the large portions of Scripture they regularly have to explain away in order to justify their convoluted worldview.

As a matter of fact, the history of modernist rationalism is littered with vivid examples of why it is unsafe and spiritually destructive to subject Scripture to naturalistic presuppositions. I wrote on this topic in detail at the very beginning of my book The Battle for the Beginning.

But in answer to your specific question: I do think it is possible for a genuine believer to be confused or befuddled by scientific arguments regarding evolution and the age of the earth. (It is certainly possible for believers to be inconsistent in their beliefs—to hold all kinds of errors in varying degrees. That’s called cognitive dissonance.)

Well-meaning evangelicals have experimented with several ways to reconcile old-earth theories with Scripture. One of the more popular ideas (until Henry Morris exploded it) was that there’s a gap in the white space between Genesis 1:1 and verse 2, and (so the theory goes) that silent gap might accommodate countless ages of change and chaos in the universe. Spurgeon held to a version of the gap theory, and the original Scofield Bible embraced both the gap theory and old-earth cosmology with blithe enthusiasm. Of course we would not consign everyone who ever held such an opinion to the ranks of unbelief.

Nevertheless, as evolutionary theory has developed and devolved into untouchable dogma—a favorite weapon for the current generation of angry atheists—I don’t see how any sober-minded, well-grounded, fully-committed Christian who truly believes what the Bible teaches can long maintain faith in the various and ever-changing theories evolutionary scientists keep proposing. Biblical cosmology, the Genesis account of how the human race was created and subsequently fell, and the important parallels between Adam and Christ in the story of redemption—these are essential beliefs of Christianity; they have never changed; and they are diametrically opposed to every purely naturalistic theory about life’s origins.

Anyone who takes seriously the authority of Scripture must ultimately set the opinions of men aside and simply trust what Scripture says. The earlier we do that, the better. Frankly, I have never understood why someone who believes in the literal bodily resurrection of Christ would balk at believing all of Scripture, starting with Genesis 1:1.

I have a lot of respect for John MacArthur (and use some of his New Testament commentaries to aid in my study of the Scriptures), but I have a number of issues, of course, with what he had to say in this interview.

  • Acceptance of an old Earth does not attack the authority of Scripture. Like many Evangelicals who accept an old Earth, I believe in the inerrancy of Scriptures, and in all of the core theological truths of the Christian faith.
  • Acceptance of an old Earth does not necessarily employ a special hermeneutic that twists the words of the Bible. It would be wrong force scripture to conform to science, but that is not necessarily what old-Earth theologians have done. Back in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Christians were confronted with scientific evidence that the sun was at the center of the solar system. Some dug in their heels, but others looked at the Scriptures more closely to see what they really said and didn’t say on the topic. There was no “special hermeneutic” required, only a more careful application of the hermeneutic tools they already possessed. Conservative Bible scholars of the past two hundred years have been forced to do the same, and many have come to the conclusion that the Bible does not put constraints on the age of the Earth. They have done this not by somehow forcing the Bible to say something it doesn’t say, but by looking closely at the Hebrew text, letting Scripture interpret Scripture, and gaining a better understanding of the world the ancient Hebrews lived in.
  • It may be equally wrong to force science to fit Scripture as it is to force Scripture to fit science. The young-Earth creationists have published an incredible amount of bad science over the years, and held this forth to the church and world as an unanswerable apologetic argument.
  • Acceptance of an old Earth is not the same as subjecting the Scriptures to naturalistic presuppositions. It involves acceptance of the idea that “all truth is God’s truth.” Let the rocks speak for themselves and let the Bible speak for itself (but make sure we read them both correctly).
  • I agree that “it is possible for a genuine believer to be confused or befuddled by scientific arguments regarding evolution and the age of the earth.” Most of the confusion, however, comes from the young-Earth creationist side of the debate. Whether it be the older YEC arguments about moon dust and vapor canopies, or more recent ones about accelerated nuclear decay or hyper-rapid speciation after the flood, the YEC movement has produced a steady stream of poor scientific arguments that non-scientists (such as Dr. MacArthur) readily accept.
  • Dr. MacArthur mentions Charles Spurgeon and C.I. Scofield as well-meaning Evangelicals who “experimented” with ways to reconcile the Bible with an old Earth. I guess MacArthur “interprets” while those who disagree with his interpretation only “experiment.” The other possiblity is that they (and many others) have looked closely at what the Bible actually says and have come to the conclusion that perhaps the YECs are over-reading the text.
  • The theory of evolution changes over time, but so does the “scientific” story coming out of young-Earth creationism.
  • Many forms of old-Earth creationism (e.g. the day-age theory as presented by Hugh Ross or the analogical days interpretation of C. John Collins) retain everything Dr. MacArthur is concerned about: creation from nothing, a real Adam, Adam’s fall into sin. One does not have to be a YEC to be thoroughly orthodox in their theology.
  • I’m not convinced that the Bible has much to say about biological evolution, except about the origin of humans. To reject a scientific theory because of a brief mention of kinds reproducing after their own kinds is reading a whole lot into the Bible. If there are limits on biological change, then the Bible doesn’t tell us what they are.
  • MacArthur asks those of us who take the Bible’s authority seriously to “set the opinions of men aside and simply trust what Scripture says.” I do believe the Bible and take its authority seriously. I just don’t trust everything that comes out of Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research.

It is common for YECs to assert that if the Earth is billions of years old then the Bible isn’t true; that certainly seems to be what Dr. MacArthur is saying here. This is a false dichotomy, and it sets up believers—especially our young people—for a fall. If what the YECs say doesn’t work scientifically (and it doesn’t), and if we insist that a 6000-year old Earth is the only way to read Genesis, then many of them will walk away from the church. And whose fault will it be, the “wicked evilutionists” or well-meaning Christians who fed them a bad apologetic?

I am not asking Dr. MacArthur to abandon his belief that the young-Earth creationist interpretation is correct. What I would hope for, instead, is less of a my-way-or-the-highway approach to this divisive issue.

Grace and Peace

Poll: Understanding Genesis 1

Welcome readers from Skepchick. I invite you to look around; a good place to start would be my Best of The GeoChristian page, which is only partially complete.There are newer posts beneath this one.

Ever since eighteenth century geologists suggested that the Earth might be older than 6000 years, Biblical scholars have attempted to reconcile the Scriptural record with the geological record. Many have taken a closer look at what the text actually says and doesn’t say about the origin of the Earth and biosphere, and come to the conclusion that there are valid alternatives to the traditional “literal” interpretation that would require a young Earth. Many other Christians have concluded that all such efforts are futile, and that the Biblical record is incompatible with modern geological thinking. They believe that modern geology somehow has the story of Earth’s history wrong. Others have used this apparent conflict between geology and the Bible as a reason to reject the Bible altogether.

What is your preferred way to understand Genesis One? I have the poll set up so you can pick up to three answers.

I am aware that some of the positions I have listed as “Old Earth,” such as the analogical days interpretation and framework hypothesis, actually make no statement on the age of the Earth. It could be young, it could be old. But it is pretty rare for a young-Earth creationist to hold to these interpretations, so I have labeled them as Old Earth.

No poll is perfect, so feel free to add your comments.

I’ll have this poll up for the entire month of February.

Grace and Peace

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P.S.

If one removes, the swarm of “Genesis is a myth” votes that came from the Skepchick blog, the poll results look more like this:

19 votes (13 percent) — Young Earth
30 votes (20 percent) — Old Earth — not committed to an interpretation
22 votes (15 percent) — Old Earth — day-age
5 votes (   3 percent) — Old Earth — gap theory
21 votes (14 percent) — Old Earth — analogical days
26 votes (18 percent) — Old Earth — framework
5 votes (   3 percent) — Old Earth — revelatory day
11 votes (  7 percent) — Old Earth — cosmic temple inauguration
9 votes (   6 percent) — Christian, but Bible contains errors

Unfortunately, I don’t know what percentage of my readers were voting for “myth” before the inundation, but from previous polls and comments, it seems that around 10% of my readers are in the “skeptic” category.

It looks like a pretty broad variety of viewpoints among the readers of The GeoChristian.

The ESV Study Bible on creation — Introduction and Introduction to Genesis

The ESV Study Bible is a theologically conservative Evangelical work, and is certainly one of the most comprehensive study Bibles ever produced. It has been out for only three years, but it looks like it will be a highly influential reference work for decades to come.One potential positive impact of the ESVSB relates to its treatment of the doctrine of creation. The ESVSB does not take a stand on geological issues such as the age of the Earth or the extent of the flood. In both of these cases it offers cautionary notes that could open the doors to old-Earth interpretations for many readers. The authors of the study notes, though firmly committed to the inspiration of the Scriptures, believe that it is not necessary to hold to the “literal” young-Earth interpretation of Genesis.My hope and prayer is that, just as the Scofield Reference Bible led many to accept the Gap Theory (rather than young-Earth interpretations) a century ago, so the ESVSB will introduce Christians of our day to alternative viewpoints on Genesis 1, such as the analogical days and day-age interpretations.

This is my first article on the ESV Study Bible’s coverage of issues related to the doctrine of creation. Additional articles in this series include:

The ESV Study Bible on creation — Genesis 1

The ESV Study Bible on creation — Noah’s flood

The ESV Study Bible on creation — Dinosaurs in Job?

ESVStudyBibleThe ESV Study Bible (ESV is the English Standard Version translation) is a masterpiece of conservative Evangelical scholarship. The scholars who put this volume together are highly-qualified Bible experts who have a high respect for the Bible as the Word of God.

For those of you not familiar with the concept of a study Bible, this contains more than just the text of the Bible. It contains many thousands of cross-references and explanatory notes, plus drawings, maps, articles, and an extensive concordance (index). The ESV Study Bible is a massive work, with over 2,000,000 words on 2750 pages.

INTRODUCTION

The Introduction to the ESV Study Bible makes it very clear that the authors of the various articles and study notes share a commitment to the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. The Introduction was written by Lane Dennis of Crossway Books and Bibles, and Wayne Grudem of Phoenix Seminary. Here are some quotes from the introduction:

The first kind [of words in the ESV Study Bible] is the actual words of the Bible, which are the very words of God to us. (p. 9)

The notes are written from the perspective of confidence in the complete truthfulness of the Bible. (pp. 10-11)

Because of this commitment to the truthfulness of the Bible, many would think that the ESV Study Bible would give a strong endorsement of the “literal” six-day interpretation of the young-Earth creationists, with a roughly 6000-year old Earth and a global flood that deposited most sedimentary rocks. The authors of the notes, however, take a cautious and broad approach to questions of the age of the Earth and the extent and work of the flood.

There are two groups of people who insist that Genesis teaches a young Earth. The first of these is the young-Earth creationists, led by organizations such as Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research. They are convinced that the Bible requires a young Earth, and distort science to make it fit their interpretation. The other group is the atheists and skeptics. It is in their interest to say that the Bible requires a young Earth, as it makes it easier for them to not believe. For the most part, neither group is willing to consider Biblical scholarship that would upset their preconceptions.

INTRODUCTION TO GENESIS — Genesis and Science — Overview of interpretations

The ESV Study Bible‘s Introduction to Genesis (which is different than the Introduction I have quoted from already) was written by T. Desmond Alexander of Union Theological Seminary in Belfast. It has a section called “Genesis and Science,” which begins with an overview of the various positions that are held by theologically-conservative Biblical scholars.

The relation of Genesis to science is primarily a question of how one reads the accounts of creation and fall (chs. 1–3) and of the flood (chs. 6–9). What kind of “days” does Genesis 1 describe? How long ago is this supposed to have happened? Were all species created as they are now? Were Adam and Eve real people? Are all people descended from them? How much of the earth did Noah’s flood cover? How much impact did it have on geological formations?

Faithful interpreters have offered arguments for taking the creation week of Genesis 1 as a regular week with ordinary days (the “calendar day” reading); or as a sequence of geological ages (the “day-age” reading); or as God’s “workdays,” analogous to a human workweek (the “analogical days” view); or as a literary device to portray the creation week as if it were a workweek, but without concern for temporal sequence (the “literary framework” view). Some have suggested that Genesis 1:2, “the earth was without form and void,” describes a condition that resulted from Satan’s primeval rebellion, which preceded the creation week (the “gap theory”). There have been other readings as well, but these five are the most common.

None of these views requires denying that Genesis 1 is historical, so long as the discussion in the section on Genesis and History is kept in mind. Each of these readings can be squared with other biblical passages that reflect on creation. (pp. 43-44)

Note that only one of the five primary alternatives—the “calendar day” reading— requires a young Earth. The others each have room—or require—an Earth that is older than 6000 years. I personally make no commitment to a specific view, except to say that I rule out the calendar day interpretation based on external evidence (keeping in mind that all truth is God’s truth).

Note also that the Introduction to Genesis indicates that even Exodus 20:11 does not require a literal, seven consecutive day interpretation:

The most important of these [passages] is Exodus 20:11, “in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day”: since this passage echoes Genesis 1:1–2:3, the word “day” here need mean only what it means in Genesis 1. Therefore, it does not require an ordinary-day interpretation, nor does it preclude an ordinary-day interpretation. (p. 44)

INTRODUCTION TO GENESIS — Genesis and Science — Is Genesis 1 a scientific account?

Genesis gives a true account of the origin of the universe, but one should be extremely cautious when attempting to correlate the words of Genesis to specific scientific concepts. Genesis 1 wasn’t written to tell us about the degree to which populations can vary (reproduction “according to their kinds” doesn’t place any kind of limit on variation), Genesis 2 wasn’t written to tell us that it never ever rained before the flood, and Genesis 3 wasn’t written to tell us how snakes lost their limbs.

Should Genesis 1 be called a “scientific account”? Again, it is crucial to have a careful definition. Does Genesis 1 record a true account of the origin of the material universe? To that question, the answer must be yes. On the other hand, does Genesis 1 provide information in a way that corresponds to the purposes of modern science? To this question the answer is no. Consider some of the challenges. For example, the term “kind” does not correspond to the notion of “species”; it simply means “category,” and could refer to a species, or a family, or an even more general taxonomic group. Indeed, the plants are put into two general categories, small seed-bearing plants and larger woody plants. The land animals are classified as domesticable stock animals (“livestock”); small things such as mice, lizards, and spiders (“creeping things”); and larger game and predatory animals (“beasts of the earth”). Indeed, no species, other than man, gets its proper Hebrew name. Not even the sun and moon get their ordinary Hebrew names (1:16). The text says nothing about the process by which “the earth brought forth vegetation” (1:12), or by which the various kinds of animals appeared—although the fact that it was in response to God’s command indicates that it was not due to any natural powers inherent in the material universe itself. (p. 44)

INTRODUCTION TO GENESIS — Genesis and Science — The purpose of Genesis

The primary purpose of Genesis 1 seems to be to identify God as the Creator of everything who is completely separate from the creation, and to contrast him to the gods who appear in the creation accounts of the nations the Hebrews had contact with.

This account is well cast for its main purpose, which was to enable a community of nomadic shepherds in the Sinai desert to celebrate the boundless creative goodness of the Creator; it does not say why, e.g., a spider is different from a snake, nor does it comment on what genetic relationship there might be between various creatures. At the same time, when the passage is received according to its purpose, it shapes a worldview in which science is at home (probably the only worldview that really makes science possible). This is a concept of a world that a good and wise God made, perfectly suited for humans to enjoy and to rule. The things in the world have natures that people can know, at least in part. Human senses and intelligence are the right tools for discerning and saying true things about the world. (The effects of sin, of course, can interfere with this process.) (p. 44)

The doctrine of creation is much richer than merely addressing questions of how and when God created the universe, life, and human beings.

INTRODUCTION TO GENESIS — Genesis and Science — Adam and Eve

I often state my position as “I believe in a real creation of the universe by the Triune God of the Bible, in a real Adam in a real garden, committing a real sin with real consequences, and in Jesus Christ as God’s only solution to those consequences.”

It is clear that Adam and Eve are presented as real people. Their role in the story, as the channel by which sin came into the world, implies that they are seen as the headwaters of the human race. The image of God distinguishes them from all the animals, and is a special bestowal of God (i.e., not a purely “natural” development). It is no wonder that all human beings share capacities for language, moral judgment, rationality, and appreciation for beauty, unlike and beyond the powers observed in the animals; any science that ignores this fact does not faithfully describe reality. The biblical worldview leads one to expect as well that all humans now share a need for God and a bent toward sin, as well as a possibility for faith in the true God. (p. 44)

Young Earthers often say that to accept an old Earth undermines the foundations of the gospel, but it is clear that one can accept an old Earth, a real Adam, a real Fall, and therefore a real need for a Savior.

INTRODUCTION TO GENESIS — Genesis and Science — The flood

Young Earth creationists insist that the Bible requires a global, catastrophic flood. Many conservative scholars, including the editors and contributors to the ESV Study Bible, have looked closely at the text and determined that this is not necessary.

One must take similar care in reading the flood story. The notes will discuss the extent to which Moses intended to describe the flood’s coverage of the globe. Certainly the description of the flood implies that it was widespread and catastrophic, but there are difficulties in making confident claims that the account is geared to answering the question of just how widespread. Thus, it would be incautious to attribute to the flood all the geological formations observed today—the strata, the fossils, the deformations, and so on. Geologists agree that catastrophic events, such as volcanic eruptions and large-scale floods, have had great impact on the landscape; it is questionable, though, whether these events can in fact achieve all that might be claimed for them. Again, such matters do not come within the author’s own scope, which is to stress the interest that God has in all mankind. (p. 44)

Conclusion

Could the introductions and notes in the ESV Study Bible be wrong on these things? Yes. Could the young-Earth creationists be wrong in their interpretation of these things? Also yes. But it is clear that there are a number of conservative, Bible-believing scholars who either advocate or are willing to accept an old Earth and local flood. Based on external evidence, as well as Biblical exegesis, I choose to side with the old-Earth Biblical scholars.

Grace and Peace

The ESV Study Bible on creation — Genesis 1

ESVStudyBibleA few weeks ago, I looked at what the ESV Study Bible had to say about the doctrine of creation in its introduction to the book of Genesis (click here). The ESV Study Bible Introduction to Genesis gives an overview of the various interpretations (calendar-day, day-age, etc.), a discussion about the relationship between Genesis and science, a statement on the historicity of Adam and Eve, and cautionary notes about interpreting the account of Noah’s flood.

The ESV Study Bible is the product of theologically conservative Biblical scholars who are committed to the inerrancy of the Bible, but it clearly does not advocate young-Earth creationism.

Here are some highlights from the notes on Genesis 1:

1:1-11:26 Primeval History — In contrast to the patriarchal stories, however, other ancient nonbiblical stories do exist recounting stories about both creation and the flood. The existence of such stories, however, does not in any way challenge the authority or the inspiration of Genesis. In fact, the nonbiblical stories stand in sharp contrast to the biblical account, and thus help readers appreciate the unique nature and character of the biblical accounts of creation and the flood. In other ancient literary traditions, creation is a great struggle often involving conflict between the gods. […] Reading Genesis, readers can see that it is designed to refute these delusions. There is only one God, whose word is almighty. He has only to speak and the world comes into being. The sun and moon are not gods in their own right, but are created by the one God. This God does not need feeding by man, as the Babylonians believed they did by offering sacrifices, but he supplies man with food. It is human sin, not divine annoyance, that prompts the flood. Far from Babylon’s tower (Babel) reaching heaven, it became a reminder that human pride could neither reach nor manipulate God. These principles, which emerge so clearly in Genesis 1–11, are truths that run through the rest of Scripture. The unity of God is fundamental to biblical theology, as is his almighty power, his care for mankind, and his judgment on sin. It may not always be obvious how these chapters relate to geology and archaeology, but their theological message is very clear. Read in their intended sense, they provide the fundamental presuppositions of the rest of Scripture. These chapters should act as eyeglasses, so that readers focus on the points their author is making and go on to read the rest of the Bible in light of them.

1:3-5 — By a simple reading of Genesis, these days must be described as days in the life of God, but how his days relate to human days is more difficult to determine.

1:6-8 — Water plays a crucial role in ancient Near Eastern creation literature. In Egypt, for example, the creator-god Ptah uses the preexistent waters (personified as the god Nun) to create the universe. The same is true in Mesopotamian belief: it is out of the gods of watery chaos—Apsu, Tiamat, and Mummu—that creation comes. The biblical creation account sits in stark contrast to such dark mythological polytheism. In the biblical account, water at creation is no deity; it is simply something God created, and it serves as material in the hands of the sole sovereign Creator.

Gen. 1:14–19 — This section corresponds closely with the ordering of Day and Night on the first day, involving the separation of light and darkness (vv. 3–5). Here the emphasis is on the creation of lights that will govern time, as well as providing light upon the earth (v. 15). By referring to them as the greater light and lesser light (v. 16), the text avoids using terms that were also proper names for pagan deities linked to the sun and the moon. Chapter 1 deliberately undermines pagan ideas regarding nature’s being controlled by different deities. (To the ancient pagans of the Near East, the gods were personified in various elements of nature. Thus, in Egyptian texts, the gods Ra and Thoth are personified in the sun and the moon, respectively.) The term made (Hb. ‘asah, v. 16), as the esv footnote shows, need only mean that God “fashioned” or “worked on” them; it does not of itself imply that they did not exist in any form before this. Rather, the focus here is on the way in which God has ordained the sun and moon to order and define the passing of time according to his purposes.

1:27 — There has been debate about the expression image of God. Many scholars point out the idea, commonly used in the ancient Near East, of the king who was the visible representative of the deity; thus the king ruled on behalf of the god. Since v. 26 links the image of God with the exercise of dominion over all the other creatures of the seas, heavens, and earth, one can see that humanity is endowed here with authority to rule the earth as God’s representatives or vice-regents (see note on v. 28). Other scholars, seeing the pattern of male and female, have concluded that humanity expresses God’s image in relationship, particularly in well-functioning human community, both in marriage and in wider society. Traditionally, the image has been seen as the capacities that set man apart from the other animals—ways in which humans resemble God, such as in the characteristics of reason, morality, language, a capacity for relationships governed by love and commitment, and creativity in all forms of art. All these insights can be put together by observing that the resemblances (man is like God in a series of ways) allow mankind to represent God in ruling, and to establish worthy relationships with God, with one another, and with the rest of the creation. This “image” and this dignity apply to both “male and female” human beings. (This view is unique in the context of the ancient Near East. In Mesopotamia, e.g., the gods created humans merely to carry out work for them.)

1:28 — God’s creation plan is that the whole earth should be populated by those who know him and who serve wisely as his vice-regents or representatives. subdue it and have dominion. The term “subdue” (Hb. kabash) elsewhere means to bring a people or a land into subjection so that it will yield service to the one subduing it (Num. 32:22, 29). Here the idea is that the man and woman are to make the earth’s resources beneficial for themselves, which implies that they would investigate and develop the earth’s resources to make them useful for human beings generally. This command provides a foundation for wise scientific and technological development; the evil uses to which people have put their dominion come as a result of Genesis 3. over every living thing. As God’s representatives, human beings are to rule over every living thing on the earth. These commands are not, however, a mandate to exploit the earth and its creatures to satisfy human greed, for the fact that Adam and Eve were “in the image of God” (1:27) implies God’s expectation that human beings will use the earth wisely and govern it with the same sense of responsibility and care that God has toward the whole of his creation.

My purpose here  is primarily to look at the ESV Study Bible as it relates to topics such as Earth history. It is certainly an excellent study resource, no matter where one stands on the age of the Earth issue, and will help anyone to grow in their knowledge of God and his Word.

Grace and Peace

 

The ESV Study Bible on creation — Introduction and Introduction to Genesis

ESVStudyBibleThe ESV Study Bible (ESV is the English Standard Version translation) is a masterpiece of conservative Evangelical scholarship. The scholars who put this volume together are highly-qualified Bible experts who have a high respect for the Bible as the Word of God.

For those of you not familiar with the concept of a study Bible, this contains more than just the text of the Bible. It contains many thousands of cross-references and explanatory notes, plus drawings, maps, articles, and an extensive concordance (index). The ESV Study Bible is a massive work, with over 2,000,000 words on 2750 pages.

INTRODUCTION

The Introduction to the ESV Study Bible makes it very clear that the authors of the various articles and study notes share a commitment to the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. The Introduction was written by Lane Dennis of Crossway Books and Bibles, and Wayne Grudem of Phoenix Seminary. Here are some quotes from the introduction:

The first kind [of words in the ESV Study Bible] is the actual words of the Bible, which are the very words of God to us. (p. 9)

The notes are written from the perspective of confidence in the complete truthfulness of the Bible. (pp. 10-11)

Because of this commitment to the truthfulness of the Bible, many would think that the ESV Study Bible would give a strong endorsement of the “literal” six-day interpretation of the young-Earth creationists, with a roughly 6000-year old Earth and a global flood that deposited most sedimentary rocks. The authors of the notes, however, take a cautious and broad approach to questions of the age of the Earth and the extent and work of the flood.

There are two groups of people who insist that Genesis teaches a young Earth. The first of these is the young-Earth creationists, led by organizations such as Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research. They are convinced that the Bible requires a young Earth, and distort science to make it fit their interpretation. The other group is the atheists and skeptics. It is in their interest to say that the Bible requires a young Earth, as it makes it easier for them to not believe. For the most part, neither group is willing to consider Biblical scholarship that would upset their preconceptions.

INTRODUCTION TO GENESIS — Genesis and Science — Overview of interpretations

The ESV Study Bible‘s Introduction to Genesis (which is different than the Introduction I have quoted from already) was written by T. Desmond Alexander of Union Theological Seminary in Belfast. It has a section called “Genesis and Science,” which begins with an overview of the various positions that are held by theologically-conservative Biblical scholars.

The relation of Genesis to science is primarily a question of how one reads the accounts of creation and fall (chs. 1–3) and of the flood (chs. 6–9). What kind of “days” does Genesis 1 describe? How long ago is this supposed to have happened? Were all species created as they are now? Were Adam and Eve real people? Are all people descended from them? How much of the earth did Noah’s flood cover? How much impact did it have on geological formations?

Faithful interpreters have offered arguments for taking the creation week of Genesis 1 as a regular week with ordinary days (the “calendar day” reading); or as a sequence of geological ages (the “day-age” reading); or as God’s “workdays,” analogous to a human workweek (the “analogical days” view); or as a literary device to portray the creation week as if it were a workweek, but without concern for temporal sequence (the “literary framework” view). Some have suggested that Genesis 1:2, “the earth was without form and void,” describes a condition that resulted from Satan’s primeval rebellion, which preceded the creation week (the “gap theory”). There have been other readings as well, but these five are the most common.

None of these views requires denying that Genesis 1 is historical, so long as the discussion in the section on Genesis and History is kept in mind. Each of these readings can be squared with other biblical passages that reflect on creation. (pp. 43-44)

Note that only one of the five primary alternatives—the “calendar day” reading— requires a young Earth. The others each have room—or require—an Earth that is older than 6000 years. I personally make no commitment to a specific view, except to say that I rule out the calendar day interpretation based on external evidence (keeping in mind that all truth is God’s truth).

Note also that the Introduction to Genesis indicates that even Exodus 20:11 does not require a literal, seven consecutive day interpretation:

The most important of these [passages] is Exodus 20:11, “in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day”: since this passage echoes Genesis 1:1–2:3, the word “day” here need mean only what it means in Genesis 1. Therefore, it does not require an ordinary-day interpretation, nor does it preclude an ordinary-day interpretation. (p. 44)

INTRODUCTION TO GENESIS — Genesis and Science — Is Genesis 1 a scientific account?

Genesis gives a true account of the origin of the universe, but one should be extremely cautious when attempting to correlate the words of Genesis to specific scientific concepts. Genesis 1 wasn’t written to tell us about the degree to which populations can vary (reproduction “according to their kinds” doesn’t place any kind of limit on variation), Genesis 2 wasn’t written to tell us that it never ever rained before the flood, and Genesis 3 wasn’t written to tell us how snakes lost their limbs.

Should Genesis 1 be called a “scientific account”? Again, it is crucial to have a careful definition. Does Genesis 1 record a true account of the origin of the material universe? To that question, the answer must be yes. On the other hand, does Genesis 1 provide information in a way that corresponds to the purposes of modern science? To this question the answer is no. Consider some of the challenges. For example, the term “kind” does not correspond to the notion of “species”; it simply means “category,” and could refer to a species, or a family, or an even more general taxonomic group. Indeed, the plants are put into two general categories, small seed-bearing plants and larger woody plants. The land animals are classified as domesticable stock animals (“livestock”); small things such as mice, lizards, and spiders (“creeping things”); and larger game and predatory animals (“beasts of the earth”). Indeed, no species, other than man, gets its proper Hebrew name. Not even the sun and moon get their ordinary Hebrew names (1:16). The text says nothing about the process by which “the earth brought forth vegetation” (1:12), or by which the various kinds of animals appeared—although the fact that it was in response to God’s command indicates that it was not due to any natural powers inherent in the material universe itself. (p. 44)

INTRODUCTION TO GENESIS — Genesis and Science — The purpose of Genesis

The primary purpose of Genesis 1 seems to be to identify God as the Creator of everything who is completely separate from the creation, and to contrast him to the gods who appear in the creation accounts of the nations the Hebrews had contact with.

This account is well cast for its main purpose, which was to enable a community of nomadic shepherds in the Sinai desert to celebrate the boundless creative goodness of the Creator; it does not say why, e.g., a spider is different from a snake, nor does it comment on what genetic relationship there might be between various creatures. At the same time, when the passage is received according to its purpose, it shapes a worldview in which science is at home (probably the only worldview that really makes science possible). This is a concept of a world that a good and wise God made, perfectly suited for humans to enjoy and to rule. The things in the world have natures that people can know, at least in part. Human senses and intelligence are the right tools for discerning and saying true things about the world. (The effects of sin, of course, can interfere with this process.) (p. 44)

The doctrine of creation is much richer than merely addressing questions of how and when God created the universe, life, and human beings.

INTRODUCTION TO GENESIS — Genesis and Science — Adam and Eve

I often state my position as “I believe in a real creation of the universe by the Triune God of the Bible, in a real Adam in a real garden, committing a real sin with real consequences, and in Jesus Christ as God’s only solution to those consequences.

It is clear that Adam and Eve are presented as real people. Their role in the story, as the channel by which sin came into the world, implies that they are seen as the headwaters of the human race. The image of God distinguishes them from all the animals, and is a special bestowal of God (i.e., not a purely “natural” development). It is no wonder that all human beings share capacities for language, moral judgment, rationality, and appreciation for beauty, unlike and beyond the powers observed in the animals; any science that ignores this fact does not faithfully describe reality. The biblical worldview leads one to expect as well that all humans now share a need for God and a bent toward sin, as well as a possibility for faith in the true God. (p. 44)

Young Earthers often say that to accept an old Earth undermines the foundations of the gospel, but it is clear that one can accept an old Earth, a real Adam, a real Fall, and therefore a real need for a Savior.

INTRODUCTION TO GENESIS — Genesis and Science — The flood

Young Earth creationists insist that the Bible requires a global, catastrophic flood. Many conservative scholars, including the editors and contributors to the ESV Study Bible, have looked closely at the text and determined that this is not necessary.

One must take similar care in reading the flood story. The notes will discuss the extent to which Moses intended to describe the flood’s coverage of the globe. Certainly the description of the flood implies that it was widespread and catastrophic, but there are difficulties in making confident claims that the account is geared to answering the question of just how widespread. Thus, it would be incautious to attribute to the flood all the geological formations observed today—the strata, the fossils, the deformations, and so on. Geologists agree that catastrophic events, such as volcanic eruptions and large-scale floods, have had great impact on the landscape; it is questionable, though, whether these events can in fact achieve all that might be claimed for them. Again, such matters do not come within the author’s own scope, which is to stress the interest that God has in all mankind. (p. 44)

Conclusion

Could the introductions and notes in the ESV Study Bible be wrong on these things? Yes. Could the young-Earth creationists be wrong in their interpretation of these things? Also yes. But it is clear that there are a number of conservative, Bible-believing scholars who either advocate or are willing to accept an old Earth and local flood. Based on external evidence, I choose to side with the old-Earth Biblical scholars.

Grace and Peace