The GeoChristian

The Earth. Christianity. They go together.

Bozeman creation conference – Does Genesis Really Matter?

AN OLD-EARTH CHRISTIAN AT A YOUNG-EARTH CONFERENCE

This is the second in a series of articles about a young-Earth creationism (YEC) conference held in Bozeman, Montana in April, 2016.

1. Bozeman creation conference preview and expectations

2. This article – Does Genesis Really Matter? – Yes Genesis does matter, whether a Christian believes in a young Earth or an old Earth.

3. What you haven’t been told about radioisotope dating – I will tell you what YECs haven’t told you about radioisotope dating.

4. Coming in the future – Ice ages, seafloor sediments, dinosaur bones, and more.

As I was paging through the brochure for this year’s young-Earth creationism conference—there is a large YEC conference like this in Bozeman every other year—I was struck once again by the educational background of the main speakers, all of whom will speak on geological issues:

  • An M.S. in Biotechnology
  • A PhD in Physics
  • An M.S. in Atmospheric Science.

Where is the geologist?

If I used this question as an argument against a point they were making, I would be making an ad hominem argument, and I will avoid that. I certainly wander outside of my areas of expertise from time to time (I will write about Hebrew grammar in a bit). But it is certainly interesting that so few Christian geologists are convinced by young-Earth arguments.

Talk #1 – Does Genesis Really Matter? – Brian Thomas, Institute for Creation Research

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of The GeoChristian that I found things to agree with in Mr. Thomas’s presentation. Genesis lays a foundation for a number of doctrines that run throughout the Bible, such as sin, redemption, and marriage. These doctrines have their beginnings in the book of beginnings, find their highest fulfillment in Jesus Christ, and are fully realized in Christ in the closing chapters of Revelation. As I have said in my Creation Creeds, I believe in a real Adam, in a real garden, committing a real sin, with real consequences.

So, yes, Genesis matters. What Mr. Thomas failed to demonstrate is that accepting a young Earth is necessary in order for Genesis to matter.

Mr. Thomas began by pointing to the decline of Christianity in our culture. Despite our many churches and institutions, the nation is become less Christian over time. Two-thirds of our Christian youth leave the church when they become adults (I would say that part of the problem is YEC). He then set up a choice: are we going to listen to God’s Word, or man’s word? Of course, I believe we should listen to God’s Word, but I am not convinced that YEC is the best way to understand God’s Word, and that a false dichotomy was once again set up: we have to choose between YEC and old-Earth evolutionism. To his credit, Thomas did say that one does not have to be a YEC in order to be a Christian. I hope that sunk in with the audience.

Mr. Thomas went on to attempt to poke holes in various old-Earth interpretations of Genesis 1, such as the gap interpretation and day-age interpretation. Some of his points were valid, but not all. I will pick two of his anti-old-Earth arguments

Mr. Thomas (who acknowledged he doesn’t read Hebrew) said that both Genesis 1:2 and Genesis 1:3 begin with a waw disjunctive, which is a Hebrew grammatical construction that carries the story along, and is often translated in English as “and.”

2 and the earth was without form and void…

3 and God said, “Let there be light.”

I will start by being nitpicky (though I don’t read Hebrew either): verse 2 starts with a waw disjunctive, but verse 3 starts with a waw consecutive, and some have said this distinction is quite important in understanding the relationships between these verses. In any case, Thomas’s point was that this story all flows as one event after another, a point that not all Hebrew scholars agree with. But even if the story were connected by one waw disjunctive after another, that would not require events follow one another immediately. In English, I could say, “My ancestors emigrated from Norway in the 1880s, and my grandparents moved to Montana, and I was born in Billings, and I went to college in Bozeman.” The word “and” would be the waw disjunctive, and nothing in this sentence requires that the events must have occurred immediately one after the other; only that they occurred, probably in the order stated. In reality, these events in my family history were spread out over a century.

Mr. Thomas then stated that any time “day” is associated with a number in the Old Testament, the day is an ordinary 24-hour day. I have heard that this is a YEC rule of grammar, not necessarily a fixed Hebrew rule of grammar. Genesis 1 has a rather unique layout in Hebrew literature, and YECs do not always take this into account when reading the chapter. From many YEC presentations, there are only two Old Testament genres: historical narrative and poetry. In this, the YECs greatly oversimplify the issue. What is the genre, or type, of literature is Genesis 1? It is a narrative, but it is not a “historical narrative” such as what is found in much of the rest of Genesis. There are no true parallels of the structure of Genesis 1 in the Old Testament; indeed in all of ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature. Yes, the days are numbered. But certainly some of these days are unlike any other: days with unique creation events, days without the sun, days that suggest lengthy processes. These distinctives must be taken into account. In any case, the Hebrew word yom (day) is used in a non-24-hour-day way elsewhere in the passage, such as 1:5 and 2:4. There are a number of other reasons to question that these were literal days, as developed in the analogical days interpretation.

Does accepting an old Earth undermine any Biblical doctrines? Mr Thomas, like many YECs, said that if there was death before sin, the gospel is undermined. I would say that this YEC statement is not firmly based in Scripture. There is no passage in Scripture that ties animal death to Adam’s sin. Neither Genesis 3, Romans 5, Romans 8, or 1 Corinthians 15—the passages that discuss Adam’s sin—say anything whatsoever about animal death. If the Scriptures don’t tie animal death to Adam’s sin, we should not insist that there is a connection.

Mr. Thomas touched on some scientific issues in his presentation. I will address only one: the geologic time scale. He stated that the geologic time scale is based on circular reasoning: fossils date the rocks and rocks date the fossils. This is a common YEC argument, and it is wrong.

The geologic time scale (or geologic column) is a product of inductive reasoning, not circular reasoning. Geologists have observed that, based on fossils, rock layers always occur in a certain order, which geologists have labeled as Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, etc. The layers always occur in this same order in undeformed (not folded or faulted) rocks. It is never Jurassic-Ordovician-Permian-Cambrian or some other order. Never. There are even some sedimentary basins, such as the Williston Basin of western North Dakota, that contain rock layers of every Period from Cambrian through Quaternary, in proper order. Even in areas subjected to severe folding and faulting, this “law of fossil succession” holds true once the deformation is unraveled. There is no circular reasoning here.

I could say much more, and I have spent more time on our differences than on our common ground. But as old-Earth and young-Earth Christians, our common ground is much greater, and much more important.

  • The universe was created from nothing by the triune God of the Bible.
  • The universe belongs to God and displays his glory.
  • Humans are created in the image of God and therefore have great worth.
  • Humans are place in a position of responsibility over the Earth, and yet are embedded in Earth’s ecology.
  • Humans are sinful, which has broken our relationship with God, with each other, and with the creation.
  • Jesus Christ is the savior, the redeemer, and the king over the creation.

Grace and Peace

 

 

April 1, 2016 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Creationism, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Another Christian leader who believes the Bible does not require a young Earth — Justin Taylor

Justin Taylor is senior vice president of Crossway Books, a theologically conservative Christian publishing company. Crossway is best known as the publisher of the English Standard Version (ESV) Bible, along with the ESV Study Bible, perhaps the most comprehensive theologically conservative study Bible ever produced for a general Christian audience.

Justin Taylor believes the Bible. And Justin Taylor does not believe the Bible requires us to believe Earth is only roughly 6000 years old. He has outlined his reasons for believing that the Bible is silent on the issue of the age of the Earth on his blog Between Two Worlds, which is part of The Gospel Coalition‘s web site:

Biblical Reasons to Doubt the Creation Days Were 24-Hour Periods

The arguments Taylor gives for accepting an old Earth have nothing to do with the geological column, radiometric dating, or the big bang theory. Instead, Taylor lays out a completely Biblical case for an ancient universe, mostly following the analogical days interpretation. Here are a few quotes from Taylor:

Contrary to what is often implied or claimed by young-earth creationists, the Bible nowhere directly teaches the age of the earth.

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I want to suggest there are some good, textual reasons—in the creation account itself—for questioning the exegesis that insists on the days as strict 24 hour periods. Am I as certain of this as I am of the resurrection of Christ? Definitely not. But in some segments of the church, I fear that we’ve built an exegetical “fence around the Torah,” fearful that if we question any aspect of young-earth dogmatics we have opened the gate to liberalism.

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God is portrayed as a workman going through his workweek, working during the day and resting for the night. Then on his Sabbath, he enjoys a full and refreshing rest. Our days are like God’s workdays, but not identical to them.

How long were God’s workdays? The Bible doesn’t say. But I see no reason to insist that they were only 24 hours long.

How old is the Earth? The Bible does not say, so Christians should not dogmatically insist that it is only 6000 years old.

An important conclusion is that the age of the Earth should not act as a stumbling block to someone who is considering whether or not Christianity is true.

Grace and Peace

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Notes:

To be “theologically conservative” means that one holds to the inerrancy of the Holy Bible, and the core historical teachings of Christianity, as summarized by the ancient creeds of the church, such as the Trinity, deity of Christ, virgin birth, crucifixion of Christ, his resurrection and ascension, and the necessity of spiritual rebirth through Christ.

The opposite of theologically conservative is theologically liberal. Liberals usually start by denying the reliability and authority of the Bible, and end up denying many of the core doctrines of Christianity.

January 29, 2015 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Creationism, Old-Earth creationism, Theistic evolution, Young-Earth creationism | , , , | 3 Comments

Reading Genesis 1-2 — Forward and Introduction

ReadingGenesis1-2I recently acquired Reading Genesis 1-2: An Evangelical Conversation, edited by J. Daryl Charles. The book gives perspectives of five highly-qualified, Evangelical Old Testament scholars on the creation accounts of Genesis:

  • Richard E. Averbeck (professor of OT and Semitic Languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) — “A Literary Day, Inter-Textual, and Contextual Reading of Genesis 1-2”
  • Todd S. Beall (professor of OT at Capitol Bible Seminary) — “Reading Genesis 1-2: A Literal Approach”
  • C. John Collins (professor of OT at Covenant Theological Seminary) — “Reading Genesis 1-2 with the Grain: Analogical Days”
  • Tremper Longman III (professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College) — “What Genesis 1-2 Teaches (and What it Doesn’t)”
  • John H. Walton (professor of OT at Wheaton College and Graduate School) — “Reading Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology”

Each author’s chapter includes responses from the four other authors.

In the Forward, the editor states that one of the convictions behind this book is that “conversation–indeed, even heated debate regarding contentious issues–can proceed in a charitable manner.” That is what I strive for in my writing on The GeoChristian, and I appreciate their objective.

In the Introduction, Victor, P. Hamilton begins by reminding us that “without Gen 1-2 the rest of the Bible becomes incomprehensible.” This is something that all contributors to this book, whether young-Earth or old-Earth, evolution-accepting or evolution-denying, would agree on. The opening chapters of Genesis lay foundations for a number of critical doctrines in the Bible, including humans created in the image of God, humanity’s fall into sin, and the beginning of the long story of redemption in Christ.

The Introduction also points out that the interpretation of Genesis 1-2 has been controversial throughout church history, with quotes from Origen and Augustine to back this up. He then points out some particularly important modern debates, such as the historicity of Adam and Eve, and the relationship of the Biblical creation accounts to other Ancient Near Eastern creation accounts.

It is important to be reminded that all of these authors “identify fully and unapologetically with historic Christian orthodoxy and embrace wholeheartedly the basic tenets and historic creeds of the one holy catholic church.” Faithfulness to God’s Word does not require that one interpret Genesis just like only one of these authors.

The Introduction ends by laying out three responses readers might have to the book:

  • Confusion — “If the scholars cannot get it all together, what am I supposed to do with Gen 1 and 2?”
  • Pre-conceived conclusions — Like the essays I already agree with, and ignore the rest.
  • “[A]ppreciate the differing perspectives on Gen 1-2 presented in this volume. We need to remember that a divinely inspired and authoritative Scripture does not mean that (my) interpretations of Scripture are equally divinely inspired and authoritative.”

I look forward to learning from each author, and sharing with you my thoughts as I read through this important work.

Grace and Peace

December 28, 2014 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Creation in the Bible, Creationism, Old-Earth creationism, Theistic evolution, Young-Earth creationism | | 6 Comments

The camel that broke the Bible’s back?

Here’s another “science proves the Bible wrong” story that has been in the news lately, in which science does not prove the Bible wrong. In this case, it has to do with archeology and the domestication of the camel.

The first mention of camels in the Old Testament is in Genesis 12, where Abram is said to own camels. Camels figure more prominently in the story of Abraham’s servant traveling back to Mesopotamia to obtain a wife for Abraham’s son Isaac in Genesis 24. Abraham lived around 2000 BC. According to many archeologists, camels were not domesticated in the land of Israel (Canaan) until a thousand years later. Therefore, according to some scholars, Genesis contains a rather blatant anachronism, placing camels into a time period where they don’t belong.

From the New York Times: Camels Had No Business in Genesis.

There are too many camels in the Bible, out of time and out of place.

Camels probably had little or no role in the lives of such early Jewish patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the first half of the second millennium B.C., and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times. Genesis 24, for example, tells of Abraham’s servant going by camel on a mission to find a wife for Isaac.

These anachronisms are telling evidence that the Bible was written or edited long after the events it narrates and is not always reliable as verifiable history. These camel stories “do not encapsulate memories from the second millennium,” said Noam Mizrahi, an Israeli biblical scholar, “but should be viewed as back-projections from a much later period.”

This accusation of biblical anachronism regarding camels has been around for a while, and so have the answers to it. A good response has been written by Gordon Govier at Christianity Today — The Latest Challenge to the Bible’s Accuracy: Abraham’s Anachronistic Camels? Here are some excerpts:

While it has been difficult for archaeologists and historians to pin down the exact time and location when camels were domesticated, there is evidence to suggest that the Genesis accounts are not a biblical anachronism.

Two recent academic papers written by evangelical scholars—Konrad Martin Heide, a lecturer at Philipps University of Marburg, Germany; and Titus Kennedy, an adjunct professor at Biola University—both refer to earlier depictions of men riding or leading camels, some that date to the early second millenium BC.

Among other evidence, Kennedy notes that a camel is mentioned in a list of domesticated animals from Ugarit, dating to the Old Babylonian period (1950-1600 BC).

He concludes, “For those who adhere to a 12th century BC or later theory of domestic camel use in the ancient Near East, a great deal of archaeological and textual evidence must be either ignored or explained away.”

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“[Israel] doesn’t have much writing from before the Iron Age, 1000 BC,” [Kennedy] said. “So there aren’t as many sources to look at. Whereas in Egypt, you have writing all the way back to 3000 BC and in Mesopotamia the same thing.” Based on Egyptian and Mesopotamian accounts, Kennedy believes domestication probably occurred as early as the third millennium BC.

Here’s a brief analysis of the situation:

  • The Bible speaks of Abraham owning camels around 2000 BC.
  • There is no archeological evidence that domesticated camels were used in Israel before 1000 BC

Skeptics (and journalists who just take the skeptics’ word for it) stop right there, and say that Genesis contains an anachronism. Let’s continue:

  • There is archeological evidence that camels were domesticated before 2000 BC in places like Egypt and Mesopotamia.
  • Abraham was from Mesopotamia (Genesis 11:31).
  • Abraham visited Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20).

The only reasonable conclusion, in my mind, is that there is not even a hint of anachronism in this case. Abraham, being a wealthy Mesopotamian, and who had also been to Egypt, could easily have been the owner of camels.

Grace and Peace

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My friend Brian Mattson has also written about this rather silly “refutation” of the Bible: Camel Carcasses and Scientific Stupidity. I love his link to a similar archeological investigation in The Onion.

February 16, 2014 Posted by | Apologetics, Archeology | , | 4 Comments

John Walton, Evangelical Old Testament scholar: Neither Ham nor Nye got the Bible right

Of the numerous analyses of the Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye debate earlier this week, one of the best is that of Old Testament scholar John Walton that was published as part of a larger review on the Biologos website (Ham on Nye: Our Take). Walton, author of The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, adeptly gives reasons why there are serious biblical and theological problems with young-Earth creationism. YEC isn’t just bad science, it involves a highly questionable reading of the Hebrew text of Genesis.  Here are some excerpts:

In general I appreciated the cordial and respectful tone that both debaters evidenced. Most of the debate was about scientific evidence, which I am not the one to address. The only comment that I want to make in that regard is that it was evident that Ken Ham believed that all evolutionists were naturalists—an identification that those associated with BioLogos would strongly contest.

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I commend Ken Ham’s frequent assertion of the gospel message. His testimony to his faith was admirable and of course, I agree with it. I also share his beliefs about the nature of the Bible, but I do not share his interpretation of the Bible on numerous key points. From the opening remarks Ham proclaimed that his position was based on the biblical account of origins. But he is intent on reading that account as if it were addressing science (he truly believes it is). I counter by saying that we cannot have a confident understanding of what the Bible claims until we read it as an ancient document. I believe as he does that the Bible was given by God, but it was given through human instruments into an ancient culture and language. We can only encounter the Bible’s claims by taking account of that context.

One place where this distinction was obvious was that Ham tried to make the statement in Genesis that God created each animal “after its kind” as a technical statement that matched our modern scientific categories. We cannot assume that the same categories were used in the ancient world as are used today (genus, family, species, etc.). Such anachronism does not take the Bible seriously as what it “naturally” says. In the Bible this only means that when a grain of wheat drops, a grain of wheat grows (not a flower); when a horse gives birth, it gives birth to a horse, not a coyote.

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Bill Nye repeatedly returned to the idea that the Bible was a book translated over and over again over thousands of years. In his opinion this results in a product that could be no more trusted than the end result in the game of telephone. In this opinion he shows his lack of clear understanding of the whole process of the transmission of texts and the textual basis for today’s translations.

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[Ham] believes that there could be no death before the fall because he has interpreted the word “good” as if it meant “perfect.” That is not what the Hebrew term means. Furthermore, if there was no death before the fall, people would have little use for a tree of life. What is a “natural” interpretation—our sense of what it means or the sense that an ancient reader would have had? Ham actually made the statement that we have to read the Bible “according to the type of literature” that it is. Yet it was clear that he has done no research on ancient genres and how parts of the Bible should be identified by the standards of ancient genres.

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When Ham was asked what it would take to change his mind, he was lost for words because he said that he could never stop believing in the truth of the Bible. I would echo that sentiment, but it never seemed to occur to him that there might be equally valid interpretations of the early chapters of Genesis, or maybe even ones that could garner stronger support. He stated that no one can prove the age of the earth, but he believes that the Bible tells us the age of the earth. Nevertheless, it is only his highly debatable interpretation of the Bible that tells him the age of the earth. What if the Bible makes no such claim? There are biblical scholars who take the Bible every bit as seriously as he does, who disagree that the Bible makes a claim about the age of the earth.

There is a lot more to the creation account in Genesis 1 than what one will hear from the young-Earth creationists. One can be fully committed to the truthfulness and authority of Scripture and not come to the same conclusions or interpretations that the my-way-or-the-highway young-Earth creationists come to.

Grace and Peace

HT: Internet Monk

February 8, 2014 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Evolution, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Many top advocates of Biblical authority accept an old Earth as completely compatible with Scripture

Can one believe in the authority of the Bible and also believe that Earth is on the order of a few billion years old?

Are Christians who accept an old Earth “compromisers” who deny obvious truths of Scripture?

Many young-Earth creationist (YEC) leaders insist that acceptance of an old age for the Earth—billions of years rather about six thousand years—is a direct assault on the authority of the Bible. To them, the Bible clearly teaches about Earth history, and any attempt to find room for “deep time” is conformity to the philosophies of the ungodly world. In the words of Answers in Genesis president Ken Ham:

The old earth is such a key issue today in fighting for the full accuracy and authority of the Bible. AiG does not only present the arguments against evolution. You see, it is just as important to offer arguments against an old age for the earth and universe. When it comes to biblical authority, the question of the age of the earth is just as vital as the question of whether evolution is true or not. The chronologies in the Bible and the length of the days of the Creation Week (they were 24 hours each) show that the earth is young. Why try to reinterpret the very clear teaching of Scripture to accommodate the fallible ideas of man that say the earth is old? Such reinterpretations undermine the authority of the Word of God.

Of course, I view this as nonsense. There have been a great number of prominent Evangelical theologians and Biblical scholars in the past two hundred years who have accepted an ancient Earth. They have done so because they view acceptance of an old Earth as compatible with the Bible. One can certainly make a strong case for Biblical ambiguity on the age of the Earth from the Scriptures alone, without any reference to scientific discoveries.

But you don’t need to take my word for it. The Gospel Coalition Blog recently posted an article by Michael J. Kruger on the Top 10 Books on the Bible’s Authority. The writers at The Gospel Coalition are all theologically conservative, holding to a high view of Biblical authority. As I looked through the list of books and authors, I wondered how many of these ardent defenders of Scripture were old-Earthers. Here are Kruger’s top ten books, with what I could find on the internet about the authors’ viewpoints regarding the age of the Earth:

10. Scripture and Truth, edited by D.A. Carson and John Woodbridge

D.A. Carson, professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, accepts an old Earth as compatible with Scripture. Here are a couple quotes from his book The God Who is There:

“There is more ambiguity in the interpretation of these chapters than some Christians recognize.”

“I hold that the Genesis account is a mixed genre that feels like history and really does give us some historical particulars. At the same time, however, it is full of demonstrable symbolism. Sorting out what is symbolic and what is not is very difficult.”

I could not find anything about John Woodbridge’s position on the age of the Earth.

9. Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, by Herman Bavinck

Bavinck was an influential Dutch Reformed theologian in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I am having difficulty finding a definitive statement from Bavinck on the age of the Earth. He certainly was not a strict literalist in regards to the six days of creation, and his teachings laid a foundation for both the framework and analogical days interpretations, which both allow for an old Earth. To Bavinck, the Bible did not firmly dictate the age of the Earth, though it could be a stretch to place him in the old-Earth category. But it would also be a stretch to place him firmly in with the YECs.

8. Thy Word is Truth, by E.J. Young

Edward J. Young was professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, and was an advocate of the day-age interpretation of Genesis 1.

7. The Infallible Word: A Symposium by the Members of the Faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary, edited by Ned Stonehouse and Paul Woolley

This book was first published in 1946. I could not find information on how Stonehouse and Woolley interpreted Genesis in terms of the age of the Earth, but the list of contributing authors to this volume appears to include both young-Earthers and old-Earthers.

6. Fundamentalism and the Word of God,  by J.I. Packer

Packer is a professor of theology at Regent College in British Columbia, and one of the most influential Evangelicals in North America. He clearly accepts an old age for the Earth, and appears to see no Biblical problem with acceptance of biological evolution. He wrote a strong endorsement of Denis Alexander’s book Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?

5. Disputations on Holy Scripture, by William Whitaker

Whitaker lived in the 1500s, so I must assume he was a YEC.

4. The Divine Original: Authority, Self-Evidencing Light, and Power of the Scriptures, by John Owen

Owen was a Puritan theologian in the 1600s, and so also almost certainly was a YEC.

3. The Structure of Biblical Authority, by Meredith Kline

Kline is one of the preeminent proponents of the framework interpretation of Genesis 1, so is clearly an old-Earther.

2. The Doctrine of the Word of God, by John Frame

It was difficult to find much about Frame’s views on the age of the Earth on the internet. One book review (for another book: The Doctrine of God) stated that Frame believes that the six days of creation were not literal, so it seems that Frame is open to an old Earth. [Update — Frame holds more closely to the seven 24-hour day view, but considers other interpretations to be within the realm of orthodoxy. See comment #1]

1. The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, by B.B. Warfield

Warfield, one of the writers for The Fundamentals collections of essays that launched American fundamentalism a century ago, accepted an old Earth and biological evolution as God’s means of creation. In regards to the age of the Earth. Warfield wrote:

In a word, the Scriptural data leave us wholly without guidance in estimating the time which elapsed between the creation of the world and the deluge and between the deluge and the call of Abraham. So far as the Scripture assertions are concerned, we may suppose any length of time to have intervened between these events which may otherwise appear reasonable. The question of the antiquity of man is accordingly a purely scientific one, in which the theologian as such has no concern.

Summary

Of the authors and editors represented in The Gospel Coalition’s list of ten best books on the authority of Scripture, a majority are either advocates for or open to an old age for the universe.

Old Earth Young Earth I don’t know
D.A. Carson  William Whitaker  John Woodbridge
E.J. Young  John Owen  Herman Bavinck
J.I. Packer  John Frame (see update note below)  Ned Stonehouse
Meredith Kline  Paul Wooley
B.B. Warfield

[Update — I have moved Frame from the old earth column (where I had him listed with a question mark) to the young earth column. Frame doesn’t consider  the age of the earth to be a test of orthodoxy. See comment #1]

Note that the only two clearly young-Earth advocates in the list wrote in the 16th and 17th centuries. It is not that I am dismissing their writings as primitive, but pointing out that they gave no more critical thought to the Biblical teaching about the age of the Earth than they did to the Copernican controversy (Owen defended geocentrism—the idea that the Earth was the center of the universe).

The only way YEC leaders can cling to their my-way-or-the-highway view of Biblical authority is to label all of these Bible-believing old-Earth scholars as “compromisers.”  I think, however, if The Gospel Coalition’s list of “top ten books on Biblical authority” contains a number of books by scholars who believe an old Earth is compatible with Scripture, then it is clear that belief in a young Earth is a secondary issue in regards to acceptance of the truthfulness and authority of the Bible.

This is important for two reasons:

  1. The YEC insistence that old-Earth scholars are compromisers who undermine Biblical authority is divisive. The followers of organizations such as Answers in Genesis are influenced to view old-Earthers as somehow secondary Christians at best, and perhaps not real Christians at all.
  2. The YEC insistence that the only valid way to interpret Genesis is that Earth is only 6,000 years old drives people away from Christianity. Either non-Christians don’t consider Christianity as a reasonable option, or Christians who figure out that YEC doesn’t work scientifically leave the faith. It would be far better for YECs to say, “We believe the Bible teaches a young Earth, but there are other Christians who also believe the Bible who believe it doesn’t require a young Earth.” We should let secondary issues remain as secondary issues.

Grace and Peace
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Notes:

I prefer to say that we can make a biblical case for ambiguity about the age of the Earth rather than a biblical case for an old Earth. As an old-Earth Christian, I don’t have to demonstrate that the Bible requires an old Earth—that would be an impossible task because the Bible does not require an old Earth—but only that it does not require any particular age for the Earth.

The Ken Ham quote is from A Walking Witness and a Whale Story, on his Around the World With Ken Ham blog, August 7, 2013.

The quotes from D.A. Carson’s book The God Who is There are from the Internet Monk blog: D.A. Carson on Genesis 1-2 and Science.

According to the Presbyterian Church of America’s Report of the Creation Study Committee, “Kuyper and Bavinck in the Netherlands did not hold to the Calendar Day view, but are difficult to categorize in our terms.”   I got additional information about Bavinck from Herman Bavinck on Creation on Exiled Preacher blog.

That Young held to the day-age interpretation is also documented in the PCA Report of the Creation Study Committee.

The statement that Frame views the days of Genesis 1 non-literally is from a book review of The Doctrine of God.

I briefly wrote about Warfield a couple years ago: Fundamentalism and creationism. The Warfield quote is from Reasons to Believe’s page Notable Christians Open to an Old-universe, Old-earth Perspective.

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P.S. Michael Kruger had included some “honorable mentions” when he submitted his article to The Gospel Coalition, but they were cut. Here is his extended list of books:

Author Book Old/Young Earth
Herman Ridderbos  Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures Old Earth — Framework interpretation (see Mortenson and Ury, eds., Coming to Grips With Genesis, p. 212)
Cornelius van Til  The Doctrine of Scripture Open to old Earth (?) — http://www.reformed.org/creation/ states that van Til “felt that the age of the earth was debatable.”
J.W. Montgomery, ed.  God’s Inerrant Word Open to old Earth (?) — I assumed Montgomery was a YEC, but he seems to be open to an old Earth. He wrote an endorsement for Dembski’s End of Christianity, and his 1970s book The Quest for Noah’s Ark (which I read in about 1976) advocated a local flood. Several of the contributing authors to God’s Inerrant Word are old-Earthers.
Carl F.H. Henry  God, Revelation, and Authority Old Earth — “The Bible does not require belief in six literal 24-hour creation days on the basis of Genesis 1-2.” (page 6226, from https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2004/09/is-the-genesis-creation-account-literal.html)
R.L. Harris  Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible Old Earth — Listed as an old-Earther in Mortenson and Ury, Coming to Grips With Genesis, p. 332.
J.W. Wenham Christ and the Bible Old Earth (?) — On page 13 of Christ and the Bible, Wenham states that “The references to the ordinance of monogamy ‘from the beginning of creation’, for instance, do not seem to necessitate a literal interpretation of chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis for their validity.”
N. Geisler, ed. Inerrancy  Old Earth
Greg Beale The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism  Old Earth — See summaries of what Beale has to say about Genesis at Greg Beale On Biblical Cosmology, Part 1 and Part 2.
Paul Wells Taking the Bible at Its Word  I don’t know.

See Kruger’s extended list at Top Ten Books on the Authority of Scripture (and Honorable Mentions).

The “honorable mentions” list adds six names to the “old Earth” list, two names to the “open to old Earth (?)” list, one name to the “I don’t know” list, and zero names to the “young Earth” list.

I would have been very happy with 50% of Kruger’s authors being old-Earthers. But as far as I could determine, not a single one of his favorite authors on the topic of Biblical authority after the 17th century is a firm advocate of the “literal” young-Earth interpretation!

YECs will argue that Kruger might have left out some important YEC contributions, such as Coming to Grips with Genesis (subtitled “Biblical authority and the age of the Earth”), edited by Mortenson and Ury. But even if he had added some YEC works, it is crystal clear that there are a number of prominent Evangelical scholars who hold firmly to the authority of the Bible, and yet accept that the Bible does not require a 6,000-year old planet.

October 3, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Creation in the Bible, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , | 6 Comments

GeoScriptures — Genesis 2:2-3 — God’s rest and the age of the Earth

And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. — Genesis 2:2-3 (ESV)

How should we understand the six days of creation in Genesis 1:1-2:3? Some insist that the only way to interpret the passage is what is called the “calendar day” view, in which God created the entire universe in six literal, consecutive days roughly 6,000 years ago. Others hold that the days can be understood in some other way, either as indefinite periods of time—the “day-age interpretation”—or as literary devices which are not meant to be taken literally, as in the “framework interpretation.”

In order to evaluate these interpretations, one must take a close look at what the passage actually says. Take, for example, the seventh day, in which God rested from his work of creation. People rest because they get tired. God, on the other hand, rested on the seventh day because he was done. I get worn out on a long hike in the mountains. God was able to create the entire universe without the slightest diminishment of his strength. As the prophet Isaiah wrote to God’s weary people:

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
Isaiah 40:28 (NIV)

It is clear that God’s rest on Day 7 was not like our rest. It was similar to our rest—such as Sabbath rest or nightly rest—in that God ceased from his work. But it was different from our rest in that there was no reason whatsoever why God needed to stop, other than the fact that he had accomplished what he set out to do. We humans get to the point where we must rest, even though our work is not yet complete. God’s rest, then, is similar (or analogous) to our rest, but not identical.

There are at least three of these analogies in the opening passage of Genesis:

  • God’s rest is similar to, but not identical to, our rest.
  • God’s work is similar to, but not identical to, our work.
  • God’s speech is similar to, but not identical to, our speech.

This insight leads to what is called the “analogical days” interpretation of Genesis 1. Just as God’s rest is not the same as our rest, God’s work is not the same as our work, and God’s speech is not the same as our speech, it is quite reasonable to consider that perhaps

  • God’s day is similar to, but not identical to, our day.

More could be said in support of the analogical days interpretation, but for now I have simply presented the basics of this position. Please note that this is not “reading science into the Bible.” I have simply looked closely at the passage and observed that it is possible that God’s day might not be the same as an Earth day.

Grace and Peace

———————————-
Notes

It is not just Christian young-Earth creationists (YECs) who insist that the only way to interpret Genesis is “6000-year old Earth.” Atheists and skeptics usually agree with the YECs on this one. Unfortunately, the bad apologetics of young-Earth creationism makes it easier for these skeptics to reject Christianity.

A good summary of various interpretations of Genesis can be found in the Report of the Creation Study Committee of the Presbyterian Church in America, a denomination which holds firmly to the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.

An important advocate of the analogical days interpretation is C. John Collins of Covenant Theological Seminary. His books include Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary.

The analogical days interpretation is age-neutral. The Earth could be 6000 years old, it could be billions of years old. In this viewpoint, Genesis simply is not about the age of the Earth.

The analogical days interpretation is also not necessarily “competition” for the other interpretations I mentioned. For example, I think the analogical interpretation flows nicely out of the text of Genesis, while the day-age interpretation does not. That does not mean that the day-age interpretation is incorrect; it just may be that the analogical days interpretation gives a solid biblical foundation which is complementary to the scientific insights of the day-age interpretation.

September 13, 2013 Posted by | Creation in the Bible, GeoScriptures, Old-Earth creationism | | 1 Comment

GeoScriptures — Genesis 6-9 — Reading the account of Noah’s (local) flood

Some scholars within Christianity insist that the only way to understand the account of Noah’s flood in Genesis 6-9 is that it describes a worldwide flood, which at its climax covered even the highest mountains on the planet. They point to apparently universal statements in the passage, such as where it says that the flood covered all the earth, or that the mountains themselves were covered by the floodwaters.

But is that what the Bible really says to us about the extent of Noah’s flood?

The Hebrew text of Genesis is considerably more ambiguous than are our English translations, as the vocabulary of Biblical Hebrew is not as precise as that of modern English. In English, for example, we distinguish between “hill” and “mountain,” whereas in Hebrew the same word can mean either hill or mountain. The translator has to make a decision how to translate the word, often based on the context. Sometimes the context makes it clear how to translate an ambiguous term; in other cases it is not so obvious.

There are three ambiguous words in the flood story that I would like to highlight.

  • The word traditionally translated as “earth” could be just as legitimately translated as “land.”
  • The word traditionally translated as “mountains” could be just as legitimately translated as “hills.”
  • The word traditionally translated as “heavens” could be just as legitimately translated as “sky.”

Making perfectly valid substitutions, Genesis 6:17 changes from

I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. (NIV)

to

I am going to bring floodwaters on the land to destroy all life under the sky, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on the land will perish.

When reading the text with these modifications, the account of Noah’s flood sounds considerably less like a global cataclysm, and more like a flood that was vast from Noah’s perspective, but still possibly of a limited geographic extent.

I encourage you to read the passage with these substitutions in mind. In the parallel translations below, I have highlighted the changes, and made one other change based on the NIV footnote to 7:20. The NIV text of 7:20 reads

The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits.

The NIV footnote says that the verse could also be translated as

The waters rose more than fifteen cubits, and the mountains were covered. [And one could substitute “hills” for “mountains”]

The first translation makes it sound like the highest mountain on Earth was covered by at least 15 cubits (about the draft of the Ark), whereas the second translation says that the water was at least 15 cubits deep. Either translation works fine in the context of a local flood; all it is saying is that the Ark did not scrape bottom during the flood.

Here is the alternative translation of the flood account in Genesis, with the modified translation on the left, and the unmodified NIV to the right.

New International Version, with valid translation substitutions in bold

6:1 When human beings began to increase in number on the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

4 The Nephilim were on the land in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

5 The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the land, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the land, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the land the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

9 This is the account of Noah and his family.

Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. 10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.

11 Now the land was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the land had become, for all the people on the land had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the land is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the land. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. 16 Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. 17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the land to destroy all life under the sky, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on the land will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”

22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

7:1 The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. 2 Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, 3 and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the land. 4 Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the land every living creature I have made.”

5 And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.

6 Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the land. 7 And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. 8 Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, 9 male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the land.

11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the sky were opened. 12 And rain fell on the land forty days and forty nights.

13 On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. 14 They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. 15 Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. 16 The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the Lord shut him in.

17 For forty days the flood kept coming on the land, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the land. 18 The waters rose and increased greatly on the land, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. 19 They rose greatly on the land, and all the high hills under the entire sky were covered. 20 The waters rose more than fifteen cubits, and the hills were covered. 21 Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the land, and all mankind. 22 Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. 23 Every living thing on the face of the land was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the land. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.

24 The waters flooded the land for a hundred and fifty days.

8:1 But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the land, and the waters receded. 2 Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the sky had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. 3 The water receded steadily from the land. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, 4 and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the hills of Ararat. 5 The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the hills became visible.

6 After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark 7 and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the land. 8 Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. 9 But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the land; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the land. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

13 By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the land. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the land was completely dry.

15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the land and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”

18 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

22 “As long as the land endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”

9:1 Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the land. 2 The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the land, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. 3 Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

4 “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. 5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

6 “Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind.

7 As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the land and increase upon it.”

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on the land. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the land.”

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the land. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the land and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the land.”

17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the land.”

New International Version (2011), without modifications

6:1 When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

5 The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

9 This is the account of Noah and his family.

Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. 10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.

11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. 16 Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. 17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”

22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

7:1 The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. 2 Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, 3 and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth. 4 Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”

5 And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.

6 Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. 7 And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. 8 Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, 9 male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.

11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. 12 And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.

13 On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. 14 They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. 15 Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. 16 The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the Lord shut him in.

17 For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. 18 The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. 19 They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. 20 The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits. 21 Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. 22 Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. 23 Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.

24 The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.

8:1 But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. 2 Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. 3 The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, 4 and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. 5 The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.

6 After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark 7 and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. 8 Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. 9 But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

13 By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”

18 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

22 “As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”

9:1 Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. 2 The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. 3 Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

4 “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. 5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

6 “Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind.

7 As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

Conclusion: Genesis 6-9 is ambiguous as to whether the flood covered all of the Earth, or was limited to a smaller area.

Grace and peace

——————————————————————————–

Notes

The 2011 NIV text for Genesis 6:1 to 9:17 is from BibleGateway.com.

The Hebrew word that can be translated either as “earth” or “land” is ‘erets. According to Unger and White, ” ‘Erets does not only denote the entire terrestrial planet, but is also used of some of the earth’s component parts. English words like land, country, ground, and soil, transfer its meaning to our language. Quite frequently, it refers to an area occupied by a nation or tribe.” (from Nelson’s Expository Dictionary of the Old Testament entry for “Earth”)

The Hebrew word that can be translated either as “heavens” or “sky” is shamayim. Unger and White (in their entry for “Heavens”) state that “shamayim is the usual Hebrew word for the ‘sky’ and the ‘realm of the sky.’ This realm is where birds fly.” They go on to list other meanings of shamayim, such as the higher atmosphere where rain and snow come from, the realm of the sun, moon, and stars; and the dwelling place of God. The combination “heavens and the earth” in Genesis 1:1 refers to the entirety of creation.

The Hebrew word that can be translated either as “mountains” or “hills” is har. Henry Morris, in The Genesis Record (p. 200) states that ” ‘hills’ and ‘mountains’ are the same word in the original.”

There is more to a Biblical case for a local flood that just these minor translation changes.

I have written previously about making these modifications to the Flood passage of Genesis: The YEC “Did God really say…?” tactic.

My alternative translation given here is only a thought-provoker. I am not saying that each and every instance of ‘erets in the passage should be translated as “land” rather than “earth,” and so forth.

May 19, 2013 Posted by | Creation in the Bible, GeoScriptures | , | 19 Comments

GeoScriptures — Genesis 1:20-22 — The goodness and fruitfulness of the creation — Earth Day 2013

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” — Genesis 1:20-22 NIV 1984

Today (April 22nd) is Earth Day. For a variety of reasons, I believe that Christianity offers both the best foundation for proper care of the world’s ecosystems and the only hope for the future of our planet. Those are topics for another time; for now, I want to draw our attention to three things from this passage in Genesis.

The first of these is the inherent goodness of the creation. Here in the opening chapter of the Bible, we see God creating the universe and preparing the Earth—land, sea, and sky—for the vast variety of life that would soon inhabit it. He then commanded the Earth to bring forth vegetation, sea life, birds, and land animals. With all of this in place, God pronounced that the creation was “good.” Being good, the creation is not something to escape from, nor is it something that is somehow less important than the “spiritual.” The biblical teaching is that the creation—rocks, water, plants, and animals—has inherent value, apart from its usefulness to humanity.

The second thing we can learn from this passage is that the living world was created to be fruitful. On the fifth day, starting with Genesis 1:20, God created the sea life and birds, and the earth “teemed” with them. To teem is  “to become filled to overflowing,” to “abound,” and “to be present in large quantity.” When reading this, I think of the abundance of bison that populated the American Great Plains before the 1800s, or the diversity of life that is found in tropical rainforests. We sometimes forget that it wasn’t just to humans that God issued the command, “Be fruitful and multiply.” He also gave this command to sea life and birds, and it is later stated (Gen 8:17) that God created the land animals to be fruitful and increase in number as well.

Thirdly, the goodness and teemingness of creation should guide how we think about our responsibility towards nature. God placed Adam and Eve over the creation to “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air…” (v. 26). It has been pointed out that this dominion is not meant to be domination, but rather a stewardship or vice-regency over the creation, with the responsibility to tend it as God’s representatives on Earth. If the creation has inherent goodness apart from the resources it supplies to us, and if God created the living world to be abundant and fruitful, then it follows that an important part of our responsibility is to act in such a way as to preserve, protect, and enhance that fruitfulness. This means that the world is not here just for us. It is also here for sea urchins, red-winged blackbirds, polar bears, and giant Palouse earthworms. I believe that the thriving of humans and the thriving of the rest of the living world must go hand in hand. Our challenge is to figure out how to make this work.

Grace and Peace

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Notes

For some reasons why Christianity offers the best foundation for environmentalism, see my summaries of For the Beauty of the Earth by Steven Bouma-Prediger and Pollution and the Death of Man by Francis Schaeffer. These books have shaped how I think about our responsibility towards the creation.

The definitions of “teem” are from http://www.merriam-webster.com/. “Teemingness” is indeed a word.

In saying that the material world is just as important in Christianity as the spiritual, I am saying that all of our good works—acts of love to our neighbors—are done in the physical realm. Even much of what we consider to be “spiritual,” has physical components: prayer, communion, baptism, evangelism. At times Christians have had an unbiblical picture of a future life of escaping from the material world and floating in the clouds, but the biblical affirmation of the goodness of creation is really one of the strengths of Christianity. In many Eastern philosophies and religions, the material is an illusion or something to escape from. An example of this is the moksha or nirvana of Indian religions. In atheistic naturalism there is no absolute reason outside of ourselves to value plants and animals. In other words, there is no reason to judge Eden as a better place than Coruscant, the completely urbanized capital of the Star Wars galaxy. Ultimately, we can choose which type of world—Eden or Coruscant—that we think is best for our purposes. I am not saying that Buddhists and atheists do not care about the creation; many of them do care very much, and are active in what I would call creation care. It is just that they do not have an adequate philosophical foundation for doing so.

I first thought seriously about the teeming of the living world in Genesis 1 while reading The Creation by biologist E.O. Wilson. Wilson is not a Christian, but the book is written to Christians as “an appeal to save life on Earth.”

April 22, 2013 Posted by | Christianity, Creation Care, Creation in the Bible, Environment, GeoScriptures, Nature | , , , , , | 1 Comment

J.P. Moreland’s advice to young-Earth creationists

Many leading Christian apologists—an apologist is one who makes a reasoned defense for the faith—are old-Earth Christians. They hold firmly to the truthfulness and reliability of the Scriptures, but reject the hyperliteralism of the young-Earth creationist movement. One such scholar is J.P. Moreland, professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology.

In the book Three Views on Creation and Evolution (edited by Moreland and John Mark Reynolds), Moreland offered the following advice to young-Earth creationists:

Suppose we are interpreting some biblical text and we have hermeneutical option A and option B. Suppose further, that on exegetical grounds alone, we compare the text with other portions of Scripture and find that (1) A and B are both plausible, that is, within the bounds of reason exegetically speaking; and (2) A is superior to B. Now suppose further that B harmonizes Scripture with what we have pretty good reason to believe is true outside the Bible, but A flies in the face of these extrabiblical factors. In short, B solves external conceptual problems. Then, in my view, it is hermeneutically permissible to adopt B as the correct interpretation of a text.

In this scenario, we can let the young-Earth “literal” 24-hour calendar day interpretation be option A and various old-Earth interpretations be option B. Some young-Earth creationists acknowledge that old-Earth interpretations are possible, but they think the young-Earth interpretation is better. If the young-Earth interpretation of Scripture were superior and the scientific evidence pointed to a young Earth, then I would be a young-Earth creationist. As it is, however, there are old-Earth interpretations that work well (I like the analogical days interpretation, perhaps with elements of the day-age interpretation tacked on) and are well within the bounds of good hermeneutics and Christian orthodoxy; and young-Earth science fails miserably. I am quite comfortable, therefore, with being an old-Earth Christian.

Elsewhere, Moreland has stated,

Now, when it comes to the days of Genesis…I’m of the view on this that while we ought not allow science to dictate to us our exegesis of the Old Testament, nevertheless, if there is an interpretation of the Old Testament that is exegetically permissible– that is, an old age interpretation; that is to say, if you can find conservative, inerrantist, evangelical Old Testament scholars that say that the interpretation of this text that treats the days of Genesis as unspecified periods of time, and that is a completely permissible thing to do on exegetical grounds alone, then my view is that that is a permissible option if it harmonizes the text with science because that option can be justified exegetically, independent of science.

To believe that the Bible allows for millions of years is not something forced on the text from the outside. One can make a strong case for biblical ambiguity regarding the age of the Earth without any references to geology or astronomy. We can add J.P. Moreland to the long list of old-Earth biblical scholars.

Grace and Peace

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Notes

One group of biblical scholars who recognized that there is more than one way to interpret the opening chapters of Genesis was the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. They wrote the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which gives a standard definition of what is and isn’t meant by “inerrancy.”  Many of the scholars who wrote this document were themselves young-Earth creationists, but they recognized that there are other valid options, and that YEC is not an essential part of the Christian doctrine of Scripture. The vote to leave young-Earth language out of the document was almost unanimous.

Another group of theologically conservative scholars who recognized that old-Earth interpretations are possible, even though many of them are themselves YECs, are those who served on the Presbyterian Church in America’s (PCA) Creation Study Committee. Their report gives an excellent overview of the young-Earth and various old-Earth interpretations.

April 15, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , | 8 Comments

Around the web 3/22/2013 — The ice age only lasted 250 years, evaporites formed from magma, environmentalism is bad for us, and more

answers-ice-ageThere have been a number of articles on the web the past few weeks that deserve a long analysis, but some short notes will have to do.

THE ICE AGE (SINGULAR) OCCURRED BETWEEN 2250 AND 2000 B.C. — Answers in Genesis posted an article in February by Andrew Snelling and Mike Matthews entitled When Was the Ice Age in Biblical History? As usual, none of this is necessary Biblically, or workable scientifically.

Here is everything they want to squeeze into 250 years after their date for Noah’s flood (2350 B.C. on the accompanying map with timeline):

  • 2350 to 2250 B.C. — Antarctica becomes covered by forests, then gets covered by its ice cap.
  • 2250 to 2000 B.C. — Ice age on the rest of Earth.
  • approx. 2300 B.C. — First mastadons.
  • 2250 B.C. — first human tools in archeological record.
  • approx 2200 B.C. — First woolly mammoths.
  • approx 2200 to 2100 B.C. — Age of the Neanderthals.
  • approx 2150 B.C. — Humans migrate into Australia.
  • approx 2100 B.C. — Humans migrate into North America.
  • 2000 B.C. — End of Ice age. Abram born.

Again, the Bible says none of this! When Abram is born, he is born into a stable civilization on a stable Mesopotamian plain that isn’t much different than how it is described in Genesis 2. There has been no massive transformation of the Tigris-Euphrates valley!

But the geological problems with the YEC picture dwarf the biblical problems. Not only do they have to squeeze Antarctic glaciation, Neanderthals, the ice ages (there is plenty of evidence that glaciation happened multiple times), and human migration into Australia and the Americas into 250 years, one would have to throw in things like multiple eruptions of a number of “supervolcanoes” (e.g. Yellowstone, Toba, Long Valley), growth of other volcanoes (e.g. Cascade Range), growth of modern coral reefs, and deposition of in some cases many hundreds of meters of ice age sediments around the world. Add in a few biological marvels as well — hyperevolutionary adaptive radiation going from “elephant kind” to mastodons, woolly mammoths, and modern elephants; as well as dispersion of animals and humans throughout the globe.

Don’t teach this to the church or our youth as biblical truth or scientific apologetics!!!!

EVAPORITES (SUCH AS SALT) FORMED FROM MAGMA — YEC geologist Tas Walker has endorsed Stef Heerema’s magmatic model for for the origin of large salt formations. Heerema’s Journal of Creation article is here, and a more recent YouTube video is here. I am writing a longer response to this one, but for now I’ll say that this all shows that, despite YEC claims to the contrary, the Journal of Creation cannot possibly be a peer-reviewed journal.

ENVIRONMENTALISM IS A THREAT TO CIVILIZATION — So says Evangelical writer Cal Beisner, a spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance. There are some good things in the Cornwall Alliance’s Declaration on Environmental Stewardship, but…

Here’s what Beisner recently said about why humans could not be doing any catastrophic harm to the Earth by adding excess greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, as reported at Huff Post Green:

“That doesn’t fit well with the biblical teaching that the earth is the result of the omniscient design, the omnipotent creation and the faithful sustaining of the God of the Bible. So it really is an insult to God,” Beisner said.

Isn’t that sort of like saying that it doesn’t matter what we do to our bodies—smoking, excess alcohol and drug use, etc.—because God has designed us in such a way that the things we do could not possible cause us catastrophic harm?

THE DOCTRINE OF CREATION — The biblical doctrine of creation isn’t primarily about how old the Earth is. See Bigger Than We Think by David Wilkinson.

PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANITY CONTINUES — Iran puts five Christians on trial for their faithChristian protesters decry Muslim mob’s arson spree following blasphemy chargeChristians, churches dwindling in Iraq since start of war 10 years ago.

I want to write, write, write, but can’t keep up with it all.

Grace and Peace

March 22, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Around the Web, Christianity, Climate Change, Creation Care, Creation in the Bible, Environment, Geology, Nature, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

GeoScriptures — Genesis 3:17-18 — Thorns, thistles, cats, dogs, and hyperliteralism

And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.”
Genesis 3:17-18 (ESV)

Suppose I were to tell you, “Sometimes it rains cats and dogs in St. Louis.” How would you interpret my statement? If you didn’t know English idioms very well, you might be quite confused by what I said, or come to the conclusion that I was—intentionally or unintentionally—speaking nonsense. Because you know it does not really ever rain cats and dogs, you probably would not take me as actually believing that cats and dogs fall from the sky.

Now suppose that the biblical account of Noah’s flood (Genesis 6-9) contained a verse that said, “And Noah looked out of the window of the ark and saw that it was raining cats and dogs.” How would we interpret this statement? The most natural way to interpret it would be to assume there was some sort of idiom or metaphor in use, and to interpret it as “it was raining very hard.” Unfortunately, we would not be able to look up “raining cats and dogs”  in the 1400 BC edition of Hebrew Idioms for Dummies, so we might have to do some educated guesswork.

On the other hand, if we had little stomach for idioms or other literary devices as we read the Old Testament, we might come to the conclusion that the deluge was so cataclysmic that, in this instance, cats and dogs must have been sucked up from the watery surface by strong updrafts, and then hurled down upon the deep, as witnessed by Noah. This would be a reading that goes far beyond seeking the literal, or intended, meaning of the passage. This would be an example of what some call hyperliteralism; a reading of the text that allows for no figures of speech whatsoever.

Now Genesis does not contain the phrase “raining cats and dogs,” but it does contain examples of non-literal writing. Take for example the phrase “thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you” in Genesis 3:18. This is part of the curse God pronounced on the ground after Adam and Eve sinned. After humanity’s fall into sin, God pronounced a curse on the serpent, Satan; and spoke words of discipline and judgement (and promise) to Adam and Eve. Rather than experiencing the blessings of Eden, Eve would experience, among other things, pain in childbirth, and Adam would experience “thorns and thistles.”

What is the meaning of the phrase “thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you?” One common interpretation of this passage is that it teaches that there were no thorns or thistles on the Earth until God made this pronouncement. In Eden, so the interpretation goes, there could not possibly have been things like thorns and thistles; not only do they cause pain and draw blood when they prick our skin, they are specifically mentioned as part of the curse on the ground here in Genesis 3. In other words, thorns and thistles did not exist until they became part of God’s curse on the ground.

Following this line of reasoning further, we have to consider the fact that the fossil record contains plants that have thorns and thistles. If one holds to the “literal” interpretation, then it is clear that these plant fossils could only have formed after Adam sinned. Therefore, the fossil record—and by correlation this would mean just about any rock of Phanerozoic (Cambrian and more recent) age—had to have formed after Adam. This is one of the supposed Biblical foundations for young-Earth creationist “flood geology.”

But is this the best way to understand God’s “thorns and thistles” curse? A better interpretation is that there is a figurative aspect to “thorns and thistles.” If so, the young-Earth interpretation is an example of hyperliteralism, an over-reading of the text caused by focusing on the literal words on the page rather than the main thrust of the section. A broader view of the text is that God was removing his blessing on mankind’s work. The intention at creation was that Adam and his descendants would be fruitful; not just in reproduction, but in their stewardship and dominion over the rest of creation. There would be shalom between man and his Creator, within each person, between man and wife, between individuals, and between humans and nature. This was all frustrated by Adam’s rebellion, and we have been living with the consequences ever since. Thorns and thistles may have existed before, but with the advent of sin they could now have dominion over humanity rather than humanity having dominion over them. All of our work is now frustrated to one degree or another by figurative thorns and thistles, whether it be the weeds in our garden, the broken relationships with coworkers and clients, mistakes we make in our work, or bugs in the latest software on our computers.

Genesis 3:18 is not about thorns and thistles any more than Genesis 3:14-15 is about how snakes lost their legs. Genesis 3:18 is about how our work in general is frustrated because of sin, and Genesis 3:14-15 is about the humiliation of Satan, grovelling in the dust just as defeated enemies of some Mesopotamian ruler would be forced to do. It is much better, in terms of the literary imagery of the passage, to take thorns and thistles as having a broader meaning in terms of our work and relationships rather than narrowing the meaning down to the appearance of weeds in Adam’s garden.

The undoing of the curse on our work is found in the work of Christ, who bore a crown of thorns as he suffered on our behalf. We live in confident hope that all of creation will one day come under the healing rule of Christ, and that our broken bodies will be resurrected whole. In the new (or renewed) Earth there will be gardens, and I won’t be at all surprised if we find roses growing there.

Grace and Peace

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Notes:

The Phrase Finder has an article about the origin of “raining cats and dogs.”

The ESV Study Bible comments:

Gen. 3:17–19 God’s punishment of the man involves his relationship with the very ground from which he was formed (see note on 2:5–7). Because he has eaten that which was prohibited to him, he will have to struggle to eat in the future. Given the abundance of food that God provided in the garden, this judgment reflects God’s disfavor. Adam will no longer enjoy the garden’s abundance but will have to work the ground from which he was taken (3:23; see note on 2:8–9). The punishment is not work itself (cf. 2:15), but rather the hardship and frustration (i.e., “pain,” itstsabon; cf. 3:16) that will accompany the man’s labor. To say that the ground is cursed (Hb. ’arar, v. 17) and will bring forth thorns and thistles (v. 18) indicates that the abundant productivity that was seen in Eden will no longer be the case. Underlying this judgment is a disruption of the harmonious relationship that originally existed between humans and nature.

Derek Kidner, in his commentary on Genesis (p. 72 of 1967 printing), writes,

Thorns… and thistles are eloquent signs of nature untamed and encroaching; in the Old Testament they mark the scenes of man’s self-defeat and God’s judgment, e.g. in the sluggard’s field (Pr. 24:31) and the ruined city (Is. 34:13). They need not be envisaged here as newly created, but as henceforth a perennial threat (as the unconquered Canaanites would be to Israel, Nu. 33:55); for man in his own disorder would never now ‘subdue’ the earth.

March 20, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Creation in the Bible, Geology, GeoScriptures, Old-Earth creationism, Young-Earth creationism | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

GeoScriptures — Genesis 7:19 — “All the earth” doesn’t always mean “all the earth”

And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. — Genesis 7:19 (ESV)

Many Christians point to the universal nature of some verses in the account of Noah’s flood in Genesis 6-9 to prove that the flood must have been global in extent. For instance, Genesis 6:13 states,

And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

We also read,

The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days.

How do old-Earth Christians who hold to a local (rather than global) flood interpret these passages? The answer is by using standard tools of hermeneutics (interpretation), including examining what the text does and does not say, and by comparing Scripture to Scripture. I would like to focus right now on the “let Scripture interpret Scripture” aspect of hermeneutics.

There are a number of passages in the Old Testament (and even in the New Testament) where “all the earth” does not mean “all the earth.” Here are the main ones:

  • Genesis 41:57Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth. — In this case, does “all the earth” mean “all the earth,” or does it mean a widespread area in the Eastern Mediterranean? Most Bible scholars take this as a figure of speech, not as a literal statement. People came from far away, such as from Canaan, but not necessarily from Spain. I was having a conversation with someone about this passage a few months ago, and I asked him if he believed that people from every nation, from the Eskimos to the Zulus, showed up to buy grain from Joseph. He answered that he believed it was a literal “all the earth,” but that mankind had not yet dispersed very far following the Tower of Babel.
  • Deuteronomy 2:25 — This day I will begin to put the dread and fear of you on the peoples who are under the whole heaven, who shall hear the report of you and shall tremble and be in anguish because of you.’ — Did the Incas and Chinese hear reports about the Exodus, or again, is “the peoples who are under the whole heaven” to be taken in some sense figuratively?
  • 1 Kings 18:10 — There is no nation or kingdom where my lord [King Ahab] has not sent to seek you. — Did Ahab send emissaries to Japan and Zimbabwe to look for Elijah? If I were a hyper-literalist, I would have to say that he did.
  • 2 Chronicles 9:23 — And all the kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind. — Do I have to affirm that leaders of the Australian Aborigines showed up in Jerusalem to listen to Solomon?
  • Jeremiah 27:7 — All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson. — God said that “all the nations” shall serve Nebuchadnezzar. Does this mean that there is some gap in our historical knowledge; a period of time when Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian Empire stretched from Los Angeles to London to Tokyo, and from Murmansk to the Cape of Good Hope? Or was God using a figure of speech?
  • Dan 4:22It is you, O king, who have grown and become strong. Your greatness has grown and reaches to heaven, and your dominion to the ends of the earth. — As in Jer 27:7, does the Bible teach that Nebuchadnezzar’s empire covered the entire planet? (see also Daniel 5:19).
  • Zephaniah 1:2 — “I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord. (also see v. 18) — Is this teaching the destruction of the entire Earth, or a more limited judgement on unfaithful Israel and the surrounding nations?
  • Similar “universal” passages can be found in the New Testament — Luke 2:1 (all the world to be registered), John 12:19 (the Pharisees were concerned that the whole world was going to Jesus), Acts 2:5 (Jews were present at Pentecost from every nation under heaven), Colossians 1:23 (the gospel has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven).

In each case a more natural reading of the text is something other than “all the Earth.” Only if we bring a rigid, overly-literalistic hermeneutic to the passages do we end up with things like Ahab’s servants trekking through the Himalayas looking for Elijah.

In many ways, Hebrew functions like other languages. It is not a Vulcan-like tongue where everything is mechanical and logical, lacking in word pictures or hyperbole.  In English, if we say “everyone is doing it,” we don’t literally mean “everyone,” unless we are talking about something like breathing. So if I say, “everyone in America likes McDonalds,” most people would not take that to mean “everyone in America likes McDonalds.” The same is true in the foreign language I know best, Romanian. The phrase “toată lumea” literally means “all the world,” which translates into English as “everyone.” If I were to say toată lumea likes going to the beach, I would literally be saying that the whole world likes going to the beach, but I would really mean that many or most people like going to the beach, or most people I know like going to the beach.

I hope that I have demonstrated that “all the Earth” usually does not mean “all the Earth” in the Old Testament. The question then becomes: can we apply this knowledge (letting Scripture interpret Scripture) to the account of Noah’s flood in Genesis 6-9? Are the universal phrases in the passage to be taken in a “literalistic” sense, or is there room for reading these as figures of speech?  I believe I can show that much of the universal imagery of Genesis 6-9 is indeed hyperbolic, and that the passage can be read naturally as a very large, but still limited flood that appeared universal from Noah’s perspective in the middle of it all. I will save that discussion for another time.

Grace and Peace.

March 11, 2013 Posted by | Apologetics, Creation in the Bible, GeoScriptures | , , | 4 Comments

GeoScriptures — Genesis 2:16-17 — The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the fruit of sin

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” — Genesis 2:16-17 (NIV 1984)

According to Genesis, God created Adam and Eve and placed them in a garden. He commanded that they tend the Earth, and that they be fruitful and multiply. They walked in fellowship with God as they worked; it was a paradise, but not an idle paradise. He provided the tree of life that they might live forever, but forbade them from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

In Genesis 3, as we  know, Adam and Eve thought they knew better than God and they ate fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Was this a good thing or a bad thing? The correct answer, of course, is that this was a bad thing. That doesn’t stop some from twisting the story; consider the following from paleontologist L. Beverly Halstead:

Here [in Genesis] we have man being given an instruction by the supreme Authority, and he was expected to accept this quite uncritically—he was not expected to question it, he was certainly not expected to defy it, he was expected to obey it. Let us consider what this means. Here is a situation where you are placed in an environment where you have everything, all you must not do is think.

Samuel Butler in the last century wrote “The Kingdom of Heaven is the being like a good dog.”

A good dog does what he is told, gets a pat on the head, and that is all. This is a prospect that no real human being should ever stand for. But we are very fortunate in this story—we have the hero of this entire episode, the serpent, and he gave very good advice (Gen 3:5-7)

For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

And the eyes of them both were opened.

That, to my mind, is the most inspiring passage in this entire volume.

That was the original sin, the defiance of the Lord God was original sin, and this sin is the one which every scientist worthy of the name is dedicated to uphold.

(quote from Halstead, L. Beverly, “Evolution—The Fossils Say Yes!”, in Montagu, Ashley (ed.), 1984, Science and Creationism, pp. 241-242. )

Halstead simply distorted the passage for his own purposes. God did not forbid them from eating fruit from a “tree of knowledge,” as if knowledge were bad, but from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”

“Knowledge” can mean knowing about something, such as knowing about European history or invertebrate paleontology. I think that is what Halstead had in mind; that somehow God wanted Adam and Eve to live in some sort of ignorant bliss. The passage, however, implies that God wanted Adam and Eve to have a kind of scientific knowledge about their world; how could they have dominion over the garden as God’s representatives on Earth if they were clueless about caring for the Earth?

There is another kind of knowledge that is experiential rather than just the intellectual knowledge inherent in science. We see this in Genesis 4:1 — “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain.” Adam did not just know about Eve as an intellectual exercise, but had a deep, intimate, emotional knowledge of her expressed in sexual intercourse.

This is the kind of knowledge that Adam and Eve would gain through eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They did not just gain an intellectual understanding  about the world, or a textbook knowledge about ethics, but they knew good and evil, and this was a horrible thing to gain intimate knowledge of.

Think of what they “gained” through their submission to Satan, or as Halstead put it, the “hero of this entire episode, the serpent.” Here is what we have as the fruit of disobedience:

  • A broken relationship with God.
  • Broken relationships with one another.
  • A broken relationship with the creation.
  • Frustration in work.
  • Pain in childbirth.
  • Shame.
  • Physical death.
  • Decaying bodies.
  • Disease.
  • Murder.
  • Poverty.
  • Oppression.
  • War.
  • Famine.
  • Hatred.
  • Abuse.
  • Rape.
  • Exploitation.

All because of one piece of fruit. Was it worth it?

Grace and Peace

March 7, 2013 Posted by | Creation in the Bible, Ethics, GeoScriptures | , , , , , | 4 Comments

GeoScriptures — Genesis 1:1 — “In the beginning God” vs Carl Sagan

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.Genesis 1:1 (ESV)

“The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” — Carl Sagan, from Cosmos.

Which of these two quotes is a scientific statement, and which is a religious statement?

The initial reaction most people—including Christians— have had when I have asked this question is that the quote from Genesis is a religious statement, and the quote from Sagan is a scientific statement. In reality, both statements are religious or philosophical in nature, but only the Genesis quote is fully compatible with the universe as we know it.

I won’t dispute that the quote from the Bible is a religious statement. If religion is about God and his relationship to the universe and humanity, then Genesis 1:1 is clearly a religious statement.

Carl Sagan’s famous Cosmos statement is also a philosophical—and I would say religious—statement. Sagan had not observed that “the cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be,” nor had he nor any other scientist done an experiment which proved that God doesn’t exist or isn’t necessary. In other words, Sagan had not used anything like “the scientific method” to arrive at his conclusion, and his Cosmos quote is a philosophical statement, not a scientific one.

Atheists such as Sagan would say that science has explained everything from nuclear fusion to sexual reproduction without any need for inserting God into the process and so their faith that there is no God is justified (faith is the right word, even if they would scramble to say it in a different way). But in doing this they are confusing categories. It is one thing to say that stellar evolution or meiosis can be explained without inserting a “God did it” step. Christians do not insert a “God did it” step into these processes either. However, it is an entirely different matter to explain why there is a cosmos at all. This question is outside of science, and is one that theists have a better explanation for than do atheists.

Many dismiss the Christian belief that God created the entire cosmos—matter, energy, space, time, and laws—as coming from a primitive myth. By “cosmos” I mean “everything that is or ever was or ever will be,” which would include the multiverse (if there is such a thing) beyond our observed universe, but would not include God. Only one of the following statements, however, is actually compatible with the cosmos as we know it:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

“In the beginning, nothing created everything.”

In the universe we live in, things do not pop into existence completely out of nothing. I am not talking about random quantum fluctuations creating subatomic particles here and there, because these particles are not truly popping up out of nothing. By nothing, I mean nothing — no space, time, matter, energy, nor laws. Because of this, it is incompatible with what we know about the cosmos—that is, it is incompatible with science—to believe that the cosmos came from absolutely nothing, or that it somehow created itself.

On the other hand, it is compatible with the universe as we know it (i.e. science) to advocate that it was caused to exist by something completely outside of it. There is absolutely no scientific reason, therefore, for a scientist to not accept that “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Grace and Peace

January 27, 2013 Posted by | Apologetics, Astronomy, Atheism, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, GeoScriptures, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Theistic evolution | , | 10 Comments

Around the web 1/19/2013

THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION WAS/IS A DISASTER — Broken families, sexually-transmitted diseases, abortions. So says writer A.N. Wilson (who speaks from experience) at Mail Online: I’ve lived through the greatest revolution in sexual mores in our history. The damage it’s done appals me.

I made myself and dozens of people extremely unhappy — including, of course, my children and other people’s children.

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More than half of those questioned in the GfK’s most recent survey said that it was a stable relationship which made them happy. Half those who were married said they were ‘very happy’, compared with only a quarter of singles.

The truth is that the Sexual Revolution had the power to alter our way of life, but it could not alter our essential nature; it could not alter the reality of who and what we are as human beings.

It made nearly everyone feel that they were free, or free-er, than their parents had been — free to smoke pot, free to sleep around, free to pursue the passing dream of what felt, at the time, like overwhelming love — an emotion which very seldom lasts, and a word which is meaningless unless its definition includes commitment.

How easy it was to dismiss old-fashioned sexual morality as ‘suburban’, as a prison for the human soul. How easy it was to laugh at the ‘prudes’ who questioned the wisdom of what was happening in the Sexual Revolution.

About one-third of marriages in Britain end in divorce

Yet, as the opinion poll shows, most of us feel at a very deep level that what will make us very happy is not romping with a succession of lovers.

In fact, it is having a long-lasting, stable relationship, having children, and maintaining, if possible, lifelong marriage.

The Bible has it right — Life-long commitment. Self-control. A stable environment for raising children.

HT: Cranach

THE EGYPTIAN ANGLE ON GENESIS 1 — Usually Genesis is compared to Mesopotamian creation accounts, such as the Babylonian Enuma Elish. Apologist Greg Koukl (Stand to Reason) has a short video on Understanding the Creation Account in Genesis in which Egyptian creation myths are given stronger consideration, which makes sense being that the immediate background for the Pentateuch is not Mesopotamian but Egyptian.

THE DAYS OF GENESIS 1 — Tough Questions Answered Blog posted this in 2009, but it showed up in my Google Reader this week. What is the Meaning of the Word “Day” in Genesis? gives a nice refutation of the YEC insistence that the only valid way to understand the Hebrew word yom is a literal, 24-hour, consecutive, solar day only a few thousand years ago.

THINGS YOUNG-EARTH CREATIONISM DOESN’T EXPLAIN, PART 568 — From Naturalis Historia, The World’s Largest Rock Tumbler and the Age of the Earth.

OLD EARTHERS ARE NOT ORTHODOX AND ARE NOT WANTED — I don’t get involved in that many conversations on other blogs. I wandered into a discussion about Tim Keller on the A Daughter of the Reformation blog. I commented because the post had to do with what is going on within my present denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America. One of many things that attracted me to the PCA is that it has allowed for a diversity of views on the timing of creation since its inception, just as conservative Reformed theology has for well over a hundred years. But not all are happy with the status quo.

I posted a few comments, several of which never made it out of comment moderation, or, if they did, were severely edited (to the point of no longer making sense in one case). I guess dialog regarding Genesis is not encouraged.

[Update 1/20/13 — All of my comments have now been deleted]

THIRTY YEARS AND STILL ERUPTING — Kilauea has been erupting continuously for thirty years, since January 3, 1983. NASA Earth Observatory.

Kilauea lava fountain -- USGS Hawaii Volcano Observatory

Kilauea lava fountain — USGS Hawaii Volcano Observatory

Grace and Peace

January 19, 2013 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Around the Web, Creation in the Bible, Geology, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , , | 2 Comments

What the Bible says directly about biological evolution

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January 13, 2013 Posted by | Apologetics, Biology, Christianity, Creation in the Bible, Evolution, Geology, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Theistic evolution, Young-Earth creationism | , | 1 Comment

GeoScriptures — Genesis 3:15 — The Protoevangelium

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
     and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
     and you shall bruise his heel.” — Genesis 3:15 ESV

The Bible, despite containing passages and books with a great diversity of cultural backgrounds, literary genres, authors, and topics, has several key themes that run throughout its pages, beginning in Genesis and ending in Revelation. One of these themes is that of salvation: that though humans are sinful and in rebellion against their Creator, God has had a plan since the beginning (actually from before the beginning) to rescue and save us out of our sin and its consequences. Right now, we are somewhere past the middle of this process, which began in Genesis, culminated in the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, and will have its ultimate consummation when Christ wraps things up upon his return.

The first of many mentions in the Old Testament of God’s promise of a Messiah (an “annointed one” who would save God’s people from their sins) is in Genesis 3:15, which is referred to by Biblical scholars as the Protoevangelium, from the Latin for “first gospel.” After Adam and Eve fell into sin, God addressed the serpent, who is Satan (Rev 12:9) and pronounced his judgment of doom. Satan may have had a temporary victory in causing the first pair to succumb to temptation, but God would send an offspring of Eve who would crush Satan’s head, though Satan might cause a wound to this offspring in the fight.

This offspring (or more literally, “seed”) of Eve is the Lord Jesus Christ. At the crucifixion of Christ, Satan bruised Christ’s heel in a figurative sense, and may have once again thought he had won a great victory. That triumph, however, was again only temporary, as Jesus rose from the dead and bruised Satan’s head, which is a far more serious blow than having one’s heel bruised. Christ’s death secured forgiveness of sins for those who trust in Christ, and his resurrection gave us victory over our final enemy, which is death (Heb 2:14).

The Protoevangelium was an announcement of an individual offspring of Adam and Eve who would destroy the work of the devil. But there is another sense in which we as individuals are either offspring of God, or offspring of Satan. Jesus (in John 8:31-59) got into a discussion (if that is the right word) with a group of Jews who were in opposition to him. They referred to themselves as being children of God (v. 41), but Christ turned and said,

“If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” — John 8:42-44

There are offspring of the serpent, who reject Christ, and children of God (John 1:12), who have put their faith in Christ. Which are you?

Grace and Peace

January 6, 2013 Posted by | Creation in the Bible, GeoScriptures | , , | Leave a comment

GeoScriptures — Genesis 1:1 — When did “In the beginning” occur?

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” — Genesis 1:1

One thing that young-Earth creationists and the New Atheists agree on is that if one were to believe the Bible, one would have to believe that the universe, including planet Earth, is only 6000 years old. Of course, both the YECs and the atheists are wrong.

Genesis 1:3 through 2:3 is divided into seven days; six days of creative activity, and the seventh day, which is God’s Sabbath. For days one through six, there is a pattern of “And God said, __________” for the beginning of the day, and “And there was evening and there was morning, the nth day” for the end of the day. Genesis 1:1-2 lies outside of this pattern, and so is likely not intended to be considered part of the first day of creation:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. — Genesis 1:1-2 (ESV)

Because the first two verses are outside of the “days” structure, the “heavens and the earth” are, according to the text, of indeterminate age. “In the beginning” could have occurred immediately before the six days (as YECs believe), 13.5 billion years earlier, or some other amount of time. The Bible does not say.

There is much more to the Biblical case for an old Earth (or better, the Biblical case for Biblical ambiguity regarding the age of the Earth), just as there is much more to the YEC case for a young Earth. But I think it is extremely important to point out that the starting point of the creation passage in Genesis is not “Earth is young” but ambiguity regarding the antiquity of the creation.

Grace and Peace

December 30, 2012 Posted by | Age of the Earth, Apologetics, Creation in the Bible, GeoScriptures, Old-Earth creationism, Origins, Young-Earth creationism | , | 8 Comments

Around the Web — 5/19/2012

Mitt Romney’s Environmental Platform — Ummm, Mitt Romney doesn’t seem to have an environmental platform. The menu at mittromney.com doesn’t have “Environment” as an option.

There isn’t anything substantial about the environment that I could find on the site. I am a conservative, and will vote for Romney in November. But why can’t we have a conservative presidential candidate who would actually be interested in conserving?

Richard Dawkins’ sloppy scholarship — Jay Wile does a good job of exposing militant atheist Richard Dawkins’ poor use of quotations. “This situation is very interesting, because creationists are often accused of quote mining, but here is a clear case where one of the greatest evolutionary evangelists of our time is doing it.”

The “Planet Debate” renewed? — A few years back, Pluto was demoted, so now we have only eight planets in the solar system. The debate is certain to be renewed at same point, not only about Pluto, but also about a couple of asteroids. The NASA article NASA Dawn Spacecraft Reveals Secrets of Large Asteroid refers a number of times to the planet-like qualities of the asteroid Vesta, such as having an interior differentiated into layers, including an iron core.

N.T. Wright sings about Genesis — sung to the tune of “Yesterday” by the Beatles. Watch it at the Internet Monk. Wright isn’t the world’s greatest musician, but he inserts a lot of theological issues into a few verses.

Why they had to fall, I don’t know, it doesn’t say
They did something wrong, and we’ve longed for God’s new day-ay-ay-ay

Grace and Peace

May 19, 2012 Posted by | Around the Web, Environment, Planetary Geology, Politics, Space Exploration | , , , , , , | 1 Comment