Bible-believing Christians can differ on their understanding of endtime matters (eschatology) and other things such as form of church government, mode and subject of baptism, and Sabbath observance. So why make an issue about the days of creation? Surely this is just another one of those issues where we can tolerate various views, without criticizing each other?
On the surface, this sounds like a good argument. However, let’s tease it out. Christians generally differ in their understanding of eschatology on the basis of their different interpretations of Scripture alone. The differences in views do not originate from anything outside of the Bible. So, the Reformation principle, sola scriptura (‘Bible alone’), guides the various people in arriving at their conclusions. Disagreements over eschatology, baptism, etc. begin and end with the Bible—the authority of the Bible is not normally an issue.
However, when it comes to Genesis, virtually everyone agrees about what Genesis says and how the writer(s) meant readers to understand it—six ordinary days of creation where everything was very good, and death and suffering entered the world through the sin of Adam and Eve; the global Flood; etc. (see Hebrew scholar affirms that Genesis means what it says! also in this issue). But outside influences generate the differing viewpoints—for example, the conjectures of the historical sciences such as cosmology, paleontology and archaeology.
Take, for example, this statement by Charles Hodge, famous Princeton Seminary professor and contemporary of Darwin, who wrote many books and articles defending the truths of Christianity, including biblical inerrancy: ‘It is of course admitted that, taking this account [Genesis] by itself, it would be most natural to understand the word [day] in its ordinary sense; but if that sense brings the Mosaic account into conflict with facts [millions of years], and another sense avoids such conflict, then it is obligatory on us to adopt that other’1 [our explanatory additions].
Many other theologians have made similar statements.2 That is, that the Bible clearly teaches creation in six ordinary days thousands of years ago, but that they cannot believe it that way because of modern interpretations of the fossils and rocks that invoke millions of years. So if ‘science’ now dictates how we are to understand Genesis, then this puts ‘science’ as judge over the Bible, and sola scriptura no longer guides the understanding of Genesis.3
So the matter of our understanding of Genesis does not compare with disagreements over eschatology. The disputes over eschatology are over what the Bible teaches, with reference to nothing else. In other words, with eschatology it is a matter of exegesis—‘what does the Bible say?’ But with Genesis the dispute stems not from what the Bible clearly teaches, but from the various attempts to make it fit external conjectures. In other words, with Genesis it is a matter of eisegesis—making the Bible say what I want it to say, to fit into long-age ideas from geology, for example.
With eschatological debates, the Bible is still the rule of faith, but with Genesis compromise, ‘science’ has become the rule of faith. The difference is stark. Disputes over end-times and baptism presuppose the authority of Scripture; debates on Genesis creation depend on whether the Bible or man’s long-age science is the final authority.
References and notes
Hodge, C., Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Michigan, USA, pp. 570–571, 1997. Return to text.
Dr. Batten, I love and support the work of CMI.
However, you wrote: "... when it comes to Genesis, VIRTUALLY EVERYONE agrees about what Genesis says and how the writer(s) meant readers to understand it — six ordinary days of creation ... ."
How can you make this statement when the over 1-Billion Catholics (about 70% of Christendom) pay little or NO attention to the "6 days of creation" ... ???
I know the literal 6 days of creation are critically important to CMI, but let's be candid: CMI shares this belief with less than 10% of Christendom at present.
Don Batten responds
Thanks for your expression of appreciation, Joseph.
"Virtually everyone" is in the context of Bible scholars, Hebrew experts, etc., not the masses of untaught people who get their theology mainly from the television (Oprah, etc.).
Assuming that you are correct about those billion nominal Catholics, many of whom have probably never even read Genesis, they are right out of step with 'church fathers' back to the beginning. Only in recent times has any Pope deviated from understanding Genesis pretty much as we do.
See: Roman Catholics and Genesis
I also think that you understate how many people agree with our stance on Genesis in Christendom. Surveys consistently show about 50% of the population of the USA agrees and 90% want creation taught in schools, with or without evolution. See Solid research reveals American beliefs.
Surveys in Australia and the UK indicate 20% or more agree and many more reject evolution. Some European countries such as Poland, which is largely Catholic, also have a high support for biblical creation. There is a significant creationist movement in the RC church (we know of groups in the USA, Europe and Australia). Professor Maciej Giertych, from Poland, is a well known Catholic creationist. It is also likely that the Pope’s statement has been mistranslated.
In countries where it is costly to be a Christian, in terms of persecution, you will be hard-pressed to find Christians who do not believe Genesis as CMI teaches.
Maurice F., Canada, 13 February 2013
The Hebrew does not necessarily support the 24-hour day theory of Genesis, nor does it support milions of years. Since "day" can mean an indefinite period of time in which God does something, are we sure it took God 24 hours to create light, for instance? He could do it in an instant, as well as all of the other creative acts. Evening and morning are used to show the seventh day, of rest, which pictures our salvation as a rest, not work (Heb. 4). Not a matter of argument, each must come to the conclusion they believe the Holy Spirit is guiding them to.
Don Batten responds
I suggest you do a little study on this matter. The Hebrew most assuredly does clearly show that the days in the creation week are ordinary days, in terms of their length. As always, the meaning of any word is defined according to its context. The Hebrew word for 'day' (yom) when used with evening, morning and number, as in Genesis 1, refers to an earth day (~24 hours).
See: How long were the days of Genesis 1?
Also: God's rest in Hebrews 4:1-11
I strongly recommend Dr Sarfati's book, Refuting Compromise, which deals with these arguments in detail.
Hans G., Australia, 13 February 2013
In most cases when I look at human behavior I see a link to Genesis. Here would apply: to rule over the earth and/or you will be like God. In both aspects men want to be the ones who call the shots.
Man's eagerness is to control and be able to change, especially with the more and more advanced technology and he demands God to change, become more modern, we are in the 21st century now.
But he can do an analysis only with past events, while he has to leave the future alone. Did somebody notice when there is an accident how many 'experts' suddenly appear and have something to say about it?
And so he 'creates' his own world model and searching for ways to prolong his life by influencing cells, magic, hope for aliens or deep freeze. Here he tries even to influence the future.
Silly man, it is already outlined for you, just grab it! It's free! And be aware, one day you have to give up your ruling and 'God' position.....for sure.
David D P., South Africa, 14 February 2013
Thank you Don Batten for such a clear and understandable article on what is so often a difficult issue. Indeed, sola scriptura is absolute!
Marius S., South Africa, 14 February 2013
For a large part of my life as a Christian I ignorantly accepted the erroneous interpretation and explanations of theologians and some church ministers that the creation account should be understood in a way that strikes a compromise with science. However, I am so heartened and grateful for the consistent and accurate message of CMI that the Genesis creation account is literally true. We are entering a time in history that valid science is also confirming the creation account and the fact that the earth is "young." The word day "yom" can not mean anything longer than one earth rotation, because plants (which were created on the 3rd day) could not have survived in the dark (i.e. without light) for thousands or millions of years, which is implied if a day were to mean a "long time span". There is no compromise possible with erroneous geological "science" based on uniformitarianism and misinterpretation of the fossil record. The fossil record actually confirms Noah's flood as it indicates the order of burial from less mobile organisms (at the bottom) to most mobile organisms on top. The creation sequence in Genesis 1 is almost the exact opposite to the sequence of development which evolutionists speculate. Plants were created before the sun; birds and marine creatures were created before terrestrial animals (such as dinosaurs or dragons); terrestrial animals and man were created on the same day. No compromise is possible with the evolution theory because this contradicts the the basic Biblilcal tenet and Jesus's teaching that death came after and as a result of sin. Every person must decide for him or herself whether to believe the Word of God on face value or the underlying human assumptions of evolutionists and the circular reasoning of the geological mainstream.
Joseph W., United Kingdom, 14 February 2013
I think that it is helpful to ask what a belief says about God. Regarding the matter of whether each day of creation is 24 hours or longer, i would contend that anyone reading the bible without any preconceived ideas, if they were honest, could not come to any other conclusion than, that each creation day was indeed only 24 hours. For God to allow Genesis to be written in such clear language but for it to mean something so completely different, what does that say about our God in whom we trust.
Thank you for your excellent articles. Joseph
Paul P., United States, 15 February 2013
That's not always the case. There is the issue of Origen, who died around A.D. 250, saying: "Now who is there, pray, who is possessed of understanding, who will regard the statement as appropriate the first day, the second, and the third, in which both evening and morning are mentioned, happened without sun, moon, and stars? The first day was even without a sky!" (De Principiis IV:1:16)
He said in addition, "And who is so ignorant as to suppose that God, as if he were a farmer, planted trees in a garden, in Eden towards the east, with a tree of life in it—a visible, palpable tree of wood—so that anyone who ate of it with bodily teeth would obtain life, and, eating again of another tree, would come to the knowledge of good and evil?" (ibid.)
Justin Martyr, d. c. 165, may or may not have believed Genesis one was a literal six days, but he has this to say about God eating with Abraham: "I would say that the Scripture which affirms they ate has the same meaning as when we would say about fire that it devours all things. We certainly should not understand that they ate, masticating with teeth and jaws. Even in this case, we should not be at a loss about anything if we are even slightly acquainted with figurative modes of expression." (Dialogue with Trypho 57)
If we see people like this discussing "figurative modes of expression" long before evolution and and an old earth were promoted by science, then at least in the past, alternative understandings of creation came from the Scriptures, not just science.
Don Batten responds
Yes, you can find one or two out of the many that played with a non-literal day understanding. And (by the way), we are not wooden literalists, which seems to be implied by your comment. Several points:
1. The quote you provided from Origen did not say what he believed about the days, only that he had trouble understanding how there could be evenings and mornings before the Sun was created. But this is easily answered.
2. Origen was strongly influenced by neo-Platonic thinking (that is, extra-biblical considerations). It most certainly was not 'Bible alone'. See: Misrepresenting the Church Fathers.
3. Justin Martyr did believe in a literal creation week, although like many others of his time believed that the (literal) creation week was also a type of 7,000 years of earth history following. Regarding Abraham eating with God, see my point above about wooden literalism. This seems to be grasping at straws to use this to argue against a straightforward understanding of Genesis days of creation.
4. Origen believed in a 'young' earth, clearly accepting the literal nature of the genealogies in Genesis 5, etc. See Augustine: young earth creationist and Orthodoxy and Genesis: What the fathers really taught and point 2 above. No one read Genesis so as to fit an old earth, which they explicity rejected.
There was some allegorization, yes, but not in a way that gives support to modern-day attempts to marry the Bible's history with the secular deep-time mythology, which undermines just about every doctrine, including salvation because all such attempts put millions of years of death and suffering before the Fall (Genesis 3) thus undermining the reason for Jesus' death and resurrection (Romans 5 & 8, 1 Cor. 15). See: Did God create over billions of years?
Joseph Allen K., United States, 15 February 2013
Dr. Batten, I believe that most Evangelical Bible Scholars agree with your interpretation of the 6-days of Creation in Genesis.
However, I believe that very few Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Anglican Bible scholars agree with you.
Please don't be discouraged because you may have the correct interpretation. In the time of Jesus, few members of the Sanhedrin had the correct interpretation of the Scriptures.
Don Batten responds
Would that it were true that "most evangelical Bible scholars agree"! I'm not sure even that is true today. But then truth is not determined by a majority vote. Jesus said, "broad is the way that leads to destruction". Elijah was alone in standing with God against the false teachers of his day. Martin Luther was one person who stood against the vast majority at the time.
However, we are not alone. There are plenty of evangelical scholars with impeccable credentials in Hebrew and theology who strongly support our stand; for example: Theologian: Genesis means what it says!.
As for "very few Catholic, Lutheran ... agree with" us. That is not news to us, but your list probably reflects a rather USA-centric view. For example, the Presbyterian Church in Australia is generally supportive, and some other countries. Even in the USA, the significant Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church takes a biblical creation stand, as do significant Presbyterian churches (e.g. Coral Ridge in Florida, where Dr James Kennedy was senior pastor).
There are even some scholars from 'non-evanglical' churches who agree with us, for example, A Compendium and Defense of Traditional Catholic Theology on Origins and Seraphim Rose (Orthodox).
There are also 'hostile witnesses', such as James Barr, an Oxford University OT Hebrew expert, who affirmed that the author of Genesis meant it to be understood as we understand it (although he did not believe it). Other professors of Hebrew at various secular universities affirmed that 'yom' is meant to be understood as a day and not an age, for example.
Now ask yourself, Which churches are growing/dying? Those that teach the Bible as a bunch of myths and fairy tales are dying. Those that teach it as Jesus understood it and taught it are growing. "By their fruit you shall know them" (Jesus).
Maurice F., Canada, 15 February 2013
I have done a good bit of studying on this subject - from the Hebrew text. What I said was, that the "days" in the creation account are metaphorical of the six days of work and the sabbath rest on the seventh. The Creation account, then, prefigures the "rest" in Heb 4, showing our salvation to be a rest with the Holy Spirit providing the power, not us. You may not see this, please do not suggest that your inability to understand is because of my lack of study.
Don Batten responds
Respectfully, that is not what you wrote, which was (quoting) "Since 'day' can mean an indefinite period of time in which God does something, are we sure it took God 24 hours to create light, for instance?" You were arguing that the days are not the same as earth days as we know it, with the clear implication that you were arguing they were longer.
By the way, the straight-forward (historical-grammatical hermeneutic) understanding of the days of creation in Genesis One does not require that God took a full 24 hours to create light. Neither the Hebrew nor any English translation suggests any such thing. "There was evening and there was morning, one day", it translates literally (NASB). Note that the day began with darkness ("darkness was over the face of the deep" v.2), but the darkness was broken by God creating light, the implication is that this happened instantaneously, followed by ~12 hours to complete the first day. And so Jews marked the day with the night preceding the daytime (sundown to sundown), deriving from this historical record of creation in Genesis.
Then you claimed that the 'Sabbath rest' in Hebrews 4 was eternal, so therefore the days of Genesis are not real days (or perhaps very long days, or not-defined-length days? It was not at all clear exactly how Hebrews 4 overrides the clear definition of the days in Genesis 1, backed up by Exodus 20).
I provided articles which clearly refuted both ideas; if you actually read those articles and others on Creation.com, you would see I believe (if you are open to seeing) that the idea of metaphorical days in Genesis One does not stack up. Even just Exodus 20:1,11 (God is speaking) refutes this idea.
Attempts to undermine the biblical chronology (attempting to accommodate the fashionable deep time of today?) undermine just about every area of doctrine, including theodicy, soteriology and eschatology; see (for example): Questions for theistic evolutionists and progressive creationists.
Someone can study even the Hebrew of Genesis (but the New Testament also provides clear guidelines as to how we are meant to understand Genesis), but unless we approach this study with the view that it is God's Word and that He is speaking to us through the Holy Spirit, we can arrive at false conclusions. It is fundamentally important to seek to understand what the text is saying (how it is meant to be understood), not to seek to get it say what I would like it to say. The first is exegesis; the second is eisegesis. The first honours the Bible as the Word of God; the second makes it a tool for our manipulation to justify our existing beliefs and we end up constructing a religion of our own making (which is idolatry).
D. B., Canada, 16 February 2013
I appreciate the fact that CMI’s mission is to focus on the issue of origins and how the book of Genesis is essential to the relevancy of the Gospel. However, this article takes it as a given, that differences in understanding on other (important?) issues should simply be tolerated without (constructive?) criticism because on other issues Christians follow the principle of ‘sola scriptura.’
I would argue that there is no such thing as opposing interpretations of scripture that are both ‘sola scriptura.’ (Often neither are!) We are all influenced and biased by our culture, experience and heroes which can creep into our interpretations of scripture if we are not careful.
CMI demonstrates how important it is to use the proper method of interpreting Genesis (hermeneutic) and to avoid extra-biblical assumptions. These same principles apply to all Bible study. Extra-biblical assumptions about origins, falsely presented as science, are leading Christians to interpretations of Genesis that use a non-historical, 'spiritualized' hermeneutic.
The Bible contains historical, poetic, doctrinal and prophetic passages and uses the full range of literary devices – which can all be accounted for in light of a historical-grammatical hermeneutic.
Christians confess that God opens His Word to our understanding by the Holy Spirit, however, this implies that we are willing to let go of extra-biblical assumptions/influences and that we are willing to apply the “Genesis hermeneutic” consistently from Genesis to Revelation.
Of course we need to be tolerant of our brothers and sisters and love them even when we have differing views, but we also need to be able to challenge each other’s assumptions and interpretations in love and discuss if they are truly supported by scripture.
Don Batten responds
Thanks for your affirmation of our stand on Genesis and the Gospel.
However, I cannot see where I implied that other theological debates are not important and that we should just accept differences. My argument was about the nature of the debates, not the importance of the different debates outside of Genesis.
Having said that, I agree that theological debates outside of Genesis Creation/Fall/Flood are at times influenced by non-biblical considerations. I think of the homosexual agenda, for example. It is very clear what the Bible says, but those who try to argue against it often begin with 'But they can't help it, they were born that way; surely God would not condemn ... etc.' (none of which is true; there is no 'homosexual gene' and to suggest that people are not responsible for their behaviour is to make them into mere animals, devoid of the 'image of God'). This is just one example.
Kimbal B., United States, 20 February 2013
Thank you, Dr. Batten! "Yom" is always a literal day in the Old Testament when used with a number or with the phrase, "evening and morning." Many OT scholars concur including those who do not necessarily believe that the Bible is truth, but will admit that the writer clearly meant literal days to be understood. It is God, as you pointed out, who spoke with His own voice to Moses in Exodus 20 confirming that He had made everything in six days and rested upon the seventh.
Trying to turn the days into ages is nonsensical. Would plants be able to exist for eons without birds and other organisms that are needed for pollination? Plants were made on day three. God does not place the Sun in the heavens until day four. So if a thousand or 100 million years passed before day four took over for day three, all plants would be dead from no sunshine. Then there would be another interminable wait before sea creatures and birds appear. Not logical at all!
Creation.com is a fantastic resource...you are doing great things!
Mark B., United States, 20 February 2013
Your arguments about "yom" don't hold through the Old Testament, let alone the whole Bible. Of course, the NT isn't Hebrew... Anyway, Yom is used at different times for sundown to sundown, sunup to sundown, AND a period of time such as "In his day....".
2nd point: Unless you are a uniformist, then we also don't know how long "days" were at Creation. Just as the Earth & Creation has changed & is not static, there is no reason or proof that "time" is static, as far as I've seen from either Bible or secular science;
3rd point: If life & man are just 6-7,000 years old, why are there not more written records or even paleontological or archaeological records of dinosaurs, other ancient man-types (we can't argue that there AREN'T any because hominids HAVE been found!);
4th point: If "time" was just 24 hours, how did soil come about esp. deep enough for trees?
Don Batten responds
1. You clearly have not read the articles with links already provided in answer to others (above) on this, or you would not still be claiming that yom in Genesis 1 can be understood as anything other than a series of consecutive earth days. We are not saying that yom always means a 24-hour day, but it does when defined by an evening, morning and number! Please study the articles at: How long were the days mentioned in the Biblical creation account?
2. We are not claiming that time is static, but that God clearly communicated the earthly time-frame of creation, in six days with the seventh day of rest as the basis for our working week of seven days (Exodus 20;1,11; God is speaking!). The days are obviously 'earth-rotation' days, each with an evening and morning. That being the clear case, there are physical limits as to how long or short such a day can be, so the night+day length has to be approximately 24 hours. Your argument does nothing to get 'deep time' into the Bible.
3. There are many accounts of human contact with dragons and other named creatures that are clearly dinosaurian. See Dinosaurs Q&A. Vance Nelson has written a whole book on clear evidence of human interaction with dinosaurs from all around the world: Dire Dragons.
4. Creation week was clearly miraculous from start to finish. I assume you agree that God took "the dust of the ground" and made Adam, as it says? Dust is not rock. Soil would be another translation. Nevertheless, God spoke things into existence and just as He spoke plants into existence, it seems reasonable that He had already prepared soil for them to grow in.
Note: if you are trying to harmonize the Bible with the 'deep time' of the secular mythology of creation, this has dire consequences for the Gospel, in fact the authority of the whole Bible. See: Did God create over billions or years?
Christian C., United States, 20 February 2013
You bring up some important points concerning some of the interrelationships between protology (first-things) and eschatology (last-things). I think especially your point about how our interpretive grids affect these important issues should be taken seriously.
One thing I would add, however, is how according to the Scriptures protology and eschatology are themselves hermeneutically intertwined, such that one's interpretation of first-things is going to enlighten or endarken their understanding of last-things. Christ is both the first and the last, the beginning and the end. So there is a real sense in which biblical eschatology is contained in seed form within biblical protology. And biblical protology finds its fruit in biblical eschatology.
Christ is both the arch-type and the proto-type of creation. Likewise, He is the anti-type of consummation. "He is before all things and in Him all things hold together." So creation and consummation are interrelated and interdependent. And just as the Scriptures teach us a Christ-centered cosmology, so they also teach us a Christ-centered eschatology.
All this to say that sola scriptura et sola/tota Christus should be our fundamental hermeneutical grid for understanding both creation and consummation. Both of these disciplines are subject to false interpretive grids, unbelieving presuppositions, etc. And so if we fail to rightly understand the cosmic liturgy that was established in the beginning, then we will also fail to understand the eschatological liturgy that drives creation to its consummation.
In other words, I deny all forms of old earth theology because at bottom they all presuppose bad cosmic liturgy; but even worse, they presuppose anti-eschatological glory.
Don Batten responds
Yes, as we have explained elsewhere (briefly), acceptance of 'deep time' undermines eschatology. The whole-Bible theme of creation-fall-restoration is broken.
Simon F., Australia, 23 February 2013
I love what you say about the necessity of interpreting Genesis as it reads.
I would however emphasise the importance of studying eschatology in the same fashion.
Furthermore, I would argue that a correct as it reads interpretation of Genesis is the foundation pattern for reading all of scripture, particularly eschatology.
Having said that, I believe that much of God's end times plan, or at least the finer details, have been concealed for much of history. But having said this also, I think we are in a generation that is experiencing significant revelation and increased understanding of what God is going to do at the end of this age. This is most likely because the end of the age is approaching and so that we are united with God in his end times purposes.
If we pass Genesis off as metaphorical and allegorical, we really cannot have a clear understanding of most of the first twelve chapters of this book, which I believe has been a specific target of the accuser, who is teaching many in these recent generations to scoff as the creation and flood accounts. Likewise, many scoff at the end of God's story, even those who love God, often because they have experienced conflict over the many different interpretations and tired of the debate.
But much of what the bible says about the end of this age, and it is a massive amount, with roughly one quarter focussing on the subject of the end in some way, is actually reasonably clear in meaning if not so clear in application. When scripture does speak metaphorically, scripture must always interpret scripture.
So to summarise, the beginning and the end of scripture are targeted because a people who don't know where they came from or where they are going will drift aimlessly.
Come Yeshua come!