(extracted and adapted from chapter 2 of the Creation Answers Book)
The ‘framework hypothesis’ is probably the favourite view among ostensibly ‘evangelical’ seminaries that say they accept biblical authority but not six ordinary days of creation.
It is strange, if the literary framework were the true meaning of the text, that no-one interpreted Genesis this way until Arie Noordtzij in 1924. Actually it’s not so strange, because the leading framework exponents, Meredith Kline and Henri Blocher, admitted that their rationale for this bizarre, novel interpretation was a desperation to fit the Bible into the alleged ‘facts’ of science.
For example, Kline admitted in his major framework article, ‘To rebut the literalist interpretation of the Genesis creation “week” propounded by the young-earth theorists is a central concern of this article.’1
And Blocher said, ‘This hypothesis overcomes a number of problems that plagued the commentators [including] the confrontation with the scientific vision of the most distant past.’ And he further admits that he rejects the plain teaching of Scripture because, ‘The rejection of all the theories accepted by the scientists requires considerable bravado.’2
Clearly, the framework idea did not come from trying to understand Genesis, but from trying to counter the view, held by scholar and layman alike for 2,000 years, that Genesis records real events in real space and time.3
Genesis is, without any doubt whatsoever, most definitely written as historical narrative. Hebrew uses special grammatical forms for recording history, and Genesis 1–11 uses those. It has the same structure as Genesis 12 onwards and most of Exodus, Joshua, Judges, etc., which no one claims is ‘poetry’ or not meant to be taken as history. Genesis is not poetry or allegory.
Genesis is peppered with ‘And … and … and … ’ which characterises historical writing (this is technically called the ‘vav—ו, often rendered as waw—consecutive’).
The Hebrew verb forms of Genesis 1 have a particular feature that fits exactly what the Hebrews used for recording history or a series of past events. That is, only the first verb in a sequence of events is perfect (qatal), while the verbs that continue the narrative are imperfects (vayyiqtols).4 In Genesis 1, the first verb, bara (create), is perfect, while the subsequent verbs are imperfect.5 A proper translation in English recognises this Hebrew form and translates all the verbs as perfect (or past) tense.
Genesis 1–11 also has several other hallmarks of historical narrative, such as ‘accusative particles’ that mark the objects of verbs. These are not translated into English (e.g. Hebrew ‘et’ in Genesis 1:1). Terms are often carefully defined. Also, parallelisms, a feature of Hebrew poetry (e.g. in many Psalms), are almost absent in Genesis.6
The rare pieces of poetry (e.g. Genesis 1:27 and 2:23) comment on real events anyway, as do many of the Psalms (e.g. Psalm 78). But if Genesis were really poetic, the whole book would look like these rare verses and it doesn’t.
Advocates of the Framework idea argue that because Genesis 2 is (they say) arranged topically rather than chronologically, so is Genesis 1. Therefore, they argue, the days are ‘figurative’ rather than real days. But this is like arguing that because the Gospel of Matthew is arranged topically, then the Gospel of Luke is not arranged chronologically.
It is also logical (and in line with ancient near eastern literary practice) to have an historical overview (chapter 1) preceding a recap of the details (chapter 2) about certain events already mentioned. Chapter 2 does not have the numbered sequence of days that chapter 1 has, so how can it determine how we view chapter 1?
Hebrew scholars concur that Genesis was written as history. For example, the Oxford Hebrew scholar James Barr wrote:
Barr, consistent with his neo-orthodox views, did not believe Genesis, but he understood what the Hebrew writer clearly intended to be understood. Some criticize our use of the Barr quote, because he does not believe in the historicity of Genesis. That is precisely why we use his statement: he is a hostile witness. With no need to try to harmonize Genesis with anything, because he does not see it as carrying any authority, Barr is free to state the clear intention of the author. This contrasts with some ‘evangelical’ theologians who try to retain some sense of authority without actually believing it says much, if anything, about history—‘wrestling with the text’, we’ve heard it called.
Hebrew scholar Dr Stephen Boyd has shown, using a statistical comparison of verb type frequencies of historical and poetic Hebrew texts, that Genesis 1 is clearly historical narrative, not ‘poetry’. He concluded, ‘There is only one tenable view of its plain sense: God created everything in six literal days.’
Some other Hebrew scholars who support literal creation days include:
One of the supposed major ‘evidences’ for a poetic structure is an alleged two triads of days. In this view, Moses arranged the days in a very stylized framework with days 4–6 paralleling days 1–3. Kline suggests that Days 1–3 refer to the Kingdom, and Days 4–6 to the Rulers, as per the following table:
|Days of Kingdom||Days of Rulers|
|Day 1:||Light and darkness separated||Day 4:|| Sun, moon, and stars |
|Day 2:||Sky and waters separated||Day 5:||Fish and birds|
|Day 3:|| Dry land and seas separated, |
plants and trees
|Day 6:||Animals and man|
But even if this is true, it would not rule out a historical sequence―surely God is capable of creating in a certain order to teach certain truths. Also, other theologians argue that the ‘literary devices’ are more in the imagination of the proponents than the text. For example, the parallels of these two triads of days are vastly overdrawn. Systematic theologian Dr Wayne Grudem summarizes:
Photo by S. Hammond
Kline rightly states that God did not make plants before the earth had rain or a man (although this is talking about cultivated plants not all plants13). So, Kline asks, what’s to stop God making them anyway because He could miraculously sustain them? The answer, according to Kline, is that God was working by ordinary providence:
Note that Kline admits that this alleged presupposition is not argued in the text. This would explain why no Bible scholar saw this for thousands of years. Then he makes another amazing leap to say that there was ordinary providence operating throughout Creation Week:
But this is desperation. Even if normal providence were operating, it would not follow that miracles were not. In fact, there is no miracle in the Bible that does not operate in the midst of normal providence. Michael Horton points out that those who reject God acting in the normal course of events do it from an a priori philosophical assumption and not from anything in the text.16
Kline’s claim above that the processes operating during the creation were the same as today reminds us of 2 Peter 3: about the scoffers who will come in the last days denying that God created the world in the manner described in Genesis (covered in water) and that the world was destroyed by the Deluge. These scoffers will say, ‘everything continues on as it has since the beginning’ (verse 4). That’s exactly what Kline says, sadly.
A miracle is properly understood not as a ‘violation’ of providence but an addition.17 So when Jesus turned water into wine (John 2), the other aspects of ‘providence’ were still operating. Perhaps Jesus created the dazzling variety of organic compounds in the water to make the wine, but gravity still held the liquid in the barrels, taste buds were still working in the guests, their hearts pumped blood without skipping a beat, etc.
Furthermore, Genesis 2:5 shows that normal providence was not operating: note that ‘God had not caused it to rain upon the earth’. If creation happened over billions of years (by Kline’s version of ‘normal providence’), how could there have been no rain? And if there had been no rain for eons of time since plants appeared, how did they survive? This only makes sense if the time-frame of Genesis 1 is real so there are no eons of time, only days.
So Kline incorrectly presupposes normal providence as God’s sole modus operandi for Genesis 2:5, wildly extrapolates it to the entire Creation Week, and further presumes that normal providence excludes miracles. This error is compounded by failing to note the narrow focus of Genesis 2 on man in the Garden (it is not a ‘second account’ of Creation).
While Genesis 1 certainly refutes various errant ideas about God, it refutes those ideas precisely because of the real events. For example, it has an implied argument against sun worship because God actually created light without the sun (Day 1), before He created the sun (Day 4). The contention depends on the historicity of the events.
Is Genesis 1 an argument for the Sabbath? Exodus 20:10–11, which clearly teaches the Sabbath commandment, cites the historical events of Genesis 1 as the basis for the commandment. That is, the works of God recorded in Genesis presage the commandment. The history forms the basis of the commandment—God’s having created in the historical framework of a real ordinary week of seven days gives the basis for us structuring our lives around six days of work and a seventh day of rest. It is rather difficult to see how God’s days of creation could have been figurative but the days of our working week are real.
The writings of the framework advocates are marked by lack of clarity. Take a statement by Blocher, for example: ‘It [the framework idea] recognizes ordinary days but takes them in the context of one large figurative whole.’ But, cutting through the verbal fog, what they really mean is that they deny that the days occurred in real space-time history.
About the only thing that gives any logical coherence to their views is a clear opposition to the calendar-day understanding of Genesis. Sadly, this mess of porridge has been far too widely promoted to undermine the historicity of Genesis.
Over and above all these arguments, the Framework Hypothesis suffers from the same problems as all other attempts to make the Bible compatible with the imaginary millions of years of historical ‘science’: it puts death and suffering before the Fall, before Adam sinned and ushered death and suffering into God’s ‘very good’ Creation (Genesis 1:31).18 This undermines the whole sweep of scripture, from Paradise Lost to Paradise Gained, which is the big picture of the wonderful Gospel of Jesus Christ.
(Also available in Russian.)