In the Beginning:
Science, Scripture, and God's Creation
Everybody these days, it seems, has a different take on the Creation Account. The scientific community once had Christendom running scared with what seemed to be fairly conclusive evidence that the Bible's understanding of the origin of the universe held no ground in reality. Not to be vanquished so easily, many Christians began searching for answers for ways they might accord Scripture with science.
Differing perspectives on the Creation have existed for ages, but recently, the fervor seems to have raised a notch with people becoming increasingly dogmatic on the side of their own perspective. Christians of one perspective are becoming skeptical of the genuineness of the salvation of those who hold to another interpretation.
With all this in mind, it should be of benefit to summarize the differing views (while supplying bibliographies of additional resources for further studies) and allow Christians to make their own choices as to which view accords best with Scripture.
Facing the modern Christian are two distinct methods for interpreting the Creation Account: by consulting the discoveries of science or by consulting Scripture's testament to itself. Within both methods are several perspectives and so we will treat each one briefly. Because the science-based methods focus more upon interpreting God's Word through the light of empirical data rather than through the hermeneutical demands of context, we will refer to all these methods as "theories," while exegetically-based methods, being naturally more rigorous and adherent to the discovery of the true meaning of Scripture, will be called "interpretations." We shall also begin with the science-based method and then proceed to deal with those views which are more thoroughly entrenched in Scripture in greater depth.
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Science-based views interpret Scripture through the filter of their experience of general revelation. They see the sciences and their own observations of the world around them saying something incontrovertible; and so, they interpret Scripture in light of these things. Truly, the pressure of the scientific communities both Christian and secular can seem overwhelming and nobody wants to feel they have their head in the sand and are ignoring plain evidence. But never should the Christian allow current scientific understanding to supercede the historical and literary intent of the authors of Scripture. We will here discuss briefly several of these viewpoints, but dismiss them in the end as being built upon eisegesis.
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A once-popular revision of this theme is the Restoration Theory. Proponents of this version of Gap Theory believed that the universe was created full-form and populated only to be decimated by a cataclysmic war led between God and Satan. This war left the earth a wasteland, "formless and void" (and explains why we find fossilized dinosaur bones that seem to be millions of years old). So then, by theory, the recent Creation Week would be a re-Creation or restoration of a world that was once destroyed.
The hinge upon which Gap Theory turns is the interaction between verses 1, 2, and 3 of Genesis 1. But while the theory's suppositions are imaginative and interesting to ponder, they really must be forced upon the text and are forced upon the text for a poor reason. A clear example of this eisegetical pattern of interpreting Scripture in light of science can be found in the following quote from a Gap Theory supporter:
"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:" (Rom 5:12)
This is a distressing demonstration of the Gap Theory hermeneutic. It is as if the author is saying, "Scripture says death came through Adam, but science says it came earlier, so we ought to change our interpretation of Scripture because science is our ultimate authority." This reliance upon science as a hermeneutic principle is why we will not here give any real consideration to the view's interpretive accuracy.
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Popular among those who support a Day-Age Theory is a theory of Progressive Creationism by which God, having created the major types of the animal and plant kingdoms at the beginning of the Sixth Day, waits and watches as they evolve naturally within their groups until at the end of this lengthy period referred to as "the Sixth Day," God creates man of the dust by fiat.
Now, while this is a fairly attractive position for many science-minded Christians, it simply cannot be arrived at from a grammatical-historical understanding of Scripture. There is no hermeneutical reason for any Believer to reinterpret Genesis to fit the Day-Age model.
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The Apparent-Age theory falls short in several places. First, it makes a blind speculation upon Scripture something entirely outside of the revelation God has chosen to give us. Second, though Adam was created as a full-sized human, this does not necessarily mean that he had the wrinkles, cellular degeneration, and evidence of weathering on the day of his creation (and it seems unreasonable to assume he did). And third, the supposition that God creates things to look older than they really are seems to make Him out to be quite a prankster (and a counterproductive one at that!) and even a bit of a liar.
In any case, the Apparent-Age Theory rests upon speculation demanded by science and is not borne out by a clean grammatical-historical hermeneutic.
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Punctuated 24-Hour Theory
Surely, an interesting hypothesis it is. But one that just does not find any sort of ground in the text of Genesis 1 and so becomes one more theory to dismiss before consideration because as far as this issue is concerned, we, as Christians holding to the supreme authority of Scripture, are only interested in the interpretation of that which God has revealed in His Word.
Often supporting its hypothesis using a Flood Geology, Scientific Creationism says that science demonstrates not that the earth is ancient and weathered by millions of years of natural processes, but that it is a comparatively young creation (generally between 7,000 and 15,000 years old). Using this system, they affirm that yes, the earth is indeed young and Believers can indeed hold to a literal rendering of Genesis 1.
Now while their work may indeed serve an apologetic purpose, this is really no way to come to understand that which of Scripture would speak. The student of Scripture should be able to demonstrate his interpretation of God's Word based upon that Word alone. And so, in the next section, we will look at three methods of interpreting Scripture that find their foundation in the Scriptures themselves (rather than in the fallible witness of natural revelation).
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Interpretations that seek first to understand Scripture as it was written with no concern for the opinions of science are really the only way to properly look at the issues involved in the Creation Account. Now of course science can be useful to serve as a warning that perhaps we may need to re-examine our previous exegesis, but it should never serve any interpretive purpose for us. We should never allow anything but God's Word to dictate our understanding of the matters of God's Word. If Scripture says the world is flat, then the world is flat no matter what science might say. If Scripture says the world is 8,000 years old, then the world is 8,000 years old no matter what science might say. The only real question then is "What does Scripture say in Genesis 1?"
The following four interpretations attempt to decipher what the Holy Spirit truly meant when He inspired Moses to write his introduction to our Bible. Our examination of them will offer more detail and information than our previous summaries, but the final decisions about which interpretation most accurately reflects the true intent of Scripture will be left to you, the reader, for all of these positions are held to by true and learned Christian men. And with that, the views:
One of the interpretation's strongest arguments is one from silence: while a figurative interpretation of the Creation Days is not impossible, it is believed entirely unmerited, for nowhere does Scriptural discussion of the Creation indicate or support any sort of figurative rendering. Moreover, the interpretation holds that those who suspect different meanings for the Hebrew word for "day" (yôm) "have no reason, other than cosmological assumptions, for construing [it] to mean anything other than a normal day" (NOTE).
And finally, standing on both a strong tradition and a simple (though certainly not simplistic) rendering of the text, the 24-Hour Interpreter believes the final and considerable burden of proof sits in the lap of those who would contravene such a venerable position.
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The Framework Interpretation sees the six creative days dividing easily into two parallel sets of three (that is, two triads). The first triad Days One, Two, and Three deals with the creation kingdoms (or realms), while the second Days Four, Five, and Six deals with the creature kings (or rulers). A visual representation of this framework follows:
The rulers in the second triad are given rule over their realms (the first triad) at the time of their creations: the luminaries are established to "rule over" the day and night; the birds and fish receive a blessing of dominion over their respective realms ("Be fruitful, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth"); and even man is given this dominion over his realm specifically (cf. Genesis 2:5) and all the created realms generally (Genesis 1:26, 28). These realms and rulers are in turn subordinated as a whole under the divine King of Creation in His Sabbath rest on the seventh day. Just as man works six days and consecrates that work to God's glory on the seventh day, so did God create a model for this by bringing the work of His six creative days under divine consecration to His own glory on the Seventh Day.
Not only does this interpretation see a theological frame in the Creation Week, but it sees no need for chronologization inherent in the text. In fact, the interpretation argues fairly sharply against making the Creation Account into a literal 168-hour sequence. Beside literary support (in the form of parallelism between Days One and Four, the chiastic nature of Days Two and Five, and dischronologization throughout), the Framework Interpretation applies God's seeming use of ordinary providence in Genesis 2:5-6 to demonstrate that such providence is likely active throughout God's creation of the universe.
This is a brief sketch of a multi-faceted interpretation and the sources below are recommended to garner a more accurate understanding of the view.
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Similar to the Gap theory, Genesis 1:1 indicates the universe created at a time inconsequential to the needs of the Genesis narrative. God prepares a piece of paradise on earth in the midst of wilderness and continually brings His people back to that place of blessing as a tutorial device pointing them to the blessing (and eventually eternal blessing) of God's covenants with them.
The Historical Creationist also contends that most other views of Genesis 1 have been held captive by prevailing worldviews. In modern times, interpreters often push the text to accord with modern scientific views. The Historical Creationist maintains that the 24-Hour Interpretation only became so trenchant because of KJV translators' reliance upon a faulty Platonic cosmogony and their willingness to push their translation into accordance with that view.
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To conclude this article, we should remind ourselves that whichever view we decide to support, it must be one that is presented by the Scriptures themselves and not one that we force upon it. And whichever we choose, we must never fail to uphold the historicity and inerrancy of God's Word for it is that upon which the knowledge of our faith is built.
Additionally, it is important once one decides upon the interpretation he thinks best represents the true meaning of Scripture to not judge other people for their own views. One's view on Genesis 1 is no more an essential to one's salvation and spiritual well-being than is one's eschatalogical beliefs. There are a number of perspectives on the Creation Week that while not necessarily correct, are not heretical either. We should grant our brethren the same benefit of deciding on an interpretation as we take ourselves.
We hope this brief overview has been helpful. God bless.