Posts Tagged With: Genesis

Nearly Twenty Years Later…

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology

I came across this the other day:

“It is likely that scientific research in the next ten or twenty years will tip the weight of evidence decisively toward either a young earth or an old earth view, and the weight of Christian scholarly opinion (from both biblical scholars and scientists) will begin to shift decisively in one direction or another. This should not cause alarm to advocates of either position, because the truthfulness of Scripture is not threatened (our interpretations of Genesis 1 have enough uncertainty that either position is possible). Both sides need to grow in knowledge of the truth, even if this means abandoning a long-held position” –Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 309, 1994.

Grudem was hopeful that this debate would be settled by now.  I wish it was, but the lines are still drawn.  I wonder if they will ever be erased!

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The Universe Is 29 Years Young

A new map shows the oldest light in our universe, as detected with the precision by the Planck mission. Image by ESA and the Planck Collaboration.

When the thirty-something women I know lament their age, I usually tell each of them that they can’t be over twenty-nine years old. Everyone wants to be young, and for some reason people think you’re officially old when you’re thirty. I’d complain about this, but then I’d sound like an old-timer. Well I still might, since I have something else to gripe about.New cosmological evidence points to a universe that is even older than once thought. The evidence of a very old universe keeps piling up, even though young-earth creationists continue to chase “yabbut” trails.

“Yabbut radio carbon dating is flawed.”
“Yabbut science cannot observe past events”
“Yabbut the fossil record actually points to a young earth”

I used to be a young-earth creationist, but gave it up mainly because the evidence of an old earth always crushed the young-earth propositions. But it was a long haul for me, because I held tightly to my literal interpretation of the book of Genesis. And that is, I believe, the main motivation behind most of the young-earth chatter. If the universe is very old, if the earth is very old, then that will affect the way you read Genesis. And how you read Genesis could greatly influence your theological approach to the Bible. A deeper fear is that if someone concedes an old universe, then they may give up their Christian faith. That’s not true but believe me, I have felt that fear before.

One of the most popular young-earth arguments is one that I often found hard to accept: God created the universe to appear old, but it is really very young.

So the universe looks 13.8 billion years old, but really she’s only 29 (or 6000–she’s still flattered).

It may sound preposterous on its face, but the argument goes like this:
-When God created Adam, Eve, the animals and the plants, they were mature enough to reproduce (Gen. 1:11, 22, 28).
-Thus, it is not surprising that God created the rest of the universe to look old.

This kind of argument has big problems. The biggest is the fact that it is an argument ad ignorantium–an argument from ignorance. There is no possible way that someone can prove God created the world this way.

Epistemologically, the argument is completely useless even if it were true. Think about it. For the sake of illustration, let’s pretend that you are 50 years old. What if God actually created the universe just 1 year ago. One year ago today, God created the space-time continuum, Earth, all the people on earth, and you. But you look 50. You still have memories of your past 10, 20, 30, 40 years of life already, even though those memories didn’t actually happen. Everyone else in the universe was created the same way and at the same time. They were also created one year ago, but have no perception of it. God created all things to appear as if they have existed for a long, long time.

If this scenario were true, how old would you be? Would you be one year old, or fifty?

Well, you would be fifty. God made you to be fifty. All the evidence in the universe points to the fact that you are fifty. Scientific research says that you are fifty. Your friends tell you that you are fifty. Every ontological bit of evidence in the created universe points to the fact that you are fifty (because it was created to show that).

But aren’t you really only one year old? No! God is the one who made you one year ago with all your perceptions and knowledge which proves beyond a shadow of doubt that you are fifty.

Now this gets to my point. What if God created the universe 6000 years ago but made it appear in every way shape and form to be 13.8 billion years old?

Well, then it is 13.8 billion years old.

You may say, “No, it only appears to be that old!”
But if God created it to be old…then it is OLD! Its ontology is old, so it is old. It doesn’t simply appear old, it is old!

You see, the “universe only appears old” argument goes nowhere. Even if it is correct–even if God created the cosmos to appear old, then there would be no other way for us to see it.
You might as well say that the world is only one year old and God created it to look much older. There is no direct evidence to support that, so it cannot be affirmed. It is a useless argument.

This is a little heady, but hopefully you see my point.

Categories: Creation, Evolution, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A Good Parent Condescends, God Does too

You probably won’t answer your son as elaborately as the dad in this commercial, but I wonder if you condescended in a similar way when your 4-year old asks where babies come from. Why do you do that? Why don’t you just come on out and talk about sexual intercourse and all the things around it? Well–duh!–he’s four years old! It wouldn’t be appropriate for him to learn about all the aspects of human sexuality (which you, of course, have mastered)! I’m not a child psychologist but I think I know why you might do it:

-For one thing, he won’t really understand what you’re talking about.
-It will introduce him to concepts that are either inappropriate or irrelevant to his current lifestyle (let’s hope!).
-Also, he might not be emotionally ready for full-disclosure on the topic.

So maybe you’ll just be as vague as possible. That’s a safe move. You don’t want to bring out the textbooks and talk anatomy. You don’t want to use dolls for any illustrative purposes. You’d rather not use specific terms. The main thing you try to do is condescend to your son. You want to put complex matters into understandable terms. And why would you do such a thing to your son? Are you trying to lie to him? Confuse him?

Just the opposite, actually. You want to answer his questions in a way that is relevant to his life experiences and his current mental acumen. This is a little heavier than working with fractions and pie charts, after all.

As you explain some things, you’re holding back. You’re not being dishonest or deceptive. You are giving him the amount of information that he can handle. He uses some terms that are not technically correct, but you’ll overlook that and actually use his terminology to communicate the main point clearly. As he grows up, you’ll talk about these things more and correct some of his misconceptions.

So we condescend to our children because we love them and want them to understand matters that are relevant to their current situation.

In the same way, God the Father is the best dad of all (Matt. 7:11) and condescended to answer people’s questions. The ancient Hebrews wondered where they came from and where they were going. God answered with the creation narrative–Gen. 1-3. The Hebrews weren’t asking questions about science–at the time, nobody was! So God answers their questions in ancient symbols that they would understand. He could have told them how old the earth was. He could have described the creation in much more scientific detail. He could have explained how there could be light before any sun existed, or how a day could pass before the sun even existed (Gen. 1:14). But apparently, those things didn’t matter to the Hebrews.

Instead they asked, “Are we special?” And God said that he created them in His image and ordained them to rule the earth in his place. They learned that they are included in a divine struggle between the serpent and God. They learned that their disobedience leads to separation from God. They learned that sacrifice would be necessary to cover their shame before the Almighty. God was answering their questions based on the terms and knowledge they had. That’s what a good dad does. God condescends, he does not lie.

Categories: Biblical Studies, Creation, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How the Ancient Cookie Crumbles

cook•ie  n. 1. A small, usually flat and crisp cake made from sweetened dough (American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd ed. 1996).

Half a dozen home-made cookies. Ingredients: b...

Half a dozen home-made cookies. Ingredients: butter, flour, white sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, soda, salt, and chocolate chips. Français : Demie-douzaine de cookies fait-maison. Ingrédients: beurre, farine, sucre en poudre, œufs, vanille, soda, sel et grain de chocolat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When someone mentions cookies, I get hungry.  Even if I’ve just finished up at a Chinese buffet, I ask if I can have one.  I prefer chocolate chip, if you’ve got ’em, and freshly baked.  If not…I’ll take one anyway.  And I must say, raisins in a cookie is always a disappointment!  I’ve been eating cookies for as long as I can remember.  Growing up, I experienced all sorts of phenomenon around cookies, and I loved all of it.  I, too, freaked out like Cookie Monster in front of a bunch of chocolate chip cookies!  When I saw a massive oak tree in the woods, I sometimes thought that elves might baking some snacks inside (probably not the best place to cook things).  And don’t get me started about Oreos!  There was whole culture around cookies that is still going strong.  During the 1980s, there were only two recognized definitions for the word.  One had to do with this wonderful snack that made me add notches to my belt, the other was a slang use of the term (“She’s one smart cookie!”).

cookie ■ noun

4 Computing a packet of data sent by an Internet server to a browser and used to identify the user or track their access to the server (Concise Oxford English Dictionary. 11th ed. 2004).

I’m older now, and there is a new kind of cookie on the block.  It’s the kind that works on my computer and the internet–the thing that collects basic information about you and the websites you visit.  I’m not as familiar with these cookies because I have only recently cared to understand them; and let’s face it, they haven’t a single chocolate chip.  I’m learning about these internet cookies because they have implication regarding my time on the internet.  To me, both the soft, delicious chocolate chip cookie and the ice-cold string of internet-based text have relevance to my daily life.  They are a part of two cultures: culinary and technological.  I can work with both and understand what they represent, but I have a deeper connection with the one I stuff in my face than the one that is hidden in my hard drive.  I think that’s because I grew up with one and not the other.  I naturally absorbed the concept of edible cookies while I grew up.  The other one took time and work.

My father, on the other hand, has gotten on the internet maybe twice in his life.  As you can imagine, he has no idea what an internet cookie is because it has never been a part of his daily conversation or routine.  Since the internet has never been a part of his life, he may never know what an internet cookie is.  If I tried to have a conversation with him about them, he would have little interest because it has no direct bearing on his life.  I would mention a cookie and he would hand me an Oreo (I need to try that).  The internet has little to do with his culture, and so internet language has little meaning to him.

But I know what internet cookies are!  …sorta.  If you compare what I know to most teenagers, I’d be in the dark.  Many teens these days have grown up around and (in a way) in the internet.   The internet and computers are simply part of their daily lives.  So, I may be learning about it, but in many ways they have a better handle on it than I do.  To them, the internet may be the next thing to home.

culture noun  2  the customs, ideas, and social behaviour of a particular people or group (Concise Oxford English Dictionary. 11th ed. 2004).

Let’s take these concepts to Genesis 1-3.  Since it was written to an ancient people, the words and concepts were befitting to them.  It’s no coincidence that the Hebrews’ creation account parallels others from the ancient Near East.  They were quite familiar with the creation stories of their neighbors, so we should expect that they would use words and concepts found in those stories.  It was how they understood creation stories overall.

There are a few implications here.  First, a modern reader of the biblical creation account must read it in light of other ancient Near Eastern ideas in order to read it accurately.  People often force their own ideas on Genesis 1-3 without even knowing it, and one of the biggest problems is the imposition of modern scientific concepts onto the text.  As moderners, that is the way we think, but it is certainly not the way they thought. If we expect God to speak with any relevancy or meaning to his ancient audience, then the text must be replete with ancient concepts.  To put it another way, in order for the text to be relevent it must not be scientific.  When we assume that it is, we rob it of it’s original intended meaning.  It is like my father talking to me about cookies, and I assume that he means internet cookies.  He has no idea what internet cookies are and really doesn’t care, but I keep insisting that he does. You can imagine how frustrating that conversation would be to both of us!

The second point addresses a certain accusation that folks have brought against the Genesis creation account.  I have heard the flippant comment more than once: “The writers of the Bible just stole concepts from other ancient people to make their own creation story.”  But let’s not forget that all ancient Near Eastern creation stories have striking parallels!  They didn’t steal from each other.  Rather, the concepts were common to Mesopotamian culture.  Just as the youth these days are automatically familiar with computer terms without even trying, so was any ancient Near Easterner automatically familiar with creation myth concepts from his neighbors.

I really appreciate John Walton’s works which have helped me recognize a similar idea.  The video below makes one of his points, that the Hebrews weren’t as concerned with how they were created from a scientific/material point of view.  Instead, they were interested about which god created them and for what purpose.  They wanted to know why things in their world were so messed up and why YHWH was so good to them.  When we read the text trying to find a scientific point, we are looking for internet cookies while the text only mentions chocolate chips.

Categories: Creation | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Some Kind of Adam Existed

Did Adam and Eve really exist? A great question if you’re considering different approaches to the Bible‘s creation account. C. John Collins has taught at Covenant Seminary for nearly twenty years, so he writes from a conservative/traditional perspective that supports the Westminster Confession and, of course, inerrancy.  I found his tone pastoral and kind as he honestly and practically addressed a hot topic in biblical studies today.

In the preface, Collins states that the book would propose an argument that defends a form of the traditional argument for Adam and Eve’s existence, recognizing the tension between more literalist views and those that recognize evolutionary models. He rejects “concordism”–the view that the Bible’s report of an event can be reconciled with modern scientific conclusions. Instead, he recognizes that Genesis 1-3 is an ancient retelling of something historical.  It is a form of “pre-history,” that uses ancient symbols and terms to describe an actual event.  The story is theologically instructive, but is not as precise as we moderners would expect. Since a more standard method of recording/reporting history did not arrive until about the fifth century BCE with the arrival of Herodotus, we should expect no less than a proto-history model from Genesis 1-3.

I really enjoyed Collins’s overview of the positions on Genesis 1-3.  I also appreciate the fact that he considers the scientific positions of some scientists and their studies, but he makes it clear that some of the data is inaccessible to him (118), which I take to mean that he’s recognizing that his understanding of it is limited.  He takes on the possibility that, according to biological and archeological studies, there may not have been a single couple that were the first humans, but groups of hominoids that were developing in different places around the world gradually developed into human beings.  Of course, this is difficult to reconcile with the biblical creation account, and Collins steers clear of it.  His criteria for “sound thinking” (which I think means traditional biblical thinking) states that there must have been some point in history where God moved on a particular hominoid, bestowing upon him the ‘image of God’.  There must also have been a singular event that we call the Fall, when sin and spiritual death cursed the world.  Genesis does not have to be precise in its description (it is ancient literature, after all), but the broad strokes of the picture must have been historically true.  To his credit, Collins gives a great deal of wiggle room for interpreting Genesis 1-3.  As I said before, his tone is kind, but some of his terms are loaded.  When he calls his own points the criteria to stay within “sound thinking” (120), I raise an eyebrow.

Intaglio,, copperplate print (KJV) 1631 Holy B...

Image via Wikipedia

Collins gives a great overview of several views on the creation account favoring, among others, Greg Beale’s comparison of it to the Hebrew temple–that God made the universe to be a sanctuary and cosmic worship center.  He cites John Walton more than once, giving some praise and some criticism.  He agrees with Walton that Genesis 1-3 taught a unique Hebrew world view, but seems to indicate that Walton dismisses a distinction between natural and supernatural events in the Bible (Collins, 108n5; Walton, The Lost World of Geneis One, 16-22).  Collins suggests that Walton betrays his position when he affirms evolution overall, but suggests that God acted directly when forming Adam and Eve (Walton, Lost World, 139).  I think Collins misses the point here.  Walton’s proposal was that the ancient writer would not be able to make a distinction between natural and supernatural events like the modern person does almost every day.  But such distinctions are fair game for modern readers who make these distinctions all the time.  So, there’s no need to call foul on Walton when he makes a scientific distinction as a modern reader of an ancient text.

Collins also takes a poke at one of Peter Enns‘s comments in his earlier book Inspiration and Incarnation, where Enns writes that myth, “is an ancient, premodern, prescientific way of addressing questions of ultimate origins and maning in the form of stories: Who are we? Where do we come from?”  Collins accuses Enns of triumphalism: “it seems to imply that we in the modern scientific world are more sophisticated than the ancients.  This overlooks the astounding achievements of ancient peoples in the areas that we would call mathematics and engineering” (29).

No, it doesn’t.  Enns is not saying that ancient people are incompetent.  Instead, he’s actually affirming that they were using literary methods which were common to that era.  The writer of Genesis was using the highest level of cutting-edge literary techniques.  They were as Enns says: “premodern” and “prescientific”.  Enns was not criticizing, he was defining myth (which is not an easy task!).  I fear that Collins used a classic straw-man argument here.  What’s more, Collins’s book ultimately argues something similar to what Enns’s quote affirms, that the creation account is “prehistory” and “protohistory” (57).  Collins states that the facts of Adam and Eve were shrouded in the “mists of antiquity” (57).  Later, he affirms C. S. Lewis‘s view, which Collins admits is mythic (128-29) but does not condemn Lewis with triumphalism.

Collins’s book is very helpful and an easy read for the most part.  As my title here suggests, he gives a green light to many interpretive approaches to Genesis 1-3 as long as they affirm the basic points it makes.  There was a literal Adam at some point in history and there was a literal Fall.  I like his approach to the biblical text, but I think his handling of the scientific evidence is lacking.

Categories: Creation | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Genesis 1: God Creates with Purpose

When I was in college, I listened to a lot of Christian talk radio and sermons on tape.  What I heard bolstered up my Christian world view which was a particular help in my philosophy classes.  I remember hearing one theologian (I think it was R. C. Sproul) state that Genesis 1-3 was one of the most difficult passages in scripture to interpret.  I thought that was crazy!  As a literalist, the Biblical account was clear to me.  God created the world some thousands of years ago in six literal 24 hour days.  There were two accounts of the creation: Genesis 1:1-2:3 focused on creation as a whole, and 2:4-25 told the story again, paying special attention to the creation of Adam and his wife.  A serpentine creature possessed by Devil destroyed the pristine Garden of Eden by tempting the woman to disobey God’s command not to eat of a special tree.  She convinced Adam to do the same, so sin and death came into the world.  God divvied out judgment to man, woman, and serpent, and cast the first human couple from the garden paradise.  What’s hard to understand about that?

These days, I’ve recognized what that speaker meant.  I’ve considered some different perspectives on the Bible’s creation account, and would like to share some of the most influential works that have moved me into a new direction.  Each of the authors has a high respect for the scripture and recognizes the authority of the text.  However, as experts in their field, they are sensitive to interpretive issues that the average person would not catch.

John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.

When anyone reads the Bible, he or she naturally and automatically interprets it based on their own culture and experiences.  For example, since I am an American, any reference to stars and stripes makes me think of the American flag and what it represents: fifty stars which represent states, thirteen stripes which represent the original colonies.  Feelings such as patriotism might also arise.  Since I have lived in America all of my life, I recognize such symbols immediately and effortlessly.  The point is, all people recognize the symbols from their own culture.  So, we also recognize that the writer of Genesis 1 was, at the very least, familiar with ancient Mesopotamian symbols and used them when he wrote the creation account.  Walton argues that we must read Genesis 1 as the ancient Mesopotamian would.  As he puts it, Genesis 1 is scripture, so it was written for us; but it was not written to us.  It was written to an audience already familiar with these symbols.   That means that it takes more work for us to unearth these symbols to correctly interpret the writing.  We go too far when we expect that the writer was using symbols relevant only to us–a modern audience.

Walton uses small chapters to take us step-by-step to a better reading of Genesis 1.  He promotes the view that the Biblical creation account is about transforming chaos (Genesis 1:2) into order.  He posits that the word for “create” in Hebrew has to do with making something purposeful, and thus God ordered the chaos that existed to give the world a specific function–bringing glory to himself.  He made it into something that could serve him and put images of himself–mankind–into positions of authority over it.  Walton also shows how Genesis 1 portrays all the created cosmos as a temple directing worship to its creator.  This strikes me for two reasons.  First, it shows further relevance to the ancient audience, who would appreciate the importance of the actual temple in Jerusalem.  Second, it gives more reason for people to find reason for praising God through creation (Ps. 19:1).

As for the seven days themselves in Genesis 1, they have nothing to do with how God actually created the universe and instead represent the seven-day inauguration of the world as a cosmic temple (1 Kings 8:65; 2 Chron. 7:9).  God is certainly behind the creation of all things, but Genesis 1 is really about establishing a worldview for the Hebrew people at the time of writing.  They were steeped in other ancient creation accounts and world views.  These neighboring stories taught the people that they were a mere byproduct of divine conflicts between deities.  The Hebrew account told a different story.  God took the chaos that existed before (Genesis 1:2), carefully ordered it, and gave it all purpose and meaning.  Mankind is not a side effect of warlike events, but God took great care to hand craft governors in his own image to rule on earth as he does from heaven.

So we are to read Genesis 1 as a theologically instructive account of creation that has nothing to do with how God created the universe.  Walton doesn’t stop there, but also gives his thoughts about the teaching of evolution in the classroom.  Genesis 1 ought not be taught as science in the public school system since it was never intended as a scientific document.  On the other hand, evolution should never be taught as a world view in the public school system.  Just because a person believes that evolution is true, it does not mean that person is a naturalist, thinking that there is no meaning or purpose in the universe.  Though Genesis 1 does not reveal the science of how God created the universe, it does reveal that he created it with meaning and purpose.

Why all the trouble?  Why not just read Genesis 1 literally?  Walton insists that he is reading it literally:

“I believe that this is a literal reading.  A literal reading requires an understanding of the Hebrew language and the Israelite culture.  I believe that the reading that I have offered is the most literal reading possible at this point.  Someone who claims a ‘literal’ reading based on their thinking about the English word ‘create’ may not be reading the text literally at all, because the English word is of little significance in the discussion” (170).

I really appreciate his approach!  What do you think?

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