Monday, April 14, 2008

Genesis One Interpretations

In a comment thread a short while ago, I told a reader that I believe that dinosaurs lived much prior to the first humans. She asked,
How does this view fit into a literal reading of Genesis 1...? And if Genesis 1 is not to be read literally, then what is the reason why?
By way of response, let me share a list of twelve different views of interpreting Genesis 1, each of which is--or has been--held by Christians who accept the doctrines of the inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of Scripture. These were compiled by Professor Robert Bowman (of BIOLA University); for brevity's sake, I'll just list them here with only minimal comment.

Of the twelve views, fully eight of them are considered "literal" interpretations (and I'll argue in a later post that the other four deserve to be considered literal as well). Further, only two of the twelve result in the conclusion that the Earth is young (on the order of thousands or about ten thousand years).

Four views are considered (by Bowman) to take a "partial-creation" approach. These are the gap theory (popularized by C.I. Scofield), hesitation theory (William Lee Stokes), Edenic creation view (John Sailhamer), and intermittent days view (Robert C. Newman).

The two that take a "young-earth" approach are the plain-day view (Martin Luther, Henry Morris, and others) and relativity-day view (for which Derek Humphreys is the most well-known proponent).

Two theories that take a "long-day" approach are the millenial-day view (apparently held by Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, among others) and day-age view (Gleason Archer and Hugh Ross, among others).

Four views that (according to Bowman) take a "non-literal" approach are the revelation days view (Bernard Ramm), figurative day interpretation (Augustine and Origen), framework hypothesis (Charles Hummel, Meredith Kline, and others), and the cosmogonic view (Karl Barth, Claus Westermann).

The take-home point (for now) is simply this... although the very well-funded and vocal proponents of the plain-day young-earth view have insisted (for the last fifty years) that theirs is the only "literal" and "orthodox" interpretation of Genesis 1, there is nothing like consensus about this among serious, believing theologians and Bible scholars.

31 comments:

Ben Hanes said...

Hi Rick, How old would you date the earth? What is your explanation about dinosaurs? Did God mess up and wipe them out, like he did with the first batch of unsatisfactory people that God wiped out with the flood?

Some funny images simply for everyone's amusement. Please don't take serious. Only intended for humor. Right click and open in new window or new tab.

Image 1
Image 2
Image 3
Image 4

These historic photographs confirm that humans DID live with dinosaurs! ;)

I think #4 is hilarious!

Ben Hanes said...

One more cartoon about the flood and dinosaurs:

The 3 Arks

Rick Gerhardt said...

Hi Ben:

Let me address your comments and questions in reverse order.

I, too, found image #4 very amusing.

No, God did not "mess up" when He created dinosaurs. The record of nature demonstrates very clearly that God has chosen to fill the Earth with life (and that in a wealth of creative variety) throughout the planet's history. While we can assign some (anthropocentric) purposes to the various life forms that preceded us (things like preparing the crust and the atmosphere and laying down the organic matter that has become the natural gas, coals, oil, and such upon which we rely today), God undoubtedly had other purposes that we do not understand (some of which may have been extraneous to making Earth suitable for us).

I take the Earth to be about 4.9 billion years old (which, incidentally, is orders of magnitude too young for neo-Darwinism or any other naturalistic explanation for life's origin and diversity).

Thanks for reading.

Rick Gerhardt said...

That age estimate should read 4.6 b.y. (not 4.9).

Ben Hanes said...

Thanks Rick! I'm glad you found the pics amusing. They are very silly.

4.9 billion is definitely not the 10,000 years old that some estimate. I am eager to learn more about your views. Thanks for humoring a newbie to the subject.

"God undoubtedly had other purposes that we do not understand" He most definitely must have.

nate b said...

Rick,
I think you might find this helpful... either useful in the sense of adding to the possibility of postmodernism / Christianity or useful in the sense of clarifying some of your issues with the merge. A powerpoint called "Ministry in the Emerging Postmodern world" http://www.slideshare.net/knightopia/ministry-in-the-emerging-postmodern-world/

nate b said...

ugh... the link didn't fit. If you click on my name, you'll get there. Check it out...

Keeping things going, with much respect. See you soon, hopefully.
Nate

Ben Hanes said...

Rick, Do you believe God brought everything into existence all at once (such as the account in Genesis)?

Do you believe (as the Dutch priest that is credited for Big Bang theory) that God kick-started the big bang then sat back as life evolved over 4.6 billion years?

Essentially the two questions above are the same question: Did God make everything then sit back during those billions of years? He started it all then waited for the human species to evolve the necessary level of intelligence for communication with him?

Why, after 4,599,997,000 years (3,000 years ago), did God decided to begin revealing himself to one small tribe of humans in the middle east?

Dan McCarthy said...

Hi Ben,

Good questions. Here is an issue, if God is infinite (timeless) what is a few billion years to Him. Also, those that beleive in an Old Earth beleive that he is not just hanging out, but sustaining the Universe. I would say that is a fulltime job. Also, everything that was unfolding was for His glory. Man is at the Center, but just a part of the reason he chose to create..."The Heavens Declare The Glory of God".

I believe the Frame work theory is true and Genesis is the ultimate apologetic against paganism. At a sub level, I believe Hugh Ross' interpretation is true as well. Scientifically, Genesis is fully accurate.

Best
Dan

Ben Hanes said...

Thanks Dan! This question is for both Dan and Rick:

Do you believe God created each species of animal (including humans) fully formed? As in NO evolution. Or do you believe God jump started the mechanism of the universe rolling and creatures evolved?

I am particularly interested in Ricks response as to evolution because, What was happening during the 4,599,997,000 years? Did God create the universe that long ago then created man just a couple thousand ago?

Ben Hanes said...

How do you guys see the dinosaurs fitting into all of this? For that matter, what about all the other 99% of species that have gone extinct? Why did god create then get rid of so many species?

nate b said...

I would say it most entirely possible that those writing the bible knew nothing of the dinosaurs. They existed but really have no bearing on the biblical narrative... which I believe is primarily a way of describing how humans came to be. It is so similar (yet different as the other stories are different as well) to many other creation narratives.

It seems to me that so many groups of people, as they continued learning and living in the mystery of life, began realizing that it wasn't just them. There was more to life than the physical. They needed a way of explaining it and so through the oral tradition and the work of God in this process, they came to believe what we know as the creation narrative.

The question for me tonight is also around the idea that God "chose" one nation to carry his message to the world. If God is love and his message is forgiveness and reconciliation, different understandings of how the world came to be lead me to wonder if God hasn't revealed God's self to other people as well. Granted they don't have Jesus... the "exact representation" of God, but I still wonder...

Ben Hanes said...

"There was more to life than the physical." Has it been demonstrated that there is more to life than the physical?

"If God is love and his message is forgiveness and reconciliation, different understandings of how the world came to be lead me to wonder if God hasn't revealed God's self to other people as well."

I think our thoughts were in the same place. You might have caught my same thought when I said, "Why, after 4,599,997,000 years (3,000 years ago), did God decided to begin revealing himself to one small tribe of humans in the middle east?

I was making the point that Christians believe that God was revealed to the Hebrew peoples alone. Just one small band of MANY thousands of groups of people throughout history. There are still a number of pockets in the world TODAY of groups of people that have absolutely NO IDEA of the concept of a Judeo-Christian god. Why did God not reveal himself to these peoples?

Rick Gerhardt said...

Ben:

You raise a number of interesting questions, and more than I have time to answer here. I'd like to get back to some of them on the blog proper (as opposed to hidden here in the comments), especially your question, "Has it been demonstrated that there is more to life than the physical?"

For now, let me agree with Nate... Neither the original readers of the Torah nor anyone else for more than three millenia following it had any clue as to the existence of dinosaurs. It is thus not surprising that God made no mention of them as He inspired the writing of Genesis. (Genesis only hits the highlights, and also makes no mention, for instance, of insects, though they are the most abundant animal life on the planet and something with which the original readers would have been familiar.) I realize that there are a few folks (Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis, whose Creation Museum in Kentucky features dinosaurs and humans contemporaneously) who seem to find mention of dinosaurs in the Bible. I know of no unbiased biblical scholars (those not seeking support for a young-earth interpretation) who find any reference in Scripture to dinosaurs.

Ben Hanes said...

"Neither the original readers of the Torah nor anyone else for more than three millenia following it had any clue as to the existence of dinosaurs... God made no mention of them..."

A scholar noted, "In fact, [The Bible] does not contain a single sentence that could not have been written by a person living in the first century."

The writers of the bible also had no idea of microscopic life. No mention of them in the whole bible.

One tangent thought; If God sent a 40 day flood, it would have wiped out some animals, but none of the animals that could swim, nor those that could float or fly for 40 days. Did God want to wipe out all microscopic life and plant life too with the flood?

But animals and plants can't be evil. That is absurd! Why not just zap all humans with lightning since God was so displeased with them? Or better yet, God could have simply taken the life right out of people painlessly, rather than an entire world of men, women, children, and ALL of the sinless animals suffering a horrible death by drowning. Do you, as a biologist, literally believe the flood story? Sometimes is seems rather ridiculously written by someone in the first century that couldn't possibly know about dinosaurs, microscopic life, nor a wealth of other things that we know today about biology.

I'm looking forward to your post on demonstrations of the non-physical or immaterial.

Dan McCarthy said...

Good Question Ben about why didn't God just zap the evil humans. Well, I believe the text supports a local flood. The animals that were killed were those that Man depended on. Here God showed that the affect of Sin extends to all of God's creation. If you look back to what happened after Adam and Eve were ejected from the Garden, they stained the ground with their sin. If you take a look at the world today, with Man's horrible pollution, I would tend to agree that our mismangement of God's creation is sinful and affects animals badly.

Dan

Ben Hanes said...

Hi Dan, thanks for your post!

"a local flood..." - Not the whole world?

"The animals that were killed were those that Man depended on." - We depend on all life; from microscopic life, to the animals our size. Do you agree? We are a part of the natural world, not separate from or above it.

"Sin extends to all of God's creation." - Man's sin gave reason for God to drown innocent children, puppies, beautiful flowers, etc? How can a daffodil or a chipmunk be sinful or blamed for man's sin?

"our mismangement of God's creation is sinful and affects animals badly." - Yes, but is it their fault? Is it ethical that they should be drowned because we mismanaged them? I can't help but question the ethics of blaming children for their parents' sin, and condemning them and a world of innocent animals to death by drowning.

Dan McCarthy said...

Hi Ben,

Your points are well taken and part of a much larger issue. Man is above all other creatures. This is obvious if you are an athiest evolutionist or a Christian theist. Also, innocent children go to heaven according to many conservative biblical (Geisler + Craig) scholars and most moderate/liberal scholars.

Children do inherit the sin of their parents. If you beat your children, they most likely will beat their kids. If you are a boozer or drug user, your kids will inherit your sin. Our actions have consequences.

Dan

Friend of Granola said...

Hi Ben:

Humans, animals and plants do not have an intrinsic right to continued life apart from God's gracious grant thereof. He gives life, and can retake it at his will. Such it is to be the Almighty, the author of life, the only one in whom there is life by nature, and who may extend it or recall it at His wish. Every perfect gift is from above......

Ben Hanes said...

Mike, your post sounds not unlike Muslim theology: “God can do anything he wants, at any time, for ANY reason.” Or he can do things for, what seems to us, no reason at all. He doesn’t have to have reason.

I agree that God gives life, but if he truly created us with freewill, then I believe there is value in that. He gave us the intrinsic right to choice right?

I agree with you that God can do whatever he wants with his creation. It would be arrogant and foolish of us to assert rights outside of or above God.

-Granola

Ben Hanes said...

Thanks again for your comments Dan. I greatly appreciate dialog with all of you.

"Man is above all other creatures." - What do you mean above?

"This is obvious if you are an athiest evolutionist" - I think a naturalist person (or whatever we might call them) would actually say that humans are part of nature like anything else. Not above or below it, simply part of it.

"innocent children go to heaven" - I believe this too. God is good.

"Children do inherit the sin of their parents" - They inherit the guilt of sins their parents committed before even committing sins of their own? Is this right?

"If you beat your children, they most likely will beat their kids. If you are a boozer or drug user, your kids will inherit your sin." - How are we to get out of this vicious cycle?

Friend of Granola said...

Hi Benola:

Regarding God's ultimate sovereignty over His creation, as Paul says: "Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?"

But I know that you are a tricky one my young grasshopper, and I know that you are trying to wrap me around the freedom/sovereignty pole. Aha, caught you! By the way, we ought not to use Rick's site for our personal discussions, unless he allows it..... Anyway, have a good time in Texas.

Ben Hanes said...

I agree Mike. This thread is in regard to "Genesis One Interpretations" and we should stick to that. Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

-Ben

Rick Gerhardt said...

Hi Ben:

Again you raise some good questions that I don't have time to answer here. If you keep reading the blog, I'll some day get around to discussing the Flood.

For now, let me agree with "Granola" and then further suggest that you are jumping back and forth between paradigms when you admit that animals are sinless and then discuss their dying a horrible death (in the Flood).

I submit that non-spiritual animals (facing death) do not face judgment, do not worry about their offspring, do not ask "why" questions, or experience much of the suffering that we humans do.

Moreover (and here I speak from some knowledge; I am, after all, an ecologist), death (physical death) is a necessary aspect of life. While one might glibly talk about a universe with life but no death, such "life" would be unrecognizable. That is, without death (of at least some creatures) life would not involve eating, growing, reproducing, or even moving and breathing. All of these things involve the death of others and/or entropy, which in turn are critically designed aspects of the creation in which we find ourselves.

In short, the death of many animals in the Flood--whether it was global or only universal (that is, confined to all humans and the terrestrial animals that coexisted in the same geographic region as humans in that time)--does not represent a serious problem to a sound theodicy (defense of God's goodness).

Rick Gerhardt said...

Ben:

One more brief comment, and that having to do with your statement,

"Sometimes it seems rather ridiculously written by someone in the first century that couldn't possibly know about dinosaurs, microscopic life, nor a wealth of other things that we know today about biology."

In defense of the writer of the Flood account (whom I also believe to have been inspired by the Holy Spirit in its writing), the English that describes the life killed in the Flood is much more all-inclusive than the Hebrew words that they seek to translate. In the original language, the account really only addresses wild and domesticated terrestrial mammals (and perhaps terrestrial reptiles). So the account in the original is not as silly as the English translation may strike you.

Dan McCarthy said...

Hi Ben,

Thanks for the reply. Evolutionists will say that we are more evolved than other creatures. We have more control over the environment than any other creatures as we can destroy more easily than any other creature and we can actually fight against natural selection due to medical technology. I would also argue that we have the moral law written on our hearts, so we defend the weak rather than let nature take its unbridled course with them. Therefore, we may not be above other creatures in creation, but have advanced beyond any other creature in creation.

You see this in athiest literature when they posit how they account for the moral law without any ultimate, unbendable moral rod from which to measure.

Ben Hanes said...

"Evolutionists will say that we are more evolved than other creatures."

Not quite. Every species alive today is the result of the process of natural selection. The modern chimpanzee, falcon, moth, slug, bacteria, etc. is the end result of evolution. Nothing is 'more evolved' than something else. Everything is an end product. However you are right in that certain animals may have more advanced characteristics; ie hawks have incredible eyes, tuna swim very fast, ticks jump really far, and humans are very smart.

"we may not be above other creatures in creation, but have advanced beyond any other creature in creation."

In terms of intelligence, Yes.

Dan McCarthy said...

Hi Ben,

Thanks for the reply, but this is not what I encounter. In fact, they frequetnly talk about how our consciousness, though merely an illusion, is the most evolved product on Earth. Also, they look to find the mutation which caused this selective advantage. Also, all life is not the product of natural selection according to evolutionists, but natural selection and mutation.

Regards
Dan

Rick Gerhardt said...

Chris:

Though I almost never do this, I chose to delete your comment. The reason, in this case, was because your attack depended upon your crediting me with claims and beliefs that I neither made nor hold. Though you may disagree with the position I have taken--that the earth is 4.6 billion years old and that this is accomodated by several literal interpretations of Genesis 1--it is never good argumentation to attack positions that you merely assume another person holds. Indeed, your comment made it clear that you had not bothered to read most of this or the other relevant threads.

I--and the others reading and commenting here--would be glad to listen to you if you address what is written and not what someone from your past experience has said or believed.

I especially took exception to your completely unfounded claim that I have demeaned or questioned the intelligence of young-earth creationists (individually or corporately). I'm sorry if you have been hurt by others who disagree with you, but please don't project their attitudes or words upon me.

Chris said...

Rick,

No hard feelings. It is your blog and your decision. Sorry you felt it was an "attack." While it is true I did not read your entire blog, I did read your three most recent posts and the 27 comments here, not all of which I was referring to if you noticed in my post.

As far as projecting my past hurts on you... this is simply not true. Your two posts on this topic were legitimate fuel. I was referring to...

"Many evangelicals in our day seem to think that it is more spiritual (that it somehow demonstrates greater faith) to interpret the Bible woodenly ("literally"). But this is silly."

And...

"It may be easier for modern evangelicals to interpret Genesis One woodenly (easier in that doing so alleviates the need for the hard work of understanding the Hebrew, comparing other relevant Bible passages, and considering how general revelation informs the issue)"

And...

"although the very well-funded and vocal proponents of the plain-day young-earth view have insisted (for the last fifty years) that theirs is the only "literal" and "orthodox" interpretation of Genesis 1, there is nothing like consensus about this among serious, believing theologians and Bible scholars."

And...

"insistence on such an interpretation presents to unbelievers in our day (especially those with some understanding of the latest discoveries about our universe) a significant and unnecessary barrier to considering the more central claims of the Bible--including the claim that the eternal Son of God died to redeem them."

As I read these excerpts it certainly seems there is disdain and contempt for young earthers. As your own words cast them as being silly, ignorant (easier to interpret woodenly /.. especially those with understanding of the latest discoveries of the universe), militant (well funded and vocal) and finally a detriment to the great commission (a significant and unnecessary barrier).

As such it just seems your claims fall flat in regards to your professing respect for your brothers and sisters in Christ who hold young earth views.

Don't worry, this is my last comment - not out of protest, but just that I have said what I want to. I wish you well in your endeavors, and truly, may God bless you.

Rick Gerhardt said...

Chris:

Thanks for your recent comment. I understand where you're coming from, and am sorry you have perceived disdain and contempt where they were neither felt nor offered. None of my comments had as their referrent those who hold a young-earth view, and each of the comments at which you took offense was addressed to a very specific idea held by a small portion even of those holding to such a view.

For example, it IS a silly idea (no matter how well-intentioned, sanctified, or intelligent the person holding that idea) that interpreting a Scripture passage woodenly is a "more spiritual" position to take. We must quite simply strive to take passages woodenly when it is appropriate to do so, and to not take (other) passages woodenly when they were not meant to be so taken. Your perceiving this comment as a statement about the intelligence (or ignorance) of the people holding this idea is both a reading into my words and a failure to recognize the difference between ideas and the people holding those ideas.

It is even harder to imagine how you read the description "militant" into my actual words "vocal and well-funded."

And yes, I stand by my belief that insistence that the Bible teaches a young earth is an unnecessary barrier to erect if one desires to be used by God in bringing people to faith in Christ. That is not to say that Christians holding to a young earth will not be used by God; rather, it is a suggestion that sharing "Christ and Him crucified" will generally be more effective (in a scientifically literate culture) if one does not claim that the skeptic must first believe in one particular interpretation of Genesis 1.

Again, thanks for reading, and God bless you.