INTERPRETATIONS OF THE GENESIS CREATION NARRATIVE
With the influence of evolutionary and humanistic constructs which gained prominence during the latter stages of the nineteenth century cultural and academic milieu, alternative interpretations of creation became vogue. The increasing pressure from the scientific community to inculcate evolutionary dogma into all aspects of life has led many theologians to look for ways in which to amalgamate the teachings of scripture and the tenets of evolutionary theory.
The aforementioned efforts have led to the development of multifarious origins views such as the Gap Theory, Theistic Evolution, and Old Earth or Progressive Creationism. Conversely, those who espouse the Young Earth Creationism view wholly reject the tenets of evolution in favor of scripture as the authoritative source of evidentiary truth regarding the origin of the universe.
GAP THEORY (RUIN-RECONSTRUCTION VIEW)
The promulgation and development of the Gap Theory or Ruin-Reconstruction View is widely attributed to the writings of Thomas Chalmers. Other notable adherents include G.H. Pember and Arthur Custance whose respective works Earth’s Earliest Ages and Without Form and Void promoted “an extremely long but undefined age for the earth” while still “assuming primeval creation as stated in Genesis 1:1-2”. Recently, the Gap Theory has experienced a transformation of sorts resulting with numerous variations of positions taken by Gap Theorists regarding the interpretation of Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.
Weston Fields in his critique of the Gap Theory notes that, “the chronological relationship of Genesis 1:2 to 1:1 is the center of the debate about the Gap Theory.” Those who espouse the Gap Theory widely aver that the events of Genesis 1:1 occurred billions of years ago. The foundation of the Gap Theory is based on their interpretation of tohu wabohu or “without form and void” used Genesis 1:2. They insist this phrase refers solely to a ruined stated of the universe that was in need of recreating. Noted Gap Theorist G.H. Pember asserts this phrase contextually “an outpouring of the wrath of God.” Gap Theorists credit the evidence of Satan’s rebellion against God as well as the subsequent removal from the heavenly realm of Satan and his minions as the cause for the state of the earth being “waste and void” as stated in Genesis 1:2.
Such a view asserts that “God created a fully functional earth in verse 1 (Gen. 1:1). That ancient earth ostensibly featured a full spectrum of animal and plant life, including fish and animals, various species of now extinct dinosaurs, and other creatures that we know only from the fossil record.” A catastrophic cataclysmic is said to have occurred at the time of Satan’s overthrow, leaving Earth in darkness, their conclusion for the “waste and void” of Genesis 1:2. The initial creation, according to Gap Theorists, was destroyed, along with all that inhabited it as a result of God’s judgment upon Satan and his angels. Traditionally, Gap Theorists claim the evidence for the fossil record can be placed within the gap they claim exists between the “events” of Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. Moreover, they propose that Genesis 1:2 depicts the recreation of the universe in a span of six literal 24 hour days.
Gap Theorists find theological support for their system in their translation of the Hebrew word used for create, bara utilized in Genesis 1:1, 21, 27. They propose this word is best defined as “to create” while the Hebrew word asah used in Genesis 1:7 should not be translated “to create” but rather should be understood as meaning “to make.” Therefore, for the Gap Theorist, God created the original creation while the creation of the six days depicted from Genesis 1:2-31 outlines the recreation or making of a new universe.
Additional linguistic support for their view is asserted to be found in the Hebrew verb hayetha in Genesis 1:2 traditionally translated as “was” by most scholars. Gap Theorists believe the correct translation of hayetha is “became” or “had become”. Such a translation, while arguably incorrect, is necessary in order for the Gap Theorists to provide the process from which an original perfect creation could transition to the chaotic state they aver is implied by the author in Genesis 1:2 and finally to the perfect re-creation depicted in the remainder of Genesis 1.
The presupposition that a cataclysm took place on earth and the chaotic events which they construe occur between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 are the result of Satan’s rebellion against God is essential to the Gap Theories system of belief. Without this cataclysmic event, the Gap Theory has no means by which to support its assertions and thus, the Gap Theorist must manipulate the meanings of bara, asah, hayetha, and tohu wabohu in order to insert, however improperly, the idea of death and destruction prior to Adam’s sin.
Additionally, such conclusions provide a method for Gap Theorists to insert “the evolutionary ages of the geologists in an imaginary gap between the first two verses of Genesis.” Such conclusions are in stark contradiction to New Testament teachings on this subject which clearly outline the fact that sin and death of humankind were the result of Adam’s sin (1 Corinthians 15:21; Romans 8:20-22; Romans 5:12) rather that a pre-Adamic cataclysmic event. Furthermore, a pre-Adamic race is outside the bounds of scripture as noted by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:45 where he comments that Adam was “the first man.”
The Gap Theory hypothesizes that a pre-Adamic race of men and animals existed on an original earth with “a sin-stained history of their own, a history which ended in the ruin of themselves and their habitation.” It is evident that while the Gap Theory claims to espouse elements of a literal view of the Genesis account of creation, in truth, its postulates are nothing more than a theologically deleterious merging of evolutionary theory with an erroneous exegesis of scripture that favors linguistic nuance. John Whitcomb offers a salient refutation of the foundation of the Gap Theory in the following comment:
“‘Without form and void’ translate the Hebrew expression tohu wabohu, which literally means ’empty and formless.’ In other words, the Earth was not chaotic, not under a curse of judgment. It was simply empty of living things and without the features that it later possessed, such as oceans and continents, hills and valleys — features that would be essential for man’s well-being. In other words, it was not an appropriate home for man…When God created the Earth, this was only the first state of a series of stages leading to its completion.”
Those who espouse a belief in theistic evolution typically merge elements of evolutionary dogma with a belief that God was somehow involved in the creation of the universe. Those seeking to accommodate the biblical view of origins with the recent flurry of scientific discoveries which supposedly contradict a biblical view of creation often find refuge in theistic evolution. By superimposing evolutionary science on the method on creation outlined in scripture, theistic evolutionists seemingly have provided a means to still believe in God while endorsing the billions of years necessary for evolution to have taken place. Essentially, God is depicted as guiding evolution, whether directly or indirectly. No matter how much the theistic evolutionist allows God to be involved in the process, evolution remains the backbone for this theistic evolution.
An example of how evolutionary thought is amalgamated with scripture can be seen in the view theistic evolutionists take regarding how Adam was “created.” They aver that Adam was a product of evolutionary process up until the point where God finalized the developmental process by imbuing Adam with an eternal soul. Ultimately, theistic evolution addresses the biblical account of creation as “so poetic as to teach nothing about human origins.”
Many theistic evolutions claim that “God divinely ordained evolution – the struggle for survival and death – as His method of creation.” God created the initial building blocks of matter and then stepped out of the creative process thus allowing the processes espoused by the evolutionary scientific community to continue the development of life over eons of time. As noted by author Michael Corey, according to many theistic evolutionists, “God does not have supernatural power over the evolutionary process. He doesn’t even have control over what does and does not exist, because He didn’t create the world ex nihilo to begin with. He simply orchestrated the design of the present universe out of a preexisting realm of finite actualities.” This viewpoint has distinct similarities to evolutionary theory in that endorses the naturalistic idea that life generated and came into being through naturalistic processes devoid of an intelligent designer. Furthermore, others within the theistic evolutionary community assert that God not only developed and instituted the primary building blocks of nature, but also created life itself. God created life and instituted the natural laws for life to develop over billions of years.
Additional argumentation is found behind the idea that God not only fashioned the elements necessary for life, but He also finds it necessary to intervene in the creative process. Support for this assertion is found in the theistic evolutionary belief that God performed numerous miracles while intervening in the creative process of life; His miracles were constant. Theistic Evolutionist Howard Van Til proposed that the miracle of God in relation to the creative process espoused by theistic evolutionists can be found within the initial stages of the creative process itself. He comments that what was brought into being by God was “in some formless state but gifted, as part of its God given being, both with the potential for exhibiting diversity of creaturely forms and with the capabilities for actualizing those forms without any new divine creative acts in the course of time.” When the naturalistic processes inherent within life itself encountered difficulty evolving into the next stage of life, God somehow miraculously intervened moving the process along to the next stage of evolution.
Theistic evolution ultimately is nothing more than a repackaged brand of evolution wrapped in religious verbiage. The tenets of this dogma reinterpret the Genesis creation narrative in such a way as to reject scripture’s teaching on the origin of the universe. Additionally, theistic evolution relegates God to the position of a semi-intelligent designer who takes an uninvolved approach to His creation. This is antithetical to the teaching of scripture which clearly indicates that God was wholly involved and is continually involved in the affairs of the universe.
OLD EARTH (PROGRESSIVE) CREATIONISM
Old Earth Creationism, sometimes referred to as Progressive Creationism, describes those who deny evolution but yet believe that God created the universe over a long period of time, typically billions of years. The main proponent for this belief in a long age for the earth is astronomer and author Hugh Ross, director of the organization Reasons to Believe. Ross and others who espouse the Old Earth Creationist view, center their debate largely against the principles outlined by Young Earth Creationists while maintaining that the postulates of Old Earth Creationism are supported by scripture and scientific study.
Old Earth Creationists typically are in concert with the conventional evolutionary scientific estimates regarding the age of the universe while simultaneously rejecting the various theories proposed by evolutionists concerning the merits of biological evolution. Additionally, while intense debate often rages between Old Earth Creationists and Young Earth Creationists, both positions assert similar belief systems concerning the Genesis account of creation. Both positions believe in creation ex nihilo (creation out of nothing), the literal creation of Adam and Eve as depicted in Genesis, the rejection of random mutations leading to increased complexity of life, and the rejection of theistic evolution. Despite these similarities, Old Earth Creationism differs from Young Earth Creationism over several key points including the age of the universe and the creation of Adam and Eve as well as the penchant for Old Earth Creationism to utilize the Big Bang Theory as their definition for creation ex nihilo.
The disagreement between the Old Earth Creationism and Young Earth Creationism centers largely on the respective interpretations and usage of the Hebrew word yom, typically translated by scholars as meaning “day”. Old Earth Creationists allege that yom denotes a much longer period of time than a 24 hour solar day. Support for this assertion is found by relating the various uses of yom within scripture which contextually indicate varying lengths of time such as Psalm 90:4, perhaps the most popular argument against a young earth. This verse, cited by the Apostle Peter in 2 Peter 3:8 states, “A day (yom) is like a thousand years”. Creationist and author Terry Mortenson notes that instead of referring to the days of creation, Peter is instead “saying something about the timeless nature of God and that He does not work in the world according to our timetable of when events should occur.”
Old Earth Creationists also look for support for their assertions concerning the interpretation of yom by claiming that the days depicted in the Genesis creation account were “God’s days” and should not be viewed within the parameters of the modern day concept of a 24 hour period of time. In support of his position, Hugh Ross writes “the same author of Genesis (Moses) wrote in Psalm 90:4, For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch [4 hours] in the night. Moses seems to state that just as God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:9), God’s days are not our days.” Such a viewpoint ignores that God meant “day from our perspective, since we are the creatures in the created space-time dimension who experience time. He even told us that they were ordinary days by the comparison in Exodus 20:8-11 in the same Decalogue” as Genesis.
In seeking still further biblical support for a long age of the earth, Ross professes the events which occurred on the sixth day of creation would have required a lengthier amount of time to complete than is allocated by a single solar 24 hour period. Ross asserts that the multiple activities depicted in the first two chapters of the Genesis narrative such as the creation of land animals and man, the planting and subsequent growth of a garden, the making of Eve, as well as the naming by Adam of the animals are outside the bounds of a single day.
Old Earth Creationists also point to what they claim is vast scientific evidence which indubitably supports an old age for the earth and the universe. Supporters of this view such as Robert Newman note the distance between galaxies and the extreme lengths of time it takes for light to travel from distant galaxies to our own place in the universe. Newman comments that the “most distant galaxies and quasars we can see seem to be over ten billion light-years away, which suggests that the universe is at least that old.” Newman also notes “if the universe were really quite small physically, then the very dim stars and galaxies we see in our telescopes would also be quite small – too small for gravity to hold them together at their high temperatures.” He goes on to comment that “when we look at the star Sirius we see what it was doing twelve years ago…as most of the universe is more than ten thousand light-years away, most of the events revealed by light coming from space would be fictional (under the view of Young Earth Creationism)…I prefer to interpret nature so as to avoid having God give us fictitious information.”
Such statements make it quite obvious that the proponents of Old Earth or Progressive Creationism, while seeking to abide by some elements of a Young Earth view of creation, ultimately fall prey to the influence of evolutionary dogma. Their continued attempts to interpret yom from within their presuppositions rather than from a holistic hermeneutical approach to scripture is an overt attempt to merge billions of years with scriptural teaching, an activity which rejects authorial intent resident within the pages of scripture.
YOUNG EARTH CREATIONISM
Young Earth Creationism, often termed as Creation Science, espouses the belief that Scripture depicts the literal events of history to include the Genesis account of creation. Proponents of this view aver that Genesis is a narrative that is meant to be understood as literal history. As noted by Davis Young, “It cannot be denied, in spite of frequent interpretations of Genesis 1 that departed from the rigidly literal, that the almost universal view of the Christian world until the 18th century was that the Earth was only a few thousand years old. Not until the development of modern scientific investigation of the Earth itself would this view be called into question within the church.” The goal of Creation Science is the return to the literal biblical view of creation and the pursuit of rigorous scientific pursuits in keeping with the standards set for in the scientific method.
Creation Scientists overwhelmingly support a young age for the universe. While recognizing that the genealogies found in Genesis and throughout scripture were not provided by the author as a means by which to calculate historical dates, creation scientists assert sufficient gaps do not exist within the genealogies to support the billions of years necessary for evolution to have taken place. The typical age for the universe given by creation scientists is between six and ten thousand years. Young Earth Creationists also reject “molecules-to-man evolution” popularized by evolutionists choosing instead to believe in the premise found in scripture of man being a special and unique creation.
A literal interpretation of the Genesis creation narrative has led creation scientists to aver that creation took place in six literal days as outlined in Genesis 1. Support for this position is readily found in the structure of the creation narrative itself. Creationist and author Jonathan Sarfati notes that “whenever yom is used with a number or the words evening and morning, it can mean only an ordinary day, never a long period of time.” Additionally, Oxford Professor James Barr provides support for the Young Earth Creationist viewpoint on the interpretation of yom in his statement:
“probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Gen. 1-11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that (a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience (b) the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story.”
The interpretation of yom in the pericope of Genesis 1 as a literal 24 hour period of time is further strengthened by the continuous usage of the phrase “And there was evening, and there was morning” leaving little doubt the author intended to describe a single day rather than an elongated period of time.
Young Earth Creationists are opposed to the Uniformitarian assumptions necessary for the evolutionary geological scale. Perhaps the greatest evidence in support of the Young Earth Creationists point of view in this regard is the lack of transitional fossils. Creationist author Nicholas Comninellis notes that “fossils of many extinct creatures have been found, but they show no signs of transition. What’s more, so many fossils and rocks have been studies that many scientists now conclude with certainty that no transitional life forms will ever be found.” Creationists such as Sarfati note that “the alleged long-age consensus comes from interpreting the data in a framework that deliberately ignores God’s special acts of creation and the Flood…if there is a conflict then reinterpret the “science,” not scripture.”
The Uniformitarian assumptions asserted by evolutionists are also rejected in favor of the catastrophic events outlined in the Genesis account of the global flood as largely being the source for the massive amounts of fossils found in the geologic record. Rather than the fossil record depicting billions of years of death and destruction as the result of naturalistic evolution, creation scientists believe in the account of Genesis with its depiction of a perfect creation that was marred by the introduction of sin and death. Additionally, as noted by Henry Morris, “the second law (of thermodynamics) teaches that, unless God Himself intervenes, the universe is proceeding inexorably toward an ultimate “heat death…since this state has not yet been reached, the universe is not infinitely old and thus must have had a definite beginning.”
The great theologian John Calvin in his commentary on Genesis states that “when God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth, the earth was empty and waste. He moreover teaches by the word created that what before did not exist was now made…therefore his meaning is, that the world was made out of nothing.” This statement was the predominant viewpoint of the church prior to the influence of evolution. The influence of evolution is evident as numerous scientists and theologians have succumbed to its influence affecting not only their presuppositions concerning the origin of the universe, but their interpretation of scripture as well.
The tenets of Young Earth Creationism are beginning to have an influence upon the religious and academic communities. The return to a biblical view of the Genesis creation narrative as espoused by adherents to Creation Science is long overdue. It can be stated unequivocally that one’s position on the issue of origins does not determine their eternal destiny; however, it does affect how one views the tenets of scripture and God Himself. A holistic view of scripture clearly reveals a six day creation and the introduction of sin resulting from Adam’s sin as the means by which the decay we now observe has affected the universe. Creation Science is on the forefront of efforts to buffer the attempts to marginalize the Bible or attempts to allow an ersatz theory of human origins to rule the scientific or theological day particularly when an increasing amount of scientific research offers valid alternatives to the “ape-man” and humanistic conjecture popularized by Charles Darwin.
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