This past Monday in my Biblical Creation class, I finished covering my fourth lesson that focused on four figurative interpretations of the days of creation week (to read about this, go here). In our class we covered three areas of weakness and a questionable presupposition that theistic evolution, the day-age view, progressive creation, and the framework interpretation share. With this post, I will summarize four items: a hermeneutical inconsistency, an inconsistency with the perspicuity of Scripture, undermining the fall of Adam & the Edenic curse, and presuppositions & biblical interpretation.
A hermeneutical inconsistency. If the narrative in the creation week is historical literature, then it should be interpreted according to the conventions of that genre—conventions that most evangelicals use when interpreting the remainder of the narrative in Genesis. Though some want to interpret the creation account as something other than historical literature (e.g., poetry), the presence of distinctly narrative features calls such approaches into question.
Non-literal interpretations of the creation week minimize the historical details of the creation account. And, this is what we would expect if Genesis 1:1–2:3 were a poetic, or even a semi-poetic, account. However, this account has the characteristics of historical, narrative literature, rather than poetic literature. If this account were poetry, poetic parallelism would be its dominant feature, as it is in passages such as the creation hymn in Psalm 104. In contrast to the expected rhetorical features associated with poetry, Genesis 1:1–2:3 consistently uses a grammatical device that characterizes historical literature, the waw consecutive. This device occurs some 2,107 times in Genesis, averaging out to 42 times per chapter. In Genesis 1:1–2:3, while there is an absence of poetic parallelism, there are 55 waw consecutives. Whatever else may be said about the creation account, this grammatical device marks it as historical narrative, just as it does in the remainder of Genesis.
An inconsistency with the perspicuity of Scripture. The doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture maintains that the average believer can comprehend the Bible’s overall message. What this doctrine denies is that a believer needs assistance from an external interpreter, whether it be a Pope, philosophy or any other human authority, to arrive at a proper understanding of the Bible’s basic doctrines.
In Scripture, the literal understanding of the creation account is both assumed and used as the basis for other commands, such as the Sabbath command in Exodus 20:8–11. Furthermore, the literal interpretation is set forth and assumed throughout Jewish and Christian history. In fact, it was not until the nineteenth century with the development of uniformitarian geology that the literal interpretation of Genesis 1:1–2:3 was even questioned, something that lead Pipa to remark, “What in Genesis 1 or the rest of scripture suggests a non-literal view? Did the church make such a gross error in almost 2000 years of interpretation”?
Undermining the fall of Adam and the Edenic curse. Each of the non-literal views of the creation days directly affirms or allows for suffering and death before the fall of the head of the human race and, thus, undermines both the headship of Adam and the Edenic curse. When Adam fell, it not only affected his posterity but also the realm over which he ruled, the Edenic curse. In developing these two doctrines, we looked at a number of biblical texts that support this interpretation: Genesis 1:26, 28; 2:5, 15; 3:14, 1 Corinthians 5:21-22; and Romans 5:12-21, 8:21-22. The two biblical texts that I use most often are Romans 5 and 8. Paul’s biblical theology about the the Fall and the Curse on the created realm are strong texts for which I have never had a reasonable to get around their force. As such, death, suffering and decay of necessity started with the Fall our Federal Head, Adam, in Genesis 3.
Presuppositions & biblical interpretation. As previously noted, the 24-hour day view has been the dominant view of Christian interpreters from the Church Fathers until Charles Lyell in the mid-1800s. What has primarily changed since Lyell’s time is the way man defines and uses science. Modern scientific opinion has seemingly been elevated to the status of general revelation, and with its elevation “scientific opinion” has become an a priori that influences how we interpret Genesis 1:1–2:3.
It is not uncommon for me to hear professing Christians assert that the discoveries of contemporary scientists are a form of general revelation and that the special revelation that the Bible communicates has the same level of authority as scientifically discovered general revelation, both are the voice of God. If this is the type of reasoning being circulated in our culture, does this not imply that the “general revelation” communicated by “contemporary scientists” is something other than general revelation since it was unavailable from the time of creation until the modern era. Further, this confuses general revelation with scientific opinion and implies that general revelation has the same propositional force as special revelation. It is the propositional revelation of Scripture (Ps 19:1–6, Eccl 3:11, Acts 14:17, 17:23–31, Rom 1:18–25, 2:14–15, 10:18) that defines general revelation. And, Scripture defines general revelation as a constant knowledge about God that is available to all men; it is, however, not comprehensive knowledge about God (e.g., it reveals no Gospel) or nature (e.g., it does not include accumulating scientific opinion.
Through the years I have heard and read statements like these from well-known Christian scholars and and have often asked myself that, if we did not live in our current age, would this type of statement have been made and, furthermore, would any of the alternate interpretations of Genesis 1:1–2:3 even be valid options for evangelicals? It seems that the spirit of our age has created a modern mindset conducive to a reinterpretation of the creation account. However, many of the influences that shape such reinterpretations are external to Scripture, rather than being derived from a consistent biblical theology. In my estimation, there is no biblical reason to reinterpret Genesis 1:1–2:3.
Therefore, my conclusions are that theistic evolution, progressive creationism, the day-age and framework views pose more exegetical and theological difficulties than they solve and that the traditional, literal reading provides the most consistent interpretation of the exegetical details associated with the context of the early chapters of Genesis and the overall theological message of Scripture.