Does Genesis give us reasons to compromise?
J.H. asks (edited for length and clarity):
Hello Creation Team!
I’m attending what I thought was a wonderful study group with a great New Testament professor as the leader. But he believes the animals were guided by God in their reproduction so there were no misfits and oddities that died in the evolution process. He believes it took a long time; not 6 24-hour days. But in that long time he also believes that none died until the fall of Adam/Eve. What do I say to that teaching? He’d like to talk one on one which I don’t want to do. Please see what he wrote below:
“What is the genre of Genesis 1-2? How did the inspired author intend for the first readers/hearers of this text to understand this text? Am I reading this text the way an ancient reader would read and understand this text? Or am I reading this text the way our American Christian culture has taught me to read it?
Many Christians today don’t even ask these types of questions. They assume that they know what type of writing the text is and what the text is trying to communicate to us. Our assumptions have a tendency to get us in trouble. If we assume we already know what genre/type of writing this text is, we may very well be misreading the message of the author – or even reading against the way the author intended for us to read and understand it.
I have spent many years reading and studying this passage (in Hebrew), seeking to understand what the inspired ancient author was trying to communicate to the first recipients. I have discovered many times that I have been reading into Genesis 1-2 my own ideas of what this text was about – rather than really listening to what the author was actually saying.”
I am eagerly waiting for your response. Thank you very much!!!
Lita Sanders, CMI-US, responds:
Thanks for writing in. It is understandable to be disappointed when it turns out that a respected teacher is compromising regarding the foundational doctrine of creation. Your message covered so many topics that I’ll mainly be sending you links to articles we’ve written on these subjects.
People get a history of millions of years from a certain interpretation of the rock layers: see Did God create over billions of years? But those same rock layers are filled with fossils—dead animals—that show a history of killing each other, infections, cancers, and other suffering. So your professor can’t have it both ways. Either there was no animal death before the Fall and no billions of years (and thus the rock layers are mostly a testament to Noah’s Flood), or the rock layers bear witness to a history of millions of years of animal death and suffering.
It is convenient to approach the question of the genre of Genesis as if it is some mysterious puzzle we can’t hope to solve so many thousands of years later. But it really is quite straightforward: Genesis is history. Oxford Hebraicist James Barr (who was not a biblical creationist) confirmed this.
Your professor is correct that many people don’t ask questions and simply assume things. And perhaps that is even the case for some people who call themselves young-earth creationists. However, creation.com has over 13,000 articles on our website that display that whatever disagreements he may have with our view, we have not come to these conclusions for lack of asking questions or because we simply assume that our “American” way of reading the text is correct! (Incidentally, my international colleagues would doubtlessly be amused to hear their thinking called ‘American’!)
In seminary, I went through a brief season of questioning whether biblical creation was really the way to faithfully interpret Genesis, partially because I was having trouble reconciling how so many brilliant, godly men could be wrong in their compromising interpretations of creation. I was re-convinced not by the science, or even by the interpretation of Hebrew, but by how the New Testament authors consistently interpret the people, places, and events recorded in Genesis as historical. Jesus referred to Adam as the first man, and Adam and Eve’s marriage as the first marriage that forms the pattern for all that follow. He cited Abel as the first righteous martyr. When he wanted to communicate the scale and scope of the judgment that will happen at His return, he referred back to Noah’s Flood. The Apostles Paul and Peter followed Jesus’ example. See Creation in the New Testament for a fuller explanation.
John Z, US, wrote in response to our review of The Case for Biblical Archaeology:
I’m a creationist, and I’m not at all disappointed with the 8000 BC date. The ~4000 BC date for the creation of the world is obsolete and based on a misunderstanding of the chronologies of the Bible. The word “begat” doesn’t necessarily mean an immediate son! CMI doesn’t realize this, and until they do, they will continue to hold on to the obsolete ~4000 BC teaching. Comparing Genesis 11:12-14 with Luke 3:35-36 shows the error in thinking that “begat” always means an immediate son. In Genesis 11:12, it says that Arphaxad begat Salah, but in the Luke passage it says that Salah (Sala) was the son of Cainan.
Lita Sanders, CMI-US, responds:
Thank you for writing in and sharing your perspective. You may indeed be a creationist and accept dates as old as suggested by mainstream archaeology. However, this requires one to import assumptions not found in Scripture.
Analysis of the relevant texts indicates that ‘begat’ most often indicates a direct father-son relationship. I won’t say ‘always’, because that would require a comprehensive analysis, and I haven’t done that amount of work at this point. However, the extra Cainan in Luke does not indicate a non-paternal ‘begat’ in Genesis 11, because it is widely known to be a copying error.
However, even if Cainan, not Arpachshad, begat Shelah, that does not impact the chronology because Arpachshad was 35 whether he was the father or the (very young!) grandfather. Also, it is clear that one cannot fit 4,000 extra years in the chronology this way.
As we’ve shown elsewhere, the Bible does give us a chronology of around 6,000 years. There’s a little bit of wiggle room a couple hundred years based on inherent ambiguities in Scripture and textual variants, but no biblical chronology stretches back to 10,000 years.
There is no easy way of getting around the fact that the Bible gives us straightforward figures that create a chronology. And a unique aspect of Scripture is that it doesn’t give us a theological story disconnected from events in the world. God is a God who places His acts on a map and a timeline. Accepting that part of the story is important for the integrity of the biblical narrative.
There are many problems with long ages, like death before the Fall, and so on. Those have been written about elsewhere at length, and I invite you to search creation.com for those. But if we are willing to trust Scripture enough to stake our eternal destiny on it by trusting in Christ alone for salvation, how much more should we trust it about mere earthly realities like the chronology of the world?