Are the doctrines of Creation stand-alone?
Just how far can Genesis be pulled and stretched before other doctrines lose their shape? 1
Sadly, the inauguration of Genesis with the familiar words of Genesis 1:1 is about all that most Christians can agree upon. From this point on, Christendom is divided into myriad opinions as to how long ago the beginning was and by what method God chose to create. Some compromising Christians would agree with Kirsten Birkett: “The exact detail of how we got here doesn’t really matter”.2 To jump from Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 11:26 (the start of the family of Abram) would suit them quite nicely because it would mean that the nature of God’s creative activities would not need to be addressed. However the omission of these invaluable details would leave a lot of gaps and questions unanswered. More importantly, the Bible does not omit this information. Rather, it uses the first eleven chapters of Genesis as a foundation for how we are to view the world around us and to introduce theological themes which run throughout the entire Bible.
Let me provide you with an analogy of the interdependence between Genesis and the rest of the Bible from the business world:
“Imagine walking into an office and not liking the way it is arranged. So you move one chair to the left. You put a few books on the credenza. You get a hammer and rehang a painting. All this may take an hour at most, since the task is relatively straightforward. Indeed, creating change in any system of independent parts is usually not difficult. Now imagine going into another office where a series of ropes, big rubber bands, and steel cables connect the objects to one another. First you would have trouble even walking into the room without getting tangled up. After making your way slowly over to the chair, you try to move it, but find this light-weight piece of furniture won't budge. Straining harder, you do move the chair a few inches, but then you notice that a dozen books have been pulled off the bookshelf and that the sofa has also moved slightly in a direction that you don't like. You slowly work your way over to the sofa and try to push it back into the right spot, which turns out to be incredibly difficult. After thirty minutes, you succeed, but now a lamp has been pulled off the edge of the desk and is precariously hanging in midair, supported by a cable going in one direction and a rope going in the other”.3
While some compromised Christians portray the Bible as the first office room, in reality it is more akin to the second, except that it’s far more interdependent (see illustration). In trying to re-interpret the early chapters of Genesis to find somewhere for the Big Bang, millions of geological years, and naturalistic evolutionary processes, they do much more than pull books off a shelf or move a sofa. They have to distort and re-interpret numerous other passages within the Bible which also speak as plainly as, and often directly refer to, the opening chapters of Genesis. This is because the interpretation of Genesis is crucial to the understanding of the rest of the Bible.
In Genesis we find that the major doctrines of the Bible have their origins: man and morality, sin, the Fall, salvation, the Godhead, etc. Even eschatology (end times teaching) is based upon its history.
Genesis explains why the world is in the state that it is, even though it was created in a state of perfection by an all-powerful, good and loving God. If a person does not understand what Genesis is teaching then it is impossible to fully understand the central message of Christianity: the necessity of faith in Jesus and the real hope that the Gospel provides. A re-interpretation of the plain reading of Genesis inevitably leads to attempts to alter when death was introduced, or to removing physical death as part of the Curse, and pulling a host of other Bible doctrines ‘off the shelf’. A look at the words of a theistic evolutionist such as John Gibson should lead any Christian to recoil in horror at what must be done to other biblical passages to accommodate such a view: “There never was such a place as the Garden of Eden, nor was there ever a historical person called Adam who lived in it.”4 In such a view, if biblical doctrines were represented by the second office room discussed above, it would be left in an incredible mess!
How did other interpretations come about?
The debate among Christians on the interpretation of Genesis 1–11 is one with high stakes for the authority of the Bible and the very basis of the Christian faith. But how did we get to this? Atheist philosopher Michael Ruse suggests that, “In the early part of the 19th century even most evangelicals recognized that some accommodation had to be made to modern science”.5 However, the evolutionary science that Ruse is referencing was based on a naturalistic worldview; very different from the Biblical worldview, it was a deliberate attempt to supplant it. With the growing acceptance of these theories, some Bible scholars sought to reinvent the traditional interpretation of Genesis 1–11. Theories of accommodation of these theories included: the Gap Theory, Progressive Creationism, the Framework Hypothesis and theistic evolution.
Are all doctrines open to reinterpretation?
Does this, then, leave any biblical passage open to reinvention, depending on what scientific theories people come up with in the future? Another theistic evolutionist, John Polkinghorne, says, “there are some classical doctrines that need restatement in an age of science.”6 If he is right, what would stop any and all fallible opinions of men becoming the benchmark for Bible interpretation? The consequence would be that anyone could come to any area of Scripture with a preconceived idea and simply reinvent the passage to fit with what they would like it to mean, regardless of the historical/grammatical context.
Of course, Christianity should never bow the knee to any form of naturalism (2 Corinthians 10:3-5); it is the authority of the Bible that is at stake here, the inerrant Word of God. If we take Genesis 1–11, it not only speaks directly on theological topics, but also on historical science subjects: cosmology (formation of the stars and planets), biology (animals to produce after their kind), anthropology (the formation of and genealogies of man), geology (Noah’s flood), etc. Accepting naturalistic theories and trying to force-fit them with the Bible assaults the authority of Scripture. Christians are then invalidly trying to accommodate the Divine with a system of thought which doesn’t recognise Him.
Anything other than the straightforward reading of Genesis encroaches severely on the interpretation of other straightforward passages in the Bible and the Gospel message. CMI stands firm to proclaim the truth and authority of God’s Word. May we encourage you to do the same!
References and notes
- This was first published in Prayer News, CMI-UK/Europe, July–September 2018. Return to text.
- Birkett, K., The Essence of Darwinism, Matthias Media, p. 140, 2001. Return to text.
- Kotter, J.P., Leading Change, Harvard Business School Press, USA, pp. 134–135, 1996. Return to text.
- Gibson, J.C.L., The Daily Bible Study: Genesis Volume 1, The Saint Andrew Press, Edinburgh, p. 100, 1981. Return to text.
- Ruse, M., The Evolution-Creation Struggle, Harvard University Press, London, p. 55, 2005. Return to text.
- Polkinghorne, J., Belief in God in an Age of Science, Yale University Press, USA, p. 87, 2003. Return to text.