End-times and Early-times
Bible-believing Christians can differ on their understanding of endtime matters (eschatology) and other things such as form of church government, mode and subject of baptism, and Sabbath observance. So why make an issue about the days of creation? Surely this is just another one of those issues where we can tolerate various views, without criticizing each other?
On the surface, this sounds like a good argument. However, let’s tease it out. Christians generally differ in their understanding of eschatology on the basis of their different interpretations of Scripture alone. The differences in views do not originate from anything outside of the Bible. So, the Reformation principle, sola scriptura (‘Bible alone’), guides the various people in arriving at their conclusions. Disagreements over eschatology, baptism, etc. begin and end with the Bible—the authority of the Bible is not normally an issue.
However, when it comes to Genesis, virtually everyone agrees about what Genesis says and how the writer(s) meant readers to understand it—six ordinary days of creation where everything was very good, and death and suffering entered the world through the sin of Adam and Eve; the global Flood; etc. (see Hebrew scholar affirms that Genesis means what it says! also in this issue). But outside influences generate the differing viewpoints—for example, the conjectures of the historical sciences such as cosmology, paleontology and archaeology.
Take, for example, this statement by Charles Hodge, famous Princeton Seminary professor and contemporary of Darwin, who wrote many books and articles defending the truths of Christianity, including biblical inerrancy: ‘It is of course admitted that, taking this account [Genesis] by itself, it would be most natural to understand the word [day] in its ordinary sense; but if that sense brings the Mosaic account into conflict with facts [millions of years], and another sense avoids such conflict, then it is obligatory on us to adopt that other’1 [our explanatory additions].
Many other theologians have made similar statements.2 That is, that the Bible clearly teaches creation in six ordinary days thousands of years ago, but that they cannot believe it that way because of modern interpretations of the fossils and rocks that invoke millions of years. So if ‘science’ now dictates how we are to understand Genesis, then this puts ‘science’ as judge over the Bible, and sola scriptura no longer guides the understanding of Genesis.3
So the matter of our understanding of Genesis does not compare with disagreements over eschatology. The disputes over eschatology are over what the Bible teaches, with reference to nothing else. In other words, with eschatology it is a matter of exegesis—‘what does the Bible say?’ But with Genesis the dispute stems not from what the Bible clearly teaches, but from the various attempts to make it fit external conjectures. In other words, with Genesis it is a matter of eisegesis—making the Bible say what I want it to say, to fit into long-age ideas from geology, for example.
With eschatological debates, the Bible is still the rule of faith, but with Genesis compromise, ‘science’ has become the rule of faith. The difference is stark. Disputes over end-times and baptism presuppose the authority of Scripture; debates on Genesis creation depend on whether the Bible or man’s long-age science is the final authority.
References and notes
- Hodge, C., Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Michigan, USA, pp. 570–571, 1997. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Refuting Compromise, Master Books, Arkansas, USA, pp. 55–58, 2004. Return to text.
- Rather, scriptura sub scientia (Scripture below science) now governs the understanding of Genesis. Return to text.