The Framework hypothesis, missionary societies and the Gospel
Should Christians promote the Framework hypothesis?
Many Christians (some identified as ‘theistic evolutionists’ or ‘progressive creationists),1 have adopted (or at least sought to accommodate) the theory of evolution with its billions of years as the origin of everything. However, as this is contrary to what God says in the Bible, such Christians have needed to develop various stratagems to nullify the six literal days of Genesis Chapter 1.
Age, as such, is not the key issue of course—it is the whole matter of whether there was a real historical, created Adam, who by his disobedience to the one command God had given him brought about the Fall and hence the need for the Gospel. Without the creation of an originally good world, plunged into death and suffering by Adam’s sin (Romans 5:12, 15, 19), the rational, logical basis for the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:21–22) is lost.
The Framework hypothesis
The most recent stratagem of Christians who want to harmonize the creation account of Genesis 1 with the atheistic theory of evolution is called the Framework hypothesis. It is taught by most theological colleges that say they accept biblical authority but not six ordinary days of creation. It was unknown until devised by Dutch Prof. Arie Noordtzij (1871–1944) of the University of Utrecht and published by him in 1924.2
In Noordtzij’s literary postulation, the six days of Genesis 1 are arranged in a “Framework” of two parallel triads of days, which leading American Framework advocate Meredith Kline (1922–2007) called “creation kingdoms” (as the theme for the preparation of Earth and the universe in Days 1–3) and “creature kings” (as the theme for the formation in Days 4–6 of the luminaries and creatures that have dominion over what Days 1–3 contain, and “whose roles in the hierarchy of creation are earthly reflections of the royal rule of the Creator enthroned above”).3 God’s miraculous activity is replaced by “normal providence” aka evolution, the chronological historicity of the biblical text is abandoned, Genesis chapters 1–11 are in effect expunged, the meaning is termed “theological” rather than historical or factual, and the whole account is regarded as being symbolic, not literal.
The traditional view is usually described as “creation in six literal days”; the Framework view is often described as “creation in six literary days”. Note the adroit difference, and be aware of what it means.
This new interpretation did not arise in response to any greater insights into Hebrew vocabulary and grammar. Its purpose was, and is, to resolve the huge conflict between what God says in Genesis and what secular scientists say about origins, by reclassifying the genre of Genesis 1 as something other than historical narrative. Kline himself admits at the beginning of his abstract that his central concern was, “To rebut the literalist interpretation of the Genesis creation week propounded by the young-earth theorists.”3
Most pastors and missionaries who have done theological or Bible-college courses will be aware of this theory.4
Does the Framework hypothesis ‘work’?
In fact, the claimed correspondence between days, places, and things created to fill them is quite imprecise. The sun, moon and stars created by God on Day 4 (Gen. 1:14) are aligned with (or rule over the kingdom of) Day 1 according to Kline, but Gen. 1:14 says they are in “the expanse of the heavens” and this was not created until Day 2. This expanse is not mentioned even once on Day 1, but five times on Day 2, which complements the three times it is mentioned on Day 4.
The fish were created by God on Day 5 to “fill the waters in the seas” (Gen. 1:22) and are called “fish of the sea” in Gen. 1:26 & 28. But the waters are not called “the seas” on Day 2 but on Day 3 (Gen. 1:10). So the fish seem to align much more with the place prepared for them on Day 3 than with “the waters under the expanse” of Day 2, as opined by Kline.
Flying things, created by God on Day 5 (and aligned by Kline with Day 2), do indeed fly “across the expanse of the heavens” created on Day 2, but they nest and reproduce on the dry land that God formed on Day 3, as per God’s specific command, “let birds multiply on the earth” (Gen. 1:22).
Animals, created by God on Day 6, align with the land formed on Day 3, but they don’t rule over it; God gave mankind “dominion” over them (Gen. 1:28), as well as over the fish and birds created on Day 5.
Other aspects of Framework theory involve “normal providence” (i.e. nothing miraculous), and a supposedly eternal seventh day (as support for the previous six days being considered “long”). However, the text of the Sabbath Commandment of Exodus 20:10–11 has a finite day of rest, not an infinite one.
Thus, in all these major aspects, the Framework hypothesis seems to score F for failure!
The 10 Commandments: fatal for the Framework view
Kline first published on the Framework view in 1958.5 Only a few years later, Edward Joseph (“E.J.”) Young (1907–1968), the leading Hebrew and Old Testament scholar in his denomination (Presbyterian) published a detailed two-part refutation,6,7 which still stands unanswered to this day. Kline himself waited almost 40 years before publishing on the topic again.
The Hebrew of Genesis 1 is very clear about the meaning of ‘day’ and its historical nature. But if that were not enough, God Himself told us exactly what He meant when he wrote the 10 Commandments with His own finger! Young pointed out that the Sabbath command of Exodus 20:8–11 presupposed first that the days were 24 hours, but also days in history—otherwise how could they be an example for us to follow? In his first part, he summarized:
“In Exodus 20:11 the activity of God is presented to man as a pattern, and this fact presupposes that there was a reality in the activity of God which man is to follow. How could man be held accountable for working six days if God himself had not actually worked for six days?”6
In his second part, Young explains further:
“The whole structure of the week is rooted and grounded in the fact that God worked for six consecutive days and rested a seventh. For this reason we are commanded to remember (זָכ֛וֹר֩ [zāḵôr]) the Sabbath day. Man is to “remember” the Sabbath day, for God has instituted it. There would be no point in the command, “Remember the Sabbath day”, if God had not instituted the day. The human week derives validity and significance from the creative week.”7
Then Young concluded this line of argument:
“The fourth commandment constitutes a decisive argument against any non-chronological scheme of the six days of Genesis one. And a non-chronological scheme destroys the reason for observance of a six-day week followed by a seventh day of rest.”7
- Is Genesis poetry / figurative, a theological argument (polemic) and thus not history?
- Genesis: Bible authors believed it to be history
- How could the days of genesis be literal if the sun wasn’t created until the fourth day?
- Is biblical creation anti-science?
So, what about science and the Bible?
There are two basic stories extant to explain how this world and everything in it came into being and reached its present state. The first is the historical record of the Bible, as outlined below.
- Creation of the earth and the universe, by God in six literal days about 6,000 years ago.
- Creation of all life, including the first man and the first woman, by God.
- The rebellion of the first man and woman against God, called the Fall.
- The worldwide Flood about 4,500 years ago.
- The confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel about 200 years after the Flood.
- The call of Abraham and the history of Israel.
- The birth, life, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.
- The birth and growth of the church, leading up to where we are now.
The key point is that the events recorded in the Bible are historical, which means they are written as history, based on eyewitness accounts of people who were present and saw them happen (or on God’s own eyewitness account of events preceding man’s creation). This is how Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and other NT writers saw them and regarded them. E.g. the record of Noah’s year-long, worldwide Flood (Genesis chapters 6–9) reads like an eyewitness account (probably set down by Noah and later used by Moses). Such a flood would have been more than capable of burying the billions of plants and animals now entombed as fossils. The fact that this is a viable structure for understanding geology is evidenced by the not-insignificant number of Ph.D. geologists who hold to it.
- Is the Bible reliable as a historical record?
- Do we have enough evidence to trust the Bible?
- Evidence for young-earth creationism
The second origin story is the theory of evolution, of which the main events are:
- Big bang ~13.8 billion years ago, followed by cosmological evolution.
- Formation of the earth ~4.5 billion years ago and its subsequent geological evolution.
- Origin of life (chemical evolution) ~3.5 billion years ago.
- Biological evolution: Single cell through worms, etc. to fish, to amphibians, to reptiles, to mammals, to apes, to humans.
The key point about the evolutionary story is that these events were not observed. No one saw any of these things happen. Every part of this story involves huge swathes of conjecture, and was constructed by people who were not there. The purpose of the evolutionary story is to explain things by natural processes alone, i.e. without God, which is why God and the Bible are banned from the story.
- Can Christians add the big bang to the Bible?
- Age of the Earth
- Origin of life
- What biology textbooks never told you about evolution
The main dispute is about authority
Biblical creationists regard the Bible as our final authority, while Kline admitted that secular evolutionary theories were his real authority to which the Bible must be moulded. But E.J. Young pointed out that the Bible is authoritative on everything it teaches:
“It is of course true that the Bible is not a textbook of science, but all too often, it would seem, this fact is made a pretext for treating lightly the content of Genesis 1. Inasmuch as the Bible is the Word of God, whenever it speaks on any subject, whatever that subject may be, it is accurate in what it says. The Bible may not have been given to teach science as such, but it does teach about the origin of all things, a question upon which many scientists apparently have little to say.”6
Young further lamented the low view of Scripture possessed by Framework advocates:
“Whenever ‘science’ and the Bible are in conflict, it is always the Bible that, in one manner or another, must give way. We are not told that ‘science’ should correct its answers in light of Scripture. Always it is the other way around.
“Yet this is really surprising, for the answers which scientists have provided have frequently changed with the passing of time. The ‘authoritative’ answers of pre-Copernican scientists are no longer acceptable; nor, for that matter, are many of the views of twenty-five years ago.”6
For our comprehensive answers to the big bang and related questions, see:
- Did God use a big bang?
- Big bang beliefs: busted
- Can Christians add the big bang to the Bible?
- The mind of God and the big bang
- Secular scientists blast the big bang
- Age of the earth
- How does the Bible teach 6,000 years?
- 6000 years of biblical history
The Framework hypothesis impinges on the whole Bible
This is not a minor matter of a few verses or chapters in Genesis. The God-breathed writings of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:15–17) treat the people, order of events, and times in Genesis as real history throughout the whole Bible, not merely as theological or literary devices. See Is the authority of Scripture only about spiritual things?.
Every New Testament author quotes or alludes to Genesis—no less than 60 times for Genesis chapters 1–11, and 103 times for the whole of Genesis. (For a list, see The use of Genesis in the New Testament.)
Luke’s genealogy of Jesus goes back to Adam (whom he calls “son of God”, not son of an ape-like creature), with no indication of any change from historical to mythical people in the preceding list, i.e. there is not the slightest indication that any of the pre-Abraham ancestors of Jesus are any less real than the post-Abraham ones (Luke 3:23–38). See also The genealogies of Jesus.
Paul says (in Romans 8:20–21) that the present groaning of creation, the “bondage to decay”, is the result of God’s having subjected it to futility, an obvious reference to the real Curse on creation that followed a real, historical Fall. Paul also takes it for granted that the temptation of Eve by the serpent was a real event that actually took place (2 Corinthians 11:3). See also Cosmic and universal death from Adam’s fall: an exegesis of Romans 8:19–23a.
Peter uses the reality of the Flood to warn of the reality of coming Judgment (2 Peter 3:3–7. And even the one-chapter book of Jude has no less than five references to places or people in Genesis 1–11, namely Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 7), Cain (v. 11), Enoch and Adam (v. 14).
Jesus Himself compared the people of His day with the people of Genesis: Capernaum was worse than Sodom (Matthew 11:23–24). The end days would be like the days of Noah and Lot (Luke 17:26–29). And in His teaching on marriage in Mark 10:6–9 and elsewhere, Jesus similarly took the reality of Genesis history for granted when he referred to people as present ‘from the beginning of creation’. (This could not be so if people only appeared billions of years after the beginning of creation.)
A prominent theistic evolutionist academic in Australia once conceded that this showed that Jesus believed in a recent creation and Genesis as real history; yet his stance was: Jesus was mistaken in His belief about creation! See Jesus and the age of the earth and Jesus Christ on the infallibility of Scripture.
In fact, Genesis provides the origin and foundation of all major Christian doctrines (which of course are expanded as well as expounded as one reads through the Bible). E.g.:
- About God.
- About mankind.
- About sin.
- About salvation (promised in Genesis 3:15 after the Fall, which made it necessary, and accomplished by Christ’s death and resurrection).
- About angels, good and bad, including the work of the being later called Satan.
- About the Church, whose union with Christ is likened by Paul to that of husband and wife (Ephesians 5:23–32), the first of which is narrated in Genesis 2:24—hence also about marriage.
- About the last things, i.e. the consummation of God’s plan and purpose for mankind, the earth, and the universe. This involves a restored/renewed heavens and earth, the need for which arises due to the Genesis 3 Curse on creation. It also involves the lifting of that Curse and thus the removal of its effects forever.
The major issue
The major issue is thus the truth of Genesis: i.e. does it mean what it says and clearly intends to convey, rather than what it does not say? Four main aspects all relating to the meaning of the words are:
Textual. God Himself was the Creator, so unsurprisingly He knows not only what He did, but also how He did it. God is also omniscient, so He knows how to convey correct information, aka truth, to those He wishes to inform, and to those who wish to be informed. For thousands of years, Christians (including great scientists such as Isaac Newton, perhaps the greatest scientist who ever lived and who studied the Bible extensively) have taken the text of Genesis to mean what it very obviously says. Only in the last couple of hundred years (with the rise firstly of deism in geology and then in consequence evolutionary naturalism in biology) have other considerations taken over—understandably by those who hate God, but why also within Christendom?
All variations in meaning to make Genesis comply with current secular beliefs depend on proponents teaching that the text does not mean what it very obviously says. This is despite the fact that in the Bible God repeatedly warns believers not to add to or change what He has said:
- Moses, speaking for God, warned the Israelites: “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it.” (Deuteronomy 4:2)
- Moses again: “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.” (Deuteronomy 12:32)
- Proverbs 30:6 admonishes: “Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you and you be found a liar.”
- Paul advised his readers: “not to go beyond what is written”. (1 Corinthians 4:6)
- And Paul expands this to pronounce a curse (no less!) on anyone who changes the Gospel he preached: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8–9)
- The Bible closes with the Apostle John’s dire warning: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Revelation 22:18–19)
Theological. If death is part of the process that God used to produce Adam from hominoid ancestors, as theistic evolutionists hold, and all Framework theorists either hold explicitly or at least insist is permitted, then death cannot be the penalty for sin. And if human death is not the penalty for human sin, then the death of Christ (the ‘last Adam’, 1 Corinthians 15:45) on the Cross cannot have been the atonement for human sin. And if not, then there is no saving message for Christians to proclaim.
The converse is also true: if death is the penalty for sin (as Genesis ch. 3 and New Testament writers, e.g. Paul in Romans 5:12, 15, 19, and 1 Corinthians 15:21 state), then death cannot be part of the process that God used to produce Adam from any alleged hominoid ancestors, as Framework theorists wish to be able to hold in addition to the Bible.
Experience has shown that presenting the truth of the Word of God concerning Creation, with death as the penalty for sin rather than as part of the evolutionary process God used to produce man, is what God uses to open the minds of non-believers to see themselves as sinners and bring them to realize their guilt before God and their need of a Saviour. According to Isaiah 55:11, God uses His Word to accomplish His purposes, not His ‘non-Word’! See: Why did God impose the death penalty for sin? and Could Adam have appealed the verdict?.
Historical. Chapters 1–11 of Genesis detail 64 geographical terms, 88 personal names, 21 cultural items such as gold, brass, iron, musical instruments, gopher wood, etc., and mention features such as named cities.8 All the happenings are chronicled just as clearly in Genesis Chapters 1–11 as in Chapters 12–50. The fact that people today who weren’t there claim the events described never happened ex post facto does not invalidate the events.
The other writers of the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments, treat the people, events in their order, and time frames, as real history, not merely literary or theological devices. And the reality of this history is foundational to crucial teachings about faith and morality. E.g. Jesus based His teaching on marriage of one man to one woman (Mark 10:6–9) by His quoting Genesis 1:27 and 2:24. Also, as above, the real six days of Creation from Genesis 2:2–3 are given as the basis of the 4th commandment to the Israelites of working for six days and resting for one day (not working for 6 billion years and resting for 1 billion years—the same word is used in the same sentence in the same sense!).
Practical. If the plain text of Genesis doesn’t mean what it says, how can it be claimed that other portions of Scripture, including the NT Gospel, do mean what they say? And how can this be explained to new converts when they ask?
It should be clear by now that this is not some minor issue of a differing interpretation of a few chapters of a single book. Rather, it concerns the total credibility and authority of the entire Bible, as well as being at the core of the Great Commission of Christ to preach the Gospel to every nation. So let us consider how all this applies to the missionary task
The effect on missionary societies
Most missionary societies have been established by founders who totally believed in the truth of the Word of God. And support for missionaries and missionary organizations mostly comes not from the theologically liberal, but from conservative Christians who similarly believe God’s Word as written to be true. Most, if not all, such conservative Christians would:
- Not believe that God wants to flood any country with ‘Framework’ missionaries.
- Not believe God wants them to pray that ‘Framework’ candidates will apply for missionary service.
- Not believe God wants them to support ‘Framework’ missionaries.
- Not believe God wants them to support missions which promote the Framework theory. To rephrase Hudson Taylor’s well-known dictum: “God’s work not done in God’s way should not expect God’s supply!”
- Should missionary societies have a position on creation/evolution?
- The Importance of Creation on Foreign Missions
- The impact of evolution on the evangelization of China
Not to be overlooked by Bible-believing Christians in all of this is the role of Satan. The very first temptation of anybody by Satan was his suggestion to Eve to doubt what God had said: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” (Genesis 3: 1). And Satan followed this sowing of the seed of doubt about what God had said by his outright denial of what God had said: “You will not surely die” (v. 4). This led to the judgment of God, about which God had given unequivocal warning.
Today, Satan continues this two-pronged strategy of initiating doubt and then denial regarding the Word of God. People now not only do not believe in the judgment of God—they often do not even believe in the existence of God, whose chief communication to us is through His Word, the Bible. Satan’s strategy, which worked with Eve, has proved to be no less effective with modern man. See: Strategy of the devil and The ‘Trojan Horse’ of deep time.
Missionary application papers should include questions carefully enquiring what applicants believe about the Bible, and about Creation in Genesis. What happens then, i.e. the acceptance or non-acceptance of ‘Framework’ believers, will depend on the beliefs held by the Directors of any missionary society, which may or may not now be similar to those of the founders of that missionary society.
It is impossible to harmonize two mutually exclusive doctrines by combining them, as Framework theorists try to do. Evolution over billions of years denies God’s Word, undermines the Gospel, and is the reason why two-thirds of youth raised in Christian homes reject Christianity, see Revisiting the FALLOUT.
So to answer the question posed by the subtitle of this article, Should Christians promote the Framework hypothesis? Absolutely and unequivocally NO.
Re-featured on homepage: 2 September 2023
References and notes
- Theistic evolutionists believe that God used biological evolution to create living things over billions of years, and also accept astronomical and geological evolution. Progressive creationists reject biological evolution and accept a real Adam and Eve, but also accept astronomical and geological evolution, and thus accept as reality long ages of death, suffering, and bloodshed well before any Fall of man, or Curse on creation. See: Theistic evolution: Why is it dangerous for Christians to believe? and Progressive creation . Return to text.
- Noordtzij, A., Gods Woord en der Eeuwen Getuigenis: Het Oude Testament in het Licht der Oostersche Opgravingen (God’s Word and Testimony of the Ages: The Old Testament in the light of Eastern Excavations), J.H. Kok, Kampen, Netherlands, 1924. Return to text.
- Kline, M.G., Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 48:2–15, 1996. Return to text.
- Theology students need to be aware of the various theories in existence that discredit Genesis, in order to adequately answer them, of course, but the problem arises when a spurious theory is taught as fact. Return to text.
- Kline, M.G., Because it had not rained, Westminster Theological Journal 20:146–157, 1958. Return to text.
- Young, E.J., Days of Genesis, WTJ 25(1):1–34, Nov 1962. (Available from reformed.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/EdwardJYoungDaysGenesisPart1.pdf) Return to text.
- Young, E.J., Days of Genesis, WTJ 25(2):143–171, May 1963. (Available from reformed.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/EdwardJYoungDaysGenesisPart2.pdf) Return to text.
- Genesis 1–11 as Historical Narrative, Phillips, W.G., and Fouts, D.M. Return to text.