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Could thorns have existed outside of Eden, and what about the Framework Hypothesis?

We can be certain that Genesis 1:1–2:3 is history.

Published: 23 November 2019 (GMT+10)
I have a Christian friend who is convinced the earth is old (due to the Framework Hypothesis). I pointed out to him that God describes thorns as coming into existence after the Fall, but he argued that thorns existed before the Fall, but after the Fall, the thorny plants and weeds started growing in the field Adam was trying to cultivate instead of just in the wild where they didn’t cause Adam grief. My question is, where does this interpretation break down? Is it possible that thorns existed before the Fall but did not have the deleterious effects they do now? When I read Genesis 3:17–19, it seems like it is saying that thorns have not existed in the past and now, as a result of the ground being cursed, they will, but I don’t have the background in Hebrew that I feel like I would need to really make this case strongly.

Dear T. L.,

Caleb SalisburyThorns-fossil
Christians who believe God’s infallible Word (no thorns before sin) cannot also believe in man’s fallible ‘word’ (millions of years of thorns before people).

We will address three issues here: 1) Did thorns exist before the fall; 2) Does the Framework Hypothesis make sense; and 3) Can we be confident that Genesis 1:1–2:3 is meant to be understood as history.


Genesis 3:17–18 tells us that thorns and thistles were a result of the curse.

And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.

Notice that the curse results in the ground being cursed such that it would now produce thorns and thistles for Adam. Thus, if thorns and thistles had existed for millions of years outside the Garden of Eden (as your friend claims), the idea of a curse makes no sense—Adam would still have experienced thorns and thistles by virtue of being driven out of the Garden of Eden. Adam could have said, “God cursed ground with thorns and thistles? What cursed ground? The ground outside of Eden has always had thorns and thistles”.

In other words, a close reading of the text actually frustrates the argument that thorns existed for thousands of years outside of Eden. The cursing of the ground/Earth in Genesis 3:17–18 only makes sense if thorns and thistles did not exist outside of Eden (and by virtue, the whole creation) before the fall. As we have explained in A thorny issue’, thorns are actually a conundrum for those who hold to evolutionary old ages. Besides, we now know that thorns form as a result of degenerated plant parts, so they are by nature, or more accurately, by ‘fallen-nature’, deleterious. Thorns are branches which failed to develop properly, while spines are modified leaves (or parts of leaves) that are tightly curled upon itself.

In other words, thorns are best explained as a post-fall disruption of the growth mechanism. As explained in Romans 8, the whole creation was corrupted because of the Fall. The very same rock layers that contain thorns and thistles, also contain fossils of animals eating one another. But the Bible is clear in Genesis 1:30 that God created all animals to only eat green plants for food at the very beginning. The universal herbivorous diet in Genesis 1:30 cannot be relegated just something within the Garden of Eden as the Bible clearly speaks of every beast of the field and bird of the heaven. The verse reads:

And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.

In other words, the rock layers cannot be a record of something that occurred before the fall. Rather, it is mainly a record of events that took place after the fall. But if the rock layers are mainly a record of events after the fall such as the global flood, you can no longer appeal to the rock layers for millions of years. To put it another way, if the rock layers are not a record of millions of years, but are a record of post-fall events, you cannot appeal to the rock layers as evidence that thorns existed outside of Eden before the Fall.

Remember, the rock layers that contain thorns also contain fossils of human beings. This is a huge problem for long-age beliefs, because according to the evolutionary dating methods, Homo sapiens were around for 300,000 years old. But it should be clear from the Bible that you cannot have humans dying for hundreds of thousands of years before Adam and Eve. The Bible is clear that Adam was the very first man (1 Corinthians 15:45–47), Eve was the mother of all humans beings (Genesis 3:20), and that both of them were created at the beginning of Creation (Mark 10:6). Furthermore, the chronogenealogies presented in the Bible limit the time from Adam to this present day, to around 6,000 years old, so any attempt to say that thorns existed outside of Eden before the fall, would also require saying that human death (whose bones are found in the rock layers) existed long before the fall. This undermines the Gospel itself. If Adam and Eve were not the ancestors of all human beings, and if the fall did not introduce death to all man, there is no longer any basis for the doctrine of Original sin—a denial of which constitutes the Pelagian Heresy.

In addition, when Jesus was on the cross, a crown of thorns was mockingly placed on his head (Matthew 27:29), and he is mockingly called the King of the Jews by his enemy. Matthew is clearly employing a literary technique (i.e. irony) for the benefit of his readers. While Jesus’ enemies are mocking him on the cross, their actions inadvertently reveal Jesus’ true role and purpose for going to the cross. The crown of thorns is symbolic of Jesus as King; the suffering-servant (Isaiah 53:11); and the propitiation for sins. Matthew’s allusion to the crown of thorns becomes meaningless if thorns were not introduced into the world through Adam’s sin.

Framework Hypothesis

Your first sentence is actually back-to-front: “I have a Christian friend who is convinced the earth is old (due to the Framework Hypothesis).”

No, he believes in the Framework Hypothesis because he believes the earth is old for extra-biblical reasons. The founders of the Framework Hypothesis were open that they were proposing an end-run around Genesis to accommodate millions of years and even the evolution of mankind.” See The Framework hypothesis, missionary societies and the Gospel for a detailed critique.

The Framework Hypothesis claims that the days in Genesis 1 only serves as a literary device in the larger framework of Genesis 1. They deny that Genesis 1 should be read as a chronological narration of historical events. Based on this assumption, Framework Hypothesis advocates (which we will call framers for short) divide creation week in what has come to be known as a triad structure, a three-fold literary division of Genesis 1:1–2:3.

The triad structure of the Framework Hypothesis.1

Does this triad structure actually exist? Or is this just an artificial framework that has been imposed upon the text as an excuse for denying the plain reading of Scripture? In the classification above, there seems to be a three-fold structure, with the events on the left column, corresponding to the events of the right column, but this classification collapses on closer examination.

Day 2, as shown in the chart above, involves the separation of waters below (seas), from the waters above (sky). This is then said to correspond with Day 5. But a closer reading of the creation days reveals something different. God doesn’t actually declare the second day to be good. Instead, God declares that his creation was good twice on Day 3. Why is this the case? The answer is that the act of separating waters is not completed on Day 2. Day 2 speaks of the separation of waters below from the waters above (Genesis 1:7), but on Day 3, God continues this act of separation, by separating the waters below into dry land and seas. Only after this separation is completed on Day 3, that does God call it good.

But if the waters were separated twice (on both Day 2 and Day 3), it is not possible to selectively choose only Day 2 to correspond to Day 5? Framers must also say that Day 3 corresponds to Day 5.

To accurately take this into consideration, the Framework Hypothesis needs to be modified this way:


What about Lights on Day 1 corresponding to Luminaries on Day 4—the creation of Sun, moon and stars? Why should framers only draw a correspondence between Day 1 and Day 4? Why not be consistent and also draw a correspondence between Day 2 and Day 4? After all, both Day 2 (created an expanse to separate the waters) and Day 4 (created sun and moon) speaks of God’s creative work in the expanse. What about Day 3? Day 3 mentions the appearance of dry land/Earth (Genesis 1:10), and Day 4 speaks of the lights functioning as lights for Earth (Genesis 1:15). To be consistent, one would also have to draw a link between Day 1, 2, and 3 with Day 4.

And what about Day 2? Day 2 tells us about the division of sky and seas—waters below from waters above. The waters below (the sea) is corresponded with the creatures who dwell in the sea. But water is actually first mentioned on Day 1 (Genesis 1:2). Furthermore, the sea creatures on Day 5, is corresponded with the waters below on Day 2. But the actual separation of waters below such that it becomes dry land and seas, is on Day 3, not Day 2. So again, to be precise, framers need to draw a corresponding link to Day 3.

In the Framework Hypothesis, Day 3 corresponds to Day 6. Land with land animals, and vegetation corresponds with the diet of man. But why is there even a link made in this way? Both animals and man only ate plants at the very beginning, not just man. And it is not only the land animals on Day 6 that were given plants to eat, but also the birds which are created on Day 5 (Genesis 1:30). So to be fair, they again have to draw an arrow linking Day 5 to Day 3.

In the end, this is what you end up with:


It should be clear from this diagram, that if Framer wants to be consistent with their own hermeneutics, they will end up with a diagram like this. In other words, the so-called triad structure in the Framework Hypothesis is just an artificial construct that has been imposed upon the biblical text. There is no real triad structure in Genesis 1:1–2:3. And if there is no triad structure, there is no Framework Hypothesis. The Framework Hypothesis ought to be rejected by all serious students of the Bible.

The genre of Genesis 1:1–2:3

We have already addressed other aspects of the Framework Hypothesis in a number of articles on our website. In particular, I would recommend familiarizing yourself with: Is Genesis poetry/figurative, a theological argument (polemic) and thus not History? As demonstrated in this article, the creation account does not exhibit any of the hallmarks of Hebrew poetry. Instead, it is written using the special grammatical forms for recording history.

The genre of the creation account is important because it affects our interpretation of the text. This is especially important for Genesis, because Genesis is the foundation for almost every major doctrine of the Bible. Genesis tells us how God creates, and the rest of the Bible builds upon that foundation to tell us the implications of what happened as a result of those first few chapters.

If Genesis is written as a historical narrative passage, it has to be read plainly as history and cannot be relegated as a mere analogical or allegorical account. But the same cannot be said of poetry. While poetry does allow for a looser interpretation, poetry may still describe real historical accounts. Consider how the Psalms are filled with Hebrew poetry, yet many of them are descriptions of real historical events. In other words, if the creation account in Genesis is history, it is a clear defeater of the Framework Hypothesis; but if Genesis is poetry, it does not refute the historicity of biblical creation. This is a problem for framers. Since even if they are able to relegate Genesis to poetry, they must still explain from Scripture (not by appealing to outside sources) why Genesis is not speaking about a real historical event. Keep in mind that both the Old Testament and the New Testament authors speak of Genesis as a real historical event with a real historical Adam and Eve, a real garden of Eden, and a real fall into sin. The New Testament alone alludes to Genesis 1–11, 60 times, often appealing not just to the historicity of Genesis, but even to the very order of creation and the order of the fall of man as the basis for New Testament doctrine (c.f. 2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 2:12–15). Jesus even quoted from Genesis 1–11, 16 times. There is really no way around Jesus’ teaching on the age of the Earth. In other words, the Framework Hypothesis is just an excuse for not believing what the Bible plainly teaches about creation. If Genesis is poetry, it still does not say what framers want it to say. But even this is being too generous to framers, because the genre of Genesis is not something vague or subjective. We can confidently assert that the creation account in Genesis is written as history since it exhibits all the unique characteristics of historical narrative and none of the distinctives of poetry.

Any remaining doubts over the genre of Genesis was done away with when Dr Steven Boyd carried out a statistical analysis of Hebrew verbs in an effort to put a quantifiable figure on the Genesis text.2 Biblical Hebrew has four main finite verb forms: the preterite (wayyiqtol), the imperfect (yiqtol), the perfect (qatal), and the waw-perfect (wǝqatal). Narrative passages tend to have a high ratio of preterites to finite verbs; while poetic passages have a low ratio of preterites to finite verbs.

Dr Boyd developed a comprehensive statistical model based on the ratio of preterites verbs to perfect verbs. This statistical model was developed based on 522 passages from the Bible. Some of these passages extends several chapters long, and the passages comprised of both poetic and narrative passages. The narrative texts were found to cluster closely together at the top of the chart, while the poetic passages all clustered at the bottom of the chart, showing that statistical model worked perfectly for identifying the genre of biblical passages. Once this was done, Dr. Boyd analysed Genesis 1:1–2:3 based on this statistical model and came up with the diagram you see below (I have added a red arrow and a Bible reference for clarity so that you can see where Genesis 1:1–2:3 lie on this chart.)3.


At a 99.5% confidence interval, the probability of Genesis being a historical narrative passage was found to be 0.999942≤ P ≤0.999987—essentially 100% certain!

As Dr Boyd concluded:

“The weight of the evidence is so overwhelming that we must acknowledge that Biblical authors believed that they were recounting real events. We must therefore call their work history… Since Genesis 1:1–2:3 has the same genre as historical narrative texts and is linked lexically and thematically to these texts it should read as these texts are read: as a realistic portrayal of the events… Will we believe this text? The answer: we must.”4


We have shown that it is not possible to say that thorns existed before the Fall outside of the garden. In addition, we have explained why the Framework Hypothesis doesn’t makes sense. The triad structure in the Framework Hypothesis is an artificial construct that has been haphazardly imposed upon the text. There is no triad structure in Genesis 1:1–2:3. Finally, we showed that we can be confident that Genesis 1:1–2:3 was written to teach real history.

I hope that helps,

Joel Tay

References and notes

  1. As presented in the Report of the Committee to Study the Views of Creation: Presented to the Seventy-first (2004) General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church Return to text.
  2. Boyd, S., Statistical determination of genre in biblical Hebrew: Evidence for an historical reading of Genesis 1:1–2:3., Radioisotopes and the Age of the Earth. Vol II: Results of a young-earth creationist research initiative, Vardiman, L. (ed), Snelling, A. (ed), Chaffin, E. (ed), Institute for Creation Research and Creation Research Society, 2005, pp. 631–734. Return to text.
  3. Boyd, S., p. 674. Return to text.
  4. Boyd, pp. 690–692. Return to text.

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