Edit – My editor has recommend that I not post a 4,500+ word article, but instead make it 2-3 posts. However, as always, I will ignore this advice (despite it’s applicability; this is also the reminder that I write what I want, and believe you have no problem following along). I don’t write for acclaim or money (clearly). So, enjoy.
Biblical interpretation is obviously something that I have great interest in. Probably the two most difficult areas in the Bible are Genesis 1-11 and Revelation. That is, unless you grow up in a highly conservative or fundamentalist church, like I did. In that case, there is no room for discussion or thought, you either interpret them ‘literally’ or you are not a Christian.
Later, in my 20’s, I started to study the Bible for myself and my understanding and found the views I had been taught, despite their claims, are not the most common either today or historically (not the topic today, but quite the opposite of historical, Dispensationalism is one of the newest theological frameworks around). I have since read many books (especially in the Counter Point series) about Creation, Adam, Genesis 1-11 and commentaries (and hermneutic guides) on Genesis (as well as Romans).
While my view had been a literal 24-hour creation of the universe 6,000-10,000 year ago and that it was highly controversial or dangerous to think otherwise, my later study showed this to not be the case. This is not really the view outside of American Evangelical Christians (in fact JI Packer has stated that there may be political undertones to this belief, not Biblical study).
Yesterday, the church I attend started a year long Bible reading plan. Next Sunday’s sermon will be on Creation (always a good place to start), and due to the aforementioned concerns, I will be taking part in a panel that will discuss creation (titled incorrectly on our website as a panel on the age of the Earth), which I will post later.
All that to say, I have been reviewing my notes, research, and books on Creation, so good way to get my thoughts out is to write them down. What proceeds is a broad overview of what I consider to be the three views in Creation, their support and issues, and then a list of resources. Hopefully, you may find this helpful.
Young Earth Creationism (YEC)
This is what most people in America think about as ‘Creationism’. It is also what New Atheist and other people antithetical to Christianity refer to as a ‘Christian belief’. The view is very simple, God created the universe some 6,000 years ago based on the ‘simple’/’literal’ reading of Genesis, and the calculations of Ussher, a 15th century monk who used the genealogies in Genesis to work backwards to devise a timeline of creation. Adam was the result of special creation (as were all living things), the world was created in six, literal, 24-hour days. People lived for 100’s of years old before the Flood, Noah was a real person who survived a global flood that destroyed all humanity up to that point, I don’t hear/read much about the Tower of Babel, but I assume it should be taken literally and that there was only one language at the time.
All physics, biology, and geology (among others) and incorrect in their views of the age of the earth and evolution and should be rejected. Any views otherwise are an attempt to harmonize science and the Bible, which is incorrect, the Bible should lead. The reason that things appear older or different than this account are due to the affects of the flood or human/science error. Common among people of his belief is that this is the main view of Christians today and most in history. Also, it is likely that your salvation is in question if you do not believe.
Pro’s – this is a very simple reading that I suppose many people could come away with if they just read the first few chapters of the Bible. No issue whatsoever with a ‘historical Adam’ and the idea of original sin. This is important because Paul calls Christ the second Adam and if we don’t come from two original people, then how did we inherit sin? I’m hesitant to also list, but, death before the fall. YEC’s see Paul as saying there was no literal death before the fall.
Issues – Many, first of all, everything about most (all?) science that exist. However, this is not a site that cares (to an extent) about science, but my focus is on theology. Though, I will say that YEC’s think that the Flood jacked up everything and gave it the appearance of old age to (possibly) test our faith. On objection I have to this is that it is unbiblical, the Bible never states that salvation hinges on a belief in ‘literal’ view of creation and that God tested our faith.
If anything, this goes to my main concern about this belief. Why would God give us a test, but not tell us he is testing us? Further more, it breaks the first rule of hermenuetics, what did this mean to the original hearers? The ancient Isrealites would not have thought about Genesis over and above physics/evolution. They would thought of it against the common(ish) world beliefs at the time – Gilgamesh and Enu Elish, among others – we were created from blood/sweat/beer/ and mud/dust/clay either out of violence or to serve our (many) gods. Instead, we were made, over and against chaos, by the one true God, for His good pleasure, in His image, to be His stewards over the earth.
Similarly, this is not necessarily the ‘historical view’ of Creation. Now, I will make a caveat here, the concept of Evolution did not exist until less than 200 years ago, but the ideas of how to interpret Genesis 1-11, and the age of the earth are ancient. Philo, not a Christian, but a Jew in the first century (as were Jesus, all the Disciples, and all the authors of the New Testament except Luke) took an ‘allegorical’ view of Genesis. Not just 1-11, but the whole thing. For early Christian, we have Irenaeus in the second century, writing in Against Heresies, that the early parts of Genesis should not be taken literally. Similarly, we have Origien and Alexandrian School, in the third, writing that Genesis was allegory. Augustine, whom coined the idea of original sin, similarly did not support a ‘literal’ reading.
We can jump ahead to Charles Hodge who support old earth (but unclear on evolution, however writing as a contemporary); B.B. Warfied, who wrote the book on the Biblical Inerrancy, who supported both old age and evolution; to Grudem and Ericson, the most prolific Systematic theologians of the 20th century (yet, both still alive in the 21st) who did not reject old earth, to pastors or theologians like JI Packer, Keller, Longmen, Windham, and Kline accept evolution. There is also the fact that YEC is rejected by the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, all the so-called Mainline churches (I understand this maybe a point of support for), but also YEC only is not supported by either the SBC or PCA (or even the OPC); they all support all views. Also, looks at current (evangelical) seminary professors at Westminster (and WSCAL), all the RTS’s, all the SBC schools, Gorden-Conwell, and you will find little support for YEC. So, even if it is correct, it is incorrect to say that it is the orthodox and historical view.
Excurses – RC Sproul has a great lecture you can find online that discusses Luther and Calvin. Luther was clearly YEC, literal view of Genesis. Calvin was a little (uncharacteristically) squishy, seeming to believe something like literal unless proven otherwise. Sproul’s point is that they were both ardently anti-geocentricty. Yet it exist, it is unargued truth, today; and they were still both great theologians and reformers.
It is clear the science is against YEC and that their claim about historical understanding is incorrect. I’ll also just say again, you have to view the reading in the way it was originally hear, compared to other creation stories of the time, and the it’s ‘couplet’/’framework’ nature, and the lack of ‘this is the account of’ that tells hearers this is historical as 21st century westerners understand it. There are also issues with the genealogies used to calculate age, i.e. they don’t always match, not because they were wrong, but because this wasn’t a record keeping exercise, but a theological point.
Finally, if everything is ‘literal’ then everything is literal, this includes your reading of Genesis and Romans. Yet, again, the man that coined original sin did not see Adam as historical. So, clearly there is room for different views. If Adam was elect out of the others, for no reason, that is not different than most Old Testament Patriarchs or the New Testament view of election. Clearly, for many old and great theologians in church history, the ‘historical Adam’ is not an issue. To say so, is to believe that a view of Genesis that isn’t ‘literal’ is just a capitulation to science over and above the Bible, but as I have shown, there was much discussion long before Geological Age or Evolutionary Theory. So, the issue must exist in interpretation of the theology, not science. Ironically, I feel they are the ones reacting to modern science, not the other way around.
Old Earth Creationism (Progressive Creationism, Day-Age Creationism) (OEC)
Old Earth Creationism essentially says that we don’t need to take the first few chapters of Genesis ‘literally’ and that there is clearly some literary framework happening. Science says that the universe/earth is billions of years old, and as that is indisputable, we should take it for it’s word. However, though science is clear on evolution, we should not accept that aspect. One of the subsets of this view is the specific ‘day-age’, that is the world was created in six ‘days’, but those days are not 24 hour days as we know them. So, it allows for an old earth, yet the creation story is still there and that is the order of creation and evolution cannot exist.
In the above YEC, I hit most of the major issues, so the remainder will be a little shorter.
Pros – This is actually the view of most of the history of the church, and likely, at least the plurality of views today, in the Evangelical world. I won’t review them again, or list even more, but if you were to go through even more pastors/theologians, this view would likely have the most support.
Issues – still the basic issue of science, which is clear on evolution. To hold this view, there is disconcordance in picking and choosing which sciences you believe – you would hold to correct physics and geology (and I would argue, correct hermeneutics), but dismiss archaeology and biology (and chemistry to a lesser extent, among others). I’ve often been accused of having an ‘all or nothing’ problem, but I do take issue with picking and choosing which science to believe. Similarly, there is the simplicity issue, why would some science seem correct, but others not? What would God being doing here? Also, still, if holding to full special individual creation, no issue with Adam.
I already mentioned the early Christians and others who hold a non-literal view of Genesis (at least 1-11), so for a historical argument, if you take these passages as allegorical (as has been the actual history), then you’d have no issue with all the science. I guess my biggest critique of this view (which, I should, was my view for quite some time, but ultimately, I fond it untenable) is that you are trying to have it both ways. Which, I think uncritically, people find reassuring, it sounds nice to pick a ‘high’ view of the Bible, while still accepting some science, but in reality, I think you are missing both and sell both a little short.
Evolutionary Creationism (EC)
Evolutionary creationism accepts both the Bible (though not as some) and science. There is the very common ‘framework theory’ of Genesis, as far as Biblical interpretation goes, as well as the acceptance of all (not just some) science.
Pros – I believe this would be the view of the early church, based on readings of both the Greek and Latin Church Fathers, as well as early (AD) Jewish writers and Midrash. They would have no problem with the later (to them) science of both old earth and evolution, because they didn’t see any of that as the point. They don’t (and neither do quite a few modern others, as I listed above) view the first few chapters of Genesis as a science or history (as modern westerner’s view it) book, but just as theology. God created the world (universe) and all that is in it; this over and above any other religions or non-religious view of how the universe and life came to be.
Issues – None with science (other than those adamant that there is not God, but that is not our focus here, very few people actually doubt a god/higher power of some sort). From theological perspective, as mentioned above, occasionally, you run into Christians who are militant about the YEC view. However, as I’ve shown, this was at most ever, the plurality view (but was always close enough that theologians for 1900 years have had to discuss). The early church (I believe) over allegoricalized all of Genesis (a mistake, I believe, as we have indicators such as ‘this is the account’ and the various view of the NT writers), when just the ‘primordial’ or ‘pre-history’ of 1-11 is truly in dispute.
The issue of Adam. I’ll admit this is the stickiest point. Though, maybe that is due to my individual upbringing. Again, the early church say most of Genesis as allegory (again, again, not my view, I support ‘theological history’), yet, as with Augustine (but to be fair, his mentor Ambrose, did no share his view), did not have an issue with original sin. These early fathers, as well as our non-Protestant brothers today, do not see an issue of whether Adam was real or not (but not ‘non-existent’, more of whether he was ‘chosen’ or archetypal [representative]’). As a broad theological concept (my personal views below), we need to remember that we don’t sin because Adam sinned. I didn’t inherit, from Adam, some deformed gene, that caused me to sin. I sinned (and continue to sin) because I am a sinner, and because humans are flawed individuals who fail to keep God’s standards. This isn’t genetic, this is a component of what it is to be created and not the Creator.
I think this view is hard for people. I get it, I really do; I’ve been there. It appears that you are synthesizing the Bible with science. Hopefully, I’ve shown that to not be the case, that the issue of interpretation is actually quite old. Honestly, though, the hard part is learning. It is studying, and thinking about ancient cosmology, early and modern hermeneutics. It is thinking about what Moses (who I believe gave us the first five books of the Bible) and Paul (I accept every book attributed to him) thought about history and cosmology, and how those may differ from the modern concepts, yet our theology is the same (God is the creator and sustainer of all that ever existed, exists, ever will exist). It is hard because we read in modern English (though so did Warfield and Hodge, among even more modern theologians), while Luther read German and Greek/Hebrew, Calvin new French, wrote in Latin, read Greek/Hebrew, Augustine only Latin, Paul had Greek and Hebrew, Moses only Hebrew.
As Modern American Evangelical Individualist, we want to believe that we can open our Bibles and simple walk away with the clear/plain/simple meaning, but that belies the history/language/genres/complexity of the Bible. I believe in the perspicuity of Scripture for salvation, but let’s remember in Peter (in the Bible) says that Paul’s writing are hard to understand. That is why I believe that careful study of the Bible is essential for modern Evangelicals (more below).
I feel (hope), I’ve given a faithful overview of the different perspectives on Creation. There are a few more, which I figured I’d shortly address, though they lack (or are incorporated in) the depth of the views above.
Theistic/Deistic Evolution – This is more or less consistent with Evolutionary Creationism, but without the God of the Bible/Christianity aspect. I’d add Jewish people and (most) Muslims (though some would fall more into an ‘Old Earth’ but no evolution view) in this view as their interpretation is Genesis 1-3 would be viewed the same, but we don’t view God (Trinity, Resurrection of Christ, etc) the same. Also, I did read about agnostic evolution, which essentially accepts all science and says whether or not a deity exists or was involved is irrelevant.
Intelligent Design – I didn’t include this as separate view above, as some books have, because it actually incorporates all views above (except for Agnostic). Their guiding principle is that science can’t tell us everything, and that God was active in creation and evolution (if the person support evolution). I feel like the term is often just used for ‘creationist’ but it is actually a distinct and diverse group/movement.
Creation Doesn’t Exist – God doesn’t exist/isn’t involved. The universe was created by the Big Bang (though we don’t know how that happened) and then evolution created all life (though we don’t know how it moved from inorganic to organic life).
As you have likely deciphered, I am neither YEC or OEC. I am more sensitive to OEC, because in all honestly I can’t rule out the specific special creation of Adam and Eve, thought I doubt that is the most likely. I struggle with YEC. I try to accomodate and be faithful to their beliefs, but they often (there are certainly exceptions as the video I will link in a week or so will show) antagonist and militant. Likewise, they make claims (forget science for the moment) that are demonstrability false. There is clearly a broad arrange of views, all of which (if supported with thought) should carry some weight. I’m given to understand that roughly half of the Elders of my church of YEC. While I personally disagree, I have no doubts in these men having the ability to study the Scripture for themselves, while being magnanimous towards other view.
So, all that to say, I support old Earth (clearly) and generally support Evolution. The science is there for it all, but I can’t full rule out (though again, not my main view) the idea of a special creation for Adam and Eve. I view Genesis 1-11 as historical theology. It is real but it is not historicity, as we know it as modern westerners. I know that God created the Universe (we are not an unexplained accident) and through His laws, with His providence, we became humans as we know it. As for Adam and Eve, I think they were specifically chosen, representative people (likely neo-lithic) that God separated as the first of those He would call and would be our history (we have Father Abraham without being his literal, genetic descendants).
As for Paul, in Roman, who call Jesus the second Adam, I do believe there is a categorical issue here. Supposedly, some atheist/agnostics struggle with the fact that Jesus calls Jonah’s captor a fish, while the OT calls it a whale. My question is, what did you expect Jesus to do? Was He supposed to have a side note lesson on taxonomy? Was He supposed to point out to fishermen that though they called everything in water fish (we still refer to lobsters, crab, etc. as ‘shell’ fish, though they aren’t fish) some weren’t? That some were actually mammals? You are really missing the point, if you are looking for pure science here (again, as modern westerners know it, who’s to say that all animals that live in water aren’t one category, while all those on land are another?).
While I believe Adam and Eve were real, I don’t expect that, if they weren’t, it would have been Paul’s job to fix our understanding. Again, the issue here is Theology, specially, the theology of the Cross, the Atonement, the Propitiation of our sins; none of these really have much to say about ancient cosmology. Maybe you are thinking, well, then, it doesn’t matter, but see below.
The overall point, from my perspective, is that the ancients, the early church, the Reformation church, and the church in our modern times all have different views of science and history and what the world means. We have words for which some do not even have concepts, and I think that matters when we consider these issues. However, we are all in agreement that God (the Father) created (with the Son and Holy Spirit) the world, He gave us the Law, he intervened in history (likely to a great and much older extent than we know), He sent His Son, who lived a perfect life, died for us, we were accounted his righteousness, He rose again and was ascended to the right hand of the Father, whom sent the Holy Spirit. That’s where we are today. We know that Christ is only way, and we shouldn’t attack other Christian with whom we share this belief. I know that some are happy to point out that even ‘evolutionist’ question some aspects of evolution. First, that is how science works. Second, none of them reject evolution. Surely, we, who believe in Christ, can find unity to answers those who say that there is no god, instead of eating our own, bones and all.
What it Matters
This is a Biblical Interpretation issue, not a salvation one. I believe that a Christian can hold any of these views and be a faithful believer. This is not what people call a ‘primary issue’, most pastors/theologians would say it is tertiary, though I would actually say it is secondary. I don’t want people fighting or splitting churches over it, but I do think people should care. I polled (informally) about 10 people to get their views, and all but one said tried to hold both young-earth and science in tension together. They essentially said that they believed in science, but also read the Bible ‘simply’, but (and this is the worst part), didn’t really think much of it, because it doesn’t matter all that much.
Just from an intellectual stand-point, that is some serious cognitive dissonance. From Biblical view it is certainly far from ‘mediate on your laws day and night’, ‘give a defense of what you believe’, and the accounts of Paul and the Apostles ‘reasoning with’ non-believers.
Again, I get it, it is not a salvation issue, but honestly, sit and think, can you claim to take the Bible seriously, can you claim you want to study the Word and really know it, if you don’t even understand/try to understand/or form opinions on the opening chapters? I’d say no. There is no excuse for lack of Bible study if you consider yourself a Christian who is serious about the Bible. I’ll preface this with the fact that in is really intended for people like me, middle and upper middle class families, whom are educated and have no material needs unmet: you have no material needs and are educated. There is no reason not to pick up a commentary or at least an ‘expensive’ study Bible.
People don’t like this, but it is honestly insulting to those that came before us that we have so much information and study materials at hand, and neglect them all. I’ve mentioned this before, but I have a Bible from my great-granddad, who was a Pentecostal preacher. He bought it 100 years ago (1920), and I have the original receipt. According to the BLS inflation calculator, it cost him about $130 in his time, and he was a dirt farmer/preacher who never had indoor plumbing until later in life when he retire (50’s, I believe), and never owned a TV. Forget study Bible notes, his Bible didn’t even have cross references, let alone footnotes. Let us not forget the people who were literally killed for printing the Bible in the common language. We have more access now than ever before, and honestly, we seem to just not care. End rant; but you really should know your Bible, and what you believe about it (to some extent) and why.
I’ll start with a few website/thinktanks/groups:
Though I can’t really recommend Ken Ham (due to his like of charity or understanding), here is the preeminent YEC group – https://answersingenesis.org/
For the middle view (OEC) – https://reasons.org/
For Evolutionary Creationist – https://biologos.org/
For the Intelligent Design movement – https://www.discovery.org/
For commentaries*, I pretty much only use those recommended by Piper and Sproul (or the Gospel Coalition), they are typically written by professors at conservative Evangelical seminaries (as listed above). I’ll note that none support YEC, and they are maybe 60/40 on support of Evolution:
New Bible Commentary (I have a special affinity of this commentary as I have the the ’21ist Century Version’, but I inherited the original [circa 1970’s] from my Granddaddy, who use it for teaching his Sunday School class of 40 years. Coincidentally, it is edited by big Evangelical names like Carson and Piper calls it the best over one-volume commentary that exist).
Expositors Bible Commentary
Word Biblical Commentary (one of the more technical ones, but fully Evangelical).
Commentary on Genesis by Wendham and Zondervan (also technical, but Evangelical).
Broadmen Bible Commentary (official Commentary of the SBC)
Systematic Theologies* that are helpful in the ‘Anthropology’ and ‘Sin’ Categories (again, could not find any support for YEC; either predated or mixed on Evolution):
Systematic Theology by Hodge
Systematic Theology by Grudem
Christian Theology by Erickson
Books that review reading/hermeneutics or issues in Genesis (either 1-11 or more broadly), again, these are only conservative Apostles Creed supporting protestants (I’m unclear if Enns still considers himself Evangelical due to the determinant of the current political climate, though he was a professor at Westminster, the premier modern Reformed Evangelical Seminary):
Collins – The Language of God (written by the guy that headed the Human Genome Project, also a born-again, Evangelical Christian).
Enns – Evolution of Adam and Inspiration and Incarnation
Longmen – How to Read Genesis and Controversies in the Old Testament (my review)
Couner Point Series – Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design (my review) and Four Views on the Historical Adam (my review).
Study Bibles (again, no clear YEC*):
Reformation Study Bible (GE Sproul)
ESV Study Bible (GE Grudem)
Biblical Theological Study Bible (GE DA Carson)
The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible (to be fair, moderate to liberal, but it is the study Bible of people who care in Anglican and Catholic views).
I read no moderate/progressive ‘study Bibles’, and ‘liberal’ study Bible do not exist as liberals do not study the Bible as such (personal growth).
* I want to make it clear, none of these view are completely inline, nor do they reflect my specific view of everything. My point is that YEC is fairly unattested to in the academic literate (again, only considering the conservative, Evangelical, mostly reformed professors, think all the SBC’s, all the RTS’s, and Westminster/WSCAL). These are works that should make you consider what you believe, in light of the scholarship of true believers, outside of ‘scientific literature’. This is more important than science, this is our understanding of the Bible.