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Vibrant Dance 2: Beall: Genesis 1-2: A Literal Reading

The first position paper presented at Vibrant Dance, Theology Edition, was by Dr. Todd Beall, Professor of Old Testament, Capital Bible Seminary, Lanham, Maryland. An apparent late request to each speaker was to start with a brief overview of their epistemology and hermeneutics in the presentation of their specific interpretation. Dr. Beall provided some notes to the audience to aid in his talk. Due to time constraints, he skimmed some sections. He supports the idea that the earth is a few thousand, rather than billions of years old, also known as “young-earth creationism.”

I have debated over whether to present the position papers with or without comment, and have concluded without. At the end of the series, I will offer commentary on the symposium as a whole, which you are welcome to bronze or tar and feather, at your pleasure.

First, there are some things Beall said in the talk that were outside his notes, so I share them here in the order he shared them, but not in the context of his notes. Beall began by affirming his subscription to the Chicago Statements presented by Blaising, primarily Articles 20-22. Also, he commented that he is less concerned with the age of the earth than with reading Scripture clearly, and that he believes that Origins is a subject area outside of the purview of science, so trying to reconcile science and Creation is pointless {my word not his}. Dr. Beall started off college as a pre-med, so has taken a large amount of science classes. He talked favorably about Darwin and Darwin’s passage on the mystery of the eye. He believes Christians can be of any of the three views (young earth, old earth and theistic evolution), and is willing to fellowship with them—we’ll get to heaven and then someone will have to apologize. (tongue-in-cheek tone)

(Incidentally, let me plug the ABBYY Fine Reader OCR software for its amazing job at converting the scanned image to text with very few corrections—it even got most of the Hebrew mostly correct in one pass!! There do seem to be some places where font and formatting have gotten corrupted. I apologize for any confusion.) Here begins Dr. Beall’s notes.

Does our view of Genesis 1 really matter? Yes, it does. Creation is a powerful witness to God (general revelation: Rom 1:18-21; Ps 19:1). That is why the first few chapters of Genesis are under such attack today.

1.            What does Genesis 1 (and subsequent chapters) actually say?

a.                               Genesis 1 is written in straight-forward narrative style, not poetry.
b.                               God created the universe—it was supernatural. This fact is stated all over in Scripture, not just Gen 1 (John 1:3;Heb 11:3; Col 1:16-18). Thus, creation can be grasped only by special revelation. God alone can tell us how the world began (Job 38:4: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if you have understanding").
c.                                A straight-forward reading of the text indicates that the days are 24-hour sequential days.
d.                               Creation involved an appearance of history or age. Man was not created as a baby, but rather was full grown. We have an analogy with Christ's miracles. The wine at Cana undoubtedly appeared to have aged, etc. The ruler of the feast assumed that the wine had a history of natural development, but he was wrong, because he was ignorant of the supernatural powers of Christ. Similarly, in raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus took a body which had undergone four days of decomposition and created the appearance of a healthy man. All Christ's miracles were done to manifest His glory (John 2:11), and that is precisely what was done at creation as well.
e.                               Man is the crown of creation, made in God's image, and given dominion over the animals (Gen 1:26-27). Throughout the stress is on the distinction between man and the animals: God did not say, "Let them have dominion over the rest of the animals"; rather, man is superior to the animals (see Ps 8:5-8). Thus, man is not like the animals, but like God!
f.              Genesis 1-11 indicates that man and the universe were created thousands of years ago, not millions or billions. Once Adam is created, the text gives a genealogical link from Adam to Noah in Genesis 5, then from Noah to Abraham in Genesis 11. Even if there are some gaps in the genealogies (which I consider to be unlikely), there is no way to fit more than several thousand years into the genealogies from Adam to Abraham, presented in Genesis 1-11, meaning that the first man, Adam, was created probably between six and eight thousand years ago.

2.            How did Jesus and the New Testament writers view Genesis 1-11?
There are at least 25 NT passages that refer to Genesis 1-11, and all take the account literally.
a.                                Creation account (Matt 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-8; 1 Cor 6:16 Eph 5:31)
b.                                Fall (2 Cor 11:3; 1 Tim 2:11-14; Rom 5:12-14)
c.                                 Cain's murder (1 John 3:12; Jude 11; Luke 11:51; Matt 23:35)
d.                                Flood (Matt 24:37-38; Luke 17:26-27; 1 Pet 3:20; 2 Pet 2:5; 3:5-6)
e.                                Hebrews 11 and Gen 1-11
f.              The genealogies of Gen 1-11 (see Luke 3:23-38)

3.            Attempts to harmonize the Bible with evolution
Many Christians, convinced that evolution is correct as a "scientific" model, have attempted to harmonize the Bible with evolution. I would state that these attempts are unnecessary, since the evolutionary theory is fraught with problems. Four attempts in particular demand our attention.

a.             Gap theory
The gap theory (popularized by the Scofield Bible) states that there were two creations. Gen 1:1 describes the first creation, after which Satan, the earth's ruler (over pre-Adamic "men"), rebelled. Because of Satan's fall, sin entered the universe and brought God's judgment upon the earth in the form of a flood (indicated by the water of 1:2) and then a global ice age. The plant, animal, and human fossils on earth today date from this flood, and are genetically unrelated to plants, animals, and humans on earth today. Gen 1:2 thus describes the ruined condition of the earth, and Gen 1:3-31 describes God's re-creation.

Support for the gap theory is seen in translating התיה(hayethah) as "had become"; ובהו תהו (tohu wabohu) represents an evil, sinful condition, and thus not an original state of the earth (Isa 45:18 supports this); a distinction must be made between עטה (as ah) and ברא (bara); and God told Adam to replenish the earth (Gen 1:28), so it must have been filled previously.

Our (brief) rebuttal:
1)         The translation of 1:2 is strained, since "was" is the normal meaning, not "became."
2)         The meaning of תהו ובהו simply means "unformed and unfilled"; it is often used in contexts of judgment (such as Isa 45:18), because the land is then swept clean and uninhabited. But the words themselves do not carry this connotation.
3)         The words ברא and עטה are used interchangeably with respect to creation (for instance, עטה is used in Neh 9:6; Job 9:9; Prov 8:22, 23, 26; both words are used in Gen 1:21, 25-27; 2:2-4). What we have is a case of typical Hebrew synonymous parallelism.
4)         The argument regarding replenishing the earth disappears when it is recognized that the Hebrew word, מלא (mala), simply means "to fill."
5)         There are theological problems with the gap theory. Was there death before sin entered the world? Were there men without souls prior to Adam?
6)         The gap theory contains a great deal of speculation. There is not one word about Satan's “reign” and fall on earth, and no mention of any pre-Adamic cataclysm (in the Bible, or in geology which presupposes uniformitarianism—if one is going to accept evidence for a cataclysm, why not simply accept the flood? And would the fossil world be identical to the present world, including human fossils?).
7)         Finally, the Hebrew of Gen 1:1-2 precludes the gap theory, since the waw consecutive form should have been used if the gap theory were correct; instead, the verb is a simple perfect—yet, in every other verse in Gen 1, the waw consecutive is used. The waw consecutive implies consecutive action—first, God created the heavens and the earth, and then the earth became formless and void. However, the construction used indicates a break in the action—“and at that time the earth was formless and void.” It describes the setting at the time the earth was created by God. Hence, v. 1 is an introductory, summary verse, and then the details are given in vv 2-31. F. F. Bruce mentions this argument against the gap theory (cited in Lammerts, Scientific Studies in Special Creation, p. 34), as does Speizer. For further discussion of the gap theory, see Weston Fields, Unformed and Unfilled.

b.            Day-Age theory
This theory states that the creation “day” is not necessarily 24 hours, but instead may be thousands (or millions) of years. Some attempt to support the theory by 2 Pet 3:8 ("One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day"). Gleason Archer opts for the day-age theory, because he cannot imagine Adam naming all the animals and Eve being created in only one 24-hour day (“Who can imagine that all of these transactions could possibly have taken place in 120 minutes of the sixth day?” [Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 201]).

Our rebuttal is as follows:
1)            The day-age theory contradicts the evolutionary model, and thus (even if biblically tenable, which it isn't) it does not solve the problem.
a)        The order of events is different in the two models:
•plants were created the 3rd day, marine animals the 5th
•sun, moon, and stars were created the 4th day, after plants (what about photosynthesis?)
•birds were created with fish on the 5th day, but evolution says that the birds evolved from the fish after the reptiles (6th day)
•insects were created on the 6th day, after plants (but insects were needed for pollination; also, simple should not follow complex)
b)                  Man's creation was from the dust of the ground (evolution model disagrees)
2)            The day-age theory fails on biblical grounds, because יום (yom, "day") in Genesis 1 does not mean an indefinite period of time.
•it does have this meaning 65 times (as in Gen 2:4), vs. 1900 times meaning 24-hour day
•but it never means an indefinite period when a limiting number is attached to it (first, second, third, etc.)
•”evening and morning” certainly seems to imply 24 hours!
•the term is defined this way in Gen 1:5: the light is called “day,” the darkness is called “night”
•Exod 20:8-11 gives the final proof for a literal 6 days: the word יום can not be used literally in one part and then symbolically in the next verse!

c.             Framework hypothesis
Scholars such as Meredith Kline, Mark Futato, and others have proposed another non-literal explanation for Gen 1.

The Framework Hypothesis sees a pattern or “framework” in Gen 1 that is structural or literary rather than chronological. Thus, Gen 1 is intended to provide the literary framework for creation, but not a literal chronology. Appeal is often made to other Ancient Near Eastern myths such as Enuma Elish to demonstrate that this approach is not limited to Gen 1.

Often the following pattern is noted (see, for example, Meredith Kline, “Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 48 [1996] 2-15):

Realms                                                          “Rulers” of realms
Day 1:  light; day and night                   Day 4:  sun, moon, stars
Day 2:  sea and sky                                  Day 5:  sea creatures; birds
Day 3:  land and vegetation                 Day 6:  land creatures; man

But:  light of day 1 is not dependent on the sun, so the sun is hardly the “ruler” of it (and one day the sun will not be needed at all!). The waters existed on day 1, not just day 2; in v. 14 the “lights” of day 4 are set in the “expanse” created in day 2; the sea creatures of day 5 were to fill the “water in the seas” which were created on day 3, not day 2 (see Gen 1:10); and none of the sea creatures or birds or land creatures other than man were to “rule” anything anyway! And man was created on day 6 not to rule over the land and vegetation (created on day 3), but over the land animals created on day 6 and the sea creatures and birds created on day 5!

The key question is, is a different literary genre used in Gen 1 (or Gen 1-11, as many claim) than in the rest of Genesis? There is no evidence of anything except straightforward historical narrative, the same as in the rest of Genesis! Gen 1 is not poetry. If there is such a literary genre, what are its markers and where does it stop? Was the fall (described in Gen 3) an actual historical event or not? What about the creation of the woman from the man (described in Gen 2 and referenced by Christ in Matt 19:5)?

In short, the framework hypothesis is another attempt to harmonize the biblical account of Genesis with modern evolutionary science. Since the latter is fraught with problems, there is no need for such an attempted harmonization that does injustice to the straightforward literal historical meaning of Gen 1.

d.            Cosmic temple
A recent twist on the framework hypothesis has been proposed by John Walton (The Lost World of Genesis One [IVP, 2009]). Walton believes that Gen 1 is simply another example of ANE cosmology, which was concerned with function, not material things. He states that the days of Genesis are indeed literal 24-hour days, but they refer to an inauguration of the cosmos as a cosmic temple. The seven days in Gen 1 have nothing to do with material origins.

The problem here is that Walton is relying too heavily on ANE cosmology for his understanding of Gen 1. Far from following the thinking of the ANE, Israel was told to reject it categorically Israel was repeatedly told not to be like all the other nations in their worship of other gods or in their worldview. Second, since the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, this means that He superintended and directed what was to be written. Why would God have directed Moses to write the creation account (which is the one event that had to be supernaturally revealed-whether passed on orally or directly given to Moses) in accordance with ANE myths? Third, while there are some similarities between the biblical record in Genesis and ANE myths, there are far more significant differences, chief of which is monotheism (a holy, purposeful God) vs. polytheism (and chaos among the gods). Fourth, there is no temple mentioned in Gen 1! Finally, Gen 1 is definitely concerned with creating material things: I count 22 things that God creates in this chapter!

4.                   Problems with a non-literal interpretation of Gen 1-2 (and Gen 1-11)
Gen 12 would make little sense by itself, without the preparatory genealogy given in chapter 11 (where Abram, Sarai, and Lot are first introduced). But since Gen 11 gives the genealogy of Shem, this connects it back to the genealogy of chapter 10, to the flood account in chapters 6-9, and to the genealogy of chapter 5, where Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth are first mentioned. But since Gen 5 is a genealogy that begins with Adam himself, this takes us back to the creation account in Gen 1-2 where Adam is first mentioned! What kind of hermeneutical gymnastics will allow us to take Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as historical people, but not Adam, Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth?

There are two other structural indicators that Gen 1-11 is to be understood in a similar way to Gen 12-50. First, Gen 12 begins with a waw-consecutive verb, wayomer (“and he said”), indicating that what follows is a continuation of chap. 11, not a major break in the narrative. Second, it is widely agreed that the structure of the entire book is based on the phrase eleh toledoth (“these are the generations of…” or”this is the history of…”) that occurs ten times in Genesis.6 Each time this phrase occurs it narrows the focus to something that has already been discussed:  the heavens and the earth (2:4), Adam (5:1), Noah (6:9), the sons of Noah (10:1), Shem (11:10), Terah (11:27), Ishmael (25:12), Isaac (25:19), Esau (36:1), and Jacob (37:2).7 Since six of these occurrences are in Gen 1-11 and four occurrences are in Gen 12-50 it seems clear that the author intended both sections to be understood in the same way, as a consecutive history. Therefore, hermeneutically there is no warrant for treating Gen 1-11 differently from the rest of the book.

Some argue that Gen 1 is a different literary genre (such as poetry), and thus should be interpreted differently. However, Gen 1 is presented in a normal narrative form. The standard form in Hebrew for consecutive, sequential narrative prose is the waw consecutive imperfect. Genesis 1 contains 50 waw consecutive imperfect forms in its 31 verses, an average of 1.6 per verse. This represents more waw consecutive forms than all but 3 of the first 20 chapters in Genesis. By contrast, in the poetic section of Gen 49:1b-27 (Jacob's blessing of his sons), there are only a total of eight waw consecutive forms, or 0.30 per verse. To put it another way, Gen 1 has five times more narrative sequential markers than a comparably long poetic section. There seems to be no doubt that the author of Gen 1 intended that the narrative be understood as normal sequential action. The genre is clearly narrative, not poetry.

5.                   A slippery slope?
It is my conclusion that the simplest and the correct approach to Gen 1-11 is to take it as a literal, historical account, just as Jesus and the NT writers did. There is no need to apologize for such an approach. In his work entitled Fundamentalism, James Barr takes conservative evangelicals to task for insisting on a literal interpretation of Scripture but then abandoning it when it comes to the creation story in Genesis. Barr explains that “as the scientific approach came to have more and more assent from fundamentalists themselves, they shifted their interpretation of the Bible passage from literal to non-literal in order to save … the inerrancy of the Bible.” In order to avoid the consequence of an errant Bible, the fundamentalist “has tried every possible direction of interpretation other than the literal.” Yet, Barr rightly continues, “in fact the only natural exegesis is a literal one, in the sense that this is what the author meant” (Fundamentalism [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1977] 42).

Barr is right on target. And there is a further danger in applying an inconsistent hermeneutic to Gen 1-11. Where does the figurative hermeneutic stop? Once we decide that Gen 1 is figurative, where does it stop? We saw earlier that Waltke was careful to say that Adam was an historical person. Another evangelical, Tremper Longman, used to hold that view as well (see his How to Read Genesis [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2005] 106-115). But now he is not so sure. In an August 14, 2010 blog entry on Biologos, Longman says the following:
The description of how Adam was created is certainly figurative. The question is open as to whether there was an actual person named Adam who was the first human being or not. Perhaps there was a first man, Adam, and a first woman, Eve, designated as such by God at the right time in his development of human beings. Or perhaps Adam, whose name after all means “Human,” is himself figurative of humanity in general. I have not resolved this issue in my own mind except to say that there is nothing that insists on a literal understanding of Adam in a passage so filled with obvious figurative description. The New Testament's use of Adam (Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15) does not resolve the issue as some suggest because it is possible, even natural, to make an analogy between a literary figure and a historical one. (http://biologos.0rg/blog/is-thcre-a-historieal-adam/#)

The question I would ask Tremper Longman, and all those who take portions of Gen 1-11 figuratively, is this:  what justification do you have for using a different hermeneutic for Gen 1-2 or Gen 1-11 than you do for the rest of Genesis? And how do you know when to stop taking the text figuratively? Apparently, as can be seen by Longman's comments above, there is no easy answer. There is no justification for applying a different hermeneutic to Gen 1-11 or to Gen 1-2 than to the rest of Genesis. As Noel Weeks has observed, “The basic question is whether our interpretation of the Bible is to be determined by the Bible itself or by some other authority. Once science has been set up as an autonomous authority it inevitably tends to determine the way in which we interpret the Bible” (“The Hermeneutical Problem of Genesis 1-11,” Themelios 4 [1978] 16.) Our conclusion is that the only proper hermeneutical approach to Gen 1-11 (including Gen 1) is to regard it as historical narrative that is meant to be taken literally. To use some other hermeneutical approach and apply it in a piecemeal fashion is to embark on a slippery slope that ignores the plain evidence given by our Lord, the NT writers, and the text of Genesis itself.


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