Just how old is the earth, and does it even matter?
Depending on the Christian circle you find yourself in, the age of the earth may be a fairly large issue for discussion. Now, it’s not a large issue outside of Christianity, but sometimes it does become that internally.
We really need to have an appreciation for the extent and ramifications of this issue before we dive into the specifics.
In a very real way, it doesn’t matter how old the earth, life, or the universe is as long as we affirm that God created by a special, divine act—not random chance. As long as we affirm that God did the work of creation, it doesn’t so much matter how old it is. Now, I can anticipate the rejoinder from some people. They might say, “Well, the Bible tells us how old the earth is, so if we say it doesn’t matter, we’re saying that something in the Bible doesn’t matter. If we say everything is old, well, then we’re contradicting the Bible because the Bible,” some would say, “Says that everything is young, about 6,000 years old or so.”
I want to put this in perspective. Why is it that oftentimes certain Christians get more upset, more particular, more equipped to talk about the age of the earth than the idea that God created everything? Who is our intended audience? Why wouldn’t I want to be more equipped to talk with the non-Christian than the Christian? For the non-Christian, if we have to rank the issues, the larger issue isn’t that they believe the earth is old or young; it’s that they don’t believe there’s a sovereign God who created it all. They don’t think he created them, so they don’t think they’re accountable to him.
Now, quickly, you can see how a belief or a disbelief in creation becomes a gospel issue because we’re only accountable to God because he is the supreme ruler of the universe who created us. It’s not just that he’s ruler, it’s not just that he’s creator, he’s both. A denial of those is why talking about creation is important. The age of everything is an internal matter. As Christians, we should be more equipped to talk with the external audience— the non-Christian world—about arguments for God’s existence, about an argument that he created, about an argument for the intrinsic dignity and worth of human life than we are to talk about how many millions, thousands, or whatever, of years ago God did that work.
After talking about the importance of the issue, let’s talk about the issue itself. How old is everything? Well, as Church Curmudgeon, a fictitious Twitter account, has said, “Most people think the earth is young. They think it began when they were born.” Now, putting that humor aside, the majority of people think that the earth is old and that all of life is old.
There is a group of Christians who believe the earth is young. These would often be called Young Earth creationists. They base this on a literal, they would say, reading of Genesis 1, by adding up the chronologies and genealogies and things like that in the Bible, and they come with an age of about 6,000 years ago.
On this view, when it says day in Genesis 1, it’s a literal solar 24-hour day. If you disagree with this, sometimes, not always, but sometimes these people will say, “Well, why are you reading science into the text to say that the earth is old?” or, “If your interpretation disagrees with the Bible, well, then you’re wrong.” So, they’re saying if your interpretation disagrees, you’re wrong.
Well, let’s tackle those in reverse order. First, it’s not just that we’re comparing one person’s interpretation with what the Bible says as if the Bible just somehow says the young earth view. What we’re doing is we’re comparing one interpretation where the earth is not young with an interpretation where the earth is young. We’re comparing interpretations and interpretations.
Anytime someone reads the Bible and says, “The Bible says,” what they’re giving you is their interpretation. There are correct interpretations and incorrect interpretations. Some reasons for an interpretation are better than other reasons, but it is always an interpretation versus an interpretation, so don’t let someone trump-card you by saying, “Well, that’s your interpretation. The Bible actually says this,” as if the fact that you’re giving an interpretation makes it less than what they’re saying.
An interesting question to ask when someone tells you that the earth is young is to say, “Well, why do you think that? How did you come to that conclusion?” Let’s use our Columbo question there. What they may say is, “Well, it says “day” in Genesis 1, so I believe it’s a day.” You could ask this person, “Well, what’s a day?” Well, they might say, “Well, it’s a sunrise and a sunset or a sunset and a sunrise.” “Well, how do you have that without a sun?” you could ask. The sun wasn’t created on day one, day two or day three, so how do you have a sunset and a sunrise without a sun?
Well, they’ll say, “You don’t think the Bible’s literal then?” I could say, “You don’t think all parts are literal either. That whole thing about chop off your hand if it causes you to sin or gouge out your eye, you haven’t done that because that’s not literal. Jesus is telling us that we should take our sin really seriously.”
As someone who doesn’t think that “day,” the Hebrew word yom, in Genesis 1 means a literal solar 24-hour day, I still think the text is literally true. Let me explain what I mean. It is possible for figurative language to communicate literal truth. The question is: what is the intent of the text? What is it actually saying?
When we want to understand something in the New Testament, most Christians are more familiar with asking the question, “What was the context here?” right? If we’re talking about Philippians, that letter Paul wrote to the churches at Philippi, some people will say, “Well, you know, Paul was in prison when he wrote this, and it’s notable because this is actually his most joyous letter.” He’s saying, “I can do anything through Christ who strengthens me,” while he’s sitting in prison. Isn’t that incredible?
You’re going to say, “Well, yeah. We know that because we know the context, at least in part, that this is written by Paul, who was in prison when he wrote it,” those types of things. When you ask someone about the context of Genesis 1, in my experience, they don’t know. They can be very dogmatic that they think it means a literal solar 24-hour day, but they don’t know the context.
Oftentimes, people aren’t aware that there are two different creation accounts. Right side by side, you’ve got Genesis 1 through Genesis 2:3 as one creation account, and then starting in 2:4, you have another creation account where the order is different. Man is created first in Genesis 2. He’s created last in Genesis 1, so that would seem to be a contradiction. The only way to reconcile that is to say that one or both of these accounts are non-literal in terms of they’re not giving a strict chronology of historical scientific events. If one or both are non-literal, how do you choose which is which? Well, the question of context really needs to come to mind. What was the context for Genesis 1? Like I said, most of the time, people can’t tell you.
Let’s dive into that a little. Genesis was written by Moses most likely around the year 1400 B.C., and this was after Israel had spent over four centuries under Egyptian rule and captivity. You know what? When they left Egypt, they worshipped the gods of Egypt. They even took them with them when they left Egypt for Canaan. We see this in Joshua 24:14. They didn’t even know God’s name. “What’s his name?” we see that they asked in Exodus 3:13. You can’t know much less about a person than not knowing their name. (Now, sometimes I forget people’s names. I try. I’m bad at it. I’ll write the name down after I talk with you, but I still might forget. I think we should all go around life wearing name badges.)
That aside, as a rule, you can’t know much less about someone than not knowing their name, especially if you’re worshipping a different god and don’t even know the true God’s name. Don’t you think this would be important contextual information when we read the first book in our Bible, to know that when it was written, and that the people it was written to had been under a false god system for over 400 years a different god? I think that would be important because what comes along with the belief in a god? Well, generally, a view of how that god created things. It’s not generally that you just have this one view of God and everything else is separated from it. A view about God comes as a part of a whole cohesive worldview.
Indeed, it was the same way with Egypt, and so what we see is that we need to understand what Egypt believed about creation in order to understand what Moses was saying to Israel about their true god because anything he says about creation, anything he says about God is going to be understood through the lens of their worldview, a worldview that’s heavily influenced by Egyptian beliefs.
Let’s look at a comparison of Egyptian beliefs as we’ve been able to piece them together through archaeological excavation and research. And let’s compare it to Genesis 1
Before creation, everything was formless, void, and deep. Those are some of the adjectives we see in Genesis 1. Well, in Egyptian beliefs, there was a watery darkness that was imperceptible. That’s really similar. The similarities don’t end there because in Genesis, the spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters, and in Egyptian beliefs, the god of wind breathes over the water. Very similar.
Well, what was the means of creation? God creates by divine command, and in Egyptian beliefs, Atum or Ptah (depending on the account you look) speaks creation into existence. Then things are separated. In Genesis, light is created before the sun. In Egyptian beliefs, light is created before the sun. God creates by separating the waters, and the same is true on Egyptian beliefs. Then God creates by separating the land from the waters. Then in Egyptian beliefs, we see the first little primordial mound rise out of the water.
These similarities go on and on and on where God creates us in his image and the gods create man out of clay in Egyptian beliefs. The similarities are so striking that if you were a teacher and two students turned in two papers, one of them was Genesis 1 and one of them was the Egyptian beliefs, you would accuse them of plagiarism. They’re that similar.
Now you might be saying, “Okay, so I’m not sure I believe you.” Just let me assure you that the scholarship and the research does back up the fact that these are the beliefs of the Egyptian people at around this time in history. Then you might be saying, “Okay, so I don’t know what to do with that. There’s stuff in my Bible that came from Egypt?” Well, the question is: what is the author’s intent? What is God, the ultimate author, the one who’s inspiring Moses to write these words, what is that intent in writing Genesis 1? And is it really the similarities that are important?
Now, when we address world religions, we say they’re really similar, but so what? It’s the differences that make something important and distinct. The only difference in one human from another is just the slightest fraction of a percent of DNA, but we are very different people. It’s not the similarities but the differences that make something stand out. If you have an all-white sheet and you put another white sheet on it, you probably can’t tell, but if there are specks of dirt, black dirt on the sheet, that will stand out. The sheet is still the majority white, but the difference is that the things that are distinct catch our eye and our attention. You know what? It’s the same way when we see what’s different about Genesis 1 versus Egyptian beliefs.
The first thing is that the sun is heavily de-emphasized. It’s not created first. It’s not given a name, and it’s not a god. That is a huge difference. Goes from has a name, is worshipped. What’s the pinnacle, the highest point of the creation week in Genesis 1? Man, who is an image-bearer of God. That’s huge.
More than that, the Egyptians believed that creation was kind of reenacted every night, that when the sun went down, there was a struggle with the sun god and the god of the underworld. Somehow the sun god prevailed, and the world went on, and the sun rose again. What does Genesis 1 say? “There was evening. There was morning.” There’s no struggle there. The God of the universe doesn’t contend with anyone. There’s no one who can challenge him. There’s peace because God is in control.
Our god rested on the seventh day. This actually points to the “creation week” being non-literal. The fact that the seventh day is still happening we see in Hebrews. God is still in his seventh day rest. There are some other differences here.
Does it make sense to say that there was a day when there was no sun? How can you have an evening and a morning without a sunset and a sunrise? You can’t.
So, to reiterate: God is still in his seventh day rest. That points to a non-literal understanding. When we have two different creation accounts back to back that no one had a problem with for thousands of years, well, that points to one or both of them being non-literal also.
Then, this is the biggest point, just step back and ask the question, “If you had been in captivity for 400 years, you didn’t know who your God was, what’s the one thing you need?” A science lesson? A history lesson? Probably not.
What you need is a theology lesson. Does it really make sense to say that the first thing that’s recorded in scripture that was given to Israel after they came out from Egyptian captivity was a science lesson? No. They didn’t know who their God was. They needed to know that their God, not the Egyptian gods, not the sun, not the god of the underworld, was the creator of everyone. He alone was in charge. No one could contend with him.
There was no struggle each night, and he created man once in his image. That is an extremely powerful message. When we talk about the age of the earth, that question is not answered in Genesis 1. You can’t use Genesis 1, or you shouldn’t, to prop up an argument either way. That’s not the intent of this passage. It’s not the intent of the author, and it would be foreign to that context to say, “Well, this is what they were trying to say. They’re trying to tell you how everything was created.” No, they’re trying to tell you who created everything, and it’s Yahweh. It’s the God of the Bible.
There’s much more, obviously, that could be said about this issue. There’s much more that we could say about why to think it’s literal or not literal, but I think context is the often overlooked component in this discussion. We’ve only scratched the surface of it, but it’s something to think about. More than that, we need to put this issue in its proper context in our day today.
This should not be a large issue. The bigger issue is that the non-Christian world needs to understand there is a sovereign creator-God who rules the universe that they’re accountable to because he created them in his image to reflect his glory, and they are denying his existence in unrighteousness. That’s the big point we need to be prepared to talk about.
5 thoughts on “Episode 91 – How Old is the Earth and does it Matter?”
For better or for worse, I’m just going to think out-loud…
QUESTION: Why do you think that?
ANSWER: The Bible says so… IF you read Genesis as historical narrative, which it seems it must be as literally all the foundational doctrines of Christianity are rooted in the first 11 chapters of Genesis. And if we undermine the foundations of Christianity… what then? If Genesis 1 isn’t to be taken literally, then how do we know which chapters of Genesis are literal history (original sin? – the Flood of Noah’s day? – Babel, etc.) and which are just… stories God told us to get the ball rolling? Is that all Genesis is, a cute story? Were Adam and Eve literal? Did it mean men and women (a group), not man and woman (individuals)? Was the tree a metaphor? What of the serpent? Did Cain really slay his brother? Is Genesis 3:16 a prophecy/promise… or just part of the make-believe story? What about when Jesus references Genesis?
As for some of the other questions…
What is a day? It is one rotation of the earth. The sun is not required.
If we were intended to take the creation account literally, then how could you make it more specific than evening, morning, number, day?
Why call it the creation week… if it was millions or billions of years? Why should we not take it literally? Is it only because modern "science" [scientists] says the earth is old? Aren’t dating methods based upon a number of unprovable assumptions? Are there not difficulties for those on either side of the issue (young/old)? If God took millennia to create the earth, why not just say so? "And the morning and the evening were a few million years." Sure would have saved us all a lot of trouble and confusion!
Also, are there really two different accounts? And if there are… why should I trust the rest of the Bible is the first 2 chapters don’t even agree? Due to the apparent conflict can we take neither literally? Do we not actually have an account of the beginning? It is just a cute little story that the God, who cannot lie, made up? Why are we assuming that because God formed all the animals out of the ground that he did so after he made Adam? (Maybe Tyndale got it right?)
Yes, the gospel is more important and accepting a young earth or even literal Genesis are not required for salvation… but I am concerned about the foundations being destroyed! Something it seems that at least some atheists recognize…
“It becomes clear now that the whole justification of Jesus’ life and death is predicated on the existence of Adam and the fruit he and Eve ate. Without the original sin, who needs to be redeemed? Without Adam’s fall into a life of constant sin terminated by death, what purpose is there to Christianity? None. What all this means is that Christianity cannot lose the Genesis account of creation… the battle must be waged, for Christianity is fighting for its very life.”
–Bozarth, G. Richard, “The Meaning of Evolution,” American Atheist, Feb. 1978, P. 9
“Christianity has fought, still fights, and will continue to fight science to the desperate end over evolution, because evolution destroys utterly and finally the very reason Jesus’ earthly life was supposedly made necessary. Destroy Adam and Eve and the original sin, and in the rubble you will find the sorry remains of the Son of God. If Jesus was not the redeemer who died for our sins, and this is what evolution means, then Christianity is nothing.”
–G. Richard Bozarth, ‘The Meaning of Evolution’, American Atheist, p. 30, Sept. 20th, 1979
For sure, an always controversial topic! And maybe the discussions should be more open than contentious? Surely we can "reason together" about even the more controversial or difficult parts of the Bible? Surely we can also recognize many of the essential aspects of Genesis and the cost of calling any of the historical aspects of the Bible ‘stories’? How do we make distinctions between just stories and history in the Bible?
Okay, I was weighing in because I bump into this quiet often… and the questions generally come from non-Christians who are getting confused because of the various views of those within the church… and I can’t help but think that is not good! We have given up the foundational principles this country was built on (the Judeo-Christian ethic) and we are losing our freedoms and looking more like Sodom by the hour than any kind of light on the hill. If the church loses Genesis, will something similar happen to Christianity? Will the literal truth of the gospel also be lost, and biblical Christianity be reduced to just another religion? I do wonder and worry about the consequences of a non-literal Genesis and a God who didn’t tell us the truth about the beginning… and all the compromise we are seeing already in the church. Personally, I think there is cause for concern… and that Genesis may actually be at the root of it. Genesis IS the foundation, isn’t it?
Sorry if that feels like a rant. I was… just thinking.
I appreciate the dialogue here. I’ll try my best to address some of the themes in what you said/asked, but I may not answer all 36-ish questions 🙂
> IF you read Genesis as historical narrative, which it seems it must be as literally all the foundational doctrines of Christianity are rooted in the first 11 chapters of Genesis.
Many major doctrines are rooted here; agreed. But on what basis should we interpret it all the same way, just because it has a common label “Genesis”? The writing style of Genesis 1 is much different than the rest of Genesis—it’s very intentionally crafted poetry. As a genre, poetry does and always has tended towards figurative language to make a literal point, though.
> And if we undermine the foundations of Christianity… what then? If Genesis 1 isn’t to be taken literally, then how do we know which chapters of Genesis are literal history (original sin? – the Flood of Noah’s day? – Babel, etc.) and which are just… stories God told us to get the ball rolling? Is that all Genesis is, a cute story? Were Adam and Eve literal? Did it mean men and women (a group), not man and woman (individuals)? Was the tree a metaphor? What of the serpent? Did Cain really slay his brother? Is Genesis 3:16 a prophecy/promise… or just part of the make-believe story? What about when Jesus references Genesis?
How does it undermine the foundations of Christianity to interpret Gen 1. largely figuratively? Yes, Adam/Eve were literal, they are listed in genealogies; Jesus affirms it, and they are in both creation stories, for starters.
> What is a day? It is one rotation of the earth. The sun is not required.
The word “day” has several meanings, not all of which in Genesis refer to that 24 hour period. Also, the earth is only held in its place to rotate by the sun…. which wasn’t around.
> If we were intended to take the creation account literally, then how could you make it more specific than evening, morning, number, day?
There’s been some good work done on the concluding formula “there was evening; there was morning; a ____ day.” Days 1-5 lack the definite article (something like “the”) before the word day. They would be better translated as “a first day”, “a second day”, etc. “Days” 6 and 7 have it, thus calling special attention to them. Though, remember day 7 hasn’t ended…
Could it be that a large clue to not take it literally is that it’s next to a different story (Genesis 2)?
> Why call it the creation week… if it was millions or billions of years? Why should we not take it literally? Is it only because modern "science" [scientists] says the earth is old? Aren’t dating methods based upon a number of unprovable assumptions? Are there not difficulties for those on either side of the issue (young/old)? If God took millennia to create the earth, why not just say so? "And the morning and the evening were a few million years." Sure would have saved us all a lot of trouble and confusion!
Respectfully, that isn’t a helpful argument. Since it could be used to buttress any point where there’s disagreement in scripture. “If it’s not this/that, then why didn’t God make it more clear?” You seem to be coming at this whole issue without a single mention of the context of Genesis 1, which was a major point in me addressing this, and you also seem to assume that the primary point of Gen 1 is to teach some type of historical science. But why would that be the case for a people who didn’t even know the true God. Their bigger problem is lack of relationship with God.
> Also, are there really two different accounts? And if there are… why should I trust the rest of the Bible is the first 2 chapters don’t even agree? Due to the apparent conflict can we take neither literally? Do we not actually have an account of the beginning? It is just a cute little story that the God, who cannot lie, made up? Why are we assuming that because God formed all the animals out of the ground that he did so after he made Adam? (Maybe Tyndale got it right?)
Well, in Gen 1 the plants are created before man. In Gen 2, there are no plants when man is created. You only have a problem is you insist on interpreting both woodenly/literally. You also seem to have a basis where this is the most proper way to read a text. But it’s only proper if that is the way it was intended to be read. I’m guessing you don’t read large parts of Revelation like you read Matthew?
> Yes, the gospel is more important and accepting a young earth or even literal Genesis are not required for salvation… but I am concerned about the foundations being destroyed! Something it seems that at least some atheists recognize… “It becomes clear now that the whole justification of Jesus’ life and death is predicated on the existence of Adam and the fruit he and Eve ate. Without the original sin, who needs to be redeemed? Without Adam’s fall into a life of constant sin terminated by death, what purpose is there to Christianity? None. What all this means is that Christianity cannot lose the Genesis account of creation… the battle must be waged, for Christianity is fighting for its very life.” –Bozarth, G. Richard, “The Meaning of Evolution,” American Atheist, Feb. 1978, P. 9
I agree, but that has nothing to do with whether or not the earth is old. Adam/eve, original sin, etc. can all be real and creation have happened millions/billons of years ago.
> For sure, an always controversial topic! And maybe the discussions should be more open than contentious? Surely we can "reason together" about even the more controversial or difficult parts of the Bible? Surely we can also recognize many of the essential aspects of Genesis and the cost of calling any of the historical aspects of the Bible ‘stories’? How do we make distinctions between just stories and history in the Bible?
By their context, which, kindly, I didn’t see you address at all… The same way we do when we read the Gospels. Did Jesus literally mean for us to chop our hands off?
> Okay, I was weighing in because I bump into this quiet often… and the questions generally come from non-Christians who are getting confused because of the various views of those within the church… and I can’t help but think that is not good! We have given up the foundational principles this country was built on (the Judeo-Christian ethic) and we are losing our freedoms and looking more like Sodom by the hour than any kind of light on the hill. If the church loses Genesis, will something similar happen to Christianity? Will the literal truth of the gospel also be lost, and biblical Christianity be reduced to just another religion? I do wonder and worry about the consequences of a non-literal Genesis and a God who didn’t tell us the truth about the beginning… and all the compromise we are seeing already in the church. Personally, I think there is cause for concern… and that Genesis may actually be at the root of it. Genesis IS the foundation, isn’t it?
I admire your desire to hold firm to biblical truth and the gospel! There is nothing more important. But not all truths are equally worth defending in the public square. There are multiple interpretations of Genesis 1 that affirm all the foundations of what is required for doctrine and the gospel. You see to be saying “if you believe in an old earth, you undermine (or can’t believe in?) a literal Adam, etc. But you haven’t demonstrated this. Can you?
Also, I haven’t said “Genesis” isn’t literal, though you have said it like that a couple of times. I have said parts are and aren’t. I wouldn’t say the gospels are literal either, because there are figurative parts. We should strive to understand it all in its context: Literary, historical, redemptive, and canonical.
> Sorry if that feels like a rant. I was… just thinking.
Once again, I’m glad to interact on this and appreciate the comments 🙂
In a rare moment I am going to defend Brian here! 🙂 Honestly in my Bible study literal and figurative has been the most frustrating aspect. That and determining whether words spoken by human beings (both God’s men and others) can be utilized to create a doctrine or especially theology when there is not further confirmation that they are speaking God’s words. In other words (LOL), God’s Word is not always God’s words. I think of words spoken by Job or even Nebuchadnezzar in the Old Testament that are used to defend certain viewpoints. Great discernment, care, prayer, and humility is needed to determine any hermaneutical usage. I have debated Brian myself as to our interpretive differences in these things if blog post comments could be considered a debate! 🙂
Just these two interpretive differences have been the cause of much Christian disunity–and one thing that is abundantly clear with very little scholarly disagreement is that Christians should be unified. As Brian draws out in his next blog post there is certainly denominational lines that can impact whether that denomination’s beliefs are wrong enough to justify a form of denominational separation (distinct from people separation) but that is only when those beliefs would truly take people away from Christ. There is even some principles in the Bible of people separation if it becomes clear that those people are inspired by Satan to create disunity and are in active aggression against Christ’s work. Once again great discernment is needed. This type of separation is much less necessary than some Pharisaical types conclude. Another fun hermaneutic device that many use is creating entire doctrines that practically overshadow the Gospel from one or two verses with little or no other Biblical support (some versions of "separation" are supported this way).
Only the Triune God has a perfect doctrine or theology. Period. Doctrine and theology can become idols like anything else that involves human thinking or senses. Of course, there are things we must believe with absolutely certainty. The gospel is one of those things (even though there is still much to learn–the more I learn about Christ’s work it deepens my trust in Christ and His work) but you can believe in Christ with absolutely certainty and still be learning. My first decision point when deciding whether to listen or read someone is not whether I agree or disagree with them. It is not even whether I think their doctrine is wrong. It is the humility with which they hold their beliefs. As I once read from a missionary pilot who spent 6 months held by rebels in South America (Russell Stendal) and I paraphrase: "I don’t look at whether someone’s doctrine is absolutely correct. I look at whether they are following hard after Christ. If they are doing that, then their doctrine will catch up." Brian has shown humility and a desire to follow after Christ–thus I still read his blog posts though I disagree with some things. And I have never regretted it. I have found that the quickest way to spiritual stagnation is to only read or listen to people who completely agree with your own beliefs. It is clear from Scripture that we are directly responsible to God so we must also be diligent to not just automatically accept but study it out ourselves. I have found this even includes my own deeply held convictions. And I would have never known to have a different perspective if I had been fearful to look at it that way. And my walk with Christ would not be as strong as it is today. As we grow and learn we change. I believe many different things all based in Scripture than I did 20 years ago.
In conclusion, my testimony is that I grew up in a "non-denomination" that caused me to become so assertive in my beliefs that I totally lost the point. I did not believe in Christ I believed in my beliefs about Christ. John 5:39-40 are now my life verses–thankfully Christ brought me to the end of myself though it took over 30 years. Instead of looking to the "word" for life I now look to the "Word" Himself Jesus Christ for life. And that has made all the difference. Ironically I now go to the word much more than before but it is with a humility that only the Holy Spirit can give recognizing how easily our human senses and thinking can fool us. My wife likes to tease that I don’t just think outside the box I live outside the box. It is not a comfortable place to live for sure but I commend Brian for being brave enough to post potentially controversial beliefs whether I agree or not. Humility will never let us take ourselves too seriously. I just long for the day when the glass will be completely clear and we will not longer see through it darkly. And that is our great Hope! 🙂
I’d like to begin this follow-up post by saying that I listen to ‘Unapologetic’ all the time and appreciate your perspective and your tone, and agree with most of what you say — but his Genesis issue continues to arise — and a recent encounter brought it to the fore again and reminded me that I wanted to follow up on this post. Are you willing to bear with me? I’m going to keep this as simple and brief as possible and would appreciate your thoughts/explanations. In fact, I will refrain from counting any higher than 3!
1.) What do you mean by “largely figuratively”? How does one determine which parts to interpret figuratively and which ones to take literally? Adam and Eve were literal… but what about original sin?
2.) What about in Exodus 20:10 in the middle of the 10 Commandments where it mentions 6-days when discussing the Sabbath? Is there anything in Genesis 1 or Exodus 20 that suggests/implies millennia?
3.) Yes, the word ‘day’ can mean different things. How do you know that the word ‘day’ in Genesis 1 during the creation [period] is not a 24-hour (give or take) day (a/the)? WHY do you believe these days were long periods of time — and what are the implications of such a view? Doesn’t it make the creation period that much more of a miracle — or are even the events of creation just fabrications and not representative of actual events? (Which would kind of negate the whole time-period controversy, don’t you think?)
And now I’m having a real hard time not asking how you know that day-7 never ended or how it is that Genesis 2 is a “different” story! Let’s just go with the 1-2-3 listed above and see if I can’t understand your position/arguments better.
I’m glad to continue discussing this.
I’m actually going to start with your questions in point 4…er, point “3b” 🙂
If you read both Gen 1 and 2 as literal series of historical events, then they contradict each other. For example, in Gen 1 man is created last, as the pinnacle of the creation “week”, but chapter 2 has man’s creation happening first. If they are both describing a series of events in time, we have a problem here. Since scripture doesn’t contradict itself, we need to via one of both of these as figurative. AND, when you combine this with the context of Gen (Moses telling Israel about their history and who their God is, after they had forgotten him and worshiped other God in Egypt), it makes more sense that God would be emphasizing theology (since they didn’t know who he was) over scientific/exact historical chronology. (To be fair, it is of course possible to do both at once, but there are compelling reasons to not believe that is happening; see above and below). So, this answers part of question 1 also.
We determine whether something is figurative by looking at its context and genre. Gen 1 is highly stylized poetry, and then (like now), poetry made heavy use of figurative language. And as mentioned above, if we insist on a strict chronology, we create a contradiction where they doesn’t have to be one. Author’s use figurative language to make a point. While I believe Adam and Eve to be real people, I think there’s an even stronger case to be made for original sin: It is an integral part of the story of redemption. Figurative language (like them hearing God’s foot steps (God doesn’t have feet)), is used to craft an environment for making a point about how man came to fall. While not necessary, we could also view this through the interpretive lens of the NT (for instance Romans 5), where Paul affirms the save thing.
In some ways, 3 takes care of itself based on the above, but we could also have started reasoning from the answers to 3. However, it is best to start from context when interpreting. To be clear, I don’t believe the days are long periods of time. I think they’re just literary devices.
Ask yourself this: How would you think about all of this if Gen 2 came before Gen 1?
Obviously, there’s so much more to say, but I like you idea of trying to keep this simple to make it easier to discuss. 🙂