Why is it Important to Believe in a Literal Interpretation of the Genesis Creation Account?

Why is it Important to Believe in a Literal Interpretation of the Genesis Creation Account?

Since the beginning of time, man has sought to dethrone God by calling His authority into question. At ground level, God is authoritative over man because He is his Creator and Sustainer. Evolutionary science destroys the foundation of God as creator, and “frees” man to usurp authority and define himself, society, morality, and the world apart from God. Evolution lies beneath the surface of a myriad of problems we confront today. Its philosophies have subtly (and not so subtly) infiltrated society and education to such an extent that we are often unaware of its presence. Even within the Church, there is a failure to identify evolutionary thinking as the devastating problem that it is. Indeed, a tragic number of Christians have willingly blended their belief in the Bible with evolutionary science, failing to realize the necessary negative consequences. In the following paper I seek to show why evolution in the Church is so problematic and demonstrate how fundamentally opposed it is to Scripture and the God of the Bible.

All Scripture Stands or Falls Together

“All scripture is inspired by God . . .” (2 Tim. 3:16). God does not lie (Titus 1:2, Rom. 3:4). Because God speaks only truth, and all of Scripture is God’s Word, (inspired by Him) all of scripture must be true. This belief is the presupposition upon which a Christian reads the Bible. The Bible is authoritative because it is the Word of God and because God’s Word is true. Jonathan Edwards defined truth as, “the consistency and agreement of our ideas with the ideas of God. . . .God is truth itself.”1 It is therefore a most serious matter to suspect the accuracy of the Genesis creation account. If God is not always truthful, it is impossible to be sure when the Bible is telling the truth, and when it is not (or if it is ever accurate at all). If one part is false, then the rest is likewise called into question. Allowing for the possibility that some passage in Scripture could be inaccurate opens the door for an endless barrage of questions as to the legitimacy of every other passage. Finally, the reader will simply jettison any Scripture he finds inconvenient.

But the Christian who has espoused an alternate interpretation of Genesis, attractively mingling ex nihilo (out of nothing) Creationism with an evolutionary interpretation of science, will object. He does believe that God created the world, and he does believe that Scripture is true. He feels that the creation account can be interpreted in a way which neither denies God as creator, nor contradicts evolutionary science. Three of the most common reinterpretations are the Day-Age Theory, the Gap-Theory, and the Framework Hypothesis. All are problematic for a number of reasons.

First, such readings run contrary to normative patterns of interpretation.

The Day-Age Theory hinges on the idea that the Hebrew word for “day” in Genesis 1 and following is interpreted elsewhere to mean something besides a normal twenty-four-hour day. This is also the case with English. Day can be used to describe an era (In Moses’ day the children of Israel wandered in the desert.), daylight (I’ll be home during the day, but am going out in the evening), or, of course, the twenty-four-hour period it takes for the earth to make one complete rotation. We rely on context to determine the specific meaning of the word. The context in Genesis (the use of numbers and “morning and evening”) makes it clear what the author was seeking to convey. James Barr, a leading Hebrew scholar and professor of Hebrew Bible at Vanderbilt University, says this:

Probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1-11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that (a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience; . . . Or, to put it negatively, the apologetic arguments which suppose the "days" of creation to be long eras of time, the figures of years not to be chronological, and the flood to be a merely local Mesopotamian flood, are not taken seriously by any such professors, as far as I know.2

Barr is not a creationist, nor does he vouch for the historical accuracy of Genesis. Yet he asserts that Genesis 1 cannot honestly be interpreted in accord with the Progressive Creationist view.

The Gap Theory, or Ruin-and-Reconstruction Theory says between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2 there is a vast time gap, during which evolution took place, followed by a huge catastrophe which wiped out all life and left the fossil record. Genesis 1:2 then describes the state of the earth after this catastrophe. The following creation account is said to narrate God’s act of re-creation. However, there is no textual reason to assume such a time lapse.

If a story says, “Betsy arose early in the morning. The horizon glowed pink as the sun came up behind the distant hills.” No one would suggest that a many year time gap is implied between the two sentences. An author who failed to narrate the progression of time more clearly than this would be a very poor writer indeed. Reading a massive expanse of time in between the first two sentences of Genesis is simply unreasonable. If such a gap did occur, wouldn’t God have plainly told us?

The Framework Hypothesis suggests that the days of creation are unrelated to time. They are simply imagery.

When someone reads a news article about a car accident, he interprets it at face-value. He does not ponder whether the accident victim really spent three days in the hospital. The possibility that the three days symbolized something else, or some other time period, would not so much as enter his head. On the other hand, symbolism and analogy are heavily used in poetry, and to be expected therein. A literal reading of such works usually makes no sense at all. When Psalm 18:2 says, “God is my rock” it is clear that figurative imagery is being employed. Of course God is not a stone. Context and the type of writing are key to determining how a piece of literature is to be interpreted.

The book of Genesis is quite clearly a historic book. Genesis chapter five is the genealogy of Adam, preceded in the chapter before by a historic account of Cain killing his brother Abel. There is no textual reason to think that somewhere between the second chapter of Genesis and the rest of the book it changes from poetic imagery to history.

None of these readings of Genesis work well. They all require the reader to put aside the normal rules of interpretation. It is like studying the Bible the way one would go through a buffet line; picking and choosing what to call figurative, what to call literal, where to interpose gaps, where to oddly interpret a word, all based solely on what presently seems appealing. Were the same methods applied to the rest of the Bible (or any other literary work), the result would be a meaningless muddled book.3

A second basic problem with these alternate interpretations of Genesis is the very fact that they seek to reconcile evolution and Scripture. Many Christians see themselves as protecting the legitimacy of Scripture when they interpret it to harmonize with evolution. They believe evolution to have been so undebateably proven that it cannot be ignored.4 They see no alternative but to re-interpret Scripture to agree with modern science. But the two views cannot be brought together without compromise. Christianity and Evolution are diametrically opposed to each other. W.B. Provine, professor of biological sciences at Cornell University, wrote:

Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear . . . There are no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end for me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either.5

Why would we want to unite evolution, with all its attendant philosophies, to the Bible? What fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Cor.6:14).

Some Christians feel that failing to embrace evolution makes the church look backward and stupid. But re-interpreting Genesis to better fit the hypothesis of evolution does not enhance the church’s status in the scientific world. It does not make believers look less peculiar or more intelligent. Rather, it shows us to be inconsistent and easily swayed because we cannot even accurately interpret our Scriptures, which we claim to believe and follow. And besides, if Genesis does not mean what it says (as addressed above), why do we believe in it in the first place?

The Authoritativeness of Scripture

The modern Church has questioned the ultimate authority of scripture, grievously straying from the Biblical doctrine of Sola Scriptura. No longer is our foundation Scripture alone. It is now Scripture and Science. Not only this, but we’ve decided that when Scripture and science disagree, science trumps Scripture. If this statement seems exaggerated, consider this: If the scientific community was not saying that only idiots believe in Biblical Creationism, and that all of the scientific evidence supports evolution, there would be no debate over the issue in the Church. It is only because the “scientific” dogmas disagree with Scripture that the Church even thinks to question the legitimacy of God’s Holy Word in regard to Genesis. We are starting with science and interpreting Scripture through it, rather than beginning with Scripture and interpreting science and all of life through God’s revealed Word. This is serious error.

Science is merely the exploration of creation using the physical senses and reason. Man’s senses and reason are fallen, corrupted by his sin. They are fallible at best, and subject to self-serving deceit and wickedness at worst. In short, the product of man’s reason and senses will always be subject to error, and must therefore be carefully scrutinized and viewed through the lens of Scripture. This is not to say that science is bad or should not be pursued. Indeed, God has given man reason and senses and is pleased to have him search out the mysteries of creation (Prov. 25:2). But science should always be viewed as subordinate to the Word of God. Elevating science above Scripture is really to put man above God. It is Humanism.

The Evolutionary View of Origins Calls God a Liar

“For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them . . .”( Exodus 20:11) God has told us how He created the world. He could hardly have been more explicit. Indeed, had He purposed to relate His actions in a manner that would dispel all doubt, how could He have said it more clearly?

However, some Christians argue that if God really created the earth in six days, a mere six-thousand years ago, the Creator has deceived us. The earth looks older than that, they say, and the scientific evidence obviously suggests that the world is millions of years old. Is God tricking us?

Consider this: A carpenter crafts a table, copying a piece from the 1700’s. He ages the wood, and finishes it so masterfully that the two pieces are almost identical. He places the table in his show room and ties on a tag that says “Reproduced from a 1700’s Original” The table has the appearance of age, and yet no one would accuse the carpenter of deception. He has told his customers up front that, although the piece looks old, it really is not. On the other hand, it clearly would be deception for the craftsman to advertise his table as if it were the authentic, three-hundred-year-old article, no matter how genuine its appearance.

These things are likewise true of God and His work of Creation. No matter how old the earth may appear to us, God, the Master Craftsman, has erased all doubt by plainly telling us how it came to be.

Original Sin and the Savior

The doctrines of sin and redemption are based in Genesis. In chapter three of Genesis we read of Adam’s sin of disobedience, followed by what is commonly called the first gospel message (Gen. 3:15). It was the sin of Adam, representative of the entire human race, which made the sacrificial atonement of God’s Son necessary.

Discounting Genesis requires a discounting of Christ. If there was no original sin by a federal head (Adam), there can be no redemption by the second Adam (Christ) as the federal head of the church (Rom. 5:12-20).

II Corinthians 4:6 says: “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (emphasis mine.)

This passage clearly links God’s first act of Creation (“Let there be light” Gen. 1:3) to His gospel workings. Although many Christians fail to realize the importance of this relationship, one unbeliever, seems to see it quite clearly. G. Richard Bozarth wrote in American Atheist in 1979:

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.6

Christians must recognize the gravity of the creation/evolution controversy. The Church should grant no quarter to the evolutionary ideologies which attack the accuracy of Scripture, the doctrines of redemption, and the supremacy of God and His word over science. Such ideologies will destroy the Church from within, gradually eating away at the foundation of everything we believe.

In the Garden of Eden the Serpent began his attack on Eve by persuading her to question the words of the Lord. He ultimately induced her to ignore God’s commands and instead use her senses to determine what was right and true.

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.” (Gen. 3:6, NKJV)

What is science but the use of our senses and reason to explore creation? To discount what God has said in favor of human wisdom is simply to follow in the tragic footsteps of our first mother. The devastating consequences of her actions are incalculable.

1. Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) in “The Mind” (http://www.jonathanedwards.com/text/The%20Mind.htm)

2. James Barr, letter to David Watson, 1984

3. Even such contrived interpretations of the Creation account do not really reconcile Creationism and Evolution. For example, Genesis says birds were created on day five, and reptiles, as land animals, on day six; after birds. The evolutionary view is that reptiles came before birds, and actually evolved into them. This is but one of many discrepancies.

4. Actually, the scientific evidence can be well interpreted to support Biblical creationism. However, it is not the object of this paper to delve into the scientific arguments for Creation.

5. W. B. Provine, Origins Research 16(1), pg. 9, 1944

6. G. Richard Bozarth, ‘The Meaning of Evolution’, American Atheist, pg. 30, 20 September 1979