Genesis 1-11, Old Testament Chronology and the Theological Implications
Many Christians have been stymied and frustrated by modern scientific observation and interpretation of the geological record and astronomical observations regarding the age of the universe.
In the past some responded by coming up with what is called The Gap Theory, which inserts millions of years between verses in the opening verses of Genesis. This is basically just a bad form of exegesis, actually akin to what Dispensationalism does with Daniel 9, by inserting 2000 years between two verses. Both interpretations destroy the obvious flow of the passage. The problem is solved, but at what cost, and by adapting what kind of principle?
Others have responded to the scientific dilemma by turning to Theistic Evolution and many among Mainline Protestant circles simply discount Genesis 1-11 as mythological and of no importance. By taking a different view of Scripture they maintain intellectual respectability, but as we know all too well. If Genesis is doubt, then why not the accounts concerning the Resurrection and many of the other miracles?
Rejecting this we understand the New Testament rests many key theological arguments, critical to the gospel on the events of the opening chapters of Genesis. Christ is the 2nd Adam and in order to interpret His work, we must have some understanding of the arrangement under which the 1st Adam operated. In addition, we run into serious problems if we fail to acknowledge the Fall, or the Flood as actual events. It is surprising how often they are appealed to. We even encounter problems with Christ himself who obviously treated them as historical events. Was Christ mistaken? Some have no problem saying so, but those of us who understand the Apostolic teaching concerning His Person…to suggest that Christ was wrong, fallible, subject to peccability, is to overthrow the Gospel itself.
The Framework Hypothesis put forward by Meredith Kline has for many provided an all encompassing solution to some of these problems. His critics often accused him of acquiescing to modern science and trying to find a Biblical solution, a way to make the text work with modern scientific realities. I don't think that's accurate. If you read Kline's work you'll see he's heavily concerned with overarching structures, thematic developments, and spends quite a bit of time focusing on chiastic arrangements and grammatical structures that we often miss in our translations.
Employing this obscure but rather intriguing method he discovered there are similar patterns in the opening chapters of Genesis and argues for a non-literalistic understanding of these passages. He would argue they were not meant to be taken literally, but the narrative is conveying in structured parabolic form, the lessons of Creation.
He focuses on the pairing of days, the matched luminaries, things like that and also argues that time is not relevant in the passage. He would argue the text itself demands a symbolic interpretation of the passage.
Opponents argue that the Hebrew word for day…Yom, always means a 24hr day and thus we should also take it as such in the opening passage in Genesis.
Kline would argue that our use of day, a 24hr period is determined by the earth's rotation around the sun…something that did not exist until the sun was created…the heavenly bodies. Therefore to force that meaning of the word day in the opening verses is unnecessary. Much happened before the sun came about and it's not just a matter of cramming millions of years into a few verses. Rather, the whole passage itself he would argue was never meant to be read in a literalistic fashion.
While I am intrigued with Kline's overall Biblical structure, on this point I just cannot agree with him. I do think in this case, despite the very reasonable objection…day does mean a day, a 24hr period.
But as I say, this is view is not the same as the position embraced by Theological Liberals who out of hand simply reject the Creation account…and for that matter most of them also reject the historicity of Adam, the Flood, and much else.
You can hold to an Old Earth view of Creationism and maintain the gospel, as long as the historical Adam is maintained, which the Klineans do hold to. Lose Adam, make Adam into a myth, and the theology of the 2nd Adam is lost….and then so are we.
If you hold to Theistic Evolution, and the notion that mankind developed even if by Providence from some form of hominids….we've got a problem with the text, and then problems not only with Christ's work as expounded in the Epistles, we've even got a problem with His Person.
The other issue is in regard to death before the Fall. They have an explanation for this…for certainly if the Earth is millions of years old, there would have had to have been plant and animal death prior to man's appearance and Adam's sin. I see the Earthly Curse, which would included plants and animals as flowing out of Adam's sin. Thus, it seems problematic to have Curse Elements in existence during the Pre-Fall era.
That said, I am not overly thrilled by much of what I see in the Creation Science movement. I'm not a big fan of a lot of Young Earth type ministries that are out there. I find a lot of their scientific discussion to be pretty poor, sometimes almost silly. I also think they jump to a lot of conclusions and often they don't really help us understand the Bible any better nor do they gain an ounce of credibility with those who are scientifically inclined.
While I do believe in the literal six day creation, I do not subscribe to the Ussher Chronology. 4004BC doesn't work with the historical record we already have. This would place the flood well into known historical eras. Nor do I think 4004BC is necessary to be in compatible with a literal reading of Genesis.
When you cross reference the chronologies in the Bible you'll find they often don't match, they often will skip names. All this demonstrates is the chronologies are often not even trying to be exact, but often contain a lesson, or a layout to prove a point. I think oftentimes key names are being mentioned while sometimes several generations are being skipped. William Henry Green wrote a helpful article on this…these Primeval Chronologies.
Incorporating this notion it's not hard at all to add several thousand years onto Ussher's popular chronology and yet still maintain a literal reading of the Creation narrative. But I still can't come up with hundreds of thousands or millions of years.
Now a diehard Creation science advocate might attack me as embracing non-Biblical arguments for saying the Flood couldn't have happened around 2300BC, because we've got Akkadian and Egyptian history extended far beyond that and evidently after the flood.
That said, I'm not in any way capitulating to even most modern notions of Old Testament chronology. I'm often surprised how many professing Bible believers do. Many conservatives date the Exodus in the 13th century BC and will place Joseph in the time of the Hyksos etc….
That's incompatible with the Biblical data itself. The Exodus was several hundred years before, actually I think simply following the Old Testament's chronological data we can place the Exodus back before the Hyksos arose in Egypt. It may have even been the Exodus itself and the concurrent destruction of Egypt that led to the rising of the Hyksos. The readings in 1 Kings 6 and Acts make a 1290BC or 1229BC date for the Exodus impossible. Even attempts to argue for concurrent Judgeships still leaves the text in doubt. I guess what I'm saying is…there are many who are ardent in the nebulous realm of pre-history but capitulate to bad Old Testament scholarship when it comes to clearly reported events in the text itself. Gleason Archer's Introduction to the Old Testament is good resource. He's a Dispensationalist and so really botches Daniel, but overall his discussions and arguments for the rest of the Old Testament are quite helpful.
So in the end, I don't subscribe to the Framework, but I consider it an acceptable position. It's not out of bounds, though many take it that way. Again that often flows out of the assumption that it is science generated rather than text generated, which it plainly is not. This disagreement is not over fundamental issues regarding Scripture or Providence, it has to do with exegesis.
In this case my objections are due to text classification. While I have no problems incorporating chiastic structure and symbolism when it comes to Apocalyptic writings, prophetic idiom, even the poetry and wisdom books, we would all agree that narrative should be taken as just that….literal. Hyper-literalists in a very inconsistent and haphazard manner try and apply literalistic readings on Prophetic and Apocalyptic texts and thus come up with some of the wild interpretations we all know so well. They then inconsistently accuse us of spiritualizing these passages. We do 'spiritualize' them, just as the Apostle's do. They take Old Testament prophecies and understand they often found a quasi-literal fulfillment in the Old Age but even those fulfillments pointed to Spiritual realities and thus Spiritualized fulfillments in the New. The Jews did return to the land and rebuild the Temple….but that pictured the more glorious land and Temple in the New Covenant…..Jesus/Israel and the Temple/Church.
In fact one of the means of arguing against Dispensational Hermeneutics is to argue that we go to clear, perspicuous, narrative passages that are in no way symbolic or clouded, establish our principles and then carefully read obscure passage in light of them. We take what Paul says about the Last Days, The Church Age, and then read Revelation in light of what we know. Otherwise coming to Revelation we'd be pretty blind. Instead, we find that since we have the other 65 books of the Bible to help us…Revelation itself is not that difficult. Not meant to be read in a literalistic fashion, we can pick up with relative ease the concurrent visions, the progressive parallelism, the idiom and symbolism, the numerics, and the philosophy of history it is trying to convey.
Dispensationalism often reads the obscure and symbolic passages in a literalistic manner and to make it all fit together have come up with a scheme so complex, and inconsistent it has rightly been reckoned both inaccessible and a house of cards. Inaccessible to the common Bible reader who wouldn't come up with their system even after reading the Bible 1000 times, truly a religion of the scholars who must dictate to the non-initiated the supposed meaning and mechanisms of the system…..and a house of cards because many large sections hang precariously on the interpretation of a single passage. If wrong, the whole system implodes, a chain reaction occurs. For example if they're wrong about the Fig Tree in Matthew 24, the system collapses. If their reading of Daniel 9 is mistaken, the whole system collapses and becomes incoherent.
So the bottom line with regard to Genesis…is it narrative in which case it should be read literally…or is it in the prophetic voice? Is God through Moses conveying eternal truths, the mechanisms of Creation, in a linguistic form riddled with symbolism? Is Creation so vast and complicated that God is putting the narrative in a symbolic and simple format so that we can understand? He's not giving us the details, rather the pertinent concepts so that we can proceed. We don't need to know the scientific details leading up to Adam. Instead we just need to understand the spiritual background…and then Adam.
Admittedly it's plausible. The Bible is not meant to be scientific text book. It's a Redemptive History about Jesus Christ. People stumble over Joshua commanding the sun to stand still. Of course we know the Earth stood still, not the sun. But that's not the point. The narrative there is not trying to convey scientific data…..it's telling the story in anthropocentric terms. Some would then argue that Genesis is the same way…Moses was telling us the story, not the details.
There's something to this and this is probably where I part company somewhat with some of the Creation Science people. They're often mining the Bible for Creation-pertinent scientific data. I'm not interested in that. In their zeal to defend the position, they're actually abusing the text, extrapolating things that frankly aren't there.
So for now, because I don't know better, because it seems safest, I'll stick with reading Genesis 1-2 as narrative. Could it be more? Yes.
Many become really passionate about this. A PCA presbytery in the Tennessee/Virginia region decided years ago to bar anyone who didn't hold to a literal six-day creation. Again, I can understand, but I have to wonder if that particular Theonomic group was more interested in and motivated by the Culture War battles? They're trying to re-capture the schools through the Intelligent Design agenda and wage political battles against the socio-economic implications of Climate Change, and population issues. For many it is flat heretical to question their political agenda….which interestingly, does seem to have an exegetical impact. We see this increasing every day as Dominionistic agendas hunt through the Bible looking for vindication for their particular social transformation projects.
Thankfully in the case of the Framework folks, it has nothing to do with Culture War. These are generally speaking folks pretty committed to a Redemptive Historical reading of Scripture and a non-transformative eschatology. I break with them at this point and some others, but overall they're are at least understanding the Bible for what it is….not a code, not a science textbook, not a blueprint for societal transformation. It's the Revelation of Jesus Christ, the story of Redemption…God reconciling Himself to His fallen creation and creatures.