30 April 2011

Answering Questions #11- The Framework Hypothesis and some additional considerations

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.


Anonymous said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and agree with a lot of what is said. Ultimately, neither history nor science nor mathematics or whatever , will lead us to a knowledge and faith in God, but only by the Spirit can we fully comprehend these things.

John A. (Protoprotestant) said...


Just curious....would disagree because you don't hold to the 6 day view, or would you disagree with the Framework guys? Or, would you have been a bit more critical one way or the other?

And I thoroughly agree...the Spirit must do the work. There's a lot of 'marketing' of Christianity today. If we can just say the right thing, present it the right way, teach children in school the right values with a flag-wrapped cross hanging on the wall...then all will be well.

Not so.

David said...

Thanks for such thorough response. I am, as always, impressed by the quickness and ease in which it seems you produce such lengthy posts. It would have taken me weeks to write this.

Anyway, just a couple things in response. As usual, I agree heartily with most of what you said. Let me start with the common ground. I agree that for the most part the genealogies are partial, highlighting important figures, and not exhaustive. I too have always found difficulty with the various way people proposed to deal with Gen 1-2, including gap theory and theistic evolution. And while I appreciate the heart of the Young Earth/Creationist types in trying to defend biblical inerrancy, in my opinion some of the arguments they use to support their view are often just terrible. I was in a bible study once where someone starting explaining very matter-of-factly that it was during the global flood that all of the current geological features (such as mountains and valleys) were formed. I turned to the text and asked, "where are you getting that from, because it's not in the text?" That being said, I don't feel like this is a battle I would die for. This is not some sort of litmus test of orthodoxy or a shibboleth that can used to separate true Christians from false ones. All of those positions (including framework) are fully acceptable. The issue that arises with Gen 1-11 is with the theological liberals and the comprehensive rejection of these events (creation, fall, flood, etc.) as historical. One cannot attempt to mythologize these events and still claim that there is any remaining substance upon which Christianity may stand. So, long story short, outside of the denial of the historicity of these events I see this as a intra-faith dialogue amongst brethren. Just wanted to make that clear for anyone dropping in to our discussion.

In your post you mention text classification. Ultimately, I believe on of the most important questions we can ask of the text is, "what is it?" What is the extent of what was intended to be communicated by Moses and the Holy Spirit? For if we go beyond that, we are superceding the text and allowing our questions and demand for answers drive the discussion rather than exegesis.

I agree with you that Gen 1 is not written in the prophetic voice, but I don't necessarily believe it is written as a historical narrative either (I do believe that Gen 2 and following are historical narrative to be taken literally). Once the structure of the Gen 1 was pointed out to me I can't help but see it. God creates three realms, and then in the same order populates those realms. It seems to be arranged thematically rather than chronologically. Also, you have the repeated refrains of, "And there was evening and there was morning, the '#' day." It's all very poetic in nature. The burden of the text, it seems to me, isn't to give a scientific/historical account of creation, but to teach certain important truths: God is the all powerful Creator who made the universe and all that lives in it by willing/speaking it into existence. This it seems is the burden of the text. God also may be depicted here as the powerful king, the suzerain, who rules by decree. This then leads forward to him making a suzerainty covenant with Adam. With Moses/Israel, the covenant was made on the foundation of what God had done for them (I am the Lord God who brought you out of Egypt, therefore obey my commands), so too it is with Adam (I am the Creator who made this world and gave you life, therefore obey my command).

David said...

There are two final pieces of evidence that pushed me over to that view. First, there seem to be problems when you take Gen 1 and 2 and being entirely sequential as some people try to do. God creates man and woman in Gen 1 and then does it again in Gen 2. This has led to some bizarre speculation (two different sets of humanity; Adam has two wives; etc.). There are also some chronology differences between the acccounts. Gen 1 shows plant life being made on day 3, then man being made on day 6. Gen 2 shows man being made prior to plant life. Second, the Gen 2 creation account of man begins with the first instance of the refrain "these are the generations" which is used throughout the rest of Genesis in the midst of historic accounts. I would argue that the history portion of Genesis begins there at Gen 2:4, and that Gen 1 is a poetic account of creation that does teach true truth about God and the creation process. It is like the book of Revelation in that Gen 1 and Gen 2 have some overlap, such as the creation of man and woman. It is recapitulation. it is looking at the same event from a different camera angle.

Anyway, that's what brought me to begin to hold that view. I don't get concerned over the age of the earth, or whether it was literal 24 periods, or whether there were gaps. My concern is to believe that God created the heavens and the earth (however he did so) and that he created the first man and woman, that he entered into covenenat with them in the Garden of Eden, and that they broke his covenant and were cast out due to their disobedience. This I do believe is a historic reality.

Finally, I too have felt that the curse elements on the earth before the fall does seem to be problematic. However, the text itself does not mention that plant and animal death are not part of the natural design of the earth. It is silent on that issue. It is not mentioned prior to the fall, nor mentioned as part of the curse. Eternal life for man, it seems, was linked to their eating from the tree of life (which they would have had they been obedient), which plants and animals would not have done. Just a thought.

John A. (Protoprotestant) said...


Thanks for your comments. That's an excellent point about Chapter one...and I'll admit the structuring of the chapter does allow for a very plausible argument...that it's not purely narrative.

That said....we know some of the narrative in the OT also has parable-like structure and yet it still reckoned historical.

Ugh....I just don't know. But I do think we agree on the basics and more importantly where to draw the line. There are a lot of theological positions I don't agree with, but that doesn't mean they're all automatically soul destroying heresies.

Yeah, that Genesis 1-2 really throws a lot of people. I've always thought it just naturally reads as recapitulation not a separate account.

But as you know...recapitulation is an important structural tool....not in narrative but in prophetic/typological and poetic/wisdom motifs. That's definitely a point for the Framework argument.

I heartily agree with your 2nd paragraph of the 2nd comment.

The only point I would make regarding plant/animal life and the curse is the fact of the weeds being introduced as part of the curse...plant killing plant and what not. And apparently in the Neo-garden of heaven we'll once more have lion and lamb together...I guess I'm just assuming that the reason we don't at present is due to the curse.

That's probably the biggest stumbling block for me that makes me just kind of....going running back to home base (literal 6 day)

The point regarding the Tree of Life/Eternal life vs. the animals is excellent! I'm going to have to chew on that for awhile. I must confess I've never thought of it and I don't have an answer to it.

David said...

"That said....we know some of the narrative in the OT also has parable-like structure and yet it still reckoned historical."
- Just to clarify, I do believe it is history, just that perhaps it is history told in a stylized or poetic form which may mean it isn't as scientifically precise as some try to treat it. For instance, the differed creation order of plants and man in Gen 1 and 2 leads me to believe that the order is not the focus of Gen 1. Rather, God as creator is the focus. If I had to choose one as being the "actual" order, I would defer to ch. 2 as being the more straight historical narrative of the two. But I see your point about some of the historical narratives being given a very literary treatment. The biblical authors were some seriously amazing writers. There is so much that I never would have picked up without someone pointing it out to me, just because were not a literary culture like that anymore. Also, some of the word play and puns don't translate.

"But I do think we agree on the basics and more importantly where to draw the line."
- Absolutely!

"I heartily agree with your 2nd paragraph of the 2nd comment."
- Thanks.

"The only point I would make regarding plant/animal life and the curse is the fact of the weeds being introduced as part of the curse...plant killing plant and what not."
- Yes, I agree that thorns and thistles and the hardness of the ground and the difficulty of successfully growing plant life was given as part of the curse. I also agree that the peace between animals (and man) was likely there prior to the curse, and will be there again in the new heavens/earth.

Anyway, just to be clear, I don't really think it's worth debating or anything. I have no vested interest in swaying you - I think a literal six days is a good, safe, conservative place to be. I'm probably straddling between that and this. I pretty much always find myself in the conservative camp, especially in regards to the dating and authorship of the books and the events they record. I just remembered that you said you didn't agree with that viewpoint and was curious as to what your thoughts were. Just wanted to make sure I wasn't missing anything. If you had some strong reason why I should avoid it I wanted to make sure I was aware of it. So thanks for humoring me. Enjoyed the discussion as always.