(Homer C. Hoeksema [1923-1989] served most of his ministry as professor of Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary. The following book, published by the Free Reformed Publishing Association, was out-of-print when this material was posted. We trust that this means will bring the book to the attention of many world-wide.)
The three chapters of this little book were originally three lectures delivered during the winter and spring of 1966 at the First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was the purpose of these lectures to give a clear exposition and defense of a precious truth of our Reformed heritage which is under frequent attack in our times, the truth of creation as set forth by Scripture.
Because of the gratifying response from the large audiences which attended these lectures, and because of numerous requests for printed copies, also from many who were not able to attend the lectures, it was decided to publish them.
A spoken message, however, loses something of its effect when it is put on the dead page. For this reason, and for the reason that publication gave me the opportunity to expand several thoughts which I had no time to expand when I lectured, these chapters, therefore, while basically the same as the lectures, are slightly different in form and in length.
It is my hope and prayer that these pages may be instructive and that they may serve to strengthen the resolve of God's children to hold fast to the truth and to call many who have departed or are departing back to the old paths.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 : The Divine Foundation: the Infallible Scriptures
Chapter 2: The Creation Record: Literal or Not?
Chapter 3: Genesis and Science
The subject of the infallible Scriptures is almost everywhere today the subject of discussion and of a large measure of controversy in the churches. The inspired Scriptures are the center of much attack; and so this subject may indeed be said to be a very current issue and one of concern to those who would keep the faith once delivered to the saints.
Let me mention some examples.
In the first place, of course, there is out-and-out modernism, which always attacks the Scriptures and which has no real use for Holy Scripture whatsoever. That spirit of modernism has arisen especially since the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. With this modernism we are not much concerned; with respect to it the lines of demarcation have been drawn long ago. There is, in the second place, the "new modernism," sometimes called neo-orthodoxy, represented in men like Barth and Brunner and the demythologizing school of Rudolph Bultmann, which also attacks the infallible Scriptures and does not really recognize them as infallible. The more one investigates this new modernism, however, the more one discovers that it is not actually new at all, but essentially the same old modernism. Our concern with it lies in the fact that this theology, with its denial of the Scriptures, has found its way in more than one instance into orthodox areas and even into Reformed churches; and in that respect its influence must be guarded against. Thirdly, as is well known, there has been considerable discussion of this subject of the Scriptures in connection with the recent Vatican Council. There have been those who look, in my opinion, in vain,--for signs that Rome will return to the principle of the absolute and sole authority of Holy Scripture.
Coming a little nearer home, we may point to the fact that among the Lutherans this same subject of Holy Scripture is very much an issue. Particularly among those Lutherans who are classified as orthodox, for example, a denomination like the Missouri Synod,--Scripture is under attack. There is no little degree of stress and strain, and even separation, in that denomination because, principally, of this issue of the infallible Scriptures. In Presbyterian churches, too, the Scriptures have been under attack for a long time already. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, for example, had its origin in part because of the liberal denial of the Scriptures and of their absolute authority that was rampant in the parent denomination. And today still, the issue is a live one, to some extent, in Presbyterianism,--witness the attempt to set aside the Westminster Confession completely in the so-called Confession of 1967 that is being proposed in the United Presbyterian Church.
One finds, still nearer home as far as the Reformed faith is concerned, similar symptoms in the Netherlands today. In the Reformed Churches (Gereformeerde Kerken) of the Netherlands the movement has gained ground, for example, to set aside the decisions of the Synod of Assen in the case which involved Dr. Geelkerken in 1926 and which was concerned really with the first three chapters of the book of Genesis and with those articles of the Confession which deal with the infallibility and authority of Holy Scripture. I read just recently that a decision in that matter has been postponed for another year by the Synod of Lunteren. Nevertheless, this is an example of the ecclesiastical stress and strain which is connected with the question of Scripture and its infallibility and its authority today.
Also in Reformed circles in this country you find phenomena of, this kind. The Reformed Church in America has had its difficulties with this matter of the Scriptures. Particularly in a seminary like New Brunswick the liberal tendencies with a view to Holy Scripture have arisen. Scripture was the basic issue, for example, in the case just a few years back in New Jersey which involved the historicity of the first part of the Book of Genesis. And I have no doubt that somewhere, buried not too deeply among the issues, this same question of Holy Scripture is involved in the merger proposal between the Reformed Church in America and the Southern Presbyterian Church. You find the same phenomena in the Christian Reformed Church in our country. Back in the twenties, of course, there was the Dr. Janssen case, which involved principally this same question of Holy Scripture. In the thirties there was a case which is perhaps less known, the Wezeman case, which also involved the issues of higher criticism. And, more recently, just a few years back, in fact, there was that flurry that resulted in the adoption of a Report on Infallibility and the decision to commend this report to the churches.
Today there is much discussion in various churches centering on questions involving the book of Genesis, especially the truth of creation and the theory of a theistic evolution coming under discussion. And all of this discussion involves, principally, the same issue of the inspiration and infallibility and authority of Holy Scripture.
I mention these items for two reasons. First of all, I want to show how current and how widespread this issue is at present. Various attacks on Holy Scripture have become a very common phenomenon even in churches which are generally to be classified as orthodox. Secondly, however, I mention these various examples in order to point out that in almost all of these instances there is one common element, namely, the element that the entire question of Genesis and of creation and of theistic evolution and the historical reality of the fall and the so-called scientific findings and evidence concerning the age of the earth and concerning evolution,-- that one issue involving Genesis is found in many of these cases which center on the authority of Holy Scripture. For that reason, therefore, in order to discuss the subject of creation, together with the related questions concerning the book of Genesis, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the truth of the infallibility of Scripture.
Let me also say a word about my approach to this subject. I want to emphasize that it is not my purpose to throw barbs at any particular group of churches or at anyone's church, nor to reproach anyone personally. I have no interest in that whatsoever. My subject is far too serious and far too important to use it for such a purpose. In the nature of the case, I am going to be critical; and I am going to be concretely critical of various positions that are held. But I ask you to remember what I have said here about my purpose. My purpose is to clarify the issue and to remind you of the truth that has always been Reformed, and to sound a warning. That is my purpose, for the sake of the truth, the truth of the Reformed faith; and that is my purpose for the sake of the cause of the church of Jesus Christ. This issue is of the utmost importance to the church.
I also want to say from the outset that I shall not attempt to furnish a long discourse and proof and argumentation on inspiration and infallibility. That would take us too far afield and would needlessly lengthen this discussion. I rather wish to set forth briefly and pointedly the truth as it has always been maintained by the Reformed faith and by the churches of the Reformation. And I want to point out the importance of that truth for the entire structure of the truth and of the faith of the church. And I want to point out the practical significance of all this for us as members of Christ's church who seek and love the truth.
Hence, I shall treat my subject, "The Divine Foundation: The Infallible Scriptures," under the following three divisions:
I. The Truth that the Scriptures are Inspired and Infallible.
II. The Truth that those Scriptures Constitute the Foundation of the Church.
III. The Calling Carefully to Guard and Strictly to Adhere to that Foundation.
First of all, our subject is the Scriptures. By the Scriptures we mean the sixty-six books of the Old and of the New Testament, commonly called "the canon of Holy Scripture." I do not intend to discuss that canon as such and the formation of the canon at this point. That is a subject all by itself; and the discussion of that subject would take us too far afield. I will simply proceed on the basis that the sixty-six books mentioned are the canon of Holy Scripture, and on the basis that the so-called apocryphal books are excluded from the area of our discussion. This mention of the term canon, however, provides an occasion to point to the importance of our subject. For the term canon means basically "measuring rod," and therefore, "standard, criterion, rule." It is in connection with that term that the well-known expression,--almost a motto of the Reformation,--has arisen, namely, that the Scriptures are our only infallible rule of faith and life, or of doctrine and practice.
Secondly, it should be kept in mind that when we refer to the infallibility of Scripture, that means, strictly speaking, the Scriptures as they were originally written, or the autographs, as they are called. And those original Scriptures, those autographs, we do not have any more. As you probably know, there are in the original languages only thousands of copies and partial copies of the Scriptures; and the documents as they were written first by the prophets and the apostles are providentially no more in existence today. Now the principle of infallibility, I say, applies, strictly speaking, to those original documents. Nevertheless, I want to add immediately that this does not mean that the infallibility of Scripture for this reason has no meaning for us today. For while we do not have the autographs, that makes no real difference for us for several reasons. In the first place, we should remember that though there are literally thousands of variations in the readings of Scripture in the various manuscripts, or copies, which have been discovered, yet in these many thousands of variations there is not one in which an article of faith is at stake. In the second place, among those thousands and thousands of variations in readings there is only a very small fraction that is of any significance at all for the meaning of the text and for the meaning of Holy Scripture. In the third place, in our time the Biblical science of what is called textual criticism (not to be confused with unbelieving higher criticism), the science which busies itself properly with the question of what is the correct reading of a certain passage from among the various readings, --that science has been very highly developed, so that even with all these variations our Bible is today very accurate. In the fourth place, I would call your attention to the fact that even Scripture itself does not consider the lack of those autographs a serious obstacle. Timothy, in the apostle Paul's time, certainly did not possess the autographs of the Old Testament Scriptures, the Scriptures in which he was trained from his childhood. They were gone. And yet in II Timothy 3:16 the apostle does not hesitate to say concerning those Scriptures as Timothy possessed them and had been instructed in them: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God...." This also applies to the Scriptures as they were mentioned in II Peter 1:20, 21. Those Scriptures as we have them are the Word of God, or, more accurately, the written record of the Word of God.
I would like to stop right at this point for a moment to emphasize that this is a great wonder. We should never forget that. From among all books and all writings you may single out that one Book, the Scriptures, and say, "This Book is the very Word of God Himself!" That, I say, is a tremendous wonder!
Revelation, the fact that God speaks and makes known His Word in earthly language, human language, on our level,--that is a wonder!
And inspiration, the fact that God causes holy men to speak and to write His Word, --that is also a tremendous wonder!
We must, by all means, not forget this!
It is very important to remember this, also as far as our approach to the Bible is concerned. From a practical point of view, this is important with respect to the whole matter of inspiration and infallibility and the various problems and questions that may arise in connection with these truths. We are sometimes inclined to forget this, I fear. And when we do forget it, we are inclined to take a rationalistic approach to these matters. We then attempt to meet the opponent of the Scriptures and of infallibility on his own rationalistic ground; and then, when we cannot succeed in overcoming his apparently well-reasoned arguments, we weaken and begin to have doubts concerning inspiration and infallibility, and probably become inclined to compromise.
Hence, we must remember that the Bible and its inspiration and its infallibility are a matter of faith, strictly a matter of faith. This means principally that the whole matter of infallibility is after all a spiritual matter: not, in the first place, a matter of the head, but a matter of the heart. The unbeliever cannot recognize the Bible as the inspired and infallible Word of God. He cannot! That is a matter of the heart, a matter of faith.
We stand, therefore, on holy ground when we talk about Scripture; and we ought to be deeply aware of this. Faith does not start with the question: Is the Bible the Word of God? Faith starts with the proposition: The Bible is the Word of God. And all the questions and the problems that may arise and may be faced in connection with that Bible,-- and there are undeniably many of them: many problems, many apparent conflicts (even many apparent conflicts which we cannot with our minds reconcile; that makes absolutely no difference, however) -- all these questions and problems must all be considered and discussed within the confines, the limits, of the conviction that the Bible is the Word of God. That means that they must always be considered and discussed, therefore, in reverent fear of God. We must always remember that the Bible as the Word of God in its divinely inspired and infallible character towers far above anything of man. It towers above any human, sinful efforts to contradict that Bible. And it towers above any merely human efforts to defend it. The truth of the Bible depends on neither one of the two. It depends on God! And God's Word and its truth is not dependent on your and my understanding. The matter stands just the other way around. Our understanding is dependent on that Word of God.
With the above in mind, we may next consider the question of inspiration. What is it? What is inspiration? For this matter of inspiration is necessarily involved in the whole question of infallibility. The latter stands or falls with the former.
In general, we may say that inspiration is that wonder of God's grace whereby holy men were so moved by the Holy Spirit that what they spoke and wrote was the Word of God. That is the general statement of the truth of inspiration.
However, this truth of inspiration came under attack. These attacks have arisen, in the main, since the time of the Reformation. They have arisen for the most part since the time when our confessions were written. It is true, of course, that the Reformation itself was concerned with the truth of Scripture. But the concern of the Reformation was principally about the absolute, or sole, authority of Holy Scripture. Rome recognized sources of authority other than and next to Scripture. After the Reformation the attacks upon Holy Scripture took a different form. They took the form of attacks upon the inspiration and the infallibility of Scripture. Also in these attacks, of course, the authority of Scripture is ultimately at stake. Nevertheless, when the Reformation had returned to the principle of the sole authority of Scripture, that authority came under attack by way of attacks upon the inspired character and the infallibility of Scripture.
And over against these attacks various terms came into use which further describe and define the truth of inspiration. Let me briefly call your attention to these terms.
There is, in the first place, the term graphic inspiration. The term graphic comes from a root which means "to write." And the expression "graphic inspiration" simply means that the Holy Spirit inspired, moved, holy men to write the Word of God. Men not only spoke God's Word, but they were also used to write down the Word of God.
But that term, which is certainly quite sufficient in itself, because of attack proved to be insufficient. It was not enough merely to say that men were moved by the Spirit to write the Word of God. Another term came into use as a description of inspiration, a term designed to make the meaning of inspiration more explicit. That term is plenary. Plenary inspiration means that the Bible is fully inspired, that is, totally inspired, inspired in all its parts. That limitation is designed to make it impossible for men to say that they believe the truth of inspiration and at the same time to deny that the Bible is in its entirety the written record of God's Word. It is designed to make it impossible for anyone to say that the Word of God is only in the Bible, so that parts of the Bible are the Word of God and parts of it are not the Word of God. Plenary inspiration insists that the Bible is from beginning to end the written record of the Word of God, the Word of God in all its parts. One cannot go through the Bible picking and choosing what part is the Word of God and what part is not the Word of God, or deciding that one part is inspired and infallible while another part is not inspired and infallible. It is all or nothing!
In the third place, there is the term verbal inspiration. This term also has become necessary because there were and are those who even with the term plenary wanted to say, inconsistently, of course,--that the thoughts of the Bible were inspired, but the expression of those thoughts, the language, the words, in which those thoughts were conveyed, was not inspired. The expression of the thoughts, the language, was left to human writers and is fallible. Now I say again: there is actually no room for any such notion in the concept of inspiration, and especially not in the idea of plenary inspiration. It is simply inconceivable and utterly inconsistent to make such a separation between thoughts and words. But due to the fact that men have very inconsistently attempted to make that distinction, it became necessary to use the term verbal. Verbal inspiration emphasizes that inspiration is such that the Bible is in its very expression, words, language, completely the Word of God.
Finally, the term organic inspiration has arisen. I think that historically it has arisen chiefly because there were those who ridiculed the idea of verbal inspiration as a "dictation theory." This ridicule claims that the whole concept of plenary and verbal inspiration makes of the holy men who wrote the Bible nothing but secretaries, stenographers. That is a very wicked ridicule! For there have been no churches and no theologians of note who have at any time adhered rigidly to a strict dictation theory even though they may have employed the term dictation. The Reformer John Calvin himself used the term dictation; that may be freely admitted. But Calvin did not believe in any dictation theory! But the rise of this ridiculing criticism accounts, at least in part, for the use of the term organic inspiration.
What does this mean?
With respect to the Bible itself, it means that the Bible is an organism, that it is one, has one principle, one center, Christ, and that all its books and writings have their central principle, or, if you will, their root, in Christ. The Bible is the Word of God in Christ. Or you could phrase it this way: principally the whole content of the Word of God is revealed in the protevangel, the great mother-promise, of Genesis 3:15; and all the rest of Scripture is principally nothing else than a further elucidation and an ever clearer and brighter revelation of the promise that was first given in Paradise. It all grows, so to speak, out of that one promise.
But we are interested now in the meaning of this organic conception with respect to inspiration itself and the method of inspiration. What does that imply?
There are especially four elements implied.
First of all, just as God conceived sovereignly and from eternity of His people as an organism in Christ, so He conceived in His eternal counsel of the whole of Scripture as one organism as a revelation of Himself in Christ Jesus, the heart of that entire revelation. In other words, that Bible that was written over the course of many centuries in many different places and by many different men under many different circumstances did not simply come into being by accident. Nor was it mechanically put together, either by God or by men. But it was planned from before the foundation of the world in such a way that all its parts would arise out of and reveal one principle and one idea: the Word of God in Christ. And each book and each part occupies its own place and serves in its own particular way in that whole of the Word of God which was not wholly revealed until John wrote the book of Revelation.
Secondly, organic inspiration means that God from eternity and sovereignly conceived of and determined upon, ordained, special organs of Christ's body as organs of inspiration, to write His Word. I mean that God ordained them entirely. It is not thus, that the Holy Spirit has a certain book and a certain purpose in mind and that He goes about searching for the proper man to write that book. The Holy Spirit does not merely find and use men to write His Scriptures. They were planned, planned from before the foundation of the world. Their personalities, their characters, their talents, their experiences, their time, their historical circumstances, -- all of those things were so planned and designed from before the foundation of the world that each one of those men would be a fit instrument to write a certain part of God's Word and have a place in the writing of the whole of Scripture.
Thirdly, the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of Christ, in time calls and prepares and forms and fits these divinely ordained organs of inspiration for their divinely ordained task. This is also God's work. Isaiah could never have prophesied as he did unless he were Isaiah, with his peculiar character and place in history, and so forth. John would never have been able to write his epistles in exactly the form and style in which he wrote them unless God had made John exactly what he was. All this is the purpose and work of God with a view to the inscripturation of His own Word.
Then, finally, there is the element that the same Spirit actually inspires holy men, moves, carries, illumines, and guides them to write infallibly God's own Word, the Word of the revelation of God in Christ. Hence, men spoke and men wrote; and they spoke and wrote entirely in harmony with their peculiar personality and style and circumstances and experiences and times. But when they spoke and when they wrote, the product was not the word of man, but the Word of God.
That is organic inspiration.
Now when you take all those various aspects of inspiration together, the result is the infallible Scriptures, the written Word of God without error.
Let me say a word about those terms: the term infallible and the term inerrant.
These are also terms which have arisen out of controversy. They have been occasioned by opposition to and denial of the truth. Essentially, of course, it is unnecessary to say that Scripture is infallible. And historically it was not always necessary to say this. You could simply say, "Scripture is the Word of God. Period!" But it became necessary because of denials to emphasize this truth over against the error. It became necessary, on account of error and denial of the truth, to make explicit what is, in fact, implicit in the very fact that the Bible is the Word of God. A fallible Word of God, an errant Word of God, is nothing but a contradiction in terms. That is the simple truth. For a fallible Bible means that God errs, that God lies, that God makes mistakes, that God's speech is inaccurate. We may well remember this. This truth is after all very simple. As soon as you maintain that the Bible is the Word of God, and then at the same time try to maintain that the Bible is fallible, you have a contradiction in terms. Essentially, in order to maintain that Scripture is in any sense fallible, one must first get rid of the idea that the Bible is the Word of God; otherwise he must needs accuse God of fallibility. And thus these terms infallible and inerrant have come into use in order to emphasize the truth over against the error. Inerrant simply means "not erring" or "without error." Infallible is the stronger term; it means "not capable of error."
Hence, these terms, applied to the Scriptures, mean that the Bible as the written record of the Word of God is altogether free from and incapable of error, inaccuracy, mistake, contradiction, conflict. It is altogether the Word of God Who cannot lie and Who cannot make a mistake.
Right here is the proper point to emphasize again that this is a matter of faith. That Scripture is infallible is true whether or not you or I can demonstrate it to be infallible. Our belief in the infallibility of that Word does not depend upon our understanding and our solving whatever problems may arise in our study of Scripture. It does not depend on our ability to answer and to solve various questions and apparent contradictions and conflicts to which men may point. We must not take that approach. We must not question whether the Bible is indeed the Word of God and whether it is indeed infallible. Faith starts out from the position that Scripture is indeed the infallible Word of God.
This, therefore, is the simple truth of infallibility.
This is the Reformed position. It always has been the Reformed position; and it is the Reformed position today. And it is the Reformed position because it is the truth of Scripture.
I do not intend to argue that point or reason about it at length.
Let me point you to a few passages of Scripture.
There is II Timothy 3:16, which I have already mentioned: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness...." The term rendered "given by inspiration of God" is literally "God-breathed." All Scripture is God-breathed. That is a very beautiful idea. Do you realize what that means? It means this: God breathed, and the Bible resulted! That is all; that is inspiration! Notice, by the way, that this passage does not even so much as mention men or the activity of men. They are not even in the picture here. Only this: "All Scripture is God-breathed...."
Then there is the Scriptural proof from II Peter 1:19-21: "We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." Here, to be sure, the human writers are under consideration. But what does the text say about them? Notice: "No prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation." And again: "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man." That is the negative: it came not by the will of man! To be sure, these men did not write inspite of their own will or against their will. Yet the Bible that they wrote was not the product of the will of man. On the contrary, holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
In John 10:35 you find the rather well-known statement of our Lord Jesus, "...and the scripture cannot be broken...." In this conversation of Jesus with the Jews this particular statement constitutes the strength, the foundation, of Jesus' argument. If the Scripture could be broken, then Jesus' argument on the basis of Psalm 82 in this connection would simply fall away; it would be of no authority. But it is of authority simply because "the scripture cannot be broken." Its authority is absolute and unimpeachable because it is divine and infallible.
One more significant passage is that from John 5:45-47, a passage which assumes inerrancy and therefore absolute authority with respect to the writings of Moses: "Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?" Very plainly, according to this passage, if you don't believe Moses (that is, if you don't believe the Old Testament), you don't believe Christ. And, vice versa, if you don't believe Christ, you don't believe Moses. The two are inseparable. It is very evident, therefore, that denial of the inspired and infallible character of the Scriptures of the Old Testament is contrary to faith in Christ.
So much for Scripture quotations.
Let me also point out that this truth of the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture is the current thought of those articles of our Confession of Faith, the Belgic Confession, which speak of Scripture, Articles 3 to 7. It is true, of course, that you do not find all the terms there which I mentioned previously: graphic, verbal, plenary, and organic. For the most part the use of these terms was not necessary at the time when our confessions were written. But there are several expressions in our Confession which are very noteworthy and very clear with respect to the Scriptures.
The whole of Article 3 emphasizes very strongly and without any limitation or qualification that the Scriptures are the Word of God: "We confess that this Word of God was not sent, nor delivered by the will of man, but that holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, as the apostle Peter saith. And that afterwards God, from a special care, which he has for us and our salvation, commanded his servants, the prophets and apostles, to commit his revealed word to writing; and he himself wrote with his own finger, the two tables of the law. Therefore we call such writings holy and divine Scriptures."
Article 4 gives the list of the canonical books, but there is a very significant statement in this article which we should note: "We believe that the Holy Scriptures are contained in two books, namely, the Old and New Testament, which are canonical, against which nothing can be alleged." (emphasis mine) The point is that if there were error in these books, you could allege something against them and challenge the rightful place of such errant books in the canon of Holy Scripture. But they are inerrant, infallible. You can allege nothing against them.
Again, in Article 5 there is a significant statement which presupposes infallibility and freedom from error. This is the article concerning the dignity and authority of Scripture. Here we confess: "We receive all these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith; believing without any doubt, all things contained in them......" (emphasis mine) This very plainly implies that they are free from error. If these books were known to be fallible and known to contain error, you could never profess to believe all things contained therein. Note, too, that term "all things." This occurs here without any limitation.
Article 6 rather indirectly teaches the same idea when it speaks of the difference between the canonical and the apocryphal books. For this article sets up the canonical books as the absolute standard of authority with respect to the apocryphal books. The church may "read and take instruction from" the apocryphal books "so far as they agree with the canonical books." And the apocryphal books can never "detract from the authority of the other sacred books." This absolute authority of the canonical books again presupposes their infallibility.
Finally, Article 7, which speaks of the sufficiency of Scripture, contains, among several other very clear and strong statements, the well-known statement: "Therefore, we reject with all our hearts, whatsoever doth not agree with this infallible rule, which the apostles have taught us, saying, Try the spirits whether they are of God. Likewise, if there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house."
The above, briefly, is the Reformed and Scriptural truth of inspiration and infallibility from a positive point of view.
This truth is the divine foundation of the church.
In connection with the above statement I refer you to Scripture itself. It speaks of the importance of the Scriptures for the church and for the whole structure of the truth in many places. But l have in mind now especially a passage like Ephesians 2:19, 20: "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone."
This passage plainly refers to the apostles and prophets not as so many persons. In that sense the apostles and prophets are dead and in the grave. But it refers to the teaching and the preaching of the apostles and prophets. In other words, it refers to the Word of God by them as that Word of God has as its chief and determining content, its cornerstone (the determining stone of the entire foundation; not a mere decorative stone, as today) in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. That is the foundation upon which the church, the household of God, the temple of God, is built. Hence, the Word of God, the Scriptures, may rightly be called the foundation of the church.
Now a foundation is of the utmost importance to any building. The foundation of any building determines the building, determines its shape and its size and its outline and its strength. That is true of any building. You cannot build an Empire State Building, for example, on the foundation of a two-stall garage. It will not fit. Such a foundation will not hold up such a building. Well, here in Ephesians you have that figure of the foundation as the determining factor of a building, that which determines the entire building, with respect to the church as the spiritual building of God, in which He dwells and has fellowship with His people. We may conclude from this, therefore, that the whole shape, the whole belief, the whole confession, the whole doctrine, the whole manner of life, the entire manifestation of the church is built upon the Word of God. That is the divine foundation: the Word of God, as it has its infallible written record in all the Scriptures. That is God's own foundation for His church!
You have here, therefore, first of all, the principle of the absolute authority of Scripture. The church, God's church, is only built upon that foundation. That is the only foundation for the church, the only foundation upon which the church can be built up. That foundation determines the building. Anything built upon any other foundation cannot be built as the church. That is plain. If you are not on that foundation, the only proper foundation, the determining foundation for the whole church, then your building, whatever else it may be, cannot be the church! That is important. Any confession, any belief, any doctrine, any manner of life, in order to be recognized as of the church, the house of God, must be found upon Scripture.
This fact is also important from the point of view of the significance of that foundation and attacks upon the divine character and authority and infallibility of that foundation. When you begin to chip away and to hammer away at those Scriptures, you are chipping away at the very foundation of the church. I know: that foundation cannot be destroyed! No one has ever destroyed it yet, and no one will ever destroy it. The foundation of God standeth! There is no question about that! But in the practice and in the confession of a given church or denomination of churches or of a given member of the church here on earth that is indeed possible. You can chip away at the foundation and deny the divine authority and strength of that foundation; that simply means, of course, that you ultimately come to stand on a different foundation, not on God's foundation. But to cling to the figure, you know what happens when the foundation is attacked. If you knock out a whole wall of a foundation, the building is not going to stand. It will tumble and crumble. The same is true of the Scriptures. When you chip away at those Scriptures, you are chipping away at the very foundation of the church. That may seem very insignificant at first, just as you may begin to destroy the foundation of a building by knocking a little chip out of one block in the wall. In fact, that has usually been the way the foundation of the Scriptures has been attacked: just a little chip knocked off! But if you keep on chipping, after a while an entire block goes out of the foundation; and then the whole wall goes out; and finally the entire foundation is gone. And if the foundation is destroyed, the entire building topples; or even if the strength of the foundation is destroyed, the strength of the building is gone too. You cannot build the church, you cannot serve in the gathering and building of the church, on any other foundation than the divinely appointed and the divinely constructed foundation of the Scriptures.
That is why this whole issue of the infallibility of Scripture is so deadly serious. It concerns the foundation, the foundation of the church !
But today attacks are being made on that foundation. That has been done in the past, and it is being done today in many ways. They are chipping away at the foundation!
Let me mention some of these attacks.
There is that totally inconsistent idea of thought--inspiration in distinction from word--inspiration. Under this conception, as you can readily see, there are parts of Scripture that are said not to be the Word of God. Or there are parts which are said to be erroneously or inaccurately or imperfectly recorded and presented.
There is the conception of two factors in the Bible: a divine factor and a human factor. I think that this expression of two factors is used well-meaningly sometimes. But it is a dangerous expression! The Bible is the Word of God, produced by one factor: divine inspiration. To the extent that you speak of a human factor you must also speak of a human word.
The same is true of another expression that is also used sometimes with good intentions. I refer to the idea of a primary Author (God) and secondary authors (men). The trouble with an expression like that is that no matter how mightily you strive to distinguish between the primary and the secondary, you are still saying that men are authors. They are not! The Author of the Scriptures is God! It is His Word! It came not by the will of man, but by the will of God.
Another method of attack is that which denies the historicity and the historical accuracy of various parts of the Bible and covering that up by calling such parts of Scripture figurative or allegorical or mythical, or what have you. The most serious aspect of this particular attack is not that it denies the historicity of a certain passage of Scripture. That is bad enough. But basically such attacks are attacks upon the authority and infallibility of Scripture itself.
The same is true, principally, of the distinction that has been made that the Bible is accurate as far as its revelational purpose is concerned, accurate as far as sacred history is concerned, but that it can be inaccurate when it comes to the periphery and when it comes to mere history and "historiography," as it is called, --the writing of history. It is at this point that the weakness of the Report on Infallibility, commended to the churches in 1961 by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, is glaring. That report was principally a compromise. It failed to settle the most crucial issue in the whole discussion that occasioned it. It left room. A plain instance of this is seen in the fact that M. Hoogland in the Reformed Journal (November, 1961, pp. 9-12) came right out and said that the report leaves room for historical inaccuracies in Scripture. In his article he makes a rather detailed analysis of this Report; and I could quote several statements in which Mr. Hoogland maintains that the Report leaves room for maintaining that there is a sense in which it can be said that Scripture is inaccurate. The following paragraph is an example:
The report, therefore, supports the conclusion that it is possible to look at inaccuracy from more than one point of view, and consequently that it is possible to speak of historical inaccuracy while at the same time maintaining Scriptural accuracy in terms of sacred history. That is, what is seen as inaccurate from a merely historical point of view is recognized as wholly accurate for the reporting of sacred history. This conclusion being established by the report and the report serving as the larger context in which the synodical declaration of 1959 must be seen (p. 190), it becomes evident that the "actual historical inaccuracies" ruled out by the Synod of 1959 has reference to historical inaccuracies from the point of view of sacred history and not from the point of view of modern historiography.
No one challenged the above statement or the article in which it appeared. The sad part is that the whole issue seems, at least for the present, to be buried in silence. That is a bad thing. I predict that in some form or other that same issue of Scripture's infallibility is going to arise again because principally it was not settled.
The above are some of the implications of this foundation--idea and some of the methods of attack upon the foundation.
All these devices have this one element in common, that they exalt man's subjective judgment above the Word of God. Man, then, decides what is the Word of God and what is not, what is accurate and what is inaccurate, what is truth and what is error. This may be done with regard to relatively insignificant things at first; it often begins that way. That has been the history of every attack on the authority of Scripture. But the principle is the important thing here. When you begin to follow this method and this principle, then principally you have sacrificed the whole truth of infallibility. And if you don't back-track and return to the strict principle of infallibility, that error is going to blossom out and have dire effects in time to come. That also is history.
Hence, that divine foundation must always be built on. Every thought must be in submission to the Scriptures, the only infallible rule. All our doctrine and all our life must conform to that rule. It is the absolute authority. We must not come with outside evidences and philosophy and science in order to see whether we can make Scripture conform. It is the other way around. This principle is important for all the truth and life of the church. But I have in mind particularly the rather wide-ranging discussions on the various questions that are at stake in the book of Genesis: creation, the flood, evolution, the age of the world, etc. Those questions must be decided solely in the light of and on the basis of Scripture. It is especially to some of those questions that we will give our attention in our next two chapters. But that must be done on the basis of the position taken in the present chapter.
In conclusion, let me emphasize, first of all, that we must guard that foundation.
We must never allow anyone to chip away at it. If this is allowed, then soon nothing will be left. The large denominations today that have departed completely from the infallible Scriptures began that way. They all did. You cannot compromise when it comes to Scripture. You cannot allow yourself to compromise even in this regard, that you will stand side by side in the same church-communion and act as though you are standing on the same basis with men who do deny or compromise this truth of Scripture. That is an inconsistent position. If you do that, you lose your ability to fight for the maintenance of the truth.
We must adhere strictly to this as churches, in our doctrine, in our confession, in our teaching and preaching.
That is important for the preaching too, something that might well be kept in mind today. This means that the preaching that comes from any pulpit of a church which holds to the infallible Scriptures must be expository preaching. Its content must be that Word of God. We must not have all of this topical preaching and preaching on the social issues of the day which is so common today, even in Reformed churches. We must expound the Scriptures. This is important because it is after all the preaching of the Word that is the strength of the church. The preaching, therefore, must never depart from that foundation of the Scriptures!
As individual members of the church, too, we must all adhere to this principle. We must be on our guard in this respect. I would say that especially young men and young women, and especially young people of intellectual inclination, who can very easily be flattered that they are intellectuals, and who can have their ego tickled by the idea that they can really learn something from philosophy and science as over against Scripture,--such young men and young women must be on guard.
One of the favorite ways of the devil is to attack the faith of young people with respect to the Word of God. Hold, therefore, to the Word of God as infallible in your personal faith, as members of the church.
This also includes the calling to speak out on this issue. You must speak out on it not only in discussion and in writing. That is good; but ultimately, if nothing more is done, that will do no good. If the Scriptures are attacked, speak out officially. Speak out ecclesiastically. Whether such protest looks hopeful or hopeless, that makes no difference. It is your right and your calling as members of the church, as children of the Reformation, to speak out in the church. You must speak out, or ultimately you will lose this principle by default.
Let us hold to these Scriptures, therefore. We cannot stand on two different foundations. We cannot stand on a half foundation. We cannot stand with those who attack the very foundation. We must be uncompromising!
Finally, I want to emphasize that our Protestant Reformed Churches, who stand on the basis I have outlined above, pledge help and support, and, if need be, shelter to anyone who wants to stand foursquare on that foundation, the only foundation on which the church may stand.
Return to Table of Contents
The subject of this chapter is in question form, and this requires a word of explanation.
The alternatives posed in the subject might seem to suggest that the question which we are about to answer is an open question, a matter that is in doubt, and that we are about to conduct an investigation of this question in order to determine whether or not we can arrive at a firm answer, and whether that answer must be that the creation record is to be literally or non-literally understood. Hence, I want to state from the outset that to me this is not an open question. It shall be the position of this chapter that there is but one possible sense in which the creation record must be understood, and that that one sense is the literal sense. If I were to state the subject of this chapter positively, therefore, I would phrase it this way: The Creation Record, Strictly Literal.
Why, then, is this question form employed? And why is this particular question asked?
The first reason is that, as is well known, there is currently much discussion and questioning about this subject of creation and the creation record. How is it to be understood? What does it mean? Does it allow room for any kind of theory of evolution? Can the findings of science be harmonized with the account of creation? How are we to understand the days of creation week? These, and many related questions, are being raised currently. Besides, it is also well known that in many quarters there is a growing tendency to depart from positions which were formerly held with respect to the subject of creation. I think this can stand without proof. Anyone who follows the religious press will be acquainted with this fact. Also in the Reformed community, both in this country and in the Netherlands, this subject is getting much attention. I feel, therefore, that this question states a very important issue which confronts the churches today.
In the second place, this particular formulation was chosen because it states the basic issue in the entire discussion about creation. That discussion must needs get down to the question of the creation record as it is set forth by the Bible, particularly in the first part of the book of Genesis. There may be many other questions raised; and those questions may be legitimate or improper ones. But the deepest question in this entire discussion is: what does the Bible say, and how does your presentation of creation look in the light of Scripture. That is the unavoidable question for the Bible-believing church and for the Bible-believing child of God. For that reason this chapter purposes to discuss Scripture's account of creation.
In the third place, I believe that this particular question, whether the creation record is literal or not, accurately expresses the fundamental issue in the entire discussion of creation and the creation record. This, it is hoped, will become clearer in the course of the discussion.
It is probably well to say a few words also about the basis of the present chapter. In this chapter I will proceed on the basis that the foundation of this chapter was laid in Chapter 1. The infallible Scriptures are the only possible basis upon which the church and the individual child of God can stand and dares to stand in dealing with any phase of the truth. That is a general principle. The Scriptures, infallible from beginning to end, constitute the foundation of the entire structure of the truth, particularly, however, with respect to this truth of creation and the issue of creation versus evolution or of creation versus so-called theistic evolution, and the question of the relation between creation and science's claims,--all related subjects in current discussions,--particularly in this sphere the truth of the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture comes into rather sharp focus. Scripture's authority has become unavoidably an issue in the whole discussion concerning creation. Ultimately, of course, whether one admits this or not, the denial of creation involves the denial of Scripture. Hence, Scripture as the written Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, and that too, as absolutely infallible, is our basis. And those Scriptures constitute the sole and absolute authority to which appeal must be made in regard to the subject under discussion. The Scriptures constitute the sole authority in all things. But I want to emphasize that particularly with respect to the subjects discussed in this chapter and the next one. It is very necessary that we do not allow other authorities, next to that of Scripture, to have a place.
Closely connected with the infallibility and authority of Holy Scripture, and also belonging to the basis on which we must proceed in our discussion of the creation record, is the truth that Scripture is perspicuous. It is not obscure, not dark, but clear,--so clear that any child of God can understand it. One need not be a theologian or an exegete or a scientist or some other kind of well-educated expert to understand the Scriptures; but any child of God can apprehend the truth that is revealed in them. This is fundamental. If Scripture is not perspicuous, then you must needs take the position that it is, for the most part, after all a closed book. This perspicuity, or clarity, of Scripture belongs to our Reformation heritage; and it forms part of the basis on which we proceed, a rather important part with respect to the particular subject of this chapter.
We are now ready to turn to our subject, THE CREATION RECORD: LITERAL OR NOT? The three main divisions of our discussion will be the following:
I. The Real Issue At Stake.
II. Various Interpretations of the Creation Record, Both Non-Literal and Literal.
III. The Proper Scriptural Interpretation.
First of all, we face the question: what is the issue at stake in this question concerning the creation record? My answer to this question may probably be shocking in its bluntness, but I will nevertheless state it. The issue is: creation versus evolution.
Let me explain.
What is creation? Creation may be defined as that act of the almighty will of God whereby He, through His Word and by His Spirit, gave to the entire universe, and to all the individual creatures of that universe, (things as they eternally exist in God's eternal thoughts, in His counsel) existence in distinction from Himself and His own Being.
Evolution stands diametrically over against the truth of creation.
Evolutionism is the view, the theory, that maintains, first of all, that the world began somehow of itself. Secondly, it holds that from that early but unexplained beginning,--a very obscure beginning, really no beginning at all, --from that early, unexplained beginning the whole universe evolved, developed, gradually. This development allegedly took place, first of all, as far as the inorganic, the non-living, creature is concerned. It developed; it took definite shape and form and place in the whole of the universe through evolution. It evolved and developed from the less refined and the less definite to the more refined and the more definite. Then somehow in that evolving universe a principle of life came into being. And all the forms of the organic creature, the living creature, developed out of that one cell, that one seed of life. They developed from the lower to the higher forms, from the simple to the complex forms. Man himself is also a product of such development. In the third place, evolutionism, of course, holds that all things thus developed over a period of hundreds of millions and even billions of years, until the world and the human race as we now know it came into existence.
This is the theory of evolution, briefly, as far as the origin of things is concerned. Evolutionism includes much more than this. It is not only concerned with the origin of things, but it is also an entire philosophy of the world and of history. Moreover, this far-reaching philosophy of the world and of history is inseparably connected with evolutionism's theory concerning the origin of things. But this aspect of evolutionism, though very important, is not directly a part of our present discussion.
You probably say, "But in the above sense evolutionism certainly cannot be an issue and a question for the child of God." And I agree. We are not surprised that unbelief, the outstanding sin of the world, invents its own theory of the beginning of the world, mark you well, a beginning without God! That is the fundamental thing: a beginning without God! Unbelief wants to get God out of the world. And in order to get God out of the world it aims to get God somehow out of the beginning. For if He is out from the very beginning, He is out of this world entirely. That is unbelief's striving. It wants a beginning without God. God is not in all the thoughts of the unbeliever, even the "religious" unbeliever.
Now it is certainly true, from that point of view, that it is below the dignity of faith, the dignity of the Christian, to enter into any scientific debate with the evolutionist whatsoever. Why try to meet him on his own ground, without the Bible? Why try to gainsay by human logic and ingenuity such a monstrosity of sin as the theory of evolution is? The Christian rather says of faith: "In the beginning God....." The Christian rather says: "Give me God, and I can explain the world. Take my God away, and I must sit down in despair." For "through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear," Hebrews 11:3. The evolutionist is after all like the fool who desires to employ his human keenness to show me that I had no father and that I was not born. All one can do with such attempts is to turn away in complete disgust.
Indeed, in that blunt, direct form, evolutionism cannot be and is not an issue for the Christian and in the church.
But that same theory of evolution has been developed and refined and has become the more insidious in the form of what is called "theistic evolution," or in the form of what is really the same thing in more palatable terminology, "progressive creationism." The latter is a refinement in terminology: progressive creationism. But it is the same as theistic evolutionism.
What is this theory?
It is the theory that seeks to maintain all the tenets of evolutionism, but attempts to insert God into that process of evolution as an intelligent and controlling power. It is the theory that maintains that God created the principle of all things, and that then that divinely created principle of all things evolved, developed, right along the lines in which the evolutionist proper presents it as evolving. It is the theory that God never works in this universe except through ordinary ways, by second causes, according to what are called "natural laws." Even creation, according to this theory, is by law. God uses the physical laws of this universe to produce things specifically new. New species, or kinds, are produced in the vegetable and in the animal world. Finally man himself is produced according to those same physical laws and out of that same originally created principle of life. All things have developed out of original matter or from an original life-cell according to divine design and divine purpose and as a result of a divine operation through second causes and natural laws.
The preceding will serve as a description of the theory.
But let us analyze this rather widely taught theory a little. What is it really? We must confront this question too.
I say again: one can say many things also about this particular brand of evolutionism that is called theistic evolutionism. For the theory of evolution is really an entire philosophy, a world-and-life view; properly speaking, if you begin with evolutionism of any kind, you must adopt the whole thing, and you must end where evolutionism ends. And I think that historically the adoption of evolutionistic theories concerning the origin of things has led exactly to that consequence. That also holds for the adoption of theistic evolution. To mention just one example, in the area of eschatology, the doctrine of the last things, it has led to post-millennialistic conceptions.
One might also point out that through the adoption of this theory the element of the miraculous is eliminated. It is first eliminated from the origin of the universe. But inevitably, because the theory proceeds on the basis that God never works in this universe except through ordinary ways and according to "natural laws,"--inevitably the wonder is eliminated everywhere. This also is history. When the leaven of this theory has worked through, the result has been that the wonder of grace is completely eliminated and denied. For all the miracles some naturalistic explanation is found; and the historical reality of such wonders as the incarnation and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is also denied.
But what is this theory as far as its origin is concerned? How did it arise? Where did it come from?
There is but one answer to these questions. Theistic evolutionism is an attempted compromise. It is an attempted synthesis of worldly theory, worldly philosophy, and Scriptural truth. It is an attempted mixture of the lie and the truth.
Such compromise simply does not work. It never does. The truth and the lie simply cannot be mixed. And if such a mixture is nevertheless attempted, the result is inevitably that the truth is denied. Let me emphasize this from the outset, even as I may state frankly from the outset that I believe that the creation record is strictly literal. Progressive creationism, or theistic evolutionism, -- contrary to its claims to be "creationism" and to be "theistic", --does not really believe that creation record. But at the basis of the entire position of theistic evolutionism is a fundamentally wrong method and approach. Theistic evolutionism, or progressive creationism, does not operate from the principle of the antithesis of the truth and the lie, of faith and unbelief; but it operates from the principle of synthesis. And this principle of synthesis is the principle of world-conformity. The attempt is made to synthesize creationism and evolutionism, theism and atheistic philosophy, Biblical faith and worldly science (note: I do not say science, but worldly science), Scripture and the rationalistic and unbelieving theories and hypotheses of worldly science. Such a mixture never works. You cannot mix opposites. The result of an attempted mixture is always a denial of the truth. This is also the result in a very practical sense. Just inquire as to what receives the emphasis in so-called theistic evolutionism. Is it the theism that is emphasized? Not at all; the theism is never emphasized until the evolutionism comes under attack. The theory simply tries to allow room for the whole theory of evolutionism and at the same time to allow room for the evolutionist to say after all, "I believe in God too." The same is true of that supposedly more palatable expression, "progressive creationism." In practice, it puts all the emphasis upon the "progressive" and leaves the "creationism" out of the picture. This is done in order to go along as much as possible with worldly evolutionary theory. And then, when criticism of this progressivism arises, the progressive creationist thinks he can respond to that criticism by saying, "But I believe in creation too; only my idea of creation is that it was progressive." In other words, even from a practical point of view the "theism" and the "creationism" come crippling behind the "evolutionism" and the "progressivism" of these theories.
But it is by way of that mixture, or attempted mixture, that the entire issue of creation versus evolution has found its way into the church. Moreover, this has become an issue not only in the church at large, but also in the Reformed community of churches, both in the Netherlands and in this country. In its blunt and direct form the theory of evolution could not be an issue for a church which at all claims to adhere to Scripture. But under the form of so-called theistic evolutionism and progressive creationism the cargo of the evolutionary theory has been smuggled into the church; and thus creation-versus-evolution has become an issue in the church. And this brand of evolutionism has made no small degree of progress, even in Reformed circles. Books and articles are written which uphold and promote the theory. It is taught in the schools. And especially in certain educated and scientific circles what is referred to as the traditional creationist view has come under more or less open attack as an impossible and preposterous and grossly old-fashioned theory.
It is in connection with that introduction of what is claimed to be a Christian and a Biblical brand of evolutionism into the church that the literal or non-literal character of the creation record has become an issue confronting the church today. That is the issue stated in the title of this chapter.
How does this become the issue?
First of all, this theory of progressive creationism (a theory which is really identical with theistic evolutionism) comes face to face with the creation record. Evolutionism is not troubled by this. Simple, blunt evolutionism has nothing to do with creationism; it denies all creation; it is a theory that places itself over against all creation-faith. But the compromise theory necessarily confronts the creation record of Scripture. It is a theory which arises in the church, not in the world. It is theory which claims to be consistent with Christian faith. It is a theory which claims to be theistic, to be consistent with belief in God, the Creator. It is a theory which claims to be just a modification of creationism, claims to be consistent with belief in the doctrine of creation. Hence, it is a theory which must reckon with Holy Scripture and which must take into account, somehow, what the Bible says about creation.
In the second place, the theory of theistic evolution especially comes face to face with the time-element in Genesis 1. There are many other, connected difficulties which the theory faces in the Biblical record when it attempts to reconcile this brand of evolutionism with the statements of Scripture concerning creation. But the most crucial problem is that of the time-element. Evolution requires time. It needs large quantities of time. It needs millions upon millions and hundreds of millions and even billions of years. This is a well-known characteristic of the theory of evolution; and it is also a chief characteristic of the theory of theistic evolution, or progressive creationism. Time, long ages of time, --that is of the essence. The processes of evolution cannot really be explained; but all the riddles of evolution are hidden in the dim reaches of those billions of years. In this connection, scientists have developed many alleged evidences of such long periods of time in the history of the universe. (This is not within the scope of the discussion of the present chapter, but belongs to the next chapter. Nevertheless, the reader should note that I did not say "evidences" but "alleged evidences" of long periods of time.) Hence, when theistic evolutionism, with its requirement of billions of years, comes face to face with the Scriptural record of creation as it is contained in Genesis 1, it faces the necessity of making room in that presentation of Genesis 1 for those long periods of time. And what was the conclusion? Did the theistic evolutionist arrive at the conclusion that Genesis 1 simply did not allow room for billions of years, and that therefore he must drop his theory of evolution? Not at all; on the contrary, he "interpreted" Genesis 1 in such a way as to fit his theory.
This, in the third place, gives rise to the question of the historicity of the record of creation in the book of Genesis. It gives rise to this question: is that creation record the record of historical fact, the record of historical events? Did the things that are recorded in Genesis 1 actually take place as they are recorded in that chapter? That question is, of course, unavoidable. It is unavoidable because with that historicity, after all, stands or falls the reality, the factualness, of the creative work. Either the record of Genesis is the record of real, historical events, and then God's work of creation actually took place, is a fact of revelation; or the record of Genesis is not the record of real, historical events, and then creation and the act of creation, even though men may continue to use these terms, are not facts.
To this unavoidable question concerning the historicity of the creation record the theistic evolutionist must try to give an affirmative answer. As a theist, the theistic evolutionist feels bound to do so; and as a creationist, the progressive creationist feels compelled to answer affirmatively. For after all, it is an article of the Christian faith, "I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth." Hence, they must attempt and they do attempt to maintain somehow that the creation record is an historical record, and that creation is an historic fact: it actually took place. But they do that on their own terms. In answer to the question concerning historicity, they say: "Yes, provided we interpret Genesis 1 and 2, and also Genesis 3 to an extent, correctly." And by "correctly" they mean the way they want to interpret it. For they must find ways and means of maintaining that the creation record is not ordinary history, not even ordinary sacred history, but history that is recorded in some unusual, some strange way. They must keep the record of Genesis as far as the language is concerned, but pour into it a content that harmonizes with their evolutionist or progressivist theories.
It is in this way that various theories of interpretation have arisen and are maintained today, in order to accommodate that alleged scientific evidence and the theory of theistic evolution, which requires millions and billions of years. But it is for this reason that you can no longer be satisfied with the mere question whether the creation record is historical. That allows room for evasion of the issue. You must specify. You must pin-point the issue. You must find out what they mean by "historical." And therefore you must ask: is the creation record literally historical? Is that creation record to be interpreted literally or non-literally?
At this point, of course, we get to the meat of our subject.
Concerning this key issue I want to make, first of all, a few general observations.
In the first place, we must insist that this is a matter of Scripture, the infallible Word of God, and that as surely as it is a question of Scripture, so surely it is, in the deepest sense of the word, strictly a question of exegesis.
This is of the utmost importance.
Nothing else, and I mean that in the absolute sense of the word,--nothing else, no science, no scientific theory, no rationalism, no self-made doubts and questions, no theological opinions,--absolutely nothing outside of Scripture may enter into the making of the answer to this question. It is strictly an exegetical question, a question of Scripture and Scripture's meaning, a question of the authority of Scripture. Exegesis, you know, is a question of the meaning of the Word of God. Exegesis inquires into that meaning, into the truth of the Word of God. It presupposes that the Word of God is understandable, that it is clear, perspicuous, and that therefore the truth of that Word of God can be readily ascertained. And ultimately exegesis, therefore, is a matter of bowing before the authority, the divine authority, of that Word of God. This must be stressed. It is of the essence in this entire discussion. The decisive factor is not at all what this or that scientist thinks, or what he claims to have evidence for. The decisive question is not what this or that theologian thinks. Not at all! In coming to a conclusion on this issue it is of absolutely no benefit to engage in "name-dropping." Moreover, no matter how much respect we may have for certain church fathers, and no matter how much we may respect their learning and their contributions to the development of doctrine, it is not a question of whether some of the early church fathers maintained such a thing as the period theory or the framework theory. Apparently some did so. It is not a question of whether Abraham Kuyper or Herman Bavinck allowed room for leaving the days of creation longer than mere days, --not the question at all. Nor is it a question of what Herman Hoeksema taught or of what Homer Hoeksema thinks about this matter. Neither is it a question, ultimately, of what this or that church thinks about this issue or has expressed officially about it. I will go a step farther: ultimately this is not even a question of what this or that confession says. Also the confessions are subject solely to the authority of Scripture; and they are of authority only as they give expression to the truth of Holy Scripture. In other words, the Bible is the only court of appeal in this discussion. Let us remember this!
This is a cardinal principle of our Reformed faith. It is the plain teaching of our Confession of Faith, the Belgic Confession, in Article 7. That article speaks of the sufficiency of Scripture as the only rule of faith. Among other things, it states the following: "Neither do we consider of equal value any writing of men, however holy these men may have been, with those divine Scriptures, nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God; for the truth is above all; for all men are of themselves liars, and more vain than vanity itself." Nothing else, therefore, is to be placed in equal authority next to those Scriptures. Let that be established.
In the second place, I want to stress that exegesis is an exact science. There is much talk about science and about scientific evidence and about the exactness and fool-proofness of science in connection with this subject. And the position is sometimes taken that one must be a fool to quarrel with science's alleged discoveries and evidences, and that to disagree with what the scientists say, for example, about the age of the world is simply to fly in the face of facts and incontrovertible evidence. We shall return to this subject in particular in our next chapter. But at present I want to emphasize, over against that attitude, that the exegesis of Holy Scripture is a science also. It is the practical science of the interpretation of Scripture. In fact, if there was ever any science that was exact and that requires exactitude, it is the science of exegesis. Exegesis takes place according to certain definite rules. The most fundamental of those rules is that Scripture itself must interpret Scripture. That is a very simple, but a very fundamental rule. Scripture must speak for itself. Our interpretations must indeed be interpretations. They must not stand in the way of the speech of Scripture. An interpretation of Scripture must be the one, necessary interpretation that is demanded by Scripture itself.
Moreover, exegesis must be unbiased. Science likes to speak of this being unbiased, unprepossessed, as a fundamental tenet of the scientific method. We may accept that in the good sense of the word. And we do accept that also with application to exegesis. All exegesis of Scripture must be unbiased. The exegete must approach Scripture absolutely without any prepossession, except the prepossession, the bias, of faith. He must put away everything except that faith. He must not attempt to say something of himself about that Word of God, but he must let the Word of God speak. The bias of faith means that he is prepared to listen and to bow unconditionally before the authority of Scripture.
That must be our approach.
We are now ready to turn to a description and criticism of the various views concerning the creation record.
Among the various non-literal interpretations, there are some which we may immediately rule out. They are not maintained in any orthodox church. They are not only non-literal, but they are altogether non-Biblical. They are unbelieving. They are far-fetched in relation to the Biblical record. They are distant, too, as far as maintaining any truth of creation is concerned. And the reaction of the Bible-believing child of God is spontaneously against these theories. The mythical theory is among these. That is the theory that Genesis is a myth, Israel's national myth concerning the origin of things. Many ancient nations had such myths, according to this theory; and Israel also had such a myth, possibly borrowed from one or more of the other nations. That is unbelief. It involves higher criticism. It denies the divine inspiration and infallibility of the Genesis record. Faith cannot even consider such a theory. Among these I would also classify the allegorical and poetical theories. They not only deny the literal character of the Genesis record; but they deny the historicity of creation altogether. These theories are not very much in vogue today. But we need not concern ourselves with these theories for the simple reason that they are too obviously contrary to the entire presentation of Genesis: they do not even have a semblance of being interpretations, but are superimposed upon the text. There is not the slightest hint in Genesis itself, nor anywhere in Scripture, that we are dealing with an allegory or with poetry in the first chapter of Genesis. I would also include in this group the saga theory of Karl Barth. We need not go into detail as to this theory. But we do not have to be troubled by it because of the fact that Barth, after all, denies the infallibility of Scripture. On the basis of that denial there simply is no common ground for discussion.
However, there are several more proximate and more current theories.
First of all, there are three theories that are known as the concordistic theories.
The first of these is known as the restitution theory, the theory that in Genesis 1:1 there is recorded the creation of a first world, but that following that first creation there was a series of mighty catastrophes which destroyed it and left it "without form and void," (vs. 2), and that out of this desolation was created by a second creation-act the present universe. This theory is not very popular at present, at least in as far as it presents the present world as a restitution of a previous world. Its advantage is supposedly that it leaves a very indefinite time-gap between verse 1 and verse 3 of Genesis 1; it leaves room for a long period of time. However, it also has a notable disadvantage for the theistic evolutionist in that it does not leave enough room for his theory and especially does not leave room in the remainder of creation-week. And the progressivist, or evolutionist, needs such room throughout creation-week, and not only on the first day or before the first day.
Undoubtedly the most popular and widely accepted of these concordistic theories is the period theory. It claims to interpret the term "day" in Genesis 1 as a period of hundreds of millions of years. Each of the six successive days of creation week was such a long period. And thus this theory makes room, as far as the crucial time element is concerned, for the possibility of a so-called theistic evolution, or progressive creation. All things came into being, not in six regular days (which is impossible, according to this theory), but over the course of billions of years. We should note that it is the claim of this theory that this is an interpretation of the term "day" in Genesis 1. All of these theories, of course, claim to be interpretations. I deny that they are indeed interpretations, that they are legitimate exegesis of the text of Scripture. But we merely note now that this is the claim of the period theory.
There is a third theory which does not tamper with the days of creation week themselves, but inserts between those days, -- between the first and the second days, between the second and the third days, etc., a period of many millions of years. This is known as the inter-period theory. This theory also allows the necessary time for a process of evolution. However, this theory is not very commonly held today.
Finally, as far as the more proximate non-literal interpretations are concerned, there is what is called the framework theory. The theory itself is not new; but recently it has become more popular among those who do not hold to the literal interpretation. To be fair, I want to let an advocate of this theory tell us himself what he means by it. The following is quoted from Dr. N.H. Ridderbos's book, "Is There A Conflict Between Genesis 1 And Natural Science?" (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich.), p. 45:
By the framework-hypothesis I mean the following. In Genesis 1 the inspired author offers us a story of creation. It is not his intent, however, to present an exact report of what happened at creation. By speaking of the eightfold work of God he impresses the reader with the fact that all that exists has been created by God. This eightfold work he places in a frame work; he distributes it over six days, to which he adds a seventh day as the day of rest. In this manner he gives expression to the fact that the work of creation is complete; also that at the conclusion of His work God can rest, take delight in the result; and also (cf. pp. 40-42) that in celebrating the Sabbath man must be God's imitator. The manner in which the works of creation have been distributed over six days is not arbitrary (see pp. 32-35).
Let us stop to analyze the above quotation for a moment. I trust that I need not state that it is not my intention to impugn anyone's motives In this criticism, least of all those of Dr. Ridderbos. I am not interested in that in the least. In fact, I do not know Dr. Ridderbos, except from some of his writings. I am merely interested in an analysis and criticism of these theories.
Concerning the above description of the framework hypothesis, let me point out that this theory seems to succeed in maintaining that Genesis is inspired. It speaks of the inspired author. It seems, too, to maintain that creation is historical, that is, that it actually took place. To that extent it is history. But note, first of all, that Genesis 1 is called "a story of creation." In this connection, too, it is claimed that it is not the author's intent "to present an exact report of what happened at creation." Note, in the second place, that it seems to preserve the idea of the six days of creation week. However, those six days are only a literary framework in which God's work of creation is placed by the inspired author. They are not the framework in which the work of creation actually took place, but the literary framework in which the report of creation has been placed by the author of Genesis. In other words, this framework of six days is not a reported historical event, but something that has been imposed upon the divine work of creation. The days are not real. Genesis 1, according to this theory, says absolutely nothing about the actual time and order of creation. It tells us nothing whatsoever about how long it took to create, or when God created, or whether God actually created in six days. This theory leaves the whole question of the exact historical event of creation and the time of creation and the duration of the creative work wide open, wide open for the theory of theistic evolution, with some of whose proponents this framework hypothesis has become rather more popular than the period theory. This framework hypothesis solves all the troublesome problems of the theistic evolutionist, in effect, by getting rid of the problems.
Next, there are some more literal theories. One such theory is the theory that the days of creation week were real days, but not ordinary days. This is the view of Dr. G. Ch. Aalders. Concerning this "real days" which were not ordinary days, he writes: "They need not have lasted longer than our days, they may have been much shorter; they may by our chronometric standards have lasted only a few seconds." I have a great deal of difficulty understanding such a presentation. Again, I am not impugning anyone's motives. But I cannot understand the necessity for such a presentation. What are real days which are not ordinary days ? What is the meaning of such an expression? Our only point of comparison for the conception of a "real day" is the day that we know, that is, an ordinary day. In other words, when Scripture speaks of days and in every way refers to those days in terms of the only days that we know, we have no recourse but to understand those days as ordinary days. Those are the only real days that we know. This, of course, is entirely apart from the question whether those days were extraordinary, not ordinary, from the point of view of their events.
Other exegetes hold to the view that creation took place in six ordinary days; but they do not consider this question of the days to be a crucial issue of interpretation, and they do not regard it as binding that the days were indeed six ordinary days.
In distinction from all of the above theories stands what I call the literal interpretation of the Genesis record ( sometimes called the realistic view), namely: that God created the universe on six successive days, limited by morning and evening, -- six real, ordinary days like our days of twenty-four hours.
Now the question confronts us how to evaluate and judge these various theories.
I do not intend in this connection to criticize each theory in detail and to examine the various arguments advanced in support of each. Nor do I intend to examine and to answer every objection that is raised against the literal interpretation. That could be done very successfully, I am sure. But that would make our discussion in this connection far too lengthy; and, what is more important, that is not necessary at all. I want to get down to something more fundamental.
I ask the reader to consider these theories with me, to take up these theories with Genesis 1 in hand. Some of these theories are elaborately devised. Some of them have what are claimed to be Scriptural arguments behind them. But let us put them to the test of Scripture, the test of Scripture without anything additional, the test of Scripture approached unprepossessed, except for faith, --the test of Scripture as any ordinary child of God can read those Scriptures and understand them.
What is the conclusion?
Take, for example, the period theory.
Genesis 1 speaks of six successive days in which God created. It speaks of days that are delineated by evening and morning. It speaks already with respect to the first day of a distinction between the light and the darkness, between day-time and nighttime. Can those days, -- that is a simple question, -- can those days by any stretch of the imagination, no, by any stretch of exegesis, be changed into periods of hundreds of millions of years? Is that actually a matter of interpretation? Can an appeal properly be made to the idea that this is all a matter of how one "interprets" Genesis 1 ?
To ask such a question is really to answer it.
By definition such an "interpretation" is impossible. A day, particularly a day delineated by morning and evening and consisting of day-time and night-time, simply is not a period of years, of millions of years. A year itself is already a large number of days; and a period of millions of years certainly cannot properly be described as such a day. That is plainly the case by definition.
You can test that theory and test the above objection by paraphrasing the text in Genesis in terms of periods. Let us try that. Let us read Genesis 1 as though it spoke of periods of hundreds of millions of years. It does not even begin to make sense. What becomes of a verse like Genesis 1:5 when you do that? What do you get? This: "And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first two hundred million years." Or again, in Genesis 1:8: " .... And the evening and the morning were the second two hundred million years." Or try that with the Fourth Commandment, which makes clear reference to the creation ordinance: "...Six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God (already here, according to sound exegetical practice, you would have to change these "days" to periods, H.C.H.) .... For in six periods of two hundred million years the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh period of two hundred million years: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath period of two hundred million years, and hallowed it." Very obviously, this "interpretation" is absurd! It is sheer nonsense! It cannot legitimately be called an interpretation. But remember: Genesis 1 is Scripture! Perspicuous Scripture! Any child of God is able to read it and understand it! And I ask: what becomes of perspicuous Scripture when it must be "understood" in this fashion?
I am well aware that other claims are made in connection with this period theory. The attempt is made to give it some Scriptural and exegetical foundation. But these attempts fail, one and all. For example, appeal is made to a text like II Peter 3:8: "But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." Now, apart from any other considerations, apart from the fact that the text is obviously speaking basically of God's eternity and of the fact that God does not view time as we view it, let it be noted that in this argumentation the last part of this text is conveniently overlooked: "....and a thousand years as one day." But, above all, let it be noted that the text in Peter does not identify one day and a thousand years, but compares the two with respect to God: "...one day is with the Lord AS a thousand years, and a thousand years AS one day." Appeal is also made to the sabbath of the seventh day. The claim is made that when Scripture tells us that God rested on the seventh day, that day cannot possibly be taken as a twenty-four hour day. For the sabbath never ends for God: He does not rest for twenty-four hours, but eternally. Now that argument is exegetically specious: for the sabbath of the seventh day can only be the revelation of God's eternal rest into which man enters in time. But let us accept the proposed exegesis of the period theoreticians for a moment. If you apply that argument, you soon discover that it proves far too much. For the result is not periods of a few hundred million years, but unending periods. If the sabbath of the seventh day is unending, then all the first six long periods were unending. This is the only possible conclusion, on the basis of the sound rule of exegesis that the same term in the same connection means the same thing unless there are clear reasons in the text and context why it should not mean the same thing.
The same fundamental objection may be applied to the framework theory as to the period theory. It claims to have some arguments in its favor. But I submit, first of all, that if you take that framework theory in hand and put away your theistic evolutionary eye-glasses, your prepossessions, and put out of your mind for the moment so-called scientific evidences, and simply read Scripture and let Scripture speak then that framework hypothesis simply does not fit the text of Genesis. It is preposterous! You cannot find a hint of it in the text. Again, without impugning anyone's motives, I say that that framework hypothesis from an exegetical point of view, when you read the simple record of Genesis 1, leaves the impression of being a cunningly devised fable! Nothing less!
What an altogether strange impression the infallible and perspicuous Word of God in Genesis 1 must make on the unsuspecting reader if the framework hypothesis is true! How altogether impossible it becomes to read any historical account and to grasp its fundamental meaning and message if this is the way that Scripture must be read! One would always have need of an expert theologian and exegete near at hand if the Scriptures were to be read in this fashion. Genesis 1 leaves no other impression than that of an exact report of the wonderful work of creation day by day. But when we read it, according to this theory, we must always remember that it is a creation story, not an exact report. It does not actually tell us what God did. You can distill out of it the fact that somehow all that exists has been created by God. You can extract from it that the work of God was eightfold. You can conclude from it that the work of creation is complete, that at the conclusion of it God can rest, can take delight in the result, and that in celebrating the Sabbath man must be God's imitator. But that is all. When all is said and done, you know nothing as to what actually took place or how it took place. Moreover, when Genesis speaks of six days and leaves on any reader no other impression than that they were six days, you must nevertheless remember that there were not really six days, but that the scheme of six-plus-one-days is only an artificial scheme, a literary framework, in which the very vague and inexactly reported work of creation is fitted.
I say again: how strange! How impossible it becomes to read and understand Scripture in this way!
Again, I am aware that the attempt is made to find Scriptural support for the possibility of such a framework interpretation. Something akin to such a framework, for example, is supposed to be found in "the book of the generation of Jesus Christ" in Matthew 1. As is well known, Scripture there presents an artificial, or schematic, arrangement of the generations of Jesus Christ, not an exact chronological and genealogical line. Some generations are skipped. You find there three times a set of fourteen, or two-times-seven, generations. But there are some important factors which should be considered here. In the first place, what we find in Matthew 1 is far from a literary framework. It is correct that certain generations are skipped, and that due to these omissions there is no exact chronological and genealogical line in Matthew 1. But does that make it a framework? By no means: for the over-all presentation is nevertheless that of a progressive genealogy from Abraham to Christ. That is far different from the vague literary framework which is postulated for Genesis 1. In the second place, Scripture itself suggests that in Matthew 1 we have a schematic arrangement of the generations of Jesus Christ: for in verse 17 of that chapter we read specifically: "So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations." Besides, in the third place, we have the evidence of Scripture itself in the Old Testament that there are indeed generations that have been omitted from the series in Matthew. Hence, in Matthew 1 you do not find an instance of Scripture fraudulently foisting a story which is not exact upon an unsuspecting reader, as is the case with the framework hypothesis of Genesis 1. Nor is it difficult at all to interpret Matthew 1 in complete harmony with the fundamental rule of exegesis that Scripture must interpret Scripture, a rule which is violated by the framework hypothesis as imposed on Genesis 1 without any ground and without any occasion being offered by Scripture itself and without any clear and incontrovertible Scriptural warrant.
This, negatively, is the significance of the principle that we must proceed exegetically with respect to Genesis 1. One must not merely impose alleged interpretations upon Scripture. He must not merely suggest possible, abstractly possible, explanations. He must show by incontrovertible evidence from the text, from the immediate context, and from the broader context of the whole of Scripture, that a given explanation is the only possible meaning of the text, that it is on a Scriptural basis absolutely necessary. Moreover, in order to make way for such an other-than-literal interpretation, he must first show with incontrovertible evidence from Scripture itself not from science, or from claimed scientific data that the literal interpretation is impossible, absolutely impossible, and that therefore Scripture itself demands some other kind of interpretation.
That is sound exegetical practice. That is responsible exegesis. That is, if you will, "scientific."
On the above basis, the literal interpretation stands.
He did not providentially control and cause all things to develop in that creation work. He did not operate through second causes and according to natural laws, as He is sometimes presented as doing in His work of providence. The work of creation and the work of providence, both of them divine works, are not to be confused. In creation God does not uphold and govern all things according to so-called natural laws,-- more properly, creation ordinances. No, He laid down those creation ordinances in the beginning.
He created! He spoke, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast. By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. God spoke. He spoke His Word of power. That was real speech. It was divine speech; but it was real, literal speech of God, producing what it uttered. "Let there be light .... let there be a firmament .... let the dry land appear .... let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree .... let there be luminaries in the firmament of the heaven .... let the waters bring forth abundantly .... let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind .... let us make man in our image," etc. And by that almighty speech of God all was produced. Moreover, all those creative works of God took place in six ordinary days: not because God needed twenty-four hours in order to create one kind of creature. He did not, no more than He needs millions of years. He is God, the Creator, Who spoke, and it was done! But, in the first place, it took place in six ordinary days simply because the Bible says so. That is all; and that is enough. That is enough for me; and that is enough for faith. I don't ask you to bow to me; I ask you to bow with me before simple Scripture. And, in the second place, we must remember that with that creation God also created time, and He increated in the entire universe the week, the six plus the one, the labor plus the sabbath. Thus, all creation is the direct product of His sovereign will.
Such is the presentation of Scripture. And not a hint of anything different is ever found in Scripture. Not so much as a hint! That can only come from outside of Scripture. This is not to say that there are no exegetical difficulties, problems, with respect to the details of the work of creation. There undoubtedly are some. Nor does the maintenance of the literal interpretation imply that we can comprehend, fathom, the wonderful work of God. God is incomprehensible in all His works. He is God, the God of the wonder! The creature can only fathom a speech which calls things which are; he cannot comprehend the speech of God whereby He calls the things which are not and whereby things which are made were not formed of things which do appear. Romans 4:17; Hebrews 11:3. But this in no wise detracts from the reality and the factualness of the wonder-work of God; and this is no wise gives warrant for any kind of naturalistic and evolutionistic presentation. All Scripture speaks one language with respect to creation and the creative act, turn where you will, to Genesis itself, to Hebrews 11, to John 1, to Colossians 1, to Psalm 33. They all speak the same language.
The result of that creative work of the Almighty was, first of all, that the whole creation, God's handiwork, the product of His Word, was very good, as it stood in its pristine perfection, under its first head and king, Adam. It was all designed to serve man, in order that man, reading God's Word in all the works of his Creator, might tell God's wonderful works and serve his God.
Still more. We must remember, -- because all this is intimately connected with the gospel, -- that from the historical point of that "very good" at the end of Genesis 1, at the conclusion of creation, the line is not the evolutionistic line onward and upward, from good to better to best. The line is downward. It is the line of the fall into sin and death and the curse. Why? Because God, with His first creation, had in view His better purpose, another purpose, some better thing, for us, His people in Christ Jesus. That first world was designed with a view to the second world, the better world, the heavenly creation, where all things shall be united in Christ Jesus our Lord. That first world was designed to serve as the stage for the beautiful drama of sin and grace, the drama of redemption. It was to serve as the stage for the perfect realization of God's everlasting covenant of grace in Christ Jesus. And thus, created by God's hand, and therefore providentially controlled by His hand, that world moves from the bereshith the beginning, of Genesis 1, to the telos, the end of all things, the final consummation, in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. It can do so because it is God's world. It shall do so because it is God's world. Then He Who created all things in the beginning shall make all things new in the way of the final catastrophe and the final wonder of grace. Then all the scoffers, who maintain that things continue as they were in the beginning, shall be put to nought; and God's people shall sing the praises of their Creator forever.
In that sense, this is my Father's world, -- the world of "the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (who of nothing made heaven and earth, with all that is in them; who likewise upholds and governs the same by his eternal counsel and providence)," and Who "is for the sake of Christ his Son, my God and my Father..." Heidelberg Catechism, Qu. 26.
This is the simple and perspicuous truth which we confess when we say, "I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth." This is the language, unencumbered by the compromising weight of any evolutionism or progressivism, which we find in Article 12 of our Confession of Faith: "We believe that the Father, by the Word, that is, by his Son, hath created of nothing, the heaven, the earth, and all creatures, as it seemed good unto him, giving unto every creature its being, shape, form, and several offices to serve its Creator." This is the speech of faith.
Finally, I can in my imagination hear some objections. What about all the scientific evidences? What about the results of natural science? With regard to this matter, I make bold to state, in the first place, that even if all those evidences cannot be explained, Scripture stands, and the believer must without compromise stand strictly on its basis. In the second place, however, I believe that the Genesis record, the literal Genesis record, and true science are entirely compatible. For a discussion of this, I invite you to turn to the next chapter.
But my concluding word is this: let the church, let the believer stand fast on this only foundation of Scripture!
Return to table of contents
By way of introduction, I wish to call attention to the formulation of the subject of this chapter, "Genesis and Science." The material of this chapter goes beyond the more limited subject of Creation and Science. To be sure, the maintenance of the creation doctrine in connection with some of the scientific data and evidences that have been collected and that are frequently used to deny the truth of creation is involved in this discussion. In a way this is even our chief interest in this discussion. However, a proper discussion of this subject must needs go beyond the creation record. To an increasing extent in current discussions, both on the part of those who deny the truth of creation and on the part of those who maintain it, the entire first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis have become involved. And, as will become evident later in this chapter, I certainly believe that a Christian view of science in relation to the truth of creation must take into account much more of Scripture, and particularly of Genesis, than the creation record of Genesis 1 and 2. Ultimately, of course, the whole principle of Scripture itself, but also essentially the whole content of Scripture becomes involved in this discussion. But we shall concentrate especially on Genesis in relation to science.
In the second place, I must needs emphasize that this chapter does not concern Genesis versus Science, or Science versus Genesis. That would imply that there is a conflict between the two; and I do not believe that there is such a conflict. Genesis and science, I believe, are quite compatible. As soon as you pervert science into a religion or set of beliefs which stands opposed to Genesis, then you no longer have science, but scientism. But Scripture and science, properly conceived, are compatible. Otherwise, it stands to reason, of course, that a Christian could never be a scientist. Hence, our discussion in this chapter centers on "Genesis and Science." We are interested in the relation between Genesis and science and between Genesis and some of the data which science has compiled and which are pertinent to this subject. We are also interested in Genesis in relation to some of the allegedly scientific conclusions that have been reached and that are maintained in connection with what Genesis teaches concerning creation.
The subject of this chapter, therefore, rather naturally arises in connection with the position taken in the previous chapter. There I took the position, strictly on the basis of Scripture, that the doctrine of creation must be literally maintained, and that, on the basis of clear and simple exegesis of the Word of God, it must be maintained that creation took placed in six real, ordinary days. I also suggested that perhaps this position raised questions in the minds of many concerning all the alleged scientific data and claimed scientific evidence which seem to contradict the literal creation doctrine. To those questions this chapter is devoted.
Before entering into the discussion of this subject, I wish to make a few observations as to my approach.
First of all, I want to insist, as I also maintained principally in the previous chapter, that the doctrine of creation, the literal creation doctrine, does not depend on science or on scientific evidences. Nor does it depend on one's ability or inability to explain any alleged scientific evidences to the contrary. This point I deem very important, and I hope this will become increasingly clear in the course of the discussion. But I want to emphasize this point from the outset. This is the strength of the Christian's position. His belief in the literal creation doctrine depends emphatically on the Bible, and on the Bible alone. Let me emphasize that very strongly in this way: even if I could not explain the data produced by science at all, I think it can be explained, by the way, -- but even if I could not explain it, even if no suggestion of an explanation could be made, I would nevertheless maintain the literal creation doctrine, solely on the basis of Scripture. To me, that is simply a matter of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.
I repeat: that is very important, and it constitutes the strength of the Christian's position. This has often been forgotten; and I think it is often forgotten today. People of God have allowed themselves to be swayed by influences other than the authoritative influence of Holy Scripture. That is per se wrong. It is a violation of the principle of the authority of Scripture. I am very well aware of the fact that there are scientists today, also Christian scientists, who sneer at that. They call it Fundamentalism, and they claim that it is three hundred years behind the times. That makes no difference to me, for the simple reason that this sneering constitutes neither a Christian attitude nor a sound argument.
This, therefore, is my starting-point in this chapter.
In the second place, although we are dealing in this chapter with science, I must emphasize that my approach is not that of a scientist. I am not a scientist. I would not even dare to call myself an amateur scientist. And I certainly do not write these lines as a scientist.
I do not, however, mention this as an apology, or excuse. Nor do I mention it because I have no respect for scientific disciplines and research. The contrary is true. I believe that science is proper and that scientific research is beneficial, yea, that science is necessary. Moreover, I believe that the area of science is a proper one for the Christian's labors. Let me make myself crystal clear on that point. I am not opposing science in this chapter.
But I mention this because it affects my approach to this subject. I happen to believe also that a good scientist can meet and destroy many of the arguments of an evolutionistic scientist on a scientific basis and can show those arguments to be grossly unscientific. In the course of this chapter I shall make a few passing references to such attempts. However, the emphasis of this chapter will not be on that aspect of our subject. That is not my sphere for the simple reason that I am not a scientist. Nor will my fundamental approach be the scientist's approach. But there is a deeper reason why that will not be my approach. Principally I believe that the heart of a sound defense of the faith, the heart of what is called in theology a sound apologetics, is Biblical, not rationalistic. And it is on that Biblical basis that I will approach the subject of this chapter. You might, of course, expect that of a preacher. Nevertheless that is very important. The question which confronts you and me with respect to every aspect of life, science included, is: what does the Word of God say?
We now turn to the subject: GENESIS AND SCIENCE. There are three aspects of this subject which we shall consider in the course of our discussion, as follows:
I. The Proper Relation Between Genesis and Science;
II. Scientific Data in the Light of Scripture;
III. Suggestions Toward a Positive Scriptural Approach.
In discussing the relation between Genesis and science we must, first of all, have a clear understanding of these terms. What is Genesis? And what is science?
As far as Genesis is concerned, I may be very brief. The previous two chapters have been devoted largely to this question and have dealt both with the authority and with the teaching of Genesis concerning creation. To summarize, Genesis is the infallible record of the revelation of God in Christ concerning the beginning of all things; Genesis is perspicuous, clear; and Genesis is literal sacred history, -- teaching, as far as our immediate subject is concerned, the literal creation doctrine expounded in the previous chapter.
The other subject under discussion here is science. What is meant by that?
The term "science" comes from the Latin word scientia, which simply means "knowledge." True science, therefore, is knowledge; and as a discipline aims at discovering knowledge. We must know more, however, than this mere derivation of the term. As a working definition of science from the formal point of view, the definition furnished by the Oxford Dictionary will serve our purpose. Science is "a branch of study which is concerned either with a connected body of demonstrated truths or with observed facts systematically classified and more or less colligated by being brought under general laws, and which includes trustworthy methods for the discovery of new truths within its own domain."
In connection with the preceding, I wish to point to a few significant items.
In the first place, science is concerned with facts and laws which have been demonstrated. It is important to remember this, so that we may understand that this is the limitation of all true science. All is not science that passes for science. Any alleged science or scientific conclusion that goes beyond this limitation of demonstrated or demonstrable facts and laws has no right to the name science. In close connection with this stands a second item, namely, that the scientific method involves the method of experiment and what is called "experimental reproducibility." In the third place, it lies in the very nature of science that it is strictly limited to the measurement and study of present phenomena and processes. Those things which can be or have been observed and studied in the present, or such data as have been recorded by men in the historic past (so that there is a historical record of them), -- such things are the proper object of scientific study and investigation and knowledge.
Exactly at this point it is necessary to point out emphatically that science, therefore, is not inference and is not speculation or speculative theory. Science is bound to observed facts and demonstrated truths; and it is limited to the present and the historic past. This is characteristic of science from a formal point of view, -- and science is, indeed, a very formal discipline. It is precisely at this juncture that one of the main problems from a formal and scientific point of view arises in connection with the subject of this chapter and in connection with evolutionistic theory. This is frequently forgotten. The attitude is assumed that evolutionism is highly scientific and that creationism is extremely unscientific (and I mean by creationism the belief in a literal six-day creation). The two are frequently made to oppose each other on this ground, as though the creationist blindly flies in the face of science. Also those who attempt to compromise between creationism and evolutionism like to present matters in this way, as though strict, Biblical creationism is scientifically absurd. We may well remember, however, that much of what is claimed to be science and scientific conclusion is not science whatsoever, but mere inference, speculative conclusion that has supposedly been made on the basis of and in the name of science. This is a good distinction to keep in mind, therefore, when approaching this entire discussion from a strictly formal, scientific point of view.
Although, however, we can accept the above definition from a formal point of view, we should nevertheless remember that this formal definition of science is rather barren. For a correct understanding of our subject it is necessary to probe a bit deeper into the nature of science in relation to Genesis.
From the deeper, spiritual point of view we must remember that true knowledge is always knowledge of God. "The knowledge of the Holy One is understanding," Proverbs says. And that also holds true for science. True science is ultimately concerned with the knowledge of God. It must stand in the service of the knowledge of God, and it must end in the knowledge of God. If it fails to do so, it is not true science. For that reason, even though science is a very formal discipline and even though as far as its formal methods are concerned science is much the same for believer and unbeliever, we must always keep in mind that science is more than a formal discipline. It includes, certainly, interpretation. The latter belongs with science. It includes not only the formal interpretation of certain data, but it includes the spiritual interpretation of it and the application of all the scientific data and conclusions with respect to the knowledge of God. In this sense of the word a very learned scientist may be a gross fool and an ignoramus if with all his scientific learning he does not end in the knowledge of God and is not subject to the knowledge of God as revealed in the Scriptures. In that case he is not truly a scientist, but the antithesis of a scientist. Let me point out in this same connection that this fact, that science is essentially knowledge of God, from the outset rules out evolutionistic science: for the science of the evolutionist exactly denies God. His science is no true knowledge because it is no knowledge of God. It is the opposite of knowledge; and the spiritual opposite of knowledge is the ignorance of the lie. It is principally at this point that the Christian comes to the parting of the ways with the evolutionist. This is the basic truth we must remember.
And therefore there is another question at stake here. That question is: what is the relation between Genesis, with its creation record, and science, with its scientific investigation and data, from a Biblical and spiritual point of view?
This is a quite different question, but a very important one.
This question involves, of course, the truth that God's revelation is two-fold. There is His revelation in Holy Scripture; and there is also His revelation in all the works of His hands. We must remember in this connection that God's revelation is one. There are not two different, unconnected revelations of God, but one revelation that is two-fold. To that second aspect, sometimes mistakenly called "general revelation," belong the entire universe and all the history of that universe, or, if you will, God's works in creation and in providence.
It would be worthwhile to expound this idea of God revelation in the works of His hands, as well as the relation between the two aspects of God's revelation, further; but that would take us too far from the main subject under discussion here.
What is especially important to note in this connection is the fact that it is with that book of God in nature, in creation, in the works of His hands, that every scientist works. He cannot avoid that. No matter what part of God's creation he labors with, no matter what branch of science he enters, he is working with God's book. When he takes up his scientific labors, he opens God's book. Figuratively speaking, as he conducts his scientific investigations and searches out the secrets of the universe, he is paging through God's book of nature, perusing it, even delving into its details and studying it very carefully. Whether he admits this or not, makes absolutely no difference as to the fact. The unbelieving scientist, of course, will never admit that when he labors in his particular branch of science, he is working with God's book. He rules that out from the beginning. He is an unbeliever. He will not admit that he is working with God's creation. Nevertheless, he is doing so. He is reading that book. In His creation God as it were puts that book before his eyes. And whether he acknowledges the Author of that book or not, and whether he has spiritual eyes to discern the real contents of that book or not, he is reading that book. He cannot avoid this.
This is the plain teaching of Scripture.
Let me refer you in this connection to Romans 1. That is a very important passage from many points of view. Moreover, it applies not only to the scientist, but to mankind in general. I have in mind especially verses 19 and 20, where you read exactly concerning the matter under discussion. Notice: "Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them. For God hath showed it unto them." Let us stop and take notice of this, first of all. The apostle is talking about the wrath of God revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness, vs. 18. And concerning these men he makes the statement that that which may be known of God is manifest not merely to them, but in them, and that the reason for this is that God takes care of it, God Himself hath showed it unto them. Hence, there is no man who can escape this knowledge of "that which may be known of God." Next, the apostle goes on to explain how God shows this unto them: "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen." Notice that: they are clearly seen. And how? The text says: "Being understood by the things that are made." That is creation, the universe, the works of God's hands. And what can be clearly seen? The text answers: " .... even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse." This therefore is Scripture's testimony about the things with which every natural scientist necessarily labors. He comes face to face with the testimony of God's eternal power and Godhead. And I emphasize again: this is true whether or not the scientist admits this.
There is still more. God takes care that man, -- every man, the unbeliever as well as the believer,- has sufficient natural light, natural understanding, power of intellect, to read that book of creation, and not only to read it, but to read it intelligently and to interpret it. Mark this: the invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood from the things that are made. That means that as far as that book is concerned and as far as man's power of mind and intellect is concerned, he can clearly see God's eternal power and Godhead in that book of nature, or book of creation. (I don't even like to call it a book of nature, but that is a term frequently employed.) This is a Scriptural fact. God takes care of this. God has showed it unto them, Romans says. And the man who reads that book of God must give an answer for what he reads. He is held responsible. For this passage in Romans tells us that this is the purpose and the result: "so that they are without excuse." Hence, man is left in the position that he can give an answer and that he must give an answer. And that answer ought to be this: that he acknowledges God's eternal power and Godhead and that he knows God and glorifies and thanks Him as God.
Let me insert here in parentheses the additional fact that the modern scientist, and modern man in general, in fact, has much more than this "book of creation." For he lives in the nominally Christian world; and in that nominally Christian world he has the Bible. In that Bible the truth concerning the origin and the nature of the entire world of created things with which the scientist labors is set forth, so that he is still more emphatically left without excuse. But I purposely want to emphasize the fact that the scientist works with God's "book of creation" because I want to emphasize that there is no disharmony between God's testimony of Himself as the Creator in the works of His hands and His testimony of Himself as the Creator in Scripture. One and the same God stands revealed in His two-fold revelation. And I also want to emphasize the fact that the scientist is always confronted by the necessity of giving a spiritual, ethical answer.
Now what takes place, first of all, when the unbelieving, ungodly, evolutionistic scientist reads God's book of creation?
Note: I do not say: when the scientist reads that book. But I say: when the unbelieving, evolutionistic scientist reads that book. We cannot simply lump all scientists together. There is a difference, a spiritual difference. From a spiritual point of view, every scientist begins with a bias, either the bias of faith or the bias of unbelief. And if he is consistent, he builds the entire structure of his science from that bias.
What does the ungodly and unrighteous, unbelieving, evolutionistic scientist do with God's book?
He can read it. He can see things in it. He can see very plainly. And he can see not merely so-called scientific facts and data; but he can read things in that book about God! Moreover, he reads very well. The scientist gathers data concerning the universe. Further, he classifies and interprets that data. And following that interpretation, he comes to a conclusion. And his conclusion is the exact opposite of what that book tells him. His conclusion is: "There is no God. There is no Creator. Things came of themselves; or things had no beginning. But there is no Creator God!"
You understand, that conclusion is a spiritual one. The reading and interpretation of God's book of creation is basically a spiritual matter. And the ungodly scientist's conclusion is not a matter of an intellectual lack. It is not due to the fact that in the natural sense of the word that man cannot read. He has his remnants of natural light. But the light that is in him from a natural point of view is from a spiritual point of view darkness. And because he is spiritually darkness, the ungodly scientist does not want God. And because he does not want God, he rules God out of His own book. That is what takes place spiritually. And if the light that is in a man be darkness, the Lord Jesus says, how great is that darkness! Or, as the Canons of Dordrecht in speaking about man's glimmerings of natural light put it: "But so far is this light of nature from being sufficient to bring him to a saving knowledge of God, and to true conversion, that he is incapable of using it aright even in things natural and civil. Nay further, this light, such as it is, man in various ways renders wholly polluted, and holds it in unrighteousness, by doing which he becomes inexcusable before God." Canons, III, IV, 4.
Such is the proper evaluation of unbelieving science and its conclusions from a Scriptural and Reformed point of view. This should be the evaluation which we as children of God maintain, not concerning science, but concerning unbelieving science.
The above represents the first aspect of the answer to the question of the relation between Genesis and science.
The practical significance of this is that as Christians we must not gullibly accept all that is presented in the name of science in this "scientific age." We must evaluate very critically and with spiritual discernment.
We are in this connection, however, more directly concerned with the science and the alleged scientific conclusions of the theistic evolutionist.
Very commonly these scientists, generally classified as Christian scientists, make one sad mistake. Their mistake is that they compromise with the science of the unbelieving, evolutionistic scientist who rules God out of His own book. My point is especially not that they compromise materially, compromise as to their teachings, with the result that they present an essentially contradictory mixture of evolutionism and theism. This they also do. But my point is that behind the compromise in their teachings is a mistaken, but very fundamental, compromise as to method.
The Christian scientist, of course, is bound to recognize the truth of God's two-fold revelation: in Scripture and in the works of His hands. He is also bound to the principle that God's revelation is essentially one, and that therefore there can be no contradiction in that two-fold revelation. Every Christian scientist is certainly compelled to recognize this. But, in the first place, the theistic evolutionist in his science fails to distinguish between the data of that book of creation, -- if you will, the words of that book where God spells His name in His creation, -- he fails to distinguish between that data and the unbelieving interpretation and method of interpretation of that data which the evolutionist follows. As a result, he follows the evolutionist all the way in his interpretation, until he comes to the conclusion. As a Christian, he cannot accept the evolutionist's conclusion. For at the point of that conclusion he confronts Scripture and his theistic faith. And then he is bound to say, of course: "No, that conclusion, namely, that there is no God, I don't want. I cannot accept that because I don't want to get rid of God." And thus you get the essentially contradictory teaching of theistic evolutionism.
But, secondly, what has happened to his method of science? What has happened to it, not from a formally scientific, but from a Biblical point of view? This has happened. In one form or another, he says that we have to take those two parts of God's revelation together, side by side. We must take God's revelation in His book of creation and His revelation in Scripture side by side. Put in this form, that sounds rather innocent. But as a matter of practice (and also principle), he ends by adjusting the Scriptures to the supposedly scientific conclusions which he has read or which others have read to him out of that book of creation. It is right here that we have the core of the whole problem; and it is at this point that the fundamental mistake is made, a mistake that is theological in its nature. That error has to do with the relation between God's revelation in "nature" (with which science deals directly) and God's revelation in Scripture.
Numerous examples which illustrate this error can be produced. As a concrete illustration of what I mean I wish to quote from "Beyond the Atom," by Dr. John De Vries (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich., 1950). The following quotation is from pages 37 and 38:
The Christian recognizes that there are two documents, with regard to the formation of the universe and its inhabitants, at his disposal. The first, and most important, of these is the Bible, which comes to us with the authority of its sacred inspiration. This revelation fitly opens with a brief account of the creation of the material world, animated nature and man himself. Side by side, we have another manifestation of the same divine mind, the book of nature, itself the work of God, which is open to our curious gaze. To man alone, among all created beings, has been granted the privilege of reading in it. This he does by patient and intelligent researches. Both these books are legitimate sources of knowledge, but we must learn to read them aright. We should not hope to gain, much less ask, from science the knowledge it can never give, nor seek from the Bible the science which it does not intend to teach. As the opening chapter of this volume seeks to demonstrate, we should receive from the Bible, on faith, the fundamental truths to which science cannot attain. The results of scientific research must serve as a running commentary to help us to correctly understand the comprehensive statements of the Biblical account. Only in this way can we truly see that the two books, given to us by the same author, do not oppose, but complete each other. Together they form the whole revelation of God to man.
Apart from any other elements in the above quotation about which I have serious doubts, there is one statement which is altogether erroneous. It is this: "The results of scientific research must serve as a running commentary to help us to correctly understand the comprehensive statements of the Biblical account." Put in plain language, this statement means that science,--what we read out of the book of creation and what we derive by way of interpretation of that book of "nature", must explain the Bible. Scientific theories and conclusions must rule Scriptural exegesis. The book of God in creation must interpret the book of God in Scripture. This method is exactly a case of putting the cart in front of the horse. At root it is a denial of the sole authority of Scripture. The reader must understand that I am not interested in any personal attack on the author of the above quotation. I am only interested in the position which he sets forth here and with which I am compelled to disagree. But this is an error that is very commonly committed in defining the relation between Scripture and science, especially with regard to the subject of creation, the age of the universe, etc.
The disquieting result of this erroneous method is that the plain teaching of Genesis, which ought to be normative for our Christian science, is set aside or twisted in order to make Genesis conform to what science likes to have it say. And that twisted version of Genesis is then presented as a matter of legitimate interpretation.
Today there are those who carry this method very far, also in the Reformed community. There are those who accommodate themselves wholly to the evolutionistic theories and who make an altogether absurd attempt to accommodate Genesis and its creation record to these evolutionistic theories. Dr. Jan Lever, zoologist at the Free University of Amsterdam, is guilty of this. Not only does he place the first man far back in the dim reaches of pre-history, but he holds that it is exegetically proper to teach that some pre-human animal became human, and that man was Adam. Dr. J. Stellingwerf in a more recent book ("0orsprong en toekomst van de creatieve mens") does not hesitate to teach that Adam was not the first man. In fact, both at home and abroad, both among scientists and theologians, the individual who maintains a strict attitude of no compromise with evolution or theistic evolution and who insists upon the literal creation doctrine is becoming increasingly rare. If you are at all inclined to observe tendencies, you will observe that the tendency to subject Scripture to science and to substitute theistic evolution for creation is becoming stronger and stronger and steadily more radical, so that eventually any similarity between these scientific conclusions and Genesis and between the supposed interpretation of Genesis and the plain language of the book of Genesis itself becomes strictly coincidental.
It is against this fundamentally wrong approach and this basically low evaluation of Holy Scripture that I want to warn, first of all. This is probably the most serious aspect of the discarding of the creation doctrine in this "age of science." Eventually, following this rationalistic method and approach, all of the miraculous and all of Scripture will be discarded. Such is the lesson of church history also. Many an individual and many a church has trod that path before. Let the church take warning!
From a spiritual, ethical point of view, the wrong in this approach is that it constitutes an attempted compromise between light and darkness, between faith and unbelief, between revealed truth and human philosophy, between the church and the world. And the two simply will not mix. Unbelief and faith, also in the sphere of science, stand antithetically over against each other. It is high time that Christian scientists recognize this and act on it resolutely.
Having engaged in a rather lengthy negative criticism with respect to this relation between Genesis and science, I now present the positive and proper approach. It is very simple.
The Christian begins, -- and he not only begins, but he also ends, -- on the basis of the absolute authority of Scripture. That is simple, so simple that many a scientist would probably call it simplistic. That does not worry me. I want to maintain strictly the absolute authority of Holy Writ; and any tendency not to maintain that authority indeed worries me.
One does not have to maintain that Scripture is a science textbook in order to maintain this position. Everyone knows that the Bible is not a science textbook. It does not speak scientific language, and it does not present a scientific analysis of things. When it records the creative work, it very evidently does not do so from the viewpoint of an astronomer and his telescope, for example, but from the viewpoint of the earth as the habitation of man and as the center and stage of all history. I am afraid, however, that the whole idea that there are some who teach or who are compelled by their view to maintain that the Bible is a science textbook is an attempt to ridicule the adherence to the authority of Scripture and its creation record, an attempt to reduce that position to absurdity. But it is a poor attempt. The question is not whether the Bible is a science textbook, but whether the Bible records facts, and whether the Bible speaks accurately. The latter must certainly be maintained at all costs. And then, when it comes to the interpretation of the data of the universe, and when it comes to matters of the origin of things and the manner of their origin, and when it comes to the matter of the destiny of things (inextricably bound up in the whole evolution theory), Scripture speaks! And Scripture speaks inerrantly! Let us never forget this. And science must bow to that speech of Scripture, or it is not even true science!
That means, as far as method is concerned, that the believing scientist interprets God's book of creation, so-called revelation in nature, by faith in the light of Holy Scripture. He does not reverse this relationship. He does not come with his science to Scripture, and, discovering that the two apparently do not agree, say to himself, "Well, I will have to adjust my interpretation of Scripture to fit my science and my scientific data." He comes with his science to Scripture, and he is willing to bow before the Scriptures with his science. And if apparently there is disharmony between the two, he says, "I will have to re-examine and adjust my science and my scientific conclusions so that they are in harmony with Scripture."
That fundamental principle may never be violated. You may not even say, "We will put the two, science and Scripture, side by side, treat them on equal terms." That is not Reformed, and it is not in harmony with the principle of Scripture's authority. In the Reformed faith, the faith of the Scriptures, there is nothing of equal authority with the Scriptures. That is the language of Article 7 of the Confession of Faith: "Neither do we consider of equal value any writing of men, however holy these men may have been, with those divine Scriptures, nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God; for the truth is above all; for all men are of themselves liars, and more vain than vanity itself."
Finally, I would caution that the Christian should keep his Christian sense of perspective in this age of science. We live in an age that is widely characterized as the "age of science." And generally speaking, worldly science is full of vainglory, full of the pride of life, especially in this space age. The world boasts that there are practically no limits to what science can accomplish. The Christian should remember, however, even apart from the truth that the natural man holds his natural light in unrighteousness, that fallen man has only remnants, glimmerings, of natural light. His ability to probe into that book of the universe is after all very limited. The great, self-exalted modern man is but a very puny and limited creature, for all his boasting. And the Christian must beware, even from this point of view, that he does not idolize science.
We are now ready, having discussed the more basic issue of the principles and the methods involved, to turn to the subject of the scientific data and alleged scientific evidences, or proofs, which are brought to bear against the literal creation doctrine and which are frequently claimed to make the maintenance of that literal creation doctrine utterly foolish and impossible. Undoubtedly it is this aspect of our subject in which there is the most popular interest even though, at least in my opinion, it is not the most fundamental aspect of the subject. Undoubtedly, too, there are many people of God who are somewhat dazzled by these claims from scientific quarters and who are somewhat awed by what is claimed to be and what may superficially seem to be overwhelming and fool-proof evidence. From this point of view it may be fruitful to consider these claims of scientists.
It is not my purpose to present an elaborate and detailed account of these alleged proofs of science, but rather a comprehensive summary; and I will try to do so without becoming overly technical. I assume that most of my readers are not scientists any more than I am.
There are various kinds of data and alleged proofs against the literal creation doctrine and in favor of evolution that have arisen from several rather closely related sciences.
There is, first of all, the science of what is called historical geology. It is not accurate to speak of it simply as geology. For geology is a legitimate science which enters into many more areas than this one. Historical geology is the study, simply put, of the rock strata, the layers of rock in God's creation. On the basis of that study it sets up a geological column, in which, it is claimed, the various layers of rock are placed in their proper historical order, according as they were deposited in time. I probably ought to remind you that there is no such thing anywhere in the world as a geological column. That column is theoretical; it is an idea. Nowhere can you find all of the strata that are supposed to be in that geological column and in the fixed order which is theoretically assigned to them. In fact, if every layer were given its theoretical maximum size, and if then all the layers were piled up on one another, it is claimed that there would be a column of a hundred miles deep. But that column is not found anywhere in creation. There are scattered data all over the world on which this theory is built up. Moreover, in connection with that geological column there is a time scale set up which goes back in terms of billions of years.
Secondly, there is the science that is called paleontology. This is the science which makes a study of what are called fossils. It does this in conjunction with historical geology and with a view to establishing various ages in history and "pre-history," as it is called, back into those dim billions of years. This study is supposed to show an evolution in the realm of the living creature; and a conclusion is drawn from this study of fossils according to which an evolution in the rock strata is also established.
In the third place, we may mention anthropology. That is also the name of a theological discipline; but in this connection it refers to the study of man's evolution. It busies itself particularly with the ancient forbears of modern man, with prehistoric man and with various supposed specimens of prehistoric man. Such alleged pre-historic men are supposed to have lived in various parts of the world hundreds of thousands and even millions of years ago.
The science of archeology, or historical archeology, is also to be mentioned here. Archeology busies itself with finding and digging up remnants and evidences of past civilizations. It is a perfectly legitimate study in itself, of course. But in this connection historical archeology is interested in finding evidences of ancient civilizations and producing proofs or indications of human civilizations as far back as possible, beyond any limits of recorded history, and especially beyond the commonly acknowledged limits of Biblical history.
Finally, we may mention the science of astronomy, the study of the heavenly luminaries. In connection with our subject, astronomy is used in reasoning from the claimed distances of the heavenly lights and the time that it requires for light to travel, in order to make a mathematical computation of how long it would have taken for light to reach our earth from a given distant star, and thus to draw the conclusion as to the extreme age of the world.
In connection with the above scientific studies, especially in comparatively recent times, a great appeal has been made to various methods of what is called "radio-active dating." Especially because of these dating methods the evidences produced by science are alleged to be virtually unassailable. There have been various attempts at dating the universe before the advent of atomic science and these radio-active dating methods. But the latter are supposed to be very accurate and reliable. I will mention and explain these methods briefly and non-technically.
First of all, there are various methods which are used with respect to inorganic, mineral matter. Various chemical elements are radio-active to a certain degree; and they have a tendency to disintegrate into other elements, or isotopes. The rate of that disintegration can be measured. Hence, if there is a mineral containing both the parent substance and the daughter element, as it is called, then science can compute the time period, it is claimed, during which that daughter element has been accumulating by that process of disintegration. The reader has undoubtedly heard of or read about some of these methods. There are methods that involve the disintegration of uranium and thorium into radium and helium and lead; that involve the disintegration of rubidium into strontium; and of potassium into argon and calcium. Recently, too, there has been mention made of a method called glass fission track dating.
In the second place, there is also the Carbon-14 method of radiological dating, which is applied to organic materials and which is said to be useful for relatively "shorter" periods of time,--according to some, under 60,000 years. Wood items, for example, can be dated by this method, which is used especially in the dating of ancient civilizations.
On the basis of all these studies and these methods of dating, allegedly highly accurate conclusions are reached. Today the conclusion is reached that the universe is four and one-half billion years old. Four and one-half billion! And the conclusion is reached also that man and civilization of one kind or another are much older than the six to ten thousand years within which the creation-doctrine is usually presented.
What must the Christian say of all this?
The claim is, of course, that all this evidence is very scientific and very accurate, that it is compelling evidence, and that the creationist cannot possibly escape its force, and that this scientific evidence is the downfall of the creationist doctrine, especially of the literal-creationist doctrine.
Let us consider this, first of all, in the light of the principles discussed in the first part of this chapter. What do scientists do with this alleged evidence in relation to Scripture?
The rank evolutionist, of course, does not care about Scripture. He chooses in favor of his scientific data and his alleged evidence, and he discards anything Scripture may have to say. In fact, he mocks at the Bible. But remember, too, that the evolutionist discards God's book of creation. For that book of creation plainly testifies of God; but with his unbelieving science he denies the very testimony of the data which he studies and on which he claims to base his proof. All the data point, according to Scripture, in one way or another, to God's eternal power and Godhead, to the Creator. The evolutionist denies this, and he denies God; and he worships and serves the creature rather than the Creator!
In the case of the theistic evolutionist we face something different; and I am convinced that we face something more dangerous and insidious. The theistic evolutionist, of course, cannot discard Scripture, not if he wants to remain a "theist." He cannot overtly discard Scripture and its creation record. What, then, is he compelled to do in order to maintain the evolutionism which he alleges his science compels him to believe? He must adjust the Genesis record to fit his science. He believes that his scientific data, which he equates with God's revelation in nature, must serve as a running commentary on Scripture, not that Scripture must serve as an infallible guide in his scientific investigations. As a result, he makes room in creation week for four and one-half billion years; and he makes room in the work of creation for a process of evolution, or progressive creation, as he likes to call it sometimes.
That very method and approach is wrong!
Principally, this is following a rationalistic method, the result of which is contrary to the plain and authoritative teaching of Scripture. Remember: scientism must get its billions of years into Scripture's creation week. It does not help to get these long periods of time into history after the week of creation: for at the end of that week all things were finished, according to Scripture. But as soon as the theistic evolutionist attempts to introduce these four and one-half billion years into the Bible's creation week, he runs squarely into the Bible's testimony that it was a week, that creation took place in six days. Into that week his four and one-half billion years simply do not fit. Hence, by some exegetical sleight of hand he must force them to fit. And in the name of interpretation, which is not legitimate exegesis whatsoever, he gets rid of the six days and substitutes his long periods of evolution. That is not exegesis, but "eisegesis," what the Dutch call inlegkunde, a laying into the text of Scripture something that is not there and that the text does not say. Such is the rationalistic method of adjusting Scripture's record in order to make room for these alleged scientific conclusions.
The conclusion to which the Christian scientist should come is exactly the opposite. If his science leads him to conclusions which are plainly contrary to Scripture's testimony concerning the creation of all things and concerning the age of the universe, he should discard his conclusions as being impossible. That is not being unscientific; it is responsible Christian science. And he should re-examine his scientific data in the light of Scripture, in order to discover, if possible, the correct way of harmonizing his data and his evidence with Scripture. But even if and when it should prove impossible for him to harmonize his scientific data with the testimony of Scripture, he must allow Scripture to stand and take the position that somewhere along the line his scientific investigations have been faulty.
In the second place, in close connection with this subject stands the whole matter of Biblical chronology after creation. Somehow the ideas of so-called secular history have crept into Christian thinking, with the result that a place must be found in our Christian conception for a pre-history and for pre-historic civilizations, etc., while Scripture itself furnishes us with history from the beginning of the world. The entire relatively brief chronology which the Bible presents is often mocked as ridiculously impossible. It is claimed that the generations of Adam in Genesis 5 and the generations of Shem in Genesis 11 furnish nothing in the way of a chronology. It is asserted that the Bible is not interested in chronology (which is true in terms of mere telling of time, but which is not true as soon as one recognizes that this chronology is intimately connected with revelation and that all history is inseparably connected with time), and it is claimed that there are any number of untold generations that have been omitted in these records of Genesis. I assure you, however, that on an exegetical basis that Biblical chronology cannot be so lightly waved aside, and that on Biblical grounds it is very difficult, to say the least, to disprove a rather definite chronology of the prediluvian and immediate postdiluvian periods. And it is Biblical grounds which must be adduced, of course. And if on Biblical grounds that chronology would be stretched to the utmost, you could perhaps get ten thousand years as the age of the world. For myself, for many reasons I prefer to hold a much stricter view than that.
But now from a practical point of view, what is the Christian to think of science's alleged evidences?
First of all, I wish to make some observations as to the reliability of this alleged evidence. In this connection, although the attitude is frequently taken that it is preposterous to challenge this evidence, it should be remembered that the methods of science have changed many, many times. They have even changed in recent years. In my research on this subject I read somewhere that there have been over forty methods that have been tried, and one after the other discarded, in reaching these conclusions that the universe is very old. Over forty methods! Science has been very changeable. Science itself has had to admit that its research has been unreliable. The conclusions which various evolutionistic scientists have reached have changed also. At one time it was thought that the world was 57 million years old. Later a certain Lord Kelvin revised this to 20-40 million years. Then again the estimate was revised to 90-100 million years. Approximately ten years ago (this was after the advent of radiological dating) the most accurate conclusion reached on the basis of data at that time was supposed to be that the world was 2 billion years old. Today there are many who claim flatly that the universe is 4.5 billion years old; some make the figure 3 billion-plus; others say it should be 5 billion-plus. Don't forget that these very changeable conclusions certainly cast unfavorable reflections on their own reliability. Finally one is moved to ask: what does science want? The same is true with respect to the history of man. Estimates made via the Carbon-14 method range all the way from 35 to 70 thousand years, and some even lower.
Of course, all these figures are quite unimaginable, besides. I suppose science can find a certain amount of safety in these dim and unimaginable billions. But do you know what six thousand years is in relation to 4.5 billion years? It is comparable to one-tenth of one second in relation to a whole day. But that is supposed to be the relation between history and pre-history. It may well be mentioned that this whole conception is silly from the point of view of divine wisdom. It is worse than building a two-stall garage on the foundation of a skyscraper!
As I suggested earlier in this chapter, these claims of science may also very well be criticized from a scientific point of view. I shall leave that to scientists, who are much more capable of this than a non-scientist such as I. But I wish briefly to point out a few items here. First of all, scientists themselves, -- not in every case Bible-believing scientists, have frequently pointed out that these evidences are not as cut-and-dried as they have been presented to be. There have been red faces, for example, when living specimens of animals which were supposedly long extinct and pre-historic have been produced to contradict fossil evidence. Nor, for example, are scientists unanimous on the subject of the dating methods. Moreover, there is not only contradictory evidence, but there are also very principal arguments that can be raised solely on a scientific basis. For example, it can be argued that a fundamental law of science is the law of the conservation of matter, while the evolutionist needs the creation, the formation, of new matter. Another fundamental law of all science is the universal tendency towards disorder, disintegration, and decay, while evolutionism needs advancement and development and progress.
Above all, however, -- and this is my particular interest in this discussion, -- the entire evolutionary presentation, whether of non-theist or theist, comes into conflict with Scripture's testimony. On that basis alone, ultimately, it may not be countenanced by the Christian.
We may legitimately ask, however, whether there are no Biblical answers, positive solutions, to some of the problems and apparent conflicts between scientific research in this area and the testimony of Genesis. My answer is that there are indeed such solutions; and I wish to make a few suggestions of such a positive nature.
First of all, however, I must point out the error that is inherent in much scientific thinking with respect to our subject, an error into which the Christian scientist must not fall. I refer to what is called uniformitarianism. What is that? Permit me to quote a brief explanation from "The Genesis Flood," by J.C. Whitcomb, Jr. and H.M. Morris (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Mich.). On page 20 of the Introduction of this book, footnote 1, the following lucid explanation is given: "Uniformitarianism is the belief that existing physical processes, acting essentially as at present, are sufficient to account for all past changes and for the present state of the astronomic, geologic, and biologic universe. The principle of uniformity in present processes is both scientific and Scriptural (Gen. 8:22), but comes into conflict with Biblical revelation when utilized to deny the possibility of past or future miraculous suspension or alteration of those processes by their Creator." (Incidentally, one of the co-authors of the above work, Dr. Henry M. Morris, is also the author of a very fine paper at the 1965 convention of the Association for Christian Schools, Houston, Texas, entitled, "Science Versus Scientism In Historical Geology." In this paper also he treats the matter of uniformitarianism in a very lucid manner.) Uniformitarianism, therefore, is the hypothesis that all of these geologic processes and all of the processes involved in radiological dating, for example, have gone on all the time at the same exact rate for 4.5 billion years, so that they can be accurately measured and the age of things calculated on this basis. That is uniformitarianism in a formal sense. But what is it spiritually and theologically, in the light of Scripture? It is the doctrine and the language of the scoffers mentioned in II Peter 3:3 and 4: "....all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation." And not only can this hypothesis of uniformitarianism not be proved scientifically and on the basis of the very definition of science cited in the early part of this chapter; but the entire theory cannot stand the light of Scripture. Scripture's truth is that things very definitely have not continued as they were from the beginning.
With this background, l present a few positive suggestions.
First of all, Scripture presents in the creation narrative the picture of what may be called a full-grown creation, and therefore the picture of a creation with the appearance of age. When God made Adam, He did not make a baby or a baby in the womb, who was yet to reach maturity. He created a man and a woman, who were full-grown on the day of their creation. When God called the animals into existence, He did not bring them into existence through eggs, much less through a long evolutionary process. He called them out of the waters and out of the earth; and they stood there, mature, complete. When God formed the world of plants, He did not plant seeds; on the contrary, the chicken is before the egg, and the tree is before the seed. Don't overlook this: creation was full-grown. The same is true of the entire creation, inorganic as well as organic. In the very nature of the case, therefore, creation had the appearance of age when it was formed. Some people have said, "In that case God lies; He deceives men, and He fools science." But no: God cannot lie, and He does not lie. He has revealed His creative work very plainly, and He tells us what kind of creation He made. Man is the liar, not God!
In the second place, we must remember that science does not and cannot study the creation as it was originally formed. For we must remember that the universe which we study today is a universe radically changed at the time of the fall and through the curse. There are many indications of this in Scripture. And science should pay attention to the changes which Scripture itself points out. There was a drastic change in the domain of the animals, for example, at the time of the fall. There was also a change in man's dominion over the animals. And there was a change in the earth which was cursed. And there was a change in the food of man. According to Romans 8:19, the whole creation came under the bondage of corruption through the fall and the curse. Here is an area to be considered by Christian science.
In the third place, there was a radically different world before the Flood. That is Scripture's literal testimony, not my personal idea. The Bible tells us this. Take note of II Peter 3:5, 6: "For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished." That is clear and strong language, -- not "scientific" language, but nevertheless very clear and strong: "....the world that then was.... perished." There is such a difference between our world and the prediluvian world that the Bible speaks of it as another world, mind you! That past world was destroyed by the Flood, by a destruction that was comparable to and typical of the final catastrophic destruction of the world! We live in the world that now is, not in the world that then was. And there are many Scripturally noted differences between our world and that one. One of the most fundamental differences, according to II Peter 3, is that the former world stood in the water and out of the water. That world stood as close to the water, if I may make a comparison, as our world stands to the fire. The heavens and the earth that are now are reserved unto fire. Let Christian science study these differences.
In close connection herewith is the Flood itself. Many scientists,--and to their shame, many theologians too,--are continually criticizing the Biblical presentation of the Flood. They pick it apart and find all kinds of rationalistic grounds for the impossibility of that Flood and for the impossibility of its universality and for the impossibility of the ark. Biblically conceived, that Flood was in every way a tremendous catastrophe, an awful divine intervention, and at the same time a miracle, a wonder of grace. It was all miraculous. It was catastrophic. It was the outpouring of the wrath of God upon a wicked world. And unbelieving science has great difficulty, of course, with the miraculous, But Scripture points to this catastrophe in many ways, as well as to the changes which took place at this time. Consider only this Scriptural fact, that "the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened," according to Genesis 7:11. That Flood was no ordinary rain which was extraordinarily long. But let Christian science consider in the light of Scripture the changes wrought in the universe at the time of the Flood. Accept the truth of the Flood, for example, and what becomes of uniformitarianism? Accept the testimony of Scripture, and consider, -- to mention only one small factor, -- whether you can even imagine what effects the tremendous pressures of the waters of the Flood would have had upon the earth in comparison with the devastation that a very small local flood can wreak today. And then we have left out of the picture yet the Biblical account of the Flood as an upheaval, violent in its nature.
There have been more changes. There was a direct intervention in the life-span of mankind after the Flood. There was another such intervention at the time of Babel, not to mention the intervention in society and civilization itself at that time.
Hence, in conclusion I wish to emphasize that these Biblical materials must be used positively by the Christian scientist for developing his views and his answers to evolutionism along Biblical lines. Very little of this has been done in the past. A much maligned and belittled work, but a very notable work has been accomplished in this respect by Dr. Morris in the book I mentioned before, "The Genesis Flood." I wish to commend that work even though I might not agree with all that is written in it. But, in general, Christians have had a kind of inferiority complex. They have been afraid to oppose the claims of unbelieving science. They have been reluctant to strike out on their own and to develop their own scientific theories and explanations in this area. They have been too much on the defensive and too ready to compromise, to capitulate to worldly science.
Finally, let me sound a warning. Let us beware that we do not allow these errant theories to find their way into our homes and into our schools, both lower and higher, and into our churches. To the extent that they have already gained entrance, let us resolutely root them out. I remarked that men are becoming more and more bold and radical in promulgating these views and trying to make a place for them even in conservative and Reformed circles. By many Genesis 1 to 11 is really completely discarded already, thus it has been twisted and corrupted. Next, remember, everything miraculous will be discarded. And finally there will be nothing left of God's Word. That is the principle here! And principles work through!
Hence, especially in the light of the fact that we stand in the last days, in the days mentioned in II Peter 3, let us stand fast and hold fast that which we have, for the sake of the cause of Christ and of the church, for the sake of our own faith, and for the sake of our children.
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Last modified, 12-May-1998