Does Proper Interpretation of Scripture Require a Recent Creation? (Part II)

This Article concludes the report on a panel discussion held at Wheaton College, May 2, 1978, on the theme: "Does a Proper Interpretation of Scripture Require a Recent Creation?" Supporting recent creationism were Dr. Duane T. Gish, Associate Director of the Institute for Creation Research, and Rev. Marvin L. Lubenow, Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church, Fort Collins, Colorado. Speaking in favor of an ancient earth were Dr. Walter C. Kaiser, Professor of Old Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Dr. David L. Willis, Chairman of the Department of General Science, Oregon State University.

The initial presentations by Gish, Kaiser, and Lubenow were reported last month. After Willis' reference to the situation at the time of Galileo, he then proceeded to demonstrate that the Hebrew word for "day" does occasionally refer to a period of time (Genesis 2:4). Actually, no recent creationist questions that occasional usage (always so indicated by the context), and Lubenow had previously stated it. Willis seemed to share the attitude of some evangelicals that because "day" does occasionally refer to a period of time, that meaning can then be injected into Genesis 1 without any attempt to justify that usage by the text or the context.

Willis appealed to evangelicals to "hang loose" in their interpretation of Genesis 1. He quoted C. I. Scofield, Wilbur M. Smith, Martin Luther, William G. T. Shedd, and Gleason L. Archer, Jr. all to the effect that the days in Genesis 1 can be long periods of time rather than literal days. Actually, there is an error in logic here. The ability to quote a few "orthodox" theologians who agree with one does not prove that that is the teaching of Scripture. Willis felt that the reason there are divergent viewpoints on creation is that the issues are not settled or settleable on the basis of our current knowledge. Since the Scriptural revelation is complete, he apparently had reference to the ability of science to cast light upon Genesis 1 and the concept of creation.

The question of the relative priority of "science" vs. Scripture and whether or not "science" is able to cast light on creation was highlighted in what was perhaps the most dramatic moment of the evening. Gish was commenting on the very cavalier manner in which the words "creation" and "creationist" are used today by people who mean something quite different from the traditional meaning of those words. In an effort to clarify what the members of the panel meant by those words (for all had described themselves as creationists) Gish turned to Willis and said: "Dr. Willis, the Bible says that God took the bone and flesh of Adam's side and made woman. Do you believe that is literally what God did in the creation of woman or would you entertain the possibility that this term 'creation' might allow the evolution of man and woman from some lower creature?"

Although Kaiser had previously stated that the Genesis record clearly demands the interpretation that Adam had not been alive or in existence at all until he was created by God as man, Willis responded to Gish's question as follows: "I would not have specific answer for you, Duane, in this regard. I think it's clear to everyone that there is considerable difficulty with the scientific record to take the literal view of the creation of Eve as the Scripture gives it. I'm willing to take it. The question I would have is: ‘Is it required?’" Gish then responded: "How do you make that decision, Dr. Willis? Are you basing your decision on what the Scriptures say or what the world has to say—the current dogma in science?" Willis responded, but did not really answer Gish's question. The truth is that there is no answer to Gish's question until one first settles the question of which source of information regarding creation will be given the higher priority—current "science" or Scripture. As is obvious from many of their writings, this represents an unsolved problem among progressive creationists. (In all fairness to Willis, it should be stated that he later clarified his position on the creation of Eve by saying: "I believe what the Scripture says. I don't understand it.") Gish pointed out that such an eminent scientist as Lord Zuckerman, even though he is not a creationist, has asserted that if man evolved from an ape-like creature he did so without leaving a trace of that evolution in the fossil record (S. Zuckerman,Beyond the Ivory Tower, Taplinger Pub. Co., New York, 1970, p. 64).

The related question of whether or not science can cast light on creation reflects yet another problem. If creation is still going on, as all theistic evolutionists and some progressive creationists believe, then the distinctions between creation and providence, the supernatural and the natural, become obliterated. If creation has ceased, as Genesis 2:4 (and the fact that all Biblical references to creation are in the past tense) would indicate, then one is in error in seeking to utilize present day insights or hypotheses of scientists to cast light on past supernatural acts of creation. Here, of all places, Scripture must have the highest priority and it alone must be the final authority.

Since the Wheaton Panel was to be on the Biblical and not the scientific evidence for the age of the earth, one of the organizers of the panel objected strenuously—upon reading the first draft of my review—to my injecting the scientific element into this review. I have long felt that the philosophic attitudes of modern science lurk in the background in discussions regarding origins even when we do not realize that they are there. The fact is these influences of science were there in the Wheaton panel—especially in the thinking of David Willis. His reference to Galileo (reported last month) was clearly an appeal to evangelicals not to be out of phase with modern "science" by rejecting its estimates for the antiquity of the earth and thus end up as foolish as the opponents of Galileo. When Gish asked Willis about the creation of Eve, Willis said: "I think it's clear to everyone that there is considerable difficulty with the scientific record to take the literal view of the creation of Eve as the Scripture gives it." Willis may have been revealing more than he intended in that remark showing the tremendous influence current science has on some people regarding the interpretation of Scripture even though, as Gish several times pointed out, the Scripture seems quite clear regarding Eve's creation.

Often those who believe that Genesis 1 involves a long period of time seek to make creation—at least certain phases of it—a process rather than a sudden event or series of events. During the discussion period, Kaiser took strong issue with Lubenow's assertion that all Biblical miracles were instantaneous or very sudden. (It should be realized that in the account of some miracles, the time element is totally left out, and hence the evidence is inconclusive. In other cases, there may have been a period of time between the announcement of the miracle and the moment when it took place, but it was sudden—not a process—when it did take place). Lubenow emphasized that suddenness was not only characteristic of Biblical miracles—including creation—but it was the very essence of the apologetic element. It was that which largely separated the miraculous from the natural, and creation from providence. Kaiser declared: "I think there is the whole essence of our problem—the definition of miracle as being in every case a sudden, instantaneous interruption into the natural order!"

Kaiser then referred to miracle as a divine intervention of a higher natural law rather than an instantaneous intervention of an entirely different category. To illustrate, he cited the plagues of Egypt (Exodus 7-12). He referred to their "seasonal pattern" and stated that these plagues were a combination of direct intervention and the normal forces of nature. Yet, even a casual reading of the text reveals that all of these plagues were direct divine interventions totally beyond anything having to do with the seasonal pattern. There is simply nothing "natural" about them. Further, all of them were very sudden—many of them happening when Moses or Aaron lifted their staffs in the air, prayed, or struck the water. Five of them, including the three days of darkness, happened in Egypt but not in the land of Goshen nearby where the Israelites lived. Several of them are of such severity as to be beyond anything that had ever happened in the whole history of the land. One looks in vain for anything "natural" or "seasonal." They are declared to be signs to show God's power and judgment. It is for this reason that they had to go beyond the "natural" and the "seasonal."

The appeal to Snow's argument that there was not enough time in a twenty-four hour day to accomplish all the things mentioned on day six, (see Impact #65, p. ii) although innovative, is questionable at best. It is based on faulty logic. Snow assumes that because there would not be time enough today, according to present-day processes, to accomplish these things that thus there would not be enough time for God to accomplish them on day six of creation week either. This is extrapolation with a vengeance! Other than the details given in Genesis 1-2, there is only one thing we know about conditions during creation week, and that is that conditions were quite different from what they are today. The absence of sin and the curse would guarantee that fact. A reading of Snow's article reveals that it is largely wishful thinking rather than solid, exegetical evidence. It requires far more omniscience than I suspect Mr. Snow has to state categorically that twenty-four hours is not enough time for the things to take place that God says took place on day six.

Considering its divisive nature among evangelicals and the importance of other doctrines of Scripture, Willis suggested that there may be too much emphasis on creation. His words were: "The aspect of creation, for example, is covered in two chapters in the book of Genesis. Twelve chapters alone are devoted to the life of Abraham and to other individuals and their walk with God. I think we may be over-emphasizing the importance of creation." Actually, as Lubenow pointed out, this is far from the whole truth. One of the three major themes of the Book of Psalms is the doctrine of creation. When one assembles all of the passages on the subject in both the Old and New Testaments, the total amount is staggering. If one is judging the matter on the basis of sheer bulk or volume alone, it can be questioned if any doctrine—other than the doctrine of salvation—is given more extensive coverage than the doctrine of creation.

Willis also questioned whether the purpose of God was to give us "a detailed, point by point, blow by blow description of how God brought things into existence." He suggests that the purpose of God was not to give all of the details of creation to a scientifically inclined age, but that instead the purpose was primarily "religious" in setting forth the Creator-God as a deterrent against the very common Old Testament problem of idolatry. While it may not have been Willis' motivation, this ploy of making the purpose of Genesis 1 basically "religious" is often used by those who would prefer not to deal with the historical accuracy of that chapter. When one considers all of the things that must have taken place in creation, it is obvious that there are a great many details left out. The question is not whether or not God intended to give us all of the details of creation. Obviously, He did not. The real question is how historically accurate are the details that are given. The fact that Genesis is "pre-scientific" does not alter the question. Nor need the fact that Genesis 1 is a document of exquisite beauty from a literary point of view detract from its historical nature. We would expect the God of creation to be able to combine literary beauty with historical accuracy.

The topic for the evening was: "Does a proper interpretation of Scripture require a recent creations?" Gish and Lubenow argued fervently for a literal six-day creation. Kaiser and Willis argued eloquently for a longer span of time in Genesis. Kaiser mentioned a total of at least 3,100 years in the gaps in Genesis 5 and 11. Actually, we could grant Kaiser all of that (I am inclined to do so anyway) and even grant him (for the sake of argument) that each creative day was a thousand years in duration. That would still make him a recent creationist, for it would only add about 9,000 years to the date of creation.

The real issue today is not "Does Genesis 1 refer to six literal days or would it allow for thousands of years?" The main reason one would opt for more time in Genesis 1 is to somehow make it compatible with contemporary scientific thinking. Presently, these demands are 4.5 billion years for the age of the earth, and upwards of 20 billion years (and counting) for the age of the universe. Anything less than that simply will not do. The real issue is: "Does Genesis allow for that kind of time?" One gets the impression sometimes that those who advocate a degree of time in Genesis 1 feel that if they could just establish the fact that the days in Genesis were not literal, they then had the license to dump all the time necessary into Genesis 1 to make it fit contemporary scientific thinking. One cannot help but question the wisdom of using quotations from Augustine and Luther—who thought only in terms of thousands of years at the most—as an excuse for dumping billions of years into the text.

Lubenow warned that while progressive creationists claim to hold to Biblical inerrancy in doctrine, some of them (in their writings) had come perilously close to denying it in actual practice. Lubenow felt that evangelicals must decide how far the Scriptures can be accommodated to the time demands of the modern scientific establishment before the very concept of biblical inerrancy is violated.

The issues are real, and they are vital. Evangelicals are divided, not because of personalities or organizations, but because of the legitimacy of the issues in Genesis. Wheaton College, Dr. Claassen, Dr. Buswell, and Dr. Schultz are to be commended for sponsoring a forum for the discussion of these issues in a spirit of mutual respect, understanding, and Christian love. Obviously, the issues were not settled on that lovely spring evening in Wheaton. However, it may signal a modest beginning.

A set of three cassette tapes of the symposium may be ordered from Radio Station WETN, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois 60187. The cost is .50 per set plus 75c for postage and handling.

* This is part two of a panel discussion at Wheaton College. Part one was printed in Impact No. 65 in the November, 1978 Issue of Acts and Facts.
** Marvin Lubenow is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Ft. Collins, Colorado. He received the Master of Theology from Dallas Seminary and the Master of Science from Eastern Michigan University.

Cite this article: Marvin L. Lubenow, M.S., Th.M. 1978. Does Proper Interpretation of Scripture Require a Recent Creation? (Part II). Acts & Facts. 7 (12).


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