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


In the spring of 1978, Wheaton College was the scene of a significant panel discussion on a topic of current interest and divergence among evangelicals—the Biblical evidence regarding a recent creation. One of the highlights of the Fifth Midwest Creation Week organized by Paul M. MacKinney, of the I.C.R. Midwest Center, the event was held in Edman Chapel on Tuesday, May 2, before approximately 500 students, faculty and guests.

Discussing the subject, "Does a Proper Interpretation of Scripture Require a Recent Creation?" were Dr. Duane Gish, Rev. Marvin L. Lubenow, Dr. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., and Dr. David L. Willis. Gish is Associate Director of the Institute for Creation Research and holds the Ph.D. degree in biochemistry from the University of California at Berkeley. Lubenow is Senior Pastor of The First Baptist Church, Fort Collins, Colorado. He is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and holds the Master of Science degree from Eastern Michigan University. Kaiser, one of the nation's distinguished Old Testament scholars, is Professor of Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is a past president of the Evangelical Theological Society. Willis is Chairman of the Department of General Science, Oregon State University, Corvallis. He is a graduate of Biola (Talbot) Seminary and holds a Ph.D. degree in radiation biology. Gish and Lubenow represented the literal, six-day creation position while Kaiser and Willis opted for long periods of time in the Genesis account.

The panel was sponsored jointly by the Science Division and the Biblical Studies Division of Wheaton College. Organizers on campus were Dr. Howard H. Claassen, Professor of Physics and Coordinator of the Science Division; Dr. James O. Buswell, III, Professor of Anthropology; and Dr. Samuel J. Schultz, Professor of Biblical Studies and Theology. Dr. Julius Scott, Jr., Professor of Bible and Theology in the Wheaton Graduate School, served as moderator for the panel.

At issue was the interpretation and meaning of Genesis 1-2, especially involving the question of how much time the Biblical text would allow. The truthfulness, verbal inspiration, and the authority of the Bible were not at issue as all of the panelists, as well as Wheaton College, stated that they held to these doctrines. The purpose of the panel was to discover the doctrinal and theological implications of the alternate views of the Genesis text—especially as far as the time issue is concerned. Scientific data were not involved in these discussions except as they had a bearing on Biblical interpretation.

The format allowed each speaker to give a fifteen-minute positive statement, with the two sides alternating, followed by a seven minute rebuttal for each panelist. The panelists then engaged in an informal discussion directing questions to each other. The evening was concluded with questions from the audience.

Gish began the sequence of positive statements by emphasizing that, whatever position one takes regarding the age of the earth, it must be properly fitted into the Biblical record of earth history as set forth in Genesis 1-11, including the events of creation, the fall, the flood, the dispersion at Babel, and the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11. Gish said that attempts to reconcile Genesis with geology lead to numerous contradictions, even if one rejects evolution.

Some of the questions Gish said must be answered are as follows. If the rock strata constitute the record of hundreds of millions of years, where is the record of the Biblical Flood? If man is several million years old, why was it that post-flood man developed agriculture and animal husbandry only a few thousand years ago when, according to Genesis, these skills were known from the very beginning? Further, why did it take so long to generate the population explosion when studies show that a population increase of one-fourth the present rate will generate our present population in just 5,000 years? Another concern is whether the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 will allow time gaps involving millions of years. Gish concluded by questioning the wisdom of sacrificing the Biblical record of earth history in order to accommodate a naturalistic time-scale, which is actually an evolutionary time-scale, though it is held by many evangelicals who would deny evolution itself.

In his initial statement, Kaiser emphasized that, although there can be only one true meaning of Scripture, our interpretations are many. On the one hand, he called for evangelicals to do their homework in the text and to dedicate themselves anew to inductive, exegetical study of the details of God's Word. Yet, six times during the course of the evening he emphasized the fact that we cannot arrive at conclusive knowledge regarding the time element of Genesis 1, and that our interpretations are just that—interpretations by sinful fallible people. He urged humility and a respect for those with differing views on creation.

Kaiser then made reference to an essay by R. John Snow, found as Appendix 3 in one of the more recent books promoting progressive creationism (Genesis One and the Age of the Earth by Robert C. Newman and Herman J. Eckelmann, Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter Varsity Press, 1977). Snow argues that all of the events recorded in Genesis 1 and 2 which transpire on day six are simply too time-consuming to have happened in one twenty-four hour period. This, he feels, constitutes internal evidence that these days were not to be taken literally.

The majority view of the church, Kaiser maintained, up until Lyell and the birth of uniformitarianism in geology, was that the days of Genesis 1 were long creative periods of time—based largely upon the influence of Augustine. Kaiser further felt that Genesis 1-11 showed tremendous compression of time and of sequence that was incompatible with the literal position. He also emphasized the gaps in the chronologies of Genesis 5 and 11. He was not prepared, however, to state how much time Genesis 1-11 would allow. The important message, he felt, was that God had created, He had done it "in the beginning," and it was done by the Word of God.

Because Lubenow felt that the time element in Genesis 1 depended upon the nature of creation and the length of the days, he dealt primarily with these two matters. He stated that the term, "evening and morning," used once for each of the six days in Genesis 1, reflects the normal Hebrew reference to a literal day which, for the Jews, began at sundown. Recognizing that both the term "day" (Genesis 2:4) and the parts of a day ("morning and evening," Psalm 90:4-5) can legitimately be used for a long period of time, Lubenow stated that when these terms are used in other than their literal meaning, the context will give ample evidence of that usage. Comparing Genesis 1 with Psalm 90:4-5, both probably written by Moses, he demonstrated that the same Hebrews who used the expression, "evening and morning," when referring to a literal day reverted to the usage we would use, "morning and evening," when speaking figuratively of a period of time. Thus, literal days are intended in Genesis 1.

Not only does this usage provide incontrovertible evidence as to the intent of the author regarding the nature of the days in Genesis 1, but also the meaning is made doubly clear by linking the days of creation week to our normal week of work and rest (Exodus 20:9-11). Lubenow expressed the belief that the confusion over the time problem in Genesis 1 was not so much the result of ambiguity in the text as it was the result of pressure and intimidation on theologians by the scientific community and its philosophic interpretations of the past.

In what proved to be one of the more controversial issues of the evening, Lubenow stated that Biblical creationism always involves two elements: (1) instantaneousness or suddenness—a massive acceleration of time over the normal processes; and (2) a massive increase in complexity. Even when God starts with something, such as starting with dust to make man, or starting with water to make wine, this vast increase in complexity is characteristic of Biblical creationism.

Stating that creation is related to the miraculous rather than to the natural order, Lubenow illustrated the point from the miracles of our Lord in the Gospels. All thirty-five of the miracles of our Lord show evidence of being very sudden, and many of them are declared to be so. Many of them are also miracles of creation. One of these miracles of creation was the turning of water into wine. The fact that our Lord started with water should not detract from the fact that it was a genuine miracle of creation. Our Lord took H2O and turned it into C6 H12 O6 (fructose, the sugar found in wine) as well as the many other products also found in wine. There was not only the direct creation of billions of carbon atoms, but then the arranging of all of the atoms into the highly complex molecules in wine. And none can deny that it was sudden.

Referring to Genesis 1:1, Lubenow declared that the original creation was both instantaneous and resulted in tremendous increase in complexity. One might argue as to whether God started with nothing and created something relatively simple or whether He started with nothing and created something quite complex. However, when one starts with nothing, in either case, the order of magnitude for the increase in complexity would be staggering. Further, it had to be instantaneous. One cannot go from nothing to something in stages or by degrees.

The miracles of the feeding of the 4,000 and of the 5,000, involving the instantaneous creation of both animal and plant material, certainly casts light on the nature of the creation of the animals and plants in Days 3, 5, and 6 of Genesis 1. Although Genesis 1 does not explicitly state that Adam and Eve were created suddenly, Christ's raising of Lazarus (John 11) casts light on this matter. Because of the decay process which involves the breakdown of complex biological compounds into more simple ones, every cell in the body of Lazarus had to be recreated and restored to its original complexity. That it also was sudden none can deny.

Perhaps the most remarkable analogue to the original creation of Adam "of the dust of the ground" is the resurrection of the bodies of believers at the return of the Lord. Here God will literally recreate their bodies from the "dust" of decay, and the Scriptures state that it will be "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye"(I Cor. 15:52). The future resurrection of believers is an almost "instant replay" of the scenario in the creation of Adam. It remains for those who disapprove of instantaneous creation to demonstrate even one Biblical miracle or act of creation that involves a long process of time.

Lubenow concluded by stating that time is not philosophically neutral. It is the one common denominator of all evolutionary systems and, in the form of philosophic gradualism, it is the essence of almost all non-Christian religions. Further, there is hardly a Biblical miracle that could not be destroyed or compromised by injecting time into it. Lubenow called upon evangelicals to understand what time can do to the miraculous elements of the Bible, and suggested that the doctrine of creation itself with its apologetic value is compromised by seeking to inject vast quantities of time into the creation account.

Dr. Willis, in his presentation, emphasized our need to learn from the history of the Bible-science controversy. While the text of Scripture has remained constant, interpretations have changed greatly, he asserted. He stated that all of us hold positions that would have been considered heretical in the past. He cited the heliocentric system of Copernicus as opposed to the older geocentric system of Ptolemy and the conflict involving the church—both Catholic and Protestant—at the time of Galileo. Such texts as Psalm 93:1 ("The world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved") were used to give Biblical support to the Ptolemaic system. Willis expressed grave concern that evangelicals today not fix themselves upon a certain interpretation of Genesis 1 and, in their rejection of the ideas of modern scientists, find themselves as foolish from history's standpoint as those who fought Galileo.

The issue introduced by Willis is an issue which evangelicals must squarely face. It concerns the degree of authority which scientific findings should be accorded in the interpretation of Scripture. It is essentially a hermeneutical problem. However, there has been a great deal of confusion because the crux of the problem has not always been well-defined. There is no general Bible-science conflict if one recognizes the domain of science to be primarily in the present and involving the investigation of present-day phenomena. Although some evangelicals have not recognized this fact, the Bible-science controversy is mostly limited to the interpretation of the past. It is really a conflict between the present generally accepted "scientific" interpretation of earth history as opposed to the Biblical record of earth history.

In the rebuttal, Willis' use of the illustration of Galileo was challenged by Gish. Gish declared that the incident of Galileo has been totally misunderstood. It is normally presented as a case where the Bible and the church were out of phase with science and obstructed science because of dogmatism. However, Ptolemy was a Greek, not a Jew or a Christian. His geocentric system was not based upon biblical teaching or evidence. His system became the scientific dogma of the establishment of that day. When Copernicus and Galileo suggested that the geocentric system was wrong, they found themselves fighting the establishment. The establishment then used the Bible and the church to exert pressure upon Galileo to renounce his scientific beliefs. The geocentric theory was not based upon the Bible. Christians had allowed the Bible to be accommodated to the current dogma in science. Gish concluded: "Is that what we are trying to do today—trying to fit the Bible to a worldly scheme of things?"

Willis' statement and the remainder of the panel will be continued next month.

* Panel discussion at Wheaton College.
** 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 Michigan State University.

Cite this article: Marvin L. Lubenow, M.S., Th.M. 1978. Does Proper Interpretation of Scripture Require a Recent Creation? (Part I). Acts & Facts. 7 (11).