Questions surrounding the account of Creation in Genesis 1 abound even amongst Christians. It seems the opinion gaining ground today is reading millions of years into the creation week. This opinion is largely based upon a desire to harmonize Biblical interpretation with contemporary Darwinian interpretations of science. One of the major propositions given to support this view is a metaphorical interpretation to Day 7. The conclusion being, if Day 7 is metaphorical, then Days 1-6 are as well. A prevalent champion of this view, Meredith Kline, states Day 7, “had a temporal beginning but it has no end (note the absence of the concluding evening-morning formula). Yet is is called a ‘day’, so advising us that these days of the creation account are meant figuratively.” (Kline, Genesis, p. 83)
Essentially the view states since Day 7 does not contain the evening-morning formula, then it continues until today. If it continues today, then it is not literal and cannot be interpreted as a normal 24-hour day. Therefore, Day 1-6 should not be interpreted literally either. But is this a valid conclusion? Here are six reasons to believe Kline’s view is not Biblically correct.
First, Day 7 does not contain the evening-morning formula because it does not contain the five-folded structure of a creation day. That is, Moses used a fivefold pattern to structure each of the six creation days.
Second, the evening-morning conclusion marked a transition to the next day. Since the creation week was accounted for in the narrative, there was no need for a transition to the eighth day.
Third, Exodus 20:11 and 31:17 rule out an open-ended interpretation of Day 7. One thing I learned long ago in Bible study is to allow the Bible to interpret itself. We should examine all Bible passages about one topic before drawing a conclusion on that issue. The two verses above do that for us here.
It takes a hermeneutical gymnast to get around this basic understanding and it seems as if we have some Gold Medal winners in Biblical scholarship. For example, Kline argues since the Bible metaphorically pictures God resting on Day 7, then a literal interpretation of the creation days is unwarranted. But this logical simply does not follow and does not match proper Biblical interpretation. The Bible frequently uses anthropomorphic language towards God’s being without nullifying the literal nature of historical events; “God looking” (Gen 6:12), God remembering (Gen 8:1), and God smelling (Gen 8:21).
Fourth, if Day 7 is interpreted as unending, then God blessed/sanctified it and cursed it on the say day. This seems highly unreasonable. How could God call the Fall “good”?
Fifth, if the days of creation are not 24-hour days, then the comment on Adam’s life-span in Genesis 5:5 is rendered meaningless. The Bible says Adam lived 930 years. According to old-earth-creationist and other non-literal interpreters, the days of creation are actually periods of millions of years. Therefore, according to their view, Adam wasn’t able to even make it to Day 7. This leads to all sorts of Biblical confusion:
Sixth, the omission of the evening-morning motif as support of a non-literal interpretation of the creation days is at best an argument from silence. Inherently arguments from silence are weak and bad hermeneutical practice as any first year Bible college student knows.
The six reasons given above should provide enough reasons to us to abandon non-literal interpretation of the creation week and hold a literal 24-hour day understanding of the creation days.
Before we critique The Framework View (FV) we must know what it is. The FV was initially set forth by Professor Arie Noordzij of the University of Utrecht in 1924. There have been other advocates throughout the last century but the major proponent for the FV today is Reformed scholar Meredith G. Kline.
Essentially the FV states the creation week of Genesis 1:1-2:3 it a literary device intended to present God’s creative works in a topical/non-sequential manner rather than a literal/sequential one. The overall structure to this view is a scheme of six work-day frames culminating in an exaltation of a Sabbath Theology on the seventh day. These six work-day frames are detailed by eight divine announcements (“and God said”). Each day has one divine announcement, with days 3 and 6 having two announcements. Therefore, according to the FV, the eight divine announcements are symmetrically divided into two parallel units of three days. The first triad is classified as “creation kingdoms” (the creation of empty and undeveloped mass and space) and the second as “creature kings” (things created to develop and fill what was created in the first triad). The chart below will help to illustrate the view:
In the FV, Days 4-6 are not sequentially after Days 1-3. Rather, they are recapitulations of Days 1-3. That is, what God actually did in Days 1-3 are simply restated in further detail in Days 4-6.
In this blog we are critiquing the FV only on one front. We will be looking at the Hebrew construction known as the waw consecutive (WC). I will explain what this construction means for the creation week below. This examination will greatly help us to determine whether the creation account should be taken as literal and sequential narrative or topical and non-sequential poetry.
Paul Joüon, Semitic language specialist, argues the WC may appear in poetic literature, but it is not a defining characteristic in Hebrew poetry (Joüon, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew, 2:390, sec. 118c.). Simply put, the WC does not occur frequently in poetic sections. This means if the creation account in Genesis is poetry, we should not expect to find the WC often in the text. Pratico and Van Pelt, two Hebrew scholars who authored the standard Hebrew grammar book found in most seminaries, contend the WC is “used primarily in narrative sequence to denote consecutive actions, that is, actions occurring in sequence." (Basics of Biblical Hebrew, p. 192). That is, when we are reading Hebrew narrative the WC is used to show a progression in the chronological timeline. For an example, look at the list below to compare how the WC is used in Genesis (it occurs 2,107 times in Genesis, an average of 42 times per chapter).
In the one poetic section (49:2-33) notice how less frequently the WC is used on average per verse than the non-poetic sections. Also, observe how the sections directly before and after 49:2-33, which are literal history, frequently use the WC construction. Therefore, as the Hebrew scholars I quoted above said, the WC is found sporadic in Hebrew poetry and is found frequently in literal/sequential narrative.
Therefore, as we enter into the creation text of Genesis 1:1-2:3, we can keep two things in mind.
So what do we find? The WC appears 55 times in 34 verses of Gen 1:1-2:3. This seems consistent with the rest of Genesis’ literal-historical sequential narrative, not the poetry sections. Be careful to understand my argument. I am NOT arguing that the WC always denotes sequence, for it can occasionally represent non-sequential action; however, it seems quite certain that WC is predominantly used sequentially in narrative literature (See--Coming to Grips with Genesis, p. 217, for more information on this line of reasoning).
There is much more to be said but not enough space here. In my next blog we will discuss more on the WC, specifically how it occurs in Genesis 1:1-2:3. With the information presented in this blog post it seems reasonable to conclude the following:
Furthermore, if one wants to still claim Genesis 1:1-2:3 is poetic, in spite of the evidence given above, they would have to state Genesis 1:1-2:3 is not only an A-Typical poetic section but a unique one defying normal Hebrew poetic syntax. Therefore, the onus falls even heavier upon their shoulders to present other stronger pieces of evidence for the rest of us to believe the typical literal/sequential syntax seen in Genesis 1:1-2:3 is not actually literal/sequential narrative.
Should we try to harmonize the Gospels or is that the wrong hermeneutic? According to a recent article I read interviewing Michael Licona (click here), that is not the approach we should take. He says generally Christians look at a story told in multiple Gospels, lay them side-by-side, and then try to harmonize the stories. In his conclusion this leads to twisting the Gospel narratives into what the reader wants to hear rather than what they actually say. He does commend the average Bible reader for their high view of Scripture and desire to rescue the Bible from critics. But he goes on to argue this is the wrong approach. For, he states, the Gospels are ancient biographies written with a different style than modern biographies. This is a point I absolutely agree with but I think Licona stretches it too far as we will see below. We need to always make sure we are not reading the Bible through a 21st Western mindset.
In his book, Why are there differences in the Gospels?, he introduces us to a new way to read the Gospels. Licona has done extensive research into Greco-Roman literature and has noted made similarities between their biographies and the Gospels. He states, "The majority of New Testament scholars agree that, at minimum, the Gospels share much in common with the genre of Greco-Roman biography." Again, this is something I think any student of Scripture can agree with. At the same time we must remember the operative word in this quote is much. That is, The Gospels share much, not all, with Greco-Roman biography. Licona goes on to summarize his research. He compares the compositional devices of Greco-Roman biography to the places he finds it in the Gospels to prove his points. For example he points out a device called literary spotlighting. It is where many characters are on a stage yet the spotlight highlights one. A case in Scripture is the Gospel's account of the different angels at the tomb. Matthew and Mark say there was one angel while Luke and John describe two angels. Is this a contradiction? No! It is a literary device of spotlighting. Matthew and Mark are simply highlighting the one angel that made the resurrection announcement. Pardon me but I do not find this groundbreaking for a few reasons.
I want to commend Dr. Licona for his research and desire to understand the Gospels in their original intended meaning. I think most Christians have that desire and I'm sure he does not doubt that as well. I believe he is being sincere in his desire to faithfully divide the Word of God. With that being said I still believe he is stretching his research to far. The pivotal point revolves around one's view of Scripture before they even approach Scripture. If, for the sake of argument, an atheist approached the Bible they would read it with the idea it was an invention of man. This would greatly change the way they interpret certain passages. The major philosophical difference I have with Licona is where he places his priorities. He states, "Where I differ is, I place a priority on genre over harmonization." Let me turn our attention to one place there is no need to question harmonization.
John 14-17 is one long discussion between Jesus and His Apostles. You can study the passage yourself but Jesus is stating this:
My point is this; Truth takes priority over genre. This is where I think Dr. Licona goes to far. He argues we must place a higher priority on reading the Gospels according to ancient biographies than trying to harmonize them. I would argue, while God did allow the Gospel writers to use the common literary devices of their day, He also guided them into writing in such a way as to be harmonized since what they were writing would be the perfect truth. We must remember the Gospels were written to the 1st Century man but FOR ALL MEN throughout the rest of time. I would further argue most people, outside of Greco-Roman culture, would not be satisfied to approach a legitimate contradiction in the details of the Gospels only to be told it is ok because that is their genre. In my opinion that would produce a lot of skepticism towards the Gospels' veracity in regards to the identity of Jesus.
Therefore, while we can learn better hermeneutical techniques by analyzing ancient literary styles, we must also remember God led all the Apostles into all truth. Therefore, what one Gospel writer states cannot contradict another and is thus able to be harmonized.
I understand Mark and Luke were not Apostles but Mark wrote his Gospel at the dictation of Peter and Luke questioned the Apostles in his research. These are points I simply do not have space to get into now.
Finally, I would admit have not read any of Dr. Licona's books but I would be interested to see what places in the Gospels he believes are absolutely unable to be harmonized in the traditional fashion. I have great respect for Dr. Licona as a scholar and a Christian. I write this blog as a humble attempt to help lead all of us closer to the truth as I am sure he wrote his book for the same reason.
I’m Billy Dyer a Teacher and Preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is my blog page. It is focused on “coffee table apologetics”..... continue reading >>