Charles A. Clough 1996
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 2: Buried Truths of Origins
Appendix A: Interpreting Genesis 1–11
Lesson 27 – Hermeneutics, Presuppositions, and Accommodationist Focal Points
09 May 1996
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
Tonight we are going to do the first of 4 appendices. The appendices are where we are going to pause the progress through the text and go back and start looking at the whole.
Tonight the appendix I have done here is to deal with the question of the interpretation of Genesis 1–11. This is not a question for non-Christians. Unlike the ones to follow, we are going to look at natural history in a biological sense, history in a physics sense, and natural history in a geological sense; those are obviously going to be in conflict with non-Christian culture.
But tonight the issue of interpreting Genesis is largely one that occurs inside the church. Remember we said back in Chapter 1, there is a great movement in the last 300 years in church history to forsake the traditional interpretation of Genesis. Even to the point of arguing that there never was a traditional interpretation of Genesis. Interestingly, and kind of paradoxically, most of this occurs in Christian schools.
One of the great mysteries or odd things to notice about the modern creationist-evolutionist controversy is that the loudest proponents of creationism are Christians who have technical backgrounds, who have nothing to do with the Christian campus. The people who are the most adapting, and compromising, and accommodating, are generally people from Christian campuses.
This isn’t always true: you can’t paint this in black and white like that. But it tends to be the case that Christian schools try to be gentlemanly to the point of being so accommodating, fearing they will drive the non-Christian away from the gospel that they want to kind of speak out of both sides of their mouth here on Genesis.
I want to address that issue before I go any further, that this is just an observation. I’m not saying that every Christian campus does this. I am simply saying, however, that many Christians have gone to Christian colleges and wound up with an allegorical interpretation of Scripture. And it’s funny because on the secular campus, where I think the conflict is much clearer, where you have clearly a Christian, non-Christian conflict, there you tend to see, not always, but you tend to see a more fundamentalist view of the Scripture. That’s been my observation over the past forty years or so that that seems to work pretty well as a description.
Appendix A deals with one of the three strategies that you can use, remember we said back in Chapter 1 that there are three approaches that have been used to try to reconcile the Bible, science, and the origin story. One of those strategies we call the capitulation strategy. In the capitulation strategy the Bible is totally abandoned, officially, completely, and explicitly, very clear. Representatives of that strategy would be your liberal church men, the modernists who, in the 20th century have basically taken over every major denomination.
One of the things we as Christians need to learn is our own history. It would really help if we would know what has happened in the 20th century. The way we have been taught, because most of us have gone to secular schools and have had a secular history course, the two big events in the 20th century are WWI and WWII, and maybe the depression thrown in.
But that’s not true. One of the biggest events in this country happened, and it’s never mentioned in a history course in the 20th century. And that is, between 1900 and 1925 every major denomination went liberal, every single one of them. Schools were lost, libraries were lost, and pulpits were lost.
One of the most famous sermons in America was preached at Riverside Church in New York City, a sermon so famous that it was paraded across the newspapers of America. I think it was 1923 or 1925, and it was at a Congregational Church, Riverside Church, well known in New York City. The pastor either was sick or out of town that Sunday morning, so the deacons and the elders invited a guest speaker. The speaker they invited was Harry Emerson Fosdick.
If you rummage through your parent’s libraries, people who lived in the 1920s, and you dig around their books, you will probably find a book written by Harry Emerson Fosdick, a very prolific writer. One of his famous books was The Manhood of the Master, clearly affirming the humanity of Jesus to his denial of His deity. Harry Emerson Fosdick popularized liberalism.
On that Sunday morning the title of his sermon was “Shall the Fundamentalists Win.” It was the beginning of the great put-down in America of fundamentalism. Harry Emerson Fosdick preached that sermon that Sunday morning because the fundamentalists in some of the denominations were questioning supporting pastors and missionaries who were denying, overtly and clearly, the deity of Jesus, the virgin birth of Jesus, the resurrection, physically, and so forth.
Fosdick resented, and the liberals always have resented this, to hold a church organization to a creedal standard, especially when it comes to money. The most sensitive portion of the human anatomy is the wallet. And this always works. So it was in the early 1920s the prosperity after WWI was all over the country. There was a building economy, the Roaring Twenties. But what people forget is that the Roaring Twenties were really roaring in the area of theology.
It is only in our day, in the 1980s and 1990s that the evangelical world has attained a little bit of the maturity it had at the turn of the century. We have gone through a dearth, from 1925 on up through the twenties, the thirties and the forties.
Billy Graham was just honored in Congress this week, one of the highest awards that can be given a citizen of this country; only one hundred people in our nation’s history have had it. You’ll read about it in the fine print of the Washington Post. But the point is that here’s a guy who, with four or five other men, literally rebuilt evangelical Christianity after WWII.
Most of us wouldn’t even be here tonight had it not been for four or five men, Donald Grey Barnhouse in Philadelphia, Billy Graham, Harold John Ockenga in New England, these were the men who held the line and fought the battle until enough younger men could come in behind them and man the barricades.
So it’s a very fascinating history of our country and you never hear it, unless you happen to take a course in American Church History. But that pertains to this appendix tonight because it was during the 1920s and 1930s, when accommodation became the mainstream. What we have presented to you in this course so far, the strict interpretation of Genesis is a new thing, in the sense that it was resurrected in the 1960s. It was not held by many of the evangelicals all the way back. In fact, it is interesting, even in the Monkey Trial, the Scopes Trial in Tennessee, William Jennings Bryan did not hold to a totally literal interpretation of Genesis, a fascinating side note of history.
One of the reasons he lost to Clarence Darrow, it is felt, was that he was fundamentally inconsistent. Bryan was trying to oppose evolution but he also had compromised himself in the area of not having a holistic view of Genesis 1–11. He was trying to get ages in and all kinds of things in there. He wasn’t consistent, and Clarence Darrow was a very consistent and logical attorney and he just chopped Bryan to pieces. He made him look like an idiot along with everybody else who was a creationist at the time.
So it’s important that we look at why, since the early1960s, why has there been a resurgence of strict creationism in our camp. It is still a controversy inside our Christian camp, and that’s why I warn you that you can’t assume that just because someone trusted the Lord Jesus Christ that they’re going to agree with you in the area of Genesis 1–11. It’s not going to happen because in the church, for over 100 years, the modernists have tried an accommodation strategy.
To accommodate the would try to squeeze time into the text, and they would try to smear out any differences between what the text appeared to say and what evolutionists were saying, trying to reduce tensions, that’s all. And many of them had good intentions in doing this.
However, by the mid-20th century it became clear that the accommodation strategy was unraveling. At every point that a compromise was made, it resulted in another compromise. We call this logically the slippery slope argument. And men who were in their 50s back in 1960 were the guys that really began to articulate it.
They began to get very, very concerned about the way things were going, and they said, “No, no, there’s something wrong in our whole approach.” It was during those years that they redrafted things, and out of that came what we now know as strict creationism.
So we call that a counterattack strategy, and I deliberately call it a counterattack strategy, it’s just my vocabulary. But I call it the counterattack strategy to draw attention to the fact that these people are countering. The image here is often that, oh gee, these people must be so terribly uneducated, surely they have gone to science schools, they’ve gotten their degrees in math, science, and engineering, what is wrong with them? Why do they insist on this strict stuff when they know darn well it creates such tension, and they’re taking on the whole world by doing this. Why do they insist on doing this? Don’t they realize that there are other people in the church who took an allegorical interpretation? That kind of story. Why I’ve said that this is a counterattack strategy is because these people are very informed. It is precisely because they do know the Genesis text; it is precisely because they are trained in the sciences, that they did what they did.
The problem was, and most of these men who did this, as I said, were not people who lived on Christian campuses. They were men who worked out in the everyday world of science and engineering, who had to deal with this. It would be like you working as an accountant, or a business man, and every day you’re dealing with finances, and so on, and you followed an agenda that’s getting you into economic trouble.
And you begin to sense there’s something wrong here. So you say wait a minute, hold it, there’s something wrong in my basic premise that’s getting me in trouble. So it’s a reexamination of that. That’s more like what’s happened here. So yes, I am fully aware that what I have taught in these classes, week after week, month after month is in massive collision with the world system. But it’s deliberately that way. That’s right! Because that’s the way it is.
So half of the tension, obviously is, are we right in saying Genesis should be literally interpreted? And that’s the question we are dealing with tonight.
The first section, on page 103 and following, deals with hermeneutics. Hermeneutics deals with the rules of interpreting literature, which causes us to get back to the issue of language. To do that we want to go back to Genesis 1 and look at the text to refresh our memory. And if you will turn to Genesis 1 and hold your place there, and turn to John 1 and we’ll flip-flop between the two, because we want to observe something. We want to observe something we have seen before, but we want to review it, because the heart of the problem of interpreting literature is one’s view of language.
It’s quite obvious, if you look at Genesis 1, that the verb of creating is a verb of speaking, notice Genesis 1:3. The first thing that is recorded to have been created, after the earth, is light. And the light is a result of God speaking, “God said, Let there be light,” and if you have a modern translation it’s in quotes, “Let there be light,” a sentence, with nouns and verbs in it that have meaning, was spoken.
Then in Genesis 1:5, after the act, and you notice there’s no other verb “to create” in verse 3, it just says “Let there be light” and it happened. There’s not some intermittent verb that says God said, gee I want to make light, and then He set out to compress atoms or something, that would be a verb, and then He said, oh, now I have light, all that is dropped out. The only verb we see in the text is “speaking”, a verb “to speak.” So what immediately comes out of this is that all of reality, energy, mass, atomic structures, whatever you want to talk about, is a result of language.
But it’s not the language of man; it’s the language of God. So language takes on a very highly elevated position in Scripture. Language, God’s language, is above all. We fundamentalists like to turn to God’s Word, God’s Word. I’m not using the word “God’s Word.” I’m using the word “God’s language” simply as a device today to make us think a little bit clearer. Because if I keep using the word “God’s Word” we all think we know what “God’s Word” means, therefore we don’t listen, therefore we don’t catch it, so I won’t use “God’s Word” so much, I’ll use “God’s language.”
So God speaks, and there’s a linguistic structure to all of nature. We’ll get into that more in Appendix B. But the idea is that language is superior and that means that language shapes everything else. Why do I make a point about that? Because those who would argue that we can’t be literal in our Genesis interpretation, argue like this: they say all language is conditioned, language is approximate, you always speak out of your own worldview, you always have expressions and idioms in language. Language is figurative anyway, so language accommodates itself to something that’s not quite really ready for language.
That’s true of human language. But everything that exists has come into being through the hyper language, or the metalanguage, which is God’s Word, God speaking. So that means that we, if we start right here in the Scripture, the third verse of the Bible gives us a doctrine of language. And that is a doctrine that collides, absolutely, emphatically, and completely with the view of language as articulated by 20th century philosophers, and everyone else that’s driving this wagon of deconstruction
And in schools today, Cindy got up here and was telling us about the problems of an English teacher, and the big thing today in interpreting literature in English or literature class is that the language is basically a tool of deception. It is biased, and to understand a document you have to tear it up and say well, Shakespeare didn’t really mean this, the whole Shakespearian drama set of literature is a propaganda device. Whether Shakespeare intended it or not, nevertheless it came out that way, so King Lear and all the rest of it, it’s just propaganda. It’s propaganda of Shakespeare’s narrow worldview.
So the feminists will climb all over it and say see, it’s all loaded with masculine dominance, it’s all loaded against the woman, so this is all just propaganda. What they do, as they keep yakking like this, week after week in a classroom, what you finally wind up with is gee, is language capable of communicating anything? And you come out with a very low, low, low view of language.
If you diminish your view of language, what else happens? You can’t think without language, so if you can destroy language, you’ve destroyed thinking. And if you’ve destroyed thinking the next step is that you’re left with emotions. So this is why everybody wants to emote and make these mindless statements and responses, just an emotional response to something. No thought given, because if you can’t have language, and language isn’t an available tool, then I can’t think because I don’t have any tools to think with.
So the battle of our own time has largely to do with this, and if you have a low view of language you’re going to interpret Genesis in a very figurative way, in a very simplistic way. It’s going to come across to you that it’s all metaphor. It’s just men, the ancient Jewish people, trying to express themselves and their ideas.
But you see, here’s where you get in trouble. If you’re going to be a Christian, you have to be a fundamentalist and get to the truth, because if you don’t go far enough in your faith to see that God literally speaks in Genesis 1:3, that God literally speaks that sentence, then you have no support for your whole theory of language.
Our whole idea of Genesis is that it’s to be interpreted literally because language is a bona fide tool with which we understand the world. If you write me a letter, do you intend me to have trouble interpreting it, and that I have to sit and read your letter 45 times and get 53 interpretations out of it? It may come across that way, but you certainly don’t intend that. You intend to communicate an idea to me when you write a letter. Can’t we accord the same opinion about God? When God wants to speak to us, does He really intend that we have this tremendous problem understanding what it is He’s trying to say; it thwarts the whole idea of language.
So from a biblical viewpoint there shouldn’t be an interpretation problem to start with in Genesis. This is history. The only reason people have problems with it is that it doesn’t line up very well.
Remember back in the Fall when we started I showed this overhead, which clearly shows we have a problem here. On the right hand side the Genesis text is giving us a narration of events that conflict in very, very fundamental ways with the left side of the diagram, which is what we’re taught in evolution in the school system.
It doesn’t require a genius to see we’ve got a big problem here; we’ve got major conflicts going on from one end of that list to the other. So what do you do about that?
That’s where the game of footsy comes in, and that’s how accommodationism started: “can’t we get rid of some of this, this is an embarrassment. Here we are, modern people going around with this ancient document that conflicts so much with what the world says. We want to get to the gospel, so in order to get to the gospel we’ll try to get rid of this embarrassment.”
The problem is, if you dilute this you never do get to the gospel, because now the Christ that you’re talking about isn’t the Christ of Scripture, it’s another Christ. As one guy said, Jesus Christ is a chameleon, He takes on the color of the environment, it becomes a content-less slogan unless we’re talking about the Christ of the Scripture. That’s the only Christ there is, there’s no other Christ.
There’s reconstructions of men, trying to reconstruct Jesus, and there’s the liberalist Jesus and the modernist Jesus, and the ecumenical Jesus, there are lots of Jesus’. But the real Jesus is defined only in Scripture. So we have to go through this embarrassment, this Genesis text that conflicts completely with our world. It’s part of a load we carry as Christians. And we shouldn’t look upon it as a load, or as an embarrassment, it’s defining answers for which the pagan has none.
That’s what we’ve tried to say as we’ve gone through creation, the fall, the flood, and the covenant. We said point, after point, after point, after point, whether it’s in psychology, in the area of language, the area of knowing, the area of morals, whether it’s in the area dealing with evil, it’s not that there are other answers out there, they don’t have any answers.
Do you know what the word in the Greek and Hebrew for unbelief is? It’s translated by this anemic little word in our English called “vanity,” but what it really means is just hot air. Unbelief is just a lot of hot air, and we have to show people, hot air. That’s what it all is, it doesn’t have a basis. It’s hard to do that. It’s not just that you can just call it hot air; you’ve got to show that it’s hot air, and that’s what we’ve tried as we’ve gone through here. It’s not that there are many answers in the world, there are very few answers, and the Bible gives the only answers in the final analysis.
So hermeneutics and presuppositions, what do we mean by this? We mean that how you interpret literature is controlled by your doctrine of language. And in turn, your doctrine of language derives from your presuppositions about whether or not God’s Word is God’s Word. That’s your starting point. If you start off denying that you’re going to come out with one view of language; if you start affirming that, you’re going to come out with another view of language.
That’s because everything hinges on the fact that in Scripture we go back to this two-level idea. We have the Creator and the creature; we have Language with a capital L up here and we have language down here with a little l. Capital L, Language isn’t the same as this little l language. It corresponds with it, but “L” is the Language of omniscience. This is Language that is perfectly and logically consistent in every detail. It is a Language that commands a total and perfect knowledge. Whereas we are finite creatures and we have pieces, and we understand a little bit here and a little bit there, and it looks conflicting and foggy to us.
In John 1, after we’ve thought a little bit about Genesis 1, think what John has done for us in his Gospel. What John has done under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is he has digested and extended the meaning of Genesis 1. In Genesis 1 God speaks and He says “Let there be light” and there was light. God says this and there was that, God said that and there was something else.
What John does, he says, now isn’t this interesting, “In the beginning,” now there’s a phrase, a direct copy from Genesis 1:1. Let’s line those two statements up. Genesis 1:1 says “In the beginning God created,” and we know that He created by means of language, God said and it was, God said and it was.
Now John comes along in the New Testament and he says, “In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was God.” What do you think impressed the apostle John about the Genesis text? Precisely what is bothering 20th century people, the whole issue of language. Look at the word that he uses for the Second Person of the Trinity. Logos! This is the word that means thought, it’s the word that means expression of thought. It means the thought, and the word of the thought that expresses it. So what John is amazed at, and under the Holy Spirit he writes this in his Gospel, “In the beginning there was language, and language was with God, and language was God.” That’s the high order with which he held language.
Think of the implications this has for training people to read. Think of the implications. Do you know why literacy was promoted in Western civilization? To read the Bible, to converse with God and understand what He has said. Think of this for a moment. Who defined the modern German language? Luther. How did he do that? By translating the Bible. Luther set up modern German.
Who was it that basically structured the English language? The King James Version of the Bible. Why was there great demand in the 18th and 19th centuries to teach children to read? So they could read computer manuals, funny books, encyclopedias? No, none of those were around.
Why did people learn to read? There were only about 3 or 4 books in the average American home; one was Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Law, which amazingly was a best seller in New England, colonial America, the Bible, and the Almanac. That was basically most people’s library, the people who could afford it had classic books of course, but that was it. And people learned to read because they wanted to learn what was on God’s mind about themselves. That’s the high order, the great motivation behind literacy.
Now as we come to our day, when systematically we have by law excluded theistic claims from the classroom, and we’ve got a problem with literacy. Oh, kids can read in the sense that they understand the letters, but they can’t put them together into coherent thoughts. Why is that? No motivation. Why should I bother to learn how to read and go through all the disciplines of learning language and expressing myself in language when there’s nothing really there that you’ve shown me that’s worth talking about?
I can understand football without reading. I can have a good time; I don’t have to learn to read to have a good time. I don’t even have to read to do a lot of manual labor. So what’s the motivation? We can’t talk about that, it’s a violation of the separation of church and state. So by snapping the umbilical cord underneath the theistic justification of language, we’ve destroyed the motive to learn language. It’s very simple.
So we want to understand when we come to Genesis 1–11 it’s built on this very high order. And John, when John writes of this he is so excited about the fact that there’s thought, there’s reason, somebody is talking out there, that he calls the second personality of the Trinity “the Word,” the very one noun that he can find in the Greek language to describe that which is most significant about that Second Person of the Trinity. He expresses the nature of God Himself; He has a message that can be read. Enough said about language and Genesis.
Now let’s go on page 104 to the traditional interpretation. We’ve mentioned from time to time as we have gone through this, that if you want to learn about the Old Testament, often you can get interpretations by watching what the New Testament does with the Old Testament and I’ve listed many phrases.
But I want to take you to Matthew 19:4–5, which we covered the very first night we met, Matthew 19 is a classic instance of Jesus apparently not knowing what every college freshman knows who is taking a course in biblical criticism. Jesus, to the modern man, makes a terrible mistake here.
In Matthew 19:4–6 He is dealing with a very practical question, notice, a very practical question about divorce. “And He answered and said, Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female,” if you have a marginal reference, somewhere there should be a reference to where that is taken from, I think you’ll find a reference to Genesis 1.
Now you look in the next verse, Matthew 19:5, “And said, For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh,” and this points to Genesis 2.
What does every freshman learn in a course on the Bible in our skeptical classrooms? That there are two accounts of creation, Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, and they’re both in conflict. Now isn’t this interesting, that Jesus either is unaware of the conflict, or, as the author of both Genesis 1 and 2, He knew very well there was no conflict, in which case the joke is on the people who think there’s a conflict.
And it must say something about the fact that the way they perceive the story is somewhat flawed, so flawed that they really honestly have convinced themselves that there’s a conflict there. The problem there is that they are unable to read. In all seriousness, they are unable to read the text.
Here we have the author of the text interpreting the text for us, and we have teacher after teacher, after teacher, and article writer and textbook writer after textbook writer telling us all, no, no, Jesus is wrong. Jesus shares that 1st century Judaism, He was a man of His time, He was trapped in His own age, trapped in His own culture, He couldn’t transcend His own culture, didn’t really have the added benefits that we have today, and didn’t really know what He was talking about.
This is an example of why we say that the literal straightforward interpretation of Genesis that we have promoted is the same one you find in the New Testament. Turn to Matthew 23 to see another little casual reference to Genesis. It doesn’t require a genius to see that the New Testament authors have no sense whatsoever that the narrative of Genesis is somehow symbolical.
Matthew 23:35, who is the speaker here? Jesus, same guy that made the mistake in chapter 19 makes another one. Look at this: “That upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.”
Imagine that, Jesus believed in a literal Abel. He actually believed those stories in Genesis 1. And He also points out that there was no blood shed before the murder story in Genesis 4. That’s interesting. What do you do about this? If you’re going to capitulate, what you’re going to say is yes, Jesus believed in literal interpretation, He was just wrong, that’s all. But if you’re an accommodationist what are you going to do; you have a problem.
Here’s where you go one way or the other, it’s sort of like you have one foot on the boat, another on the dock and the boat’s going away from the dock. That’s what happening here with the accommodationists, because now, whatever they do to soften the conflict, since Jesus believes in a literal interpretation, now they’ve got to soften Him. So to accommodate the Genesis text over here requires us to accommodate Jesus over here, and that’s precisely why we have the counterattack strategy, because these gimmicks don’t work in the real world. You can’t give up over here without causing problems over here. The Bible is like a set of dominoes, you knock one over and it goes all the way around the room. And here’s why, these are verses that are imbedded. .
Look at Matthew 24:37, Jesus is still speaking, what does He talk about? “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah,  For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark,  and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be.” Notice took them all away, not some away. Clearly Jesus knows the details of that Genesis story.
Why does Jesus so stubbornly adhere to these details? Not only does the New Testament adhere to the literalness of Genesis, and this is another very interesting point. Warren Miller taught a class about Jude and he pointed out that it is that’s woven through the New Testament. If this line represents information stored in Genesis 1–11, then the New Testament not only affirms this information, the New Testament offers additional information that is even more literal than the Genesis text.
Let’s look at 1 John 3:12 is an example of where the New Testament almost tells us how Cain slew his brother. Just a little verb stuck in here, but the verb may very well be asserting details about the first murder that are not recorded in Genesis. Verse 12 says we should “not be as Cain who was of the evil one, and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brothers’ were righteous.”
If you look up the word “slew” in the Greek the context of that verb is cut with a knife. This adds insight into perhaps how Cain got the idea how to kill his brother. Think about it, no TV, he couldn’t learn about violence that way, didn’t have any murder stories. Where did Cain get the idea how to kill his brother? What were knives used for prior to the murder? To kill lambs for sacrifice. So it’s very easy to think about how Cain watched how his father, Adam, sliced the throat of a lamb, and it bled to death and that was the sacrifice. Ah, gee, I wonder what would happen if I did that to dear brother; it’s these little details.
If you really want to see a detail, turn to Jude 14. If Jude is Jesus’ half-brother, and it seems likely he was, this comes out of a family of boys, raised by the same parents, taught, discussed the Bible, apparently in their home, part of their Jewish culture, and would reflect therefore the understanding of the Genesis text that was concurrent with Jesus’ own family. Look at Jude 14, 15, “And about these also Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all,” etc.
This sermon of Enoch in verses 14–15 is nowhere to be found in the Genesis narrative. Where did it come from then? Nobody knows, whether it’s the Holy Spirit that added this revelation and gave the special memory to the apostles, or whether in fact segments of this knowledge had been preserved in Jewish tradition, because Judaism is very rich in tradition, there are these little pieces of knowledge that the New Testament fills in, little segments. What’s so striking about these little segments is that they all fit a literal interpretation.
Observe in this text, for example, in verse 14, “Enoch, the seventh generation from Adam.” One of the accomodationists tactics to try to get more time in Genesis to accommodate, is to stretch the genealogies. How do you stretch a genealogy? By making one name the grandfather of the next name, or the great grandfather, and you spread it apart. But, excuse me, Jude says Enoch is the seventh generation from Adam. He doesn’t allow us the rubber band prop. That’s what I mean when you start seriously looking at how the New Testament is treating the Old Testament it won’t permit you to get fast and loose with it, it pins you down even more.
The traditional interpretation, and by tradition we mean the tradition of the Jews, the tradition of the apostles in the early church, this traditional interpretation has been with us for centuries. And the irony is, on the part of the accomodationists, that nobody really seriously knew how to interpret Genesis until 1900. Doesn’t something strike you as kind of odd about that?
The Holy Spirit wrote the text, the Holy Spirit taught the church, the Holy Spirit indwelt every believer since Pentecost, and we have to wait until 1940 before we understand what really is going on in Genesis1? What? Do we have to wait until the year 3010 to find out what really went on in 1 Kings?
There’s something wrong here, something doesn’t fit. So that’s the argument for the traditional interpretation being the correct one. It’s not saying that tradition is always right, but it’s saying on such fundamental issues that the church has been screwed up for 19½ centuries and can’t get it straight in Genesis 1, what on earth are we doing with the rest of the Bible? There’s something intuitively wrong with this kind of thought.
Let’s go to the interrelated structure of Genesis. I want to show that, and I think most of you have a sense of this already, that Genesis is built with a certain logical coherence. Genesis 1 and 2 very clearly mark off the creation section of the text.
Clearly, Genesis 3–5 deal with the fall and its results, it depicts the rise of civilization, the contamination, the vaunted praise of Lamech, revenge, and all the rest that’s going on. Genesis 6–8 are clearly dealing with the flood, and Genesis 9–11 deal are dealing with the post-flood situation.
Observe what happens here. What do we learn about creation? We learn that there are certain specific kinds; there are certain categories that are set up here, the Creator/creature distinction, the man/nature distinction. Those are distinctions that were set up and established at that point. They’re inviolable, they never are transgressed.
We learned here that the introduction of evil, the origin of evil creates the curse of death. So remember we said that evil has a point in time where it begins and goes on until God deals with it in the future.
That marks us off from being pagan; the pagans don’t have an origin of evil, evil always was. Here we have a salvation and we have the concept of judgment for sin. And here we have the new heavens and the new earth. So we have in this microcosm of the first 11 chapters of Genesis the entire rest of the Bible depicted. If you think about it, it’s the whole story: origins, sin, salvation and resolution.
Now if you tamper with pieces of this, you rapidly create an unraveling sweater situation. Think for example what happens if in Genesis 1–2 you begin to expand the days into ages. Why would you do that? Because what you’re trying to do is accommodate the text to what appears to be a very old universe, and the old parts of the universe have fossils in them, etc. And if that’s the case, now what you have done is … here come the dominos, watch the dominos folks, if we do this little compromise here, and we wind up having to modify what we mean by this over here, now it’s really not death that starts in Genesis 3–5, it’s only the death of the man that starts in 3–5.
Whereas death always preceded in this case, because days are ages, and so in all those millions of years we had fossils going on, etc. so we had death happening; so we had natural evil, so the fall now becomes smaller, does it not? Don’t you feel what’s happening here, that this word death is now contracting down. Now it’s not death of animals, we’ve got plenty of death of animals going on before this if the days are ages.
What we’ve done is we’ve compromised this word also, because now it’s not natural evil and human evil that started at the fall, it’s only human evil that starts at the fall, not natural. So storms, chaos, and things in nature that are bad must not be bad, because they preceded the fall.
If that’s the case, then that also carries over further on down in the textual structure, because now what we’ve compromised those two things because we’ve made this little accommodation, now what happens in the area of salvation?
Because this flood, whatever it is, can’t be found in the strata anymore, because now we’ve explained all the rock strata back here, this is where the strata was laid down because that’s millions and millions of years old, now what we have done is we have to adjust the flood.
So this salvation and judgment gets contracted down because that becomes a minor Tigris-Euphrates River Valley overflow situation. It’s got to be, because there’s no evidence of a global flood. That was all pushed back when we made the days into ages. And if that’s the case, and the flood was only local, and God said He’d never bring another one, what does that do to the new heavens and the new earth? It trivializes the whole covenant now.
I hope you see through this little exercise, this is one of many dramas that we could show, but you start fiddling around with how you interpret one part of the text, and you’re going to get in hot water. And this is the lesson that has been learned for the past 200 years. Every time accommodationism has been tried it winds up doing this.
And that is why a group of men finally said, in the 1950s and 60s, this has gone far enough, we are not going to do this anymore. As Christians we are going to approach the text and if the text conflicts then the text conflicts, but we are not going to use a rubber Bible and stretch it everywhere we want to stretch it.
We come then to some of the final points. I’ve listed for you the favorite locations, I’ve just illustrated one of the several. I illustrated the first one, on page 105, the days of creation. But there are others. For example, on page 106 I list the Adam to Abraham genealogies. That’s a favorite location for getting more time. The problem is the formula; when you have a formula that X was n years and begat Y, and the days after he begat Y were n years, and all the days that X lived were n plus n years, it tends to give you the impression, whoever wrote it, meant that the days be taken literally and the years be taken literally because he’s adding them.
He’s locking it all up in a formula here. You can’t play fast and loose through this stuff. It’s better really, I think there is far more integrity if you have a problem with this, in just throwing the whole Bible out, a lot more integrity to say it’s wrong, just like the capitulationist say, forget it, just forget it. I can read, and it doesn’t fit so forget it. But don’t be a plastic person and start using rubber to stretch the text to fit every little problem I’ve got.
I conclude on pages 106–107 with the pre-Genesis 1 existence. And I want to approach this before we get on to the next appendix. This seems to be coming back, for some ungodly reason in our own day, because some evangelicals in Christian schools are now teaching that Genesis 1:1, 1:2, and 1:3, are to be interpreted such that verse 3 becomes the first act of creation, so that the heavens and the earth that are here are speaking of what’s happening beyond verse 3.
And the earth therefore, that appears in verse 2 was preexisting. “The earth was without form and void,” meaning that when God began to create, the earth was without form and void, at that time that He began to create. Excuse me, but haven’t we lost something here? If that’s really the case, now if God created all things, it may be but you don’t get it out of the Genesis text any longer, because watch what has happened, now this word is not contained in the actions of creating.
This is something that preexisted, so on a time line you have the earth existing here, and then God begins to create. His creating work starts at point B, but all the points previous to B have this mysterious earth that came from where? Beats me!
So what we’ve given up is something really immense, really serious. Now we’ve lost God as the creator of all things. And what’s so ironic about this is, this is exactly what we started the whole course with, many weeks ago when I had you read the Enuma Elish epic. And how did it start, how did a pagan story of origins start? With watery chaos. What came out of the watery chaos? The gods and goddesses and all else.
The source of the universe was chaos, just as in the modern version the source of the universe is chaotic gas. So in the ancient paganism the source of the universe was chaotic water. But when evangelicals, of all people, began to ooouuucchh their way these first three verses, and begin to interpret it such that the earth is preexisting prior to the work of creation, we once again set off a set of dominos and give it twenty more years and the people that have been translating the text this way are going to say oh-oh, guess what we let loose. That’s right. Why didn’t we think of that before?
And we can go to John 1, do you notice John saying anything about that “in the beginning” was the earth along with the Word. No! Let’s conclude with that text because John cuts that off even as an interpretative possibility by something else he says further down in the text.
John hastens to add in verse 3, and I wish some of the Jehovah’s Witnesses would forget their six-week course in Greek and read verse 3 along with verse 1. “All things came into being by Him; and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” Wouldn’t you say that’s pretty comprehensive; verse 3 locks it up. Verse 3 prevents you from ever misinterpreting John the Apostle, and since John begins in verse 1 with quoting the very words of Genesis 1:1, surely we have here his understanding of Genesis 1.
In a language course you could spend a whole semester on some of these details. I can’t, I only have 4–5 pages of appendix to do it, but I’ve tried to give you the overall argument, the overall strategy. You will run into permutations and combinations of what we’ve said tonight, you may run into thirty versions of what we have said tonight. But the thing to remember is you can’t keep all this in your head, you can’t remember all these details. The best thing to do is just think of the basic issue, just the BASIC ISSUE, and the basic issue is: you deny the Word of God over here, and you’re going to deny it everywhere else, finally. Let it go one way and it will always take you the other way.
That’s why we Christian fundamentalists insist on the inerrancy and the authority of Scripture. Not because we’re defending a new idea, we are defending the location of the inerrancy. Always remember that. As a Christian don’t be embarrassed when someone says oh, you believe the Bible is without error; yes. Do you believe that you’re without error? I am debating the location, but everybody holds to inerrancy. Every man holds to inerrancy somewhere, that’s his authority.
So either man is inerrant, or the Scripture is inerrant. But it’s not the case that we Christians are the only people that believe in inerrancy. We simply locate, very clearly for all the world to see, where our inerrancy is. The foot dancers and the ice skaters are trying to cover up the fact that ultimately they too have an inerrancy, which they locate in their own heart, their hearts of hearts is inerrant, it’s an inerrant discerner of what’s true and what’s false.
Next week we’ll deal with the basic argument, not all the details, but the logic and structure of the issue in biology, the issue of evolution and creation.