Saturday, June 02, 2007

The New 'Answers in Genesis' New Testament-- Children's Edition

Jesus rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on the foal of a raptor. People attempt to feed the raptor by laying palm branches on the road as he looks hungry.


Michael Gilley said...

What in the world???

Speaking of Genesis, I was pondering getting a commentary over Gen 1-4 by C. John Collins. I was wondering, Ben, if you had any opinions on his stuff. (Where he stands in the scholarly communitee?) Thanks!

Ben Witherington said...

There are a variety of good commentaries on Genesis but I would recommend especially Gordon Wenham's careful work.


P.S. This little spoof is in response to the opening of the Answers in Genesis museum here in Ky.

Bill Barnwell said...

Ben, what do you think of the scholarship from the "Answers in Genesis" crowd?

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Bill:

I think some of it is o.k., and most of it is obscurantist. One of the telling moments in that whole movement was when E.J. Young's son wrote his book on Flood Geology, and then recanted and repudiated the whole thing as un-scientific.

I think there is evidence for a middle eastern flood in antiquity, probably regional. I do not think there is any good reason to think that such an event caused all the fossils to go wonky and have the appearance of age without being old. I don't believe in a God who deceives us about the age of things. I think the evidence that the earth, and human presence on it, go back much further than 6,000 or so years is very clear.


Ben W.

Curt said...


I can understand your problems with the idea that the flood caused the appearance of the earth's age. But what about the creation process itself? Did God create Adam & Eve as as adults (either instantly or through a time-lapse like process)? If so, would not a scientific examination yield an incorrect date? The research could be accurate yet incomplete, because the scientist is ignorant of divine involvement. Would this mean that God was dishonest?

It's not unnatural to infer that Genesis 1 shows a similar creation of the plants, trees, and animals. If God created a fully mature earth very quickly, shouldn't we expect a divergence in dates? If there is divine causation to anything in our natural world, won't science eventually come to faulty conclusions because the reality is beyond our ability to study in a purely scientific manner?

And if this kind of sudden creation means that God is being deceitful, wouldn't that also be true of any divine change to what we think of as natural processes? If a truthful God can be born of a virgin, make the sun stand still, and even reverse the clock, why wouldn't He create a mature universe? Unless He has told us that everything has always followed the same natural processes that we now observe, which Scripture seems to contradict, how would He be deceiving us?

Just some thoughts. I'd be interested in hearing what you think.


Ben Witherington said...

Hi Curt:

I understand the logic of and reason for what you are saying, but there are serious flaws in the whole argument and approach.

Firstly, we have a wide variety of evidence that the earth not merely has the appearance of age, but is very old. Indeed we have a wide variety of evidence that the universe itself is old. For example, let's consider the issue of the speed of light. There is really very little debate about this fact amongst scientists.

It is a very simple calculation. I go out at night, and I see light that traveled millions of miles over a very long period of time from a star a very long way away. In fact, in some cases the light began from a particular star not merely 6,000 years ago, but at least a million years ago in order to reach me now. Now, what does that mean? It means that the universe existed back then.

But the deepest flaw in the whole young earth theory is the assumption that one can read the book of Genesis as if it were a scientific treatise giving us precise information about a whole host of scientific issues. This frankly is false. It addresses theological, historical, and ethical issues-- not geological, cosmological or other scientific issues. Indeed, a good deal of what we have in Gen. 1 is pure poetry-- not even prose.

There is the further serious problem that the genealogies in Genesis, and elsewhere in the Bible are often very incomplete, and deliberately so. They are segmented genealogies.

In other words-- Genesis tells us nothing about either the age of the earth or the length of time humans have been on the earth at all. The Bible has nothing to teach us about these subjects.

What it does tell us is that however long or short the process, and however long or short the time, God made it all, and indeed made humans uniquely in God's image, and this is what matters.

And one more thing. I have no problems with the notion of God doing miracles-- however making a distinction between miracles and normal natural processes is a huge mistake.

Our God obviously uses both and is a God of truth, whether he communicates through his creation, or by means of special creations or miracles.

It is a mistake to take a God of the gaps approach to this whole issue-- by which I mean whenever you find a problem for your theory you invoke the idea of a miracle to fill in the gap in the theory.

I would not expect God to communicate one way through his natural order, and a very different, and even contradictory way by means of miracle. I would expect that God operates consistently by both means and that the truth derived from each would be mutually reinforcing.


Ben W.

Bobby said...

Nicely said.

Curt said...


Thanks for your response. Just to clarify my post, this is not one of my "hobby horses," and I wasn't looking for a debate on the age of the earth. But this issue is intriguing, and since we're discussing it . . . :)

Let me respond to a few of your comments:

You say that the earth doesn't just appear old, that it is old. But the validity of the very data used to substantiate this claim, or better the completeness of those data, is precisely what I'm questioning.

Some claim that the Bible was not intended to be a history book, that it was written with a specific agenda. However, we still believe that when it gives us historical information, that this information is accurate.

You say that the Bible is not a scientific treatise. Granted. But where it gives us scientific information, I would claim that this information is reliable.

You write that a good deal of Genesis 1 is pure poetry. Which parts would you define as pure poetry? And is this a matter of clear consensus among OT scholars? I don't think the genre of Genesis 1 is such a resolved issue that it can be used as a determining factor in this kind of discussion. There is some very sound sounding scholarship out there that, if accurate, would not allow us to simply dismiss Gen. 1 as poetry.

But even if it is poetry, it is scriptural poetry describing the creation of the universe, and particularly the earth, plant life, and animal life. Can we blithely say that this is unrelated to science, cosmology, even geology? How can we say that the Bible's only contribution to this is that God was the cause, when it is specifically covering much more detail?

Yes, the genealogies are incomplete, (I don't know of anyone who still holds to a strict 6,000 year-old earth, but I don't follow the debate closely) but can we stretch them out hundreds of thousands of years? Is anyone seriously suggesting this?

I appreciate your comments about a God of the gaps. There are problems on both extremes of this issue, and I trust that we are both seeking to avoid such imbalances.

I also appreciate your perspective of God saying the same thing through Scripture and through His creation. I have two thoughts on this:

First, the simple fact of the distance of the stars tells us only how far away they are. We can also determine much about the rate of expansion. But this doesn't tell us definitively how they got there unless we assume that the same processes we are observing put them where they are now. To assume that nothing else was involved in their placement other than these (somewhat) observable processes, seems to be an eisegetical way of interpreting what God communicates through His creation. It may be a correct inference, but it is an inference nonetheless.

Secondly, I don't think you responded directly to my question of Adam and Eve? Do you believe the Genesis 2 account is literal? And, if so, doesn't that show God creating in a way that natural science would not apprehend?

My point about miracles is that if we follow an assumption that God will not contradict the natural processes that we observe in the aging of the earth, how can we claim that he will cause any effect that deviates from observable natural processes? If we must conclude that God didn't create a mature earth because that is contrary to the processes that we see, than we must also conclude that He did not cause any other effect that is contrary to the processes that we see. Human virgins do not conceive babies. That is scientifically verifiable. Is God saying something different through His written Word? Is that deceptive?

Written a little hastily but very respectfully!


Ben Witherington said...

Hi Curt:

Interesting. I think the Christian philosopher Tom Morris answers some of these issues quite well. Miracles are not things that contravene the natural order. In fact most of them could be said to involve the speeding up of certain natural processes.

Actually yes-- the vast majority of commentators on Genesis, conservative moderate or liberal, Christian or Jewish are in perfect agreement. Gen. 1 involves poetry with assonance, alliteration etc. You have to read it in the Hebrew to recognize this. And herein lies another problem with the whole young earth deal-- it is based on a reading of English translations of the Bible, not the original Hebrew text studied in its original historical contexts. I have no problems with the idea that 'earth creature' (which is what Adam means) and 'living one' (which is what Eve means, refer to real human beings. What is not the case is that we have some sort of literal description of how they came into being. The whole idea is that These two creatures are distinctive in that they are created in God's image-- not a physical trait, but rather a theological one. There is further the concept that only the same kind of creature could complete Adam-- not other sentient beings. This is an argument about a creation order God set up. And if you look closely at Gen. 1 you will see that there is an interaction between God acting directly through speaking, and natural processes which bring about creation. Indeed, if you look closely you will see that there were no 24 hour days at the beginning of creation since the sun of our solar system had not yet been created.


Ben W.

distinctiveministry said...

Ben, I usually love your blog, but even as an "old earth" believer, I think that this entry, while a joke, may be a joke in bad taste. Since the age of the earth and the best understanding of Genesis 1 are not matters of salvific import or even orthodoxy (despite what some might say), it isn't an issue that believers should be dividing churches over. I don't, by any means, think that you have done this, but I wonder if our disagreement with the science and hermeneutic of those who hold the young earth view demands a more gracious approach toward one another. I believe their science is bad, and I think they make some fairly foolish mistakes, but I won't be the one to disparage THEM or to give cause for offense. I deeply respect you and still look forward to future blog entries, but I hope you would agree that our response to different views on any issue may be disagreement, but should still be full of grace.

Thanks for reading my "rant",

Michael Gilley said...

Might I suggest a good work on this subject I've read a little of.

"A Biblical Case for an Old Earth" by David Snoke.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Travis:

I don't think clean humor is ever inappropriate, and if we have no capacity to laugh with each other and at ourselves in regard to our foibles without thinking that's disrespectful, then we are taking ourselves far too seriously.


Ben W.

Duke of Earl said...

Actually yes-- the vast majority of commentators on Genesis, conservative moderate or liberal, Christian or Jewish are in perfect agreement. Gen. 1 involves poetry with assonance, alliteration etc. You have to read it in the Hebrew to recognize this. And herein lies another problem with the whole young earth deal-- it is based on a reading of English translations of the Bible, not the original Hebrew text studied in its original historical contexts.

Respectfully Proffessor Witherington, studying the book of Genesis in its original language leads to the same conclusions. Dr Ting Wang, a lecturer on Hebrew at Stanford University is questioned on that very subject here

Also when has scholarly consensus decided truth? You yourself have questioned it.

As for the speed of light, there are two main answers to that offered. The first is non-relativistic and simply proposes that God created the stars in such an order that the light that travelled from them reached Earth on day four of Creation week. This would mean that, from the point of view of an observer on Earth the stars began to exist at that point. We use the same reasoning in regards to observations of super-novas, for example one observed occuring in 1987 is dated by that point, not by the 2000 or so years it took for the light to reach Earth.

The other relativistic model is based on Einstein's general theory of relativity and the way time slows in a gravity well. Dr Russell Humprhries has proposed the formation of the Universe inside what he describes as a white hole, as matter is expelled from this time passes more quickly for the objexts outside and billions of years can pass while only a little time passes inside the event horizon. This model is still being developed, they haven't gotten all the kinks out yet.

Dr Humphries, based on a creationist model, correctly predicted the magnetic field of Uranus against the secular "big bang" cosmology.
This is an example of the radiometric dating process being put to the test, and returning ages between 0.35 and 2.8 million years for rocks barely ten years old. Meanwhile Carbon 14 (which should be undetectable after 100,000 years) has been found in coal and diamonds supposedly millions of years old.

If you feel like wading through a whole bunch of articles try these.

The are many methods of "dating" the Earth. Some give old ages and some short. It is the presuppositions of the observer which often determine which end up being used.

Duke of Earl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Duke of Earl said...

Incidently Travis, I found the picture itself quite amusing. I dare say that there were no raptors in Judea at the time however.

Certainly no point in getting defensive on my behalf.

Edit: spelling mistake

Michael F. Bird said...

On a completely unrelated topic, why don't you blog on your new book on baptism which I just saw has come out from Baylor Uni Press.

Jeremiah Bailey said...

In response to Michael Gilley, I have that commentary and frankly I think it is very well put together. It is clear, scholarly, and has plenty of useful sources to mine.

In response to the picture, I'm not really amused. I know a lot of people who believe that sort of thing, and I highly doubt this qualifies as "speaking the truth in love".

Ruud Vermeij said...

I don't think Genesis 1 is a scientific report of the days of creation. But there are also some problems with evolution.

The Bible seems to suggest that our first ancesters were Adam and Eve. The genalogies seem to suggest that they all were real persons. We know there are gaps, but I don't believe they can be stretched millions of years.

The Bible also seems to suggest a clear distiction between humans en animals. If animals evolved slowly into humans, we might have a big theological problem. Adam's "brother" might have been an "ape", with no spiritual properties. Abel might have hunted down his animalistic "cousin" and eaten him...

I used to be a young earth creationist. I'm not so sure anymore. But evolution also is no alternative...

(I liked the humor though :-))

Terry Hamblin said...

The problem with the old earth idea is not just Genesis 1, but also Exodus Ch 20 v 11.

I think it was Charles Kingsley who first dismissed the young earth idea with the view that God would not deceive us over the age of the earth, but it is a foolish argument. If Adam and Eve were created as adults they would have had the appearance of age. If they were placed in a garden then the trees would have tree rings. The stars are certainly light years away, but the photons on their light paths to earth were created with the appearance of having taken years to get here. Whatever, objection can be imagined an answer is available as part of the act of creation. An apparent age for a mature creation is inevitable; it is not a deceit. Scripture has revealed how it was done. Making up another explanation is not science; it is unbelief.

JohnO said...


I can easily see the poetry and narrative aspects of Genesis and the creation story. I would not have a problem with saying this isn't supposed to teach us scientific creation. However, in the portrayal of scientific creation, I think a major theological line is crossed.

I've asked Christians who hold to the old-earth/evolution perspective, and they all agree this is their problem to understand and explain. An old-earth/evolution perspective distinctly implies death before sin. Whereas the creation story's conclusion is that Adam and Eve's sin causes death. Do you have any reconciliation on this issue?

Daniel said...

Just a note on the 'appears to be old' thing... for those of us who think the vast majority of scientists (Christian or not) aren't smoking crack (or, put more midly, aren't the victims of their hopelessly sub-biblical presuppositions), there is an obvious problem with the appearance of old age.
If Adam and Eve had been created as adults, one might say, oh, God just created them old. But if God created Adam and Eve with various scars, marks and leftovers from injuries they had when they were children when in fact they'd never had a childhood, then we might rightfully say that God was deceiving us.
The analogy with Earth is that it bears historical marks (scars, if you will) from events (ice ages, landslides, tectonic plate movement, etc.) which, under a Young-Earth paradigm, never happened. It's like God creating Adam with a scab on his knee from 'that one time when he fell down'. Well, to me, that makes God somewhat deceitful...
But since this ground has been covered elsewhere, I hereby boldly predict that this conversation will go nowhere fast.

Michael Gilley said...

Jeremiah: thanks for the ref.

Terry and others: as discussed in the brief work I cited earlier Snoke takes on the belief of a created old universe using logic. I had never heard the issue debated before simply becuase it was so hard for anyone to debate. Snoke doesn't debate it either. He just simply erects a stop sign. Logically, you can't argue with the claim that the universe was created to look old because it assumes that all scientific, testable data comprising our observablities was manufactured as well. This means, we are like Truman, living in a fake world, created to interact with us to produce a result.

Therefore, you can logically tip this on its head, and argue just the opposite. And so the vicious cycle begins. It's a philosophical "crutch": the old "brain in a vat" arguement. You can argue anything if you hold that our capacity to observe the world around us are skewed. Anything past this is pure conjecture based on guessing the contents of a dark room.

So there is no immediate error in arguing this, but in doing so one is opening the door to argue just the opposite. It's just wrong to argue this coming from scripture, because it doesn't. Read the Hebrew.

Johno: very intriguing. I have never before heard that question/argument.

Robbie said...

Hi, Ben! I teach NT, but every once in a while I either have to teach OT or weigh in on the age of the earth and the "speed" of creation. When I do this, I put a ZERO candy bar under the document reader and tell students this is the most significant number in Genesis, chapter one. Zero. Ex nihilo. Out of nothing. A God who can create all that is out of el-zippo, not out of himself, but out of nothing, can do that as fast or as slowly as he'd like.
I agree with you--the beauty of how God reveals himself, his purposes, character, careful sequencing for and celibration of creating time and space is the point, not "what about dinosaurs" or other such stuff.
I end by pointing out the lack of refrain for closing the seventh day--pointing out that a measure of time (not place or person) is the first thing declared "holy". Our holiness is rooted in time management that lends itself to God's image....and then I say, "The first student who asks me how old the earth is or how long it took, flunks the class. And I am serious, so don't."
Then, I can get on with the wonderful story of our Triune God. Robbie C.

Leslie said...

"An old-earth/evolution perspective distinctly implies death before sin. Whereas the creation story's conclusion is that Adam and Eve's sin causes death. Do you have any reconciliation on this issue?"

I am with Johno on this one - I would like to see your reconciliation of this, Ben.

Terry Hamblin said...

It certainly might have been viewed as deceit if he hadn't given us an explanation. But He has had it written down in plain language, "I made the world in 6 days." He even had it incorporated in the 10 commandments. Now if it is not true, that would be deception.

Curt said...

I think a frequent misnomer in describing a mature creation (that may be a more accurate label than a "young earth") is to say that God created it "to look old." This isn't the claim at all. What I and others see in, yes, the Hebrew is that God rapidly created a mature, functioning earth, with mature plants and animal life. The appearance of age is purely due to our assumption of uniform, unchanging natural processes. Daniel's argument about scars is only valid if we can determine that the characteristics we're observing could not be part of a rapid creation process.

So, no, God did not create the universe to look "old," but He did create a mature universe that scientifically we interpret as old. Because scientifically we don't factor in the divine element.

Johno's question regarding the origin of death reflects a common argument for a more recent creation. If you haven't heard this argument I would question how much you've read from the "other side." If you believe that creation originated billions of years ago, then you're stuck with a creation that included decay, destruction, and death from the beginning. Tsunamis, earthquakes, and hurricanes were part of the creation that God called very good.

I talk to unbelievers all the time about the nature of the earth. They see great beauty and order to nature, but also great violence and chaos. It's not hard for them to see that the earth was created good but is corrupted. What a beautiful, vibrant, natural illustration of the human condition and our need of God!

And, once again, what will do with Adam? If you hold to an old earth view, how do you not have to jettison an Adam that was created fully mature?

And, finally: Robbie, I'm concerned about a teacher that would make such a sweeping pronouncement about a key passage, and then forbid further debate or discussion upon pain of flunking. Where do you teach?

Tom said...

I love you Ben for your keen observations. The poetic aspect of Genesis was unknown to me.

However, I have to say that a literal Adam and Eve had to exist at some point in the past, since they are referred to in Biblical geneaologies.

Also, the whole idea of salvation is non-sense if there was not an actual fall.

Matt said...

I attended an "'Answers' in Genesis" event back in September, which according to the advertisement was supposed to be about the science behind their beliefs. Unfortunately, there was little science, and the seminar was a workshop on exegetical irresponsibility. The speaker, who apparently has a PhD in thermodynamics, talked about biblical Hebrew as if he were an expert, but I would be surprised if he had even an intro course under his belt. During the question and answer period I asked him how he could read Genesis 1 and 2 "literally" without performing the same tricks with the text he accused others of; my question was all that was needed to set off not only the speaker, but some others in the audience. I was now the resident "liberal" heretic. One woman even came up to me afterwards, gave me hug, and said that she would pray for me!!!

I spoke with the AIG speaker afterwards, and I asked him point blank: why do only handful of Christian scientists, and virtually no secular scientists believe in a young earth? His response was truly sad: either these people are losing a spiritual battle or they are succumbing to peer pressure!!

This attitude scars me. The message of the gospel (that we have a problem with sin, which only God can cure in Christ) is offensive enough to our world. The Church doesn't need offensive and anti-intellectual "stuff" like this to make the great commission more difficult.

Daniel said...

Very briefly, a theistic evolutionist (who believes that Creation is 'intelligently designed' but questions the ID movement's inability to generate testable hypotheses) would argue that the 'Good Creation/Human Rebellion/Redemption' reading of Scripture is still possible given evolution, but that it needs to be understood logically rather than chronologically.
In other words, the 'very good' pronounced by YHWH in the Genesis Creation stories is the proclamation that all good things come (and came) from the Father. Analogously, the rebellion story (one rebels intentionally, whereas one 'falls' accidentally) is interpreted as the elements of Creation which are not (yet) in conformity with the will of the Father (because of rebellious human/angelic agents).
So yes, accepting evolution (or at the very least the common ancestry of the vast majority of living biological organisms today--which is scientifically very hard to deny) requires an 'adjustments' of sorts to our mental picture of Creation, but the point of the story stays the same.
Dr. Witherington, will you jump in on this one, or will you rather let it slowly die in the deep ruts of this wretched debate?

MattJP said...

"An old-earth/evolution perspective distinctly implies death before sin. Whereas the creation story's conclusion is that Adam and Eve's sin causes death. Do you have any reconciliation on this issue?"

This is an issue I have struggled with also but I think C.S. Lewis put forward an interesting hypothesis in one of his books which I like. He said something like, at the rebellion of Satan, death entered the world and this happened long before man made an appearance on the face of the earth. Adam and Eve and their offspring would be agents of redemption in the creation but they also chose to rebel which brought the curse on mankind. I think it's in Lewis' "The Problem of Pain," - one of the few Lewis works I have not read. The question of death in nature and it's being "red in tooth and claw," came up in Jerry Walls' "Tragedy, Suffering and the Christian Religion" class and Lewis' hypothesis was brought up as a way of making sense of it.

A. C. Mattern said...

I'm going to have to double check the translation I've been using. I'm almost positive it said that is was the foal of a brachiosaur. The velociraptor isn't referred to until Revelation 19.

Having been raised in a house that could probably be best described as conservative and evangelical it has only been in the past couple of years that I have had to contend with questions of old earth/new earth. I've found it even more complicated since there are multiple camps on each side, and each seems to put all who disagree on the opposite side of whatever line is currently being drawn. In all honesty I can't claim to have a strong enough background in bioscience, anthropology, or what-have-you to come to any firm conviction. I'm uncomfortable merely reading a book or two from one side and declaring it to be the complete truth without reading from the others as well. That tends to take a lot more time then I am willing to give... at this point.

The new Answers in Genesis museum is about an hour and twenty minute drive from my house, and I already have friends trying to organize group trips to check it out. I am curious, and more than willingly to give it an open mind but I'm also... dreading it a bit. Mostly because I've seen some sloppy Christian science in the past, and would much rather avoid that. Christians used to be the foremost scientists, what happened?

I suppose what I am more interested in is the appropriate interpretation of Genesis. I've not much experience with Hebrew, so all I can pull from is English translations, word studies, and stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before me. With that in mind, I think we've brought up some good questions here:

Were Adam and Eve literal beings (I'd like to think so)? We see genealogies listing them as well as references from Jesus and Paul, so a literal interpretation would say "yes." But is literal necessarily normative in this case? Is there any contextual evidence in the original language that this could be metaphorical? Anything from the Septuagint? Could Jesus or Paul be borrowing from Rabbinical tradition?

I liked Terry's reference to Exodus 20:11. It hadn't occurred to me to check other references to the creation outside of Genesis (as well as their context).

Johno and Leslie, for what it's worth I've heard some respond to your questions with the explanation that it was not a physical death that had never been introduced on the planet before but a spiritual death. I don't think I could give the full explanation, but I'm sure someone on the Internet has, in deep and excruciating detail.

Slightly off topic: I'd like to get an understanding of/exposure to the original texts as much possible, Professor Witherington I know you've mentioned in the past that you often use your own translation of the scriptures for your studies. Could I ask what you use to translate from? A particular copy of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia and Novum Testamentum Graece? Also, can anyone suggest a reliable English translation of Early Church Father writings and as well as the Septuagint?

All this from a picture of Jesus on a raptor. That is humorous.

In His Grip,

mac said...

Poetry schmoetry, the book of Genesis is taken literally everywhere else in the Bible. You either take it as face value or reject it. As for “bad science” on the part of creationists, you need to open your eyes as to the bad science spouted by proponents of evolution.

When Dawkins was asked for an example of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary process that can be seen to increase information in the genome; his simple answer should have been no. Instead, he embarrassed himself by a very long silent pause and then went into damage control, still not answering the question. Part of his damage control was to enlist skeptics to accuse the questioners of deceit. He’s finally put out a page in response, but when you analyse what he’s saying in too many words, the response is still no – he only provides an elaborate excuse.

Anyone who really cares should pick a topic and challenge Answers in Genesis or Creation Ministries and see how the “bad science” really stacks up. This accusation is too easily thrown out and is often used by “science” writers without substantiation.

By the way, Ben, I don’t know that I would have depicted the King of kings riding a raptor into Jerusalem just for poking some fun at AIG. He is, after all, our King.

Gordon Hackman said...

I would also like to give a strong recommendation to David Snokes "A Biblical Case for an Old Earth." I think it offers a devastating critique of Young Earth Creationist science and a good case for compatibility between the Bible and belief in an old earth/universe.

Jeremiah Bailey said...

Also, I would like to suggest that Dr. Witherington read "A little exercise for young theologians" by Helmut Thielicke

P-Style said...

Mattjp, and any interested others:

Here's a wee essay that looks at some issues such as Adam & Eve + "Original Sin" from a context that presupposes the credibility of Evolution. Sopme may see this as an apostate opinion, and others may see this as Biblical reconciliation, and other may sit somewhere in between. Food for thought either way.

neverlie said...

I just stumbled onto your blog, and wanted to say how much I appreciate your tone and the quality of your work. Peace.


Dave said...

OK, here's a somewhat silly question that I am sure some smart person can answer...

Is it possible that Satan or his demons have manipulated the fossil record so that we call into question the existence of God?

Adam said...

Hey Dr. Witherington, I heard you recently came out with a book on baptism and the theological positions regarding it.

Would you consider writing a blog about that alittle? It has been in my mind recently as I have some family who are part of the Oneness Pentacostal movement who baptize only in the name of Jesus.

Thanks for your great blog!

Kevin said...

"Is it possible that Satan or his demons have manipulated the fossil record so that we call into question the existence of God?"

I think if you can accept that God would allow Satan to manipulate his very creation to fool humanity, what would stop you from questioning whether Satan had a hand in the authoring or translation of the Bible itself?

Would that not be the ultimate deception, wording the Bible in such a way as to cause us to doubt each other, doubt other beliefs, doubt human knowledge and science, and doubt that we could ever achieve a utopia on Earth?

NCApologist said...

I lived in Northern Ky my whole life until 6 months ago when I moved to the Charlotte area.
Ken Ham (president of AIG) lives in the Cincinnati, so I have been hearing his position on creation for too long.
I respect his desire to get creation front and center but....he is losing the respect of fellow Christians for his hardline view of the young earth. And AIG's positions are horrible. Very few reputable scholars hold to the young earth position.
Unfortunately it seems AIG is more focused on the young earth debate than they are reaching the lost.
I believe God would be honored more by a museum focused on what is important, namely Divine Creation, instead of whether or not the earth is several thousand years old.

Imago said...

I have to agree with Dr. Witherington on his interpretation of Genesis. The opening chapters are largely polemic against competing Ancient Near Eastern religions. The point is to contrast the God of the Hebrews in important aspects concerning His nature, purpose, and relationship to Creation. It is not to describe the details of a scientific history of the universe.

To this end, I'd recommend the book _The New Mormon Challenge_, Carl Mosser, Frank Beckwith, et al., which applies the same considerations to distinguish Christian and Mormon beliefs, and discusses this point in some detail. It's an excellent book on theology in addition to being a critique of Mormonism.



Pastor Brad said...

I think some of you guys are educated far beyond your ability to understand.

captain supremo said...

Just want to make sure we're all clear on something:

Just because a person thinks that AIG does some really terrible science doesn't mean that they think everything that every evolutionist has ever said is wonderful science.

Try not to read too much into people's statements. An old earth doesn't mean that Adam and Eve weren't real people, and so on... It's easy for us to assume that if people disagree with us on this point, then there's no way that we can agree on these others... it's easy to think that because sometimes we structure our beliefs differently. For one person, a young earth may be one of the bottom blocks in a Jenga tower - if you remove it, the whole thing falls. But it's not necessarily that way. I agree that Genesis is foundational for understanding the story of the Bible, but a young earth? Well, that tends to be higher up on the Jenga tower for me, and maybe others... or not even part of the tower at all.

And instead of being defensive, wouldn't it be better to be intrigued by the fact that some people understand Genesis this way and still believe in the same creator God who sent His only Son? I think that if we attempt to cultivate that attitude, we'll be able to stand beside each other in worship better, worshiping the same One who redeemed us from the Fall.

As for the problem of sin and death in an old earth, C.S. Lewis has painted some wonderful pictures of exactly such a thing in the first two books of his Space Trilogy. Of course, he's not trying to do theology, really, but seeing the beauty of these pictures could possibly help give you new ways to think about the problem - which is really Lewis's strength in all his writing. And for the uniqueness of man, I really enjoy some of what G.K. Chesterton has to say in The Everlasting Man. Both approach the issues as if they stand to some extent outside of the evolution debate, which I find particularly helpful. (Both have been accused of hating science, I know, but I tend to think a better description would be to say that both find science incredibly dull and so tend to just skip over it.)

Alex said...


Isn't it possible that Satan and his demons could have manipulated the mathematical record to make it look like 2 + 2 = 4? Yes, it's possible, but it's a stretch. You really have to want to believe a certain way to create scenarios like the one you describe.

Terry Hamblin said...

Still waiting for an answer from those who deny a six-day creation as to why God put it in the Ten Commandments.

Strange to me that those who swallow the camel of a man coming back to life after crucifixion should strain at the gnat of creation having a recent starting point.

David Johnson said...

"Poetry schmoetry, the book of Genesis is taken literally everywhere else in the Bible."

This doesn't tell us much about what the author intended. For instance, when the authors of the Gospels cite Old Testament prophets ("and thus the saying was fulfilled"), when you actually go to the passages they cite, half of the time the "prophecy" is, to our exegetical minds, taken out of context. We might recognize the "echo" of the passage in the life of Jesus, but if the biblical writers had not applied the words to Jesus, we certainly wouldn't. For instance, "out of Egypt I have called my son" is in Hosea, and when it is said, it is clearly talking about the nation of Israel. Biblical authors, when interpreting other passages of scripture, do not usually use the grammatical-historical method of exegesis that is most used and praised in our day.

"Why did He put it in the Ten Commandments?"

So that his people would blessed by taking a full day of rest every week, by allowing the land itself to rest once every seven years, and by putting a curb on the amount of power a person could acquire (Jubilee)--if the Law was followed.

ben said...

Dr. Ben,
You know how to stir the pot.
I love it.

Gordon Hackman said...


Actually David snokes adresses this issue of Ex 20 and the Sabbath Day in his book "A Biblical Case for an Old Earth." I think he does a good job with it and rather than trying to explain it all here I recommend getting a copy of the book and taking a look.

Terry Hamblin said...


You mean that having one day's rest in seven was such a good thing that God lied in the 10 Commandments to persuade us of the benefits?


I will try to get a copy of the Snokes' book although I'm not convinced by one of the favorable reviews on Amazon.

'He also makes an interesting observation about the "appearance of age" theory (that God created the earth with the appearance of age). Suppose God created Adam miraculously with a 30-year-old body. That would make sense because in order to exist, Adam had to exist at *some* stage of physical maturity. But if God had created Adam with 30 years of false memories, that would make God a deceiver.'

The thing is, the Genesis story makes it clear that God didn't supply Adam with false memories. He even made it clear where Eve came from.

BonScot said...

Mr. Witherington thank you for all your time and efforts here and elsewhere.
This discussion brings up some issues that have given me problems for awhile.

One is that just about everytime AiG or young earth\creationist is mentioned the next thing mentioned is 'bad science'. Science is science. If someone adds 2+2 and gets 4 is that somehow wrong once we find out they believe in a young earth? There are many scientists who believe and give evidence for a young earth. Check out John Baumgardner's evidence for a global flood and his work with a program he wrote called TERRA. He currently works at Las Alamos.

Problem 2. The statement: "Well if you read it in the original Hebrew..." or Greek or any language but English. I do not read either of those languages so how accurate is my English Bible? Adam actually means 'earth creature' which to me implies a Kind, not one specific person. Yet in Romans Paul states sin came into the world through one man so I would think that Adam is indeed one specific person. And as far as the days of creation go even after the solar system is created it still says "the fourth day, the fifth day, the sixth day", the same as days 1,2 &3. So I wonder do we all need to read Hebrew and Greek to really understand the Bible?

And thank you for 'What Have They Done with Jesus' and 'The New Testament Story' they have meant a lot to me.

captain supremo said...


I can't answer for Dave, and I don't fully agree with the way he understands fulfilled prophecy in the NT, but I think that he maybe touched on something good so I thought I'd kick it around a bit more with you.

I do not think that scripture demands a literal 6-day creation (there, i said it) and I also feel very strongly that God was not lying in Exodus when he talks about Himself. I think that there is something much more subtle going on here. The way you quoted things in this time was not by using quotation marks but by using formulaic language which is easily recognizable by the hearer, and by that standard, this passage is clearly a quote of the creation account. Which means that if Genesis 1 is meant to be taken literally (and I'd like to note that I am not actually weighing in on this issue here), then Exodus 20 should be taken so. If, however, Genesis 1 need not be taken literally, then because Exodus 20 is "quoting" the creation narrative ("referencing" is more accurate, but the effect of the device is the same), it need not be taken literally either. All that is to say, since it's a quote, how literally you take it hangs upon how literally you take what it's quoting.

So the question is not "why does God say 'day' in Exodus" but rather, why does God quote the passage at all, and the reason, I think, is that he wanted them to see that they should rest because he also rested. And that is actually an opinion that can be held whether you hold to a literal 6-day creation or not.


I said AIG does "bad science", so I'll own up. My background is in science, and saying that AIG or "creation science" is "bad science" is only a bad thing if Creation needed science, and it doesn't - science needs Creation, which I think is the saddest irony of "scientific atheism" (whatever that is). On to "bad science"...

To the extent that science is purely mathematical, you are absolutely correct. But there's a lot more to it than what can be calculated, and that is where "bad science" comes in. For one thing, science never attempts to prove something true. Science is always done from a position of skepticism. That is, good science is always about seeing if something might be false. So "creation science" fails on the first test, since the goal, clearly, is to do science which proves that creation is true. But then it gets much more complicated. Scientists must always choose which experiments to run and which not to run, which can lead to "bad science". Also, good science should produce reproducible results - a significant hurdle for both "creation science" and evolutionary theory. And good science should produce usable data. and so on...

This last criteria hits on a very important point: Good science is rarely about truth. Nothing in science is held to be "true" - the closest things are "laws" and the definition of a law is something we can't disprove yet. Theories are good or bad because they either are or aren't useful for doing further science. Evolution has been a fairly useful theory for scientists, which is a fact that stands outside of whether it is true or not.

And in my opinion, to pit Creation against evolutionary theory is a serious insult to Creation. For evolution is merely a theory - a thing that's useful for making predictions about biological life. Creation is something that cannot be treated like a theory, though, because it is not remotely testable by the sceptic. It stands beyond our scrutiny - and not simply because it is sacred but also because we do not have the ability to scrutanize it! We cannot run an experiment to determine whether God made the world! It is the Holy act of an Almighty God. If creation science is "bad science" (and I think it is), it is only so because science is an incredibly inadequate tool for testing the truth of Creation.

Goodness. I promise not to post on this topic again. My apologies to all.

preacherman said...

The T-Rex was too scary for Jesus to ride in on. I can Jesus saying not palm branches you idiots this is a raptor it eats meat...Why don't you people go get a donkey that I should be riding in on for it to eat? Children can identify with the raptor for the from the land before time movies and Jarasik Park. :-)

I just joking....

Terry Hamblin said...

Captain Supremo

The trouble with that explanation is that it explains too much. You can dismiss Jesus' references to Adam and Jonah in the same way.

My background is in science too. As a scientist (of some reknown - try googling me) I am unconvinced by the argument for evolution. Trying to extrapolate backwards on phenomena seriously observed over the past few hundred years depends on 'everything going on as it always has done'. Scripture teaches us that this is an unwarranted assumption.

In one sense for each of us life was created 20, 30, 40 etc years ago. Speculating over whether dinosaurs and humans walked the earth together is all a bit futile. We only need to examine ourselves to know we are sinners. There is no way but believing the Bible is true to discover that Jesus Christ is the remedy. The importance of the Creation/Evolution debate is that the arrogant assumption that Man knows better than God has shipwrecked the faith of many a young person. But for the grace of God, mine would have foundered.

Gordon Hackman said...


I guess I'd have to say that from my perspective the arrogant assumption that "my way of interpreting the scripture is the only right way" has also shipwrecked the faith of many a young person. This is my biggest problem with Young-Earth creationism. It's not even so much the science or theology, but rather the strident rhetoric and accusatory dogmatism that seems to characterize so many of its adherents. I get tired of the presumptuous assumption that everyone who doesn't share their view must be a compromiser or a liberal or an unbeliever.

Michael Gilley said...


To answer, or at least help, your question, yes, reading the Scriptures in their originial language will get you a LOT farther to their original meaning than reading it in the English. Reason: since every translation is already an interpretation, your English Bible is someone's interpretation of what the original text (or closest we have to it) says. Case and point, you mentioned in Genesis "the forth day, the fifth day, the sixth day." Well, this is a mistranslation. In the Hebrew, there is no artical before the days. They just simply say, "a forth day, a fifth day, a sixth day." Therefore, the days can be sequential but could equally be climaxes in an overarching story or sequence of events. This is why leaders and teachers go to seminary.


Simply an observation. What about the dogma of the early church leaders, all of which hung on scriptual interpretation?

BonScot said...

Is the Hebrew word for 'day' the same in the Gen:1 creation story as the word for day used in Exodus 20:11?

Michael Gilley said...

It is the same, 'yom,' as used in the Gen 1 account. However, this word has many different meanings from a sundown to sundown twenty-four hour day to even a lifetime or a general period of time. It's so broad you cannot use it to cross-reference interpretations, especially across different authors/sources.

The Burdman said...

There is an SNL sketch (weekend update) from 3-4 years ago, in which Jimmy Fallon says:

"In Georgia this week, a compromise was reached that will allow the word ‘evolution’ to continue to be used in classrooms. As a trade-off, however, the word ‘dinosaur’ will be replaced with ‘Jesus horse.’"

The picture over his shoulder that they showed is pretty much the same as the one you posted.

Still it makes me laugh.

matt gallion said...

i know this has nothing to do with the new "Answers in Genesis," but I've been reading Amy-Jill Levine's "Misunderstood Jew." I was wondering if you had any thoughts on it aside from your blurb on the cover. I understand if you'd rather not contribute this conversation to the current topic, so feel free to email me at, if you'd like. I am sure you're busy and have no need for a hasty response. I was just wondering.

Terry Hamblin said...


I certainly don't insist that my interpretation of Scripture is the only possible one. In general it seems to me that the plain meaning of the text is the one that we should accept. I'm fine about different interpretations if they arise from uncertainties in the text, or inconsistencies with other parts of Scripture, but all the wriggling about Genesis comes not from these but because we have come to rely on what scientists say rather than what God says. No-one would seriously have doubting a young earth just from studying Scripture - it is a reaction to accommodate the theories of Charles Lyell.

As a scientist I am highly suspicious of scientists. They are just as fallen as the rest of us.

Elizabeth Mary said...

Help! I'm caught in a red shift and I can't get out!

Evolution is about biology which only deals with what is here once it's here.

Physics really gets closer to it...the place of awe...the current physics is leading many to say, but where did it all come from?

There's yer ex nihilo.

I know many faithful physicists. And biologists, for that matter.

Everyone understands adaptation on a micro level--even just within the human race--equatorial genotypes have more melanin than frozen northers, e.g.

However, the macro level is too big a leap for me. Too much variation and it's not WNL (within normal limits)--you end up with deformed or retarded specimens/persons, if they survive pregnancy; and they will likely not reproduce because their attributes are not considered normative and attractive within the species. Miscarriage (aka spontaneous abortion) is God's/Mother Nature's quality control for those outside the WNL zone. Now humans are trying to override that quality control system scientifically and then end up with babies with disabilities, sometimes multiples. So, in pre-scientific nature, operating in its own bounds, these variants don't really survive. So macro evolution is difficult to believe. It just doesn't square with what we perceive right in front of our faces.

The anti-science attitude makes me shiver. I owe my life to modern science; the nuclear physicists at Oak Ridge who discovered the treatment power of radioactive iodine, and this week, some Boston lab geek who made my life better by synthesizing a compound from a genetically modified Chinese hamster ovary stem cell line. (Note--hamster, not human.) I am in awe of the great intellect and curiosity that God gave humans, and some can use it in this way, and thereby save others. In my case, in beating two different cancers! The healing power in my own body amazes me! This is my awe in the creation, actualized.

So...not all scientists are atheists and not all Christians are anti-science.

Christians should be pursuing science vigorously and enthusiastically; science is morally neutral and needs moral people involved. Seriously. Fetal farming is right around the corner, folks. Let's reclaim the labs for God!

Animal research saves lives!

Oh and I love the pic. A good belly laugh. Cheers!

José Solano said...

It would be profitable in this discussion to note Bonhoeffer’s short but very dense work, Creation and Fall, in which he offers us a profound analysis of the first three chapters of Genesis. I will quote one passage from his chapter 4, “The Day.”

“When the Bible speaks of six days of creation it may well have been thinking of the day of morning and evening, but in any case it does not mean this day in a computable sense; it thinks of it in terms of the power of the day which first makes the physical day what it really is, the natural dialectic of creation. The physical problem does not at all belong to the discussion in which the “day” is being considered. It does not disparage biblical thought, whether the creation occurred in rhythms of millions of years or single days, and we have no occasion to protest the latter or doubt the former. But the question as such does not concern us. To the extent that his word is the word of man the biblical author was limited by his time and knowledge, and we dispute this as little as the fact that through this word only God himself is speaking to us of his creation. The days God created are the rhythms in which creation rests.”

BonScot said...

Here is my fear in all of this. That we are allowing mainstream science to dictate what we can believe about the Bible. How long has the Bible been translated into English? 200+ years? And how many translations are there? I probably have 5 or 6 at home here and they all say the earth was created in 6 days. So if the Hebrew is so different and after all these years why doesn't it say eons, eras, great period or "thus endeth the Middle Pleistocene". As English speakers day has a specific meaning especially when a number is put in front of it. So if science tells me I can't accept literal days what about Adam living 930 years? Because we know that can't happen. And some old man with his sons build a wooden boat, put all the animals in, the door magically closes and they ride out a big storm? Where does it end? I didn't get the memo on where the literal part of Genesis begins and finishes. If we are going to allow the mainstream to tell us what is possible where do we stand with the resurrection? What do you tell a new believer who finally gets their head around sin, Christ's death and resurrection? You can believe the tomb was empty but those six days of creation are a little too much? Terry Hamblin you said it best with your gnat and camel example.

I think what the Creation Museum is doing is saying "hey look there is tons of excellent scientific research that supports Genesis." These people are not a bunch of yokels out in the sticks of Kentucky cookin up moonshine, there are numerous PhDs' that work for and contribute to AiG. I'm thankful there is a group like them out there that work at giving people answers as to why they can believe the Bible.

Gordon Hackman said...


Actually the question as I see it is rather or not we will allow the world of our experience to interact with the Bible or rather we will try to seal the Bible off from that world and insist that this one particular interpretation is the only possible valid one, no matter what our experience tells us. Almost since the beginnings of science, Christians have believed that the book of God's works and the book of God's word are mutually compatible, and they both give accurate information about the world. People have changed their interpretation of the Bible before based on scientific observation of the world. For example, everyone believes that the earth revolves around the sun, even though Joshua told the sun to stand still. Does this mean that we don't believe the Bible? No. It means that we understand that God was not interested in giving Joshua a complete scientific explanantion of the solar system at that time.

I could say more but I'm out of time for now. I am sick of Young-earth creationists who continually assert that they are the only ones who take the scripture seriously. Just because one doesn't interpret the Bible the same way as they do or believes that we need to allow our interpretation of it to be informed by the world of our experience doesn't mean that we don't believe the Bible.

BonScot said...

Gordon I hear what you are saying but would you apply your statement to the whole Bible or just the Old Testament?

lisabee said...

When i was young, I had no doubts about God and what he could do.
As I got older I began to go with everyone opinion, trying to create my own theories. Now I realize that I was limiting what God can do. If God wanted to he could have created the whole universe with the snap of a finger or blink of an eye.
As I look out my window and watch the hummingbirds obtain their sweet nectar, I think God he dtook six days, and put some character in nature for me.

Matthew said...

Thanks for keeping a blog up. I love you commentaries.

Will said...

Hi, I've only just seen this and I'm not particularly well read but from what I've seen, here's a few points:
1) Mr. Witherington, you say that you believe that the flood was a regional flood. The Bible says God vowed never to destroy mankind again by flood. Now I still see regional floods, so your viewpoint appears to suggest God is a liar... so if anyone says the possibility of God creating a world that, to our eyes, looks 'old' is deceit on the part of God, isn't this a tad hypocritical?
2) I forget who stated this, but the head of RS at my school told me that someone once said that a miracle is anything which reveals something of God, regardless of whether it breaks 'natural law' or not. I recently started reading a book by a man named Vaughan Roberts, I forget the title, which focuses on the beginning of Genesis. His perspective is what we can learn about God from it. I think that's more important than arguing about whether it is literal.
3) C14 running out. The only problem with saying this is that you do not take into account the element which decays into C14 (and the element which decays into that et cetera), which would cause a replenishment, at least in part, of C14. One reason C14 becomes inaccurate is due to the decay curve and the irregularity of decay of nuclei after most of the sample has decayed.
4) As for the whole sun not being created before a couple of days had passed, thus they were not literal days. The problem with that reasoning is that it assumes that time depends upon the sun and the stars and the period of Earth's solar rotation in order to exist. Time could exist from 'Day 1' and days could be be measured in 24 hour periods. God could regulate that if he created it, couldn't he? Similarly, with the Hebrew word 'Yom' for day. If I remember correctly it does have multiple uses, but the way the word is being used can be calculated from the grammatical context in which it occurs. In this instance I seem to remember that it is used to mean a 24-hour period in this context. Similarly, I agree with the argument concerning translation of the Bible. If the Hebrew scholars translating the text translate it as day, I trust they have got it right. If I doubt this from very near the first verse, how can I logically support my belief that they got the rest right?
5) This leads me on to the point of the gentleman (I think- forgive me if I have got your gender wrong) who complained about the professor of thermodynamics who seemed to talk of Hebrew as if he were an expert in it. Firstly
a) Just because a man plays Golf it does not mean he cannot play Rugby too (I'm from England by the way...hope you all know of Rugby. If not, try Football). Similarly, just because a man is a professor of thermodynamics, it does not mean that he cannot know Hebrew. One of my Physics teachers can read Greek. He learnt it as it is relevant to his Christian faith, not his job.
b) The professor (may I guess his name was Andy McIntosh?) may well know the area surrounding the word 'Yom' particularly well as he is a Creationist and it is and important area of the 'Creation vs. Evolution debate', something he is particularly interested in.
6) As for the counterpoint about Satan manipulating Creation to deceive humans about their God...He kinda DID do that...he manipulated people (who are a part of Creation as they are created) so that they would not trust God. Whilst I think it is unlikely that God would allow Satan to meddle with the fossil record, this objection does not remder the hypothesis incorrect, merely unlikely. I personally think that it is entirely possible that God created the universe as it is so that people would have Free Will- the choice of whether to believe in him or not. If God didn't provide an alternative hypothesis to a Divine Creation, surely he would be guilty of compelling man to believe in him? (I'll just point out that I am unsure whether this example is the case and only suggest it as a possible solution of the 'mature/old' debate.
I'm sure I had a couple of other points but I cannot remember them at present and it's getting late and I need to sleep so I can get up early and revise of my last 5 exams in my school life (what fun. Not.)...Thanks for your input and points (this is really interesting) and sorry for not remembering everyone's names whose posts I replied to. God bless and good night to you all.
(P.S. just thinking...nobody's perfect, save God, so nobody's going to have the perfect explanation to all this, save God...)

Matt said...

Part of my post:
"The speaker, who apparently has a PhD in thermodynamics, talked about biblical Hebrew as if he were an expert, but I would be surprised if he had even an intro course under his belt."

Part of Will's post:
"Just because a man plays Golf it does not mean he cannot play Rugby too (I'm from England by the way...hope you all know of Rugby. If not, try Football). Similarly, just because a man is a professor of thermodynamics, it does not mean that he cannot know Hebrew."

Dear Will:
Let's represent my post honestly, shall we? If someone is a professor of thermodynamics, you are quite right to suggest that the same person MAY know Hebrew (whether a beginner, intermediate or expert) - I never suggested otherwise.

I simply contend that if someone is going to refer to anything, he/she should use it responsibly. And the extraordinary weight given to "yom" in the speaker's presentation was not responsible, especially given his other "arguments" e.g., people who believe in anything but AiG's interpretation are "succumbing to peer pressure" or "losing a spiritual battle" (!?) On the maturity scale, this is right up there with "my dad is stronger than your dad"!

Gordon Hackman said...

Now I still see regional floods, so your viewpoint appears to suggest God is a liar..."


Garbage like the above statement is the reason that so many of us find it difficult to take Young-earth creationism seriously at all. Are you really so lacking in imagination and critical thinking skills, not to mention charity towards a fellow Christian, that you think the above statement represents some kind of serious knockdown argument? Do you really think it is good form to accuse another Christian of calling God a liar?

How about the human race was still pretty much located in the Middle East at the time of the flood, therefore it was possible for God to destroy them all with a local flood.

Second of all, the ongoing existence of regional floods in no way suggests that somehow the idea of a local flood makes God out to be a liar. The Genesis flood was a specific act of God sent for judgment in a way that no one believes currently local floods to be. Unless you're now prepared to argue that every local flood is a specific act of judgment.

Stuff like this is disgraceful and insulting to thoughtful Christians who work in the sciences, and to all those who try to think clearly and carefully about the relationship between science and Christian faith.

José Solano said...

I of course could be wrong but I can honestly only see the Genesis creation story as totally symbolical. It is a myth inspired by God to reveal—to whomever can grasp its profound understandings—how God has brought all things into being. It has imagery that relates not only to the creation of the universe but to the ongoing creation of individual human lives, humanity in general and their transformations in time and history, both individual and collective. And it is much more.

Yet, I have no problem whatsoever if anyone takes this story simplistically and literally. It may even be that the author himself saw it this way in the naivete of his state, but God was working through him nonetheless to bring us a truthful explanation of how creation comes into being and how humanity collapsed and collapses.

My suspicion (intuition) is that the author (or authors) was not naïve at all but grasping with a revelation of astounding magnitude and seeking as best he could to distil its essential multi-dimensional meanings into the simplest terms that would profit the greatest number of people throughout the ages. Clearly he has been successful in an extraordinary measure.

God is certainly not a liar but he certainly was not about to start explaining the details of the creation of the universe to anyone six or ten thousand years ago. After all, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” God was not writing an astronomy or quantum physics book for the earliest human beings. This discovery, to the extent that the human mind can fathom it—and it hardly can even today—God left to the developing human being to search out. It is enough for anyone to simply realize that it is indeed God’s creation, that he created it out of simply nothing, and that he totally rules over it. That in itself must totally humble us and leave us with gaping jaw in our relationship to God.

Curt said...

"For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God" (Romans 8:20-21).

When exactly was the creation subjected to frustration? When did this bondage to decay begin? Was it part of the original creation that God called very good? Is it not significant that the curse in Genesis 3 specifically includes the ground? If this involved a fundamental change to the created order, how would we apprehend that change through purely scientific means?

"Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned..." (Romans 5:12).

If sin entered the world through Adam, and if death entered the world through that sin, how do we account for death prior to human life? Is death a result of sin or not? Did sin enter the world through one man or not?

I agree that we should not label each other as uncaring about Scripture or presume to know our opponents' motives based on their position on this issue. However, we also need to realize that there are serious implications for one's interpretation of these Scriptures. This issue transcends a simple argument about whether the six days of creation are literal. If you relegate the opening chapter of the Bible, one that describes the origins of creation, to myth or symbolism, you should expect a vigorous opposition from those who see this as adapting Scripture to the latest scientific consensus.

I don't doubt the devotion or sincerity of those who interpret Scripture to allow for creation billions of years ago or a local Noahic flood. But I remain unconvinced by these attempts and feel that there are serious ramifications to these interpretations. The ongoing debate on this subject should be charitable, but no less vigorous.

Alvin Grissom II said...

I love this blog, and, really, the post was a joke. I smirked.

I find all of this debate about Genesis to be interesting.

There are a few pithy points I'd like to make, some of which have, I'm sure, been made by others here:

First, poetry is almost never taken completely literally. I do not see how anyone can believe that Genesis 1 is not poetry. Even in English translations, the same phrases are repeated again and again at the end of a stanza.

Even if it weren't poetry, the Torah often uses allegory to communicate spiritual truths. The opening chapters of Genesis would seem to be prime examples of this. When I read Genesis, the main point I see is this: God created man in his "image", and thus man is good; however, something went wrong, and man sinned/sins.

In any case, it is strange, indeed, when one treats parts of the Bible -- especially passages such as these -- as though they were a scientific treatise. The Bible is mostly a collection of pious texts. I don't think that the author(s) of Genesis really cared about whether they had a common ancestor with apes, or whether they were literally created from dust. Theologically, I think that it is simply not terribly important.

At this point, it would be overkill to discuss the authorship of the Torah, but suffice it to say that splitting hairs over words therein strikes me as pointless, in this regard.

Christians, if they are to be taken seriously, cannot be anti-scientific sheep, as they are so often characterized. It is true that there are just as many "scientific sheep," but it is, indeed, bothersome when, as someone in science myself, I see Christians who react with such fear and hostility to anything which causes them to question their assumptions. Some segments of the Church have an unfortunate history of just that, and they always ultimately look like idiots when newer, more enlightened paradigms are accepted.

The passages in Genesis were taken figuratively by many before there even existed a theory of evolution. I read one poster who used the old argument that, since, if evolutionary theory is true, physical death existed before sin, it cannot be true. The assumption here is that a particular interpretation of the salvation offered by Jesus is the correct one. There are other models, and I would recommend, perhaps, NT Wright's book, The Challenge of Jesus. He seems particularly appropriate, since he often speaks of moving beyond "the arrogance of modernism" and its strict, certain categories, and taking heed to the "postmodern critique."

I've deviated a bit, but I suppose that I am simply advocating a bit of flexibility on the part of conservative Christians. I understand that, under certain theological frameworks, bad theology = Hell (and thus such questioning is often discouraged); however, I have to try.

Ben Witherington said...

Holy smokes! I go off to a tropical island or two for 12 days with my wife of 30 years and I come home to find a doctoral length dissertation or two on Genesis on my blog. Just for the record, I also believe there were a primal pair of human progenitors and I believe in an historical fall as well. What I am quite sure of is that Genesis is not trying to answer geological or age of the earth questions, nor age of the human race either, since the genealogies are not meant to be exhaustive in any sense, only representative. For me the big question is whether humans were uniquely created in the image of God, or not. I believe they were.


Ben W.

José Solano said...

(Welcome back Dr. Witherington and congratulations on your 30th anniversary. I thought I’d drop some definitions and reflections related to these “dissertations.”)

“Poetry : writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound and rhythm.” Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary

“Poem: . . . 2. a composition that, though not [necessasrily] in verse, is characterized by great beauty of language or expression.” Random House Dictionary

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”

What a magnificent poem! The writer of these words was not there to see the creation. By succinct, inspired images he evokes a mythic visualization of that primordial event. We don’t really know what this means but we can certainly feel the movement, the pulsating rhythm of something wondrous. We hush and contemplate the marvelous metaphors and in splendid awe we can recite these words over and over again as we approximate what that might have been like. We are given images of God’s initial creative work.

To take a literal approach to these words I feel simply shatters the mood, the state of being into which the author seeks to transport us.

Christianity need not be in opposition to either science or art.

Michael Gilley said...

Dr. Witherington:

Congrats on the big 3-0! Have you read/studied much on the idea that the image of God imprinted on man is community, or the need of which?

Curt said...

Quick note on genre:

If you survey the available commentary on Genesis 1, you will find many scholars who identify this as poetry, many that label it as prose, and some that argue that it is unique and not easily classifiable.

The consensus seems to be that there is no consensus. Therefore, to use a supposed classification of poetry to argue for a non-literal interpretation of Gen. 1 is circular reasoning.

Just trying to keep things fair!

yuckabuck said...

I'm sorry, but I am not understanding your argument in the last comment.

Your premises seem to be that, since there is no universally accepted scholary consensus on the genre of Genesis 1, then it is wrong to argue for a non-literal reading of Genesis 1 on the basis of genre. But this itself is special pleading. One could repeat your post, substituting a literal reading of Genesis 1-

1) One should always accept the "plain meaning" of the Bible.
2) Therefore, Genesis 1 is meant to be taken in a completely literal fashion.
3) Because there is no scholarly consensus on genre, this is a circular argumant.
Such a line would pretty much close down all meaningful debate.

I don't think arguing from genre is a circular argument. It is actually one of the crucial issues, if not THE crucial issue. The best laymen's Bible study method book I ever read was based on first identifying the genre of each book. ("How to Read the Bible For All It's Worth" by Gordon Fee and Doug Stuart)
God Bless You,

yuckabuck said...

I must add---

1) Happy Anniversary to Dr. Witherington (assuming that such was the reason for the vacation).

2) great quote from Jose-
"God is certainly not a liar but he certainly was not about to start explaining the details of the creation of the universe to anyone six or ten thousand years ago."

We say that "God works with us where we are," but many of us never allow that He may have also chosen to work with the Israelites where they were. I know I am not as wise as the Lord, but even I can see that it would not have been a good idea for God to have gone into scientific detail regarding humanities origins with the still-paganized children of Israel. Surely there were other things a tad more important God was trying to accomplish, like getting the people to turn from idols and such.

Gordon Hackman said...


I'm with Yuackabuck on this one. I don't get where you're coming from in calling the genre argument circular either. I suppose I see how someone could make it in a circular manner, but I don't see it as per se circular at all. If we first establish the genre and then determine how it should be interpreted based on that, then it is not circular.

Even if we start by recognizing some problems with a literal interpretation, then go back to the text and reexamine it, decide it is poetry and hence can't be interpreted literally, this is still not circular reasoning. That, in fact, is the hermenuetical spiral, in which experience plays a part in helping us to come to a better interpretation of the text.

It is only circular reasoning if we cannot reasonably independently establish the genre of the text (ie. we assume a literal interpretation is wrong, then declare the text to be poetry, then declare that because it is poetry a literal interpretation is wrong.)

lisabee said...

Mark 10:6 But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female

There you have it: Jesus was a "Young" creationist.

Curt said...

Chuck and Gordon:

Thanks for your posts. In my attempt to be brief I didn't communicate very clearly. Let me clarify my point.

I definitely am not claiming that genre is irrelevant or that it should not be used as a contributing element of biblical interpretation. Perhaps I worded this more strongly than I should have. However, what I seem to be hearing from many who have posted is an a priori presumption of poetic genre. I don't feel that this is warranted without first establishing exactly what the genre is. The diversity of scholarly opinion on this issue doesn't mean that a poetic view is wrong, but it does mean we should be careful about assuming such a view as an established premise. (At least without presenting some evidence.)

To say either "the text is poetry and therefore must be interpreted symbolically" or "the text is narrative and therefore must be interpreted literally" without first establishing the validity of our classification is circular reasoning. I can't simply claim that a text should be interpreted non-literally because it's non-literal when there's a huge body of scholarship contradicting me. This would be assuming my conclusion.

The genre of Genesis 1 is a very important issue, but we must support our view not simply presume it. IMHO, the burden of proof is on those who would suggest a non-literal approach to any text. John 1 shows signs of poetry. How literally do we interpret that?

kamaeq said...

Ok, a couple of comments, yes they are sketchy, but then a lot of this stuff is on the web in much greater detail:

1) The picture is in very bad taste (excrementally bad), at best showing a vast ignorance of the YEC position. Confirmation surfaces over and over in Dr. Witherington's responses to this thread.

Prime example: "But the deepest flaw in the whole young earth theory is the assumption that one can read the book of Genesis as if it were a scientific treatise giving us precise information about a whole host of scientific issues. This frankly is false. It addresses theological, historical, and ethical issues-- not geological, cosmological or other scientific issues."

Ahem, Dr. Witherington, FYI, a YEC (at least of the AiG or ICR stripe) would agree with you on the reading and point out that they don't try to read it like a modern scientific treatise. They would add the proviso that where it does mention scientific facts, it should be correct. This point actually seems silly, since using that kind of logic, I can pull out a variety of [insert genre of choice here] books on say the Napoleonic era and by using the "not a science book" logic, it would obviously mean that things like cannon, firearms, etc. don't exist.

2) The genre of Genesis 1-11 can be generously considered disputed, which at best would work as a draw as evidence. I'm ceding the field a bit on this, because I haven't dug around recently, but a "consensus" on it being poetry would contradict what I've researched in the past unless it is of the "science has 'proven', therefore it *must* be poetry (allegory)" variety.

3) Yom. The most fun word in the Bible. Yes, it can mean all kinds of things, but it can also mean 24 hour day. If you want to pull that card out, then you need to find out how many times in the OT that "yom" in relation to an ordinal number and the "evening and morning" phrase means something other than a 24 hour day. Trying to make a special case for Genesis 1-11 smacks of special pleading especially with other references that support a young earth in both the OT and NT.

4) "Proof" of age by multiple dating methods. Several issues here, for a short list: 1) problems with assumptions for initial conditions, 2) problems with assumptions over contamination of samples, 3) large majority of other "clocks" to get dates using old age uniformitarian principles used for the "proof" methods result in much "younger" dates for the maximum age.

5) I'd suggest dumping the "god of the gaps" line if anyone is using it. Firstly, it shows ignorance and secondly, it sounds stupid to hear hurled at the "goddidits" from the "itjustgroweds" since at our current state of knowledge, there are plenty of "gaps" to be found in all origin theories. Also, using a system that considers it axiomatic that no deity exists to attack or ridicule other Christians appears to me something one should be careful of.

Oh, if you want some help with it, I'll start the accusations for you. Take your choice(s), I'm a: Luddite, unscientific, ignorant, don't understand what science is, should study science, ignorant, not a Bible scholar, probably don't have any training in the relevant fields, ignorant, have totally misread history, stupid, moron, don't understand what I read, ignorant, just need to read the "right" book or whatever. I've missed a few I'm sure.

Alvin Grissom II said...

I just checked back here and saw some more interesting stuff. I'd like to say a couple of things about kamaeq's points, simply because they seem to beg for a reply:

1) I don't think that anyone is arguing that the presence of a of data in a text implies its non-literalness, based on genre. I think that the argument is that, based on genre, one would not necessarily infer its literalness, either. I would personally argue that there are not "scientific facts" (depending on how one defines that rather loaded term) anywhere in the creation accounts.

2) Even if it isn't poetry, which it seems to be, it is certainly artistic and stylized, considering the obvious parallelism, even in English translations.

3) Definitions change with context, and I think that a "day" is a perfectly poetic, artistic, and stylized way of referring to something which is significant.

4) If it weren't for a specific interpretation of some passages in the Bible, would one have any reason to dispute the nearly-unanimous scientific consensus on the issue of age?

5) The "god of the gaps line," as it was put, is appropriate when one says that, since he doesn't presently have an explanation for something, God must have just "done it," independent of natural processes. I am not saying that, at times, that God simply "did" something is not the most likely explanation; I am saying, however, that science seeks to describe how something happened, not appeal to supernatural forces to explain whatever isn't covered by present theories. Granted, science isn't an epistemological end unto itself; it is merely an epistemological tool. However, it has proven to be a very useful epistemological tool. I don't know why one would say that anyone is "using a system that considers it axiomatic that no deity exists." If you are referring to science, then I must say that science is deity-agnostic. Some scientists are theistic and some aren't. Science, in general, doesn't address those kinds of questions; it attempts to generalize based on observations. One need not be a naturalist to be a good scientist, no matter what anyone says. Likewise, one not need to be an interventionist to be a good Christian, I would argue.

RC said...

Huh? No way!

Daniel said...

John Walton's Genesis NIVAC commentary has some excellent material on this debate. It's easy to understand and an enjoyable read.

Most AiG folks don't take Genesis 1 literally either. You don't see conferences defending the existence of a solid firmament with waters on top of it. Yet that's a part of the OT cosmology.

As for poetry in Genesis 1, notice that the days correspond to each other. Day 1 (light)to Day 4 (sun, moon, stars). Day 2 (the firmament and the waters) to Day 5 (seas that dwell in those realms). Day 3 (land, trees, vegetation) to Day 6 (land creatures).

Curt said...

John Walton has an insightful take on the debate over yom. He reminds us that we can't simply plug the whole semantic range of a word into a text but must interpret according to context. He uses the illustration of going out for the evening and waiting for his wife to get ready. If she says she'll be ready "in a minute," he understands that she doesn't mean precisely 60 seconds but an indeterminate (but hopefully short!) period of time. But if he is going to teach a class and he's told that he has 50 minutes, he can't assume that he has 50 units of indeterminate time. He understands that these are 50 units of precisely 60 seconds.

When yom is in an immediate, repeated context of "evening and morning" and when it is repeatedly enumerated, how can we take it as anything other than a literal 24-hour period? The plural form yomim as used in Exodus 20:11 and 31:17 is never used for eras.

How could God have made any clearer in a creation account that He created everything in 6 literal days? Which is more deceiving: to create a fully mature creation that is misinterpreted because of the uniformitarian assumptions of many scientists, or to repeatedly specify a creation in 6 days, each including an evening and morning, when the creation actually took billions of years?

Walton doesn't teach a literal 6-day creation, but he shows that yom can't be taken as anything other than 24-hour periods. He places great significance on the parallels between the first 3 days and the last 3 days. But why does such symmetry dictate a non-literal interpretation? Can't God create in an orderly, meaningful way? Why can't the account of His creation be orderly, meaningful, and literal? Don't we have examples throughout Scripture of God working in ways where even small details are rich with significance? Why does this force us into an either/or choice?

I find Walton's conclusions interesting, but unconvincing. But he is helpful in showing the literal nature of yom and showing, in my opinion, the difficulty of establishing a non-literal interpretation of Genesis 1.

I think the question that must be answered is: What in the text itself points to a non-literal interpretation of the creation account?

If there is no justification based on the text itself for such an interpretation, then reading such a view back into the text is simply eisegesis.

Scientific consensus has a way of changing, as well it should. I am profoundly disturbed by the idea of using fluctuating scientific inquiry as the determining factor in interpreting a biblical text.

As I mentioned earlier, it would seem that the person proposing a non-literal interpretation of any biblical text has the burden of proof.

kamaeq said...

Greetings Alvin,

1) The genre question is a knotty one especially since the poetry classification seems to be a modern one. I've read quite a few commentaries that go along the lines of: Well it seems to be written as six 24 hour days a few thousand years ago, but science tells us that this cannot be, therefore...

Assuming you are making a point by point response, my primary focus was Dr. Witherington's ignorance of the YEC position to the point where it sounds like the usual antiBible Lite skeptic talking. Included in that as an example was the read the Bible like a science paper thing.

2) Are similar Jewish and ANE Semitic historical documents also in that pattern? Is this an artifact of the low level of literacy and availability of books (scrolls, etc.) to make it easier to correctly memorize? I actually have a part I perform twice a year for a group that has several multiparagraph sections. Although not historical, it certainly isn't poetry, but the prose is written in a semipoetical "style" with rather obvious tricks written in to aid the memory in reciting.

3) And my point was that the context in relation to the rest of the OT, including other direct references to creation such as Exodus 20:11, directly point to reading the yom here as a 24 hour day. I can think of several reasons why God maybe said it that way when it wasn't so (Obi Wan's "From a certain point of view" line stuff), but I don't see a reason to do so.

4) If it weren't for a specific interpretation of data based on the assumption of uniformitarianism, would one have any reason to dispute the nearly-unanimous consensus by over 2000 years (including the Jews preChrist) by scholars on the issue of age from the interpretation of certain passages of Scripture?

Have to watch that consensus thing, especially as you can pick a great number of times in the past where the consensus opinion was flat out wrong. Declaring a matter settled on the basis of consensus is dogma of the worst stripe.

Note: There has been other controversies in earlier centuries over the creation account with its 24 hour days, but they were of the 'well God could do it in a split second, so the six days must be some kind of allegory'. To which I'd paraphrase a reply: If you don't understand how God created in six days, the please allow the Holy Spirit to be more learned than you are.

Again, I was giving pointers to those who wish to educate themselves more on what is potentially wrong with the "gold standard" dating methods that "prove" old age.

5) I'm against the entire "god of the gaps" concept since it applies in some form to all modern versions of age of the earth/universe and/or origins theories. There are always holes to be filled since speaking from any philosophical position, we do not yet have full knowledge. The "gap god" comes with a certain amount of baggage itself as an antitheistic debating tool often used by the "itjustgrowed" crowd despite their own version of this "god" that is pointed out by the derogatory nickname I gave them. The biggest difference is that since they use "Science", they aren't calling for a supernatural cause since by definition, no deity is involved (except possibly the one that wound the clock) when using "Science", therefore any unique situation they call for cannot be supernatural, even though simply attributing it to any deity besides "random chance" would automatically make it a miracle.

I agree that a scientist's philosophical worldview should not change his competency, but not everyone sees it that way. Heck, to virtually all people that work in scientific fields, the age of the earth and origins theories are totally irrelevant.