Testing Scripture on Creation and Fall (RJS)

Testing Scripture on Creation and Fall (RJS) January 12, 2012

Any discussion of the interface of science and scripture will eventually come to Genesis 1-3 creation and fall. The centrality of this discussion was obvious in the comments after the post on Tuesday Pastors Unconvinced … Now What? and the brief post yesterday Science, Evolution, and the Bible. Dr. John Polkinghorne gives an overview of his approach to creation and fall in chapter three his book  Testing Scripture: A Scientist Explores the Bible.

Dr. Polkinghorne, before he entered into the Anglican priesthood, was a very successful scientist, a theoretical physicist involved in the discovery of quarks and Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge University. His view of the Christian faith takes the information learned through the scientific study of creation very seriously. We have, he finds, very good reason to believe that the universe is ~13.7 billion years old, having begun as an almost uniform expanding ball of energy. The earth developed out of this through the generation of stars producing heavier elements some 4.6 billion years ago. Life developed from single-celled organisms into the vast diversity of species we see today in a process that began something like 3.5 billion years ago (a rough estimate). Biological death was part of creation from the very origin of life itself.

How then does Dr. Polkinghorne approach Genesis 1-3 and Romans 5?

Creation in Scripture. Dr. Polkinghorne sees the two stories of creation in Genesis 1 and 2, especially Genesis 2, as true myth – with a truth so deep that only story can convey it. To look at the context in which this story is told he starts with an observation I find particularly important.

[T]he fact that these two stories themselves are incompatible with each other should warn us against treating them as if they were divinely dictated accounts, given to save us the trouble of scientific investigation into terrestrial and cosmic history. (p. 22)

In reading and interpreting scripture we must consider the form, genre, context, and purpose of the text. Genesis 1-2 serves several purposes – but a scientific presentation of the origin of the universe, the earth, and life is not one of these purposes. The questions brought to the table by modern science were out of context in the ancient Near East in general.

For example, Genesis 1 does not give us a quasi-scientific account of a hectic six days of divine activity, but is something altogether deeper and more interesting than that. It is a theological text whose principle purpose is to assert that nothing exists except through the will of God.  (p. 22)

A key point in Genesis 1 is that even the sun, moon, and stars are nothing more than things created by God – they are not gods or beings. God alone is creator and God alone is sovereign. Genesis 2 is also a theological text.

This second chapter of Genesis offers important theological insights by means of the story it tells: humanity’s place within nature as God forms Adam from the dust of the earth; the presence, nevertheless, of a transcendent dimension in human life as God inspires Adam with the breath of life; (p. 23)

These stories undermine the deities of the surrounding peoples, establish humans as creates as God’s image rather than as slaves of a divine pantheon, and provide a sense of mission and purpose that then moves forward in the story of scripture. The creation stories told in Genesis 1-2 show the influence of their time and culture – but they carry through to the present in a way that rings true with a truth we can understand and appreciate. In contrast the ancient Near Eastern myths, for example the Babylonian story Enuma Elish, with the world created following a battle between Marduk and Tiamath, are far more foreign.

Dr. Polkinghorne also turns to Proverbs, Psalms, and especially Job as he considers the way creation is handled in scripture.  In Job 38-41 the Lord responds to Job by  taking him on a tour of the wonders of creation. Following this tour Job responds in humility and worship.

He replies. ‘I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes’ (Job 42.5-6). The whole of nature is to be seen as a theophany, a revelation of the Creator. (p. 27)

The ancient creeds of the church begin “I believe in [one] God, the father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” This is the essence of the creation story and a foundational given in Christian belief.

But what about the Fall in Genesis 3? Dr. Polkinghorne reads Genesis 3 returning to the idea of true myth.

I do not believe that the chapter is the historical account of a single disastrous ancestral act, but it is a story conveying truth about the relationship between God and humanity. … Once the story’s mythic power is released from bondage to a fundamentalist reading, it becomes full of insight of a kind that can be seen as complementary to the insights afforded us by science. (p. 28)

He goes on to outline his interpretation of the story of the Fall. Human beings are self-conscious and self-aware, with the ability to comprehend both past and present. This exceeds the abilities and awareness of any animal.

The chimpanzee can figure out that if he throws up a stick, the banana may fall down, but he does not sit there brooding on the fact that in ten or twenty years’ time he will be dead. Human beings, on the contrary, do live aware that they will die, even when the event is likely to be many years away. (p. 29)

In a way somewhat reminiscent of the view put forth by CS Lewis in The Problem of Pain, the gradual process of developing self-awareness was “accompanied by a dawning consciousness of the presence of God (the formation of the imago dei).” But among these people, aware of self and of God, there was a turning away from God to focus on human self, to become like God, knowing good and evil. There may not have been a snake, a tree, and a piece of fruit, but there was a Fall.

The Fall is indeed a fall ‘upward’, the gaining of knowledge, but it is an error to suppose that humans can thereby attain equality with their Creator, so that they can live their lives independently of God. This declaration of complete human autonomy, the assertion that we can simply ‘do it my way’ is the root meaning of sin. The refusal to acknowledge that we are creatures in need of the grace of our Creator is the source of  subsequent human sins, those deeds of selfishness and deceit that mar our lives as the result of believing the false claim to be completely independent of the assistance of divine grace. (p. 29-30)

The Fall involved alienation from God and from his purposes. It did not bring death, which is an intrinsic part of life in this present creation, but it did bring mortality and despair. God’s “steadfast faithfulness is the only (and sufficient) true ground for the hope of a destiny beyond death.” Alienation from God removed this ground for hope. Alienation from God damages relationships between people.

Dr. Polkinghorne finds that this understanding of creation and fall brings illumination to Romans 5. Paul may have viewed Adam as an individual, but we can view Adam as a collective symbol for humanity. The message remains the same. Death came through sin and alienation. Life comes through Christ.

Alienation from God brought the bitterness of mortality, but the relation of humanity to God has been restored in the atonement (at-one-ment) brought by Jesus Christ, in whom the life of humanity and the life of divinity are both present and the broken link is mended. (p. 30)

The only view removed from the table by Dr. Polkinghorne’s understanding of Genesis 3 and Romans 5 and his understanding origins derived from science is the idea that biological death and disease, thorns, thistles, claws, canine teeth, and parasites, were foreign to the creation God declared good. The apparent imperfection of the “natural” world cannot be explained by appealing to human sin. He returns to this issue in a later chapter of the book and we will come back to it then.

What do you think – does Dr. Polkinghorne’s interpretation of the biblical witness to creation and fall make sense?

Where do you agree or disagree?

The new book by Pete Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, looks specifically at the nature of the biblical texts on creation and fall from the perspective of an Old Testament scholar. I hope to begin a series on this book next week, perhaps as early as Tuesday.

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

""even if it is mistaken." Explain."

Hazing Women
"Hazing tends to be something done intentionally and as an initiation rite. Is that really ..."

Hazing Women
"Was the list presented by the spiritual development teacher meant to be exhaustive, covering 100% ..."

Hazing Women
"I have been reading Dr. Sittser’s Resilient Faith*; it is notable that Christianity’s remarkable success ..."

Do You Believe?

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Paul W

    I am only aware of Adam as a literary character who is briefly mentioned in Scripture. The only access I have to him is through literature. Accordingly, to the best of my knowledge, it is only the “textual” Adam & Eve and their story that is important. Whatever extra-textual history that could be ascertained about him– however interesting–would be of little theological import.

    Dr. Polkinghorne orientation makes sense to me. However, I can’t imagine what difference it would possibly make to me if Adam is solely a literary foil or if it were somehow discovered that he was actually a historically existent individual.

  • Dr Polkinghorne’s approach makes perfect sense to me.

    I remember being asked to speak about creation to a group of young believers at a Scripture Union weekend in Clevedon, England when I was in my early thirties. I was invited to do so because I was a professional biologist and a follower of Jesus.

    What I said shocked some of those young people profoundly and for the most part they rejected the idea that life developed and evolved as I claimed. I remember telling them that the purpose of the Bible was to explain the nature of the Creator, to show how our broken relationship with him can be restored – that Jesus made this possible.

    I remember telling them that there is history, biology, geography, poetry, philosophy, technology and more in the Bible. But it was not intended as a textbook for any of those subjects. Its purpose far transcends that of any textbook and we should not see it in that light.

    Today I hope I would be wiser in my approach, but my underlying understanding has not changed. The Bible is about spiritual truth, not scientific truth. It’s a fundamental mistake to confuse the two.

  • Amory Ewerdt

    I have enjoyed these posts. This one has brought up an interesting question for me. I have become more content with the notion that the Fall was when humans who had developed a God awareness and a conscience continued to act according to their animal nature. It seems that what we now know as sin became sin when we had evolved to the point that we bore God’s image. Prior to that point we acted just like any other animal, living only for self and having no concept of God or of life beyond death. I realize that this is all very speculative on my part, but it seems to me to be the best way to reconcile my faith with science. Now where I am thrown for a loop is how to reconcile this view of sin with Gen. 3:22 – “knowing good and evil.” It seems that the knowledge of good and evil was a result of the fall. But how can one fall if there is no knowledge of good and evil? I would perhaps be content with the idea that “knowledge” means experiential knowledge, not just awareness of right and wrong choices that one could make, but God says “they have become like one of us” which would imply that God also has an experiential knowledge of good and evil which obviously posses great problems for orthodox Christian faith. I am not a Hebrew language guy and so I don’t want to put too much stock in what the word “knowledge” could mean either. Anyhow, I’m wondering if anyone can help me think through this.

  • Rick

    In one corner we have Adam as myth and story. In the other corner we have a real Fall, and have its impact on humanity.

    Are we then going to leave them in their corners, with a wide gap that cannot be crossed because we simply don’t know?

    And if we leave them with that gap, will we be opening the door for ideas such as Pelagianism?

  • Amory Ewerdt

    Follow-up: Gen. 3:22ESV actually says: “the man has become like one of us” not that I want to turn this into a gender issue…

  • Rick

    I’m about as far from having any gifts in scientific thinking as anyone, but Dr. P always fascinates me (even though I only understand about half of what he says.) Believe it or not, my seminary set us up to listen well to folk like Dr. P – while not exactly coming right out and saying he’s correct. Of course, growing up hearing the more fundie side of things my default was with a physical, historical Adam and Eve, 6 day creation, etc. But as I’ve matured I’ve come much more to Dr. P’s side of things.

    Here’s the quandary: in most Evangelical circles, to even broach this topic is near suicide. Even those who might give some assent to it aren’t going to touch it with a 10 foot pole – even if they’re in a safe place having a private conversation. Once the label “Heretic” is hung on a pastor by leaders and power brokers it’s on for a good long time. I guess what I’m saying is that while I often shoot my mouth off about theological topics I know are hot buttons I don’t have the courage to be a Galileo on this.

    So, how do we make it OK to even talk about such things?

  • Richard Jones

    This discussion moves down a treacherous road indeed when it becomes accepted that rejection of an “historical” Adam somehow resolves conflict between scripture and science. It opens fully the door to references to anrthropomorphic man’s “animal nature” (#3) which I take as a reference to evolutionary origins. The consequences of such belief is disastrous. As is the process whereby we got to this point.

    Enns argues that NT references to Adam (perhaps also to Jonah and others?) do not indicate that scripture considers Adam et al “historical” v. simply an allegorical/culturally sensitive device to relay some spiritual truth (pssst: but it isn’t scientific). In plain language, Enns— and God bless John Polkinghorn but he is right there as well — to make his case would have you believe scripture is deceptive.
    And the counter argument is that it is called deceptive ONLY because 1) we don’t place scripture within its cultural limits and/or 2) we therefore don’t really understand how God wants us to view these pseudo historical figures.

    Let all of us take care that, whatever our position in this matter, we don’t try to undermine scriptural authority for what we believe must be done to reconcile scripture with naturalism. That reconciliation will never take place with scriptural authority intact.

    It was much simpler for those like Faraday and Pascal who operated under the presupposition that science was possible ONLY because of the existence of the Creator. Now we feel we must accomodate Natural Selection (for isn’t that what is meant when it is said we must understand scripture now in light of discoveries by evolutionists?)in our approach. I wonder what Faraday et al would think of our conundrum?

    A very dangerous road indeed.

  • John

    Surely this is a very anthropocentric view? What is the need of the Bible/revelation if we have this self awareness, or did we lose this ability once we became self aware and rebelled and needed special revelation?
    Secondly death was part and parcel of creation but man evolved into an immortal image but lost that immortality at the ‘fall’ – which was an upward one leading to rebellion/alienation in Romans 5?
    Does there have to be an either or with Adam as literal and representative?
    On the point of death, does God describe this as ‘good’ and did Jesus come to defeat what was ‘good’, i.e. death or mortality in this case?
    Still major theological issues about the effects/consequences of death and sin in such a schema?

  • John

    ‘in Romans 5’ should be at the end of ‘literal and represenatative’

  • Amos Paul

    His view seems perfectly fine to me except and until the point that the appears to reject Adam and Eve as even *possible* individuals, or that the ‘fall’ story might even maybe metaphorically an actual and specific historic event.

    It may or it may not. I think either could work. I’d rather lay all the cards down on the table as equally available options so that we can read and meditate upon the stories in a variety of fashions while not insisting that one reading *must* for certainly be the case.

  • Amos Paul

    *metaphorically –depict– an actual and specific historic event.

    Missing word.

  • @Richard Jones #7 – Well said.

  • Robert A

    From a theological, philosophical perspective this whole conversation still pivots off the nature of the scientist as observer and God as Creator.

    You can say the universe is X many years old (again I’m for a very old creation age) yet the reality is that science is only able to observe what it has been given to observe. Science is not able, because of the limitations inherent in its discipline, to move beyond observable data (though I would challenge that cosmology is actually observable.)

    Thus if God created the whole universe with age built in, who are we to challenge that? How can we challenge that? Is it not beyond our ken, as contingent beings to know with any degree of certainty anything but what has been given? Is God, in His creative act, limited to what we expect or can measure?

    This is the limitation of the modern Cartesian empiricism that belies the claims of scientists. The fact is they simply can’t know with any definiteness because they can only handle observable data. Creation is unobservable.

    Thus we cannot make such pronouncements as challenging the literal Adam or saying that an evolutionary matrix must have been how things happened. It isn’t our place nor within our ability.

    While I appreciate the intent of the postings here, again we must proceed with balance. We are contingent beings attempting to understand designs of the necessary being. It is like Romeo attempting to grasp Shakespeare. Thus our obligation, as believers, to seek balance with Scripture and science/observation. Not make grand pronouncements from our position of contigency.

  • Fish

    Amory #3 nails it for me. At some point in the distant past, we became aware of God and became human. Perhaps the first two people who gained this awareness were the ones we call Adam and Eve.

    If God created a universe that looks much older than it really is, what other tricks might He be playing? Suppose Christ is merely a trick? Suppose salvation is only a cruel joke?

  • DRT

    Richard Jones#7 says

    to make his case would have you believe scripture is deceptive.
    And the counter argument is that it is called deceptive ONLY because 1) we don’t place scripture within its cultural limits and/or 2) we therefore don’t really understand how God wants us to view these pseudo historical figures.

    I wholeheartedly disagree. Folks have to have a tin ear to not see Genesis for what it is, but it is obvious that evangelicals have purposefully taught people to have a tin ear (there is another word to describe this process that I will not mention in this thread…though I feel it is what is going on).

    Genesis has two, distinctly different accounts of creation. It has a talking snake in it. It has a clear anthropomorphic image of god walking around. Even the different accounts refer to god differently. The first creation account is written as poetry. The text clearly is pointing toward it not being literal history. The text has irrational plot elements like how do the sons find wives to marry if they were the first humans. The text does not even have a witness to the first days of creation to orally pass down what happened. That is not deceptive in any way, it is not meant to be taken as literal history.

    Anyone who is not taught to view it as history would read this and recognize that it is a story meant to convey truths about god and our relationship with him. It is only because people are erroneously taught that this is history, though it obviously is not, that there is an issue.

  • This is a very good post on excellent thoughts from Dr. Polkinghorne. Reminiscent of what I read in Walter Wink’s “Powers That Be” that helped me understand the early chapters of Genesis as a counter-narrative against the prevailing ideas of ancient polytheistic cultures. I’ll be interested in learning how he deals with physical death and the “remedy” of resurrection.

  • DRT

    Robert A#13 says

    Thus if God created the whole universe with age built in, who are we to challenge that? How can we challenge that? Is it not beyond our ken, as contingent beings to know with any degree of certainty anything but what has been given? Is God, in His creative act, limited to what we expect or can measure?

    Christians should expect that god, as has been revealed in Jesus, is not deceptive.

  • Rick

    DRT #15-

    “It is only because people are erroneously taught that this is history, though it obviously is not, that there is an issue.”

    I disagree. As some comments have already pointed out, there are bigger issues (sin, death, salvation, authority, etc…) on the minds of people who take it more as a historic account. I think if those issues were not there, the the historicity of it would not be as important to them.

    This somewhat goes to the post yesterday. People advocating what Dr. P is stating have to be sure to hear what the other side is saying. Don’t assume it is just because they have a “tin ear”. There are bigger issues on their minds, and dialogue and mutual understanding will not take place until that is recognized.

  • John Mc

    There was no Fall, there was no Golden Age. Creation is an ongoing work of God, with the potentiality that each age will surpass the previous in possibilities and actualities. Or not. Creation was not a closed ended project. To embrace the notion of a Fall is to posit that God’s original plan for creation was seriously flawed and that God has been trying to patch it up ever since, and presumably the patches too have failed, which reveals a rather disheartening and dispiriting pattern of divine imadequacy and failure.

    The ‘war’ between Christianity and science only exists in the mind of the fearful and those who doubt God’s strength to handle the ramifications of God-inspired human curiosity.

  • It sounds like Polkinghorne, when he speaks of “true myth,” is imposing some vague modern notion about truth and story onto the ancient text of Genesis. But the creation myths of the Ancient Near East bear certain features by which they can be identified as myths. These revolve around the idea that nature, man and God are all part of a continuity. But the creation account in Genesis has none of this. It stands apart from the ANE myths, not as a myth of a different quality, but as a narrative of a very different kind. See The Bible Among the Myths by John N. Oswalt.

  • Luke Allison

    I’ve had this same conversation in my head so many times, that it’s almost as if I dictated this to you inerrantly.

    I love this type of thinking, and yes, the first person I ever read who even dared to suggest a formulation like this was that conservative evangelical of evangelicals, CS Lewis.

    My only concern is that this decidedly “mythic” reading of the creation story can potentially open the door to an almost “gnostic” understanding of the Christian life. That is: man’s primary problem is his inability to relate to the divine. Jesus makes us able to have a true spirituality. Now you can contentedly relate to God in mystic union.

    It takes away some of the interesting commands (be fruitful and multiply, the command to “work” and “keep” the garden, the almost-command to ‘not be alone’, etc.) which give us a
    a far more nuanced and “soily” understanding of our purpose and existence.

    I’m not saying Polkinghorne cops to this type of pseudo-gnosticism, but it seems like many who have led their minds down this path of reasoning have easily gotten there.

  • I agree with @DRT that we as Christians need not even imply that God is deceptive, even if we hold to YEC and explain that God built age into creation. There really isn’t even the need to suggest that such an approach by God would be a trick. It might just be reality. He is God, and all. Maybe He did it so that we would trust Him at His Word. Once a non-Christian realizes that they can’t conclusively say that the Bible isn’t reliable because of the age of the earth discrepancy, immediately you have an opening for the gospel as truth. Not a trick, but a fabulous means of grace to break down strongholds.

    Suggesting Christ is a trick (even facetiously) gets into challenging clear history, which would be silly.

    Suggesting salvation in Christ is a trick is unfortunate also, and again, even facetiously, starts to take you down the road that I fear many will go.

    @Robert A – I really appreciate your words.

    @DRT – The use of “obviously” when talking about Genesis as not history is too strong. I’ll leave it at that. :)@Rick’s point is well-taken here.

  • T

    Richard (7),

    I want to push back on the ‘deceptive’ conclusion. There are many things that are difficult to understand by their very nature, even things that get some attention in the scriptures. Prophetic visions are both illuminating and mysterious, for instance. God intentionally hides or obscures many things from us as is his right (and likely wisdom).

    To change gears a bit, I wonder how many folks are in the boat of being currently uncommitted to any reading of Genesis on the table. I was raised with YEC, even defended it in small ways, but here are the holes in that paradigm of understanding that made me move to the “undecided” category:

    1. A YEC, literal reading of Genesis 1-3 is inconsistent with itself on its own terms. As Polkinghorne mentions rightly above, the inconsistencies of fact b/n the two opening stories are the first and strongest proof of their intended purpose, and argue strongly against a YEC approach.

    2. Even the best creationist scientists acknowledge that the overwhelming available evidence for the age of the earth points to an age that is much, much older than the age we get from a literal, scientific reading of Genesis.

    These two, by themselves, have been strong enough to make me think the reading of Genesis I inherited must be flawed.

    If we can get there, which seems abundantly reasonable, then it’s a question of discovering what we are intended by God to see in these narratives, and, importantly, a modern reading for scientific data on origins appears to be off the table.

  • Rick


    “I was raised with YEC, even defended it in small ways, but here are the holes in that paradigm of understanding that made me move to the “undecided” category… If we can get there, which seems abundantly reasonable, then it’s a question of discovering what we are intended by God to see in these narratives, and, importantly, a modern reading for scientific data on origins appears to be off the table.”

    But what did you leave on the table? That is the more important question.

  • Rick

    Oops, let me rephrase that: What else did you take off the table? What is not on the table for discussion when you approach these passages?

  • phil_style

    @Jeff Doles, on the contrary. The biblical creation story has many of the perfect markers of ancient myth!
    It is based in the “founding murder” event (Cain/Abel) which is the fundamental myth-making instrument of culture (see Girard: Things Hidden since the Foundation of the World).

    “The story of Adam and Eve is obviously a mimetic story. When God asks them what has happened, Adam says it was Eve’s fault and Eve’s says it was the serpent’s fault; and they are not completely wrong in the sense that they both borrowed their desire from someone else. But then you have Cain and Abel, the real consequences of this mimetic desire which is the scapegoat mechanism and the foundation of the first culture. Then you have this first culture, which, bad as it is: seven killings for one, gets worse and worse until it collapses entirely in the great flood”.

    How is the Adam/Eve myth “true” – because it tells us what the mechanism is by which we all sin – memetic desire! This is where “original” sin becomes “universal” – because we all share in this memesis – we cannot avoid it, it’s programmed into our brains through our mirror neurons.

  • DRT

    OK, the use of *obviously* does not further the cause.

    How about *could successfully be argued*

  • AHH

    Rick @4,

    It seems like Polkinghorne’s position bridges exactly the gap you ask to be bridged. The Fall as something real in human development (even if not quite as traditionally conceived), with this truth of universal human sinfulness expressed in a literary form that we might call myth or story (but still inspired Scripture!).

    Something along these general lines seems to be the obvious path that respects the authority and inspiration of Scripture, affirms the traditional Christian doctrine of universal human sinfulness (though challenging the details of Augustine’s model for that), recognizes the literary genre of the passage, and does not conflict with what is now known about humanity’s (physical) origins. Where the last should not be an overriding consideration but can help us choose among viable interpretations.

    But as you pointed out in #6, taking such a position is dangerous in conservative Evangelicalism. As Prof. Schneider at Calvin College found out. There is a knee-jerk reaction to these things that is deeply ingrained in our fundamentalist-influenced church cultures.

    You are right that it is so touchy that it is hard to even start the conversation. I think much of the trouble stems from ideas of “inerrancy” and more generally modern human-imposed expectations on Scripture, as mentioned in the Pete Enns post the other day. So maybe the real place to start the conversation is with what we expect Scripture to be, not with the specific issue of the Genesis 3 story. But that conversation is also fraught with danger, as deviating from what some call a “high view” of Scripture is tantamount to heresy in many circles (for example, getting Pete Enns forced out of his job at Westminster Seminary).

  • Here is another example of imposing modern ideas about genre on the ancient text. In #15 above, drt says that “first creation account is written as poetry.” Now, perhaps I have been brainwashed or have a tin ear, but Genesis 1 does not appear to bear the features of Hebrew poetry. One might feel the need to read it as poetry, but that need does not arise because Genesis 1 was written in the form of Hebrew poetry (Genesis 1 is not presented to us in that form). More likely, it arises from a modern sensibility about the poetic, which is read back into — imposed onto — the ancient text.

  • phil_style

    in addition to me previous (#26):

    … Jesus clearly points out his solution to the problems of memetic desire (which is really a kind of imitation) – he turns it on it’s head and proposes the imitation of himself, who is the perfect imitation of God! Paul does exactly the same thing “imitate me” The only possible solution too. The symmetry is so perfect.

  • J Williams

    Great stuff once again.

    I am trying to understand the implications in light of other pervasive teachings I have come across in my short 10 years as a Christian, converted at the age of 19. Prior to that I was agnostic. Many of my original questions stemmed from my skepticism of the Bible’s account of origins.

    I am nothing close to a scholar, so many of my questions are based in ignorance, but my hope is for clarity on some of these issues.

    It seems that if the creation narrative were meant to be a myth containing more general truth about God as Creator and Adam and Eve as representative of emerging homo-sapiens becoming aware of God and yet rejecting him; – that the myth would end with that story and not go to such great lengths to tie into all of the history following the event. In other words – the ages, and genealogies (also mimicked in the NT) tracing Jesus to Adam, or in the Old Testament – Adam to Noah, etc…that is seems we have to take almost all as myth until about Abraham.

  • Is it at all ironic that a scientist/theologian fails to see (or at least fails to mention) the possibility that one of the main theological points of Genesis 3 *might* be that we are called to trust the Creator for knowledge/wisdom/sustenance and not the Creation?

    Not because the Creation is untrustworthy but because our independent perception of it is inherently limited?

  • phil_style

    @Jeff, 29:
    How do you know Gen 1 is not poetry?
    1. Each stanza starts with the same repetitive phrase “and god said”
    2. Each stanza finishes with the same poetic phrase “And there was evening, and there was morning—the X day”

    There is a literary increase in the “observations” of God in each stanza. Starting with no retrospection in the fist, to an observation of completeness in 34 (and it was so) followed by a climax of emotion in 5-6 (it was good).

    Modern or not – it looks like a poem.

  • J Williams

    sorry, post cut me off early.

    I can see that all is myth leading to Abraham, but it seems like some of the stories, the geologies, the intention of describing a decline in the length of human life, etc…seem quite elaborate for making a simple point about humans becoming aware of God and then rejecting him.

    Additionally, the thought that for millions of years the evolutionary process left many a link in the chain leading to homo-sapiens with such a difficult and desperate situation is hard to imagine. For example, what makes watching human life suffer so much more difficult to watch than an ant for instance, is that a human can demonstrate and communicate pain, depression, agony, doubt, awareness, etc…in the process that is so devastating to experience. To imagine that evolving neanderthals, or peking man may have demonstrated (to some degree)those same attributes and yet experienced such horrific suffering and pervasive physical death – and all of this before sin began to influence and permeate anything.

  • Rick

    “though challenging the details of Augustine’s model for that”

    I think that is one of the big issues on the mind of those Dr. P is addressing.

    Phil in #26 has an interesting thought on that (mirror neurons), which sounds similar to Eastern Orthodox teachings (just more scientific). However, does Phil approach Pelagianism with that?

    You also stated, “So maybe the real place to start the conversation is with what we expect Scripture to be, not with the specific issue of the Genesis 3 story.”

    A big yes! Well said. That issue is what is behind much of the concern about Gen 3. If we bypass the question about Scripture, we will be talking past each other.

    (By the way, the Rick in #6 was not me. Other comments were, just not that one).

  • phil_style

    Rick, can you clarify what aspect of Pelagianism you’re referring to? I haven’t considered memsis from that perspective…

  • Rick


    Hypothetically speaking (and it could be debated whether this could even be hypothetical), could a person potentially live in such isolation that they never observe such behavior. If sin is not within us (although it could be debated whether the wiring of our neurons is already impacted at birth), is a person potentially able to choose to live a sin free life?

  • phil_style

    Rick, great question!

    I suppose, complete isolation from birth could result in “sinlessness”, but this would have resulted in death before then anyway (babies cannot survive without interaction with other humans). But don’t most christian’s generally accept that infants are not responsible (sinful) anyways? Or what about the unborn – for those who believe the unborn are “persons”. So this particular issue is not one of how sin is transmitted, really.

    It’s clear from both sociology and the bible that people learn the behaviors and desires of others. Humans are the most memetic of all the animals. We have an amazing capacity for imitation.

  • phil_style #33,

    May I suggest to you that the reason it looks like poetry to you is because you are viewing it through modern notions about poetry (which was my point in earlier post). But Hebrew poetry was written in a different way and with a different form. See the Psalms, Job, Song of Solomon, for example. Those are all cast in the form of Hebrew poetry. Genesis 1 is not. Just because it has some repetition and a nice way with words does not make it poetry. N. T. Wright has a nice way with words, but that does not make his writings poems.

    Similarly, myths in the ANE had certain features, all revolving, as I noted earlier, around the idea of the continuity of nature with man with the divine, which results in a narrative very different from the creation account in Genesis. Different not just in quality but in kind. Looking back at it through modern glasses, it might seem to us like myth, but ANE myth was a different type of literature than what we often vaguely call myth today. Again, I would refer you to The Bible Among the Myths by John N. Oswalt.

    The ancient eastern literature of Scripture was not written willy-nilly, waiting to be sorted out by the modern western viewpoint. Just because it might feel mythical or poetical to you today, here on the other side of the world, does not mean that it was presented as myth or poetry back in the ANE.

  • PaulE

    Regarding his interpretation, it almost works for me in Genesis 1-3 (although I find 2:10-14 difficult to adapt), but then falls apart in Genesis 4 – especially at verses 17-18. It’s difficult for me to read the genealogy of Cain and see in it “a truth so deep that only story can convey it.”

    My own approach has been to take the opposite tack from Dr. Polkinghorne and see the age of the universe rather as a true myth.

  • PaulE

    Now that I’m thinking about genealogies, I had another thought. Even if we suppose that the genre of Genesis 1-3 (and perhaps beyond) is some kind that does not purport to give historical information as was suggested by Peter Enns in yesterday’s post, can the same be said for 1 Chronicles 1:1?

  • phil_style

    Jeff, how do you know that Gen 1 was not poetry?

    How do you know it was originally written in Hebrew?

    Why is it compared to Psalms, Job or SoS, which are potentially from completely different time periods and literary movements anyway? just beacsue they were later included in the same “bible” does not make them comparative tools.

    “just because it has some repetition and a nice way with words does not make it poetry” – this is not relevant to what I said.

    “Just because it might feel mythical or poetical to you today, here on the other side of the world, does not mean that it was presented as myth or poetry back in the ANE” –

    Feelings do not enter int it. The text exhibits specific textual features common to poetry. And YES – exactly the same as ANE poetry. Parralellism, repetition etc.

    I have also pointed out that the subject material (as well as the textual form) is consistent with ANE myth. Memesis, the founding murder, and sacrifice. All three elements of cultural formation myth.

    There is further evidence of myth – the fact that the descriptions (if taken as literal fact and not metaphor) do not align with what we know to be true about the world.

    My “feelings” about this text do not have anything to do with this analysis.

    “May I suggest to you that the reason it looks like poetry to you is because you are viewing it through modern notions about poetry” – you may suggest this. And I may suggest that you are likewise viewing it through the wrong interpretive lens.

    Thanks for recommending Oswald’s book. Does he really criticise those who do not subscribe to his theories on Genesis as “the enemy”? I would note that Paul S Evans states that Oswald leaves out Genesis 1 to 11 in his survey of the Old Testament. So I don’ think his work is much use to us in this respect. http://www.mcmaster.ca/mjtm/pdfs/vol11/reviews/ReviewEvansonOswaltR25-29.pdf

  • J Williams # 34,

    If Genesis all myth until we get to Abraham , then what in the text signals the shift from myth to history (about specific individuals and events in time and space)? One of the structural features I see throughout Genesis (both in chapters 1-11 and in 12-50) is the elle toledoth, that is, “these are the generations.” These appear to present us with specific individuals, both before and after Abraham.

    If Abraham was a real and specific person, what about Terah, his father (Gen 11:27)? Was he a myth or a real person? If Terah was a real individual, what about Nahor, his father (11:24)? Real or mythical? If Nahor was real, then what about Serug, his father (11:22)? Real? If so, then what about Serug’s father, Reu (11:20)? Myth or real? Where does the supposed shift from myth to history occur in Abraham’s lineage?

    And what should we make of the specificity of years we find in the generations in Genesis 1-11? For example, in 11:10, Shem was 100 years old, and he begot Arphaxad (part of Abraham’s genealogy); and in 11:12, Arphaxad was 35 years old when be begot Salah; and so on, through to Abraham. Can we add up all those years and find how long it was, for instance, between the birth of Arphaxad and Abraham. There is no shift in this pattern — it runs on through Abraham and afterwards. If it is myth up until Abraham, why are we given the specificity of years before, the same as after Abraham?

  • Rick

    Phil #38-

    “But don’t most christian’s generally accept that infants are not responsible (sinful) anyways? Or what about the unborn – for those who believe the unborn are “persons”.

    I think you would get various responses on that (beginning with the western and eastern churches), which makes it a great question, and one that is huge in this discussion.

  • Comparing @Jeff Doles argument of Genesis as not poetry to @phil_style argument of Genesis as poetry (both of which are very good) as objectively as I can, I would side with @Jeff Doles. Not poetry. Objectively.

    I would add, why would John N. Oswalt not cover Genesis 1-11? That was silly of him.

    Also, what say you all about the 100 or more quotations or references in the New Testament to Genesis 1-11 (not just about Adam)? Do all or any of those references assume or imply poetry? Seems like not.

  • phil_style #42,

    I am going on what we do have, not speculating on what we do not have. What we do have is Genesis written in Hebrew for Hebrews about Hebrews. If you have evidence that it was originally composed in a different language with different conventions, I would be happy to consider it. And in regard to the poetical form used by the Hebrews, what we do have is that which is exampled by Psalms, Job and Song of Solomon.

  • phil_style

    @Joey, Osawld possibly does not cover Gen 1-11 because the arguments he uses to claim other ANE literature are myths (use of representative figures, heroes etc..) are also present in the early parts of Genesis. So his own methodology (if applied evenly) would suggest that Gen 1-11 is myth also.

  • Joe Canner

    Nick Gill #32: “are [we] called to trust the Creator for knowledge/wisdom/sustenance and not the Creation?”

    This is a very interesting question. Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that you are correct. How do you propose to find out about the Creator, independent from the Creation? A book that was written thousands of years ago to a very different culture from our own and in a very different language than most of us speak? How is that any less subject to interpretive bias than our attempts to interpret Creation?

    Or, are you suggesting that we find out about the Creator from our own experience? No doubt these experiences (which vary widely among individuals) are helpful in the acquisition and maintenance of faith, but they are too subjective to be the basis for widely-held knowledge about the Creator.

    No doubt there are those that elevate knowledge about Creation and our ability to interpret Creation to a level it does not deserve. But to cast such knowledge aside is an equally grievous error.

  • phil_style

    @Jess #46 “t. And in regard to the poetical form used by the Hebrews, what we do have is that which is exampled by Psalms, Job and Song of Solomon.” Yes, an interesting observation. And Genesis 1 does map very nicely onto these poetic forms.
    The most common form of Hebrew poetry is parallelism. The Psalms and Proverbs are filled with these, as is the structured stanzas of Genesis 1 – which also employ frequent use of parallelism.

  • phil_style

    oops, apologies Jeff, I did not mean to refer to you as “jess”. That was a typo.

  • tim ellison

    Superb!!! I only wish every thinking bible believing Christian could agree and preach from the platform that this article presents!! keep up the great work!

  • @Joe Canner #48 – your comment seemed to leave no room for divine inspiration, let alone inerrancy. That’s a slippery slope. Divine inspiration of Scripture is the very reason it is less subject to interpretative bias than our efforts. If that is denied altogether, we all need to be having a different discussion.

  • T

    Rick (24 & 25),

    I think you are asking me for ‘non-negotiables’ but I’m not positive of that. God as the creator is the first and foremost non-negotiable, and I’m sure there are others, but I am wary of other conclusions that are seemingly required by my systematics because, by definition when one is looking for a new paradigm of understanding, the systematics are likely flawed in some way. As I’ve argued before, geocentrism was not only supported by the ‘plain reading’ of several scriptures, it was also supported by and even seen as necessary within the predominant, orthodox systematic theology. The combination of the two made the Church very reluctant to abandon geocentrism. For the reasons I provided above, I’m convinced that just as we misread the seemingly geocentric scriptures for thousands of years and built systematic theologies that made those misreadings valuable, we have been misreading Genesis (and likely the related passages) and created faulty systematics from our misreading. Unfortunately, as with any paradigm shift, identifying the problems with the existing paradigm is less than half the work. The bulk of the work is in finding the new paradigm that deals with the problems and also gives a satisfactory answer to all related issues. It seems to me we are still in the middle, maybe even the beginning stages, of this real work.

  • Cal

    Why can’t Genesis have elements of ‘mythic poetry’ and also ‘historical reality’?

    One can see the play on words with Adam and Ground, the symbolism of trees, a snake, a garden etc.

    However it also seems like a real account when Adam fathers Seth and a genealogy is written. The genealogy which does not denote years (Seth’s son Enosh may have been 20 generations removed!).

    I think the Creation and Fall are elements of polemical ‘true myth’ using Polkinghorne’s terms. However I can say that a real Adam (perhaps federal head) did sin, did disobey and with him, all mankind, was cut off from God, denied immortality in communion with God and needed redemption and resurrection. And with Christ comes a new world. There was fruit, so there was already ‘death’.

  • AHH

    Joey @45,

    The fact that there are many references to Gen. 1-11 in the NT tells us nothing about how to interpret Genesis.
    It certainly does not rule out poetry as the genre (although I would not give it that label, and I doubt Polkinghorne would either), since the NT quotes the Psalms often. Heck, Paul even quotes a couple of pagan Greek poets.
    All it tells us is that the OT texts are worth listening to; then the question becomes how best to listen and genre identification is an important part of that.

    Anyplace else where we saw two creation stories with inconsistent details, then a garden story with a talking snake and symbolic trees and main characters named “Man” and “Life” and a flaming sword we’d conclude that it was some sort of story form of communication (which is totally consistent with orthodox ideas of inspiration). But as I said above, the conditioning of the fundamentalist-influenced segment of the church to treat such a reading as anathema is strong, as it plays into bigger issues of the expectations some modern folks think inspired Scripture ought to satisfy.

  • phil_style

    @Joey #52 slippery slopes are fallacies for a reason.

  • @Phil_Style #56

    Can you elaborate what you mean?


    “The fact that there are many references to Gen. 1-11 in the NT tells us nothing about how to interpret Genesis.”

    But does it not give us some idea how the NT authors interpreted it?

  • phil_style #49,

    What would be an example of parallelism you find in Genesis 1? How about taking one of the “stanzas” and show how you identify it as parallelism that is characteristic of Hebrew poetry.

  • Rick

    T #53-

    Sorry for the confusion, but yes, I was asking for non-negotiables. You seem to be focused mainly on the passages themselves. I am referring more to your overall theology. I think those are the real issues that need to be discussed before we approach the specific passages.

    For example, earlier AHH stated, “So maybe the real place to start the conversation is with what we expect Scripture to be, not with the specific issue of the Genesis 3 story.”

  • Alex

    I didn’t read through all the comments so forgive me if this has been dealt with. I don’t see Paul, Matthew or Luke seeing genealogies as “True Myth”. In their thought it seems very Jewish to have confident expectations of the coming and reigning of the Messiah Jesus. The literal ancestry sure seems to be of great importance in the argument for the incarnation. We are dealing with more than Gen. 1-3 and Romans 5 in this discussion. This is not to disregard the mythic elements of the creation story…but there may be other ways to fine tune this engine…

  • Cal #54,

    You say that the genealogy does not denote years. What do you suppose is the significance of the use of the word “years” in conjunction with specific numbers?

    You also say that Seth’s son Enosh may have been 20 generations removed. Let’s take a look:

    Seth lived one hundred and five years, and begot Enosh. (Genesis 5:6)

    Seth lived 105 years and begot Enosh. How do 20 generations (or anything close to that) fit in here? Looks to me that it means that when Seth was 105 years old, he fathered Enosh. How do we account for “105 years” in the text? What does it mean? Or should we just ignore it, and if so, on what basis?

  • RJS


    Although it stretches the term a bit, I think we can see “true myth” in the genealogies. These are cultural constructs that place Jesus in relationship to the history of Israel as understood by the 1st century writers. Only one uses Adam and that is a clear connection to Genesis, not independent of it. I don’t think it is reasonable to expect inspiration to include a warning to avoid Genesis 1-11 or to add an asterisk – so the historicity of Adam there has to stand on Genesis not its use in the NT genealogies.

    Jesus as the fulfillment of Jewish expectation is central to a proper understanding of the gospel.

  • AHH

    Joey @57:
    But does it not give us some idea how the NT authors interpreted it?

    What you originally said, the sheer number of NT references to Genesis 1-11, does not give us any idea how they interpreted it.

    But yes, aboslutely, individual references MAY give some idea of how a given NT author interpreted something. That is certainly another point to consider as we interpret the OT. But there are at least three things that complicate that:

    1) We have to avoid the mistake of thinking that, because a NT author referred to a familiar story, that equates to an affirmation of the historicity of the story. Aftter all, I can say “we should love our neighbor like the Good Samaritan did” without it being a statement about the historicity of that character.

    2) The NT writers were human and products of their culture. Inspiration does not erase that. So an NT author might have a mistaken cultural idea about, say, the historicity of Adam, and God in the process of inspiration might not bother to “correct” that if it was irrelevant to the point being made.

    3) The NT authors sometimes “interpreted” OT passages in ways that are far removed from modern Evangelical exegesis. Peter Enns writes about that in his excellent book Inspiration and Incarnation. That further complicates any modern attempts to lean too heavily on the way NT writers used OT Scripture.

  • Cal

    Jeff #61,

    When I read it, I took it as two different statements (as in #1 Seth lived 105 years #2 Seth begot Enosh); it was a sloppy mistake upon quick examination (Perhaps I should take more time writing out comment examples!).

    I still stand by initial read. I’m not sure how years the years factor in. The ancient lists of Kings from Sumer have similar long numbers. Perhaps years denote a federal dominance, perhaps we’re misunderstanding “years”.

    I’ll have to do some researching. Thanks for your correction!

  • Cal

    In addition:

    Of course there’s a possibility of extremely long antediluvian life spans. Have to keep studying.

  • @AHH

    1) Agreed. But there also are no specific reasons in the texts to think they were referring to anything but an historical story.

    2) This principle makes sense; in other words, sure, they could have been mistaken and the Holy Spirit didn’t see it necessary to correct them. Or, they could have been right. Just as much reason to think that.

    3) I haven’t read that book, but it seems like we are working very hard to show that the NT authors’ interpretation was different than what it appears.

  • Alex

    I am a little confused by your last comment in paragraph one. The NT writers were much closer to the time period in which Genesis was written. They truly lived in the milieu of a Jewish worldview in contrast to a pagan one (Rome/Hellenism). And they were in a better place to use the stories in Genesis in a theological argument. The genealogies were used precisely because of their historical nature in an argument of prophetic/apocalyptic import. NT writers, I don’t think, would say we can have the Genesis account stand on its own. It is part of an unfolding story.

    The Trojan Aeneas (along with Romulus and Remus born of a virgin princess) is the mythical beginning of an empire that would rise to see Augustus as its savior. The myth, in the fullness of time, had a true counterpart. The “true myth” aspect was ironic…because of its truthfulness (Act 17). While I agree that much of Genesis 1-3 is poetic, and a form of God “lisping” to his ikons, in my literary judgment we need to be very careful about solving the problem of Bible/evolution, with much evidence in tact, with the expulsion of a historic Adam….

  • Joe Canner

    Joey Elliott #52: But where do we get our understanding of inerrancy and divine inspiration? If we get it only from Scripture itself, than it’s a circular argument and has no meaning.

    We base our understanding of inerrancy and divine inspiration (at least in part) on external validations (science, archaeology, history, etc…). So why throw out science as a potential validation method? It’s certainly no less reliable than the other methods we use.

  • T


    Okay. Well, that’s tough to do in this forum. The foundation/cornerstone of my faith would have to be Christ. You likely know I’m a prima scriptura guy in building my theology generally, including what I trust about Jesus as the cornerstone of it. Ultimately, my faith rests in the God revealed by Jesus and his ability and intention to reveal specifically what information each person needs, via scripture and every other means at his disposal. Now, the things that I won’t budge on tend (not exclusively) to reside in the gospels, especially the summary statements of Christ’s activities and resurrection. But, for example, even though the denials of Peter are in the gospels, I’m not sure exactly how many there were and to whom and what exactly the crow was doing and when, because the gospels make it difficult to be certain of those details. That case and others (like how many times “all” the livestock in Egypt are killed, and still brought in for shelter afterward) make it clear to me that, despite what I was led to believe growing up, scripture is not like modern court-reporting, God-style. And despite my focus on Jesus, I am still reluctant to conclude that anything in the Bible is myth (whether parts of Genesis or Job or what have you) just because it contains or requires miraculous activity. For several reasons, including personal experience, I take miraculous activity as part of what it means to deal with God at all. At the same time, I’m open to the very real possibility that the OT contains stories that are inspired and God given, but more metaphorical than I was taught.

    I still have a very high view of scripture, but I’m also building an approach to scripture that rejects traditions about it that are clearly contradicted by scripture itself. I could obviously write a lot more in response to your question, but this isn’t the forum for that. If there’s a specific question still lingering, shoot.

  • @Joe Canner – So, apparently we need to have a different discussion.

    I’m never opposed to having a good circular argument, but to say that basing truth on Scripture alone is unacceptable puts us in trouble. We won’t be talking about Christianity for long if we do that.

    But seriously, are you saying that you don’t believe we can know or trust that the Bible is inspired without validation from creation, science, etc.? If so, that is unfortunate. I guess I can’t quote verses to you, huh? Not sure where that leaves us, but I lament the day where Biblical inspiration in and of itself can no longer be common ground for Christians.

    I of course do not deny that creation, science, history, etc. cannot serve as confirmation or validation at some level. But we do not need to depend on them for that. There is a difference between supernatural, or special, revelation, and natural revelation, and it shouldn’t be much of a debate as to which is more important and valid for Christians.

  • DRT

    Jeff#29, even if Gen 1 does not fit the definition of Hebrew poetry, would you think that god would have to conform to Hebrew poetry? I think poetry like that is poetry in any age.

  • DRT

    Just to be more specific in my last comment, not recognizing Gen 1 as poetry because it does not fit Hebrew poetry is not wrong, and not anachronistic, it is having a tin ear.

  • Tom F.

    7- Richard- on the “scripture is deceptive”. Scripture can be deceptive if you are using the wrong hermeneutic. Many people were “deceived” into thinking the Bible supported slavery because they read the Bible wrong. Is that God’s fault?

    8- On creation and death, Proverbs 3:2 seems to suggest that natural death could be a purposeful part of creation. Human beings are “dust”, and our nature is based in that part of creation, which is only overcome through participation in God’s gracious provision of life, which we are cut off from by sin, and restored to through Christ. Death, as part of the created order, is good when it is in its proper place, but its presence in human life is direct evidence of being cut off from God’s provision.

    13- Robert, I think you have an interesting point, but if creation is unobservable from a theological point of view, than there is no way that theology could even contradict science in the first place. I think this is sometimes called the “non-overlapping magisteria” position, and I respect it, but there is significant dissonance that this winds up with. For example, when it comes to spiritual identity, fall, sin, redemption, ect., we use the Bible, but when evolutionary biology is helpful, (i.e., in predicting the DNA similarities between human and chimpanzees AHEAD of time), we use that?

    I think its a mistake to say creation is unobservable as well. I can observe it enough to make predictions about what it will do. I can observe it enough to learn about how to manipulate it so that serves human purposes. How am I able to predict and manipulate creation if I’m not observing it?

    18- Rick, granted. Intellectual charity is always a necessity, even more so in these conversations. The theological issues are important.

    20- Jeff, it doesn’t seem that the particular genre (true myth, poetry) is as important as the fact that the two creation accounts in Genesis 1-3 are not historical in the way that the coverage of the Republican primary results last night by a newspaper are historical. This is not just an external issue imposed on the text, the fact that we have two diverging accounts within the text also speaks to this situation. The main question is that in whatever genre you want to call Genesis 1-3, does that genre force Genesis to conform to the expectations of a certain understanding of history, perhaps the “literal” understanding if you prefer, or is there room for other interpretations.

    22- Joey, I just don’t understand, I’m sorry. God set the age of the earth as appearing very old, and then (supposedly) said in scripture that the earth is actually very young. And the point of this was to…increase our trust in God? Help me out, can you unpack this a bit more?

    32- Nick, I would agree in part, but I would say that it is my trust in God that leads me to be very concerned that God would allegedly say that creation is really young, when in appearance it is very old. That is, I trust our human ability to find order in creation precisely because God is intelligible, trustworthy, and non-arbitrary.

  • No, God does not have to conform to Hebrew poetry. He could have bypassed it completely and we would probably have no psalms, which are by their nature, songs. Though Job and Song of Solomon could have been cast as prose.

    And there is certainly no requirement that God would have to write Genesis 1 as poetry of Hebrew or any other kind. And, indeed, I don’t think it is cast as poetry.


    I think it helpful, in considering the Scriptures, to identify the various genres because not all genres are interpreted the same way. Apocalyptic does not read the same way as epistle or gospel or chronicle. To ignore genre or misidentify it is to invite confusion.

    So, IF we are going to call Genesis 1 poetry, we should look to see what were the forms of Hebrew poetry (since Genesis was written by Hebrews for Hebrews about Hebrews) and see if Genesis 1 is like those forms. If not, perhaps we still might suppose that it was a form heretofore not known, perhaps even sui generis, a class of one — but then, of course, we would just be speculating.

    Not finding the identifying traits of Hebrew poetry, the form of poetry demonstrably known by the Hebrews, in Genesis 1, I do not think it is cast in the genre of poetry.

    Now, it is a well-written piece, with memorable turns of phrase, and very moving as a piece of literature. But that does not make it poetry. N. T. Wright teaches us the Bible and theology with some well-written pieces, memorable turns of phrase, and a way I sometimes find very moving. But is it not actually poetry. There have also been historians who have given us some well-written historical accounts, with memorable turns of phrase, and in ways that are at times very moving. But that does not actually make it poetry, and it would be very misleading and confusing to treat and interpret it as if it actually were poetry.

  • @Tom F.

    Sure, I will attempt to elaborate. Keep in mind I am not conclusively saying God did anything for any specific reason that I am positive of. I am just suggesting a way to explain that God is not deceptive, as I gather you agree, and even holding to YEC can be consistent with that.

    One explanation is that God did not mean to create the world with the appearance of age, it just happened that way. Not like he messed up, but like he didn’t care one way or the other. Creation was no doubt pretty intense. Things could have been shaken up a bit and not been shiny like a new pair of shoes. Hence, age.

    My suggestion was that God intends for us to trust Him. Jesus requires us to follow Him. He said we would be persecuted, and that doesn’t just mean physically. So, perhaps, defending a literal Biblical account of creation and Genesis 1, and yielding to the authority of Scripture starting at the very beginning, through the very end (let’s not get in to interpretations of Revelation, haha), is one way that He desires us to trust and follow Him. Perhaps, we glorify Him way more by following Him in the midst of challenges to the authority of His revelation. We already know this is what He desires in the midst of challenges to His deity, atonement, and resurrection, so it stands to reason this might also apply to His creation. All for the reason of being able to uncompromisingly appeal to the authority of Scripture, for His ultimate glory.

    Just my thoughts. Hope that clarified a little. The point remains that there is nothing to disprove the possibility that God created with the appearance of age.

  • And by glorify Him more, I mean like we do in suffering when we desire Him more than anything in this life we could lose, knowing we can never lose Him.

  • DRT

    Jeff Doles #74, well, fair enough I suppose. Would you agree that it is poetic. Perhaps unique and poetic.

  • Joe Canner

    Joey #70: I didn’t realize that my view was so unusual. I’m sure there are plenty of people who have sufficient faith to accept the Bible at face value without validation, but there are plenty who don’t. Otherwise, what would be the point of Josh McDowell’s “Evidence” books, Lee Strobels “Case for” books, and NT Wright’s book on the resurrection? These books lay out the significant and voluminous external evidence that supports the Scripture for the benefit of those who are unable to accept the Bible alone.

    Ironically, there are many folks whose belief in the existence of God is strongly based on an understanding of the vastness of the universe and the complexity of life, all provided by science. If science is admissible as a proof for God, then it certainly should be admissible as a proof that the Bible was not written for the purpose of making scientifically-accurate statements about Creation.

  • From OP
    “very good reason to believe that the universe is ~13.7 years old, having begun as an almost uniform expanding ball of energy.”

    and I thought I was a YEC… and yes I know it was a typo but c’mon laugh a little. 😉


  • drt #77,

    I would agree that in the broad, vague, mushy way people today refer to things as “poetic,” it is “poetic.” However, being vague and mushy is, I think, not an adequate way to approach the Scriptures. As a matter of genre or form, though, I do not think Genesis 1 is poetry.

    To take it as a unique form of poetry, in a class of one, unlike any other Hebrew poetry, seems to me to be wild speculation, and begs the question (e.g., “Please accept this as poetry so we can interpret it as poetry.”)

  • phil_style

    @Jeff 58 Some examples of parallelism [prl] in Gen 1:

    verses 6 to 8:
    And God said,
    “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.”
    So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it.
    And it was so. 8
    God called the vault “sky.”
    the”vault” and the “sky” form the [prl] here

    Verses 9 and 10
    And God said,
    “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place,
    and let dry ground appear.”
    And it was so.
    God called the dry ground “land,”
    and the gathered waters he called “seas.”
    And God saw that it was good.

    This is double parallelism, also with mirroring.
    The water to seas at the start of 9 and end of 10 is [prl]
    The ground to dry land in the middle is [prl]
    Both sets of [prl] form a bracket/ mirror around each other

    verses 20 and 21 repeat the [prl] for the sky/vault
    Verses 22 to 23 repeat the [prl] on, for the water/seas
    Verses 24 to 26 repreat the [prl] for land/ ground

    Verses 28 and and 29 do a [prl] also, repeating the location of the animals that fill the earth (28) with their role relative to humans (in 29)

    The final verses at Gen 2, contract with Gen 1:1 to form an outer bracket of a final [prl]. This time the parallelism is a contrast between the elements which were, “empty” but are now “completed in their vast array”.

    Gen 1:27 does something a little different, it’s a kind of climactic refrain at the “top” of the piece. it includes a [prl] So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.
    The transition through here is so blatantly lyrical, that it’s possibly (even probably) liturgical in some sense.

  • From OP:
    “The only view removed from the table by Dr. Polkinghorne’s understanding of Genesis 3 and Romans 5 and his understanding origins derived from science is the idea that biological death and disease, thorns, thistles, claws, canine teeth, and parasites, were foreign to the creation God declared good.”

    So what are we to make of the consequences of Adam’s sin that God levys in Gen 3:
    – Cursed is the ground for your sake;
    – thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
    – For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.

    Isn’t that a bit odd that all these features existed in creation already but the story presents them clearly as the consequence for disobedience?

    And there are more passages involved than Rom 5. For example why does creation groan in Rom 8 and when was it subjected to corruption that it waits to be free from if all of this was from the very beginning?

    What do we do about Moses tying the 7 day week to the 7 day pattern in creation, or Jesus quoting the Genesis account in Matt 19 teaching with authority the way God intends marriage to work from the beginning? Why have the genealogies of Jesus going back to Adam in the Gospels? Why does Paul use Adam/Eve in 1 Tim 2 when teaching about women in the church – especially in Ephesus a Gentile town? So much of the story and patterns in Scripture are tied to the opening of Genesis.

    Jeff Doles #43
    “If Genesis all myth until we get to Abraham , then what in the text signals the shift from myth to history (about specific individuals and events in time and space)?”

    Great question!


  • RJS

    MikeB (#79),

    Whoops. That really would require a “mature creation” or “appearance of age” view. I fixed it for my own peace of mind.

  • DRT

    Folks, just want to compliment the whole posters today, good conversation. I wish I was more available to participate more deeply today….

  • DRT

    Jeff#80, I see what you are saying, but I would classify it as a pointer toward the proper orientation toward reading it, and not in the absolute value of its statements. Said another way, just because it is poetic does not mean that the things in the book are not true, its just that there may be poetic license taken in its meaning.

  • phil_style

    @ DRT “, just because it is poetic does not mean that the things in the book are not true, its just that there may be poetic license taken in its meaning”

    The Us national anthem is poetic. Does that mean the bombardment of fort McHenry never happened?

  • phil_style

    For those that are still around, Richard Beck has an interesting post on the 2 creation stories in Gen, with specific reference to Lilith, Adam’s “first wife” in Hebrew lore: http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2012/01/adams-first-wife.html

  • Tom F.

    Joey- I think we just have different ideas about how damaging it would be if God “accidentally” made the earth look old. Why would God throw an arbitrary stumbling block in front of people? Other stumbling blocks are not arbitrary. The cross is a stumbling block, but that stumbling block goes to the heart of who God is and our condition. I very much doubt the same could be said about old-looking rocks.

  • TJR

    Amory #3
    If you are still here. A possible answer to your question about “knowledge of good and evil” is that “good and evil” make up parts of a whole. So the phrase would mean something like knowing every thing from a to z, or in heaven and on earth , or from soup to nuts.

  • J Williams

    Jeff Doles #43

    I appreciate the interaction with my comment.

    My attempt in posting was to try and reconcile what I think Polkinghorne is saying and the geneologies and history contained in the OT. The questions you posed are the ones I was seeking answers for.

    What portions of Genesis as a whole, the Torah and other historical books of the Old Testmament are “true myth” and which are meant to be understood as historical account?

    Maybe I was misinterpreting Polkinghorne who may have only been speaking about the first “creative week” of God’s work. To me because Adam and Eve are wrapped into that account it seems it has to be either all myth (albeit containing truth), or an account of human origin and sin. But maybe these disparate options are not the only solutions.

    The other question has to do with sin. If the creation account is a “true myth” narrative that describes something else that happened (which introduced sin into the world and man’s seperation from God) then how might that have happened? Especially if, as genomists are now saying, we came from a group of more like 1,000 emerging homo-sapiens, rather than one historic family.

    Secondly, how did God communicate choice to these emerging humans being fashioned into his image. What knowledge did they have that they could then react to which would begin a journey away from God? How did they gain that knowledge? What choice would they have had to make to reject that knowledge?

    Additonally, why rest the fate of thousands of future generations, and billions and billions of people’s spiritual fate and natural inclinations in the hands of the least evolved homo-sapiens (in comparison to the degree of evolution today).

    I don’t have any answers. I am lost in a sea of confusion on this issue, and yet I am comfortable where I am. I find my sense of awe for God only increasing, and I am also intrigued by how pressupositions lead to interpretations.

  • phil_style #81,

    Genesis 1:1-5, which includes the first day, has no poetic parallelism.

    Genesis 1:6-8, which is the second day, can be presented as chiastic in structure.

    Genesis 1:9-10, which is part of the third day, can also be seen as chiastic.

    11-13, which is the other part concerning the third, does not have poetic parallelism.

    14-19, which is the fourth day, has no poetic parallelism.

    20-21, which is part of the fifth day, has no poetic parallelism, or even chiasm. It merely references the firmament which was created on day 2 (vv. 6-8), in regard to filling, but it is not poetic parallelism. In the parallelism of Hebrew poetry, the parallels are not separated by 12 verses, but the parallel lines follow one after the other.

    Likewise for 22-23, the other part of the fifth day. It references the seas which were created on day 3 (vv. 9-10), in regard to filling them, but it is not poetic parallelism.

    Likewise for 24-26. It merely references the land from day 3 (vv. 9-10), after a space of 14 verses, in regard to filling them. This is not Hebrew parallelism.

    Likewise for 27-29. Except that there might be a bit of parallelism in the structure of verse 27.

    Also no parallelism in 30-31.

    Genesis 2:1-3, which is the seventh day – no parallelism.

    So, allowing that 6-8, 9-10 and 27 might be poetic parallelism, that is 6 out of 34 verses and 2 out of 7 days.

    I don’t think that is near enough to say that the creation account in Genesis 1:1-2:3 is cast as Hebrew poetry.

  • RJS


    It isn’t that kind of poetry – but it certainly seems to be figurative, with a structure unlike Gen. 2 which reads as a prose story. Structure can be seen in the relationship of the first three days to the last three days as an example. But as DRT pointed out – whether poetry or not is rather beside the point. Exodus 15 is poetic isn’t it? Yet this relates the incident of Exodus 14.

    Regardless of whether it is poetry, a figurative telling, or intended to be a story told in prose – there are many hints that we should not take it as a history dictated to Moses. One hint is the differences between the creation accounts in Scripture, another hint is the presence of ANE cosmology in the way it is written. At least this is the direction that I am going when thinking about these issues.

  • Joey Elliott

    @Tom F – it is way more damaging for us to abandon the authority of Scripture than to suggest that God made rocks with age. Talk about a stumbling block. I don’t believe God did or does anything accidentally, by the way. That was merely for example.

    If the age of rocks is a stumbling block for people, we are talking too much about rocks and not enough about the Rock.

  • Deb

    I agree with Polkinghorne – mine was a process of movement (over 4-5 yrs) from YEC, through IDT (very short stint) to EC/TE.

    I now view Gen.1-11 as ancient story (myth) meant to communicate deeper theological truths to a displaced people – leaving Egypt behind; heading for Canaan. The best description of it has been “world view literature” = answering who is God (who has done these things we witnessed in Egypt and crossing the Red Sea?), who are we, what is life about?

    It is a response, God revealing the truth, in the context of the world views of the other, surrounding ANE cultures. God is not like those gods; humans were not created from the blood of waring gods; humans do not exist to be the servants of the gods…

    Spending some time in Waltke’s commentary is helpful, as is reading John Walton’s ‘The World of Genesis 1,’ although I do not agree with all of Walton’s conclusions.

    Reading Waltke is a good beginning – understanding the reason for all the stories in 1-11, their comparisons in other ANE religions, the genre shift at ch.12…ancient temples with attached gardens so men could feed the gods, to keep them appeased, versus God walking WITH man in a garden God made FOR man….

    When I finally heard about Gen.1-11 as world view literature, everything finally clicked.

    WE take to scripture 20-21st century thinking; we need to take to it ancient Jewish thinking. We cannot demand of sripture something it never intended to do/give. Context, context, context….and genre, genre, genre.


  • Taylor

    I’ll go back and read the comments in a bit, but while the article itself is fresh in my mind:

    Polkinghorne’s analysis doesn’t work yet. Yes, it fits the issues he chose to address, but it only does so at the neglect of other concerns. I’ll throw out the ones that seem the most important.

    If the Fall was a collective human series of mistakes over a significant period of time, the implication is that God both neglected to instruct His new offshoots of creation, and created them with an inherent genetic flaw if all of early humanity progressed down a continuous path of brokenness. God is no longer gracious by coming in Christ, He is merely fixing a creative mistake that He must have made. (I understand the same argument could be made from the Adam and Eve story, but one representative couple, with clear options, who were given one choice and then chose temptation is more indicative of flawless but immature creations given a choice of destiny, while a corporate gradual falls more drastically implies flawed workmanship).

    If death and disease, thorns and thistles, canines and parasites were all part of a good creation, and there will only be a new heavens and a new earth as a direct result of the fall, how exactly did a biological man, who was not from the first intended for eternal life after death in a newly resurrected body, have anything going for him? Effectively, if the physical realm has always been as it is, then no Fall means no Redemption, and no Redemption means no eternal life. No future ought to lead to nihilism, so the Fall once again comes as no surprise.

    Thirdly, if everything except human nature is from creation, how exactly can creation itself be said to groan or long for its renewal? Until fairly recently, the human footprint on the earth was relatively negligible in terms of damage being done. One would imagine the writers of the Scriptures were not thinking green when they wrote of creation itself longing for renewal, or the lion lying with the lamb.

    Polkinghorne provides no explanation for why biological death is good and natural, he simply begins with the premise that modern scientific observation requires it to have been from the beginning, therefore it must be good.

    I’ll give the book a read, but so far it appears that he has left the best questions unasked.

  • Tom F.

    Joey, if I believe in some form of theistic evolution, do you think I have abandoned the authority of the scriptures? Even if I think I can interpret them in a way that is faithful?

    Taylor, I think you could be a bit more charitable in your implications of Polkinghorne’s views. Your first paragraph only describes one possible implication of Polkinghorne’s views, and it is not one that Polkinghorne actively suggests. Are you sure that’s the only possible implication?

    As to creation, just because creation “groaning” no longer refers to natural death, doesn’t mean that there is no possible meaning for creation groaning. One avenue I have heard includes the idea that creation is pronounced “good”, but not necessarily complete. Creation itself “pregnant” with possibilities that are realized in the adoption of God’s children, whereby the new creation is a more complete rendering of what creation can be. Paul’s choice of the pregnancy metaphor is important here, as pregnancy implies a necessary stage of development that is not intended to last permanently, and childbirth is obviously painful. Perhaps it is this way with the place of “decay” as Paul says in Romans 8.

  • phil_style

    @Jess 91,

    It seems were at at an impass. I disagree with your analysis of the text.

    I say the parallelism is obvious.
    You say it largely isn’t there.

    We are now left with the game of “no it isn’t”, “yes it is”.
    Anyways, even if it is, or is not poetry, that still says nothing about its historicity.

  • phil_style

    @Jeff, 91,

    As one last couple of points;
    1. If were are to concede that Gen 1 is NOT poetically structured on the grounds you argue we are left with a couple of conclusions;
    a) we are now in the position of writing off all other potential poetry from the ancient Hebrews as “not poetry” unless it conforms to your rules. (i.e.; that it must be comparable to SoS, Psalms, Job in order to qualify)
    b) we still have not resolved whether or not Gen 1 is figurative in any way
    c) we still have not resolved whether or not Gen 1 is myth

    This will all be interesting question for further discussion.

  • phil_style

    @ Taylor #95

    “If death and disease, thorns and thistles, canines and parasites were all part of a good creation, and there will only be a new heavens and a new earth as a direct result of the fall, how exactly did a biological man, who was not from the first intended for eternal life after death in a newly resurrected body, have anything going for him?”

    I don’t understand why thorns, thistles, canines and parasites are so bad? Thorns and thistles enable plants to do some amazing life producing things – not always in response to predatory threats too (such as climbing plants). Many parasites contribute towards their hosts well-being.
    Eve when I was fully committed to a YEC perspective, I always harboured some confusions about how gravity could be any less a curse than thorns? Gravity existed in the garden no? Would Adam’s legs not have buckled from impact with the ground if he had fallen from a tree-top?

  • phil_style #97-98,

    If the parallelism seems obvious to you, I can’t argue with that. But it is not obvious to me.

    It is not a matter of conforming to my rules. I did not come up with my own ideas of what Hebrew poetry should look like. I’ve seen what Hebrew poetry looks like and noted the features of Hebrew poetry as pointed out by numerous Bible scholars and in numerous texts on hermeneutics.

    But perhaps you have discovered a new form of Hebrew poetry that so many others have missed all these years and all the Bible scholars will have to revise their analyses of what comprises Hebrew poetry.

    If Genesis 1 looks like myth to you (as well as like a new example of the Hebrew poetic form), again, I can not argue with you. But it does not look like that to me and to a number of Bible scholars. I don’t think it fits the forms and has the characteristics of early ANE myths.

    Perhaps Genesis 1 is some other figurative genre, although I don’t know what that might be.

    If it contains some figurative elements, which I don’t doubt, that does not mean that it is not historical. Likeswise, as you point out, even if it is poetry, that says nothing about its historicity.

    Yes, they are interesting questions, and further discussion IS needed. Thanks for your discussion here.

  • phil_style

    Jeff thanks again, sorry I did not mean to imply that the method you have adopted in your discussion is “your” rules. I should have specified that these were the “rules you had adopted” in the case. I did not mean to imply that you were “making it up”, or that the argument presented was purely of your own invention.

  • Susan N.

    Two comments so far in this discussion have impressed me far above all others.

    Rick (#6) said, “Here’s the quandary: in most Evangelical circles, to even broach this topic is near suicide. Even those who might give some assent to it aren’t going to touch it with a 10 foot pole – even if they’re in a safe place having a private conversation. Once the label “Heretic” is hung on a pastor by leaders and power brokers it’s on for a good long time. I guess what I’m saying is that while I often shoot my mouth off about theological topics I know are hot buttons I don’t have the courage to be a Galileo on this.

    So, how do we make it OK to even talk about such things?”

    I have no good advice to offer. For pastors such as yourself, who would like to be more honest and open, but know the impracticalities of that in evangelical culture, my heart breaks to think of the no-win situation you are in. While I was sorting out my beliefs on a lot of doctrine, I questioned in terms of, “What is truth, and what is ‘heresy’?” When the dust finally settled, you know what I discovered? *I* apparently AM a heretic! I’m learning to live with that, if it means that I can ask honest questions and not be absolutely certain in a systematic sense. I had to get myself out of brick-and-mortar church for a while just to think straight and sort it out in my head. There’s too much pressure to confirm and conform to beliefs inside the evangelical church culture — I was too weak (and probably still am) to be “in” it and keep my bearings, when those bearings are different than the prevailing culture. Sometimes I feel even here on JC that my need to leave the church for a while is considered “apostate” or some such state of failed grace. I can take that label, too. You know what Lady Gaga says: “Don’t be insecure, if your heart is pure.” I know what was in my heart and my motivations. I am finally being more honest with myself — that’s a victory for Jesus’ side, if you ask me (but I could always be wrong). My heart hurts for those in a leadership position whose hands are tied, so to speak, in terms of being “human” and honest in their own spiritual formation/journey. May God’s healing grace renew and sustain you.

    Do you know of the ‘Experimental Theology’ blog site? Dr. Beck’s insightful posts have been a breath of fresh air for me — very helpful and healing… There has been a recent series on ‘The Slavery of Death’ which speaks to some of these issues revolving around institutionalized dogma that is “death-dealing.”

    John Mc (#19) – these comments seem to get at the heart of the matter for me, and help to put everything in perspective. Thanks for these words.

    Please forgive the (undoubted) interruption to the otherwise productive conversation…


  • Hector

    Re: Secondly death was part and parcel of creation but man evolved into an immortal image but lost that immortality at the ‘fall’ – which was an upward one leading to rebellion/alienation in Romans 5?

    Athanasius addresses that question in ‘On the Incarnation of the Word.’ Briefly, death is ‘natural’ in a sense to all physical creatures left to our own devices, but it wasn’t natural for us, because when we were first endowed with souls we were placed in a state of grace, which would have permanently protected us from death and corruption. When our progenitors sinned they fell from that divinely graced state and became liable to the natural prccesses of death and physical corruption.

  • RJS


    I have written on the idea of death in a number of posts, the most recent was last August “Immortality is a Divine Gift.”. I think this gets to some of the point you are making. Perhaps I shall have to read Athanasius.

  • @Tom F. #96

    I don’t want to fall into the trap of making statements about your Biblical faithfulness. I would have to know you personally and see how Scripture informs your entire life to make that judgment, and even then, I would only appropriately do so in the context of a healthy body of believers (local church). As I approach my faith, I certainly don’t want to only rely on my own opinions of what I think is the right interpretation of Scripture. I rely on Scripture itself, church history, and the body of Christ for that. I would be interested to hear more about how RJS (and Scot) speaks to the authority of Scripture in light of theistic evolution, and also about the role of the local church for these questions. It obviously gets complicated when you start making claims about what level of belief from science is safe within the authority of Scripture (age of earth, real Adam, talking snake, macro evolution, etc.). It also gets complicated if you ask what kind of local church I’m talking about (denomination, etc.) That’s for another forum. 🙂

    Clearly theistic evolution does claim some things that make holding Scripture in ultimate authority pretty tricky. It seems to create a lot of second guessing about the text, and elaborate analysis about literary genres, etc., that can easily confuse the average Christian just trying to be faithful. Now, I realize the discipline of studying the text in these ways is valuable and important, and have much appreciated @Jeff Doles and @phil_style’s discussion on Hebrew poetry, for example. But to say that God created us in His image and in the same sentence say that we evolved from another species is always going to be challenging; I don’t care how many scientific, literary, or theological degrees you might have. It’s going to be hard to explain.

    For me, I’m engaging in these conversations to figure out how intellectual approaches to Scripture and faith (in this case on creation), can continue to make me more like Christ, and glorify Him more. I already know that in some cases they can make me less like Him, so I have to be careful. But I think our Christian culture needs more voices who are faithfully defending the authority, inspiration, and inerrancy of Scripture, in the face of whatever may challenge that, because many of us have personal experiences where the lack of authority of Scripture has been devastating. And also because God asks us to trust and follow Him.

    To bluntly clarify my earlier comment, the reason that downplaying the authority of Scripture is worse than the possibility that God created with age, is because if someone doesn’t consider Scripture authoritative, they will have no good reason to repent, and therefore will not be forgiven and will end up in hell. Believing that God created with age might confuse some scientific findings, and even question your understanding of God – but those things can be easily addressed. There is no way to address the need to repent and be saved outside authoritative Scripture. So if it is not authoritative to someone, that someone is not going to be saved. That’s serious. Or, for the Christian, maybe questioning authority of Scripture slowly leads to ungodly living, peace with sin, or lack of boldness in evangelism. If we are honest, we would have to say that most of us have seen this happen, even personally (it has to me!)

    Now, those voices I mentioned need to be informed – scientifically, historically, etc,. as I’m trying my best to me here. But when these voices encounter challenges to what appears to be, and has been interpreted over the years in the church to be, clear in the text, such as the historic nature of Genesis (regardless of the actual age of the earth), the real existence of a person Adam, etc., we are going to speak up. And I believe doing so can be good for everyone.

    So, I’m not here to convince anyone anything about science. I’m here to say that the Scriptures are the most important thing we have. They are more important than scientific revelation, and maybe, more trustworthy where there seems to be a contradiction. We need to think through the implications of letting anything other than the Scriptures inform our worldview, life, and witness. Other things are not by nature dangerous (modern science, personal experience), but they are not Scripture, and therefore, fundamentally at risk of leading us away from the Savior. In some cases, perhaps they aid in leading us closer to a Creator God (discovery of intricate creation, etc.), but let’s just make sure that is always leading us closer to the Lord and Savior Jesus as well.

    For me, speculating on the historicity of Adam and whether he evolved from something non-human, even by the hand of God, messes this up significantly. So I’m not going to go there. And I don’t believe I have to intellectually. There are good reasons, even outside Scripture, to believe Adam didn’t evolve from anything (when are we going to get into biology?! Haha). One can believe these things if they want and still be faithful, but I’m just saying, they don’t have to in order to be informed, relevant, and faithful. And maybe they shouldn’t – I can’t say that for anyone on here personally, but for some.

  • AHH

    Joey @93,

    Please, please, please in these discussions avoid equating interpreting Scripture in a way different than you do with “abandoning the authority of Scripture”. That is one of the most poisonous things that gets thrown around in conversations like this.
    I and RJS and others here (and I think I can safely add Polkinghorne) are committed to the authority of Scripture and are trying to read it faithfully — which among other things means reading it in accord with its original context and literary genre. You can disagree with our conclusions about genre (which are shared by most OT scholars) if you want, but we should be able to disagree without casting aspersions on one another’s commitment to the authority of Scripture.

  • phil_style

    @Joey #105
    “We need to think through the implications of letting anything other than the Scriptures inform our worldview, life, and witness”

    Things other than scripture inform your worldview and life every second you are alive. You cannot avoid it. Your brain absorbs information and restructures itself according to rules which your conscious “mind” has no control over. All of the perceptions assigned to your senses are completely outside of your control.

  • Rick

    T #69-

    Thanks for that summary. I think when those kind of foundations are put out there 1st, both/all sides of this issue can then approach this differently. Those who hold to a historic view would be more accepting of your views on Gen 3.

  • dopderbeck

    Well I’m late to the party, but, here’s my two cents, still developing thoughts, after many years of wrestling with this…

    — I agree with Polk’s pretty standard references to how we should read scripture in context of the ANE and so on. These are not “scientific” texts.

    — I do not, however, think Polk’s also pretty standard neo-orthodox “everyman” reading of the Fall is entirely adequate. Moreover, I don’t think the notion of a “fall upward” is helpful. While there are good insights here — yes, the story of the Fall is a paridigmatic everyman story, and yes, there is a sense of dawning awareness in the story and in our natural history — I don’t think we can stop there.

    — the Fall was, I believe, a real ontological rupture, an invasion. That seems to me the Biblical story and sign, the story and sign of the Tradition, and the story most consistent with our experience of loss and longing.

    — to say it was real and ontologically significant, however, is not the same as saying it was “literal” or “empirical” in a modern scientific sense. THIS — THIS — I think is where we go astray and why we must endure these awful and sometimes vicious battles over this issue. Reality is not “flat.”

    A rich metaphysics of being moves us towards understanding that the sin of Adam had devastating consequences for human being, for our souls if you will, and for the being of creation. And a rich metaphysics of creation and of God in relation to creation moves us towards understanding that both creation ex nihilo, and the deprivation of the good of creation that is and that results from sin, are not to be understood primarily as movements in the human perception of time but as, on the one hand, the continual procession of creation from the love of God and, on the other hand, the absurdity of de-creation that proceeds from the denial of created being by free creatures (angels and humans).

    In short — the Fall is ontologically really and really devastating, but this is not making the same kind of statement that empiricist modern science makes. Empiricist natural science can tell us fascinating things about the development of the immanent physical world, but it can tell us little or nothing about creation and Fall as transcendent realities.

  • dopderbeck

    If I can add an important (IMHO) analogy that many of us Protestants might find troubling: the Eucharist. Zwingli was wrong: Christ is present in the elements of the Eucharist. Yet, on the table, we have what seem to be simple bread and wine. If we put the elements through a mass spectrometer or other such apparatus, we would find no traces of Jesus’ flesh and blood. But that kind of analysis is a category mistake in relation to the traditional claim that Jesus is present in the elements. Presence and being are transcendent realities. There is indeed bread and wine, and mass spectroscopy can confirm that. But there is more.

    A “Zwinglian” metaphysic of creation and of the human person is also wrong. If we ever get past our nominalistic reading of creation and humanity and begin to recover the Patristic notion of creation as a sacred, “enchanted” gift, we might begin to get beyond the aporias that lead to all of this strife with the natural sciences.

  • Fish

    “…because if someone doesn’t consider Scripture authoritative, they will have no good reason to repent, and therefore will not be forgiven and will end up in hell.”

    I don’t know anyone who has come to Christ because the Bible told them to repent. Scripture, with its acceptance of slavery, mandate for female submissiveness and portrayal of out-and-out genocide in God’s name (among other things) was a true and real stumbling block to me.

    People come to Christ not because of the Bible, but because something far deeper than rational logical analysis of a text awoke within them. The Spirit moves.

    Every copy of the Bible on this earth could “poof” disappear and my faith would not change. The Bible is not Christ. Christ will not fit into a book. Scripture is authoritative, but the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are the final authority.

  • @phil_style – Yes, but nothing that my senses take in that contradicts revelation in Scripture is authoritative. Do you not agree with that? Sure, much of what we experience is not even referenced in Scripture. But those things aren’t even authority issues. The interpretation of Genesis is pretty important. We may all differ and still hold to authority of Scripture, but – we also could interpret things incorrectly in a way that jeopardizes our understanding of authority and the gospel and damages our Christian life and witness. That is possible!! When you start talking about theoretical fall in Adam vs. actual fall in Adam, and someone’s eternity is at stake wondering why some made up symbol for the human race is connected to him at all, authority matters. That’s all I’m saying. I don’t claim to have all the answers. But authority matters. Not the authority of our emotion or taste or brain patterns or whatever we take in from the world or our senses that might be different every day, and worse as we age. Authority in something that will last forever.

    @AHH – I’m not excusing anyone of not holding to the authority of Scripture. Per Tom F’s questions, I was just trying to give my take on how to reconcile Scriptural authority with man evolving from apes (for example), which is nowhere in Scripture. It is a good question, and not off limits. We shouldn’t get defensive when this question comes up – we should respond with what we think. If we disagree, so be it. For me, I need to be challenged every day on this, lest my sinful nature leads me to follow my desires and the world instead of the Lover of my soul. I know people who discount Scripture because they don’t take Genesis seriously, and therefore don’t take any of it seriously, and they either never respond to the Gospel, or they do, but don’t strive for holiness and make shipwreck of their faith. I don’t think that is anyone here. But I do think everyone here encounters those people, so we all should be exhorting people as to the authority of Scripture all the time. I could be an outsider and objectively say that I hear more in these conversations about evolution and rocks than I do about the cross and resurrection as revealed in Scripture. Why is that? What if we talked about the cross in every scientific conversation we had? That would be something!

    @Fish – I really, really regret if I implied that the Bible is God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God. Period. The Spirit is what opens and regenerates hearts. Yes! But, the Spirit moves through Scripture and never contradicts Scripture. The whole point of special revelation is that we need it. The Holy Spirit working outside or contrary to Scripture is not Christianity. If all the Bible’s disappeared, you would still have the Word of God (hopefully) because it would be in your head and heart through years of memorization, meditation, and prayer. The Word of God is more than words on a page. But it is not less. I regret the stumbling blocks you experienced in the Bible. I wish the church would have served their purpose and come along side you and through their love and faithful gospel proclamation and demonstration, explained to you the seemingly confusing texts in the Bible. I’m glad the Spirit moved you anyway!

    Very thankful for this forum, the sharpening I am experiencing from it, and I’m deeply sorry I am hogging so much of it. Please forgive me!

  • AHH

    Joey @112 says:
    I know people who discount Scripture because they don’t take Genesis seriously, and therefore don’t take any of it seriously …

    Again one must add the caveat that most of us with non-literalist interpretations of Genesis do take it “seriously”.
    But maybe more important, I and RJS and others here know many people who “discount Scripture” because they have been told that certain interpretations are the only acceptable ones that honor the authority of Scripture, and they see that those interpretations would require them to believe things at odds with the Book of Nature God has given us, things in about the same category as a flat Earth.

    When certain interpretations become a stumbling block that keep people from considering Jesus (to whom Scripture points), then we should at least be willing to consider whether other interpretations are more faithful readings. Things like literary genre are important aspects of looking at those interpretations, and the evidence in God’s creation (I would not want to worship a God who planted phony evidence of false history in his creation) can play a supporting role.

  • dopderbeck

    AHH (#113) — excellent points. You don’t convince someone to take a text “seriously” by trying to make the text say or prove things it doesn’t say or prove. It would be like trying to prove that the characters in The Brothers Karamazov were historical figures in order to get someone to take Dostoyevsky’s text “seriously.”

    The way to get people to take scripture seriously is to get them to take Christ and the Church seriously — and not the other way around. When someone encounters the love of Christ expressed in the fellowship of his followers and the worship of his people, then the scales begin to fall off, and the strange, ancient text of scripture comes alive and begins to make sense.

  • Dutch Rikkers

    Just wondering what Polkinghorne’s thoughts might be on Romans 8:18ff on nature becoming subject to “decay” apparently at the Fall and its mutual groaning with us and the Holy Spirit in longing for redemption as “far as the curse is found.” What “curse” is going to end as per Revelation 22 and what “tree of life” is it that will provide material health in the coming Garden City? Is it the same tree of life we were banished from?

    The Fall being “upward” is a strange view. Did the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” give fledgling imago dei previously unknown knowledge of both good and evil? If imago dei was the apex of creation which was “very good” and he/they knew enough about the other creatures to capture their essence in naming, and if he/they was/were in communion with God, would he/they not have already known the epitome of goodness without having experiential knowledge of evil? A “true myth” understanding of the early chapters of Genesis is well and good, but if the emphasis is always on mystery and not on truth, do we not eventually succumb to unbelief?

  • RJS


    Polkinghorne discusses Romans 8 in the final chapter of the book. I doubt if you will agree with him entirely, but it should lead to some good discussion.

  • DRT

    Joey Elliot,

    I appreciate your participation in our conversations here and hope that you will continue to say what you feel and honestly approach this subject.

    I do want to also give you some of my perspective on comments that you have recently made. You said

    It obviously gets complicated when you start making claims about what level of belief from science is safe within the authority of Scripture (age of earth, real Adam, talking snake, macro evolution, etc.)

    I know you do not mean harm, but please accept that what I am about to say is true from my perspective. I feel it gets more complicated when you do not take science into account when reading scripture. I find scripture to be full of things that do not seem reasonable, but when I realize that the science is true and these folks, way back then, did not understand the science then it makes it much easier. There is no amount of science that is safe, all science is safe. That’s what makes it the mostest easiest.

    Further, you go on to say things like this:

    It seems to create a lot of second guessing about the text, and elaborate analysis about literary genres, etc., that can easily confuse the average Christian just trying to be faithful.

    Again, for me and for many others it actually resolves the conflict not making it worse. I have a fairly good background in the way things actually are, and since I do it makes the interpretation of scripture much easier. Without that background I may thing that the earth was created in six days and god is deceiving us to make it look older. With my background it clears it all up.

    This is partly why it is so important for us to increase the educational standards in the country. We can’t have people not understanding the way things are.

    I ask that you accept, or try to accept, that people like myself and others here are just as dedicated to scripture and god as anyone else. That is not the issue. The issue is world view or perspective, not the faith.

    Again, I appreciate your participation here. Clearly my perspective is quite different than yours, but reaching out to others with different world views is Christian.

  • DRT

    dopderbeck#109 says

    – to say it was real and ontologically significant, however, is not the same as saying it was “literal” or “empirical” in a modern scientific sense. THIS — THIS — I think is where we go astray and why we must endure these awful and sometimes vicious battles over this issue. Reality is not “flat.”

    I just plain don’t understand what you are getting at in this. I must be reading something wrong, because this does not make sense to me.

    If I were to guess at what you are saying, I would say that you are saying something like there was, indeed, an event that happened that seperated us from the divine in a way that is material, and Genesis indeed says that, but to say that this real event happened is not the same as saying that the exact description of the event is the same as is recoreded in Genesis. though, both produce the same result.

  • Dutch Rikkers

    Now look at what you’ve made me do, RJS! I just added Polkinghorne’s book to my Kindle stack, which is almost as tall as my real book stack. Since Romans 8:18ff are so important to my own understanding of our relationship with God’s other book (general revelation), I may have to jump to that chapter first.

  • RJS


    I haven’t read that chapter of Polkinghorne’s book yet. But I agree that Romans 8 is an important text.

  • John Mc

    I know its late in the game, but I have to ask: did Jesus express belief in the Fall?

  • AHH

    John Mc @121 asks:
    did Jesus express belief in the Fall?

    I would say that Jesus expressed belief in universal human sinfulness. But I can’t think of anything where he used the Augustinian notion of a “Fall” for how we got to that state. He seemed more interested in the diagnosis and the cure (and in how those he cured were called to live as Kingdom citizens) than with how we came to have the disease.

  • Richard Jones

    Wish I had more time but here goes:
    @DRT if you think that Gen Chap 1 and Gen Chap 2 are contradictory then you and I approach this topic from very different backgrounds. The issue here would not be what science says but what scripture claims to be and do we believe that claim or not?

    To several others: The individuals we are now being asked to view as allegorical/poetical IN ORDER TO RESOLVE CONFLICT BETWEEN SCRIPTURE AND SCIENCE (yes I did feel I needed to shout that)are unequically referenced as historical in both OT AND NT. I am a physician/researcher — not seminary trained — but I do know that the BEST source for interpreting scripture is scripture itself. It is a HUGE hurdle for Enns, Polkinghorn, et al to clear to make their argument that what scripture claims as historical in one spot is really nothing of the sort.

    In fact, I will go you one further: by making such a claim you are no better than Barth/neo-orthodoxy who claimed that the Bible contained scripture but also contained some chaff too. Thereby opening scripture to the claim of being ALL chaff (thus obtaining the result they desperately tried to avoid).

    As a Christian who has also done a fair amouunt of biological scientific research, I plead with my brothers and sisters to not fall prey to seemingly authoritative claims from those who would convince you that we are followers of cleaverly devised myths. To them the wisdom of God is foolishness. The Bible is the rule of our faith and everyday practice. ANYTHING that would lead you to question the authority and reliability of the Bible should IMMEDIATELY send up the red flags.