Quote to Ponder: John Stott on Creation and Evolution

Quote to Ponder: John Stott on Creation and Evolution January 13, 2009

The following quote is from John Stott who is one of the most respected evangelical theologians of our time. I would like to hear your thoughts on the statement below…

“Not many Christians today find it necessary to defend the concept of a literal six-day creation, for the text does not demand it, and scientific discovery appears to contradict it. The biblical text presents itself not as a scientific treatise but as a highly stylized lierary statement (deliberately framed in three pairs, the fourth “day” corresponding to the first, the fifth to the second, and the sixth to the third)…

“It is most unfortunate that some who debate this issue (evolution) begin by assuming that the words “creation” and “evolution” are mutually exclusive. If everything has come into existence through evolution, they say, then biblical creation has been disproved, whereas if God has created all things, then evolution must be false. It is, rather, this naïve alternative which is false. It presupposes a very narrow definition of the two terms, both of which in fact have a wide range of meanings, and both of which are being freshly discussed today…
“But my acceptance of Adam and Eve as historical is not incompatible with my belief that several forms of pre-Adamic ‘hominid’ may have existed for thousands of years previously. These hominids began to advance culturally. They made their cave drawings and buried their dead. It is conceivable that God created Adam out of one of them. You may call them homo erectus. I think you may even call some of them homo sapiens, for these are arbitrary scientific names. But Adam was the first homo divinus, if I may coin a phrase, the first man to whom may be given the Biblical designation ‘made in the image of God’. Precisely what the divine likeness was, which was stamped upon him, we do not know, for Scripture nowhere tells us. But Scripture seems to suggest that it includes rational, moral, social, and spiritual faculties which make man unlike all other creatures and like God the creator, and on account of which he was given ‘dominion’ over the lower creation.” (John Stott, Understanding the Bible: Expanded Edition; 54-56)

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  • Love the quote, my only question is that if Adam was the first homo divinus, does that mean that all other homo erectus during that time were not created in the image of God? And if so, how can something be created by God but not bear his image? It’s a great quote to ponder.

    • The first thing to consider is that many don’t see adam as ‘historical’ like Stott would. This is because Adam is the hebrew word for ‘man,’ and is not used as a name until well into the story. Some would say that Adam and Eve represent all humanity… their story is our story kind of thing. Others, who unpack the idea of an actual historical Adam believe that when God gave his image to Adam and Eve, he gave it to all humans at that moment. Then, they would say that when Adam and Eve sinned, they contaminated the whole of humanity and thus the whole of creation. (this is major simplification of the view…) I do have to say that their are lots of questions to be asked in this area. Read the following thread for various people answering your specific questions…
      (When you get to the site, click on the sidebar subject “original sin”

  • Jon

    Interesting quote from John Stott. I would agree with most of the things that he is stating here but would likely rephrase on understanding the origin’s issue as ‘historical’. Not meaning historical in the sense that this the explanation of origins did not happen, but understanding origins as fact.

    I would rather like to use the word ‘myth’ in understanding the origins issue. Not as we understand myth now- fictional stories but ‘myth’ as in how people of old tried to describe things. Peter Enns explains myth as
    “it is an ancient, premodern, prescientific, way of addressing questions of ultimate origins and meaning in the form of stories: Who are we? Where do we come from?”

    So modern definitions of determining the biblical origins issue like ‘is it historically factual?’ or ‘is it scientifically proven’ is not the measure we use to determine its explanation. With that in mind i still believe scientific explanations of how the world came to being does help because the bible does not tell us everything about the world.

    We have to grapple with the context and how people of old has understood them. Anyway Stott did make helpful explanations in the beginning which are simply spot on. Anyway just my own thoughts. Good discussion by the way.

    • Great clairifications! Don’t have much time to say more, except thanks for your comments on ‘myth.’ This is an area that I have only studied on a surface level, but I completely agree with your assessment. What book or article by Enns are you quoting from? I would like to furthur my study in the area of ‘myth’ vs historical origin…

      • Jon

        I’m reading his book ‘Inspiration and Incarnation’ and it is really good. I’m going through it now. I would say that this is one of the best books i have read…his concept of inspiration makes more sense. Anyway get the book!

        • Just added it to my wish list. Thanks for the heads– up!

  • As a scientist, there is virtually no disagreement about microevolution. It’s been observed. The only debate is macroevolution (the theory that all animals known and extinct came from one single ancestor). Regardless of whether it is true, it is definitely not mutually exclusive for many. Some people are able to believe in both. As a scientist, not even speaking to theology, there are still missing pieces and holes in the story of macroevolution. And though there is evidence pointing towards it, it still has some ways to go before I would call it airtight. Nonetheless it is a possible theory with some evidence. Since it’s a theory (and not a theorem) it will never be proven but we can only see more and more evidence for it or evidence against it (theories can be disproven).

    As a theologian, there are many views of the creation story as you yourself pointed out that Adam just means man. So again it’s not mutually exclusive for some people.

  • I just came across your blog today while searching for John Stott’s view of creation and evolution. I’ve loved the posts I’ve read so far– much of what you are wrestling with in terms of life and faith seems very similar to the struggle I’ve found myself in the last several years. It’s always encouraging to be found in good company! I’m currently coming to accept a theistic evolution view after reading Francis Collins “The Language of God” and Karl Giberson’s “Saving Darwin.” I respect Stott tremendously, so I’m intrigued by his “homo divinus” proposition.

    • E. A., Great to have you come by the site!!! I always love to have new conversation partners. I have been a bit slow during the last week or two in the blog world, as many personal things in the ‘real world’ have been taking my time. Glad you enjoyed the visit and come back soon. ps — the evolution thing took some wrestling on my end, but i think it is the better place to end up if we are going to take both the “book of nature” and the “book of Scripture” seriously.

  • Guy

    i’ve always wondered: Hypothetically speaking, if a couple centuries from now, the scientific community made strong and compelling cases that we’d be wrong all along, and that the world came into being in the span of only a matter of seconds rather than eons, would we (and should we) feel compelled to then argue that “day” in genesis must refer metaphorically to a time span *shorter* than a day?

    If we would and should feel compelled to do so, then it’s not really the Bible that’s telling us about history anymore, is it? Haven’t we conceded that we can just bend texts to fit whatever the dominant scientific view tells us?

    If we wouldn’t or shouldn’t feel compelled to do so, then why feel compelled to bend the text the current dominant scientific view?

    • I don’t think that’s really the point, Guy. The issue is not “bending the text” of Genesis to fit any scientific view. It is rather that the Genesis text never was intended to inform science at all–it’s purpose is to begin and underpin the grand narrative of God intending his creation (and he is its source) to be good, and the creation rebelled. This initiates the arc of what becomes the redemption story in God’s re-creation of the new kingdom.

      That arc has nothing to do with the timeframe in which God created, or the methodologies used, or any of that stuff. The two (Genesis and cosmology) are on completely different planes.

      • Guy

        when people explain how their view of scientific history fits into Genesis 1 (playing with “day” or missing time in places, etc.), how is this not “bending the text”? If Gen 1 is not meant to inform science at all, why then the multiple projects to find various ways to harmonize the two?

        Further, if God had wanted us to understand that he created things in six literal days, how would Gen 1 read differently?

        • Oh, they are definitely bending the text, Guy. My point is that they ought not, because Gen. 1 and science do not overlap. The “multiple projects to harmonize the two” are ill-informed wild goose chases that ought not to be done. Musically speaking, harmony only works (usually) if you’re singing the same song. Different songs–even about the same topic–when sung together usually create dissonance.

          It’s been said before, but I’ll repeat it here. Genesis is trying to tell us two major points about creation: that God did it, and the purpose for which he did it–the “who” and the “why” (particularly the “why”). Science, on the other hand, tries to answer the reporters’ questions who, what, when, where, and how. “Why” is outside a scientist’s purview, except for “why does it work this way?” The “why” of purpose is unknowable by scientific method, and purpose is what Scripture is all about.

          “Further, if God had wanted us to understand that he created things in six literal days, how would Gen 1 read differently?”

          Well, for starters, he’d have made sure Gen. 1 and Gen 2 didn’t tell different stories with different orders of events, methinks. This suggests to me that, whatever the purpose of the Genesis accounts, it’s not scientific precision as we think of the term.

  • Michael Winnett

    Stott brings another Gospel.  His thesis is that the line of Christ traces back to Chimpanzees. 

    This is what God says to him……Rom 1:22  Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, Rom 1:23  And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Stott’s “christianity” is not my Christianity and Stott’s Christ is not my Jesus.

    • Aaron

      Chimps don’t have a spirit like humans do. They don’t possess the imago dei. Hence your extrapolation of Stott’s quote is misleading. Stott is saying that the line of Christ traces back to the first federal head of the human race who was a spiritual being.

      Your application of Romans 1:22-23 to Stott is utterly despicable and vile. Romans 1:24 and 25 say: “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” John Stott was and is one of the most respected evangelicals we have known. And you make him out to be an idolater and pantheist? Do you even know what you are talking about? I could just as well turn that verse around at you and question you about you thinking that Stott is a fool.

  • Noel Prabhuraj

    Such kind of a viewpoint only postpones the problem. If we talk of a pre-Adamic hominid, the question is which pre-Adamic hominid then with the image of God? The Cro-magnon, the neaderthal, Homo erectus or Homo Australopithecus or…? Its postpones and unnecessarily complicates the issue.

  • Carl Jones

    How sad that so many Christians do not know what John Stott actually believed. He put man’s reasoning (or to be more factual – his own reasoning) above the revealed Word of God. From the outset he casts doubt on the Word of God and for what? To cosy up to the “intellects” of this world. Sadly this man’s pride of intellect calls God a liar.
    Yet so many who know John’s views continue to look up to him as a godly man grounded in the Bible – how wrong they are!
    Discernment is not being exercised by many in the church, or is it that many Christians do not know what the Word of God teaches, that Acts 17:11 is ignored because so many look to “godly men” to tell them what to believe instead of the Scriptures, are they so lazy or just ignorant?

    • Wow. This might get the “most judgmental and un-biblically reflective award” for the month. I don’t think you have a right to call into question his godly character or his Biblical theology. You are trapped, it seems, based on your comment, in a worldview different than that of the Scriptures. Your worldview sounds more like late 1800s/early 1900s fundamentalism in America and less like the in breaking kingdom of God as testified from Genesis to Revelation.
      Certainly you are free to have your own opinion, but Scripture testifies against your opinion in calling out judgmentalism on a very regular basis.

      • Carl Jones

        And so it is written, The FIRST MAN Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit – I Corinthians 15:45.

        If as John teaches Adam was not the first man then the above Scripture is a lie. The Scriptures teach that death entered into the world by the fall of Adam.

        Wherefore, as by ONE MAN entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: – Romans 5:12.

        I do not judge John, I judge what he taught in this area. I believe John to be a Christian, a man who loves God and who trusts in Jesus Christ for his salvation. – Notice I speak of John in the present tense, for I believe he is absent from the body and present with the Lord.

        It appears that you have judged me for applying what is taught by Acts 17:11, I would ask you to look at that verse and apply it also.

        My views do not originate in the late 1800’s – early 1900’s but from the Scriptures.

        I have to bring out a number of points; God pronounced that after the six days of creation it was “very good” how could this be if death, sickness and disease had prevailed on the earth for countless millenia until Adam came on the scene?

        How could it be recorded that Eve was the mother of all living? It is evident that she is not the mother of all fish, birds, animals etc, but of man.

        And Adam called his wife’s name Eve because she was the mother of all living. – Genesis 3:20.

        You speak of judging, yet we are admonished by Scripture to see if these things are so. I judge his doctrine in this area and it is found wanting.

        I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. – I Corinthians 10:15.

        • Michael Winnett

          Quite right Carl. I don’t know who Stott’s Christ was but he is not mine. I chose to follow the Christ of the Bible like you.

          • Carl Jones

            Thank you Michael for the encouragement of your reply.

            The apostle Paul wrote, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

            But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
            As we said before, so say I now again, If any [man] preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. – Galatians 1:8 & 9.

            Now I do not say John Stott was preaching another gospel, but the inference is in Scripture to check out everything that we hold to as sound teaching, even Paul put himself in this category, why should John Stott, I, or any other contemporary be exempt?

            That John taught Adam was just the end of an evolutionary line until God was able to stamp His image on man is something not found in Scripture.

            We are exhorted to check ALL THINGS and not put any man or his teachings on a pedestal. In the area of the creation of man, sadly John was in error and this error then compounds on the clearly revealed Word of God.

            My intention is not to pour contempt on a man but to remind Christians of the truth of Scripture and refute erroneous teaching.

          • Michael Winnett

            Thanks for your encouragement too Carl.

            When Jesus brought me to the Cross, He impressed upon me
            this scripture, nay tattooed in on my soul, “Mat 18:3
            And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as
            little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. “

            As a scientist by profession and pickled in evolutionism it
            was quite a challenge to develop that child like trust. As I accepted the
            resurrection of Jesus, I began to understand the power of God. He healed the
            congenitally blind (a complete system build), the lame, the sick, turned water in to wine and walked on water,
            multiplied loaves and fishes. He is the Lord of Creation and if He could do all
            of that, it was but a small step to
            accept that He could create man out the dirt.

            As Jesus reminded us, “Mat 19:4 …., Have ye not read, that he which made them
            at the beginning made them male and female, Mat 19:5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave
            father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one
            flesh? Mat 19:6 Wherefore they are no
            more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man
            put asunder.” The whole concept of marriage and the church hang on the truth of
            this creation passage in Genesis.

            Homo Divinus has no
            more credibility that Homer Simpson. It’s a work of fiction.

            Stay blessed,