Historical Genesis foundational to Christian faith
Last week’s debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham sparked widespread discussion about the question of origins. The debate covered numerous topics and went on several tangents. But another perspective — between atheistic evolution and young-earth creationism — was missing from the debate. Theistic evolution is the belief that God guided the evolutionary process.
So why do some Christians attempt to reconcile the Bible with evolution? It’s not because Darwinian evolution is the clearest way to interpret the Bible’s creation account. The plain language of Genesis 1 shows that God created everything in six 24-hour days (“And there was evening and there was morning, one day”). Without the outside influence of evolutionary ideas, nobody would read Genesis and conclude that God used evolution over millions of years to create humans and animals.
That begs the question for theistic evolutionists: Why not also reinterpret other events of the Bible? If the historical account of Genesis can be remodeled as a massive metaphor for creation, then why not modify other biblical events — parting the Red Sea, Jonah surviving in the belly of a fish, the virgin birth, Christ walking on water and resurrection from the dead — into spiritual metaphors and parables? If Genesis can be negotiated, then why can’t the gospels?
I have often heard people in Christian circles respond to the evolution debate with indifference: If salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, then why does it matter what we believe about human origins? It is certainly true that belief in evolution or an old earth does not exclude one from the kingdom. But this is still a crucial matter because Genesis lays the groundwork of the entire Christian faith.
The historical existence of Adam is the basis of our need for redemption and salvation in Christ (1 Cor. 15:21-22). All are made sinners and condemned by the first Adam’s disobedience. Many are made righteous and justified by the second Adam’s obedience (Rom. 5:18-19).
Some Christians do believe in the historical Adam and Eve but also accept evolution and an old Earth. But this is still a problem because the Bible says that death entered the world through sin (Rom. 6:23) and sin entered the world through Adam (5:12). If humans evolved over millions of years, then death, suffering, disease and carnivory all existed before the Fall. Why would God call these “very good” (Gen. 1:31)?
Christians who embrace evolution not only have to abandon or allegorize the historical account of Genesis 1-3, they must also contradict the Old Testament prophets, New Testament authors and Jesus himself, all of whom believed in the historical realities of Genesis, including the six days of creation, the formation of man from the dust, Adam and Eve, the serpent, the Fall and Noah and the Flood (Job 31:33; Psa. 90:3; 103:14; Isa. 54:9; Matt. 19:3-6; Mark 10:6; Luke 3:36-38; 16:31; 17:26-32; John 5:47; 1 Cor. 11:7-9; 15:45–49; 2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:13-14; Heb. 4:3-4). When Christians allegorize, mythologize, spiritualize or metaphorize the opening chapters of Genesis, they are at odds with scriptural consensus.
The Bible should be interpreted plainly and literally, not mystically or figuratively. Of course this still allows for poetry, figures of speech, symbolism or parables (all of which still convey literal truth), but if the passage is a historical account (e.g. Genesis) then we should read it as such.
As Martin Luther wrote in his Genesis commentary, “[Moses] calls ‘a spade a spade,’ i.e., he employs the terms ‘day’ and ‘evening’ without allegory, just as we customarily do. We assert that Moses spoke in the literal sense, not allegorically or figuratively, i.e., that the world, with all its creatures, was created within six days, as the words read.”
John Calvin agreed. He wrote: “They will not refrain from guffaws when they are informed that but little more than 5,000 years have passed since the creation of the universe.” One wonders what he would think about the fact that theistic evolution and an old Earth are taught by some here at Calvin College.
This entire debate is not simply about the origins of humanity or the age of the Earth — it is about the authority of Scripture. God could not have used evolution over millions of years because the Bible states that he created everything in six days and rested on the seventh day, which is the model of our seven-day week and Sabbath (Exod. 20:11). And Jesus said that God made Adam and Eve from the beginning of creation, which implies a young Earth (Mark 10:6).
There is no reason for Christians to doubt what Genesis says about human origins and the age of the Earth. Scientific foreknowledge in Scripture is well ahead of its time and a further testimony to the Bible’s inerrancy and trustworthiness. For instance, the Bible confirms that the earth is spherical (Isa. 40:22; Luke 17:31-36) and floats suspended in space (Job 26:7), air can be weighed (28:25), the ocean floor contains springs and mountains (38:16; Jonah 2:5-6) and the number of stars in the universe is comparable to the number of grains of sand on Earth (Jer. 33:22)!
Moreover, the biblical description of Behemoth (Job 40:15-24) appears remarkably similar to dinosaurs like Brachiosaurus, which would be consistent with the biblical account that dinosaurs were on Noah’s Ark (Gen. 6:20) and coexisted with humans.
So this debate is not “science versus faith,” despite it often being framed that way. Rather, it is faith in the Creator’s account of creation (Genesis) versus faith in humanistic, materialistic and naturalistic speculations about the past (evolutionism).
God’s words to Job seem to be a forewarning for humans today who claim to speak authoritatively about creation: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:4).
This is an opinion piece and does not necessarily represent the views of Calvin Chimes, Calvin College or the Christian Reformed Church.