Directions for further discussion on historicity of Genesis
Connor Sterchi’s recent article regarding the historicity of Genesis has sparked some conversation on what seems to me to be an issue with which Christians are still struggling. I am so far happy to see the respectful way in which that discussion has progressed in the Chimes (see especially Nate Brees’ response), and I would like to suggest two new directions for discussion on this issue.
The first is a comment on Connor’s piece: he seems not to have lived up to his own standards of a plain reading of Genesis. While there is a larger issue regarding how to interpret the Bible (again, see Nate Brees’ response), Connor’s picture of creation is not fully consistent with the plain reading of Genesis he advocates.
He states that Genesis shows God creating the world in six days, in the non-allegorical customary use of the word “day,” as the time it takes the sun to rise, set and rise again. But in Genesis, the sun is not created until the fourth day, inconsistent with Connor’s interpretation, and calling into question the time scale implied by Connor’s interpretation of Genesis.
Furthermore, he argues that sin entered the world through Adam, and that this point is critical for Christ’s work. Unfortunately, this claim is also contrary to a plain reading of Genesis, where sin enters the world through a snake, Eve and Adam acting jointly, calling into question the importance of a single, specific Adam for his interpretation of Romans.
He also does not mention the other humans described in Genesis as living contemporary to Adam and Eve. A plain reading of Genesis would imply that large populations of humans were already living on Earth at the time of the Fall, suggesting from a plain reading that there were other creation scenes not mentioned in Genesis 2.
This is not necessarily a critique of Connor’s overall project of basing truth in a responsible reading of the Bible, but there does need to be more discussion about what such a picture would look like, since Connor’s current picture is inconsistent with a plain reading of Genesis.
Connor’s article does, however, point clearly to an extremely important area of discussion often overlooked in contemporary Christian circles. He points out that an old earth, with humans failing to arrive until very late in history, means that there must have been carnivory, death, suffering and vast amounts of extinction well before humans even existed to sin, possibly even from the very start of creation.
This, however, is deeply inconsistent with standard Christian theology, usually attributed to Augustine, which argues that God must have created the world perfect and absent evil, which could only be introduced through human sin. This problem, which is a much more serious conflict than debates over time frames, is addressed far more rarely in the Christian tradition.
Since Genesis is indeed foundational for Christian theology, Christians will need to determine a theology that fits the facts of the Bible. In light of the scientific facts, the current choices for Christians are: to accept Augustinian interpretations of creation and hope science eventually proves them right; to attempt to articulate an Augustinian account of creation consistent with both scientific and Biblical facts; or to attempt to articulate an alternative interpretation of creation consistent with scientific and Biblical facts.
There has been some interesting headway by Christians on these issues, especially on the last option. For instance, former professor John Schneider has offered an interpretation of creation dating back to Irenaeus, a bishop and theologian from the second century, which he believes explains scientific and biblical facts much more persuasively than the Augustinian interpretation. I would encourage anyone interested in the topic to read his articles on the subject.
This is an opinion piece and does not necessarily represent the views of Calvin Chimes, Calvin College or the Christian Reformed Church.