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Was Genesis written as poetry?

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  • Shibu Thomas Varughese
    by Tim Chaffey, AiG–U.S., and Dr. Bob McCabe June 21, 2011 In 1924, a new view, The Framework Hypothesis, was developed by Arie Noordtzij, which sought to
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 25, 2011
      by Tim Chaffey, AiG–U.S., and Dr. Bob McCabe June 21, 2011
      In 1924, a new view, The Framework Hypothesis, was developed by Arie Noordtzij, which sought to eliminate these problems. Approximately thirty years later, Meredith Kline popularized the view in the United States while N. H. Ridderbos did the same in Europe. It is currently one of the most popular views of Genesis 1 being taught in seminaries. Despite its popularity in academia, people in our churches have not heard this view fully explained, though they have heard of some of its claims.
      The Framework Hypothesis is essentially an attempt to reclassify the genre of Genesis 1 as being something other than historical narrative. Proponents have attempted to identify figurative language or semi-poetic devices in the text. Thinking they have successfully shown that the Bible’s first chapter is not to be taken in its plain sense, they make the claim that Genesis 1 simply reveals that God created everything and that He made man in His own image, but it gives us no information about how or when He did this.
      The leading promoter of the Framework Hypothesis pulled no punches when explaining his goal in promoting it. “To rebut the literalist interpretation of the Genesis creation week propounded by the young-earth theorists is a central concern of this article. . . . The conclusion is that as far as the time frame is concerned, with respect to both the duration and sequence of events, the scientist is left free of biblical constraints in hypothesizing about cosmic origins.”2 How can a biblical scholar, like Meredith Kline, who held to the inerrancy of Scripture, claim that he desires that scientists be “free of biblical constraints?” In order to make this type of radical claim, a literal interpretation of the creation account must be replaced by a nonliteral view, such as the Framework Hypothesis. Further, what would motivate a biblical scholar to reinterpret the creation account in this type of way?
      This chapter focuses on evaluating three major arguments that Kline and other Framework advocates use to support their nonliteral interpretation of Genesis 1:1–2:3: Two Triad of “Days,” The Unending Nature of the Seventh Day, and Ordinary Providence. These three arguments will be followed by an evaluation of a key presupposition that undergirds the Framework view.
      Two Triads of “Days”
      The Two Triad of “Days” argument is a premise that all Framework advocates agree with. Framework supporters claim that the two triads of “days” is a topical parallelism where the topics of days 1–3 are parallel with those of days 4–6. About the parallel nature of days 1 & 4, Mark Futato states, “Days 1 and 4 are two different perspectives on the same creative work.”3 Returning to the overall topical arrangement the entire creation account, Kline writes, “The successive members of the first triad of days [days 1–3] correspond to the successive days of the second [days 4–6].”4 In other words, days 1 and 4 are simply two different ways of stating the same event, as are days 2 and 5, and days 3 and 6. The following chart is representative of that used by many Framework advocates and reflects this topical parallelism.
      Day Formation of the World             Day Filling of the World
      (Items Created)                            (Items Created)
      1 darkness, light                            4 heavenly light-bearers
      2 heavens, water                           5 birds of the air, water animals
      3 seas, land, vegetation                 6 land animals, man, provision of food
      At first glance, it may seem as if these writers are on to something. However, a closer look reveals some problems with this argument. First, this supposed semi-poetic construction is inconsistent with the fact that Genesis 1 is a historical narrative. Hebrew scholar Steven Boyd has clearly shown that Genesis 1 is written as historical narrative rather than poetry. Hebrew poetry commonly utilizes a high percentage of imperfect and perfect verbs. By contrast, Hebrew narrative is marked by a high frequency of waw-consecutive preterite verbs that indicate a sequence of events in past tense material. Comparing Judges 4 and 5 shows a good example of these differences. In Judges 4, the account of Deborah and Barak defeating the forces of Sisera is explained in historical narrative. The following chapter is a poetical song describing the same event. The difference in language is readily apparent even in English translations. The same is true with the historical
      narrative of Genesis 1 and poetic descriptions of creation activities such as those found in Psalm 104. After studying and cataloging 522 texts, Boyd concluded that Genesis 1 can be classified as narrative with a probability of virtually one.
      Second, the above chart is inconsistent with the text of Genesis 1:1–2:3. Water was not created on the second day, but the first. Genesis 1:2 states, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” This occurred prior to the creation of light on the first day. So perhaps days 1 and 5 should be viewed as parallel. Another problem with this chart is that the “heavenly light-bearers” of day 4 were placed in the “heavens” of day 2 (Genesis 1:14). This is problematic for the Framework advocate who believes days one and four are the same event viewed from different perspectives, because this must have occurred prior to the event described in days 2 and 5. How could the stars be placed in something that did not exist yet?
      Third, the order of events is crucial here. The Framework proposes that the days are not chronological, but theological. However, if one rearranges the chronology, then it breaks down into absurdity. The waters of day 1 must exist for them to be separated on day 2. On day 3, the dry land appeared from these waters. The sun, moon, and stars of day 4 were placed in the heavens (expanse, firmament) of day 2. The birds of day 5 flew on the face of the firmament of day 2 and multiplied on the land of day 3. Finally, mankind was made to rule over all of creation (Genesis 1:28). Any attempt to rearrange days of the creation week forces impossibilities into the text.
      In the final analysis, the Framework’s reinterpretation of Genesis 1:1–2:3 as a topical account of two triad of days is an illegitimate approach that fails to accurately interpret the creation account.
      The Unending Nature of the Seventh Day
      The second argument supporting the Framework position is that the seventh day of the creation week is an unending (or at least long and still continuing) period.7 This premise is a standard argument for Framework advocates since it reputedly proves that the first Sabbath is ongoing, and, therefore, implies that the other six days are each metaphors for extended temporal periods.8 Two items are alleged to support the unending nature of day 7. First, while each of the six days of the creation week are concluded by the evening-morning formula, the description of day 7 in Genesis 2:1–3 omits the evening-morning formula implying that it is an ongoing period. Second, Hebrews 4 confirms this understanding of day 7 with the motif of an eternal Sabbath rest.
      In response to this argument, it is necessary to notice how “evening” and “morning” are used in the creation account. The clauses “there was evening” and “there was morning” have a function in the creation narrative of marking a transition from one day of creation to the next. This is to say, an “evening” denotes the conclusion of a period of light when God suspends his creative activity of one day and the “morning” marks the renewal of light when God resumes his work. Just as the fiat (“let there be” or an equivalent) and fulfillment (“it was so” or “there was”) expressions used on each day of creation are not needed on day 7 because God’s creative activities are finished, so there is no need to use the evening-morning conclusion because God’s work of creation is concluded. Thus, the omission of the evening-morning formula on day 7 neither proves nor implies that this day was unending.
      In addition, Hebrews 4 provides no substantive evidence indicating that day 7 is an eternal day. The eternal rest presented in Hebrews 4 is based on an analogy with God’s creative rest in Genesis 2:1–3. Based upon the Mosaic omission of the evening-morning conclusion, the author of Hebrews is able to use the first Sabbath as a type patterned after God’s eternal rest. We should further note that the actual kind of rest in Genesis 2:2–3 is completely different than the rest in Hebrews 4:3–11. The rest of Genesis 2:2–3 is a cessation from divine creative activity. Only the Creator can cease from that activity. It is absolutely impossible for the creature to experience that cessation. However, the Sabbath-rest of Hebrews 4:3–11 is a rest that the people of God actually experience. Therefore, the “rest” in both contexts cannot be identical. The Framework position assumes that the “rest” of Genesis 2 is identical with Hebrews 4. However,
      instead of assuming that the “rests” of Genesis 2 and Hebrews 4 are identical, Framework advocates need to demonstrate this identity.
      Moreover, notice that Hebrews 4 never states that day 7 is continuing. It says that God’s rest is ongoing. He started His cessation from divine creative activity on that day, but the day itself has not continued. Imagine that a person leaves for week-long vacation on a Friday. On Tuesday, he could say that He is still resting from work, but that does not mean that Friday is continuing.
      Finally, this argument actually proves too much, or at least would, if it could be shown day 7 is unending. If day 7 is ongoing because it lacks the evening and morning phrase, then this seems to be an unintentional admission that the first six days are normal-length days because they do have “evening and morning.”
      Ordinary Providence
      Meredith Kline called the ordinary providence argument “the most decisive argument against the traditional interpretation.”9 According to Kline, Genesis 2:5–6 describes the earth on the third “day” of creation. He believed that the reason there were not any plants of the field or herbs of the field was because God had not caused it to rain yet. He saw this as evidence that God was not creating via miraculous means but through the same natural processes we observe today. He wrote:
      Embedded in Gen. 2:5 ff. is the principle that the modus operandi of the divine providence was the same during the creation period as that of ordinary providence at the present time. It is not to be demonstrated that those who adopt the traditional approaches cannot successfully integrate this revelation with Genesis 1 as they interpret it. In contradiction to Gen. 2:5, the twenty-four-hour day theory must presuppose that God employed other than the ordinary secondary means in executing his works of providence. To take just one example, it was the work of the ‘third day’ that the waters should be gathered together into seas and that the dry land should appear and be covered with vegetation (Gen. 1:9-13). All this according to the theory in question transpired within twenty-four hours. But continents just emerged from under the sea do not become thirsty land as fast as that by the ordinary process of evaporation. And yet according to the principle
      revealed in Gen. 2:5 the process of evaporation at that time was the ordinary one.10
      Once again, there are numerous problems with Kline’s argument. First, Genesis 2:5–6 does not refer to the third day, but to the sixth day just prior to the creation of man. These verses use two specific Hebrew terms to refer to the “plant of the field” (siah hassadeh) and “herb of the field” (eseb hassadeh). These Hebrew terms are different than the ones used on the third day when God made the “grass,” the “herb that yields seed,” and the “tree that yields fruit” (Genesis 1:11-12). Ironically, Futato, who also promoted this view, describes the “plant of the field” as the wild shrubs of the steppe, which contain thorns and thistles, and the “herb of the field” as cultivated grain.11 It should be fairly obvious why the thorny plants and cultivated grains did not exist yet. Man had not been created yet to till the ground and he had not sinned yet bringing about the Curse on the earth of which thorny plants were one of the
      results (Genesis 3:18).
      Second, the concept of ordinary providence, as promoted by Framework advocates, is no different than uniformitarianism. This unbiblical philosophy undergirds every old-earth view. Essentially, it states that the way things occur in the world today is the way they have always happened. Since scientists do not observe miracles today, then they have never happened. As such, slow and gradual processes must be used to explain the events of the past. The Apostle Peter warned that men holding this philosophy would come and use it to deny the Creation, the Flood, and to mock Christ’s return (2 Peter 3:3–6).
      Third, God demonstrates His power to man in at least two ways. Through ordinary providence, God upholds all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3). Since this is the “natural” order of things, men often fail to credit God for preserving His creation. Through miracles, God temporarily suspends or overrides the “natural” order of things to perform His work. When this occurs, it is immediately clear that something extraordinary has occurred. We may call this the “Principle of Immediacy.”
      A classic example of this is found when Jesus said to the recently-deceased daughter of Jairus, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” Mark states, “Immediately the girl arose and walked” (Mark 5:42–43). The reason immediacy is so important is that if Jesus spoke these words and the girl rose a few days later, few would attribute the incredible turn of events to Jesus. The same is true in Mark 10:52 when a blind man “immediately” received his sight when Jesus healed him. Once again, if the blind man did not receive his sight immediately, but slowly gained sight over the next few years, many would fail to attribute the miracle to Jesus.
      Psalm 33:8–9 makes some interesting statements regarding Creation that are highly relevant to this discussion. “Let all the earth fear the Lord; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.” When God brought something into existence during the Creation week, “He spoke, and it was done.” There is no indication of a lengthy process of time in which creation unfolded through some developmental process. Contrary to Kline’s statement, God did not create via ordinary providence during the Creation week.
      There are two particular Old Testament miracles that must be cited here. Exodus 14:21–22 reveals that when God parted the Red Sea, the Israelites were able to cross on “dry ground.” Joshua 3 describes the entrance of the Israelites into the Promised Land and the crossing of the Jordan River. Verse 15 describes how the water immediately stopped as the priests who bore the Ark of the Covenant stepped into the water. Verse 17 states that these priests “stood firm on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan.” Since God miraculously caused the land to appear on the third day, perhaps a continent freshly emerged from the sea could indeed be “thirsty ground.”
      Finally, there is a logical flaw in this argument. If God used millions of years of ordinary providence to bring the land from the ocean and to grow vegetation on the land, then why wasn’t there any rain for that amount of time? After all, if God merely used natural processes, then the hydrologic cycle must have been in full swing at the time too. The ordinary providence argument contradicts itself at this point.
      The Importance of Presuppositions
      While there are other problems with the Framework that could be addressed, we will address the issue of a presupposition that undergirds the Framework Hypothesis. Since the literal day interpretation has been the dominant view of Christian interpreters from the Church Fathers until Charles Lyell in the mid-1800s, what a priori would motivate Framework defenders to reinterpret the creation account? What has primarily changed since Lyell’s time is the way man defines and uses science. Modern scientific opinion has seemingly been elevated to the status of being equal or superior to biblical revelation. Many nonliteral interpreters refer to “science’s” opinion as general revelation. And with its elevation “scientific opinion” has become a presupposition that influences many evangelicals to jettison the literal interpretation of Genesis 1:1–2:3 in favor of a nonliteral view, such as the Framework.
      The “scientific opinion” of our world has a major impact on Framework advocates. For example, this is true of Kline as our opening quote of him reflects: “To rebut the literalist interpretation of the Genesis creation week propounded by the young-earth theorists is a central concern of this article…. The conclusion is that as far as the time frame is concerned, with respect to both the duration and sequence of events, the scientist is left free of biblical constraints in hypothesizing about cosmic origins.” How does Kline propose to free scientists from any “biblical constraints” about the age of the earth? In short, by rebutting those who interpret the creation account literally. Besides indicating his rejection of the historical interpretation of the creation narrative, does this not also reflect Kline’s presuppositional commitment that modern science should have an impact on biblical interpretation?
      Another Framework advocate, Bruce Waltke shares this commitment to the scientific majority. According to him, “The days of creation may also pose difficulties for a strict historical account. Contemporary scientists almost unanimously discount the possibility of creation in one week, and we cannot summarily discount the evidence of the earth sciences. General revelation in creation, as well as the special revelation of Scripture is also the voice of God. We live in a ‘universe,’ and all truth speaks with one voice.”12 Does it not sound like the “earth sciences,” as interpreted by “contemporary scientists,” communicates “general revelation?” If this is correct, does this not imply that the “general revelation” communicated by “contemporary scientists” is something other than what the Bible calls general revelation since it was unavailable from the time of creation until the modern era? Further, this confuses general revelation
      with scientific opinion and implies that general revelation has the same propositional force as special revelation. It is the propositional revelation of Scripture (Psalm 19:1–6; Ecclesiastes 3:11; Acts 14:17; 17:23–31; Rom 1:18–25; 2:14–15; 10:18) that defines general revelation. And, Scripture defines general revelation as a constant knowledge about God that is available to all men.13 Consequently, it is biblically inadequate to equate scientific opinion with general revelation.
      In light of these statements by Kline and Waltke, we should ask ourselves this question: If we did not live in our current age, would this type of statement have been made and, furthermore, would the Framework or any other reinterpretations of Genesis 1:1–2:3 even be valid options for evangelicals? It seems that the spirit of our age has created a modern mindset conducive to a reinterpretation of the creation account. However, many of the influences that shape such reinterpretations are external to Scripture, rather than being derived from a consistent biblical theology. In the final analysis, there is no biblical reason to reinterpret Genesis 1:1–2:3.
      The Framework Hypothesis is an ingenious attempt to reinterpret Genesis 1. Using sophisticated arguments, its promoters have convinced many that the plain words of Genesis 1 should be reclassified as something other than straightforward-historical narrative. As such, the words dealing with the how and when of Creation are ignored.
      This brief survey has shown the erroneous arguments posed by its supporters. This view may be more dangerous than any harmonistic view since it encourages believers to ignore the text, essentially turning it into a divine Aesop’s Fable. Does it really matter if a slow but persistent tortoise ever really raced a speedy hare and won? Of course not, as long as you understand the moral of the story—persistence pays off. In a similar way, Framework proponents minimize the force of the many textual details of the creation account as long as one believes God is the Creator and that He made man in His image. It is simply the latest in a long line of failed attempts to reinterpret the unchanging word of God to fit man’s ever-changing opinions and should be rejected by all Bible-believing Christians.
       Since the early 1800s, many Christians have accepted the idea that the Earth is billions of years old. This notion contradicts a plain reading of the biblical text so many have searched for a way to harmonize the early chapters of Genesis with the idea of long ages. Many theories have been proposed, such as the Gap Theory, the Day-Age Theory, and Progressive Creationism. However, as these views were promoted, it became apparent that each view was based on arbitrary methods of interpretation and forced contradictions with the biblical text.

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