<body>
Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hard Truths for Theistic Evolutionists [3]

creation2 Genesis as absolute beginning out of nothing

Christianity has historically affirmed that the first chapter of Genesis describes God speaking the material universe into existence for the first time out of nothing. What is traditionally called creation ex nihilo by divine fiat. So: when Genesis 1:1 states In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, this was God speaking into existence the absolute beginning of all things both in space and on our planet earth. Nothing in our known, material universe existed before Genesis 1:1. There was only the eternal, Triune Godhead.

This doctrine has been held by the Christian Church since its formation on the day of Pentecost. Early Christian apologist clarified and defended the absolute beginning of creation ex nihilo against the pantheistic cosmologies when they interacted with the Roman-Greco philosophies that entailed belief in gods creating out of eternal matter. The Shepherd of Hermas, written sometime between 90-150 A.D., was one of the first extra-biblical, non-canonical sources affirming creation ex nihilo. The second book of The Shepherd called Commandments, under the first command states,"First of all, believe that there is one God who created and finished all things, and made all things out of nothing." This view of creation was articulated and defended by such men as Tatian, Irenaeus, Theophilus of Antioch, Tertullian, Athanasius, John Chrysostom, and Augustine.

Even the major theological creeds and confessions of the Christian Church affirmed the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. For instance, the opening lines of the Nicene Creed state, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” Later, during the time of the Reformation, many of the major confessions affirmed the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. The Belgic Confession under Article 12: The Creation of All Things, states, “We believe that the Father created heaven and earth and all other creatures from nothing, when it seemed good to him, by his Word-- that is to say, by his Son.” The Westminster Confession of Faith 1646, in Chapter 4 on creation, even expands on the understanding of creation by affirming six day creationism. It states,

I. It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good.

The same is affirmed in the cousin confessions of The Philadelphia Confession of 1742, and The London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689.

During the last two and half centuries, however, there as been an ascent of uniformitarian philosophy and Darwinian evolution as the governing principles over the various scientific disciplines. Since that time, the truth claims made by scientists regarding the origin and history of the world have been granted a certain intrinsic infallibility that allows those claims to not only challenge Scripture, but to also correct the biblical record of creation. As a result, the Church has slowly conceded the propositional teaching of creation as revealed in Scripture to these so-called scientific constructs. Across the broad spectrum of denominational conviction, what the historic creeds and confessions have taught about creation has largely been abandoned.

Instead, accommodational perspectives have been adopted in order to find common ground between modern, scientific ideas about origins and the Genesis narrative. Typically, the opening chapters of Genesis are re-interpreted in some manner so as to fit in the millions and billions of years of earth’s history the scientists proclaim is undeniable. One of those re-interpretative methods is to say Genesis 1:1 is not addressing the absolute beginning of the creation. Rather, what is being outlined in Genesis 1 is a re-creation of some sort or a re-telling of creation in a theological fashion modeled after ancient near-eastern cosmologies. Theologian, John Walton, who is one who takes the position of a re-telling in Genesis 1, states that though God certainly was the original creator billions of years ago, Genesis is not recording that initial event in the first 2 chapters. It is an event that just hasn’t been revealed to us.

But is this view sustained by the whole of biblical doctrine? Or is it merely a clever capitulation to what has been misperceived as scientists speaking authoritatively regarding the “inerrancy” of the alleged “scientific” evidence? I believe a clear, comprehensive survey of God’s Word teaches without doubt that Genesis 1:1 is a statement of God creating from an absolute beginning out of nothing. There are six reasons I say that:

1. The Hebrew phrase In the beginning speaks to an absolute beginning. There are a number of reasons why the Hebrew phrase bereshith, or as is translated in our English versions, In the beginning, means an absolute beginning. I’ll highlight two important ones. First, the word “beginning” is often paired in the O.T. with its antonym, “end,” acharith. For example, Job 8:7, 42:12, and Ecclesiastes 7:8. The idea being that the author, in the case of Genesis, our Creator, the LORD God, has at the outset initiated specific activity that has a beginning with a future goal intended, or what would be an end. This is particularly seen in Isaiah’s contrast of God with the pagan false deities in chapters 40-50 of his prophecy. Isaiah 46:10 states, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure.

A second reason comes from the history of translation. Since about 1920, a few liberal oriented modern translations like the New English Bible and the Anchor Bible render bereshith as a temporal clause so that the opening verse reads something like, In the beginning of creation, when God made heaven and earth. This translation has more to do with the higher critical idea Genesis reflects ancient, near-eastern cosmology like the Babylonian Enuma Elish, rather than the actual exegesis of the text. The implication of rendering Genesis 1:1 as a temporal clause would be the possibility that some matter pre-existed the creation narrative and thus God used pre-existing material to shape the earth. That in turn supports the reconciliation of Genesis with the idea of the earth being 4 billion years old as maintained by modern science.

Even though one can still affirm Genesis 1:1 as absolute beginning if the verse is rendered as a temporal clause, the grammatical grounds to translate the verse as such is problematic. Theologian Robert Reymond points out the reasoning for translating Genesis 1:1 as a temporal clause cuts against the vast majority of translations of Genesis both ancient and modern that regarded bereshith as an absolute. He further notes that bereshith is accented with a disjunctive accent indicating that the word has its own independent accent and was constructed by the Masoretes as an absolute noun [Reymond, 390]. Isaiah 46:10, noted above, is constructed in the exact same way. Isaiah makes it clear that God has established an absolute beginning and distinguishes that beginning from an absolute end that is the stated goal of His counsel.

2. The uniqueness of the word bara to God’s creative activity. The word bara, or “create” in our English translations, is use 38 times in the Hebrew Qal stem and 10 times in the Niphal stem. The word bara in these two stems is used only of God. The biblical writers reserved bara exclusively for God’s creative activity. As it pertains to creation, God’s activity must be supernatural and miraculous. Meaning Genesis must be the initial creation of the heavens and earth and not some event of re-creation. A re-creation implies matter was already in existence from which God formed or fashioned the world and its inhabitants. Such would mean matter existed eternally with God, which would make God no longer unique as a creator as He is revealed in Scripture. If God’s “creating” in the Genesis narrative was from matter He had created billions of years before as John Walton and other theistic evolutionists suggest, this would cut against the entire testimony of the Old and New Testaments that places the creation of the world at that starting point of Genesis 1:1.

3. The testimony of the Old Testament. Genesis is not the only place in the O.T. addressing God’s creative activity. Throughout the entire O.T., the writers of Scripture clearly identify God as the unequaled, sovereign Creator. They contrast His eternality and power as the sovereign creator to the impotence of the false gods of the pagans and they mark creation at the beginning as recorded in Genesis. Allow me to point out a small handful of passages.

For example, Psalm 90:2 states, Before the mountains were brought forth, Or ever You had formed the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. Psalm 33:6-9 speaks of God’s creation by divine fiat, or the creation directly by His Word, By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deep in storehouses. 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. Citing the Genesis narrative, God explicitly tells Moses in Exodus 20:11 that everything created in the heavens, the earth, the sea was created during that sequence of activity as recorded in Genesis 1 and 2, For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it. The phrase “all that is in them” covers the entire created realm in the physical universe. Exodus 31:17 reaffirms this truth.

4. The testimony of the New Testament. The N.T. also has an exhaustive list of references to Genesis 1:1 being the absolute beginning point of creation ex nihilo. I’ll focus our attention to some key passages. Acts 4:24 reads almost word for word as Exodus 20:11, So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: "Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them. The testimony of the primitive church was one that recognized God as the ultimate creator who put His creative activity at the first week of Genesis 1. Revelation 4:11 is a doxology identifying the creation of all things by the hand of God, what the Christians, as we just saw, affirmed in Acts 4:24 which was taken from Exodus 20:11, You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created. Again, the phrase “all things” is all encompassing: everything in the known universe and the world.

Probably one of the clearest proclamations of the absolute creation of the world ex nihilo in Genesis 1 is recorded in Hebrews 11:3. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. This verse is so clear in affirming what Genesis 1 says regarding the creation. First it states that all things are created by God. “All things” being a comprehensive expression describing the entirety of the whole created realm. Next, Hebrews 11:3 affirms creation by divine fiat, or by God’s very word, when it says the worlds were framed by the word of God. Then lastly, the verse affirms creation ex nihilo when it states that the things seen (the material universe) were not made of things which are visible (or pre-existent matter or eternal matter).

5. The phrase “Before the foundation of the world” as a marker for absolute creation. A more narrow piece of biblical evidence placing the absolute beginning of creation in the first verse of Genesis is the phrase, Before the foundation of the world. It is used in the N.T. at least 10 times. Its primary use is tied to the work of God’s salvation through Christ in at least 8 of these instances: Matthew 25:34, John 17:24, Ephesians 1:4, Hebrews 4:3 and 9:26, 1 Peter 1:20, and Revelation 13:8 and 17:8. The use of this expression in relation to redemption is noteworthy, for within the next two chapters after the record of creation, Adam fell into sin. God had purposed the redemption of sinners before He created the world, a redemption tied directly to the first man’s sin.

The obvious question to ask is: What “foundation of the world” is being referenced in these passages? And, what does the writers mean these things took place “before” that foundation of the world? If the initial creation of God was billions of years ago yet is never really revealed in Scripture as some theistic evolutionists like John Walton argue, this expression would be strange; especially in light of God’s redemptive purposes in Christ. The only “foundation of the world” in the minds of Christian readers could only be the creation as recorded in Genesis. Colossians 1:16, 17, when identifying Christ as our Creator, states And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.

6. The testimony of Jesus Christ and the Apostles. Then of course, the ultimate testimony to the absolute creation of the world in Genesis 1:1 is our very Lord and Savior Himself and His apostles who wrote the N.T. documents. This is an important point to consider, because a good many Christians adhering to and promoting some form of theistic evolution or other deep time views of the world are Reformed in their theological convictions and put a high premium upon a Christological hermeneutic where the N.T. interprets the O.T. The words of Jesus and the apostles should have some significance upon this issue.

Probably the greatest testimony concerning Christ and creation is found in John 1:1. The apostle clearly connects the person of Christ to the creation in Genesis when he opens his gospel in the exact same way as Genesis, In the beginning was the Word… John goes onto state this Word was Jesus Himself and John says the Word was our creator: All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. Throughout the pages of all four gospels, this truth regarding the creation is utilized by Jesus and the apostles. The expressions “From the beginning” and “The beginning of creation” are used by both Jesus in the Gospels (Matthew 19:4, 8, 24:21; Mark 10:6, 13:9; John 8:44), and the apostles who used similar expressions in their epistles (Romans 1:20; Ephesians 3:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrew 1:10; 2 Peter 3:4; 1 John 1:1, 2:13, 3:8; Revelation 3:14).

With this brief overview, I believe it is clear the Bible, God’s infallible Word, teaches the following as summarized by Robert Culver, 1) The world, including heaven and earth, all that exists, was created by God, and 2) the world had a beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, at which moment both time and space came into existence [Culver, 147].

This doctrine also has significant ramifications upon our view of biblical infallibility and inerrancy, because Scripture provides chronological markers with the various genealogical lists recorded in the book of Genesis, 1 Chronicles, and Luke. Though there is a possibility some gaps exist between the names, there is no indication whatsoever long, deep time gaps exist allowing for hundreds of thousands, even millions of years old earth advocates need for their system to work. From the point of the creation week to the coming of Christ is no more than a few thousand years. Also, Andrew Kulikovsky notes Isaiah 45:18 where the prophet states God did not create the earth to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited. [Kulikovsky, 175]. Yet old earth creationists and theistic evolutionists would have us believe the earth was uninhabited for billions of years, a direct contradiction to what Isaiah .

For a Christian committed to the infallible and inerrant authority of God’s Word, any evolutionary explanation of earth’s history appealing to deep time of billions of years is unsupportable by the biblical data. The two systems cannot be harmonized and it is foolish to think they can. When two opposing “authorities” compete for the acknowledgement of a believer’s convictions, one has to give way to the other, for they cannot be united. Regrettably, for a good many Christians, the “inerrancy” of the so-called evidence takes precedence over the clear teaching of Scripture.

Sources:

Commentaries on Genesis

U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis: From Adam to Noah

J. Davis, From Paradise to Prison

H.C. Leupold, Genesis 1

Kenneth Matthews, Genesis 1-11:26

Theological Resources

R. Duncan Culver, Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical

John Feinberg, No One Like Him

Andrew Kulikovsky, Creation, Fall, Restoration – A Biblical Theology of Creation

Jaroslav Pelikan, Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600)

Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology

John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One

Labels:

44 Comments:

Blogger Steve Lamm said...

Excellent points Fred.

The NT writers and the Lord Jesus clearly understood Genesis 1-2 to teach that God created all things in six, literal, consecutive 24-hour days. That ought to seal the issue for any Bible-believing Christian.

Blessings,
Steve Lamm

5:01 PM, July 22, 2010  
Blogger leroy said...

That's a very long tract to say what Steve has summed up in one phrase.

From my perspective the entire piece is self-serving but that's hardly surprising.

I do not abide accommodationists or apologists for the integration of science and faith. It's either Genesis or it's not.

10:38 PM, July 22, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

I do not abide accommodationists or apologists for the integration of science and faith. It's either Genesis or it's not.

As stated by an atheist. Accommodationists should take notice.

5:38 AM, July 23, 2010  
Blogger Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Why do evolutionists/materialists typically not want to tackle the topic of abiogenesis?

9:05 AM, July 23, 2010  
Blogger Garrett League said...

Minor quibble: Have you read "The Lost World of Genesis One"? Walton, to the best of my knowledge, does not personally accept evolution. Old earth, yes. He believes, as I do, that Adam is a real person, yet he rejects evolution. Can you cite otherwise?

I think you get some of his views a bit wrong too. Genesis 1 isn't a re-creation or re-telling so much as it is a function-oriented temple text, which isn't concerned with creation ex nihilo, but rather bringing order and function out of the primordial chaos. That's why the account starts with "unformed and unfilled" rather than materially non-existent. So the account tells how God formed it (days 1-3) and filled it (days 3-6). So, you're sorta right, in that Genesis isn't telling the scientific, materialistic story, just the function oriented temple inauguration week, where God "rests" in the cosmic temple at the end of the account. So, Genesis has a strong liturgical flavor to it.

As for beginning being the absolute beginning, I partly agree. However, I don't think the evidence from Genesis 1 itself is overwhelming that v. 1:1 involves creation ex nihilo. Rather, 1:1 is just a summary, introducing what follows. The account starts off with the unformed and unfilled watery chaos, which would make sense in the ANE context, since creation of matter out of nothing was not a common theme. Of course, as you demonstrate, creation out of nothing is taught elsewhere, and quite explicitly.

"For a Christian committed to the infallible and inerrant authority of God’s Word, any evolutionary explanation of earth’s history appealing to deep time of billions of years is unsupportable by the biblical data."

No, they aren't. Those concepts aren't in the bible. Neither are modern geography, botany, astronomy, etc. Clearly, the bible and "science" intersect, not in the present, but in the past, when the accounts were first penned. And that in no way compromises inerrancy, but rather protects it from the anachronistic, and inappropriate standards of modern science. See the Chicago Statement, Article XIII. I think you make that very mistake when you "evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose."

The two systems cannot be harmonized and it is foolish to think they can."

Can I modify that? What Ross (and Ham) do is foolish. That is, trying to make all scientific claims line up neatly with the bible or vice versa. It's not possible, since we can't consistently agree on what science is acceptable or not and which verses are "metaphorical" or not. I think what we have to admit is that in the bible, there are no scientific tidbits that transcend the culture of the ancient writers. That's why 1600+ years of Christians saw no reason to believe, from the bible, that the earth spun on its axis and around the sun. Nor does the bible reveal modern botany, geography, biology, geology, etc. So I wouldn't expect the bible to reveal an old earth or an evolutionary past since it hasn't done anything different with astronomy or geography. That's why I don't try and cram modern science into the text, as Ross does, or the opposite, what Ham et al. do, albeit inconsistently.

Also read your post on the appearance of age. I wrote on that subject recently and I don't think you addressed the most serious problems with your position (which AiG, wisely, seems to distance itself from). http://faceofdeep.blogspot.com/2010/07/signs-of-aging-in-appearance-of-age.html

10:02 PM, July 23, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Garrett asks:

Minor quibble: Have you read "The Lost World of Genesis One"?

Not in it's entirety. But I have read large sections and a number of the chapters to get a gist of what he teaches.

Continuing...
Walton, to the best of my knowledge, does not personally accept evolution. Old earth, yes. He believes, as I do, that Adam is a real person, yet he rejects evolution. Can you cite otherwise?

I don't know if he believes personally in evolution either. I could care less if he does. I wasn't citing him for his evolutionary beliefs. I cited him primarily as a key source who doesn't believe Genesis 1 records an absolute beginning. He does affirm that position at the end of his book in the chapter on frequently asked questions. However, his position certainly lends itself rather conveniently to theistic evolution, seeing that proponents like yourself quote him incessantly as an infallible source on how to understand Genesis, a position he stands virtually alone as holding in the whole history of Hebraic/OT studies.

Continuing...
I think you get some of his views a bit wrong too.

Again. I wasn't citing him for his overall views on Genesis. That wasn't the point with this essay.

11:09 AM, July 24, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Part 2...

I wrote,
"For a Christian committed to the infallible and inerrant authority of God's Word, any evolutionary explanation of earth's history appealing to deep time of billions of years is unsupportable by the biblical data."

Garrett responds.
No, they aren't. Those concepts aren't in the bible.

Exactly the reason why an evolutionary explanation of earth's history is unsupportable by the Bible.

Continuing
Clearly, the bible and "science" intersect, not in the present, but in the past, when the accounts were first penned. And that in no way compromises inerrancy, but rather protects it from the anachronistic, and inappropriate standards of modern science.

Garrett, you need to brush up on your understanding of the doctrine of inerrancy. The Bible presents an historical record of the creation of the world, humanity, nations, peoples, Israel, etc. It's not meant to be a science book, as I am sure you will affirm. It is however a history book, so when it speaks to historical events, it has to do so infallibly and inerrantly. Your position strips inerrancy of any genuine meaning.

Evolutionary philosophy builds an alternate historical narrative of earth's history that is absolutely contradicted by what is recorded in scripture. Jesus places the absolute beginning of creation at Genesis 1:1 and affirms it as a historical narrative. Not a temple motif, or theological analogy, or some ANE counter theology. It is an historical narrative linked together by chronological markers, particularly in the genealogies that present a clear, historical picture of man's origins created supernaturally in six days as the Jews and Christians have understood six days for thousands of years. Such is not as you wrote, evaluating scripture according to standards of truth and error that is alien to its usage. I evaluate it according to a specific historical context that is affirmed through out the whole of the Bible.

Continuing
What Ross (and Ham) do is foolish. That is, trying
to make all scientific claims line up neatly with the bible or vice
versa.


I can't speak for Reasons to Believe, but you are wrong about AiG. What they do is to begin with a God centered, scriptural worldview and evaluate the evidence according to the manner in which a God centered, scriptural worldview demands. You'll have to provide some specific illustrations. But, your position is saturated with a creeping gnosticism that suggests ancient Israelites were unsophisticated, and we didn't really know about the true history of the world with its billions of years until the 1800s with the so-called advances in modern science. Meanwhile, you seem to be content to think it was okay for God to keep people in the dark as to this "true" history of the world and think it is just fine to believe it's radical, anti-biblical history doesn't really matter.

Lastly,
Also read your post on the appearance of age. I wrote on that subject recently and I don't think you addressed the most serious problems with your position

I don't really have the time nor the desire to go and read up on your position, but if you are inclined to summarize briefly here, I'll certainly respond. The responses I have read against the "appearance of age" argument have honestly been lame and unimpressive and easily dismantled. If you want to give it a shot, go for it.

11:12 AM, July 24, 2010  
Blogger Garrett League said...

"However, his position certainly lends itself rather conveniently to theistic evolution, seeing that proponents like yourself quote him incessantly as an infallible source on how to understand Genesis"

Yes, it surely does. Infallible? C'mon. You certainly don't take AiG as infallible, just mostly reliable.

"It is however a history book, so when it speaks to historical events, it has to do so infallibly and inerrantly. Your position strips inerrancy of any genuine meaning."

No, I don't think it does. I take a view on Genesis that is similar to Don Carson's. He talks about it in his new book "The God Who is There": "I hold that the Genesis account is a mixed genre that feels like history and really does give us some historical particulars. At the same time, however, it is full of demonstrable symbolism." Disagree, that's fine, but I don't think it necessitates abandoning inerrancy, nor the basic historical nature of the text.

"But, your position is saturated with a creeping gnosticism that suggests ancient Israelites were unsophisticated, and we didn't really know about the true history of the world with its billions of years until the 1800s with the so-called advances in modern science."

Not so. It may be creepy, but nothing gnostic about it. And saying the Isrealites were scientifically unsophisticated should not be a news flash. They were no more "scientifically" advanced than their ANE neighbors. That is NOT tantamount to saying (as the Triablogue guys say) that they were stupid, club-toting Neanderthals. They just simply didn't know the world as we now know it. How could they? Only if God revealed otherwise, which he never did. Here, listen to the latest WHI on "Interpreting Scripture." Mike Horton asks: "How do you deal with, for example, in the Psalms the reference to 'God has laid out the earth on its foundations and it will not be moved,' and it seems like the earth is a flat, four-cornered surface" and Kim Riddlebarger (an old earther who rejects evolution) responds: "It's the way people spoke of the created order, because remember no one had ever even seen Ptolemy's map yet, no one had ever seen a satellite photograph of the earth as we have. So people described the earth in vivid imagery, knowing that God created, knowing that He made it good, but they had no sense of space the way we do and it's unfair to expect them to have that."

"God to keep people in the dark as to this "true" history of the world and think it is just fine to believe it's radical, anti-biblical history doesn't really matter."

So I've made the "true" history what modern science says? Truth can be communicated in many ways. God chose one that made sense to them. Why would he choose a genre (modern, scientific lit) that would be unintelligible for centuries?

"The responses I have read against the "appearance of age" argument have honestly been lame and unimpressive and easily dismantled."

I won't bother, mine's probably more of the same. My blog post is too lengthy anyways to summarize here.

12:04 PM, July 24, 2010  
Blogger JD Walters said...

"The Bible presents an historical record of the creation of the world, humanity, nations, peoples, Israel, etc. It's not meant to be a science book, as I am sure you will affirm. It is however a history book, so when it speaks to historical events, it has to do so infallibly and inerrantly."

Unfortunately, you are still applying inappropriate standards of truth and error to the Bible, because the ancient Israelites' idea of history was not the modern idea of history. There was room in the ancient understanding of history for significant amounts of symbolism, ideological shaping, midrashic commentary on previous records, and purely conventional chronology. It is wrong to assume that the books of Kings, for example, were composed according to the same investigative methods as a recent history of the United States, for example, which we fully expect to be chronologically accurate and completely literal (i.e. no conflation of events or characters, and no archetypes or 'speeches appropriate to the occasion'). Therefore it would be wrong to put biblical chronology in opposition to scientific chronology.

11:12 PM, July 24, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

JD,
Being a religious student at Princeton University, I can understand how would come to believe such things.

4:34 PM, July 25, 2010  
Blogger MSC said...

So JD can you explain why the Jewish calendar reads 5770 this year which represents how many years have elapsed since they believe God created the world? Furthermore, why would this roughly coincide with Bishop Ussher's extensive work using a painstaking literal approach to OT chronology?

6:39 PM, July 25, 2010  
Blogger JD Walters said...

Fred,

I did not learn that from my secular professors at Princeton, but from evangelical scholar John Goldingay. See his Old Testament Theology, Vol.1, pp.859-883 (the Postscript on Old Testament Theology and History). This conclusion is not based on an a priori rejection of the miraculous, but simply by a careful reading of the texts themselves without predetermined conclusions as to what the documents MUST be like. Though I could cite numerous specific passages and instances to support the characterization of the biblical idea of history, it may suffice in this limited blog comment to note that if the OT authors did have something like the modern understanding of historical writing and wrote according to modern historical standards, we would definitely not see what we see in Chronicles, namely a rewriting, with commentary, of the story of Kings without explicit attribution of sources. This is not to say that this was a failing on the part of the Israelites; they simply had a different understanding of the task of historical writing. If we are to take Scripture seriously on its own terms and not be anachronistic in projecting our own modern understandings onto the Bible, we should be open to learning from the biblical authors themselves and attempt to understand how they thought of their work.

7:18 PM, July 25, 2010  
Blogger JD Walters said...

MSC,

The calendar you are referring was established only in the 4th century by Rabbi Hillel II, based on mathematical and astronomical calculations. Then, biblical chronological references were interpreted to fit the framework. So this calendar calculating years since creation is just as anachronistic as Christian young earth creationist efforts.

I'm not saying that the ancient Israelites didn't have any chronological sense whatsoever. Just like their ANE neighbors, they kept chronicles and developed some patchwork dating schemes mainly for liturgical and royal archive purposes. But these dating calculations were not scientific or historical in the modern sense.

Let me ask you a question, now: how do you account for the fact that thematic patterns show up in biblical chronology? For example, the number 40 is used throughout the Bible to refer to the duration of a time of probation or trial? The Israelites wandered for 40 years, Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai, Ninevah had a 40 day probation period and Jesus was tempted for 40 days. Now you might argue that these time periods just so happened to line up, even in one case we have years and in the others we have days, but I think it much more likely, given the thematic connection, that the biblical authors deliberately recorded the duration of these events as 40 days/years in order to evoke the significance of that number from other biblical narratives.

That means that literal chronological accuracy as we understand it was not always high on the priority list of the ancient Israelites. Again, it was only in the 4th Century that an attempt was made to systematize all the various biblical dates into a literal scheme that stretched back to creation.

9:04 PM, July 25, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

JD, it may had been that the Jews rounded dates and numbers, but to treat all such occurrences as merely thematic or symbolic with no real grounding in history ignores the extensive record of chronological markers through out the OT and NT. Honestly. Has anyone ever considered that Israel's wanderings was really 40 years? That Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days? That the tribulation will really be 7 years?

The inspired scripture has given us clear indicators through genealogical records and time markers that we can derive a chronology of biblical history all the way back to the beginning of creation. For example, 1 Kings 6:1 dates Solomon's 4th year as king 480 years after the Exodus. We know from secular records that date was approximately 966 B.C. Additionally, Judges 11:26 speaks of Israel possessing the land by the time of Jephthah, 300 years, which would be around 1105 B.C. The use of genealogical markers throughout the Bible allows us to ascertain approximate dates for specific events. This sort of data cannot be ignored regardless how different the Jews may have reckoned time from us in modern times. In spite of those differences there is enough correlation that we can get a fairly accurate chronological picture of biblical history.

I recommend checking out Rodger Young's work in this area.

6:21 AM, July 26, 2010  
Blogger JD Walters said...

Fred,

I did not say that the Jews never used literal measures of duration. Clearly they did. But equally clearly they also used conventional and thematic measures. As I said above, they used a patchwork of dating measures for different purposes. This puts their understanding of historical writing at odds with our own. For a modern history it would be inconceivable to use a conventional number to represent duration, for example to say that the Cuban missile crisis lasted 40 days because it was a time of trouble and testing for the nation.

"Has anyone ever considered that Israel's wanderings was really 40 years? That Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days? That the tribulation will really be 7 years?"

Yes, I did consider that possibility in my previous post. Quoting from above:

"Now you might argue that these time periods just so happened to line up, even if in one case we have years and in the others we have days, but I think it much more likely, given the thematic connection, that the biblical authors deliberately recorded the duration of these events as 40 days/years in order to evoke the significance of that number from other biblical narratives."

It is entirely possible that these biblical durations lasting 40 days/years is just coincidental. But the thematic connection between these durations makes that highly unlikely. If one of those numbers represented the duration of a war, another the duration of the reign of a king, and another the duration of a sea voyage, then seeing the repeated occurance of 40 days/years would be unremarkable, and the assumption that they refer to literal durations would be justified. But given that invariably when we encounter a duration of 40 days/years a time of probation and testing is depicted, we should conclude that this number forms a motif, and thus was used independently of considerations of literal duration.

And the use of thematic chronological markers is hardly the only indicator we have of the difference between the historical understanding of the ancient Israelites and our own: like I said above, we also have the phenomenon of rewriting, with expansion and commentary of an earlier source without explicitly citing that source. (the example of Kings and Chronicles) Such a practice would be unthinkable in modern times.

I'm going to write a blog post over at Christian CADRE with a fuller explication of this distinction. In my view, not only is it more faithful to Scripture to acknowledge the differences in historical understanding, but it also relieves the apologist of the considerable burden of rationalizing the demand from Scripture of something that it never intended to give.

2:14 PM, July 26, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

JD,
Most of what you are writing here I wouldn't have a major disagreement with other than the fact those chronological numbers are thematic only. Are you then of the opinion you think your position somehow lends a hand to OEC against a biblical view of YEC?

Again, it may be that the ancient Jews reckoned history and chronology slightly different, but even with that difference, they still placed the creation of the earth some 4500 years before Christ. You can't get past this clarity in scripture. I still remain unconvinced those numbers were purely thematic so that they are worthless when it comes to tracking chronological history. You will have to do some fairly heavy lifting to prove otherwise.

4:41 PM, July 26, 2010  
Blogger David said...

Is it safe to assume that you think that the biblical chronology puts Noah's Flood at about 2300 BC?

6:03 PM, July 26, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

There abouts. Probably more like 2500 to 2600 years before Christ.

6:55 PM, July 26, 2010  
Blogger David said...

So you're saying that Usshur was off by 250 to 350 years. That seems like a large error, given the specific information offered in the Bible. How was a date of 2500 to 2600 BC calculated?

8:12 PM, July 26, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

I think Ussher has a good model, but as archaeology has strengthened as a discipline, it has helped to tune our historical chronologies. Where I think there could be possible gaps would be in the century or so after tower of Babel incident. So a fudge of a number of generations could exist there. Overall, however, I believe the biblical genealogies are tight, and though some gaps may exist in the record, it is not the thousands of generations long agers need to make their system work.

But this is all irrelevant to you anyways seeing you believe the Bible to be a big joke.

6:00 AM, July 27, 2010  
Blogger David said...

"So a fudge of a number of generations could exist there."

Doesn't the presence of a "fudge" surprise you, given the general "tightness" of the chronologies? Why should there be a fudge at all?

"I think Ussher has a good model, but as archaeology has strengthened as a discipline, it has helped to tune our historical chronologies."

Ah, good, you respect archeology. Ok, according to archeologists, how long has the Nile Valley been occupied by humans and when where the earliest pyramids built?

I don't think the Bible is a "joke" anymore than I think the Iliad is a joke. I just think it's wrong in several places.

8:42 AM, July 27, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

I don't think the Bible is a "joke" anymore than I think the Iliad is a joke. I just think it's wrong in several places.

Exactly. It's flawed, untrustworthy, errant. It has no divine imprint upon it. In other words "a joke" when it comes to presenting an accurate understanding of history.

9:18 AM, July 27, 2010  
Blogger David said...

Well, it's your word, not mine.

I don't think that all of the history in the Bible is inaccurate, just some of it.

Anyhow, what about the Nile Valley?

10:40 AM, July 27, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

So an omniscient, omnisapient God is mistaken about how He created the world and how He revealed that to humanity?

10:48 AM, July 27, 2010  
Blogger David said...

Nile Valley? Or would you prefer to explain the distribution of angiosperm fossils?

12:30 PM, July 27, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Dave,
Unless we can button down the question as to whether an all knowing, all wise God can provide a clear, concise, accurate revelation as to the history of the world, and then preserve that document in its integrity, then all we are going to be doing is shouting back and forth to each other as to which person says thus and such about the history of the Nile.

12:43 PM, July 27, 2010  
Blogger David said...

I see that you prefer to avoid dealing with the data.

"Unless we can button down the question as to whether an all knowing, all wise God can provide a clear, concise, accurate revelation as to the history of the world..."

Should the question be *can* a god do a given thing or should the question be *did* a god do a given thing? Even if we assume *can*, I think the critical question is *did*. And how are we know what was actually done?

5:16 PM, July 27, 2010  
Blogger JD Walters said...

Fred,

There are various non-thematic chronological markers in Scripture, to be sure, but I don't see evidence that the ancient Israelites believed they had an accurate measure of the years since Creation. That is an abstraction which began, as I noted, in the 4th Century. Whenever the Hebrew writers talk about God's mighty acts in primordial history, the expression they use is primarily something like 'of old', as in Psalm 77:11: "I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; I will remember your wonders of old" The verse does not say "I will remember your wonders from the year 3000 S.C. (Since Creation)!" If the ancient Israelites did have a consciousness of there being a definite number of years since Creation, how is it that they never make reference to such a date? There are chronologies and genealogies, to be sure, but what was their purpose? It wasn't necessarily to keep an accurate record of time since Creation, but more likely served liturgical and royal purposes.

And if the chronological information the Hebrew Bible gives is so 'modern', how come there are two proposed dates for the Exodus with equally competing, believing scholars championing both dates? Why, for that matter, does the first chronological marker for the years since the Exodus (480, another symbolic number in Scripture I might add) come in a much later book? Did the author of Exodus not know who the Pharaoh who knew not Joseph was, and when he reigned? Or perhaps he didn't care, and Pharaoh was deliberately left anonymous, because the point of the Exodus story is to recount God's mighty acts 'of old', not to give an early history of Israel as John Bright wrote, complete with citations, dates for key events, names of key protagonists, etc.

"Exactly. It's flawed, untrustworthy, errant."

Flawed and errant does not mean untrustworthy. Otherwise we would have to conclude we know nothing of 1st Century Judea, because Josephus is a 'flawed', 'errant' historical source. But we do know a lot about 1st Century Judea, because Josephus is, for the most part, a trustworthy, eyewitness source. A few mistakes, exaggerations and outright propaganda here and there do not completely invalidate him as a source. We must of course exercise critical judgment when evaluating the information Josephus gives us.

6:58 PM, July 27, 2010  
Blogger JD Walters said...

Note that I'm not saying how we treat Josephus as a source is completely analogous to how we treat the Bible. But I think the assumption that 'if flawed and errant, therefore untrustworthy' is not sound. It's an extreme either/or that does not correspond to our actual situation as knowers. Speaking of extreme either/ors:

"Unless we can button down the question as to whether an all knowing, all wise God can provide a clear, concise, accurate revelation as to the history of the world, and then preserve that document in its integrity, then all we are going to be doing is shouting back and forth to each other as to which person says thus and such about the history of the Nile."

First of all, what makes you think that the point of the Old Testament was to give a 'clear, concise, accurate revelation as to the history of the world'? Or even one of its main points? In my reading such concerns, again typically modern ones that first came to prominence with the specter of Cartesian radical skepticism, are quite secondary to the main theme of the Hebrew Bible: God's promises to Israel and how he will use Israel to bless the nations. That objective does not presuppose a 'clear, concise, accurate revelation as to the history of the world'. All it requires is that Abraham's call be set in its proper context (notice that Genesis 1-11 is only a very small part of the Pentateuch, compared to the length of time spent on Abraham and God's dealings with him and his descendants), and the story of God's dealings with Israel laid out thematically and didactically in terms of blessings for obedience, curses and destruction for disobedience, and the promise of a new covenant. That's it. Clearly a clear, accurate history of the world was not necessary for that, anymore than it was necessary for salvation history to include the structure of matter as laid out in quantum physics or the history of the many other peoples and civilizations of the world that are not once mentioned in the Bible.

But aside from that, you again present us with a very extreme either/or: either we have an inerrant record of world history from the God who made it, or all we can do is shout back and forth at one another, presumably because reasoning would have no rational foundation. This claims seems quite at odds with our actual situation as knowers. For one thing, the Bible is not an epistemology that provides the standard for judging the truth or falsity of all propositional claims. There are some who have tried to use it as such, but whatever they have gained of knowledge pales before the rich harvest of the natural sciences. Copernicus did not read the Bible to discover that the Earth revolves around the sun, he looked into his telescope and did mathematical calculations, both of which technical tools are scarcely to be found or even described in Scripture, except as an afterthought (cf. the infamous approximation to pi in 1 Kings 7:23), a purely contingent part of the cultural background of the texts, taken for granted because accuracy in such areas was not that important.

6:59 PM, July 27, 2010  
Blogger JD Walters said...

For another thing, I think David has a point about the inconsistency of appealing to archeology in support of the Bible's claims, and then turning around and claiming that archeological reasoning would be nothing but a shouting match if the Bible were not an inerrant record of world history. As we Greeks say, "apo pou kai eos pou?" (roughly 'Since when'?) Archeology works, whether the Bible is inerrant or not. We study remains, look for clues, infer stratification, etc.

God through wisdom (hockma) made the world. That wisdom is not found solely in his written revelation, but also in the ordering of nature and the working of our minds as we perceive, question, reason and debate with one another. The Bible is indispensable for our salvation, to be sure, but it is the revelation of God sufficient for our salvation, not the complete revelation of God (seeing through a glass darkly, and all that).

All that to say, don't worry, be happy! Your faith rests in any case upon your assurance that God in Christ has reconciled you to Himself, the result of the Spirit working through Scripture. That assurance is not tainted by differences between Hebrew and modern concepts of historiography.

7:00 PM, July 27, 2010  
Blogger Steve Lamm said...

JD Walters,

I see from your profile that you are "a religion student at Princeton University, looking for a viable philosophy of life."

I hope that you don't plan to enter into the Christian ministry and become a preacher or teacher. With your low view of Scripture, all you would do is confuse people and discourage them from following Christ and thus bring judgment upon yourself.

There are enough doubters in the ministry already. We don't need more of them.

Steve Lamm

9:18 AM, July 28, 2010  
Blogger MSC said...

Egyptian chronology is by no means settled fact. Regardless of what you think of Velikovsky and "Ages in Chaos", respectable historians like David Rohl, Peter James, Roger Henry and others have advanced his theory while correcting some mistakes and have shown that the consensus view is by no means unshakable. Thus, traditional Biblical chronology is not in necessary conflict with what we know, but in fact accords well with some of the revised chronologies that expose the weaknesses of the traditional ones.

10:59 AM, July 28, 2010  
Blogger David said...

Velikovsky?

So, when were the pyramids built, and what are the dates for, say, the First Dynasty?

1:09 PM, July 28, 2010  
Blogger MSC said...

David Down has Dynasty 1 occuring somewhere around 2100 BC and Dynasty 3 with the first pyramids from around 2080-1950BC. Seneferu's pyramids were built sometime after 1950BC and Khufu's great pyramid shortly after. The dates are approximate as any date prior to the 12th Dynasty is speculative.

3:06 PM, July 28, 2010  
Blogger David said...

MSC,

I assume that you are aware that your date for the first dynasty differs by a thousand years from the date given by the vast, vast majority of Egyptologists. And your pyramid dates are off by about 600 years.

Any evidence to support your dates? Why are dates before the 12th dynasty "speculative"? What are the dates for the 12th dynasty? What's the difference between pre-12th and post-12th dates?

9:09 PM, July 28, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Before we get too far afield, please keep in mind the subject of the article is creation ex nihilo, and what the Bible teaches on the subject. Not the history of the Nile river valley.

9:14 PM, July 28, 2010  
Blogger MSC said...

David,
I suggest you read the works by some of the aforementioned authors.

7:56 AM, July 29, 2010  
Blogger David said...

Yes, this started out ex nihilo, but then others took it into the realm of chronololgy. I was responding to those who seemed to want to talk about chronologies.

10:02 AM, July 29, 2010  
Blogger David said...

MSC,

How about explaining in a sentence or two how the "aforementioned authors" manage to come up with a date for the 1st dynasty that differs by a thousand years for the conclusions of the vast majority of archeologist? How about a sentence or two explaining what changed with the 12th dynasty? This isn't a minor disagreement. This is a radical telescoping of dates.

I assume that you would reject radio-carbon dating?

11:24 AM, July 29, 2010  
Blogger MSC said...

This is my last comment on the matter in order to respect Fred's concern that we are off topic.

It is difficult to summarize the problems with Egyptian chronology as they are quite complicated and I am by no means an expert. There are problems with Manetho's obvious expansion of reigns of the Pharaoh's; there is evidence that pre-dynastic events should be placed in the dynastic period; there are issues of Sumerian influence on Egyptian pyramid technology that does not comport with traditional chronology and the list goes on.

But perhaps most telling is that if Biblical chronology is taken seriously (without imposing a non-literal hermeneutic); the revised chronology fits suprisingly well with what he know culturally and historically from the Biblical record as well as other local cultures such as Assyrian chronology (which fits much better with the Biblical chronology than does the tradition Egyptian chronology). But of course, scholars today routinely reject that the Biblical record has anything historically plausible about it at all. This speaks volumes about their anti-biblical assumptions.

The bottom line is, too many Egyptologists cannot contemplate these radical revisions, whose evidence continues to mount, because it is hard to teach old dogs new tricks and they would have to humbly abandon long-cherished assumptions.

Do the research and draw your own conclusions.

1:26 PM, July 29, 2010  
Blogger David said...

I guess that the answer to my question about the rejection of radio-carbon dating would be "yes".

3:59 PM, July 29, 2010  
Blogger David said...

Did the research. Down is wrong.

Radiocarbon-Based Chronology for Dynastic Egypt, Bronk Ramsey, et al., Science, 18 June 2010,
Vol. 328. no. 5985, pp. 1554 - 1557

10:20 AM, July 30, 2010  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

So did you pay to actually read the article? I guess you could have access at a library. From the abstract available on-line, there findings are based upon a lot of conjecture about how they interpreted the data they got from specific plants.

In the science daily article, the writer notes,

Bronk Ramsey and his colleagues also found some discrepancies in the radiocarbon levels of the Nile Valley, but they suggest that these are due to ancient Egypt's unusual growing season, which is concentrated in the winter months.

Maybe you can explain those discrepancies in such a fashion.

But still, assuming some gaps exist in the biblical genealogical record due to post-flood and post-Babel dispersion, 2600 B.C. isn't too far off. So what's the problem then?

10:32 AM, July 30, 2010  
Blogger David said...

Conjecture?

What exactly do you mean by "conjuncture"?

Discrepancies?

Yes, radiocarbon dates have error bars associated with them. But we're talking about errors of 50 to 150 years, not 600 to 1000 years. The radio-carbon dates closely matched the historical-archeological dates for the Old and Middle Kingdoms. It was the New Kingdom dates that had the greatest "discrepancies", and these were in the neighborhood of 100 to 150 years.

The Down chronology dates are 600 to 1000 years different from the "traditional chronologies". I repeat, 600 to 1000 years, not to mention the other issues of telecoping reigns. The widely accepted chronologies match up pretty well with radio-carbon dating, give or take 50 to 150 years, but the Down chronology is clearly falsified by C-14. It's not even remotely close to the C-14estimates based on over 200 different samples.

"2600 B.C. isn't too far off."

You are talking about 2600 BC as the flood date, right? What about the pyramids? Remember, the Down chronology puts the pyramids at 1950 to 2000 BC, That's 500 to 600 years different from the both historical-archeological and radiometric dates. And remember, the Down chronology allegedly matches the Biblical chronology. ?In other words, the Bible predicts C-14 dates of 2000 BC for the third dynasty, but the C-14 dates say 2600 BC. This is not a small or insignificant difference.

I would also add that radio-carbon dates from numerous other sites in Europe and the Middle East, like early Minoan sites, show zero evidence of a global flood going back in time to 3000, 4000, 5000 BC, and on and on. I picked the Egyptian example, because we have written chronologies that we can use to check the basic reliability of the C-14 method. In fact, when Libby first developed the method, he use Egyptian material to check the basic concepts. But once you demonstate the basic reliability of C-14, you can take these methods and use them to show that countless human occupation sites are much, much older than 2600 BC.

11:50 AM, July 30, 2010  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home