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Examining the ‘new critics’ of Genesis

Books | Some new interpretations of the creation account are ingenious—but are they true?

Four years ago I profiled Hugh Ross, founder and president of Reasons to Believe, in the pages of WORLD. I enjoyed writing this lead:

“When Hugh Ross took his first physics class at the University of British Columbia, the professor gave students a stern warning: If you have a girlfriend, you will fail this course. If you have a job, you will fail. If you have a hobby, you will fail. Ross, now 65, made sure he had none of the above: His sight was set on science from the time at age 7 he asked his parents, ‘Are stars hot?’—and then went to the library to find out.

“Later, a potential distraction entered: Kathy, the woman he married. Ross jokes that ‘I married my wife without any absolute proof that she exists.’ Examining the scientific evidence, though, he went ahead with the wedding on the high probability that she did exist, and after 33 years of marriage feels he has more evidence.”

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In a way, all of us marry Christianity without any absolute, laboratory-level proof that it’s true, and the reason we can do that is that Christ, the church’s Bridegroom, first marries us. We also enter the creation-evolution struggle without absolute proof. Creation is far more probable (and desperate evolutionists have had to fall back on the idea that billions of universes exist, a belief that requires greater faith than anything in Genesis). Yet every year new books arise with new interpretations of Genesis, some of which are ingenious—but are they true?

Ross examines the work of the “new critics” in Chapter 22 of his latest book, Navigating Genesis: A Scientist’s Journey through Genesis 1–11 (RTB Press, 2014). He does so with a kind but firm tone, as evident in his conclusion:

“The new critics’ contribution to truth building by drawing out significant meanings from Genesis that others have missed deserves respect and attention. So does their warning to refrain from reading more into the biblical text than God intends to convey. However … eliminating scientific evidence for the inspiration and trustworthiness of the Bible’s message is tantamount to crippling Christians’ endeavor to advance Christ’s kingdom and fulfill the Great Commission. … Such restrictive interpretations raise the question of why God would want us to remain in the dark about such matters. Is He not a God who desires to make Himself known?”

Please read on and see for yourself. —Marvin Olasky

Chapter 22: New Criticism

Recognizing the damage caused by ongoing and often heated conflict over Genesis—not only among scientists and theologians, higher critics and conservatives, but also within Christian churches and schools—a growing coalition of evangelical leaders and scholars has stepped forward to offer new interpretive approaches. These approaches aim at the laudable goal of restoring peace. They encourage everyone involved in the battle over Genesis to back off from “overinterpreting” or “reading into” the text more than it was intended to communicate.

All the conflict and turmoil could end, they propose, if everyone would just acknowledge that the Genesis creation accounts are beautifully composed works of artistic prose. Some of these scholars argue that the Genesis creation texts communicate physical creation details but not a chronology. Others assert that the texts are limited to refuting the creation stories of the pagan nations surrounding the ancient Hebrews. Others claim physical creation activity is incidental to far more important themes in these passages. Some go so far as to say Genesis 1 and 2 are silent on matters pertaining to the physical aspects of creation. For this latter group, no need exists even to discuss Genesis 1 and 2 in light of established scientific findings. They view any attempt to do so as irrelevant and likely damaging to the Christian faith.

The appeal of these various approaches seems understandable, even laudable. Who, after all, would deny the beauty and artistry of Genesis 1 and 2? What’s more, examples certainly exist of today’s readers asking too much of the text by expecting it to match complex details of advanced and still advancing scientific knowledge. Letting the ancients speak to the ancients seems right and fair. But what do we relinquish if we embrace these limited interpretive approaches? That’s the question this chapter explores.

Framework Interpretation

Among the first of the new critical approaches was introduced by such prominent theologians as Meredith Kline, Henri Blocher, and Bruce Waltke. It has been referred to by various designations, but the most familiar is simply the framework interpretation. This view treats the Genesis creation texts as a basic theology of creation, not as a literal or scientific description of origins. Lee Irons and Meredith Kline recently wrote, “We do not equate a nonliteral interpretation with a nonhistorical interpretation of the text. … We affirm a historical creation, a historical Adam, and a historical Fall.”⁠[1]

Endnotes

1. Lee Irons with Meredith G. Kline, “The Framework View,” in The Genesis Debate: Three Views on the Days of Creation, ed. David G. Hagopian (Mission Viejo, CA: CruxPress, 2001), 220.

2. Henri Blocher, In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis, trans. David G. Preston (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1984), 50.

3. Some examples would be Richard T. Wright, Biology through the Eyes of Faith (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989), 141–159; Francis S. Collins,The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Believe (New York: Free Press, 2006), 206–210; E. K. Victor Pearce, Who Was Adam? 3rd paperback ed.(Walkerville, Republic of South Africa: Africa Centre for World Mission, 1987); Ray L. Elliott, The Third Adam: God’s Scripture Written in the Fossil Record (Neosho, MO: New Leaf, 1989), 24–30.

4. Genesis 1:26–27.

5. Matthew 19:1–6, Mark 10:1–9, Romans 5:12–21, 1 Corinthians 15:20–22, 44–49, 1 Timothy 2:13.

6. Romans 5:12–21, 1 Corinthians 15:20–22.

7. Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross, Who Was Adam? (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005), 55–75, 123–37, 179–243; Fazale Rana, “Orangutan Genetic Diversity Sheds Light on Humanity’s Origin,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), published March 16, 2011, http://www.reasons.org/articles/orangutan-genetic-diversity-sheds-light-on-humanitys-origin; Fazale Rana, Hugh Ross, and Kenneth Samples, “Ancient DNA Shows Interbreeding between Homo Sapiens and Neanderthal,”Science News Flash (podcast), published May 10, 2010, http://www.reasons.org/podcasts/science-news-flash/ancient-dna-shows-interbreeding-between-homo-sapiens-and-neanderthal; Jeff Zweerink, “Does New Date for Neanderthal Extinction Mean the End of Human-Neanderthal Interbreeding?” Today’s New Reasons to Believe (blog), published June 15, 2011, http://www.reasons.org/articles/does-new-date-for-neanderthal-extinction-mean-the-end-of-human-neanderthal-interbreeding.

8. Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross, Who Was Adam? 139–83; Fazale Rana, Hugh Ross, and Steve Scheele, “Evidence From the Fossil Record,” Adam: Miracle, Myth, or Monkey, January 10,2012,http://www.reasons.org/audio/evidence-from-the-fossil-record.

9. Hugh Ross, Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job: How the Oldest Book in the Bible Answers Today’s Scientific Questions (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011), 105–17, 124–28, 140–42.

10. Rana with Ross, Who Was Adam? 77–95; Fazale Rana, “New Statue Figures into Biblical Case for Human Origins,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), published July 30, 2009, http://www.reasons.org/articles/new-statue-figures-into-biblical-case-for-human-origins; Fazale Rana, “New Flute Plays into Biblical Case for Human Origins,” Today’s New Reason to Believe(blog), published August 27, 2009, http://www.reasons.org/articles/new-flute-plays-into-biblical-case-for-human-origins; Hugh Ross, “New Date for First Aussies,” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), published April 1, 2004,http://www.reasons.org/articles/new-date-for-first-aussies.

11. Examples include J. Daniélou, In the Beginning … Genesis I–III, trans. Julien L. Randolf (Baltimore-Dublin: Helicon, 1965); Bernard Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 96–102; Gerhard F. Hasel, “The Polemic Nature of the Genesis Cosmology,”The Evangelical Quarterly 46 (April–June, 1974): 81–102; Gerhard F. Hasel, “The Significance of the Cosmology of Genesis 1 in Relation to Ancient Near Eastern Parallels,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 10 (1972): 1–20; John H. Stek, “What Says the Scripture?” in Portraits of Creation: Biblical and Scientific Perspectives on the World’s Formation, ed. Howard J. Van Till (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 226–35.

12. Ellen van Wolde, Stories of the Beginning: Genesis 1–11 and Other Creation Stories, trans. John Bowden (Ridgefield, CT: Morehouse, 1997).

13. 1 Corinthian 2:12–13, Ephesians 6:17, Colossians 3:16, 1 Thessalonians 2:13, 2 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 1:1–2, Hebrews 4:12.

14. 1 Peter 1:12a.

15. John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009), 113.

16. Walton, Lost World of Genesis One, 107.

17. Ibid., 113.

18. Ibid.

19. Johnny V. Miller and John M. Soden, In the Beginning … We Misunderstood: Interpreting Genesis 1 in Its Original Context (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2012), 189.

20. Ibid., 189–90.

21. Walton, Lost World of Genesis One, 93.

22. Ibid., 118.

23. Ibid., 91, 93, 109.

24. Ibid., 92.

25. Ibid., 93.

26. Ibid., 115.

27. Ibid., 127.

28. Ibid., 116.

29. Ibid.

30. Stephen J. Gould, “Nonoverlapping Magisteria,” Natural History 106 (March 1997): 19–22.

31. 1 Peter 3:15.

32. Walton, Lost World of Genesis One, 21.

33. Walton, Lost World of Genesis One, 16.

34. The classic text on the early history of astronomy is a 522-page book: Arthur Berry, A Short History of Astronomy (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1898). The relevant material to my point can be found on pages 3–61. The book can be read online for free at http://archive.org/stream/shorthistoryofas025511mbp#page/n13/mode/2up. For an abbreviated history of astronomy previous to the time of Christ see George Abell, Exploration of the Universe, 2nd ed. (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1964): 7–23.

35. Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, “The Singularities of Gravitational Collapse and Cosmology,” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London A 314 (January 27, 1970): 529–48; Arvind Borde, Alan H. Guth, and Alexander Vilenkin, “Inflationary Spacetimes Are Incomplete in Past Directions,” Physical Review Letters 90 (April 18, 2003): 151301.

36. Fang Li Zhi and Li Shu Xian, Creation of the Universe (Singapore: World Scientific, 1989), 173.

37. Arno Penzias quoted in Cosmos, Bios, and Theos: Scientists Reflect on Science, God, and the Origins of the Universe, Life, and Homo Sapiens, eds. Henry Margenau and Roy Abraham Varghese (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1992), 83.

38. Edward Harrison, Masks of the Universe (New York: Collier Books, Macmillan, 1985), 252.

39. Documentation of these discoveries are summarized in my book, More Than a Theory: Revealing a Testable Model for Creation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009) and presented in more detail in the following Reasons to Believe books: Fazale Rana and Hugh Ross, Origins of Life: Biblical and Evolutionary Models Face Off (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2004); Rana with Ross, Who Was Adam?;Fazale Rana, The Cell’s Design: How Chemistry Reveals the Creator’s Artistry (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008);Fazale Rana, Creating Life in the Lab: How New Discoveries in Synthetic Biology Make a Case for the Creator (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011); Hugh Ross, Why the Universe Is the Way It Is (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008);Hugh Ross, Beyond the Cosmos: What Recent Discoveries in Astrophysics Reveal About the Glory and Love of God, revised and updated ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2010);Ross, Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job; Hugh Ross, A Matter of Days: Resolving a Creation Controversy (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2004); and Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos: How the Greatest Scientific Discoveries of the Century Reveal God (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1995).

40. Antony Flew and Roy Abraham Varghese, There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2007); Antony Flew and Gary Habermas, “My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism: A Discussion Between Antony Flew and Gary Habermas,” Philosophia Christi 6, no. 2 (2004): 197–211.

41. L. Jetsu et al., “Did the Ancient Egyptians Record the Period of the Eclipsing Binary Algol—The Raging One?” Astrophysical Journal 773 (August 10, 2013): id. 1.

42. Hebrews 11:24.

43. Walton, Lost World of Genesis One, 17.

44. Ibid.

45. Ibid., 105.

46. Christian Reformed Church, Ecumenical Creeds and Reformed Confessions (Grand Rapids: CRC Publications, 1988), 79.

47. Christian Reformed Church, Ecumenical Creeds and Reformed Confessions (Grand Rapids: CRC Publications, 1988), 79.

48. I relate this history in my book, Fingerprint of God, commemorative ed. (Glendora, CA: Reasons to Believe, 2010), 15–39.

49. Ibid.

50. Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, 2nd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1992), 106–7.

51. Walton, Lost World of Genesis One, 105.

52. For a summary of ancient Christian discernment, see Etienne Gilson,The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press, 1956), 130–59. For a summary of ancient Jewish discernment, see Gerald L. Schroeder, Genesis and the Big Bang: The Discovery of Harmony between Modern Science and the Bible (New York: Bantam books, 1990), 58–69, 84–95.

53. Walton, Lost World of Genesis One, 171. Here, in his answer to the question, “If this is the ‘right’ reading, why didn’t we know about it until now?” Walton, in part, responded, “It was only with the decipherment of the ancient languages and the recovery of their texts that windows were again opened to an understanding of an ancient worldview that was the backdrop of the biblical world.”

54. See, for example, Psalm 119:160; Isaiah 45:18–19; John 8:31–32, 10:35b; Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18, 1 John 5:6.

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