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Do Christians have to believe in a literal 6-day creation?

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Wide White: Do Christians have to believe in a literal 6-day creation?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Do Christians have to believe in a literal 6-day creation?

I've heard some Christians say that you can't pick and choose which parts of the Bible are literal. You either believe it all to be literally true or you believe none of it is literally true.

I recently read a paper (PDF) by Tim Keller called "Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople." Keller, a New York pastor for 35 years, put on paper what I've thought for years but didn't know how to say.

I'm not going to address whether Christians should or shouldn't believe in a literal 6-day creation, only whether or not they must.

In Keller's paper he poses and answers 3 questions:
Question #1: If God used evolution to create, then we can’t take Genesis 1 literally, and if we can’t do that, why take any other part of the Bible literally?

Answer: The way to respect the authority of the Biblical writers is to take them as they want to be taken. Sometimes they want to be taken literally, sometimes they don’t. We must listen to them, not impose our thinking and agenda on them.

Question#2: If biological evolution is true—does that mean that we are just animals driven by our genes, and everything about us can be explained by natural selection?

Answer: No. Belief in evolution as a biological process is not the same as belief in evolution as a world-view.

Question #3: If biological evolution is true and there was no historical Adam and Eve how can we know where sin and suffering came from?

Answer: Belief in evolution can be compatible with a belief in an historical fall and a literal Adam and Eve. There are many unanswered questions around this issue and so Christians who believe God used evolution must be open to one another’s views.
Each question contains pages of more detailed responses that I won't rehash here.

Here are 2 of Keller's key arguments along with quotes from his paper supporting those arguments.

1. Genesis 1 was written in prose with repeated statements similar to a hymn or song.
Genesis 1’s prose is extremely unusual. It has refrains, repeated statements that continually return as they do in a hymn or song. There are many examples, including the seven-time refrain, “and God saw that it was good” as well as ten repetitions of “God said”, ten of “let there be”, seven repetitions of “and it was so,” as well as others. Obviously, this is not the way someone writes in response to a simple request to tell what happened. In addition, the terms for the sun (“greater light”) and moon (“lesser light”) are highly unusual and poetic, never being used anywhere else in the Bible, and “beast of the field” is a term for animal that is ordinarily confined to poetic discourse.
2. The order of creation in Genesis 1 does not follow a "natural order."
For example, there is light (Day 1) before there are any sources of light--the sun, moon, and stars (Day 4). There is vegetation (Day 3) before there was any atmosphere (Day 4 when the sun was made) and therefore there was vegetation before rain was possible. Of course, this is not a problem per se for an omnipotent God. But Genesis 2:5 says: “When the Lord God made the earth and heavens--and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, because the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth, and there was no man to work the ground." Although God did not have to follow what we would call a ‘natural order’ in creation, Genesis 2:5 teaches that he did. It is stated categorically: God did not put vegetation on the earth before there was an atmosphere and rain. But in Genesis 1 we do have vegetation before there is any rain possible or any man to till the earth. In Genesis 1 natural order means nothing--there are three 'evenings and mornings' before there is a sun to set! But in Genesis 2 natural order is the norm.
...
So what does this mean? It means Genesis 1 does not teach that God made the world in six twenty-four hour days. Of course, it doesn’t teach evolution either, because it doesn’t address the actual processes by which God created human life. However, it does not preclude the possibility of the earth being extremely old. We arrive at this conclusion not because we want to make room for any particular scientific view of things, but because we are trying to be true to the text, listening as carefully as we can to the meaning of the inspired author.
I won't expand on anything here or on anything else in Keller's paper. He's done a fine job without me adding anything more.

Keller isn't trying to change others' views on a literal 6-day creation so much as he's trying to contend that there's a legitimate reason to believe the 6-day creation account wasn't literal. He's appealing to Christians that the 6-day creation story is not a key tenet of our faith.

In short, I don't think a Christian must believe in a literal 6-day creation. And while a Christian denouncing evolution may be standing up for their beliefs, I don't see how they're standing up for their faith. Faith in God simply does not require belief in a literal 6-day creation.

But that's my view. What's yours?

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6 Comments:

Anonymous Daniel declared,

to me this whole question can be discussed from a number of different angles - scientifically, linguistically (what does the Hebrew text intend to say), theologically, etc. I am convinced from every single one of these angles of a literal 6-day creation, and a young (6-7,000) earth.

but your question asked if Christians must believe this. from the scientific angle, I say no. I think there's room for Christians to work through those questions from different perspectives. From the linguistic angle, I again say no, so long as one takes the attitude Keller takes in these quotes.

but I hesitate to say the issue doesn't matter when viewed theologically. for example, what you quoted on "Question 3," the subject of death and sin, seems incredibly evasive, and this particular question has been one of my strongest reasons for believing in a literal account of Genesis 1-11, as well as the rest of the book.

The Bible says that death is a curse that came as a result of man's sin, affecting all of creation - humans, animals, the ground, everything (Rom. 8:22).

Therefore I reject a theory (evolution) that uses death as it's primary vehicle of progress (natural selection) as an explanation for how we came to be.

How could God "create" life as we know it using billions upon billions of deaths and the accompanying suffering and pain, and then tell mankind that death is a penalty for their sin? it seems like the world was pretty well cursed before man even came on the scene, according to this view.

Keller's answer to Q3 seemed vague, evasive, and dodging what I view as the biggest theological reason for believing in a literal 6-day creation. and this is where it gets dicy, because what we believe about sin does affect to some degree what we believe about the Gospel. what we believe about Adam as a literal (or not) person affects our understanding of Christ (according to Romans 5 at least.)

so from the theological angle, I say "maybe. let's talk."

:-)

12/14/2010 10:15 AM  
Blogger watchman declared,

It seems unlikely that the writer* of Genesis was all that interested in answering our modern anthropological and biological questions. If I read Genesis correctly, the writer(s) is more interested in telling the story of the Covenant people.

So, why would we be asking Genesis questions that it never intended to answer?

If we asked the people of Genesis how old they thought the Earth was, they would probably look at us like we had a few screws loose. Every time someone spouts off about the age of the Earth and cite biblical text, I give them the same look.

*I think we can say with confidence that Genesis was written by a group of people and redactors.

12/15/2010 9:14 AM  
Blogger watchman declared,

One more thing...

Imagine that I wrote a letter to my children that told the story of our family and our ancestors. I told them about my parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc. I would talk about a great number of things, but the stories and the names would be the most important things.

It would be So and So came from Such and Such Land and he did This and That and his kids' names were WhatsTheirFaces. By time the story was finished, the reader would have a picture of a family that was colorful and blessed.

If you came across my letter and, after reading that story, had questions and interests, that would be fitting. However, if your questions were along the lines of:
'Were there dinosaurs?'
or
'Can your family's claims be verified through carbon dating?'

'If your family was so great, give us archaeological proof'

It would be fair to say, you missed the point.

There are three responses:

1. If you're a part of the family, you value our story for what it is.

2. If you're not a part of the family, then you're bored and couldn't care less.

3. If you're looking for biological evidence for or against your particular cosmological theory, then you're reading the wrong story.

12/15/2010 9:30 AM  
Anonymous Daniel declared,

Watchman~

just curious, what's your basis for claiming to know what the *authors of Genesis intended to communicate and what they didn't?

is just "if you read it correctly"?

if I read it correctly, it's an accurate historical record of all the details it takes the time to record for us. how do we know which questions the *authors of Genesis "intended to answer" and which ones they didn't?

I mean, the whole "story of the Covenant people" thing is an interesting lens to view it through, to be sure, but why should I think that it's an accurate one, or the only one, or even the main one?

were Jesus and the apostles "reading the wrong story" when they quoted Genesis and treated it as a literal historical account?

12/16/2010 9:09 PM  
Blogger watchman declared,

I think the major proof that their intention was to tell the story of a Covenant people is that the whole of Genesis revolved around only the Covenant people:

Noah
Abraham
Isaac
Jacob

We also know that the only people to really record and listen to these stories were Covenant people (Israelites and Jews, later Christians).

There is a vast and wonderful field out there called Textual Criticism that delves in and explains the process of understanding ancient texts based on the authorship and the readership.

As to your question about N.T. understandings, I would simply point out that their story was THE story. They were Jewish people reading their story. In my opinion, to read these things as a bunch of over educated Americans looking for scientific data to back our worldview is a ridiculous travesty. It is akin to looking for phone numbers in Tolstoy.

12/16/2010 11:36 PM  
Anonymous J declared,

Well I don't have a lot to contribute to this debate, but I wanted to thank you, Joey and Watchman, for giving me some hope. I was really lost and I felt very alone in my spiritual journey.

Let me start off with back story: I grew up a Christian, with the Word basically spoon-fed to me. "Genesis is taken literally. Period. If you don't believe that you're not a Christian and you're going to Hell." Yada yada.

Unfortunately, science was my field of study, in which I have earned my doctorate. I became very scientific minded. As the years went by, I found that I could no longer believe the earth was only 7000 years old, nor could I disprove evolution. They have been tested and analyzed thousands of times- but that's another debate....

Anyway, near the end of my schooling I had gotten to the point where I was nearly an atheist. I was led to believe that creation was a literal component of the Bible, which must mean the Bible isn't true. Therefore, Jesus wasn't my savior and God may or may not be up there. I never spoke of it for fear of alienating my Christian family.

It wasn't until recently that God came creeping back into my life- it started with my amazing future wife, whom is a firm believer. I rededicated my life to Christ, and I suppressed my scientific beliefs.

But it got to the point where I needed to face the elephant in the room. That's how I ended up here. This is the first I've told anyone about my dilemma. I feel hopeful that I can start to mesh two beliefs that I thought were once mutually exclusive. It's exciting. This will be a long process, but I feel like I can move my faith forward thanks to reaching out to people like you.

To Daniel, for obvious reasons I strongly disagree with your view! ;) But I respect your faith! What we CAN agree on is John 3:16, and because of that I will sleep well tonight. God bless you all.

J

2/17/2011 12:15 AM  

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