Well…it all started like this, you see…(Part II)

Before diving into more recent theological history, I would like to amend my previous post, with the fact that at least three other early church fathers echoed the views of Philo and Augustine: Justin Martyr (c. 100-165), Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-216) and Origen (c. 185-254) (Contra Celsus 6.60).

Although Biblical scholars have grappled with OT history for centuries, it wasn’t until the 1650s when James Ussher (1581-1656) John Lightfoot (1602-1675) separately calculated the day of creation to 23 October 4004 BC and August 26 3929 BC, respectively. In order to calculate these dates was a massive feat in literary and Biblical scholarship requiring a thorough knowledge of the texts, history, and ancient languages. The Protestant Reformation saw the rise of a more Biblical, and consequently more literal, hermeneutic, which paved the way for a more literal interpretation of Genesis and a six-day creation. 100 years later, Biblical scholarship on OT chronology (that is, Ussher & Lightfoot) was reflecting this interpretational shift.

Whereas early Churh Fathers and Christian theologians have defended an allegorical interpretation of Genesis into the distant past, it is only over the past four-hundred years that the literal interpretation has begun to gain a foot-hold in main-stream Christian theology. A second impetus for the young-earth/literal view was the rise of Darwinianism beginning in 1859 when Charles Darwin (1809-1882) published his On the Origin of Species. As I mentioned several months ago in our review of Ben Stein’s movie Expelled, Darwinianism easily leads to an atheistic world-view, because i) it seems to eliminate the need for an explanation of human life and ii) it seems to imply an arbitrary or relative system of morality. Both of these ideas are obviously a threat to Christian theology, so I would suggest (although I am by no means an expert on the history of Christian thought and its developmental patterns) that fundamentalists, fearing the potential implications of evolutionary anthropogeny, have reacted in favor of a literal interpretation of Genesis, riding on the tidal wave created by the Biblical emphasis of the Protestant Reformation and the work of Biblical scholars such as Ussher and Lightfoot.

This line of thinking began to blossom in the 20th century. George McCready Price was an early proponent of creation science, well known for his 1923 book, The New Geology. Later Henry Morris and John Whitcomb adapted Price’s theories into their own famous book The Genesis Flood, in 1961. They focus on Noah’s flood in Genesis as a geologically formative period in the history of the world, saying that most of the earth’s current structures were developed at that time. Morris went on to establish the Institute for Creation Research in Dallas, Texas in 1970.

Due to scientists and pseudo-scientist/theologians, these ideas began to permeate the masses of Christendom, particularly among the fundamentalists. Growing up in a fundamentalist Baptist church, this truth is obvious to me, because I don’t really recall being taught anything other than the literal interpretation of Genesis, that God actually created the universe in six days. I was never told that it wasn’t really until the 20th century that this view began to take hold in the Church, and largely as a reaction to Darwinian anthropogeny. I don’t think that I was ever taught about other views because I was intentionally being programmed, but because young-earth creationism had rooted itself so firmly in the Church that the lay-people really weren’t aware of its recent origin or alternative Christian views.

To recap, for the first 15 centuries of Christianity, young-earth creationism was rejected by the leading scholars and theologians, who favored an allegorical interpretation of Genesis. During the Protestant Reformation (16th century), more emphasis was put on the authority of Scripture and literal interpretation. In the 17th century (1650s) Ussher and Lightfoot published their chronologies, which indicated a relatively short history of the world, establishing the point of creation around 4000 BC. In the 19th century, however, young-earth creationism arose as a counter-attack to the mounting threat of Darwinianism, and in the 20th century, Christian theologians and scientists lent more formality to the view, and are responsible for its dissemination throughout the fundamentalist majority as one of, if not the primary view.

Now that we have given some thought to the historical development of interpreting the creation account of Genesis, we are prepared to dive into the text itself and look for interpretive clues, feeling out each view and trying to decide the advantages and disadvantages of taking either one. This is where I will begin in my next post.

-James, the younger brother


10 Responses to Well…it all started like this, you see…(Part II)

  1. dissapointed says:

    your facts are off brother. Be careful what you try and state as fact – CHECK your sources CAREFULLY.
    I can tell you are a very young man, and have not had much experience in real lived out Christianity. Get into the battle, reach out to those who will not come into a building to “feel God.” Then you will see . . . you have a lot to learn brother!

  2. friend of Graham says:

    “I found that the church fathers unequivocally believed in a young earth and a literal interpretation of Genesis 1”

    Here are two of the most respected Commentaries around who hold to a “six day” creation as outlined in Genesis and Exodus-
    Brown, Driver and Briggs, Hebrew-English Lexicon, Hendrickson, p. 550, 1997. Return to text.
    Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich, Greek Lexicon, University of Chicago, p. 412, 1952. Return to text.

  3. Jack nelson says:

    Here is a conference you must attend –

    2008 International Conference on Creationism


  4. Matt says:

    I will note that judging by IP and email address all of these comments are from the same person that we previously had a conversation with (on my post, “A Creation Story”, https://consanguinity.wordpress.com/2008/05/10/a-creation-story/), who then called himself Steven Dawkins. I’ve decided to go ahead and allow his comments, but I do find it curious that he feels the need to conceal his identity. I thought other readers should also be aware of this.

  5. cheno says:

    I find it interesting that the citations are obviously copy/pasted from an internet source. You can clearly see this from where it says “Return to text.”

    ssincerely, albeit slightly missspelled,

  6. John says:

    James (and by the way, it really is me) when you look into the text itself could you look closely at Genesis 1:20-21? Most translations have always used the word “‘birds” or “fowls” in these verses, but I’m come across some interpretations that it could be “flying things.” If it is “flying things”, then that could be insects? That would put the order of creation more in line with what scientists think. Therefore, we would have:1) formless and void 2) light and darkness 3) waters and the expanse 4) ocean which led to land 5) plants 6) sun and moon (ah well-that still doesn’t work) 7) sea creatures and flying things (INSECTS?) livestock, creeping things and beasts) and 8) man with a living soul. The research I’ve come across says that the fossil record has insects, including flying ones on dry land before the rise of amphibians, reptiles, mammals, etc. Let me know what you think?

  7. James says:

    So, disappointed, Friend of Graham, Jack nelson, or Steven Dawkins, or whoever you are, while I am not an expert on the history of the early church, I have read enough to know that your statements are simply false. I feel no need to argue against you, considering that you are only spreading unfounded propaganda. What I can say, however, is this: read St. Augustine, instead of misleading quotations. He has been misunderstood as defending the young-earth view, where he is really just operating within the language of the Genesis text, which he clearly addresses elsewhere. He actually wrote an entire work against the literal interpretation. I choose him, because I have actually read him in depth (Confessions and City of God). If my facts are off about Augustine, then I have understood very little of what I have read. From briefly glancing at Eunice Graham’s website, it is apparent that his methodology is flawed. He collected quotations by a computer search, and did not glean them from a direct reading of the text. As they say, a little knowledge can be very dangerous. In short, I think Augustine’s view is more complicated than you would think.
    On another note, I would appreciate it if your subsequent comments on this blog would be restricted to the topic being discussed, not to the people discussing them. I find your ad hominem stabs irrelevant and distasteful. More importantly, we are to sharpen one another as brothers in Christ, not tear each other down.

  8. James says:

    John, I am sorry to say this, but I feel entirely unqualified to answer your question. First of all, I don’t read Hebrew. Second, I’m not a scientist. I haven’t ever put serious thought to the scientific “possibility” of the sequence of creation, but even if I did, I don’t think my scientific “know-how” is sufficient to really sort things out. According to my reading of the creation account, it is really only important that there IS order in the creation (God is a God of order), not WHAT the order is. The numerology, order, sequence,etc. are all literary devices with mostly symbolic and metaphorical meaning. I sympathize with Augustine when he wrote about how mind-boggling it is to even conceive of creation from an objective/scientific point of view (see Part I of this post). The only kind of writing that can attempt to describe it is poetry. I don’t think it is a coincidence that all the ancient cosmogonies are poetry. It is simply too hard to think of something coming from nothing.

  9. Matt says:

    While I can’t say I’m qualified to answer your question either, I can tell you how some other people would answer it. There are some scholars (a group that I refer to as “old earth creationists” in my post “A Creation Story”) who hang on to a literal interpretation of Genesis despite the fact that they believe in an old earth. Hugh Ross is perhaps the best example. He does think that Genesis is an accurate scientific description of how life formed on earth, and he interprets the days as ages (which is actually one valid way of translating the Hebrew). In fact Ross’s story is interesting in that part of the reason he came to be a Christian was that he read Genesis (as an agnostic scientist) and was struck by how accurately it described the current scientific picture of how life arose on the earth. If you’re interested in this topic probably the best thing is to check out his book “The Genesis Question” (which has all the details of his view of Genesis) or his website (which also has a lot of into) http://www.reasons.org. Specifically you might see:

  10. John says:

    Thanks, Matt. I took a look at reasons.org and like it. Not sure I agree with everything he says, but very interesting.

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