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The Christadelphian | August 2015

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial Burden bearing
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning “Harden not your hearts” | Brian Woodall
  • The seven last sayings of Christ (2) | Paul Cresswell
  • Two women of Thyatira | Mark Sheppard
  • Creation or Evolution – the integrity and truth of scripture | Stephen Palmer
  • Archaeology in focus A pair of turtle-doves | James Andrews
  • An A-Z of discipleship ‘B’ for Balance | Amy Parkin
  • 100 years ago
  • Faith Alive! Paul (2) | David Simpson
  • German soldiers baptized at Nottingham | Vic Aucott
  • Jamaica – tiny missionaries | Antonia Giordano
  • Signs of the times  Israel and Gaza | Tony Bradshaw
  • Israel and their Land A nuclear deal | Roger Long
  • Epilogue “Let the will of the Lord be done” | David Caudery
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

Creation or Evolution – the integrity and truth of scripture

This is the first of three articles about the importance of the Creation-Evolution debate from a Biblical rather than a scientific perspective.

Evolution as a scientific theory of the origin of species depends upon natural, undirected chemical accidents that by chance gave survival and reproductive advantage. Whilst scientists can point to small-scale examples of such natural selection, like the development of antibiotic resistant infections, it is a vast presumption to go from this to saying that the wonderful complexity of all life is explained by evolution. In contrast, the Bible teaches that the universe and “all things therein” came about by the plan and purpose and creative acts of God, evidenced by the amazing design so obvious throughout nature. The conflict between the two positions is stark and cannot be avoided. In Western society today the consensus has come down on the side of evolution and consequently more and more people take an atheist viewpoint.

However, there is a third position, or rather set of positions, which has been taken by mainstream Christian denominations for very many years, theistic evolution. [1] The more conservative evangelical churches have all this time held out against theistic evolution and have accepted a literal interpretation of Genesis; but now that world is in turmoil. [2] A new wave of theistic evolution is being promoted, but significantly by scientists [3] who still want to retain a commitment to the Bible as God’s word; and this movement is influencing many others through internet discussions.

We can be grateful to some of these scientists because they have responded forthrightly to the New Atheists both in writing and in face to face debate, and have shown the soundness of belief in the Creator from a scientific and a philosophical perspective. Nevertheless the challenge of theistic evolution to the plain teaching of scripture is just as profound now as it ever was. The problem comes to a head when the special creation of Adam and Eve is considered. The plain and literal sense of scripture has to be set aside. Theistic evolutionists unashamedly insist that science has proved the case for evolution and therefore it is our understanding of the scriptures that has to be readjusted.

For theistic evolutionists who are committed to plenary inspiration there are two obvious problems. First, how to understand the Creation record of Genesis, and secondly, what to do about the Gospels and Epistles that treat the Genesis record as literal truth.

Given there is a wide range of positions, there will be a range of approaches to harmonising theistic evolution with Genesis. Here are three approaches taken from a mainstream influential theistic evolution publication [4] which are illustrative.

  1. Genesis 1-3 is “myth” intended only for theological and not for historical purposes: “Adam and Eve were not historical figures at all, and the early chapters of Genesis are symbolic stories in the genre of other ancient Near Eastern literature. They convey important and inspired theological truths about God and humanity, but they are not historical in the sense people today use the word.” [5]
  2. Genesis 1-3 is “proto-history” using personification of the emergence of a group of humans who had evolved a need to seek God. The Fall is a parable of how some of humankind rejected their growing awareness of God and became alienated from Him.
  3. A variant of B is to say that Genesis 2-3 refers to two real people, neolithic farmers chosen out of a group by God who revealed Himself to them so that they became “in his image”. They were the godly line, given stewardship of the environment, but they sinned and became alienated from God. Other hominids with whom their children interbred were co-existing outside the garden. Some say that “God entered into a special relationship with a pair of ancient representatives of humanity about 200,000 years ago in Africa. Genesis retells this historical event using cultural terms that the Hebrews in the ancient Near East could understand”, and others say that “Adam and Eve are recent representatives, living perhaps 6,000 years ago in the ancient Near East rather than Africa”.

A fourth more conservative view might be that evolution occurred up to and including humans but that Adam and Eve were separately and specially created. Usually, however, this view also has the children of Adam and Eve intermarrying with evolved hominins.

The literary argument

One common argument for reading Genesis in a non-literal way is to say that the nature of the text indicates that it was not intended to be taken as literal truth.

  1. Contradictory accounts? It is claimed that scholars agree that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 provide two different and contradictory accounts of the creation of humans. Yet these two chapters are easily understood as complementary, chapter 2 expanding the Genesis 1:26-27 summary, and giving details of their placement in the Garden. Genesis 2:9 and 2:19 refer to the creation of plants and animals and these verses occur after the account of the creation of Adam, but as the ESV and other translations indicate the sense of the verses is that God had already created these – as a straightforward reading of Genesis 1 and 2 would indicate anyway. Another proposed discrepancy reflects assumptions about authorship. Only in Genesis 2 is God referred to as Yahweh and critics want to say that this indicates different authorship from Genesis 1, a clear error on their part since God is the author of both chapters.
  2. Similarities with ancient myths? It is argued that Genesis 1-11 has a literary form that indicates a genre of literature that is not history but instead comprises imaginative stories about the origins of key phenomena such as the origins of marriage, the daily grind of life, alienation from God, and the diversity of languages. Some will admit there were one-off events in the past to which the stories are related but the symbolic, prototypical language is not to be taken literally – as distinct from literarily. Because of the similarities between the Bible account and the creation legends of the Middle East it is argued that the Genesis stories are a retelling of ancient Near East creation myths in a way that this time teaches the truth about the One God and a humankind astray because of their own sins. But how similar are the Biblical and mythological accounts? Common features such as the garden, being formed from clay and becoming like gods appear in the non-Biblical accounts in childish fantastical stories. Contrast the simple dignity of scripture. Which of the accounts came first and which is derivative? Internal evidence from Genesis and the testimony of passages such as Romans 4:23, Galatians 3:8 and James 2:23 suggest that each section of Genesis was written soon after the events, in harmony with the principle that God reveals His word to His servants throughout history. Is it not most probable that the first writing and the first narratives were scripture and that men in “seeking out many inventions” strayed from the truth and invented their own stories, albeit retaining some points of contact with the true? Why should we assume that the Bible narrative “borrows from Mesopotamian mythology” rather than the other way around?
  3. Literary structures? Another line of argument is based on the literary elegance of the Genesis account, most notably “the powerful symmetry between the two triads of days” where the spaces of heaven, sea and land are first created, then to be filled by the stars, the fish and the animals. In addition there are other literary patterns that to some speak of a non-literal text. But what is the basis of saying that the undoubtedly wonderful and powerful literary structures of God’s word imply non-literality? Similar literary forms can be found throughout scripture [6] and they are not limited to the poetic – they include narrative descriptions of literal events of great importance.

The teaching of the Lord Jesus

Let the Lord himself teach us how we should read Genesis 1 and 2. Jesus says:

Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh.”  (Matthew 19:4-6)

The reference the Lord makes to the “beginning” is a clear reference to the text of Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning”. The reference to “made them male and female” is a quotation from the key passage of Genesis 1: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (verses 26,27). The rest of the Lord’s words are a quotation from Genesis 2: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (verse 24).

Here the Lord establishes the integrity and authority of Genesis 1-2 as scripture and he draws seamlessly from the two chapters, emphasising their authority as the word of God. Theistic evolutionists who want to accept the inspiration of scripture will argue that there is nothing in the Lord’s words that excludes the evolution of humans. They may say that Jesus was not teaching anthropology but rather he was teaching the sanctity of marriage. Indeed he was teaching the sanctity of marriage, but he begins with a statement about origins that are recorded in Genesis 1-2: God made them male and female from the beginning. It is “for this cause” or “because of this”, says Jesus, that a man and a woman will fulfil their God-designed roles through the institution of marriage. Notice that there is an asymmetry in the relationship following on from the way male and female were created. It is the man that leaves parents to cleave to his wife, not the other way around.

There is no prospect of bringing this passage into line with evolutionary thought: it bears no resemblance to the notion that gender evolved millions of years before there were mammals let alone hominids. If male and female co-evolved why would there be any distinction? The Lord is implying what the Apostle Paul makes very apparent in 1 Corinthians 11, that man “… is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man” (1 Corinthians 11:7-9).

There is a clear hierarchy deriving from the order of creation. Man was made in the image and likeness of Elohim but woman was “of the man”. The man existed first and the woman was created out of and for the already existing man. No evolutionary account can concede this point. If there were other hominids from which Adam was taken and / or into which his children married, why was there no female to keep Adam company? This theistic evolutionist view is also opposed by Genesis 2:5, “there was not a man to till the ground”, and 3:20 which says that Eve was “the mother of all living”.

What theistic evolutionists have to do is to ‘rewrite’ scripture so that God takes an evolved hominid male and female or a group of hominids and changes them in some psychological way to make them in some sense in His image. The Lord then institutes marriage. The argument would have to start something like this: because God has now revealed Himself to Adam then man and woman should join in marriage. Yet the Lord’s argument is not this, but rather it is because God made them male and female that marriage follows. If God did not make woman as described, then where is the force of the Lord’s words, “because of this”?

The teaching of Paul

Some theistic evolutionists argue that the Gospels and Acts are far from definitive about the reality of Adam and Eve, and it is only really the Apostle Paul who stands in the way of a fully allegorical interpretation. Here is one example of a writer dealing with the apostle:

“In the New Testament, Paul is the only writer to appeal to the story of Adam, Eve, and the serpent. Nowhere in the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the General Epistles, or the book of Revelation is the story appropriated … To judge from his surviving correspondence, Paul does not seem to have made Adam the object of much theological reflection. Nor did he make exegesis of Genesis 3 a centre-piece of his theological analysis of sin.” [7]

The writer of this article clearly has a very different view of the status of the Apostle Paul from ours. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that Paul was chosen by the Lord directly through his own intervention and not through the choice of the other apostles. His commission was impressive, to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. He was given the Holy Spirit, as other apostles, to lead him into all truth. Peter at the end of his life refers to the writings of Paul as scripture, which the unstable wrest to their own destruction. If we conclude that Paul was not writing scripture or at times writing “without much theological reflection”, then we must ask what authority the epistles have for us. And if they have no consistent authority we have lost the New Testament as our foundation. For those who depend upon the Church as the authority on what to believe or for those who depend upon an “indwelling Spirit” that guides them personally into truth, the authority of scripture is not so critical. They can have the apostle sometimes getting it wrong. But for us a wholly inspired word of God is an essential foundation for the survival of the faith preached by the apostles and prophets. And it is the wonder of that word, including the power of Bible prophecy, that is the living God’s own proof of His existence and His purpose.

Stephen Palmer

[1] “Theistic evolution is not a scientific theory, but a range of views about how the science of general evolution relates to religious beliefs in contrast to special creation views” (Wikipedia). Someone like Francis Collins, founder of Biologos, sees God acting only at the beginning in setting the whole process of evolution going, whilst others see God as more hands-on.

[2] www.economist.com

[3] For example, biologos.org.

[4] Broadly based on the options described by D. Alexander, Creation and Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? (2008), Monarch, Oxford, UK, ISBN 978-1-85424-746-9.

[5] biologos.org.

[6] chiasmusxchange.com gives several examples.

[7] Daniel C. Harlow, “After Adam: Reading Genesis in an Age of Evolutionary Science”, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, Volume 62, Number 3, September 2010.

 

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