A Walk through the 1689 Baptist Confession, pt.10: The Literal Nature of Creation

1689conf

Chapter 4: Of Creation, para. 1

1._____ In the beginning it pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, to create or make the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good.
( John 1:2, 3; Hebrews 1:2; Job 26:13; Romans 1:20; Colossians 1:16; Genesis 1:31 )

Understanding the Confession

The Literal Nature of Creation

If anything should be obvious it is that this chapter of the confession assumes a very literal understanding of Genesis 1 & 2. All three paragraphs (we will look at paragraphs 2-3 next time) make repeated and explicit reference to the events of those chapters in ways which make it clear that the authors of the confession understood the creation narrative as most literal and historical. As such the confession here is serving as an accurate guide to the meaning of Scripture as the Bible does indeed teach that God did make the world in a literal week of creation.

Two classes of interpreters have departed from the historic position of creation as laid out here in the confession. In this way they have attempted to accommodate the Bible to the great age of the earth proposed by modern science. First, there are the day-age theorists. These interpreters have asserted that the term day (Hebrew ‘yom’) used in Genesis 1 and 2 has the figurative meaning of age, referring to a long and indeterminate amount of time. The second class of interpreters have simply undermined that the creation account is historical narrative but rather simply allegorical or poetic in genre. Both of these classes of interpretation fail to do justice to the clear teaching of Scripture. I want to now unpack a few arguments for why we must see Genesis 1-11 as a literal historical narrative.

First, the idea that Genesis 1-11 is figurative must be addressed. There are parts of the Bible, of course which are indeed figurative. However, a clear literary analysis of these chapters will convince the reader that it clearly bears the marks of historical narrative. For instance, if we take Genesis 12 and following as historical narrative (which would be an extremely radical position to deny) then it cannot be doubted that the first eleven chapters are intended to also be understood as such. The genealogies of Genesis 10-11 conclude with the familial background of Abraham. The genealogy of Genesis 11:10-32 is identical in structure to that found in Genesis 5. The genealogy of Genesis 5 begins with Adam and Seth, thus a seamless literary structure and genre ties Abraham to Adam. Therefore, if there is a literary genre break between 11 and 12 it is imperceivable to the reader. Furthermore, if Genesis 1-11 is a kind of literature not meant to be understood literally, one is baffled by the constant impression of plain historicity the chapters gives us. The location of Eden is described in detail (Gen. 2:8-17). The genealogies show no difference in structure or style from those used throughout the rest of the Bible (1 Chronicles 1 and Luke 3:23-28). The precise chronology of the flood is given as well as the exact dimensions of the ark. The nations that flow out of the sons of Noah are clearly literal nations, not figurative ones. Thus if such language from these chapters in the Bible intend to be understood literally then it appears impossible to know with any certainty at all what the Bible attend to be understood literally and what it does not. This would vastly undermine the perspicuity of Scripture.

Secondly, we must address the the more radical notion that the historical details in these chapters of primitive history are merely packing materials which carry the vase of divine truth, but are not themselves divine truth. The New Testament doctrine of Scripture does not allow for the possibility that parts of the Old Testament may be uninspired, In John 10:35 the Lord Jesus asserts that “the Scripture cannot be broken, three times in Matthew 4 facing down the temptation of Satan, he appeals to Old Testament text as inspired by God. The New Testament writers refer to a literal fall, with a literal Adam and Eve, a literal flood account, etc. To write these off as merely uninspired packaging to deliver truth vastly undermines the biblical testimony, which devastatingly argues for the literal nature of the creation account (see: Matt. 19:4-6; 24:37-39; Mk. 2:27-28; 10:6; Lk. 3:23-38; John 8:44; Rom. 5:12-19; 1 Cor. 11:7-12; 15:21-22. 44-49; Eph. 2:3; 1 Tim. 2:13-14; Heb. 11:3-7; James 3:9; 1 Pet. 3:20; 2 Pet. 2:5; 1 John 3:8; Jude 14-15).

Some try to argue that the creation account of Genesis 1-2 only describes a literary framework for the real message, but that the 7 days need not be understood literally. Therefore, one would expect to find this concept of 7 days fade throughout Scripture if it did not bear utter significance, but that is the opposite of what we see. Interestingly we find the creation week has continuing and enlarged significance attributed to it. The Lord himself in no less a place than the Ten Commandments attributes significance precisely to the seven days of creation. The Lord insists that he made everything in exactly 6 days, and rested on the 7th and therefore he blesses that 7th day as a Sabbath rest to be observed and set apart as holy (Ex. 20:8-11). By worshipping the Lord on the 7th day, Israel was saying that the God they worshipped was precisely the God who made the world in six days and rested the seventh. Lest it be thought that this is attributing to much significance to the use of the creation week in Exodus 20, we must refer to a second passage where the creation week is also loaded with great theological significance. Exodus 31:15-17 – Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’” The celebration of the sabbath is identified in these verses as both a sign and a covenant. Why? The sabbath is a sign and a covenant attesting the fact that the God of Israel is the God who made the world in six days and rested on the seventh!

Worst of all is that many Christians have adopted the uniformitarianism of the naturalists. This is the view that uniformity of natural causes for the physical world is never disrupted by the supernatural. Thus, in a uniformitarian world the miraculous is impossible. Two things make such a perspective scripturally impermissible. the Bible explicitly repudiates the concept of a world in which natural causes are uniform and explicitly affirms the concept of a world history punctuated by events which transcend the processes and laws of the world as it was created by God. Miracles are not conceived here as God tearing open the fabric of natural laws and causes alien to himself or existing apart from himself. Natural laws are simply those ways which the faithful God of Creation has chosen normally to operate in the world. All we are saying is that the God who created such natural laws and who is personally at work in the natural processes they govern is not locked into operating in those ways. God is at liberty to transcend such natural laws and do things in a different way calculated to manifest his glory and transcendence to sinners.

The key passage which asserts the liberty of God is 2 Peter 3:1-13. Note the repudiation of uniformitarianism in the passage. The concept of the uniformity of natural causes is stated quite clearly in verse 4, “They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” It is seen as logically requiring and actually resulting in the denial of the Second Coming of Christ. In verses 5 – 6 this viewpoint is characterized as ignorance based on insufficient and partial data, “ For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.” Notice how these verses also affirm a world history that is punctuated by acts of God transcending the normal processes of the world.

The Bible records events which allow Christians to accept in some form and at some point the concept of apparent age. Two such events can be cited, Genesis 2:6 record ts the creation of man. On the sixth day, when Adam and Ever were created, how old would they have looked to a modern scientist? Undoubtedly, much older than one day! Secondly, John 2:1-11 records how Jesus made wine out of water. This wine had certain physical characteristics which were commented upon by the ruler of the feast (v.10). A scientist, and even a non-scientist, especially the wine-expert of the day, no doubt would have found in this wine plenty oof things to indicate an age far in excess of ten minutes (think of necessary fermentation time, etc.). The wine expert might even have been able to specify what vineyards and varieties of grapes could bring about this “good wine.” But all such indications of history were merely apparent with no basis in actual chronological time. The very idea of the miraculous and the supernatural requires the idea of apparent age. To scorn the concept of apparent age is to scorn the miraculous. On the other hand, the acceptance of the miraculous, along with the concept of apparent age, explains many of the problems posed by evolutionary science for the biblical viewpoint.

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