(This is the third post in my Creation and Evolution Basics series. If you haven’t already, be sure to read 3 Big Reasons You Need to Be Up to Speed on Current Views and The Six Key Views You Need to Understand.)
I’m officially obsessed with the creation and evolution debate.
Three months ago, I couldn’t have cared less. In the last two months, I’ve read more than 2,100 pages of books on the biblical and scientific support for the varying views I outlined here!
Aside from wanting to understand this for the sake of my own faith and parenting, I greatly hope that my learnings will benefit readers of this blog as I work to distill those 2,100+ pages I’ve read into a series of manageable blog posts (just in case you don’t feel like reading thousands of pages on this yourself!).
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing posts explaining the key information you need to know about each view (while writing on other topics as well). As a starting point, however, I think it’s important to have a general understanding of why Christians have differing views on origins. Without that understanding, it’s easy to think that the only view a Christian can/should have is the one you have.
After reading books from every viewpoint, I’ve concluded there are four major reasons Christians come to varying conclusions on origins. I’ll discuss two in this post and two in the next due to length.
Please note that I am not offering a personal opinion on any of these views. This is only to explain how Jesus-loving, Bible-believing Christians can differ in conclusions.
1. We have differing interpretations of Genesis.
I have to start here because I think this is where Christians misunderstand each other most. Often times, Young Earth Creationists (YECs) – those who believe God created the world in six literal days 6,000 to 10,000 years ago – frame the view in terms of “you either believe the Bible or you don’t.”
It’s important to acknowledge that no professing Christian starts from a position of just not “believing” in the Bible. We must humbly acknowledge that, even amongst people who love the Lord and treasure the Bible, there can be significant disagreement over the interpretation of passages. It’s no different in the case of Genesis. The question amongst Christians is not whether someone believes in the Bible, but rather what that person believes Genesis says and means. It’s not as simple as “just” reading what Genesis says because we all know that a responsible reading of any biblical text requires appropriate interpretation; we frequently don’t take biblical passages in their most literal way (e.g., Psalm 96:10 says, “the world is firmly established; it cannot be moved” – but we no longer conclude that means the earth doesn’t rotate).
In “Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? Who They Were and Why You Should Care,” author C. John Collins explains the four ways Christians interpret the material in Genesis:
1. The (Genesis) author intended to give straight history.
2. The author was talking about what he thought were actual events, using literary techniques to shape the readers’ attitudes toward those events.
3. The author intended to recount an imaginary history, using literary conventions to convey “timeless truths” about God and man.
4. The author told a story without caring whether the events were real or imagined; his main goal was to convey various theological and moral truths.
A reasonable case can be made for each of these views based on analysis of the scriptures themselves. This results in differing conclusions amongst Christians on what the Bible says about origins.
2. We have differing levels of biblical knowledge.
Differing levels of biblical knowledge can result in differing conclusions as well. That doesn’t mean, however, that those with stronger biblical knowledge come to one conclusion and those with weaker biblical knowledge come to another. It simply means that a person can come to any conclusion via a less informed reading of the Bible. Let’s look at two examples.
First, consider a person with limited Bible knowledge who believes that God must have created humans without evolution but sees no reason why the days in Genesis couldn’t represent time periods of millions of years. If this person studied more about the original Hebrew words used, the relationship with what other passages say about chronologies and genealogies, and other biblically-based arguments for a young earth, he/she might come to a different conclusion about what the creation account says and means.
As another example, consider a person with limited Bible knowledge who believes in evolution because that’s what mainstream science says. This person could casually conclude that Adam and Eve must be a metaphor for the human condition, that God created mankind through evolution, and that there are few implications for Christianity. However, this person might find it much more difficult to accept evolution if he/she had a deeper knowledge of references to the creation story in the rest of the Bible and the corresponding theological implications (for your reference, here is a survey of those passages from Collins’ book):
- There are several explicit references to Eden as a place of fruitfulness: Genesis 13:10; Isaiah 51:3; Joel 2:3; and Ezekiel 28:13; 31:8–9, 16, 18; 36:35.
- There is a likely reference to “the fall” in Ecclesiastes 7:29 (“See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.”).
- Ecclesiastes 3:20 and 12:7 reference the formation of man from dust in Genesis 3:19.
- The concept of the tree of life is used in Proverbs 3:18, 11:30, 13:12, 15:4, and Revelation 2:7, 22:2, 22:14, 22:19.
- The main reference to early Genesis in the Gospels is in Matthew 19:3–9 (parallel with Mark 10:2-9). Some Pharisees ask whether it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause and Jesus answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’?” (This answer is from Genesis 2:24.)
- Jesus also referenced the death of Abel (from Genesis 4:8), calling him righteous (Matthew 23:35).
- Hebrews 11:4-7 lists Abel, Enoch, and Noah as (presumably historical) models of faith.
- Acts 17:26 says God made all the nations from one man.
- 1 Corinthians 11:7-12 references the concept of man made in the image of God.
- 2 Corinthians 11:3 references the serpent’s deception of Eve.
- 1 Timothy 2:13-14 references the order of deception – Eve first, then Adam.
- Finally, and most notably, Paul provides detailed theological explanations for Jesus’ role in salvation history based upon Adam’s role in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, 45-49 and Romans 5:12-19. These are the most important passages that reference early Genesis.
Collins summarizes these references by stating, “We can conclude that, while some texts do not absolutely require a historical Adam and Eve for their truth value, others look like they do in fact require it. The more we are aware of how the New Testament authors invoke the Biblical story and base their own message upon it, the more clearly we can grasp their message, and the more we can see how Adam and Eve figure into the story.”
To be clear, there are adherents to each view who have a deep knowledge of the Bible. I’m simply explaining here that in some cases the source of differing views amongst Christians is due to differing levels of biblical knowledge; in these cases, deeper study of the Bible may lead someone to a different conclusion.
In my next post, I’ll address the role of differing levels of scientific knowledge and differing conclusions from scientific data. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts!