01/30/18

Nature, Red in Tooth & Claw, Part 2

© Camillo Maranchon | 123rf.com- skeleton of a velociraptor dinosaur

In an appendix to their classic book, The Genesis Flood, John Whitcomb and Henry Morris discussed the question of “Paleontology and the Edenic Curse.” They questioned the validity what they referred to as “uniformitarian paleontology,” which dated the formation of fossil layers in hundreds of millions of years, not the thousands of years allotted in their own timeline for creation. This uniformitarianism assumed the death of billions of animals by natural or violent means and the extinction of untold species of animals, like dinosaurs, before the Fall of Adam. “Long ago before the Edenic curse giant flesh-eating monsters like Tyrannosaurus Rex roamed the earth, slashing their victims with ferocious dagger-like teeth and claws.”

But how can such an interpretation of the history of the animal kingdom be reconciled with the early chapters of Genesis? Does the Book of Genesis, honestly studied in the light of the New Testament, allow for the reign of tooth and claw and death and destruction before the Fall of Adam?

In Part 1 of this article we looked at some of the challenges to the modern young earth (YEC) theodicy that Whitcomb and Morris birthed with their book.  The organization, Answers in Genesis (AiG) seems to be at the forefront of the current debate over how to interpret Genesis 1-11 from this perspective. For AiG, the age of the earth, the day of creation in Genesis 1 and whether there was animal death before the Fall are all tied together into the same bundle. Writing for AiG in “Did Death of Any Kind Exist Before the Fall?,” Simon Turpin said:

If Genesis is interpreted through the lens of uniformitarian geology then the fossil record documents that millions of years of earth’s history are filled with death, mutations, disease, suffering, bloodshed, and violence. However, if the days of creation in Genesis 1 were only 24 hours long then there is no room for the millions of years of death, struggle, and disease to have taken place before Adam disobeyed God.

Along with others, the work of David Snoke in A Biblical Case for an Old Earth was presented as evidence countering the YEC and AiG claim that their interpretation of Genesis 1-11 is the only biblically valid one. Dr. Snoke said that if you were to acknowledge that the Bible taught animals died before the Fall, many of the other objections to an old earth melted away. Here I’d like to further unpack another of his statements, “The whole point of an old-earth view is to say that things are as they appear, and the earth is full of fossils and fossil matter such as coral and limestone.”

Dr. Snoke noted where YECs like AiG and Whitcomb and Morris identified the Edenic curse in Genesis 3:14-24 as the origination of carnivorous animals. Before the Fall they were said to have been herbivores. Whitcomb and Morris stated that the sharp claws and teeth of the carnivores came from the Fall: “The point is that such specialized structures appeared for the first time after the Edenic curse.” Yet there is no discussion in Scripture of how these modifications (dare we say evolved?) or new species emerged, according to Snoke. “Nowhere does it say that new species of animals [or alterations to existing species] will appear or that the entire order of the physical world will change.”

Snoke suggested that two different interpretive models of the creation, fall and new creation played a role in the debate over whether animal death occurred before the Fall. The models are illustrated below in the following table reproduced from A Biblical Case for an Old Earth. 

View I

World of

Genesis 1-2

World of

Revelation 21-22

Our world

(digression)

View II

World of

Revelation 21-22

World of

Genesis 1-2

Our world

In the first model, the original created world and the new heavens & earth of Revelation are essentially the same. The lost, perfect Edenic world is restored; and our present world is radically different from either. In support of this perspective, the imagery of the Garden of Eden found in Revelation 22:1-3 is noted: There is the Tree of Life, a river and the declaration that “No longer will there be anything accursed.” Snoke does not further elaborate on this model, but the assumed lack of death, disease, and suffering for animals (what AiG calls natural evil) and humans before the Fall would fit in equating them.

In the section of his article addressing whether there was natural evil before the Fall, AiG’s Terry Mortenson said the declaration by God was that his creation was “very good.” Not only did this indicate that land creatures were vegetarian before the Fall, but how could “millions of years of death and other natural evil be called ‘very good’?” He went on to Isaiah 11:6-9 and 65:25-26, which speak of a future state of creation, where the wolf and the lamb will dwell together; the lion eats straw like the ox; the cow and the bear will graze together and their young will lie down together.

The scene in view is one of complete peace and harmony. For some animals to hunt and kill other animals is described as hurting, destroying, and doing evil. Given this language, is it really possible that carnivores would be destroying other animals (whether healthy or diseased) and earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and asteroid impacts causing animal death and extinction would be happening for hundreds of millions of years in God’s “very good” creation before Adam sinned?

In the second model, the original created world and our current world are essentially the same. The old earth premise is that things are as they appear. Here, the world to come in Revelation is utterly different. Dr. Snoke illustrated the differences by comparing Revelation 21-22 and Genesis 1-3. Revelation 21 said there will be no more sea, night or sun, while the sea, sun and night are part of the created order in Genesis 1. Also it’s “the first heaven and the first earth” that has passed away in Revelation 21:1.

In other words, the heaven and earth of Genesis 1 (presented in Gen. 1:1) are lumped in together with our present heaven and earth, as a unity that will be destroyed when Christ comes again to make all things new. There is no mention in Scripture of a major physical change of the world at the fall.

The Garden of Eden is a type of heaven in the second model, but not equal to it. Other types in Scripture include the temple in Jerusalem for the true temple of God in heaven (Hebrews 8:1-5). King David was a type of the Messiah.  The Garden gives us a picture of heaven as the temple in Jerusalem does of the holiness of God in his heavenly throne room. “The Garden was a space of special protection made for human beings, where God walked with man.”

John Walton seems to have a similar sense to David Snoke of the Garden of Eden in The Lost World of Genesis One. He said scholars have recognized the temple and tabernacle contained a good bit of imagery from the Garden of Eden. They also point out how gardens commonly adjoined sacred space in the ancient world. Strictly speaking then, the Garden of Eden in Walton’s view was not a garden for man, but the garden of God. Walton then quoted biblical scholar Gordon Wenham, who said:

The garden of Eden is not viewed by the author of Genesis simply as a piece of Mesopotamian farmland, but as an archetypal sanctuary, that is a place where God dwells and where man should worship him. Many of the features of the garden may also be found in later sanctuaries particularly the tabernacle or Jerusalem temple. These parallels suggest that the garden itself is understood as a sort of sanctuary.

Outside of this Garden, according to Snoke, was the dangerous natural world. The model fits with God forcefully driving the man from the Garden he had been originally charged to work and keep. Instead of dwelling in the pleasant and peaceful Garden, God banished him into the outer darkness where “nature, red in tooth and claw” was the rule. There the ground was cursed and he would work it by the sweat of his brow and eat of it in pain. He said:

In my view, the powerful forces that existed outside the Garden, which included darkness, the sea, and carnivorous animals, existed prior to the fall as judgments held in readiness, as visible threats to Adam and Eve of the contrast between their protected state of grace and the possible consequences of leaving God’s presence.

There seems to be enough biblical evidence to say animals died before the Fall. As I mentioned in Part 1, there is also credible biblical evidence to allow for the old earth creation acceptance of millions of years for the process. Things in our world today are as they appear. The nature of animal life was not changed from grass eaters to meat eaters by the Edenic curse. Nature, red in tooth in claw existed outside the Garden before the Fall, apparently for millions of years, and became part of human existence when we were banished from the Garden—until Christ comes again to make everything new. Maranatha.

09/23/16

The Zenith of Rest

© grace21 |stockfresh.com

© grace21 |stockfresh.com

According to John Walton, the seventh day of the Genesis creation account can be something of a theological afterthought. “It appears to be nothing more than an afterthought with theological concerns about Israelites observing the sabbath—an appendix, a postscript, a tack on.”  There is a literary structure to the first six days in Genesis 1 that C. John Collins called “exalted prose,” but the pattern ends there. Then we hear that God rested from his work of creation on the seventh day. But what does God resting have to do with creation? And why would God rest? It’s not as if He was actually tired from all his creative activity. Then what does it mean for God to rest?

Walton believes that rest is the objective of creation. In fact, without the seventh day of rest, the other six days of Genesis 1 don’t achieve their full meaning. “Even though people are the climax of the six days, day seven is the climax of this origins account.” To make his point, he turned to Scripture. The Hebrew word for “rested” in Genesis 2:2 is šābat, which means to sever, put an end to, cease. The English term “Sabbath” is derived from it.

In Deuteronomy 12:10, God told the Israelites that when they crossed over the Jordan and lived in the land He was giving them, they would have rest from their enemies and live in safety. After Moses died and Joshua was preparing the Israelites to cross the Jordan, he told them to remember what Moses had told them about the Lord providing them a place of rest. As Joshua was about to release the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh to return across the Jordan to their lands, the narrator said the Lord had given them rest on every side, just as He said He would (Josh 21:44). When David saw that the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies, he thought he would build a house for the Lord to dwell in (2 Samuel 7:1-2).

The rest that God offers his people is freedom from invasion and conflict. Now they can live at peace and conduct their daily lives without interruption. “It refers to achieving a state of order in society.” When Jesus invited those who were weary and burdened to come to him, he offered them rest (Matthew 11:28). He invited people to participate in the ordered kingdom of God, where their yoke would be easy and their burden light. The author of Hebrews looked to a future rest, where anyone who entered it would rest from their works as God did from his (Hebrews 4:10-11).

In light of this usage, we can discern that resting pertains to the security and stability found in equilibrium of an ordered system. When God rests on the seventh day, he is taking up his residence in the ordered system that he has brought about in the previous six days. It is not something that he does only on the seventh day; it is what he does every day thereafter. Furthermore, his rest is not just a matter of having a place of residence—he is exercising his control over this ordered system where he intends to relate to people whom he has placed there and for whom he has made the system to function.

God was not only making a home for the people He created in His image when He created the cosmos, he was making a home for himself. But in the ancient world, the temple was not only the residence of a god, it was the throne room from which the god ruled and maintained order. So an ancient reader, according to Walton, would have recognized Genesis 1 (referring to Genesis 1:1-2:3) as a temple story or text. Temple-building accounts often accompanied cosmologies. After he established order, which was the focus of ancient cosmologies, the deity “took control of that ordered system.” When the deity rests in the temple, he is assuming his rightful place and his proper role—he is assuming the throne.

This is the element that we are sadly missing when we read the Genesis account. God has ordered the cosmos with the purpose of taking up his residence in it and ruling over it. Day seven is the reason for days one through six. It is the fulfillment of God’s purpose.

God built the cosmos to be sacred space, and the account in Genesis 1 is an account of the origins of sacred space rather than an account of the origins of the material cosmos. Rather than an ancient temple where people could relate to their god by ritually meeting his needs, “God built the cosmos to be sacred space and then put people in that sacred space as a place where he could be in relationship with them.”

What I’ve presented above are ideas and quotes from John Walton in The Lost World of Genesis and The Lost World of Adam and Eve. His views of Genesis 1 and 2 have their critics, but I’ve found his argument stimulating in a number of different ways. You can introduce yourself to his thought here, in a series of articles and even a video series on the evolutionary creation website, BioLogos. His interpretation of Genesis is certainly consistent with evolutionary creation, but exists independent of it. You can accept his understanding of Genesis without becoming an evolutionary creationist.

I think his sense of Genesis 1 as a temple text fits nicely with a redemptive historical understanding of Scripture as a whole. And I think it could fit there as follows.

Walton sees Genesis 1 as God building a sacred space, a temple, in which He would also place people so He could be in relationship with them. In Genesis 2 and even into Genesis 3, we see the reality of this fellowship with God. Then as a consequence of their sin, God drove Adam and Eve from the sacred space of the Garden (Genesis 3:23-24). However, this was not the end of his plan to be in relationship with people. Even before their sin, God had already begun to point them to the work of redemption He would accomplish in His Son.

In Genesis 2, He made a helper for the man because He saw that it was not good for the man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Presented with the woman, the man said: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Here God instituted biblical marriage. The following comment on this action by God—“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24)—will later be quoted by Paul in Ephesians 5:31. Paul saw this action by God in Genesis 2 as a mystery referring to Christ and the church. The coming of Christ revealed that God’s establishment of biblical marriage was a protoevangelium, if you will.

In Genesis 3, is the judgment statement against the serpent has been understood by many since Justin and Irenaeus in the 2nd century as the protoevangelium: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The protoevangelium is the first (proto) gospel (evangelion); the first reference in Scripture of the idea of a Messiah. So before God put the man and the woman out of the Garden, He gave them two hints of his future plans in Christ.

After Moses completed the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34) and when Solomon had finished his prayer dedicating the temple ((2 Chronicles 7:1-2), these structures were filled with the presence of the Lord and became sacred space. In Ezekiel’s vision of the temple, the glory of the Lord filled the temple and the Lord said the place of his throne and the place where he will dwell will be in the midst of the people forever (Ezekiel 43:4-7).

Then in Christ, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Jesus called people to Him that they might have rest (Matthew 11:28), for he is the Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8). When he ascended into heaven, he sat at the right hand of the Father (Mark 16:19). When he returns, he will return the same way as he left (Acts 1:11). His return will be to fulfill the mystery of Genesis 2:24, revealed in Christ (Ephesians 5:32)—the marriage supper of the Lamb, and his bride, the church (Revelations 19:7).

In the new heaven and new earth, in this new sacred space, God will fulfill His intent to dwell with his people: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelations 21:3). There will not be a temple in this New Jerusalem, the Bride of the Lamb, because its temple is the Lord God and the Lamb (Revelations 21:22). The Sabbath rest of Exodus 20:11 will be made manifest. The seventh day of the Genesis creation account will have reached its zenith.

For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”