Now I’m one of those Presbyterians who believe in women’s ordination, paedo-communion, and the framework view of Genesis 1:1-2:3 (on this view see my blog post here), and who serves as a minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Thus anything that I have to say about the controversies in the PCA are going to be held suspect by some in the PCA. While I’m disqualifying myself, I should add that I graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia) during a period now known as Middle Westminster where many of the professors were PCA or OPC. In the eyes of some this means I’m even less qualified to address the controversy. Interestingly, views on Genesis 1:1-2:3 were all over the map at WTS from being agnostic about the various theories of interpretation (Dr. Douglas J. Green) to probably every major popular theory today. The same semester that I had an Old Testament class with Dr. Green where we spent much of the time in Genesis 1-2, I had a systematic theology class with Dr. Lane Tipton (an ordained minister in the OPC) where we were taught the framework view. Dr. Tipton held the framework view but fairly presented the 24 hour creation view and the day-age view as within the bounds of orthodoxy. Thus with some interest in these matters I read the blog post by Bill Peacock, “Where Will its Stand on the Six Days of Creation Lead the PCA?”
Peacock argues that “what the leaders of a denomination believe about the days of creation may be determinant of its future.” Perhaps as a Reformed evangelical conservative minister member of the PC(USA) my perspective might be somewhat helpful here. As a word of reassurance, let me say that whether you hold to a 24 hour, day-age, or framework view of Genesis 1:1-2:3 isn’t going to transform you into some kind of theologically liberal denomination. Proponents of all three of those views hold fast to believing that God created all that is, visible and invisible, and that includes the belief that God created man. Secondly, all three of those views are usually held with a lot of close exegetical argumentation that takes the text seriously as the inerrant word of God. Where I might agree with Peacock is on the issue of ordaining “an openly gay (though celibate) man.” I must say that I’ve not followed that controversy closely and only recently became aware of it. However, orthodox female ministers that I know have both expressed how sad it is that the PCA even entertained this before ordaining female ministers and how the ordination of homosexuals will lead the PCA to become theologically liberal. I may be expressing their views in a rather more reserved way than they did. Nevertheless, I would humbly submit that Dr. John Frame was right in his article “Machen’s Warrior Children.” His basic thesis is that J. Gresham Machen and his generation of conservative Reformed Evangelicals were engaged in battles against theological liberalism (and they were right to do so) and that Machen’s spiritual descendants have continued this spirit of warfare in their own denominations against each other. For this discussion, what he says in #12 on the days of creation and his observations #10 are particularly instructive. The latter says that the real battle should be on issues that recently have been debated in my denomination. Unfortunately, the Confessing Church movement that he mentioned no longer exists.
Now to examine a few of Peacock’s quibbles in the blog post…
First of all, he is concerned that the PCA denomination isn’t taking an exception to the Westminster Standards in order to allow elders to deny the 24 hour view. I’m no expert on the history of the Westminster Assembly, but it is my understanding (and this was what I was taught at WTS) that the reason the confessional language of “in the space of six days” was added to the Westminster Confession was that the divines wished to deny Augustine’s view of instantaneous creation. The Westminster divines were not settling how to understand those days — whether to interpret them literally or figuratively in some fashion or other — but denying that it happened all at once. In other words, the 24 hour, day-age, and framework views are all within the bounds of the Confession. Whether or not they all believed the days were literal 24 hours isn’t the issue. No one who holds to one of these views needs to take an exception to the Westminster Confession because the Westminster Confession wasn’t meant to take sides with one of these views over the others. I’d be interested to know if Charles and A.A. Hodge, B.B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, Oswald T. Allis, or E.J. Young felt the need to take an exception to this language since none of them took “days” to mean literal 24-hour periods of time.
Second, I take issue with his view of clarity. For example, after summarizing Genesis 1 in a sentence, he says, “The reality of the 24 hour days of creation cannot get much clearer than that.” Such statements do not take seriously the observations of the proponents of the other views of Genesis 1. For example, he has not wrestled with how one is to understand a day to be 24 hours before the creation of the sun on day 4. He believes that Genesis 1 is clearer than Genesis 2:5ff, that his interpretation of the implications of Mark 10:6 is clear, etc. I agree that a clear passage can sometimes shed light on a more difficult passage. This is a helpful guideline for interpreting Scripture. However, that’s no excuse for failing to take seriously the exegetical argumentation of those with whom you disagree on those passages that seem more difficult. (I say seem more difficult because I don’t assume that God’s people have always found them more difficult to understand than the passages we think are easier to understand.) Maybe he has done this elsewhere, I confess that I haven’t read Peacock’s blog before. But from this particular post one sees that he thinks there is not much “room for debate when looking at the scriptural account of creation.” Thus he limits himself to saying that his view is the clear one. Of course, the easiest response to this approach is to note how he is not being sufficiently literal. If he wants to hold to a literal interpretation of “day” then why isn’t he holding to a literal interpretation of the “firmament” in Gen 1:6ff. However, then I’d be accused of muddying the clear meaning of Genesis 1. My basic point is to say that he sees clarity because he makes a lot of assumptions. Some obvious examples of his assumptions can be seen in his use of passages where Jesus refers to the early chapters of Genesis (Hebrew title: “in the beginning”). For example, he concludes that Day 1 and Day 6 must have been very close in time to each other because of the wording Jesus used in Mark 10:6 when it could be that Jesus was simply saying “from the beginning of creation” as shorthand for referencing Genesis 1-2. Also, he mentions phrases from Luke 11:50-51 to say that the blood of Abel was shed at “the foundation of the world.” However, saying the foundation of the world is simply a way of rhetorically referencing the beginning and doesn’t settle the question of how much time passed before Abel’s death. To be clear, Jesus doesn’t say that Abel’s death happened at the foundation of the world.
More to the point, I take issue with his view of the genre of the text. The larger problem is that Peacock expects Genesis 1:1-2:3 to read like it is modern historical writing when it isn’t. Thus he assumes (or logically needs to assume) that the text cannot have a figurative framework, that the text must be speaking of time passing on earth instead of in heaven, that day 7 has ended even though there is no evening and morning statement, etc. His appeal to Romans 5:12, together with the references to the Gospels we have already discussed, deserves more attention in the larger question of how the New Testament uses the Old Testament. But Paul wasn’t trying to answer his modern question of when did animals first die. Paul had people in mind. Paul didn’t say, “so death spread to all living creatures because all living creatures sinned.” Nor did he say that Adam’s death meant that animals would die. Paul was answering a different question. Likewise, Genesis 1 answers different questions than those asked by many people today. And thus it isn’t surprising that it was written in a different genre than we write today. The larger genre of the book as a whole is that of a gospel. This is why the Gospel of Matthew uses the characteristically Genesis phraseology “the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ…” (compare Matt 1:1 to the Greek of Genesis 5:1, for example, and cf. Gen 2:4, etc. The Greek word for generations or genealogy is a form of genesis). Genesis-Deuteronomy are the same kind of literature as Matt-John. Of course, even within that larger genre of a gospel there are parts that are poems and parts that are narratives and etc. However, these books are not written in the same style as a modern historical narrative. One of the most obvious ways that historical narratives in Scripture are different than modern historical narratives, besides being able to tell us God’s point of view infallibly and being tell us what is happening in the invisible realm, is that they are often much more artistic. Modern Westerners have a low view of poetry and art. We don’t associate poetry and art with truth. The Hebrew people, however, had no such bias. In fact, one does not need to hold that Genesis 1 is a poem to appreciate that it is more poetic than modern historical writing. I myself would not argue that it is a poem but, yes, I would agree that the days of the week are a poetic figure and that they point to time in the created heaven where God was speaking in Genesis 1. In any case, the point is that the passage communicates truth, it communicates it in the form of a narrative that is more artistic than we are used to and that doesn’t describe exactly and sequentially how it unfolded on earth, and that it wasn’t written to answer many of the scientific questions that people have but rather to answer other questions.
Now I understand how other people may feel led to see either or both the framework view and the day-age view as attractive because they are wrestling with the questions raised by science. I believe in an old earth and feel free to do so (at least in part) because I believe in the framework view. This makes it easier for me to harmonize science with Scripture. For example, a young earth view does run into issues with the dinosaurs. However, it wasn’t a burning issue for me. Indeed, I didn’t feel pressured by science to one view of Genesis 1 or another. The reason that I hold the framework view is that I believe it makes the most sense of the text. Feel free to disagree. I would prefer it if you only came to disagree after wrestling with all of the arguments and spending time exploring the best articulations of the position. But what I really have problems with is when someone says that those holding the framework view somehow aren’t within the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy. I don’t remember reading Peacock saying that we are outside the bounds so I don’t believe this criticism is directed at him. Nevertheless, I think it is important to say that it is within the bounds of orthodoxy and it is important for us to act that way.