Alan Donaldson, a thoughtful member of my congregation, sent me the following comments about my new book’s interpretation of the creation story in Genesis.
“Genesis 1 (at least) poses serious problems for modern-day readers of Scripture who have been taught to believe that the Bible is inerrant. I have had discussion with a good man, former Chapel Board member, now moved away, who maintained that the story of creation in Genesis 1 is literal fact: seven 24-hour days of creation, and that it all happened some 6,000 years ago based on Biblical genealogy. This man rejected any science-based statements on origin of the universe and its age, and also rejected all concepts of evolution.
The inspiring discussion of the meaning of Genesis in Why Am I? does not directly address that issue. Yet it is an issue that is highly divisive among convinced Christians. Seeking to dispel the claims of non-believers about the existence of God and His creation is all very well but that fails to provide much aid to the Christian who struggles with the conflict his belief in inerrancy generates versus the knowledge that God has helped us gain about how it all happened.
One approach to solution of this problem for Christians is a statement I’m quite sure I heard from Ted Schroder: “The Old Testament should not be read as a history book”. It is filled with allegorical stories which should teach us lessons, not facts. Personally, I believe the inerrancy of the Old Testament is limited to such a concept, one that should be more widely proclaimed in Christian circles.
A distinction may, perhaps should, be made concerning the historical validity of the New Testament. Most all of the New Testament, of course, is first person narration. While errors of translation may have crept in – still it is, for me, an article of faith that the life of Jesus and subsequent commentary is factual.”
My mentor, John Stott, used to claim to be agnostic about how exactly the world began and how it would end. I think we should approach this subject with much humility for we cannot know all that we might like to know. We do have the Scriptures, which are authoritative for Christians in all matter of faith. The sixth article of Anglican Articles of Religion is entitled: “Of The Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation”. It states: “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”
Our understanding of how the universe began is not necessary to salvation, nor is it required of any man that it should be believed as an article of the Faith. As I write in my book, Christians have interpreted the creation accounts in many different ways down through the ages.
Genesis does not tell us how time began, how the cosmos began, but why we exist at all. We are here to fulfill God’s purpose and plan of salvation. Genesis 1 does not focus on the physical processes that gave rise to the created world but on the divine purpose for creation. (Why Am I? p.10)
What a Christian may believe about evolution or the age of the earth is based upon their understanding of science and/or the Bible. For myself, I do not believe that the Bible addresses those subjects scientifically. As I quote Jim Packer:
“I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture…but exegetically I cannot see that anything Scripture says, in the first chapters of Genesis or elsewhere, bears on the biological theory of evolution one way or another…Scripture was given to reveal God, not to address scientific issues in scientific terms, and…as it does not use the language of modern science, so it does not require scientific knowledge about the internal processes of God’s creation for the understanding of its essential message about God and ourselves.”
The Scriptures are writings of all kinds of literary genre. There are historical records, parables, allegories, poetry filled with metaphors and symbols. Interpretation is determined by deciding which genre we are reading. The word ‘literal’ was used in Reformation times for ‘natural’, denoting that we should interpret the writings in their natural, plain sense, i.e. as the author intended: the symbolic interpreted symbolically, the historical interpreted historically etc. This is what we need to do as we read the Bible. Our interpretation of the creation accounts in the Bible should not be highly divisive if we are humble enough to accept the authority of the Scriptures as inspired by God for our salvation. How the universe began is not an article of the Faith to be required of any man.