The Bible and Science
The First Four Days of Genesis
in Concordist Theory and in Biblical Context
Paul H. Seely
1544 SE 34th Ave.
Portland, OR 97214
From PSCF 49 (June 1997): 85-95.
Moderate concordism's interpretation of the days of Genesis is derived from modern science. The correlation of Gen. 1:1 with the "Big Bang" has a certain legitimacy; but, concordism's interpretation of the days themselves takes Genesis 1 out of its historical and biblical context. Concordism achieves a concord between modern science and the Bible only because it has rewritten the Bible to agree with modern science.
From a biblical standpoint there is no need to take the Bible out of context in such a radical way as concordism does. Biblical inspiration, according to the teaching of Jesus, sometimes encompasses concession to human weakness even in the area of morals (Mark 10:5), how much more then in the area of science, the discovery of which God has delegated to man (Genesis 1:28). Scripture and science complement each other.
According to current concordistic theory (Moderate Concordism) each day in Genesis 1 sequentially initiates a geological epoch, with some epochs overlapping.1 The purpose of the theory is to maintain the belief that Genesis 1 portrays a reliable history of creation in basic agreement or concord with modern science.2 This theory has been accepted by a number of conservative theologians; but, it is primarily promoted by devout geologists and astrophysicists.
The abiding value of the works of these Christian geologists and astrophysicists is that they preserve intellectual integrity with regard to the data of geology, anthropology, and astrophysics; and this is in accord with the command of God that we worship him with all of our mind. Further, they often witness to God's wisdom by showing the intricacies and fine balance of the various parts of the universe, especially in the creation of the earth's size, distance from the sun, atmosphere, etc.
The problem with their work, however, is that it lifts Genesis 1 out of its ancient Near Eastern context, sets it down in the context of modern science, and then reinterprets Genesis 1 so that it agrees with modern science. I do not fault such interpreters personally for reading modern science into Genesis 1 because they were forced by an unbiblical definition of biblical inerrancy to become inventive exegetes. It is my task, however, first to expose the arbitrary nature of their interpretations of Genesis 1 and then point to a more biblical approach.
My procedure will be to take the first four days of Genesis 1 and show how Moderate Concordists interpret each day. Then I will contrast this with the meaning of the words of Gen. 1:1-19 when they are left within their historical and biblical context. To fairly represent the views of contemporary Moderate Concordists, I am following what I believe are the three best and most recent representatives of this theory, namely, Davis Young,3 Robert Newman/Herman Eckelmann, Jr.,4 and Hugh Ross5. I will also add, the views of Peter Stoner/Edwin Gedney6 and John Wiester7 in the footnotes. It should be noted, however, that despite having written one of the best books on concordism, Davis Young no longer holds to it.
Our representatives of Moderate Concordism (I will simply call it concordism from now on) tend to regard Gen. 1:1 as a reference to the Big Bang of 15 to 20 billion years ago.8 This correlation is appropriate since as E. J. Young explained: "º the first verse serves as a broad, comprehensive statement of the fact of creation."9 As Gunkel noted, "There is nothing in the cosmogonies of other peoples [including Enuma elish] which can compare with the first sentence of the Bible."10 It is, therefore, appropriate to apply Gen. 1:1 to the Big Bang though it leads us primarily, not to the unorganized world of Gen. 1:2, but through the whole process of Gen. 1:2-2:1 to the organized world of Gen. 2:1, where for the first time since Gen. 1:1 the "heavens and earth" are again mentioned.
Gen. 1:2 describes the state of the earth before God's organizing activities began. The earth at this point was "formless and void," covered with an ocean, and shrouded in darkness. The question for the concordists is: "When did the earth look like this?"
Ross laid out a three-act sequence whereby the earth (and rest of the solar system) came into being: (1) An interstellar cloud or nebula (2) collapsed into a flattened disc and (3) separated into concentric rings which condensed into proto-planets. He then identified Gen. 1:2 with act 3b: "As the earth condensed out of the primordial disc, it appeared just as the Genesis writer says, `formless and void.'"11 Ross does not put a date on this, but according to most scientists the time of this condensation would be about five billion years ago.12
Newman & Eckelmann also relate Gen. 1:2 to the nebula out of which the earth came. They say:
the earth at this point in the narrative is not yet a solid body, but is shapeless and empty, perhaps even invisible. This [Gen. 1:2] is an excellent, though non-technical description of the gas cloud that would eventually form the earth.13
Young spoke of the earth in Gen. 1:2 as a "primitive earth." He also emphasized that the earth in Gen. 1:2 was only a "partially organized body" that was not yet "a completed product."14 This coheres quite well with the others' judgment that the earth here is slowly, but surely, condensing out of a nebula 6 to 4.5 billion years ago.
The general consensus is that Gen. 1:2 is a good description of the state of the earth c. 6 to 4.5 billion years ago, when it was "formless and void" and dark, as it was condensing out of a dark nebula. Hence, Ross's statement: "the earth appeared just as the Genesis writer says."15
What about the ocean covering the earth? Ross ignores it. He presumably could not make any sense out of it since there was no ocean of water covering the earth as it condensed out of the nebula. Newman & Eckelmann acknowledge an ocean of water as stated in Gen. 1:2, but not in a liquid state. They identified the "Deep" with a "gas cloud." The water, they say, could be "a mass of ice crystals or droplets," a large cloud of water vapor, or even some other fluid.16 Young accepted the prima facie meaning of "the deep" and the "face of the waters" in v. 2, and referred to them as "a primeval ocean." He said, the "early earth was desolate and lifeless, and there was a primitive ocean."17 But Young was describing the earth long after it condensed out of its "formless and void" state.18 The ocean in Gen. 1:2, on the other hand, is present while the earth is still in its "formless and void" state.
The problem the concordists have here is that science tells us the dry land of the earth formed first, condensing out of a nebula in a molten form that was far too hot for any water to rest upon it. After it cooled, however, an ocean did form on earth. But, in Genesis the ocean exists first, and then afterward the dry land appears. The statements of Gen. 1:2 and science are exactly opposite to each other. Our concordists dealt with this by ignoring "the deep" (Ross, Stoner, Wiester), changing the meaning of "the deep" so that it agrees with science (Stoner's editor, Newman & Eckelmann), or accepting "the deep" but obscuring the scientific chronology (Young).
...science tells us the dry land of
the earth formed firstº
But, in Genesis the ocean exists firstº
We need to answer the idea of Newman & Eckelmann (and of Stoner's editor) that "the deep" in Gen. 1:2 is a reference to a cloud of some kind. They cite a variety of Old Testament (OT) passages which supposedly indicate that "the deep" (Hebrew, tehom) can refer to a cloud or just "depth" without any reference to liquid water. They begin by citing Ezek. 31:4, Gen. 49:25 and Deut. 33:13 which all use "deep" to refer to the underground water that nourishes plants and trees. In their ancient Near Eastern and biblical context, these verses all refer to an underground sea.19 Even if you remove them from their historical and biblical context and modernize them, they still refer to water, not just deepness, and to water in a liquid state, not to a cloud.
Newman & Eckelmann also cite Ps. 71:20 which speaks of resurrection from the grave as being brought up from the "depths (tehomoth, plural of tehom) of the earth" and say there seems to be no connection with water here. But, within its ancient Near Eastern and biblical context, the Psalmist is referring to the deepest part of the earth as resting on an ocean (cf. Pss. 24:2; 136:6). Thus it is that Jonah 2:2-6 speaks of being in "the depths of the graveº in the deepº down to the roots of the mountains" while he is in the ocean. This ocean below the "roots of the mountains" is the tehom which supplies water to the springs (tehomoth) on earth. Kidner, although basing his commentary on the Psalms in the RSV, refers his readers to the NEB for Ps. 71:20 and translates "watery depths."20 So there is some connection between "depths" and water in Ps. 71:20. Further, even if the plural of tehom in Ps. 71:20 is translated simply "depths," it would in no way justify translating the singular tehom as "cloud."
In the end, Newman & Eckelmann seem to know they have not made a solid case and accordingly do not claim to have proven anything about the meaning of "the deep" and Gen. 1:2. They say they are only showing that it could be "a non-technical description of the gas cloud that would eventually form earth."21
If "the deep" in Gen. 1:2 is interpreted within its historical and biblical context, does it refer to a vaporous cloud or to a body of liquid water? The word "deep" (tehom) is certainly not used anywhere else in the OT to refer to a cloud or water in a vaporous state. Nor does any Hebrew lexicon give any such meaning to tehom. Koehler & Baumgartner define tehom as (1) the primeval ocean (2) the primeval oceans, and (3) the subterranean water.22 The Ugaritic cognate thm means "sea," never cloud. The Akkadian cognate ti'amtu means "sea," never cloud. The Eblaite cognate means "sea," never cloud. It is accordingly highly improbable that "deep" (tehom) in Gen. 1:2 means anything other than a deep sea, a literal ocean.
Secondly, Gen. 1:2 speaks of the "face or surface of the tehom." This phrase is used two other times in Scripture. Job 38:30 speaks of the surface of the deep being frozen. This reference is obviously to a body of liquid water freezing. It is incredible that it is a reference to the surface of a cloud freezing. The other reference is Prov. 8:27 which speaks of God at creation "marking out a circle on the face of the deep." The "circle" refers to the curvature seen when one looks at the horizon of the ocean. This reference is clearly to the sea and just as clearly not to a cloud. So, when the words "face of the deep" are used elsewhere in the OT, they refer to a liquid body of water, a sea, certainly not a cloud; there is no contextual reason to understand these words in any other way in Gen. 1:2. We might add that the words "face of the waters" which are also used in Gen. 1:2 mean the surface of a liquid body of water elsewhere in the OT, never a cloud (Gen. 7:18; Ex. 32:20; Isa. 18:2; 19:8; Hosea 10:7).
Thirdly, it seems improbable that Moses would refer to a cloud as a tehom (which everywhere else always means a literal sea) when biblical Hebrew has more than half a dozen words meaning "cloud." Lev. l6:13 and Ezek. 8:11 even refer to a "cloud of incense"; so the words for "cloud" did not have to be restricted to rain clouds. If Moses had wanted to give a "non-technical description of a gas cloud," he could have used the words, "clouds and thick darkness" (Deut. 4:11 and Joel 2:2). These words would have been a much better description of science's dark nebula than the words "face of the deep" and "face of the waters" which lead one to immediately think of a sea. To say that Moses used the Hebrew word for "sea" in a straightforward account like Genesis 1 to describe a cloud is to embark on a course where one could never be sure what the Bible meant, and where one could make the Bible mean anything one wants it to mean.
Finally, I do not believe that anyone before the advent of modern astronomy and geology ever interpreted the tehom-waters of Gen. 1:2 as anything other than a body of water in a liquid state, that is, a sea. From Augustine to Aquinas, the tehom of Gen. 1:2 was understood to be a "sea."23 No modern, professional Hebrew scholar would admit the meaning "cloud" into Gen. 1:2.24 It was not until the advent of modern geology-astronomy that the tehom of Gen. 1:2 was interpreted as a cloud; so, obviously this interpretation did not arise from the text but was derived from modern science and imposed upon the text. The concordists are rewriting the Bible.
Day One: Genesis 1:3-5
Newman & Eckelmann explain Gen. 1:3-4 as follows:
º After further contraction and heating, however, the whole cloud lights up and the observer [positing a hypothetical observer present on earth] immersed in light, can see no darkness anywhereº the planet earth becomes a solid body at this point [at v. 5] in the Genesis account and not before.25
Ross explains Gen. 1:3-5 as the time when the opaque reducing atmosphere changed to translucent.26 Day and night became recognizable only when light could diffuse through the cloud cover. Science tells us that this occurred after the earth solidified. Young said that Gen. 1:3-5 is about light falling on the earth's surface for the first time. He said the verses do not necessarily mean that there was no light elsewhere.27
Except for Wiester, there is a general agreement among our concordists that Gen. 1:3-5 is describing light falling upon a solidified earth. Explicitly or implicitly they agree that the formation of the earth, that is, its solidification had occurred by the time verse 5 ends.
It is this latter point which gives it away that the concordists are again rewriting the Bible. If the earth had solidified by verse 5 as they say, dry land must have already appeared. In the scientific account, the solidification of the earth entails an initial crustal temperature of c. 1100? F. Since any water touching the earth would immediately evaporate, the crust would have to be dry.28 In the biblical account, however, dry land does not appear until Day 3 in verse 9. Also, the ocean in the biblical account does not come into existence after the solidification of the earth, but before it. The concordists, therefore, although representing science very well, have spun an interpretation of Day 1 that is just the opposite of what the Bible is saying.
Day Two: Genesis 1:6-8
Ross specifically identifies the expanse of Gen. 1:6 as "the atmospheric layer immediately above the oceanº the troposphere."29 This is the time that God established the water cycle. So for Ross the expanse is the atmosphere with clouds above and the ocean below. Newman & Eckelmann also identify the expanse with the atmosphere and the water above with the clouds.30 Young identified the firmament as "the appearance of sky produced by a gaseous expanse."31 The water above is ordinary rain clouds.
Our concordists are in complete agreement that the firmament is atmosphere or the space where the earth's atmosphere exists, and the "water above" refers to ordinary clouds.32 Unfortunately, although our concordists are now all in agreement as to the meaning of Gen. 1:6-8, they are still rewriting the Bible. Interpreted within its historical and biblical context, the firmament of Gen. 1:6-9 is not atmosphere, nor are the "waters above" ordinary clouds. I have explained elsewhere that interpreted within its historical and biblical context, the firmament is a rock-solid dome or disc over the earth and the "waters above" are an ocean above that firmament.33 Space prohibits a complete review of all the reasons why this is so; but below is a summary of the salient facts.
As to the solidity of the firmament, the historical context is that all peoples in all parts of the world including the ancient Near East, from the beginning of history until 200 A.D. (and almost all peoples after that until modern times) believed that the sky, the firmament, was rock-solid; they distinguished this rock-solid firmament from the atmosphere. The burden of proof lies on anyone saying that the Hebrews did not do the same.
Since all educated people in Moses' time affirmed the existence of a rock-solid sky differentiated from the atmosphere, historically it is extremely improbable that Moses did not do the same. Furthermore, when he wrote that the birds fly "in front of the face of the firmament" (Gen. 1:20), he obviously is referring to that blue thing above the earth, which anyone reading that passage then would have defined as a rock-solid dome (or disc) over the earth, not as atmosphere. The word means what it meant to the people of that time, not what it means to the people of our time. Only by ripping the word "firmament" out of its context can you possibly define it as atmosphere (or mere space).
Gen. 1:17 tells us that the stars were set in the firmament; but, even modern science tells us the stars are not set in the atmosphere. Nor did the people of that time think of the stars as being set in the atmosphere. Rather, the stars look like they are embedded in a solid dome over the earth; hence people of that time believed that the stars were set in a solid dome over the earth. The contextual meaning of "firmament" in Gen. 1:17 is that it is a solid dome over the earth. Only by pulling it out of its biblical and historical context could it be defined as atmosphere.
within its historical and biblical context, the firmament
is a rock-solid dome or disc over the earth and
the "waters above" are an ocean above that firmament.
Further, there is no verse anywhere in the Bible which even infers that the firmament was not solid. On the other hand, Ezek. 1:22-26 speaks of a firmament (the same Hebrew word as in Gen. 1:6-8) the color of ice, which is a divider between cherubim below and a throne above. This firmament is obviously solid and is so recognized by all commentators. It could not possibly be just atmosphere, much less just space. This solid firmament in Ezekiel 1 is identified in Scripture with the firmament in Genesis 1 (Rev. 4:6; 15:2).
It is no accident, therefore, that Jewish and Christian interpreters of Gen. 1:6-8 from the very beginning until the Renaissance regularly understood the firmament to be rock-solid and distinguished it from the atmosphere. Jews even tried by scientific means to measure the firmament's thickness.34 Christians speculated whether the firmament was made of earth, air, fire, or water (the basic elements of Greek science). Defining the firmament as atmosphere is a modernizing reinterpretation of the Bibleóindeed, a rewriting of the Bible.
Regarding "the waters above the firmament," one must simply look closely at Gen. 1:6-8. The waters being spoken of in v. 6 are the tehom-ocean waters of v. 2. The firmament is set "between" these ocean waters to "separate" them into waters "above" and "below" the firmament. Therefore the waters "above the firmament" are ocean waters and there is no indication in the text or anywhere else that they became clouds. Further, because these waters are above the same firmament in which the stars were placed, they are also above the stars; they could not possibly be ordinary clouds. As E.J. Young wrote:
I am unable to accept the opinion that the waters above the expanse refer to clouds for this position does not do justice to the language of the text which states that these waters were above the expanse.35
Hence, until the Renaissance, Jewish and Christian exegetes regularly interpreted the phrase, "waters above the firmament," as a sea above the sky, above the sun. They also distinguished these waters from ordinary clouds. For example, Jewish writers explained that rain clouds rise up to the firmament in order to get filled with water from the waters that are dammed up above the firmament.36 Chrysostom mentions the waters above the firmament as being above the sun.37 To define "the waters above the firmament" as ordinary clouds is to remove both the "firmament" and the "waters" from their historical and biblical context and rewrite the Bible.38
Day Three, Part I: Genesis 1:9,10
Ross identifies Gen. 1:9 with the basin formed for the ocean when the moon pulled away from the earth, "leaving a supercontinent on the opposing side of the earth."39 Science would date this event to c. 4.5 billion years ago. Newman & Eckelmann seem to agree with Wiester that Gen. 1:9 is speaking of the time when shallow seas were being gathered into ocean basins and granite rocks were welling up to form the continents, perhaps 3.5 to 2.5 billion years ago.40 Young said the thickness of the continental crust caused it to be elevated much higher than the oceanic crust. The continental crust is at least 3.5 billion years old, but:
It is not known scientifically how the primitive ocean, atmosphere, and continental crust are interrelated in terms of sequence of time, but it is believed that all of these features of the earth are extremely old.41
Our concordists cannot seem to agree about what period Gen. 1:9 is describing. Is it 4.5 billion years ago (Ross), 3.5 to 2.5 billion years ago (Wiester and probably Young and Newman & Eckelmann), or 2.5 to 1.5 billion years (Gedney)? Part of the problem, as Young said, is that science is not completely clear at this point. The major problem, however, is that the sea exists prior to the dry earth in the Bible; science says just the opposite.
Interpreted within its historical and
the "earth" of Gen. 1:10 is a flat disc.
Ross's explanation that Gen. 1:9 refers to the time when the moon pulled away from the earth relates to a time when the earth had no ocean at all and hence cannot possibly be identified with Gen. 1:9. Wiester and Gedney's dating of Gen. 1:9, 3.5 to 1.5 billion years ago (the same time implicitly accepted by Young and Newman & Eckelmann), is usually thought of in science as the period of ocean formation with the land having already been in existence. But, in Gen. 1:9 we have exactly the opposite: the formation of land with the ocean having already been in existence (Gen. 1:2) and simultaneously being in existence (Gen. 1:9). The ocean is not created in Gen. 1:9 as occurred during the period of ocean formation. The ocean already existed in Gen. 1:2. It is simply circumscribed in Gen. 1:9 (cf. Prov. 8:27; Job 26:10). We are dealing with two antithetical cosmologies.
Not only does the biblical account begin with a sea and the scientific account begin with an earth too hot to have a sea, the concordists are thinking of a global earth and are asking, "When did the sea become embedded in the earth?" The biblical writer was thinking of the earth as a flat disc and asking, "When did the earth become embedded in the sea?"
Everyone in the time of Moses understood the earth to be a flat disc; and, everyone in the ancient Near East understood that disc to be embedded in a surrounding sea. No one defined the earth as a globe until 400 B.C. (and even then most people went on believing it was flat). It is incredible that the writer and first readers of Gen. 1:9, 10 defined "earth" as a globe. The writer and first readers of Genesis 1 understood and defined the earth as a flat disc embedded in the sea (cf. Pss. 24:2; 136:6); and, it is their definition of "earth," not ours, which is the historical-grammatical meaning in Gen. 1:9, 10. There is not one verse in the OT that defines the "earth" as a globe.
The famous phrase "circle of the earth" in Isa. 40:22 may refer to the firmament; but, even if it refers to the earth, it cannot prove more than that the flat earth is circular. Egyptians also used the phrase, "circle of the earth," and they certainly believed the earth was flat. Had Isaiah (or any other OT writer) wanted to refer to the earth as a globe, he probably would have used the word he used in Isa. 20:18 which means "ball."
Further, although there are no verses in the Bible which define the earth as a globe, there are verses which imply it was flat. For example, the tree in Dan. 4:10, 11 which because of its height is "visible to the end of all the earth" implies that the earth was thought of as flat. Within its historical context, as I show elsewhere, the phrase "all the earth" in Dan. 4:11 refers literally to all the earth of creation, yet only on a flat earth could a tall tree be seen "to the end of all the earth."42
Interpreted within its historical and biblical context, the "earth" of Gen. 1:10 is a flat disc. The burden of proof lies on anyone defining it as a globe. It is no wonder then that concordists cannot harmonize Gen. 1:9, 10 with modern science.
Day Three, Part II: Genesis 1:11, 12
Ross identifies the period of these verses as the time when "relatively primitive" plants appeared on earth. "Seed" can be interpreted, he says, as any embryo from which a new plant can grow. "Fruit" in a broad sense is produced by all plants. "Trees" would include "shrubs, bushes, and plants with woody stalks." Science dates primitive terrestrial plant forms with "woody stalks" as first appearing in the Upper Silurian period, c. 400 million years ago.43
Newman & Eckelmann understand Gen. 1:11-13 as a 24-hour day introducing the creation of plants. They say:
It is not necessary to suppose that the fruit trees of this passage were created before any kind of animal life, which would contradict the fossil record understood as a sequence.44
Young said that Moses
simply intended for the reader to understand that the third day was generally a day of plant production and that most plant materials were formed at this timeº There is nothing which says that grasses could not have come first followed by herbs at some time later, and followed by fruit trees at a yet later time.45
In addition, Young, like Ross, suggested that the term "fruit trees" could well refer to the primitive ancestors of modern day fruit treesóeven to Cenozoic flowering deciduous trees.
Interpreted within its context, Gen. 1:11,12 means that the fruit trees came into existence before the creation of the sun on Day 4º
Our concordists do not agree about when this period of vegetation began, but they do all agree that "fruit trees," such as were known to the author, did not appear before Day 5. They know that in the geological record there are no real fruit trees until after the creation of animal life.46 They suggest that the "fruit trees" of Gen. 1:11, 12 were not modern fruit trees, but just primitive ancestors of these trees; or else they say they were indeed modern fruit trees; but these did not appear on earth before Day 5. Neither of these explanations really agrees with the biblical text.
Contextually, the "fruit trees" of Gen. 1:11, 12 were undoubtedly defined by the writer as fig (Gen. 3:7), date (Ex. 15:27), pomegranate (Ex. 28:33), etc., that is, modern fruit trees. Fruit trees were highly esteemed in the ancient Near East; there is nothing in the text which indicates the author was not thinking of modern fruit trees. Further, to speak of "trees" at all is to refer at least to plants having "woody stalks" (the Hebrew word "tree" also means "wood"). The scientific record shows that plants with woody stalks did not appear on earth until after jawless vertebrate fish and numerous other sea creatures. Yet, in the biblical text such sea creatures did not begin to appear until after the appearance of plants (Gen. 1:20). The two accounts are diametrically opposed.
The other suggestion that the "fruit trees" of Gen. 1:11, 12 were genuine fruit trees, but did not appear on earth until after animal life was created, is similarly contrary to the context. There is no suggestion in the context that any of the items mentioned in conjunction with a particular creative day did not come into existence until a later creative day. In fact, the context speaks decisively against this.
The phrases, "and it was so," "brought forth," and "saw that it was good," imply hereóas they do throughout the chapteróthat the named objects came into existence before the close of each respective day and before the objects created on the next day. Interpreted within its context, Gen. 1:11,12 means that the fruit trees came into existence before the creation of the sun on Day 4, so certainly before the creation of fish and animals on Day 5. This is the way the verse was interpreted from the rabbis to the reformers.47
As Calvin said:
It did not happen fortuitously that herb and trees were created before the sun and the moonº in order that we might learn to refer all things to him, he did not then make use of the sun or moon.48
As late as 1835, respected commentators, speaking of Gen. 1:11,12, said, "here we find the earth bearing a great abundance of fruit, probably ripe fruit, before the sun and moon were made."49 Only with the coming of modern geology was the Church led to believe that Gen. 1:11,12 was saying that fruit trees did not come into existence until after the creation of fish and animals on Day 5. It seems evident that the concordists are reading modern science into the biblical text.
Day Four: Genesis 1:14-19
Ross identifies Gen. 1:14-19 as the time when, after the atmosphere became an oxidizing atmosphere, the consumption of CO2 by plants along with a decrease in volcanic activity transformed the atmosphere from translucent to transparent. The result was that "suddenly the sun, the moon, and the stars became distinctly visibleº "50
Newman & Eckelman believe that it is reasonable to suppose that
Gen. 1:14-19 describes the first appearance of the sun, moon, and stars to our hypothetical earth bound observer on the occasion of the break up of the earth's cloud cover.51
Young did not identify Day 4 with any particular period, but like the other concordists, believed it was "not necessary to think that the sun, moon, and stars received their existence for the first time at this point."52
Our concordists are all in agreement about both the date of this period and the idea that the sun and moon were created billions of years before Gen. 1:14-19, and were first clearly visible on earth during this period. They all agree that Gen. 1:14-19 is not saying that the sun, moon, and stars were first created on Day 4. But, again we must ask, "Is this the historical-grammatical meaning of Gen. 1:14-19?"
The words, "Let there be"ówhich even concordists understand as referring to current, not past, creation in v. 6óare not well suited to refer to objects that have already been in existence for years. It is even more difficult to believe that here in a context of creation that the words "God made two great lightsº made the stars" really mean that they were actually made billions of years earlier, and God was just changing the atmosphere so that they could be clearly seen on earth. Before the advent of modern geology and astronomy, who would have guessed that the text meant this? In fact, no one did. Also, the implication of v. 17, God "set" them in the firmament, is that they were not there earlier. Had Moses intended to speak merely of the heavenly bodies appearing, he would have used the word "appear" as in v. 9.
The problem with the concordists' definition
is that in Scripture the word is a synonym of "create."
As to the Hebrew in Gen. 1:14-19, as early as 1887, S.R. Driver rejected the concordist interpretation, saying the word "made" is
perfectly unambiguous and distinctº The writer expresses, as explicitly as it is possible for language to do, his sense that the luminaries had no existence prior to the Fourth Day.53
Seventy years later, M. Kline was protesting just as strongly. He said that in order to avoid the idea that plants thrived before the sun was created
the most unwarranted notions of the work of the "fourth day" have been substituted for the straightforward statements of the text. Gen. 1:14-19 declares that the heavenly bodies were on the "fourth day" created and set in their familiar positions. Moses is certainly not suggesting merely that hitherto hidden heavenly bodies now became visible on earth.54
The problem with the concordists' definition of "make" is that in Scripture the word is a synonym of "create." Objects referred to in Genesis 1 as having been "created" are described elsewhere in the OT as having been "made" (Ex. 20:11; Neh. 9:6: Prov. 8:26). Further, in Gen. 1:21 and 25, 26 and 27, and 2:4 as well as elsewhere in the OT (Isa. 41:20; 43:7;45:7), the Hebrew word "made" is used synonymously and interchangeably with the word "create." Interpreted within its biblical context, the sentence, "God made two great lights" does not mean anything significantly different from "God created two great lights."
There is an old interpretive tradition, however, which understands Gen. 1:1 to be saying that God originally created the raw materials of the universe or even a proto-earth, heaven, sun, moon, etc.; and then on the creative days perfected the formation of the various parts of the universe. This understanding was not uncommon among Jewish writers (e.g., b. Hagigah 12a, Rashi) and has flowed from Calvin down through generations of reformed commentators to the present day (e.g., Leupold). Young and others have appealed to this tradition as evidence that Gen. 1:14-16 could be speaking of a sun, moon, and stars that were already made.55
It must be noted, therefore, that the original tradition found in Calvin and those who followed him did not posit that the sun, moon, and stars already existed in a fully developed form prior to Day 4, as does the concordist theory. As noted above, even though espousing the tradition that Gen. 1:1 meant that God created the original matter of the universe, Calvin explicitly stated that "herbs and trees were created before the sun."56
This old tradition, therefore, does not support the concordist theory. It only posits the existence of raw materials or, at the most, unfinished prototypes of the heavenly bodies. So, if all that happened on Day 4 was that they were seen clearly for the first time, it would have been raw material or unfinished prototypes that would have been seen. Further, this old tradition, unlike the concordists, took Gen. 1:17 seriously. It accordingly held that not even unfinished prototypes were in the firmament prior to Day 4. Concordists ignore the force of v. 17.
If you interpret Gen. 1:14-19 within its biblical context, it is speaking of the original creation of the sun, moon, and stars, which is the historic understanding of the Church.57 I should think it would be very difficult for even a concordist to really believe that all of the saints and scholars from the beginning of Church history until the rise of modern science (and most modern scholars as well) have all misinterpreted Gen. 1:14-19. Is it not rather that concordism has imposed modern science upon the Bible?
I could go on to document that in Days 5 and 6 the creation of birds in the Bible is contemporary with the creation of fish (v. 20) and precedes the creation of reptiles (v. 24) whereas in the scientific record birds follow both fish and reptiles. But, I believe my point is already sufficiently established: Concordism does not demonstrate agreement between the Scriptures and modern science. Rather, it rewrites the Scriptures so that they agree with modern science.
I have not dealt specifically in this paper with "creation science," which primarily rewrites science so that it agrees with Scripture. But, it is evident that they too have rewritten Genesis 1óat least with regard to the firmament, the sea above the firmament, and the flat earth.58 I agree heartily, therefore, with Davis Young, who though originally espousing concordism, reviewed the history of both concordism and literalism ("creation science") and after noting the divergent, overly imaginative and unconvincing interpretations of Genesis and science within both traditions, came to the conclusion that "Literalism and concordism are failed enterprises that evangelicals should abandon."59
Surely, it is not God's will for evangelicals to uphold interpretations of the Bible which violate its historical-grammatical meaning. If we are really free to rewrite the Bible, then the Bible means absolutely nothing. I believe that there is a much more biblical way to relate science to Scripture than either by rewriting science or by rewriting the Bible.
A More Biblical Approach
The biblical approach that I believe better relates science to the Bible is to accept the historical-grammatical meaning of Genesis 1. Admit that it reflects the cosmology of the second millennium B.C., and that modern science presents a more valid picture of the universe. Then, recognize the fact that the theological message of Genesis 1 stands out in such superior contrast to the mythological accounts of creation (both ancient and modern) that even so radical a critic as Gunkel could see the difference. Finally, draw what seems to me the obvious conclusion: Science and the Bible are complementary.
Admittedly, this does not uphold the common but unbiblical assumption that the divine inspiration of Scripture cannot entail concessions to ancient "science." But, there is no biblical reason why the theological message in Genesis 1 cannot be eternally valid, while the package in which it came was a temporal concession to the people of that time.60 Indeed, it was Jesus who taught that divinely inspired Scripture can and does include concessions to hardened hearts, concessions in the area of faith and morals (Mark 10:5). How much more then is concession possible in the area of mere science?
We might add that, according to Scripture, the development of scientific knowledge was delegated by God to humankind (Gen. 1:26-28). The divine purpose of biblical inspiration, therefore, is not to reveal science but to inform us of God's standards of faith and morals (2 Tim. 3:16).
It is time for evangelicals to lay aside extra-biblical definitions of biblical inspiration, and agree with Jesus that inspired Scripture can contain concessions. Genesis 1 is a concession. Or, as a modern missionary, aware of the imperative need for divine revelation to be clothed in the terms of the culture to which it comes, has explained: Genesis 1 is a case of divine contextualization.61
There is no need to rewrite either science or the Bible. Both offer truth.
1See the discussion in B. Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture (London: Paternoster, 1955), 144-149.
2On the history of concordism, see Davis Young, "Scripture in the Hands of Geologists," Westminster Theological Journal 49 (1987): 257-304; and his Christianity and the Age of the Earth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), chs. 3 and 4; J. Raymond Zimmer, "The Creation of Man and the Evolutionary Record," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 48:1 (March 1996): 16-95 presents a more sophisticated version of concordism which rightly moves in the direction of considering literary genre; but, I believe, needs more input from ancient Near Eastern thought.
3Davis Young, Creation and the Flood (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977), 81-134.
4Robert C. Newman and Herman J. Eckelmann, Jr., Genesis One & the Origin of the Earth (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1977).
5Hugh J. Ross, Genesis One: A Scientific Perspective (Sierra Madre: Wiseman Productions, 1983).
6Chapters 2 and 3 of Modern Science and Christian Faith by members of the American Scientific Affiliation (Wheaton: Van Kampen, 1950), 9-57.
7John Wiester, The Genesis Connection (New York: Thomas Nelson, 1983).
8Newman & Eckelmann, Genesis One & the Origin of the Earth, 87; Young, Creation and the Flood, 118; Ross, Genesis One: A Scientific Perspective, 4, 5; Wiester (The Genesis Connection, 202) identifies the Big Bang with Gen. 1:1-5, particularly noting that it was an "explosion of dazzling brilliance" in accord with Gen. 1:3 "Let there be light."
9Edward J. Young, Studies in Genesis One (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1964), 14.
10Quoted in Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11 (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), 97. The discussion by Westermann (pp. 93-97) is excellent and leaves no doubt in my mind that Gen. 1:1 is unparalleled by any other ancient creation account.
11Ross, Genesis One: A Scientific Perspective, 4, 5 .
12Stoner (Modern Science and Christian Faith, 18, 19), also refers Gen. 1:2 with its darkened earth to the earth originating out of a dark nebula, apparently c. 5 or 6 billion years ago. Wiester (The Genesis Connection, 202) having identified Gen. 1:3 and the creation of light as a statement of the Big Bang, skips commenting on Gen. 1:2.
13Newman & Eckelmann, Genesis One & the Origin of the Earth, 70.
14Young, Creation and the Flood, 118.
15Ross, Genesis One: A Scientific Perspective, 5.
16Newman & Eckelmann, Genesis One & the Origin of the Earth, 71-2. Stoner said nothing about the ocean in Gen. 1:2; but, his editor added a footnote to his paper, saying, "The description in Genesis 1:2 may picture a molten earth surrounded by an ocean of steam or a barren earth with a crust but still above the boiling point of water shrouded by a dense cloud of steam." (Modern Science and Christian Faith, p. 19 n. 22)
17Young, Creation and the Flood, 119.
18Wiester, (The Genesis Connection, 50, 52, 202), not only ignores the ocean mentioned in Gen. 1:2, he tells us in accordance with modern scientific theory that when the earth finally did condense out of the nebula c. 4.5 billion years ago, there was no water at all on it. Of course, there could not be since at that point in time the temperature of the earth was far above the boiling point of water.
19Paul H. Seely, "The Geographical Meaning of `earth' and `sea' in Gen. 1:10," Westminster Theological Journal Forthcoming; Moshe Weinfeld, "Gen. 7:11, 8:1,2 Against the Background of Ancient Near Eastern Tradition," Die Welt des Orients 9 (1978): 242-248.
20Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72 (London: InterVarsity, 1973), 253.
21Newman & Eckelmann, Genesis One & the Origin of the Earth, 70.
22Ludwig Koehler & Walter Baumgartner, eds. Lexicon in Beteris Testamenti Libros (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1958), 1019.
23St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis Vol. 1, (New York: Newman Press, 1982), 35; Aquinas, Summa, Vol. 10, 95.
24Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (Waco: Word Books, 1987), 16 says "primeval ocean"; Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary of the Book of Genesis Part 1 (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1961), 24 says, "primeval world-ocean"; See also S.R. Driver's astonishment and rejection of "such free use of the Hebrew language" when the concordists of his day tried to say that tehom meant "cloud," in "The Cosmogony of Genesis," Andover Review (Dec 1887): 641-2.
25Newman & Eckelmann, Genesis One & the Origin of the Earth, 72, 73.
26Ross, Genesis One: A Scientific Perspective, 6.
27Young, Studies in Genesis One, 120.
28"Oceans," The New Encyclopedia Brittanica, Macropaedia, Vol. 13 (Chicago: Helen Benton, 1982), 476; Wiester, The Genesis Connection, 50, 52, 202.
29Ross, Genesis One: A Scientific Perspective, 7.
30Newman & Eckelmann, Genesis One & the Origin of the Earth, 75, 76.
31Young, Studies in Genesis One, 125.
32Stoner (Modern Science and Christian Faith, 20) also identifies the expanse as space that formed between the ocean and the clouds, the water above as clouds, the water below as the ocean. Wiester (The Genesis Connection, 192) seems to agree.
33Paul H. Seely, "The Firmament and the Waters Above," Part 1, Westminster Theological Journal 53 (1991): 227-240.
34 Pesah 49a.
35Young, Studies in Genesis One, 90, n. 94.
36. Ta'an 1:9b.
37The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom (Oxford: J. H. Parkes, 1842), 168.
38For further documentation of the fact that "the waters above" does not refer to clouds, see P. Seely, "The Firmament and the Water Above" Part II, Westminster Theological Journal 54 (1992): 31-46; Jody Dillow, The Waters Above: Earth's Pre-Flood Canopy (Chicago: Moody, 1981), 48-64.
39Ross, Genesis One: A Scientific Perspective, 8.
40Newman & Eckelmann, Genesis One & the Origin of the Earth, 76-78.Wiester, The Genesis Connection, 203. Gedney, a geologist, takes over from Stoner and identifies Gen. 1:9 with the Archaeozoic Era c. 2.5 to 1.5 billion years ago (Modern Science and Christian Faith, 53).
41Young, Studies in Genesis One, 126.
42The issue of the flatness of the earth is not of sufficient importance here to list all of the historical and biblical data. The interested reader is referred to my paper of note 19 in which, incidentally, I also explain the contextual meaning of Job 26:7, "He hangs the earth upon nothing."
43Ross, Genesis One: A Scientific Perspective, 9.
44Newman & Eckelmann, Genesis One & the Origin of the Earth, 79.
45Young, Studies in Genesis One, 127.
46Wiester (The Genesis Connection, 203) identifies Gen. 1:11,12 with what he calls the Age of Blue-Green Algae, from 3.5 billion to 1 billion years ago, but says flowering plants (fruit trees) did not occur until 130 million years ago. Gedney (Modern Science and Christian Faith, 53) identifies Gen. 1:11,12 with the Proterozoic era, within dates c. 1.5 billion to .5 billion years ago.
47Ramban, Commentary on the Torah, Genesis (New York: Shilo, 1971), 40; Cf. Rosh Hashanah 11a; Kelim 17:14; Luther's Works, Vol. 1, Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 1-5 (St. Louis: Concordia, 1958), 38; cf. p. 5.
48John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), 82; Even Philo and Augustine, who concordists often cite as not believing in literal days, understood Gen. 1:11,12 to be referring to actual fruit trees which came into existence before the creation of the animals. See Philo, "On the Creation," 41, 42, Loeb Classical Library, Philo 1 (Cambridge: Harvard, 1981), 30-33; St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Vol. 2 (New York: Newman, 1982), 37.
49William Jenks and Joseph Warne, eds. The Comprehensive Commentary on the Holy Bible, Genesis-Judges (Brattleboro: Fessenden & Co., 1835), 20.
50Ross, Genesis One: A Scientific Perspective, 10. Wiester (The Genesis Connection, 203-4) identifies the fourth day with the same period that Ross describes. Stoner (Modern Science and Christian Faith, 21) gives the same explanation and says the word "create" is not used in Gen. 1:14, 16; and the word "made" means "made to function" or "made to appear."
51Newman & Eckelmann, Genesis One & the Origin of the Earth, 80.
52Young, Studies in Genesis One, 128.
53Driver, "The Biblical Cosmology," 645.
54Meredith Kline, "Because It Had Not Rained," Westminster Theological Journal 20 (May 1958): 153; Kline has more fully developed his opposition to understanding Day Four as referring to anything else but actual creation of the heavenly bodies in his recent paper, "Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 48:1 (March 1996): 8, 9.
55Cf. G. Ch. Aalders, Genesis Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 63 and Sailhamer in The Expositors Bible Commentary Vol. 2, ed. Frank Gabelein and R. Polcyn, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 33-34.
56Cf. Matthew Poole, A Commentary on the Holy Bible Vol. 1, (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1962), 2; Gill's Commentary, 6; Keil and Delitzsch similarly speak of the heavenly bodies being "completed on the fourth day." See C.F. Keil & F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1951), 59; H.C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1942), 71.
57Theophilus (second century) said, "On the fourth day the luminaries were madeº the plants and seeds were produced prior to the heavenly bodiesº "(Theophilus to Autolycus 2:15 in The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 2, 100-101); Origen (third century) said that on the fourth day "º God orders lights to come into existence." (Homilies on Genesis and Exodus [Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1981], 53); John Chrysostom (fourth century) said, "Sacred Scripture teaches us that the creation of this heavenly body [the sun] took place three days later, after the growth of all the plantsº " (St. John Chrystostom, Homilies of Genesis 1-17 [Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1985], 84); Cf. St. Basil, "On the Hexameron, Homily 6," in Exegetic Homilies [Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1963], 85); Martin of Braga (sixth century) said, "Genesis reports that the lights of the sun and moon were created on the fourth day" ("Easter," in Iberian Fathers Vol. 1 [Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1969], 106); John of Damascus (eighth century) said, "It was into these luminaries that the Creator put the primordial lightº as we said, the sun was created on the fourth day" (St. John of Damascus, Orthodox Faith Book 2 [Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1958], 216, 220).
58I dealt specifically with creation science's vapor canopy as a rewrite of the Bible in my paper, "The Firmament and the Water Above" Part II, Westminster Theological Journal 54 (1992).
59Young, "Scripture in the Hands of Geologists," 291.
60I have given the biblical basis for this statement in my book, Inerrant Wisdom: Science and Scripture in Biblical Perspective (Portland, OR: Evangelical Reform, 1989); Cf. James D. G. Dunn, "The Authority of Scripture according to Scripture," The Churchman 96 (1982): 104-122 and 201-225; also Bruce Waltke, "Historical Grammatical Problems" in E. D. Radmacher and R. D. Preus, eds. Hermeneutics, Inerrancy and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 118 and "The Literary Genre of Genesis, Chapter One" Crux 27 (Dec. 1991): 10; and note Benjamin B. Warfield's statement in "The Real Problem of Inspiration" in The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1948), 166-7.
61John Stott and Robert T. Coote, eds. Gospel and Culture (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1979), 47-68.