The Literary Framework in Genesis 1:

Criticisms of ESSENTIALS and EXTRAS
(unfortunately, critics rarely make this distinction)

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.

The ESSENTIALS are described in a 3-part page (with 4 authors) about the literary framework in Genesis 1 and you should read it before continuing onward, in this page, to my descriptions of
the framework-ESSENTIALS and framework-EXTRAS
plus criticisms of ESSENTIALS and criticisms of EXTRAS.


        ESSENTIALS — Framework Structure and Creation History

        • FRAMEWORK STRUCTURE — For me, the logical structure was immediately obvious and easy to understand, first in the mid-1980s when a speaker described it at a conference of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, and later when I saw it in Genesis 1-11: How it All Began where Ronald Youngblood says (in 1978) that the simple phrase "formless and empty" in Genesis 1:2 "is the key that unlocks the literary structure of the rest of Genesis 1: The acts of separating and gathering [that give form to the fomless] on days 1-3, and the acts of making and filling on days 4-6."

        • CREATION HISTORY — This literary framework is a historical framework, and its topically organized history of creation is a real history of creation, as explained in my main page:
        "History is often written by arranging topics in a logical framework, not in a chronological sequence.  For example, a comprehensive history of the 1900s could be written using a chronological organization, beginning at 1900 and including many aspects of history (religious, cultural, political, military, economic, educational,...) and then doing this for 1901, and continuing in 1902 through 1999.  Or a historian could choose a topical organization by describing religious aspects of the century's history, and then cultural aspects, and so on."
        Would you deny that the second type of history (with topical organization) can provide an accurate description of real historical events, simply because the events are not listed chronologically?


        EXTRAS — a Proof-Claim, Non-Claim, and Speculations

        It will be easier to understand the first "extra" in this section (a claim for textual proof) if we compare it with my claim for textual plausibility:
        My main page explains why I think the six days of Genesis 1 form a logical framework, and acknowledges that "the meaning intended by God [for the creation history] could be only logical (not chronological)... or both logical and chronological... or [but this seems highly unlikely] only chronological."   Yes, "both logical and chronological" is an option.
        The framework might describe the chronology of an old-earth creation spanning billions of years, as proposed in a Day-Age Interpretation.  If we accept their proposals — such as the sun, moon and stars becoming visible (not being created) on Day 4 — the chronology of Genesis 1 agrees in general with the history of nature proposed by modern science, but it doesn't seem to agree in specifics when when we carefully examine the details.   { A framework view is also compatible with other old-earth or age-neutral views, such as Intermittent Days or Days of Proclamation. }
        Or the framework could describe the chronology of a young-earth history.  I don't see any reason to think that God could not plan a 144-hour creation, as described in the topical framework, and then create everything in that sequence.  A young-earth view proposes many miracles (including Apparent Age) in Genesis 1, but this is consistent with God's miraculous actions in many other parts of the Bible.  And despite the claims, by some old-earth advocates, that not creating the sun until Day 4 is a problem for a young-earth view, the plants created in Day 3 could survive for a day without sunlight, and for pre-solar "evening and morning" all that's needed is 3 days with a non-solar source of light and a rotating earth to produce periods of dark (evening) and light (morning).  /  The major chronological challenges for a young-earth view are its claims for what happened AFTER the first six days, because young-earth science does not have satisfactory arguments against the old-earth conclusions of conventional science, about a long history of nature (on earth and throughout the universe) spanning billions of years.  You can examine the arguments (both old-earth and young-earth) in AGE OF THE EARTH - SCIENCE.
        But a nonchronological framework is also plausible when we look only at the text.  Then we can use the "two books" principle that (as stated by the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy) "in some cases extrabiblical data have value for clarifying what Scripture teaches, and for prompting correction of faulty interpretations" and (from WISELY USING THE TWO BOOKS OF GOD) that "our understanding of total reality (spiritual plus physical) will be more complete and accurate if we use both sources of information," in scripture and nature.  Almost all scientists think that information from nature, logically analyzed using the methods of science, proves (beyond any reasonable doubt) that the earth is old.  When we carefully examine the text of Genesis 1, interpreting the text as a non-chronological framework is plausible.  But when we combine this textual plausibility with what we learn from our scientific study of nature — when we "use both sources of information, in scripture and nature" — it seems highly probable that a nonchronological framework is the correct interpretation, the interpretation that is true because it corresponds to what actually happened in history.
        note:  If we view scripture as having two levels of authorship, by humans and by God, we can ask whether the original human writers thought their description was chronological, and whether God intended it to be chronological, and the answers for these two questions might be different.

        Here are three EXTRAS (proof-claim, non-claim, speculation) and a commentary:
        • A CLAIM FOR TEXTUAL PROOF — Although I claim only “textual plausibility” for a non-chronological framework, a prominent framework advocate, Meredith Kline, wanted to show — using only the text of Genesis, independent from science — that the framework cannot be chronological, so in 1958 he wrote "Because It Had Not Rained."  The original paper is available, but it's easier to read the summary in a later paper by Lee Irons, who says that "although the above considerations [describing the framework's logical structure] make the framework interpretation a plausible understanding of the days of creation, we recognize that we have not yet demonstrated the impossibility of a sequential understanding of the creation days. ... [but Kline's analysis of Genesis 2:5-7, and application of it to Genesis 1, shows that] during the creation period, God did not rely on supernatural means to preserve and sustain His creatures once they were created..." and this "necessitates a non-sequential interpretation of the creation account [for the first 3 days before the sun was created in young-earth proposals], and non-sequentialism in turn demonstrates that the week of days comprises a figurative framework."  Irons continues with another argument: "The final exegetical observation that ultimately clinches the case is the unending nature of the seventh day."  But I'm not convinced that we can conclude — based only on the text of Genesis 1 — that the days must be only nonchronological, and neither are proponents of a young earth, who often deny even the existence of a framework!
        • A Claim for Naturalistic Creation?  No.  Contrary to irresponsible accusations from some young-earth critics, a framework view is not linked with theistic evolution, because acknowledging a framework is compatible with all of the major views:  young-earth creation, old-earth progressive creation (with independent creations or by genetic modifications), or old-earth evolutionary creation.  {A claim that the history in Genesis 1 is non-chronological is compatible with all views, including a generic young-earth creation, but not with traditional young-earth creation.}  Meredith Kline does not say that God created using only natural process;  instead he claims that "during the creation period, God did not rely on supernatural means to preserve and sustain His creatures once they were created. (italics added)"  Kline is focusing on preservation, not creation.  And, more important, his claim is an EXTRA that is not an essential part of a framework view.   { Personally, I think Genesis 1 describes creation history in a nonchronological framework, and God used both natural-appearing and miraculous-appearing actions during a creation process lasting billions of years, as explained in my views about creation. }
        • SPECULATIONS — In a speculative extension of the basic framework proposal, Meredith Kline (in 1996) claims to "show how two-register cosmology informs and shapes the treatment of both the space and time dimensions in the Genesis prologue.  It is found that a metaphorical relationship exists between the two levels;  the heavenly level (upper register) is described in figures drawn from the earthly level (lower register).  As for the seven-day scheme, it belongs to the upper register and is, therefore, to be understood figuratively, not literally." (from Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony)

        another commentary:  Rowland Ward, in Length of Days in Genesis (a paper in 2001 defending the Framework Interpretation), "points out that the FI does not depend on a special exegesis of Genesis 2:4-7," and he thinks Meredith Kline — in his writings about the essentials and extras of FI — "overdoes things at times."

        Criticisms of Framework-ESSENTIALS

        FRAMEWORK STRUCTURE — I've seen two main arguments against the framework's logical structure:
        A) regarding the parallel between Days 1 and 4, the sun (Day 4) is placed "in the expanse of the sky" but the "expanse" is not created until Day 2 (not Day 1);  this is true, but the main theme of 1-and-4 is light, while the main theme of Day 2 is water, and the expanse is just a place to put the producers of light.  
        B) regarding the parallel between Days 2 and 5, creatures "fill the water in the seas" (Day 5) and "seas" are not mentioned until Day 3 (although the sea-water, which the creatures of Day 5 live in, did exist in Day 2);  this is true, but the main theme of 2-and-5 is water, while the main theme of Day 3 is land (it's the new thing, since Day 2 already had water), and the minor distinction between water and seas (both are mentioned in Day 5, and the creatures lived in both) seems trivial.

        CREATION HISTORY — A common claim, by young-earth advocates, is that the language of Genesis 1 proves it is describing chronological history.  I'm not convinced, but you can examine the text and arguments for yourself, and evaluate the strength of this claim.  A common concern is that the framework proposes a non-historical view (but this is denied by framework advocates) and it will be a "slippery slope" to denying other historical claims in the Bible.  But, as explained in THEOLOGY ABOUT AGE OF THE EARTH, "we can avoid a ‘slippery slope’ by rationally deciding that a 144-hour creation is not true, but The Resurrection is true and is an essential doctrine because (compared with a young earth) it is much more certainly taught and is much more important."


        Criticisms of Framework-EXTRAS
        If you read the anti-framework pages in CREATIONIST INTERPRETATIONS OF GENESIS 1 you'll find criticisms of ESSENTIALS (the main ones are above) and EXTRAS.
        In one sense this is understandable, since Meredith Kline is a highly respected scholar who has been a prominent advocate for the framework view.  Kline has been especially influential in the theologically conservative reformed community, which produced two comprehensive reports (by the Presbyterian Church in America and Orthodox Presbyterian Church) on Genesis and creation, and — responding to the strong pro-framework influence within their denominations that has been led by Meredith Kline and Lee Irons — wrote some vigorously anti-framework papers.
        Unfortunately, critics of a framework rarely make a distinction between essentials and extras.  In fact, Frank Walker claims that "Genesis 2:5 is a pivotal passage for defenders of the framework hypothesis" even though it's not a part of the framework so it should be considered an "extra" instead of a pivotal passage.

APPENDIX (with an example)

As part of his defense of a literal young-earth interpretation of Genesis 1, Todd Beall criticizes the framework structure (an ESSENTIAL, shown in green) and also Kline's speculative "ruler" arguments (this is an EXTRA, shown in purple);  and my comments are [inside the brackets, in gold]:

The pattern itself does not hold.  A few examples will suffice.  First, the light of day 1 is not dependent on the sun, so the sun is hardly the “ruler” of it.  [He is criticizing Meredith Kline's pro-framework ideas about "rulers" which are speculative and are not part of the basic framework, so criticisms of ruler-arguments, highlighted in purple, are not relevant when deciding whether or not the basic framework-pattern exists.]  The light of day 1 is a special creation of God, distinct from the sun.  If some have a problem with understanding light without the sun, then they should recognize that something similar will be true in the eternal state.  According to Rev 21:23 and 22:5, the sun will not be needed at all, since the Lord Himself is the Light.  So just as in the first three days of the creation week, in the eternal state there will once again be light without the sun.  Second, the waters existed on day 1, not just day 2.  [So what? The parallel is between the SEPARATIONS of water-and-sky in Day 2 and the water-and-sky creatures in Day 5.]  Third, in v. 14 the “lights” of day 4 are set in the “expanse” created in day 2 (not day 1).  [Again, the criticism is trivial, because here the parallel is between the SEPARATION of day-and-night in Day 1 and the day-and-night producers of light in Day 4.]  Fourth, the sea creatures of day 5 were to fill the “water in the seas” which were created on day 3, not day 2, contrary to the chart above (see Gen 1:10)  [This is another trivial criticism because it should be easy for Beall, and his readers, to understand that in the separation on Day 3 the LAND appeared, and this merely separated the sea-water, which was one result of the separations in Day 2, into different parts.]and none of the sea creatures or birds or land creatures other than man were to “rule” anything anyway!  Finally, man was created on day 6 not to rule over the land and vegetation (created on day 3), but over the land animals created on day 6 and the sea creatures and birds created on day 5!  [So what?  This has nothing to do with the framework.]  In other words, despite the nice chart, the patterns simply do not hold up!  [The criticisms are about trivialities, not the main logical structure of the framework.]

also:  Frank Walker has written two papers (1 2) that mainly criticize framework-extras and defend young-earth views in ways that are not related to the framework.

Above, a LINK is page-adding, opening a new page in a new window
Below, a LINK is page-replacing, opening a new page in this window.

(a links-page with a wide range of ideas from different authors)