Rev. Timothy L. Bero
928 N. Drake Rd.
Kalamazoo, MI 49006
I was not sure whether to address this document to the Committee of Five only or to the whole Presbytery. I guess I would say that if the Committee is not persuaded by my suggestion of delay or by my defense against the charges that the entire Presbytery should receive a copy. I will be sending a copy to a few other people for their advice and opinion.
At the outset I would like to request a delay in Presbytery's actions on the recommendations of the Committee (unless, of course, the Committee reverses its judgment or the Presbytery is prepared not to pursue the case). The first contact I have had with the committee was when I received the final "draft" copy of the charges on Saturday, February 26, 1994. I had a telephone conversation with you, the chairman, (Rev. Tim Bero) one week later on Saturday, March 5, 1994. At that time you invited me to respond in writing or via a teleconference call with the Committee. I have chosen to respond in writing via the present letter. This has been the extent of the Committee's contact with me and is less than two weeks before the convening of the Spring stated meeting. It is my understanding that the "draft" of the charges has already been sent to the ministers and Session with the result that no substantial changes in the charges would be made as a result of whatever response that I might make.
I understand that the mandate for this Committee was simply to draft charges and that a motion to investigate my views further was defeated, so perhaps the Committee is not culpable. Also the inconvenience of my being in Texas during this academic year is part of the reason. However, it seems to me that the Presbytery ought to take the time to examine my views carefully (which implies allowing me to clarify any possible misconceptions). Keep in mind that when the charges are presented, the Harvest Session is required to do a preliminary investigation and determination as to whether the charges are serious and whether, if proven, they constitute an offense. While the Presbytery is not obligated to perform such a preliminary investigation when formulating the charges, it seems to me that it is a wise thing for the Presbytery to do lest the Harvest Session finds no grounds to try the case as a result of the preliminary investigation.
Summary of My Response to the Charges
My response to the charges is as follows:
We charge that Dr. Terry Gray has committed the public offense of believing that Adam had primate ancestors, contrary to the Word of God (Genesis 2:7, 1:26,27) and the doctrinal standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (WCF IV.2, WLC 17).
I will acknowledge that it is my present opinion that Adam had primate ancestors. However, I do not believe that this is a chargeable offense because I do not believe that it is contrary to the Word of God or to the doctrinal standards of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Thus I will seek to show that Scripture or the Confessions do not require me to deny this conclusion that has been reached by modern science.
With regard to the process and method by which God created Adam, Dr. Gray subordinates Scripture to alleged empirical evidence.
I deny this charge and will seek to show that the Committee has either distorted or misunderstood my views.
Response Concerning the First Charge
1. First, I will make some observations and comments about the specifications cited by the Committee (Lines 110-198). Specifications #6 (Lines 166-168) and #10 (Lines 185-197) have nothing to do the with the specific charge of my believing that Adam had primate ancestors. In the contexts of the documents from which they came they were merely to provide support for the general notion of the evolution of animals. In the preface of the Committee's report it is noted that broader issues such as this one are not in view (Lines 12-15).
2. Furthermore, it should be noted that the remaining specifications are concerning the evolution of human beings as it pertains to the human body only. None of those statements are meant to suggest that Adam as a body/soul entity was not created by a special supernatural act of God. While the Committee acknowledges that this is my view, it is absolutely essential that this distinction be clearly maintained. I believe that in one case the Committee has not emphasized this point adequately. In the Section D. Seriousness of the Alleged Offense the report states that I affirm "the special creation of an historical Adam, by means of a divinely directed evolution from pre-man primates". This particular phrasing may be interpreted to mean that "special creation" is by means of "divinely directed evolution". In my usage "special creation" refers to a special act of God that is apart from his normal, providential manner of governance.
3. The issue that we are debating here is exceedingly narrow. I have stated this many, many times. The very narrow question is this: Does Genesis 2:7 require that there is no genetic continuity between Adam and the rest of the animal and/or biological world? Or, does Genesis 2:7 require the rejection of the current scientific opinion concerning the origin of man because it so clearly teaches that Adam was made body and soul from no pre-existing living material? Before turning to that narrowly defined question let me emphasize (as I have done repeatedly) that in my opinion there are NO theological implications of my view. The Report acknowledges this in the Preface when it says, "Dr. Gray affirms the historicity of Adam and his special creation by God in His image. He affirms the covenant structure of the two Adams..." (Lines 16-17) The Report seems to raise three additional "theological" issues that I want to discuss.
a. First is the reference to the creation of Eve (Lines 54-57). Although there are many interesting and perplexing questions that could be raised concerning the Genesis 2 account of the creation of Eve (e.g. Was Eve a genetic clone of Adam?), suffice it to say that this question is not before us. I am content to affirm that based on my present understanding of Scripture that Eve was created from the side of Adam as described in Genesis 2:21 ff.
b. The Report cites the Westminster Confession of Faith (IV.2) and the Westminster Larger Catechism (17) with stress laid on the word "after" in the phrase, "After God had made all other creatures, he created man..." (Lines 95-108). My position does not deny this view. Furthermore, the Committee asserts that the Scripture and Confession and Catechism all "distinguish sharply between God's creation of "all other creatures" and His creation of man." (Lines 88-89) My position does not deny this view either.
c. In Section D. Seriousness of the Alleged Offense, the Report says that my "view of man's physical origin denies what the Scripture teaches about the uniqueness of the body/soul unity of man. There is no discussion of what this means either scripturally or theologically. Suffice it to say that whatever body/soul unity is possible when Adam is created from inanimate dust is also possible when Adam in created from already existing animate material. Keep in mind that my position requires a special, supernatural act just as much as the creation of Adam from inanimate dust. My view does not necessarily imply a Platonic body/soul dualism, but is consistent with an orthodox Reformed dualism that recognizes a fundamental unity between body and soul but allows for a separated existence of the soul in the intermediate state.
4. Before turning to a detailed discussion of the passage in question, we must discuss some general principles of interpretation. The Report of the Committee begins by stating that "the text presents itself as straightforward didactic history". I have already affirmed a commitment to that historical dimension when I have affirmed the historicity of Adam, the Covenant of Works, and other historical elements of the text that are crucial for our Reformed theology. However, it seems to me that if we stop here in our classification of the text that we have oversimplified the matter. There are many symbols and figures in this second chapter of Genesis. We must not insist on an all or nothing approach when we classify something as didactic history or as figurative. In the words of the French theologian Henri Blocher,
"The use of figurative language by no means determines the main question, that of the connection of the narrative with events that are located and dated from the beginning. The acknowledgment of symbolic elements hardly weighs at all in favor of a symbolic interpretation of the whole. Conversely, those who favor the literal historicity of the content have no reason to demand the same literalness of language. Scripture...abounds in examples of mixed genre." (From In the Beginning, 1984, IVP: Downers Grove, p. 37).
The Genesis 2 and 3 text abounds with symbols and figurative language. A few examples will suffice to make the point. Adam, the name of the man, meaning "ground", or Eve, the name of the woman, meaning "living". These names, while they very well could have been the names of these two individuals, are obviously symbolic. There is the matter of the two trees. The names of these trees, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life, are not arbitrary. One could imagine that God could have told Adam and Eve not to eat of a pear tree. Surely the moral test would have been equivalent. The name of the tree is loaded with symbolism.
On a different level is the matter of the significance of Genesis 1-3 in the context of the Ancient Near East. Harvey Conn (1993 Van Dyke Lectures on Missiology at Calvin Theological Seminary) among others has identified numerous features of these early chapters of Genesis as part an apologetic encounter with the culture around it. All of the world around us is the handiwork of the Soverign Lord God. This is in contrast with the prevailing culture which held that the sun, moon, stars, birds, fish, and beasts were divine and to be worshiped. The notion of all men and women being in the image of God stands in contrast with the Ancient Near Eastern king who alone was the image of God. The concept of garden as illustrated by the Garden of Eden signifies the Ancient Near Eastern king's dominion over nature as he kept a garden (both botanical and zoological) in the midst of his city.
Thirdly are the anthropomorphisms of the Genesis account. We see God walking in the Garden. We see him forming the body of Adam from dust as a potter would fashion clay. We see him breathing into the nostrils of Adam. We see him "surgically" removing a rib from Adam to create Eve. We find God looking and calling for Adam and Eve. We see him skinning an animal and making clothes for the fallen pair. To press these images too far is to lose the point. For example, when God formed Adam from the dust did he also make all of Adam's body parts, liver, stomach, brain, heart, etc. out of the dust. Did he form each one and place it in the proper place so that when he breathed life into him all of these parts would turn into functional organs? Did God use his mouth when he breathed life into Adam? Did his breath come from his lungs? Do we have a picture of God performing mouth to mouth resuscitation on Adam? Obviously, these pictures aren't meant to answer these sorts of questions and to ask them is to border on the hilarious or even the blasphemous.
The point in citing all of these symbols and figures is simply to say that the claim of "straightforward didactic history" tells us very little about how we are to interpret the details of the account. Don't misunderstand me here. Liberal theologians take these obvious symbols and then turn the whole account into symbol or myth. We must resist that tendency. I affirm the historical nature of the Genesis account. My main concern though is that we must be careful not to press the symbols and figures beyond the meaning that they were meant to have.
Finally, I will underscore the Committee's own words: "the Bible is not a textbook for genetics, paleontology, geology, or microbiology." (Lines 302-303) As the Committee points out this does not necessarily mean that the Bible cannot address the concerns of those or like disciplines. However, it does mean that the Bible should not be used to resolve technical, scientific questions which it is not seeking to answer. It is errors of this sort that lead to unnecessary conflicts with the findings of science.
5. With this groundwork laid let us turn to the text of Genesis 2:7. The passage reads "Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being." Immediately we notice one anthropomorphisms: that of God breathing. Perhaps there is a second anthropomorphism in the notion of forming since this term is often used in the context of the work of a potter (Is. 45:9; Jer. 18:6). Also we see that this passage is in the middle of the many other symbols and figures discussed above. There are both similarities and differences between this passage and verse 2:19 where God creates other animals (beasts and birds). As in the creation of man, God formed them out of the ground. Notice that these creatures are also called "living creatures". In contrast with Genesis 2:7 there is no divine in breathing (although 1:30 indicates that they do all have the "breath of life"). This contrast is similar to that observed in Genesis 1 where only of man is it said that he is created in the image of God. Apparently, the divine in-breathing is not necessary in order to produce "living creatures" since such living creatures are said to have been created without it (Gen. 1:20, 24; 2:19).
Since the Committe raised the question of "dust" (Lines 51-52), I will make a brief comment here. I take "dust" to be a non-technical term to refer to physical-chemical constituency, i.e. we are made of the same sorts of chemicals and molecules that the earth is made. To say "for dust you are and to dust you will return" (3:19) is to point out that affinity with the physical creation. In terms of elemental composition the chemical constitution of the human body remains unchanged even upon death. The same atoms and molecules that made up the "living creature" now make up the dead body. In time these same atoms are rearranged to form complex organic molecules that have significantly less resemblence to their arrangement in the living body, but they are the same atoms. Interestingly, the Committee's reference to 3:19 proves too much since the text says "for dust you are". Apparently, even as a living being, Adam can be referred to as "dust".
We can affirm very readily with the Committee that God created man, that man has an affinity with the physical creation, i.e. he is made of dust, that man is a "living creature" like the other creatures, and that man is specially created (via the divine in-breathing and in connection with Genesis 1:26 27 with the divine image). I readily affirm all of these things.
The point of contention concerns the phrase "and man became a living being". The Committee (following John Murray, I presume) understands the phrase "became a living being" to suggest that what has been newly created as a result of the divine in-breathing could not have been alive prior to that divine in-breathing. Murray asserts that the divine in-breathing which constitutes man as man also constitutes man as living creature. I am willing to admit to this as a plausible interpretation of this passage. This interpretation is then used to claim that the Bible clearly teaches that not even the body of Adam could have been part of the evolutionary process, because if Adam's body had been part of a prior evolutionary process then his constitution as a living creature would have preceded his constitution as man. With one exegetical move any possibility of human evolution is denied.
But does the passage really demand such an interpretation? Let me first say that if it does demand that interpretation then I concur that we must follow scripture and reject the apparent findings of science. But does it really? Perhaps when the text says "and man became a living being" that it is a summary statement saying in some general way that this is how man came about. Perhaps it should be understood as follows: "and man as man became a living creature" (there was no living creature such as man before that moment). Isn't it a strain upon the anthropomorphic, symbolic, and non-scientific character of this and the surrounding text to demand that this particular phrase is answering this question that is unique to modern science? It seems odd that given the absence of any notion of evolution in the Genesis text itself that 2:7 would concern itself with this issue.
Now enters the method of re-examining our "most natural" or "most obvious" interpretation. (See the discussion of the second charge.) Given evidence from science that there were primate ancestors to the present day species Homo sapiens it is perfectly reasonable to go back to the Genesis 2:7 text and ask whether or not the text really is decisive in our assessment of this evidence. It might even be reasonable to prefer the interpretation does not set up the conflict with the findings of science (if it is a plausible interpretation and if it does not distort the meaning of the text, which I believe to be the case). This seems to be the approach pursued by Charles Hodge concerning the question of the new findings of geology (in his day) that the earth is very old.
From Systematic Theology 1:570-571, cited in Noll, The Princeton Theology
It is of course admitted that taking this account by itself, it would be most natural to understand the word in its ordinary sense; but if that sense brings the Mosaic account into conflict with facts and another sense avoids such conflict, then it is obligatory on us to adopt that other. Now it is urged that if the word "day" be taken in the sense of "an indefinite period of time," a sense which it undoubtedly has in other parts of Scripture, there is not only no discrepancy between the Mosaic account of the creation and the assumed facts of geology, but there is a most marvelous coincidence between them.
On this interpretation, then, the Scripture is silent with regard to the sort of details surrounding the origin of Adam's body that evolutionists might be interested in. So we are free to adopt the findings of science concerning those details. (Of course, science never has the sort of authority that the Bible has and so there is no moral obligation to accept the findings of science other than the obligation to accept General Revelational truth wherever it is found.) I wonder whether the quick adoption of the decisive anti-evolution interpretation shows that the church is looking, perhaps unconsciously, for an all too easy way out of dealing with the evolution question.
6. My position on this matter is not new. I appeal to such orthodox Presbyterian stalwarts as B.B. Warfield or A.A. Hodge who seem to be open to the possibility of my position being within the boundaries of orthodoxy based on the following quotations. A.A. Hodge writes the following in the Introduction to Theism and Evolution by Joseph S. Van Dyke and reprinted in The Princeton Theology 1812-1921 edited and compiled by Mark Noll (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1983):
Evolution considered as the plan of an infinitely wise Person and executed under the control of His everywhere present energies can never be irreligious; can never exclude design, providence, grace, or miracles. Hence we repeat that what christians have cause to consider with apprehension is not evolution as a working hypothesis of science dealing with facts, but evolution as a philosophical speculation professing to account for the origin, causes, and end of all things.
Hodge's colleague and contemporary at Princeton, B.B. Warfield, wrote the following in his unpublished "Lectures on Anthropology" (Dec. 1888) (cited in Darwin's Forgotten Defenders, p. 119):
The upshot of the whole matter is that there is no necessary antagonism of Christianity to evolution, provided that we do not hold to too extreme a form of evolution. To adopt any form that does not permit God freely to work apart from law and which does not allow miraculous intervention (in the giving of the soul, in creating Eve, etc.) will entail a great reconstruction of Christian doctrine, and a very great lowering of the detailed authority of the Bible. But if we condition the theory by allowing the constant oversight of God in the whole process, and his occasional supernatural interference for the production of new beginnings by an actual output of creative force, producing something new i.e., something not included even in posse in the preceding conditions,we may hold to the modified theory of evolution and be Christians in the ordinary orthodox sense.
7. I believe that the above arguments are sufficient grounds to dismiss the charge against me. However, in the event that the Committee is convinced that their argument (i.e. that which constituted man as man also constituted him as living creature) is an essential element of our faith, let me present two scenarios that would be consistent with that exegesis of scripture, but also would satisfy the alleged scientific evidence. These are both very speculative, and I have no evidence or proof for either of them. Nor do I necessarily adopt them as my own. They are presented to show that it is possible to hold to a position that satisfies the Committee's exegesis of Genesis 2:7 and would be consistent with some sort of evolutionary connection between the body of Adam and ancestral primates. If this is the case, then the charge that I believe that Adam had primate ancestors, while true, does not necessarily constitute an offense on the grounds alleged by the Committee. I will call the first one the "dead hominid theory" and the second one the "Virgin Birth analogy".
The "dead hominid theory" proposes that the "dust of the ground" that God breathed into was a dead "ancestral" hominid. (In evolutionary theory or physical anthropology a hominid is a non human ancestral species. Homo erectus, Homo habilis, and the various species of the genus Australopithecine are identified has hominid species.) A dead ancestral hominid is not a "living creature", thus when God constitutes this body as man with the divine breath, he is also constituting him living creature. The scientific claims for genetic/biological continuity are also satisfied since the body of this first man derives from the ancestral hominid. Of course, this is speculation and, frankly, I don't find it to be very satisfying speculation. It is merely offered to show the Committee that it is possible to affirm a form of common ancestry that does not deny what the Committee believes to be the teaching of scripture concerning the creation of man.
In the "Virgin Birth analogy" Adam was constituted man in a miraculous conception in the womb of his non-human mother. Here again genetic/biological continuity is preserved in the same way that Jesus, in His human nature, has genetic/biological continuity with His mother, Mary. The exegetical demands are also met because there is no "living creature" prior to the miraculous con ception (in as much as an unfertilized egg is not a "living creature"). J.G. Machen in A Christian View of Man in the chapter entitled "Did God Create Man?" raises the subject of the Virgin Birth of Christ when discussing evolutionary theories concerning the origin of man. His point is not necessarily the same as mine, but rather he seeks to show that what in appearance is a naturalistic account of human origins does not preclude a supernatural element. The analogy of the Virgin Birth of Christ is that from all human appearances (and available scientific evidences) the birth of Christ was a natural phenomenon, and yet on the testimony of scripture we know that it was not. Again, I offer this speculation merely to show the Committee that it is possible to believe in non human primate ancestors of Adam without denying the favored interpretation of Genesis 2:7.
Response Concerning the Second Charge
Concerning Charge #2 that I subordinate Scripture to alleged empirical evidence.
1. Let me first say that I agree with everything written in the Section B. Relevant Passages of Scripture and Our Confessional Standards (Lines 226-336). I have written and taught those very things.
2. Therefore, while I agree that we must not subordinate Scripture to alleged empirical evidence, it must be the case that I do not believe that I am guilty of doing so in this particular case. I will comment on several of the Specifications to show that what has appeared to the committee as subordination of Scripture to science in not that at all.
a. Concerning Specification #1 (Lines 340-351). On the surface this appears to be the most damaging quotation from my writings. The italicized quotation is the most poignant: "I find it remarkable that human evolution is dismissed, even as a possibility, in the face of substantial evidence in its favor on the basis of a single phrase of scripture." I am not suggesting here that a single phrase of scripture cannot carry that much authority. I have already given my assent to Lines 239-246 which emphasizes that it can. Perhaps my quoted sentence should be expanded as follows: "...on the basis of single phrase of scripture of controverted interpretation." The committee has assumed that the interpretation of Genesis 2:7 is indisputable. That, of course, is the matter raised in Charge #1. However, I reject that assumption. Consequently, I am not eliminating that particular interpretation because it conflicts with alleged empirical evidence, but rather it is on the basis of the anthropomorphic and non-scientific character of the text itself that I am questioning the decisiveness of the committee's (and Murray's) interpretation.
b. Concerning Specification #2 (Lines 353-358). Quoted here is my statement, "Simply put, if mature science is telling us that the human body has animal ancestry, and our Biblical exegesis is telling us otherwise, if possible, 'it is obligatory on us' to come up with a slightly less natural but equally reasonable interpretation of the Biblical text." The committee seems to have overlooked the "if possible" in this statement. I certainly believe that some texts of scripture are so plain that it is nothing but a denial of Biblical truth to affirm anything to the contrary. This method does not subordinate scripture to any other authority, because the method is only allowed if it is possible to attain an equally reasonable interpretation. This is the very methodology that Charles Hodge (quoted above) used in dealing with the "days" of Genesis 1. In principle, there is no subordinating of scripture to science by this method.
c. Concerning Specification #4 (Lines 370-375). It should be noted that the quotes here and in Specification #5 (Lines 377-380) are not original with me. They are from Report 28 of the 1991 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church: The Report of the Committee on Creation and Science in the section entitled "General and Special Revelation in the Reformed Tradition". I cite them approvingly. Notice in the quote of Specification #4 that what is being compared is not science (or alleged empirical evidence) and special revelation, but general revelation and special revelation. Notice also that the quote also does not limit special revelation to making "known the covenant of grace" but merely identifies the essential difference between general and special revelation. Here there is no subordination of the Bible to alleged empirical evidence, but an identification of differences of essential purposes in these different modes of God's revelation to humankind.
d. Concerning Specification #5 (Lines 377-380). This point is similar to the point made by Hodge and discussed in a. above. Information from extra-Biblical sources (including science) can cause us to re-think our interpretation of a particular passage of scripture. We willingly recognize this when it comes to ancient Near Eastern culture and geography, Biblical grammar and vocabulary, and literary genre. I think we could even say that it has occurred in the science/Biblical interpretation arena in the Copernican/Galileo heliocentrism vs. the geocentrism of the medieval church, and in the question of the age of the earth and the meaning of Genesis 1 (although there has been renewed discussion of this issue in the past three decades). But again the qualifier is added "that the new understanding remains in harmony with the revelatory intent of Scripture." This is exactly the same as the "if possible" discussed previously. If the new understanding of Scripture occasioned by a perspective from science is not in harmony with the revelatory intent of Scripture, then it must be rejected. Once again there is no subordination of the Bible to alleged empirical evidence, only a reconsideration of a traditional understanding occasioned by science. The new understanding is to be judged by the Biblical text itself as are all of our doctrines.
e. Concerning Specification #7 (Lines 389-401). Cited here is my summary of a discussion of geologist, Davis Young, as he explains how to handle apparent Bible-science conflicts. I am not sure how the Committee is using this Specification. This gist of the matter is that when conflicts arise we ought to re-examine both our scientific reasoning and our Biblical interpretation. It may be that one or the other is erroneous or can be altered in such a way (subject to the proper rules of science or Biblical interpretation). Perhaps as a result the conflict is resolved. There is no in principle unwillingness to submit science to a clear teaching of scripture, but I think that we might be willing to argue that the methods of science are rooted in a Christian worldview and that the world that we study is God's creation and thus we ought not twist or ignore data that seems at present to be reliable to fit a controverted interpretation of scripture. This, many of us believe, is the error of the young earth creationists.
3. Concerning Section D. Seriousness of the Alleged Offense (Lines 404-435). I am accused of interpreting "scripture subject to the findings of science" (Lines 414-415). I deny this accusation and claim that I am merely reconsidering a received interpretation occasioned by new findings of science. The former is heresy; the latter has been the practice of the church throughout the centuries. I am accused of preferring "an interpretation of the text that is strained and contrary to the clear interpretation of the text, based on what he considers to be the best evidence from the study of creation." I reject the claim that Genesis 2:7 is as clear as the Committee would have us believe and I reject the claim that my interpretation is contrary to a clear interpretation of the text. My questions about the received interpretation of the text are occasioned by the findings of science but not based on the findings of science.
4. Finally, I believe that the charge concerning my alleged subordination of Scripture to science obscures the issue. As I have said, I whole-heartedly endorse all of the principles used by the committee in this section. The second charge gives the impression that I do not; I think that this prejudices the whole case (although I will obviously have the opportunity to prove my innocence). I have also tried to show that the quotations found in the specification section are misrepresentations of my position. I believe that the issue is that found in the first charge. If I persist in my belief in animal ancestry of the biological dimensions of humans after the church has ruled definitively concerning the interpretation of Genesis 2:7, perhaps then I can be accused of rejecting a clear teaching of scripture. In other words, the second charge stems from a disagreement between the Committee and me concerning the first charge. Since I believe that my view of Genesis 2:7 is permitted (or that the committee's view is not required), then in my mind there is no subordination of scripture to any authority but itself.
May the Wisdom that comes from God be with us all as we judge these matters.
Terry M. Gray