A Critique of Dr. Thomas M. Strouse's "The Geocentric Cosmology of Genesis 1:1-19"

A few people have asked me what I thought about Dr. Thomas M. Strouse’s paper, “The Geocentric Cosmology of Genesis 1:1–19.” After I read the paper, I thought it would be helpful to provide a brief critique of Strouse’s paper. His paper caught my attention because he claimed to examine Genesis 1:1–19. If anyone is interested about how I have treated the biblical material related to young Earth creationism, I have two articles in our seminary journal: “A Defense of Literal Days in the Creation,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 5 (Fall 2000): 97–123; and “A Critique of the Framework Interpretation of the Creation Account (Part 1 of 2),” DBSJ 10 (2005): 19–67. The first one can be downloaded from our website: www.dbts.edu. The second one can be purchased from the seminary. This may also be obtained from our website. As I evaluated Strouse’s paper, I have found some problems with it. Because of the number of these, I will confine my remarks to four areas. But before I offer my criticisms, let me note one point with which I do agree.

Though I disagree with Strouse’s understanding of Genesis 1, the one thing about which I do agree is that God’s truth in special revelation takes precedence over so-called scientific truth. I understand that Genesis 1–2 teaches that God gave Adam and Eve the dominion mandate. With the divine command for the first couple to exercise dominion on Earth, they were also to subdue it (Gen 1:28). This would seem to include cultural and scientific development. In keeping with the dominion mandate, as well as God’s nature, there is mathematical truth, 2 + 2 = 4, etc. Furthermore, there can be scientific truth, experiments that are repeatable and observable. For example, records have been kept for over 100 years about the decay of the Earth’s magnetic field. Even allowing for some interruptions in the decay of the Earth’s magnetic field, the Earth is only thousands of years in age and not millions. Good scientific research has been and is being done. Where the problems come in is with man’s presuppositions. When creationists attack the results of those defending evolutionary models, we are not necessarily concerned about the actual research; rather our concern is with the evolutionary explanations that are driven by their evolutionary biases. Another example based upon untold numbers of repeated observations from using telescopes to view the planets of our solar system is its heliocentric nature. This type of observation has gone on since the days of Galileo. For example, in Galileo’s day, four moons were observed that orbited Jupiter and not Earth. This clearly went against the Ptolemaic geocentricism embraced by some professing believers up to this period. Additionally, if heliocentricism is wrong, how do we explain scientifically verifiable realities such as the center of gravity, the operation of communication and weather satellites with their time-lapse photographs of the earth, stellar parallax (see Donald B. DeYoung, “Does the Earth Really Move? A Look at Geocentricism,” Creation Ex Nihilo TJ 10 [1988]: 8–13). This is some form of truth, though it is not on the same level as the truth associated with God’s propositional truth found in Scripture. Because of God’s nature as well as His creation of the heaven and earth and all things therein, there is truth in the physical world; and man discovers this by developing the sciences. After all, we are the creation, and God is the Creator! In the final analysis, our control over depraved man’s abuse of good science must be the propositional revelation of Scripture. While I agree with Strouse about priority of propositional revelation, I am absolutely convinced that Genesis 1 does not teach that the heavenly bodies circle around the Earth, as he argues. Genesis 1 teaches that God’s kingdom purposes are focused on Earth, but it does not affirm that the universe physically revolves around the Earth, geocentricism. Now that I have conceded where I agree with Strouse, though in a qualified form, let me present my four criticisms of his paper.

First, Strouse’s paper is methodologically flawed. Strouse rarely mentions his use of any sources. Of course, Strouse has no need to use any sources since his paper is slavishly tied to the KJV. I had hoped that Strouse would have used his own translation of the Hebrew text as his base text for his paper; however, this was not the case. The only place where he does refer to two sources is his justification of the KJV’s translation of ra-qîa‘ as “firmament,” in verses 6–8, though he does critically cite the NIV on page 5, footnote 25. On page 5, he cites the Latin Vulgate’s use of firmamentum and the Septuagint’s use of stereo-ma (“firmament”) as support for this translation. Strouse reasons that firmament is a good translation “because the ‘emptiness’ of space has substance” (page 5). If Strouse had looked at a few current lexical or grammatical sources, he would have seen that this word could also have been translated as “expanse.” The only reason to cite the Latin Vulgate and Septuagint is to support the KJV. But what does “firmament” mean? And, what does Strouse mean by the emptiness of space having substance? Is he implying ra-qîa‘ is some sort of dome, like pagan ancient Near Eastern cosmologies taught about creation, though I doubt Strouse would affirm this? Though the KJV’s rendering is possible, it is not clear what this means. This word is also translated as “firmament” in the NKJV. Though Strouse does not say it, if ra-qîa‘ is something that has substance, does this not allow for the implication that the NRSV’s rendering of it as “dome” is correct? TNIV translates this word as “vault,” which also may be harmonized with Strouse’s rendering. I am certain that Strouse would disagree with both the NRSV and TNIV’s translation. After all, the KJV is the only acceptable translation; however, “firmament” is an ambiguous translation. If he would have used some current sources, he would have noticed that ra-qîa‘ has other translation options. The lexicon by Brown, Driver, and Briggs suggests translating this word as “expanse.” Other lexical sources also recommend translating ra-qîa‘ as “expanse.” In fact, a number of modern translations take ra-qîa‘ as “expanse” (NASB, ESV, HCSB, NIV, and NET Bible). By not using any current lexical or grammatical Hebrew sources, I wonder about how conversant he is with current Hebrew lexical and grammatical sources. Even for someone who is King James Only, it would seem like a methodologically solid paper would interact with various sources.

Let me give another example that reflects his paper’s deficiency. On page 2, footnote 4 (see also page 5, footnote 25), Strouse observes the Hebrew word hašša-mayim is consistently found in the Old Testament with “a dual ending, not a plural ending on it.” Strouse continues in this footnote that the use of this term with its dual ending indicates that the creation of heaven in the creation account is about God creating two heavens: the physical heavens and the celestial heaven. In response to this misrepresentation of the dual ending, whatever heaven God created in Genesis 1:1, it cannot be inferred that there are two heavens because of the so-called dual ending. Unfortunately, Strouse does not mention that the dual ending is also used on the Hebrew word for “water,” mayim. This word is used 11 times in Genesis 1. Verse 2 is the first use. Are we to understand that there are two waters? Strouse’s point is absurd. No bona fide Hebrew grammar book suggests the ending on either heaven or water reflects any type of dual nature to the semantics of either word. Jerusalem is another word with a dual ending. Does Jerusalem have two levels? As far as Hebrew grammar is concerned, Strouse’s point is nonsense. In fact, the type of thing that Strouse does is referred to as having a “fanciful ‘dual’ etymology” in Waltke and O’Connor’s Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (p. 118, sec. 7.3d). Strouse’s lack of interaction with the host of sources available to him reflects a myopic approach for exegetical research.

Second, in Strouse’s opening paragraph (p. 1), he sets up a strawman related to Nicholas Copernicus’s heliocentrism (the earth revolves around the sun). He asserts that Copernicus “followed the influence of the teaching of Greek philosophers such as Pythagoras, Aristarchus and Plato, rather than that of the teaching of Bible exegesis.” The implication was that Copernicus, a Canon in the Roman Catholic Church, was controlled by pagan Greek philosophical assumptions, and Copernicus’s approach was in contrast to the position of earlier Bible-believing people who took the Bible literally and taught a geocentric view of the universe. In Strouse’s words, “Early Christians interpreted their Bibles literally and maintained that the earth was the center of the planetary system as well as of the ‘universe.’ They recognized that the Bible was consistently and singularly geocentric throughout its cosmology.” An academic paper should document a source that verifies his identification of who these “early Christians” were. Strouse apparently felt that this was unnecessary. More important for my point about the strawman, he should have noted the geocentricism of Copernicus’s day was known as Ptolemaic geocentricism (the universe revolves around an immovable Earth). This understanding of geocentricism was set forth in a rudimentary form by Aristotle (384–322 B.C.), a Greek philosopher. Claudius Ptolemy subsequently expanded on Aristotle’s geocentricism in the second century A.D. The prevailing geocentricism of Copernicus’s day, and the one he was attempting to refute was the Ptolemaic model. Ptolemaic geocentricism was “baptized” into Christianity through men like Augustine (A.D. 354–430) and Thomas Aquinas (A.D. 1222–1274). In contrast to Ptolemaic geocentricism, most current advocates of geocentricism affirm the Tychonian model, which has the sun, moon, and stars circulating about the Earth, while the planets revolve around the sun (DeYoung, “Geocentricism,” p. 10). Since Strouse mentions the geocentricism of Copernicus’s day, I would assume that he has reference to Ptolemaic geocentricism, though he is ambiguous on this point. Strouse’s use of this strawman distorts historical reality since Greek philosophy had influenced both geocentricism and heliocentrism of Copernicus’s day. Strouse’s strawman clouds the issue for he pits the geocentricism of “early Christians,” religious faith, against Copernicus’s Greek philosophically based heliocentrism, pagan science. The truth is that the issue in Copernicus’s day was science versus science, rather than Strouse’s prejudicial religious faith versus pagan science (for a helpful condensation of some key issues, see Danny Faulkner’s “Geocentricism and Creation,” Creation Ex Nihilo TJ 15 [August 2001]: 110–21 available at http://www.answersingenesis.org/tj/v15/12). The model that Copernicus reacted against “was the Ptolemaic model,” according to Faulkner, “thus this error came from the philosophical musings of the ancient Greeks, not from Copernicus. Copernicus merely discussed the only geocentric model of his day” (ibid., p. 114). Strouse’s paper is set up in such a way that some Bible-believing Christians might feel compelled to side with Strouse since he represents what Bible believers reputedly supported before Copernicus’s day, while Copernicus and those supporters of heliocentricism that followed him did not have a high view of Scripture. On the one hand, it is technically true that some of these early heliocentrists were influenced by Greek philosophy. On the other hand, this type of statement made by Strouse, as Faulkner continues, “plants a very false and misleading impression. Such a statement plants in the minds of many people that the near converse is true, that is, that the first geocentricists were not pagans and held the Bible in high esteem. Of course, this is nonsense. Virtually all we know of ancient science and cosmology comes from the Greeks. Most of them were geocentricists. All of them were pagans” (p. 115). In the final analysis, when this type of historic oversimplification and misrepresentation prevails, a caricaturized view is much easier to refute.

Third, Strouse’s thesis is an example of begging the question. Notice how Strouse’s purpose statement assumes his conclusions about this passage teaching geocentricism (page 1): “This essay is an effort to exegete the Hebrew text of Gen. 1-1:19 [sic] with the purpose of demonstrating the Christ-honoring geocentric structure of the heaven and the earth.” The fact that Strouse labels his geocentric approach as “Christ-honoring” assumes his conclusion that Genesis 1:1–19 teaches geocentricism. Not only is Strouse’s thesis fundamentally flawed, but also it is contrary to what Scripture explicitly teaches about geocentricism and heliocentricism. The truth is that there is no biblical text that explicitly affirms either geocentricism or heliocentricism, nor can a synthesis of clear texts be used to support either model (Faulkner, “Geocentricism and Creation,” p. 115). Scripture explicitly affirms that God is glorifying Himself by establishing His sovereign rule on earth along with redeeming a people out of fallen humanity on earth who are in His own divine image. However, His creative work also included filling the “heaven” of Genesis 1:1 with heavenly forms–the sun, moon, and stars.

We will briefly look at some details from Genesis 1:1–19. God’s creative work included initially creating the empty “heaven” and the unformed and empty “earth” (Gen 1:1). Thus, God’s first creative activity that initiated the first day of creation was His creation of the empty space of the “heaven” (Gen 1:1), and His second activity was the formation of the unformed and empty “earth” (vv. 1–2). The overall context of Genesis 1:1–31 tells how God in six successive, literal days formed from the inorganic and watery Earth dry land and a body of water, shaped the inorganic Earth into organic life—plants and animals—and ultimately created man and woman in His own image on the sixth day. God’s creative work was focused on Earth. However, His creative work also included what He created to fill the unfilled heaven on the fourth day. On the fourth day, God filled the heaven with the sun, moon, and stars (Gen 1:14–19). To be certain, the point of Genesis 1:14–19 is that God created these heavenly bodies to separate light from darkness on earth as well as to serve for signs and seasons on earth. This indicates that the Earth is not heliocentric in the sense that everything was formed out of the sun that God initially created. However, the text of Genesis 1 does not specifically teach that the physical universe revolves around the Earth, geocentricism. What God created has a relation to the Earth, but the text does not specifically state that the heavenly bodies circle around the Earth. While God’s theological program has an emphasis on the Earth, the physical universe does not physically revolve around the Earth, geocentricism. What Strouse says Genesis 1 teaches is, at best, inferential; but, in actual substance, is a false inference since the analogia Scriptura does not confirm it.

Fourth, Strouse’s exegesis is myopic and fundamentally flawed. My reason for saying his exegesis is myopic is that he does not interact with any alternative explanations of Genesis 1. Many Bible-believing scholars disagree with him. In my opinion, some of the key sources that both support and deviate from his position should have been cited. Proper documentation assists the reader in examining the veracity of an argument. While there may be some debate about how thorough the documentation for a paper needs to be, an author should minimally provide the key sources that have influenced his work. More than 10 years ago, I began doing research for a class I wanted to teach on Biblical Creationism. In the course of my research, I came across two fine sets of articles related to this subject. The first set of articles is by Bruce K. Waltke, a renowned Old Testament scholar. Dr. Waltke wrote five articles that supported an interpretation of Genesis 1:1–3 known as the precreation chaos theory (a modification of the gap theory): “The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1–3; Part I: Introduction to Biblical Cosmology,” Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (January–March 1975): 25–36; “The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1–3; Part II: The Restitution Theory,” Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (April–June 1975): 136–44; “The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1–3; Part III: The Initial Chaos Theory and the Precreation Chaos Theory,” Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (July–September 1975): 216–28; “The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1–3; Part IV: The Theology of Genesis 1,” Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (October–December 1975): 327–42; and “The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1–3; Part V: The Theology of Genesis 1—Continued,” Bibliotheca Sacra 133 (January–March 1976): 28–41. In this well-documented series of articles, Waltke interacted with opposing views and set forth his case for the precreation chaos theory, a position he no longer strictly embraces. Though I disagree with and present a refutation of the precreation chaos theory in my class on Biblical Creationism, his series of articles was beneficial because he reflected a serious approach to theological research and exegesis.

The second set of articles was by Mark F. Rooker: “Genesis 1:1–3—Creation or Re-creation? (Part 1),” Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (July–September 1992): 316–23; and “Genesis 1:1–3—Creation or Re-creation? (Part 2),” Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (October–December 1992): 411–27. In these two articles, Rooker critically interacts with three understandings of Genesis 1:1–3: gap theory, precreation chaos theory, and the initial chaos theory (the historical view of the creation account, the Earth as a recent creation). He shows the serious deficiencies in both the gap theory and precreation chaos theory. As he works through Genesis 1:1–3, Dr. Rooker reflects solid argumentation to support the historical view that Genesis 1:1–3 reflects a recent creation where God created the heavens and Earth out of nothing (what he labels as the “initial chaos theory”). His argument reflects solid theological research and exegesis that supports a consistent biblical cosmogony. However, my point in citing these two sets of articles is that both series were reasonably documented and presented an argument. As I did my research, I was able to check out the use of sources by both men, and this additionally assisted me in evaluating their argument. Both sets of articles reflected a substantive view of exegesis. In my opinion, these articles reflect how serious exegesis should be done. In contrast with Waltke and Rooker, Strouse’s paper reflects a myopic approach to exegesis. This type of work hinders the overall exegetical and theological advancement within historic Fundamentalism.

I also described Strouse’s exegesis as being fundamentally flawed. I do not have time to go through every exegetical problem; however, let me highlight a few major ones. On pages 1–2 in his first paragraph under the side heading “Structure,” Strouse’s view of creation sounds like descriptions I have read about the framework hypothesis (see my article, “Critique of the Framework Interpretation,” p. 22), though he is clearly not arguing for each day of the creation week to be figurative. Consider what Strouse says on page 1:

Moses makes obvious his literary style as he reveals the Lord’s creation week in a series of three couplets including eight creative acts culminating in the creation of man imago Dei. Days One and Four record the creation of light and lightbearers. Days Two and Five record the creation of the face of the firmament and water are filled with the fowl and fish, respectively. Days Three and Six, revealing two creative acts each, record the creation of land and vegetation for the created animals and man to consume.

Notice how Strouse says the creation account has “couplets.” Is he suggesting the creation account is poetic? He is not clear on this point. Strouse’s use of “couplets” is misleading since it is exactly what those who hold to a figurative understanding of Genesis 1 are asserting (for an interaction with those views that take Genesis 1 as poetic, or even semi-poetic, see ibid., pp. 24–25, 33–37, 47–65). Again, notice how Strouse says there were “eight creative acts.” Who said there were only “eight creative acts” in the creation week? Strouse maintains that one creative event was on Day One and one on Day Four. If God creates light on Day One, as Genesis 1:3 indicates (“Let there be light”), how do we explain God’s creation of the “heaven” and the Earth in verse 1 (see ibid., pp. 48–49)? In the final analysis, it sounds like there are three creative events on Day One: the heaven, the Earth, and some light source. In fact, Strouse appears to indicate that there was more than one creative event on Day One on pages 2–5. So is there one creative event on Day One or three?

Again, I am perplexed as to how Strouse can say that God’s initial creative activity, Genesis 1:1, includes “the heavens and angelic realm,” and “earth” (p. 3). If Genesis 1:1 initiates a creation that includes these three items, how can verses 2–5 be the first day? This is to say, how can Genesis 1:1 be excluded from verses 2–5? It looks like verses 1–5 describe the first day of creative activity. At the conclusion of his discussion of Day One, he states that there was “no heaven,” because the “sun, moon, and stars” had not been completed (p. 5). On the one hand, I agree that the sun, moon, and stars were not created until the fourth day, Genesis 1:14–19. On the other hand, I do not agree–“there was no heaven.” The heaven was created in Genesis 1:1.

On page 8 Strouse says, “Moses introduces the creative activity on the fourth day with the divine fiat Let there be.…Day Four parallels Day One in regard to the creation of light. On the first day God created lights which emanated from the Spirit of God (Ps. 104:2).” How does Psalm 104:2 suggest that the light associated with Day One emanated from the Spirit of God? Is this verse even explicitly referring to the Holy Spirit? Furthermore, how is Psalm 104:2 even connected with Genesis 1:3? Additionally, Genesis 1:3 says, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” If Genesis 1:3 is a divine fiat, does this not mean that God created whatever He described? It sounded like God created some sort of light, but the text does not say He created light that “emanated from the Spirit of God.” Genesis 1:3 uses language that is consistently used in Genesis 1 to refer to creation out of nothing. If verse 3 refers to the Spirit, how can this be the language of creation out of nothing? Though Strouse does not explicitly state this, his reference is ambiguous enough that he allows for a doctrinal aberration. If we take Genesis 1:3 for what it says, God created light. Did the light come from the Spirit of God? A few young Earth creationists have supported this. I have some pause with this view. In keeping with the language of divine fiat, I prefer to see this as some type of independent light source God used for the first three days of creation. At this time, the Earth was rotating on its axis, and this independent light source functioned like our sun. However, the text does not provide explicit details. All it says is “Let there be light.” One fact is clear in Genesis 1:3: the text does not indicate that light emanated from the Spirit. Another fact is clear in Psalm 104:2: this verse does not explicitly teach that the light on the first three days of the creation week emanated from the Spirit of God.

Furthermore, the other verses used by Strouse, such as Joshua 10:12 and Ecclesiastes 1:5–7, (pp. 9–10) use phenomenological language. For example, our weatherman said the sun would rise tomorrow morning at a certain time and then set tomorrow evening at a certain time. His pattern is to describe the weather from his earthly frame of reference. These passages use language that reflect where the observations are made from, rather than providing a scientific description of how the universe revolves around the Earth (see DeYoung, “Geocentricism,” p. 12). From a perspective of physics, motion can be described from any point of reference. Consider how Faulkner has stated this very point. It is “valid to describe motion from any reference frame, although an inertial one usually makes the mathematics simpler. But there are many times when the Earth is a convenient reference frame; i.e. at some point we all use the geocentric model in one sense. For instance, a planetarium is a geocentric model. Calculation of rising, transiting, and setting of various celestial objects is calculated geocentrically. There are numerous other examples. Since modern astronomers often use an Earth-centered reference frame, it’s unfair and anti-scientific to criticize the Bible for doing the same” (“Geocentricism and Creation,” p. 110). Since God is working out many of His theological purposes on Earth where His image bearers exist, it should be expected to have the writers of Scripture use phenomenological language related to the realm where man resides. In my opinion, it seems obvious that the passages used by Strouse are not explicitly describing either a geocentric or heliocentric nature of the universe. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon, in his quest to find meaning and purpose in life, describes life “under the sun,” or “on the earth.” His book was written to give man wisdom for life on earth. His purpose was not to write a science textbook on how to be “scientifically correct” about the rising and setting of the sun in his puzzling life on Earth!

I downloaded this paper from http://www.sharperiron.org. Though it is my understanding that SharperIron used Strouse’s article for discussion purposes—which is not necessarily an illegitimate approach–I was disappointed to see this type of paper used for this purpose. From a proverbial perspective, one gets what he honors. If we honor good exegetical and theological material, this stimulates growth. If we honor questionable material, this will have a “dumbing down” effect on our fundamentalist churches. Why not interact with someone who has done genuine exegetical work on Genesis 1 and whose work has received some level of recognition by his peers? Dr. John Whitcomb, who has the academic credentials, has done much to defend recent creationism. Why not see what he has to contribute to a serious exegetical discussion of Genesis 1? Better yet, why not get a young Earth creationist with academic credentials to provide an academic defense of heliocentricism? In short, material should be used that reflects good theological development. In turn, this will tend to encourage solid theological and exegetical growth among the developing leaders in our community. Besides the few articles I have cited in this paper, other academic defenses of heliocentricism may be found at a number of website, such as http://www.answersingenesis.org, http://www.icr.org (Institute for Creation Research), http://www.creationresearch.org (Creation Research Society), http://www.trueorigin.org, and http://nwcreation.net (Creation Science Research).

While science is not my area of interest, a number of young Earth creationists, a few of whom I have cited, would disagree with Strouse’s geocentricism. My concern is with the dubious nature of his approach to Hebrew exegesis. In short, Strouse’s paper is an example of how not to write an exegetical paper on Genesis 1:1–19.

Dr. Robert McCabeRobert V. McCabe is registrar and professor of Old Testament at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. He joined the faculty of DBTS in 1983 as head of the Old Testament department, and he became registrar in 1987. He earned the M.Div degree at Temple Baptist Theological Seminary in 1974 and the Th.M. and Th.D. degrees at Grace Theological Seminary in 1980 and 1985 respectively. One of the Old Testament classes he teaches at DBTS is Biblical Creationism. Over the past few years, he has conducted several seminars on biblical creationism in local churches in the Detroit area. In addition, he has published two articles on young Earth creationism in the Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal.

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