Literal Approach to Genesis
Beyond reasonable dispute, Genesis 1–2 should be understood as narrative in form. McCabe’s lengthy treatment of the framework theory emphasizes that the alleged figurative nature of the creation account cannot square with the data that proves the text is a narrative text.17 Boyd’s statistical analysis buttresses this conclusion.18 Since the text is narrative, there are no clues given to the reader that there is any other sense that is plainer than the literal, narrative sense.
Some interpreters object that the genre of Genesis is exalted prose. “Exalted” is a code word that leaves room for a figurative interpretation. The problem with this understanding is that it confuses the exalted content for an exalted form. God used an essentially normal narrative form to convey exalted content. Others suggest that the genre of Genesis 1– 2 is poetry, again leaving room for a figurative interpretation. But the text has none of the markers of poetry, including the Hebrew device of parallelism. Others claim that the text is strictly mythological. This view, however, cannot be squared with a conservative, biblical view of inspiration and inerrancy.
In the end, it is most natural to understand the text as a narrative. We could refer to it as a structured narrative to make clear that we understand the text was composed in seven organized units—each unit covering a day of God’s creative work—but this does nothing to undermine the genuine narrative form of the text. As a narrative, it should be read as any straightforward, non-parabolic account is intended to be read, and that is literally. This way, the days are understood in their plain sense and young earth creationism naturally arises out of the text.
Literal interpretation is necessary to YET. The alternative, that Genesis 1–11 could be read as myth or poetry or framework or the like, would chop the legs out from under the entirety of young earth theology. The other essential elements of YET hang in the balance of literal hermeneutics. Reading the text literally demands that Genesis 1–3, Exodus 20, Genesis 5 and 11, Genesis 6–9, and Romans 5 be taken seriously to express that God created directly in six 24-hour days about 6,000 to 10,000 years ago, that death only came after the Fall of the real single man Adam, and that some centuries after the creation, the world was destroyed in a global deluge.
(2) Supernatural Direct Acts of God
The method God used to accomplish the creation of the universe was mainly divine speech, initially creating ex nihilo, and later using materials created earlier in the first week. Positively, this says that creation was a miracle: each portion of creation was supernatural and sudden. Negatively, this says that evolution was not used, because evolution is a naturalistic process that rests on mutations, natural selection, survival of the fittest, and vast amounts of time. None of these principles of evolution require God, at least on the naturalist’s accounting of the matter.
In particular, the formulae “God said … and there was” or “God said … and it was so” indicate an immediate fulfillment of the divine speech, issuing in creative events that happened within moments. The initial acts of creation had to be by fiat speech, for there was no other matter, energy, space, or time that could be used to create things with material, time-bound, and/or space-limited natures.
For some parts of creation, later acts of creation built upon earlier ones. There are portions of creation in which God used material created by earlier acts of divine speech to fashion later parts of creation. For instance, God formed man using the organic material that he had created earlier (Gen 2:7). The text suggests that God used similar means in the planting of the Garden of Eden (2:8), the growth of trees there (2:9), and the creation of animal life (2:19). Finally, the text is clear that God used Adam’s body to form the body of the first woman (2:21–22). This method of creation serves as part of the explanation as to why death reduces man to dust: that was the state from which he came. But it does not make the method of creation significantly easier, for even with a collection of appropriate organic elements, it is impossible through normal means to create plants, trees, or a man. Making use of a part of a man to create a woman is of similar difficulty. The “handiwork” required was still a direct act of God.
With some portions of creation, the text adds to the standard formulae another statement: “Then God made” (1:16, 25). The method God used is not specified, but it seems to be different than mere speech. Still, it is a direct act of God, not portrayed as though it required a complex series of means.
It has been claimed by progressive creationists and theistic evolutionists that God used evolution to accomplish some or all of the work of creation. Evolution is an anti-theistic, anti-supernatural belief system. It consists of “normal means” that do not invoke a god. In the evolutionary system, vast amounts of time and chance take on god-like qualities. The “God made” formulae may seem to provide an opening for progressive and theistic adherents, but evolution requires time that simply was not available in the duration of the creation week, as a later essential element of young earth theology will show.
Evolution cannot explain how life got started, how the vast amount of information that is in the genome is maintained from generation to generation, nor how organisms happened to evolve to have reproductive abilities before they died. Young earth creation explains all of these things by the supernatural creative act of God.
Young earth creationism is at heart a supernatural understanding of creation; without this essential, the creation could not be young.
(3) Comprehensive Extent
Although this essential is a standard belief among young earth creationists, I did not find it called out specifically in the literature that I reviewed. It almost seems unnecessary to state, but there are some important implications of the comprehensive nature of creation.
Positively, this essential says that God created everything. Negatively, it asserts that there was no spontaneous generation of matter or life. Abiogenesis did not and does not occur.
Exodus 20:11 explains that God finished the entire creation structure and contents—in six days and did no work on the seventh. Likewise the Jewish people were not to do any work on the seventh day. But this text teaches another essential of young earth theology, namely that God created everything. This includes all the residents of the heavens, holy and (eventually) fallen angels included. All matter is included. Every physical place and inhabitant of creation, whether in the starry heavens, the earth’s atmosphere, the depths of the sea, the remotest corner of land, the earth’s molten core, and even the third heaven; all are included in this comprehensive statement about creation.
Other Bible texts aver the same truth. The prophet Isaiah emphasizes God as unique and omnipotent creator who is worthy of worship (Isa 40:28, 42:5, 45:12, 45:18).19 Acts 14:15 teaches that God created the heaven, earth, sea, and everything in them. Acts 17:24 says that God made the world and everything in it. The two latter passages are found in contexts in which the apostolic team is preaching the gospel to pagan idolaters. Ephesians 3:9 describes God as the one who “created all things.” Colossians 1:16 credits God the Son with creating “all things,” whether in heaven or on earth, whether visible or invisible, or whether thrones, powers, rulers, or authorities. These contrasting descriptors emphasize that Christ created everything. The text then reiterates that all things were created through him and for him.
Nothing of a created kind made itself. The triune God is self-existent and never had a beginning, so there was no point at which he was “made.” John 1:3 reminds us that “all things” were made through him, and without him nothing was made that has been made.
Theologically the fact of comprehensive creation is significant because it means that there are two basic categories of things in the world—God is alone in the first category, and that which is created is the second category. This distinction is inviolable for all eternity and forms the foundation of much of Christian theology.
Without a proper distinction between God and man, the doctrine of God’s holiness, in the sense of his transcendence above creation, is diminished. Either God is brought down to the level of creation and pantheism results; or man is elevated to the level of God and some form of anthrodeism results.
This creator-creature distinction makes it impossible that an angel could succeed in an aspiration to be just like God, or that a man could truly be self-autonomous. Such attempts at usurping the sovereignty of the self-existent God are at the root of all sin. But God’s existence and sovereign rule is not ultimately threatened by his creatures because he is their creator.
Additionally, the creator-creature distinction proves that there has not been an eternal battle between good and evil as in many polytheistic religions. Before God created, there was nothing beside the Triune God. There was no evil power, no chaos, no struggle for dominance, etc.
This distinction also serves as a reminder of God’s lordship. Revelation 4:11 asserts that God is worthy of worship precisely because he created all things and is alone responsible for their continued existence. God is worthy of our reverent recognition because he made us.
The creator-creature distinction establishes a hard barrier between God and man in terms of their “kind.” God is so great and so high and so different than his creation that it takes God’s infinite power to reach down through that barrier to establish a relationship with man. No one can reach up through that barrier to reach God or have fellowship with him. God must initiate the creation of such fellowship. What makes this fact infinitely more true is that humanity fell into sin, thus falling “farther down” from God.
Another important distinction between God and his creatures is that his creation is finite. He is the only infinite anywhere. This demands humility on the part of creature. Such humility includes intellectual humility, so that we must acknowledge that there are many things we cannot possibly understand, particularly those things that are not revealed to us in Scripture.
An enlightened recognition of the truth that God created everything causes man to seek a mediator that can bring the two parties together. This need was recognized from ancient times by Job (9:33) and was filled by Jesus Christ (1 Tim 2:5).
This essential is important because an attack on it ultimately would unravel all of Christian theology. If something exists that was not made by God, then it is either another self-existent being (a rival god) or it traces its origin to some other such being. We can safely say that if God did not bring all of creation into being, then Christian theology is wrong.
To the extent that non-young-earth cosmologies remove God from an active role in creating all things by assigning the wonder and power of creation to naturalistic means, they strip God of his glory and power. The God who is identified as the creator-God in the Bible becomes in the other views a mere participant, an observer, or totally absent.
17 McCabe, “A Critique of the Framework Interpretation,” 216–28.
18 Steven W. Boyd, “The Genre of Genesis 1:1–2:3: What Means This Text?” in Coming to Grips with Genesis: Biblical Authority and the Age of the Earth, ed. Terry Mortenson and Thane H. Ury (Green Forest, AR: Master Books: 2008), 174–76.
19 So testify a multitude of passages in Isaiah that use the created, formed and made word groups.
Dr. Postiff has served as Pastor of Fellowship Bible Church since 2006. He holds a PhD in computer engineering from University of Michigan and ran an engineering consulting firm specializing in design and simulation of computer microprocessors. He earned his ThM from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary in 2010.