Essential Elements of Young Earth Creationism and Their Importance to Christian Theology (Part 9)

From DBSJ. Read the series.

A Critique of Theological Triage

Having given reasons why young earth theology is essential to Christian doctrine as a whole, I now turn to a very popular argument that has been used against raising creationism to such a level. In 2004, Al Mohler wrote an influential article calling for theological triage.30 In that article, Mohler likens the sorting of doctrines according to priority with triage of variously ill patients in a medical emergency room. More serious injuries or illnesses are prioritized for faster response, whereas minor injuries are pushed toward the back of the line. Similarly, a doctrinal prioritization is visible in the historical development of doctrine in church history. Mohler calls for such sorting in today’s debates over doctrine and in the arrangement of churches and fellowships.

As a corrective to overreaction, Mohler wrote this in his article:

A structure of theological triage does not imply that Christians may take any biblical truth with less than full seriousness. We are charged to embrace and to teach the comprehensive truthfulness of the Christian faith as revealed in the Holy Scriptures. There are no insignificant doctrines revealed in the Bible, but there is an essential foundation of truth that undergirds the entire system of biblical truth.31

Despite this caution, the idea of triage seems to this author to be less than carefully applied by many church members, missionaries, pastors, and academics. It has been used as a mental tool to set aside important doctrines as if they are practically not very important at all, creationism included.

I believe this happens because the triage analogy fails in several key ways that make it an incomplete explanation of how Christians should handle the Bible’s doctrines. Granted every analogy has its shortcomings, but the three shortcomings that I will raise here weigh against the central thesis of Mohler’s model.

The first way that the triage model fails is that it presents the Christian life as a non-stop emergency. It is true that triage can be a helpful concept for certain situations. For instance, a person who is unsaved or newly saved does not need first of all to be taught on the essentials of young earth creation. He would more importantly require basic instruction on other doctrines of the faith, with only an introductory reference to God as creator. A church that is having a doctrinal problem needs instruction that is tailored to the error that is causing the problem. Certain doctrines would rank higher in the particular situation being addressed. We must note that such situations represent theological illness, like the medical emergency room. Triage is helpful in those kinds of situations. But it is not so helpful in describing how doctrine is to be handled by a healthy Christian or a healthy church. In other words, medical triage is not a helpful analogy for the whole Christian life.

I would prefer to look at the normal, healthy situation according to the analogy of a medical textbook on normal anatomy and physiology. In other words, triage is helpful when there is injury or pathology, but not when striving for wholistic health and describing what the whole Christian life and doctrine should look like. Healthy churches and individuals are not in a constant state of triaging theological problems into a priority order. Rather, they should be living out the healthy Christian life day by day in accordance to their “normal anatomy and physiology.” Christian and church life is not an emergency that requires triage.

In my analogy, normal anatomy is akin to a careful exposition of sound doctrine. Normal physiology is likened to biblical Christian practice. This explanation is advantageous because it highlights that Christians should be striving for good health in all departments. Certainly there are some “sick” Christians. But then there are those who are, by God’s grace, doing well. Their standard is the whole counsel of God, not just the doctrines that receive top priority in Mohler’s scale. Pastors, theologians, and Christian leaders must be called to a higher standard than believing only the doctrines that sort into the highest bucket, or practicing just some of the more important elements of the faith.32

The second way that the triage analogy fails is that it does not do justice to the interconnectedness of doctrines in the body of Christian truth. The initial setup of the explanation in Mohler’s article has the reader picture an emergency room with several patients with injuries of varying severity. These patients are independent of each other and, once sorted, can be treated without regard for the other patients.

But this is not true of doctrines. Doctrines are more like organs of an individual person than separate entire persons: they are members put together to form a unitary whole. The church body has many members just like a physical body; and the body of Christian doctrine has many truths carefully woven together into a single coherent whole.

To carry on with the medical analogy, the poor function of the heart can affect the kidneys and vice versa. The poor function of either radically affects the entire body. A small organ such as the thyroid affects many body systems. Its diminutive size belies its necessary and pervasive function. It is true that certain body parts can be amputated—feet, hands, legs, arms, gall bladder—without killing the patient, but the resulting quality of life is generally not as good. Even small body parts, when missing, can cause inordinate effects on the function of the body.

With the triage analogy, one has to wonder if certain doctrinal issues, like doctrinal ingrown toenails or slivers, would end up being dismissed entirely from the emergency room. The patient may go home and contract an infection from that little problem that could end up threatening life and limb. We must remember that sin started with a little question about God’s Word. It quickly blew up into a world-engulfing inferno.

In the same way, certain doctrines left out or not carefully preserved can have an outsized effect on the church or the individual. The poor treatment of one doctrine can influence other good ones. Such is the case with young earth creationism. When it is damaged, the whole body of doctrine fares poorly.

The third way Mohler’s triage model fails is that after a couple of key doctrines concerning theology proper and soteriology are triaged, there is little agreement on what should be included in the first, second, or third levels. Mohler offers an outline for his own sorting function in his article, but he offers little Scriptural justification for the levels he assigns to various doctrines. Some have even suggested that it is sin to assign a doctrine to a higher level than is wont.33 Where does Scripture specify which doctrines belong to which levels? Other than its general teaching on unity in the church that today is used to eliminate almost any doctrinal precision, it is not easy to find texts that tell us how to do this sorting.

Additionally, no one could undertake to triage doctrines without examining all of them first. Just like a good doctor knows the anatomy and physiology textbook completely, and just like he examines the entire patient to find out everything that is going on, the theologian has to take in the entire Scripture before he can have any confidence that he has gained the wisdom and discretion necessary to start to triage doctrines. This theological process is never fully completed. Doctrinal prioritization thus must be held with caution and humility, for in a few years a reader might discover that creation is more significant than is imagined while reading this article!

In this connection, it is helpful to remember that our Lord enjoined the Pharisees to carry out the weightier requirements of the law without neglecting the lighter ones (Matt 23:23). We might call this an “all of the above” approach to handling theological issues. It is granted that this can be criticized as a kind of everythingism, but it is hard for me to categorize some things into a box labeled “neglected.” Furthermore, the critic should justify his critique in the face of the fact that all Scripture is God-breathed and that the Pharisees should have carried out the small matters of the law with fidelity while caring for the “big” ones as well.

To further address the everythingism concern, I suggest that instead of emphasizing priority or urgency, we should take care to maintain the right weight or proportion in our doctrinal formulation and practice. In so doing, we must care for the entire theological textbook as it describes how we should believe and live. I am advocating for an everyday embrace and practice of the whole body of Christian doctrine in the proportion that it is found in Scripture. This will obviously give some doctrines a larger cut from the cake than others, but we should still eat the whole cake. The size of the various pieces should be proportioned as they are in Scripture. This is why a regular expositional diet of Scripture is the best, as it will treat all the issues that Scripture does.

The proportionality of which I speak is not necessarily a proportionality of Scriptural frequency, for then certain doctrines such as the Trinity would be almost nonexistent in our theological dialog. Still, the weight of a doctrine certainly can be affected by frequency of mention.

For instance, phrases like “I am the Lord who created” by their very frequency call the reader to take note. Other doctrines must be weighted by their effect on other truths that logically rest upon them, or by how their own tentacles reach through Scripture’s perfect web of theological truth. Narrative incidents that are disconnected from the larger network of theological truth have a proportionally lower weight (e.g., 1 Chron 11:22). Creation, sin, the doctrines of God and Christ, justification, the church, and eschatological renewal among others have much higher weight. None should be left behind.

If we apply this idea of doctrinal proportionality in the area of young earth theology, we will see that although the young earth doctrine concerns a small fraction of world history a long time ago, it is interconnected with so many other portions of Scripture and biblical doctrines that it has a proportionally higher weight than chronology alone would indicate. On it rests everything in world history and doctrine. Since God made us, he is to be regarded with the ultimate respect that a human being can offer. Young earth theology is situated as a key element to the most central of Christian truths.

Conclusion

Is young earth creationism a man-made doctrine? We answer with a resounding no! God has given us the innate ability to collect, organize, and summarize information in all areas of life, including the Scripture. Young earth theology is the result of such activity concerning Scripture’s teaching on the beginning of the world from an originalist perspective. When we carefully apply such a method of study to the Bible’s doctrine of creation, we find that there are certain aspects of the doctrine that percolate to the top. These are the defining and organizing concepts that describe young earth theology that we have outlined in this essay.

Young Earth Theology is the area of systematic theology out of which grow all the other areas of theology. The existence of the Triune God in contradistinction to that of his creation is found in young earth theology. The origin and constitution of man is found there. The origin of sin is found there. The need for the gospel originates there. The origin of angels is there. Important principles of bibliology, namely literal hermeneutics and the sufficiency of Scripture, are at issue there. And eschatology is wrapped up in the initial creation, for the first utopia was ruined and will be replaced with a second, even better one. God created the first heavens and earth. We believe he will create the second set with the same miraculous power and literalness as he did the first. Without YET, Christianity is not really Christianity, for if God did not create the world supernaturally as he described in the Bible, our faith is futile.

Could God have created the world in a longer or shorter time? Could he have used more or less direct means? While we can extend a limited affirmation to such hypotheticals,34 what is important is this: what did God say that he did? All Scripture that concerns creation is breathed out by God. It is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. By itself it is not the complete equipment that the man of God requires to live a life of good works, but it is most certainly an important part of it.

Notes

30 Albert Mohler, A Call for Theological Triage and Christianity Maturity, May 20, 2004, http://www.albertmohler.com/2004/05/20/a-call-for-theological-triage-and…, accessed April 5, 2016.

31 Ibid., par. 17.

32 To put this into concrete terms, so-called conservative Christians should not be struggling over whether baptism is for believers or not (it is); whether miraculous gifts have ceased (they have); whether creation was recent or not or whether God used macro-evolution; or whether there will be an earthly millennial kingdom with Israel at the head of the nations (there will be). These are clear teachings of Scripture.

33 I have even experienced a case where a missionary left a mission because he perceived the mission’s longstanding doctrinal statement wrongly included one doctrine, thus sorting it higher than it should have been.

34 We cannot affirm that God could have used evolution, because then he would used death to accomplish creation, and that is not “very good” nor just, nor does it harmonize with Romans 5:12. The evolution-hypothetical is impossible because it is not in agreement with God’s nature nor with other portions of his Word.

Matthew Postiff bio


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.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I agree with Matthew here that the triage analogy has limitations. I'm pretty sure Mohler would as well. All analogies have weaknesses. But it doesn't look to me like Matthew's alternative is actually a different approach to the problem of conflicting views on many Christian doctrines.

To further address the everythingism concern, I suggest that instead of emphasizing priority or urgency, we should take care to maintain the right weight or proportion in our doctrinal formulation and practice.

Both Dr. Postiff and Dr. Mohler want to avoid doctrinal flatness: that is, a situation where we apply the same fervor and pursue the same consequences for every doctrinal issue, regardless of the doctrine's impact on the gospel or its decisiveness in defining who is a Christian and who is not.

Both Mohler and Postiff seem to be saying there must be priorities to shape how our "contending for the faith" energy is distributed as well as our disfellowshipping choices.

I'm aware of some true everythingists out there, who really do want doctrinal response to be completely flat and fight as much over, I suppose, how long is "long" in 1 Cor. 11:14 as they do over the doctrine of sin, deity of Christ and bodily resurrection.

But that's not only a bad idea, it's actually impossible. Priorities will emerge, regardless of any theoretical flatness people insist on. Here's why:

Wherever you have limited resources, you are forced to prioritize.

  • Energy spent denouncing error is a limited resource. 
  • Energy spent in corrective teaching to oppose error is a limited resource.
  • The amount of separating from one another we can do is also a kind of limited resource -- if we're going to remotely resemble New Testament Christianity, which includes unity as well as discipline and separation.

In short, we can't fight about everything, we can't separate from everybody, and we have to prioritize. This is all "triage" is.

The real point of disagreement is over the levels of priority that ought to be assigned to various Christian doctrines. And that disagreement itself has to be assigned a priority. It's guaranteed to be assigned a priority. The question is whether we'll do it thoughtfully and intentionally or by default. Limited resources always result in intentional or de facto priorities.

Don Johnson's picture

This article is an outstanding answer to Mohler's triage analogy, but I understand Aaron's cautious follow-up above. It is inevitable that we will choose not to contend over some theological issues.

I have outlined theological importance on several levels in my own thinking. First are those distinctives which define Christianity. On one side of the question is real Christian faith, on the other is no Christianity at all. This is where most of the contention must take place. Sometimes, such contention may appear to be between real Christians fighting with one another, and it may be so. But the issue under contention goes directly to the support or undergirding of these first level doctrines. For example, the fight over charismatic gifts (esp. tongues, prophecy) is a fight over verbal plenary inspiration - do we have only one authoritative revelation once for all or is revelation ongoing? On the other hand, the fight over the versions is likewise a fight over inspiration. It is really the same question as charismaticism, except that in the KJO controversy, extra gifting only extended to the 1611 translators.

The second level, in my mind, are those which define us denominationally. There are important issues here which must define a local fellowship, but will not require the same kind of vigilance perhaps as first level doctrines. Church polity, baptism, Lord's Table issues, etc are the doctrines I consider here. Some applications of holiness and Christian living are defined at this level also.

Third are personal standards, which may vary between church members without contention.

This is a rough outline of how I look at it. Perhaps there is some overlap between levels, perhaps it is more of a continuum than a classification. In any case, I think the issue we need to discern if thinking about contention is, "How does this issue affect essential Christianity?" Inspiration issues are hugely important, in my opinion.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

TylerR's picture

Editor

Here is Larry Oats on separation principles. I understand Mohler's triage metaphor, but this is better. On Oats' chart, the further to the left, the more significant the doctrine is (and vice versa):

 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Steve Davis's picture

I tend to agree with Aaron that Postiff's  triage is no improvement on Mohler's. At first glance I like Oats'  chart. And here is where I have a huge problem with Postiff if I'm understanding him correctly. He makes this statement:

"Young Earth Theology is the area of systematic theology out of which grow all the other areas of theology. The existence of the Triune God in contradistinction to that of his creation is found in young earth theology. . . ."

All other theology grows out of YET? What kind of triage is this? On the face of it this is absurd and even dangerous. This would not be true even if YET fell into the Explicit Teaching on Oats' chart  I think it belongs in the second column. Other might place it in the first column. What Postiff says about the existence of God is not found exclusively in YET. Am I alone in believing that all areas of theology grow out of God himself as revealed in Scripture? Am I wrong or does the above sound like an interpretation of the how and when in creation now goes to the top of the triage pile, the authority of interpretation rather than the authority of Scripture? 

Don Johnson's picture

With Steve!

I agree that all theology grows out of Theology Proper. I disagree that YET is second level, because it IS explicit in Scripture, it is intimately connected to foundational theologies (anthropology, hamartiology, bibliology, cosmology, to name a few)

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Steve Davis's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

With Steve!

I agree that all theology grows out of Theology Proper. I disagree that YET is second level, because it IS explicit in Scripture, it is intimately connected to foundational theologies (anthropology, hamartiology, bibliology, cosmology, to name a few)

Don's batting .500 with me. On whether YET is first or second level is perhaps the firmament divider. Substitute "Creation" for YET and I'm in. YET is an interpretation of creation and the history of interpretation confirms that it has never been first level. I would say the same for eschatology. Jesus is coming again and will reign forever - Explicit. Pre-, mid-, post trib, millennium. etc. - Implicit. 

Don Johnson's picture

Steve, I can agree that YET is an interpretation, except that it is based on several statements that seem very explicit to me - not much room for alternate views in the text itself. But I am not going to argue that point.

Let's assume for sake of argument that you are correct, YET is an interpretation of the data, not a view explicitly required by the data. As an interpretation, is it exactly the same as the eschatological interpretations you mention?

In YE creation, we have the doctrine of original sin and the original sinner. Adam, the head of the race, plunging ALL his descendants into sin and death. His counterpart is Christ, the head of the new creation, enabling all who are born by faith (born again) to participate in the life of the new creation as part of his body. (See Romans 5). If creation is not YE, then is there an explicit, historical individual named Adam who is responsible for the sin nature of all subsequent humans? (There are no other humans, i.e. non descendants of Adam.) If creation is not YE, where did death come from? (Rm 5.12). It seems to me that it is very easy to go awry in first level doctrines of sin (hamartiology), of man (anthropology) and of salvation (soteriology) if you deny YE creation.

On the other hand, which first level doctrines will you necessarily go awry on if you make the mistake of holding to amillennialism, or postmillennialism, or mid-trib/post-trib? (see what I did there!)

Quite frankly, I can agree that eschatological interpretations are second level, because there is some possible ambiguity in the scriptures (not much, but perhaps some wiggle room), but more so because differences here do not automatically result in serious differences on clearly first-level doctrines. On the other hand, those who deny young earth creationism end up perilously close to denying the origination and originator of sin, have no explanation for death in the universe, and undermine the position of Christ as the head of a new race of believers. That's pretty first-level for me.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

There are multiple ways "all theology" can be said to "grow out of" some thing or other. Chronologically speaking, there can be no denying that that all theology grows out of biblical theology of Genesis. Because it's first. But as far as systematic theology goes, well, Don's comments resonate with me. You are not far from theology proper when you're talking God's first acts in relation to the created universe and mankind.

So the quoted observation from Postiff may not be correct, but it is definitely not absurd.

For my part, I'd sooner say that all theology grows out of theology proper and His identity as Creator in particular, as a subset of that.

One thing for sure is that what God did and how, in relation to the creation, cannot possibly be unimportant. "Secondary"? Secondary seems like too big a step down from "primary," if we're going to apply it to creation theology. It's too bound up in theology proper and basic anthropology as well.

Steve Davis's picture

Quick comment during Olympics commercial. I don't believe unimportant represents anything I said about creation. I had referred to Oats' chart. Unimportant is 4th level. I believe creation is first level, Adam and Eve historical, fall historical. I believe that because both Jesus and Paul affirm that. The nature of the days and the age of the earth (even more) are implicit and open to competing interpretations. The YE position is valid interpretation. It is not explicit, first--level, only or hasn't been until fairly recent times in Fundamentalism. IMO.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Sorry about my ambiguity... I didn't mean to attach "unimportant" to your view of creation doctrine. I meant to include a point there that I was pretty sure we agreed on (though others do not). Glad to see we do.

There's a lot I like about the Oats chart also, though I feel like I need one more column....

Don Johnson's picture

Steve Davis wrote:

I believe creation is first level, Adam and Eve historical, fall historical. I believe that because both Jesus and Paul affirm that. The nature of the days and the age of the earth (even more) are implicit and open to competing interpretations. The YE position is valid interpretation. It is not explicit, first--level, only or hasn't been until fairly recent times in Fundamentalism. IMO.

Steve, so far so good, but if an old earth is valid, what is part of that old earth view? Does it include death before the fall? Does it in anyway include creation groaning before the fall? I have never heard of any old earth view that didn't answer Yes to those two questions. That problem there jeopardizes salvation, the headship of Adam and Christ and so on. These are critical points.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Larry Nelson's picture

 

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1941337759/ref=od_aui_detailpages00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

From Amazon's Description: "Few topics have generated as much heat amongst evangelicals as the age of the earth and the doctrine of creation. Three camps have emerged to offer solutions: young-earth creationists (Answers in Genesis), old-earth creationists (Reasons to Believe), and evolutionary creationists (BioLogos).

Controversy of the Ages carefully analyzes the debate by giving it perspective. Rather than offering arguments for or against a particular viewpoint on the age of the earth, the authors take a step back to put the debate in historical and theological context. The authors of this book demonstrate from the history of theology and science controversy that believers are entitled to differ over this issue, while still taking a stand against theistic evolution. But by carefully and constructively breaking down the controversy bit by bit, they show why the age issue is the wrong place to draw a line in the sand.

Readers will find the content stimulating, the tone charitable, and the documentation impressive. The goal of this book is to bring unity and charity to a complicated and contentious debate."

From the Preface: "I was no longer an evolutionist after my conversion to Christ. Believing in Christ and in the Bible came as a package deal to me in 1973, and Genesis seemed clearly to teach that humans did not evolve from lower life forms. Yet I cannot remember being concerned about the age of the earth. Anti-evolution old earth creationism (OEC) still dominated conservative evangelical and fundamentalist circles in those days.

But the young earth creationist (YEC) revolution soon ruled the scene, and I was swept into the movement. Books by Henry M. Morris and others from the Institute for Creation Research became my standard fare for science-theology issues. I not only taught their material as a pastor, I even wrote a pamphlet espousing their ideas.

Sometime in the early 1980s I became troubled by a trend in the movement. Much of its material seemed as much anti-old earth as it was anti-evolution. Though I had become a young earth creationist, the broadsides against OECs concerned me. Why were the unspoken motives of these fellow anti-evolutionists impugned? I also doubted sweeping but unsubstantiated claims that the loss of so much good in Western culture could be attributed to OEC. I began to wonder whether their scientific claims might suffer from similar rashness."

---------------------------------------

Co-authored by two Southern Baptist Ph.D's.  I expect it will be interesting.

Steve Davis's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

Steve, so far so good, but if an old earth is valid, what is part of that old earth view? Does it include death before the fall? Does it in anyway include creation groaning before the fall? I have never heard of any old earth view that didn't answer Yes to those two questions. That problem there jeopardizes salvation, the headship of Adam and Christ and so on. These are critical points.

Don. these are good questions. They have been debated here and elsewhere extensively, if not profitably. I'm not convinced that there is the jeopardy you see. Here's a good place to start. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/biblical-reasons-... (and I just saw Larry's book recommendation). 

Besides, my intention has not been to argue for or against YET. I do reject its claims of interpretive exclusivity as THE orthodox position and dismissive statements (not necessarily the author's) that disparage other valid interpretations as deliberately misreading the text or refusing to accept the plain reading, etc. I have no grounds to deny fellowship to my brothers who are YE. I'm not sure that's reciprocal. To continue the baseball analogy, YET is not a home run.

Just a teaser. I cannot rule out the possibility that there was animal death before the fall, neither can I prove it. But it is not incompatible with Rom. 5:12 and death coming into the word upon mankind through Adam's sin. God may well have created predators with jaws that only would function after man's fall and they only killed and ate vegetation until the fall, or created them to be used outside the garden paradise. These questions and answers like many others are outside the text. And they raise other questions that I don't have the time to answer (or answers). 

Jim's picture

My sine qua non (more like sine quibus non):

  • Literal Adam not descended from prehominidae (and created out of dust)
  • No macro evolution (allow microevolution like poodles from wolves [after creation])
  • No human death prior to Adam's Fall
  • I allow death of other species (like a microbe (created by God (obviously) consuming another microbe / or Adam ate something(s) before the Fall ... those plants had to die (I presume that Adam had gut microbes that digested ... et cetera). So you have some death of something before the Fall)
  • 6 literal days. But it is possible that there was any space of some kind between the days [not talking about day-age ]? Don't know. School me
  • Literal worldwide flood

 

 

 

Paul Henebury's picture

 "I cannot rule out the possibility that there was animal death before the fall, neither can I prove it."

Why would he think there was?  What is it that makes him look at the text so?

If he is unsure about animal death, can he be clear about thorns and thistles?  Did they thrive before the Fall? 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Kevin Miller's picture

Paul Henebury wrote:

 "I cannot rule out the possibility that there was animal death before the fall, neither can I prove it."

Why would he think there was?  What is it that makes him look at the text so?

If he is unsure about animal death, can he be clear about thorns and thistles?  Did they thrive before the Fall? 

I don't think they thrived, but I also don't think thy were a brand new creation made after the first seven days. I think they existed in some form, but did not cause difficulty for Adam. If Adam pulled up a plant while he was tending the garden, would that plant have died?

Steve Davis's picture

Paul Henebury wrote:

 "I cannot rule out the possibility that there was animal death before the fall, neither can I prove it."

Why would he think there was?  What is it that makes him look at the text so?

If he is unsure about animal death, can he be clear about thorns and thistles?  Did they thrive before the Fall? 

Good question Paul. There are several possibilities but not directly from the text. As I said earlier these questions and answers are outside the text (like the age of the earth). But it is an intriguing question. Kevin has provided a good response. There are at least two options: 1) God created thorns and thistles in his original creation which existed outside the garden paradise (along with animal death?). 2) God created thorns and thistles after the original creation, after he had rested from creation work, which looks like progressive creationism. Of the two, I lean toward the first. There may be others I need to consider. It is not answered explicitly by the text. Our curiosity is not satisfied. All that to say, I really don’t know and am happily agnostic about it and about the age of the earth (while still curious and interested in studying more). So yes, I admit, there are things I'm unsure about in the details. How about you? Are you sure? 

Don Johnson's picture

The Bible says,

17 Then to Adam He said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat from it'; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life.  18 "Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field;  19 By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return."

All of these statements are consequences (note "Because") of the fall. They appear to be changes to the prior state of things. It is undeniable that the creation we experience now is different from the creation Adam and Eve fist experienced.

Romans 8 speaks of a groaning creation waiting for redemption, when presumably it will cease from groaning and everything broken will be made right.

All of these words matter, and more passages besides. They all point to essential theological points. When you equivocate and say Scripture doesn't explicitly say, what exactly do you want it do say? Does it have to lay out every specific off what changed under the curse for you to make a positive theological affirmation?

For me, the Scriptures are more than sufficient and are absolutely explicit in these matters. I think you are equivocating for no good reason.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Kevin Miller's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

Does it have to lay out every specific off what changed under the curse for you to make a positive theological affirmation?

Personally, I would find it hard to be absolutely certain of my positive theological affirmations unless things were specifically laid out. Let's just take the statement "both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you." Can we know for certain, from that statement, that thorns and thistles were NOT created during the first seven days of creation? A plain reading of the statement seems to lay them out as something new, but can I be certain of that?

Don Johnson's picture

the "thorns and thistles" were a consequence, something changed

I personally think it is more likely that they already existed, but their properties changed somehow. The properties of human life changed, I guess something changed with all of creation. But that is where we start speculating. It is quite clear that change occurred, it wasn't for the better, and all creation awaits redemption, not just man. The theology of all of that demands conclusions that I don't think are speculation.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Steve Davis's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

The Bible says,

17 Then to Adam He said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat from it'; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life.  18 "Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field;  19 By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return."

All of these statements are consequences (note "Because") of the fall. They appear to be changes to the prior state of things. It is undeniable that the creation we experience now is different from the creation Adam and Eve fist experienced.

Romans 8 speaks of a groaning creation waiting for redemption, when presumably it will cease from groaning and everything broken will be made right.

All of these words matter, and more passages besides. They all point to essential theological points. When you equivocate and say Scripture doesn't explicitly say, what exactly do you want it do say? Does it have to lay out every specific off what changed under the curse for you to make a positive theological affirmation?

For me, the Scriptures are more than sufficient and are absolutely explicit in these matters. I think you are equivocating for no good reason.

You're right. There were changes after the fall. As you said, that is undeniable. That doesn't answer the question of thorns and thistles (which someone else raised). Did they already exist or were they created/altered after the fall? We don't know from the text, or do we/you? I'm waiting. What theological affirmation am I not making? Was the "ground" the garden or the whole earth? I guess I shouldn't be surprised you call that equivocation. But I'm not sure what to call a claim that you haven't supported.

BTW, from this statement it sounds like you're equivocating: "Romans 8 speaks of a groaning creation waiting for redemption, when presumably it will cease from groaning and everything broken will be made right." What do you mean "presumably?" 

Paul Henebury's picture

Steve (and Kevin),

thanks for replying to me.  Here is my take on the matter at hand:

1. Genesis 1 concerns the entire planet and its creation.  Genesis 1:1 is usually understood as a catch-all statement pertaining to the rest of the chapter.

2. It is well nigh impossible to interpret Genesis 1 as referring to Eden only (I am not saying either of you do)

3. According to Genesis 1:26-30 man was given dominion over all the creatures on the planet

4. Genesis 1:31 is quite clear that God's own appraisal of the whole earth was that it was "very good".  I infer that God's standard of what is very good is higher than ours, not lower

5. Genesis 2:1-3 encourage us to understand that in resting from His work God had not left it with evil, death, disease, etc present

6. Genesis 2:5-14 indicates that Eden ("delight") is a land where God planted a special garden for the man.  Other lands like Havilah, Cush, and Ethiopia bordered Eden.  Nothing in the text so far would lead us to think that these lands were not "very good".  In fact, the gold of Havilah is called "good"

7. The garden is within Eden which is a land of "delight".  It is not just the garden that is a delight

8. For His own reasons (which may well have had to do with deepening the relationship) God allowed the serpent into the garden

9. Adam failed by listening to the woman instead of listening to God.  God cursed the earth.

10. Thorns and thistles, which are never construed in a good light in the Bible (nevermind "very good"), were a part of the curse.  It is difficult to believe that the curse was not placed upon the whole surface of the earth.  Therefore, thorns and thistles were introduced because of the curse on the earth

It seems to me that the only way someone can envisage thorns and thistles prior to the curse is to both view them as "good" and therefore proliferating on the earth's surface much as they do today.  But why would they go there?  Because they already believe in an old-earth, which requires thorns and thistles and death (btw, plants aren't really alive so they don't die) to be prevalent on the "very good" planet.  

I for one am sure that OEC is read into Genesis 1 and 2, not derived from it.  I am sure from these chapters that the original earth was all "very good" and would have no reason to suppose otherwise unless I was previously influenced by old-earth chronology.  That is my position.  Differing from it makes no one unspiritual.  My only issue is that if old-earth science is not a major factor being brought to the text how are folks arriving at the view that thorns and thistles and death were common occurences on a planet God evaluated as "very good"?      

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Kevin Miller's picture

Paul Henebury wrote:

Steve (and Kevin),

thanks for replying to me.  Here is my take on the matter at hand:

1. Genesis 1 concerns the entire planet and its creation.  Genesis 1:1 is usually understood as a catch-all statement pertaining to the rest of the chapter.

2. It is well nigh impossible to interpret Genesis 1 as referring to Eden only (I am not saying either of you do)

3. According to Genesis 1:26-30 man was given dominion over all the creatures on the planet

4. Genesis 1:31 is quite clear that God's own appraisal of the whole earth was that it was "very good".  I infer that God's standard of what is very good is higher than ours, not lower

5. Genesis 2:1-3 encourage us to understand that in resting from His work God had not left it with evil, death, disease, etc present

6. Genesis 2:5-14 indicates that Eden ("delight") is a land where God planted a special garden for the man.  Other lands like Havilah, Cush, and Ethiopia bordered Eden.  Nothing in the text so far would lead us to think that these lands were not "very good".  In fact, the gold of Havilah is called "good"

7. The garden is within Eden which is a land of "delight".  It is not just the garden that is a delight

8. For His own reasons (which may well have had to do with deepening the relationship) God allowed the serpent into the garden

9. Adam failed by listening to the woman instead of listening to God.  God cursed the earth.

10. Thorns and thistles, which are never construed in a good light in the Bible (nevermind "very good"), were a part of the curse.  It is difficult to believe that the curse was not placed upon the whole surface of the earth.  Therefore, thorns and thistles were introduced because of the curse on the earth

It seems to me that the only way someone can envisage thorns and thistles prior to the curse is to both view them as "good" and therefore proliferating on the earth's surface much as they do today.  But why would they go there?  Because they already believe in an old-earth, which requires thorns and thistles and death (btw, plants aren't really alive so they don't die) to be prevalent on the "very good" planet.  

I for one am sure that OEC is read into Genesis 1 and 2, not derived from it.  I am sure from these chapters that the original earth was all "very good" and would have no reason to suppose otherwise unless I was previously influenced by old-earth chronology.  That is my position.  Differing from it makes no one unspiritual.  My only issue is that if old-earth science is not a major factor being brought to the text how are folks arriving at the view that thorns and thistles and death were common occurences on a planet God evaluated as "very good"?      

I'm really liking this discussion, because just two weeks ago, I started a discussion about the curse with a preterist friend of mine. Since he believes Christ returned in 70 AD, he has to take some real liberties with the plain reading of the curse verses. He DOES think it was just the garden that was the perfect place, and that getting kicked out of the garden meant that people were going to have to live in the other parts of the world, which were going to require work. When I presented things like your points 4 and 6, he told me that my strict reading of the text is not the only possible reading. I was wishing I could put some music to his tap dancing Smile

Is a rose bush a "very good" plant? I'm not sure thorns on a rose bush would keep it from being very good, but they might. I think certain plants had the genetic capability to produce thorns or thistles before the fall, but those characteristics were only expressed after the fall. That's just speculation, to be sure, but I think the point of the thorns and thistles curse is that they would then be causing extra work for man, creating a difficulty in getting his food. It seems, at least, possible that thorns which DIDN'T cause food-growing difficulty could perhaps have been in existence.

Also, you said "btw, plants aren't really alive, so they don't die." Isn't that really just a matter of the definition of "life"? There is certainly a difference between the life of plants and the life of animals. The life of animals and the life of man are more closely related, but there is also a distinct difference between man and animals in the giving of their life by God. People who believe animals could have died before the fall might simply be taking into account the distinct nature of man apart from the animals. I happen to think animals didn't die, but I can't say that my position is an absolute certainty.

Don Johnson's picture

A quick look at Genesis seems to indicate that plants are not nephesh, whereas all "creatures" are  - the word translated "creature" in Gen 1.20, for example, is nephesh.

Plants are given to all creatures "everything that has life" (1.30) as food. No carnivores pre-fall.

The pre-fall world was radically different from the post-fall world. 

I'm thinking of a more comprehensive response to Steve later. Don't want to be in a rush, to easy to use a hasty word that doesn't communicate well.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Don Johnson's picture

Steve Davis wrote:

You're right. There were changes after the fall. As you said, that is undeniable. That doesn't answer the question of thorns and thistles (which someone else raised). Did they already exist or were they created/altered after the fall? We don't know from the text, or do we/you? I'm waiting. What theological affirmation am I not making? Was the "ground" the garden or the whole earth? I guess I shouldn't be surprised you call that equivocation. But I'm not sure what to call a claim that you haven't supported.

BTW, from this statement it sounds like you're equivocating: "Romans 8 speaks of a groaning creation waiting for redemption, when presumably it will cease from groaning and everything broken will be made right." What do you mean "presumably?" 

Steve, I'm going to attempt an answer at these questions. I am sure I will miss something!

  • Did they already exist or were they created/altered after the fall?

I think they existed but were altered in some way. I don't think we can really imagine what conditions were like pre-fall, but post fall, man's toil is frustrated by many problems, which include the thorns and thistles. The thorns and thistles (and the other statements  in the curse) are both literal and figurative for a multitude of difficulties that flow from the fall. I don't think they were created after the fall, but I will grant that is not absolutely clear in the text. Either way, the fall created a changed environment.

  • Was the "ground" the garden or the whole earth?

I think that Romans 8 makes it pretty clear that this is the whole earth.

 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.
 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope
 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.
 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

The creation here is the whole world, subject to futility, enslaved to corruption, waiting the freedom of the glory of the children of God. The whole creation groans and suffers, waiting for this to happen. In distinction from creation, we ourselves (we believers) groan, waiting for the redemption of the body (ie, the resurrection and the perfection that brings, see 1 Cor 15). Whatever the creation is waiting for, it is waiting for a change to be brought about in it akin to the resurrection we will experience. It wasn't always this way, it was subjected to it. As Rm 5.12 says, the agency for this subjection was Adam. 

  • BTW, from this statement it sounds like you're equivocating: "Romans 8 speaks of a groaning creation waiting for redemption, when presumably it will cease from groaning and everything broken will be made right." What do you mean "presumably?" 

Presumably... well, maybe a bad choice of words. The point is that based on our expectation of freedom from corruption, the whole creation has an expectation of freedom from corruption. Man was not created corrupt, but he is corrupt. What intervened is the fall.

If you assume millions and billions of years of death before the first man appears on the scene in world history, it seems very difficult to tie the corruption of man to the corruption of creation. Consequently, it calls into question Paul's whole argument in Rm 8 and in Rm 5. I think that is explicit enough. You want to dodge and say it's not specific. How much more specific does it really need to be?

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

dgszweda's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

Consequently, it calls into question Paul's whole argument in Rm 8 and in Rm 5. I think that is explicit enough. You want to dodge and say it's not specific. How much more specific does it really need to be?

This is a key point in my opinion for both Romans and Genesis.  We can argue the minutia, but the question still remains a very plain reading clearly points to a YEC, and you could argue, how much more plain could Genesis be that it was 6x24 hour days.  Whether you argue when the sun was created and such, it was placed in there to further confirm these are real days.  In Exodus it further confirms that God created all things in 6 days.

Steve Davis's picture

Thanks Don. I've been unable to respond and it might just be you and me still on the thread. I'm bi-vocational so I don't have the luxury of full-time ministry to write to annoy more people. 

On thorns and thistles - we're not far off. There's some things we don't know. The fall entailed huge changes. 

"Ground" - I was thinking of Genesis and not Romains and wondering if there was a difference between the Garden paradise and the outside world. I agree that Romains is clearly the entire earth and universe. I'm waiting for it. 

"Dodging" - I don't think I'm dodging anything and don't think the accusation is particularly charitable. I have questions. Others have answers or think they do. I still have questions. I don't assume millions and billions of years. I've already stated I don't know how old the earth is. I don't think anyone does either but they think they do and that's okay. Once/if I know I'll let it be known.

There were some other loose ends. I think it was Genesis 1:30 and plants given for food. I see the strength of the argument on the surface. Then I think, it's not a prohibition of meat. It's like, not exactly, you ask for salt and I give you salt and pepper. God giving them one thing, green plants, was not a prohibition in itself for meat. I don't know that Adam ate meat. Perhaps he was a vegan. Yet I'm not convinced that meat eating came about only as a result of sin. The OT celebrates the sacrifice of animals and the consumptions of animal flesh as did our Lord at the Supper. So, eating meat may have been a result of sin but it is not sinful. Which means, in my thinking, that it was not an activity contrary to a perfect creation. I wonder if at the the Marriage Supper of the Lamb we will eat meat. I know we will drink wine (Isaiah 25:6) but I'd like some meat. Break over. All I have. Back to work. 

God bless

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