Timothy Keller’s View on Creation (Part 3)

FBFI National Meeting workshop presented by Matt Recker June 14-16, 2016, with permission from Proclaim & Defend. In Part 1, we defined Timothy Keller’s view of theistic evolution and offered his rationale for holding his position. In Part 2, we considered a more thorough discussion of the ERRORS Keller makes in his compromised theology of Creation.

4. Keller’s Theistic Evolution: An Answer

Here are four points to answer the theistic evolutionary position. Of course, this is not all that can be said but it is a strong beginning to refute this erroneous view.

A. The WAW consecutive

Genesis 1-2:3 is written as literal, consecutive history and not metaphorical, topical history as put forth by the framework theory. This is demonstrated by the many uses of the WAW consecutive (often translated “and”) in the narrative. It is used about 50 times, giving a sequential, narrative account with historical and uninterrupted progression. The use of the words “day,” a sequential number, and “evening and morning,” are never used in a metaphorical sense when used together. These terms collectively argue strongly for creation occurring in six literal days. Although written in a stylized fashion, with the beautiful repetitive elements such as, “and God said,” “and it was so,” “and God saw,” “and the evening and morning,” it is literal. The “WAW consecutive” primarily shows progressive, consecutive actions in narrative literature.1

B. How Genesis 1:1-2:3 relates to Genesis 2:4-25

It has long been the literal creation position that Genesis 1:1-2:3 provides us with a broad overview and chronological account of what God did on each of the solar days during the creation week. Genesis 2:4-25 essentially zooms in on day six, the crowning point of God’s creation, and expands on the events of that day with man in the Garden as the central focus. Many details are added to the creation week and man’s setting in the Garden of Eden is more fully described. This new revelation/information does not contradict Genesis 1 but supplements it.

Some of the expanded new revelation of day six is as follows: In Genesis 2:6, the writer describes the primeval hydrologic system, with a mist watering the ground. This perhaps began on Day 3 just after God made the plants and herbs, as there was the heaven, earth, and sea all in place.

Genesis 2:7 describes with much greater specificity the creation of man from the element of dust and God’s personal care of man to breathe into him His very breath to give him life.

Genesis 2:8-15 describe details of the Garden of Eden: names of trees and rivers are given. The point of these verses is to emphasize that the world had not yet fully flourished and could not achieve its abundant growth without either the rain or man to cultivate the earth.

Genesis 2:16-25 reveals man’s responsibility in the Garden of Eden. Animals abound and are fully formed as Adam names them on the first day of his existence. This is followed by a fuller description of the creation of the woman from the rib of the man succeeded by the first marriage performed by the Lord Himself.

Genesis 2 is not concerned about the order of creation. Why should it, when the order was given with perfect clarity in Genesis 1? That is why we see man created and then the beasts of the field and fowls mentioned after the creation of man (Gen. 2:19). Genesis 2:4-25 emphasizes to us that God made a world which required man to cultivate, plant, and reseed the ground so that the earth could flourish. Yes, before the earth could flourish, ordinary providence of precipitation as well as human life was required to till the ground (Genesis 2:5).

C. The “toledoths” in general and the first one in particular in Genesis 2:4

Genesis 2:4 – These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.

The ten “toledoths” in Genesis act as both a hinge to what went before and a heading to introduce what is to come. Each toledoth in Genesis refers to literal, real history and what became of it.2 To interpret Genesis consistently, one must see all the toledoths as referring to actual and literal history. While they do look back, they act as a heading to introduce more information. The word “generations” does not refer to the process by which something came into being because in each case the person or thing mentioned already existed. Rather, it tells what happened after the person or thing mentioned came into being (See Genesis 5:1 for an example). The toledoth means, “developments that arise out of” or the history of the thing referenced. It can basically mean, “this is what became of…”3

This first toledoth in Genesis 2:4 (or some say just Genesis 2:4a) expands the actual history of the heaven and earth, both giving greater detail of what occurred during the creation week and telling what became of the heaven and earth inhabited by the first man and woman. It extends through Genesis 4. This toledoth is the only one without a personal name. To summarize, the purpose of this toledoth section of Genesis 2:4-4:24 is to depict mankind both in his glorious residence, his fall into sin and his disgraceful expulsion from Eden, followed by the first murder of Abel by Cain, and Cain’s subsequent departure from God’s presence. If one interprets this first toledoth as metaphorical, it opens the door to a non-literal interpretation of the other toledoths and the entirety of Genesis.

D. The Meaning of Genesis 2:5

Genesis 2:5 – And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.

In spite of the large body of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation that God is our all-powerful Creator who created the world in six literal days (Exodus 20:11), this one verse seems to provide Meredith Kline, Tim Keller, and others apparent reasons to wholeheartedly adopt a theistic evolutionary model. Genesis 1 clearly teaches that plant life, created on day three, was before the creation of man on day six. The apparent precedence of man before plant life in Genesis 2:5 seems to be a sharp contradiction to what Genesis 1 teaches, according to theistic evolutionists. Since plant life depends on the yet to arrive rain, they contend that natural providence was in operation for the six days of creation rather than miraculous providence as six day creationists contend. Thus, it is important for six day creationists to demonstrate that the main focus of Genesis 2:5 is not in conflict with the clear chronological advancement of Genesis 1:1–2:3, nor is Genesis 2 a non-chronological, topical account as those like Kline, et al, who advance such notions as the “framework theory.”

Ironically, the logic of theistic evolutionists dependence on Genesis 2:5 seems faulty even before their claims are analyzed and answered. Don Johnson notes:

Alright then, because it is obvious to theistic evolutionists that Genesis 2:5 teaches that Adam was created before the plants, let’s allow their argument for the moment. If Adam was a chosen hominid “tool-maker” who stood at the pinnacle of evolution, how in the world did those hominids manage to survive and develop over millions of years without any plants? What would they have had to eat? What would they have had to make tools with? It would all be well and good to suggest that the hominids were meat eaters, but then how would the meat-eaters they ate survive without plants? The whole notion puts their view in a most ridiculous posture. They have to teach the sudden creation of plants after Adam which runs counter to their system of gradual development, or some other explanation must be offered. If you think of it this way, Genesis 2:5 is no help to Keller’s argument. It would actually make his suggestion totally impossible.4

Regardless of which way you decide to interpret Genesis 2:5, remember that this passage “has been the subject of some interpretative ambiguities, and caution should be exercised in using Kline’s novel interpretation to solve what is really only a post-Darwinian problem.”5 Kline said that the “unargued presupposition of Gen. 2:5 is clearly the divine providence was operating during the creation period through processes which any reader would recognize as normal in the natural world of his day.” From this verse Kline also constructs the framework theory of Genesis 1 and concludes that man was made before the plants and vegetation.6

I disagree with Kline. What is unarguable is that when you read Genesis 1, the creation week was abounding with supernatural providence, Genesis 2:5 does not contradict it at all. By the end of the six days of supernatural providence, then ordinary providence and laws with which we are familiar (established during the creation week) were all in motion.

Genesis 2:5 introduces a new section that focuses on the formation and crowning point of creation, human life, and the fall of man and woman in their garden of Eden paradise.

Although it is admittedly a difficult verse to interpret and various creationists take differing views of it, Genesis 2:5 could mean one of at least three things, none of which hint of a theistic evolutionary model.

1. Genesis 2:5 could look to Day One before any plants were made, if you connect Genesis 2:5 to Genesis 2:4b as Henry Leupold and Henry Morris do.

Leopold says that a natural rendering results when combining these verses.7 Henry Morris takes the toledoth to be Genesis 2:4a, and then couples Gen.2:4b with verse five. He writes that these verses describe the world immediately prior to man’s formation from the dust. He provides this translation for these verses:

In the day that the LORD God made the earth and heavens there was as yet no field plant in the earth and no field shrub growing, since the LORD God had not yet established rainfall on the earth, and since there was as yet no man to cultivate the ground. But there were water vapors arising from the earth, which kept watering the whole face of the ground.8

Gen. 2:4b therefore could well look back to the very first five verses of Genesis, “in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.” The word “day” here could be taken in its literal sense, as the next toledoth in Gen. 5:1 returns to the sixth day when God created Adam and Eve.

The name of God used in Gen. 2:4b, “LORD God,” is significant. LORD God is used here for the first time and then is used throughout the narrative of 2:5-3:24 (v.5, 7, 8, 9, 15, 16, etc).

Here is also the first use of LORD. This name emphasizes His covenant-keeping nature. The use of the name, God, shows this is the same Person who created the heaven and earth in Genesis 1:1. The combining of these two names shows that the transcendent Creator God of Genesis 1 is the same as the immanent Personal God of Genesis 2-3. This verse clearly looks back to the creation account as the God of creation is referenced and the object of His creation, the heaven and the earth, is mentioned. This all reminds the reader of Genesis 1:1. The act of creation is referenced with two key words in Genesis 1: “created” (‘bara’; 1:1, 21, 27, 2:3) and “made” (‘asah’; 1:7, 11, 12, 16, 25, 26, 31, 2:2). To summarize, it could be that Genesis 2:4b-5 acts as a bridge from Day One to Day Six, the main focus of discussion of the remainder of Genesis 2.

2. Genesis 2:5 could look to Day Three and references certain kinds of plants that required either water or the cultivation of man.

This view focuses upon those plants God created which were still in the ground and awaited the result of the water to bring them forth and others required man to cultivate them.

Genesis 2:5-7 presents a problem (v.5a): there was no plant or herb of the field, the reason for the problem (v.5b): there was no rain or man; and then the solution to the problem (v.6-7): there was a vaporous mist and man was created.

The phrase “plant of the field” (siah-hassadeh) refers to the wild vegetation or shrubs that grow spontaneously after the onset of the rainy season (Genesis 2:5, 21:15; Job 30:4, 7). From the three texts outside Genesis 2:5 it is clear that siah refers to desert vegetation that grows without human cultivation but through rain. What was the problem? There was no rain.

The phrase, “herb of the field” (eseb-hassadeh) refers to cultivated grains that serve for food (Gen.1:11, 12, 29,30; 3:18; Ex. 9:22, 25; 10:12,15). This is the sort of vegetation that requires care and human cultivation (flax, barley, wheat, etc). What was the problem? There was no man.

So there is a two-fold problem presented in verse 5: there was no rain and there was no man. When was there no man? At the end of day three when vegetation was formed.

Certain things grow by themselves and require only water, but many things grow only through human cultivation. Even before the curse, certain forms of plant life required water and man’s careful cultivation. Leupold writes, “Certain forms of plant life, namely the kinds that require the attentive care of man in greater measure, had not sprung up.”9

Verses 6-7 provide the solution to this problem. First, there was a “mist from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground” (Job 36:27). This vaporous mist dropped water upon the ground. There was sufficient water to maintain a river that also helped to water the garden, v. 10. Rivers are fed by the rain, and so the river shows the proof of sufficient precipitation, condensation and evaporation. What day this mist began is not answered, but one could conjecture that it started sometime on the third day.

Second, in verse seven God forms man from the dust of the ground, on day six, and breathes into Him the breath of life. This man will work and cultivate the ground. The word “till” in verse 5 is the same as “dress” in v. 15. To summarize, it could be that Genesis 2:5 bridges together Day Three to Day Six, the main focus of discussion of the remainder of Genesis 2.

3. Genesis 2:5 could look to the plant life existing in the Garden of Eden alone.

McCabe says that the plants and herbs in Gen.2:5 are restricted to the Garden of Eden and not the entire globe.10

God had not made any plants or herbs to grow there, that is, the Garden of Eden. Keil and Delizsch write, “The creation of the plants is not alluded to here at all, but simply the planting of the Garden of Eden.” Whatever way one may interpret this passage, he states, “We must not … draw the conclusion that the creation of the plants occurred either after or contemporaneously with the creation of man, in direct contradiction to chapter 1:11, 12.”11

Either way, as Leupold says, “It is not important to the author to mark the point of time within the creation week when this condition prevailed.”12 We do know that Genesis 2:5 describes the first week of creation, either on or before day six when man was created. Nevertheless, Leupold concludes, “It appears how sufficiently absurd the claim is that in this account (Gen.2:4-5) man is made first, then vegetation.”13


In conclusion, the theistic evolutionary theory of Dr. Tim Keller is a real and present danger to believers as many hold him in high regard while reading his books and listening to his sermons. Because Genesis 1-11 is the foundation of all Scripture, a theistic evolutionary view can establish an allegorical interpretation of the Bible as the normal hermeneutic. This rejection of a literal interpretation can easily cause people to doubt the literal truth of Scripture in any book of the Bible. This view results in the authority of the Bible being undermined in our lives. Evolutionary theory also turns death into a friend in the supposed change of man from a single cell to a monkey and finally into to a man. This cuts at the very heart of the Gospel message as Mr. Keller himself says that Adam’s sin only brought spiritual death. The power of the Gospel is that Christ died both physically and spiritually for our sins and rose again bodily and in the power of His Spirit to give us eternal physical and spiritual life in a glorified resurrection body like His for all eternity.


1 McCabe, Robert V, ‘A Critique of the Framework Interpretation of the Creation Account, part 1’ Answers in Genesis, June 6, 2007, p. 19. A “framework interpretation” views Genesis 1 in a topical, non-sequential manner rather than a literal, sequential seven solar day week without interruption.

2 The ten toledoths of Genesis are: Genesis 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 37:2.

3 Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing. Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI. 1988, p. 73.

4 Don Johnson, editor of Proclaim and Defend, in a private e-mail exchange (6/16/2016) following the presentation of this paper.

5 McCabe, part 2, p. 12.

6 Ibid, p. 12.

7 Henry C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, Vol. 1. Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI. 1980, p. 112.

8 Henry Morris, The Genesis Record. Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI. 1991, p. 84.

9 Leupold, p. 112.

10 McCabe, part 2, p. 7.

11 C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1980, p. 77.

12 Leupold, p. 113.

13 Leupold, p. 113.

Matt Recker bio

Matt Recker has served full time as a pastor in New York City since November 1984. After establishing City View Baptist Church in Flatbush, Brooklyn (1984-1989) and Parkway Baptist Church in Rosedale, Queens (1990-1995), he then pioneered Heritage Baptist Church in 1996 where he now serves as pastor.

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