Why Did Jesus Come?

As Christmas is almost upon us this year, I’ve been thinking about why Jesus came to earth. In reading the Scriptures this week, I was struck again by the clarity of this statement:

But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
(Matthew 1:20-21 ESV)

“For He will save His people from their sins.” What beautiful words.

N.T. Wright and others in the progressive/New Perspective crowd believe that believers have gotten too caught up with salvation and sin as it relates to individuals:

the normal Western Christian view: that salvation is about “my relationship with God” in the present and about “going home to God and finding peace” in the future … to make the point once more as forcibly as I can, this belief is simply not what the New Testament teaches.

N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, pg. 196

Instead, Wright believes:

The New Testament, true to its Old Testament roots, regularly insists that the major, central, framing question is that of God’s purpose of rescue and re-creation for the whole world, the entire cosmos. The destiny of individual human beings must be understood within that context-not simply in the sense that we are only part of a much larger picture but also in the sense that part of the whole point of being saved in the present is so that we can play a vital role (Paul speaks of this role in the shocking terms of being “fellow workers with God”) within that larger picture and purpose.

N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, pg. 184

As a result, N.T. Wright explains Matthew 1:21 this way:

Matthew agrees with his Jewish contemporaries that the (Babylonian) exile was the last significant event before Jesus; when the angel says that Jesus will “save his people from their sins,” liberation from exile is in view. Jesus, David’s true descendant, will fulfill the Abrahamic covenant by undoing the exile and all that it means.

N.T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus, pg. 159

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see great comfort in Wright’s interpretation of the passage. We were a people in exile, however, our exile was not merely from the promised land, but a much greater one. We were exiled from the very presence of God. Every believer who is aware of his sin knows how desperate his situation is apart from Christ.

I find that I much prefer Matthew Henry’s discourse on this passage:

In the reason of that name: For he shall save his people from their sins; not the nation of the Jews only (he came to his own, and they received him not), but all who were given him by the Father’s choice, and all who had given themselves to him by their own. He is a king who protects his subjects, and, as the judges of Israel of old, works salvation for them. Note, those whom Christ saves he saves from their sins; from the guilt of sin by the merit of his death, from the dominion of sin by the Spirit of his grace. In saving them from sin, he saves them from wrath and the curse, and all misery here and hereafter. Christ came to save his people, not in their sins, but from their sins; to purchase for them, not a liberty to sin, but a liberty from sins, to redeem them from all iniquity; and so to redeem them from among men to himself, who is separate from sinners.

Matthew Henry, Commentary on Matthew 1

Maybe I’m overemphasizing the work that Jesus did in reconciling God and man. Then again, maybe Wright et al are seriously under emphasizing the gravity of sin and what it cost Him to save us from it.

The Black Sea Flood isn’t Noah’s Flood

Last week, a story popped up that scientists had discovered evidence of a significant flood in the Black Sea region:

Ballard believes melting glaciers contributing to a rise in sea level might have caused the flood. But it was a theory proposed by two Columbia University scientists that prompted him to take his team to the Black Sea, a 168,500-square-foot body of water bordered by Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, and Bulgaria. The scientists speculate the now salty sea was once a freshwater lake surrounded by farmland. They think a rising Mediterranean Sea flooded the area by cutting a channel through the Bosphorus.

Ballard and other scientists who have investigated the flood point to stories about similar events in several religions and cultures. To them, the multiple stories lend credibility to the probability of a flood event but do not offer evidence of biblical truth. Contrary to the scientific speculation, the Bible says in Genesis that God caused the flood by sending rain on the earth for 40 days and 40 nights.

Of course, this story isn’t really new. The Black Sea has been the source of research and speculation regarding Noah’s flood for several years. The problem, of course, is that the Black Sea flood can’t possibly be the flood from Genesis for many reasons. Dr. Tas Walker explains in an article available here:

Now, in real life, claims need to be justified. We can’t even use a credit card until we prove who we are. Banks want our signature because its unique characteristics are easily recognised. They want to be sure they have identified us correctly.

So too, we need to be sure that Ballard, Ryan and Pitman have identified Noah’s Flood correctly. Of all the floods in the world, how would we recognise Noah’s Flood? We need to compare their signatures. And the Bible is the only place where the signature of Noah’s Flood is found. Unfortunately, when it comes to signatures, Ryan and Pitman have not carefully matched their characteristics with the Bible. Carelessly, they have given credit where it is not justified.

Ryan and Pitman thought the Black Sea flood was Noah’s Flood because it was very large, overwhelming some 100,000 km2 of land the size of Texas. But large as this was, it was still only a local flood in the Black Sea area, not the world-wide Flood described in the Bible (2 Pet. 3:6–7).

The biblical flood was so huge that it covered the then highest mountains (Gen. 7:19). But the Black Sea flood simply raised the local water level some 150 m to where it is now. Not even the ‘known’ world was submerged because there was still plenty of dry land left to live on in the area. Even to cover the nearby Krymskiye Gory mountains on the adjacent Crimean Peninsula, the water level would need to have risen a further 1,500 m. The Black Sea flood was not Noah’s Flood, because it did not cover the highest mountains.

And missing from the Black Sea flood is Noah’s Ark—that colossal ship described in the Bible, 140 m long, 23 m wide and 14 m high (Gen. 6:14–16). Ryan and Pitman, aware of this omission, suggest that there were hundreds of arks—thrown together in a few minutes by local farmers ripping their post huts apart to build puny boats to escape the rising waters! But why would they have needed boats at all? With waters rising each day at 15 cm, and creeping only a couple of kilometres across the land, they could have escaped at a leisurely stroll.

Because the waters rose so slowly, Ryan and Pitman say the people would have had plenty of warning. Once the farmers realised the water was not going to subside they would have built boats to escape. Wasn’t Noah warned about the Flood? Voilà, the Black Sea flood matches! Not at all. The Bible does not say Noah was warned by rising water levels. No, God warned Noah years before there was any sign of a flood (Gen. 6:13–14). Anyway, rising water levels would not have given sufficient time for Noah to build the huge Ark and load the animals. The warning that Ryan and Pitman make so much about does not match the warning in the Bible.

With a local flood there would have been no need to save the animals and birds as the Bible records (Gen. 6:19–21). The idea of birds being threatened by the Black Sea flood is ludicrous because they could easily have flown out of the way. As for the animals, most would have migrated out of the area as the waters slowly crept onto the land. Even if some animals drowned, no species would have been threatened with extinction because other individuals would have lived outside the inundated areas. The Black Sea flood was not Noah’s Flood, because it did not destroy all the animals and birds as the Bible describes.

Neither did the local Black Sea flood drown the people in the area—they were simply displaced from the land. Ryan and Pitman suggest that many of these displaced people migrated to Europe. But, the Bible clearly states that everyone outside the Ark perished, and ‘only Noah was left and those with him on the ark’ (Gen. 7:23). The Black Sea flood was not the Flood of the Bible, because the people were not destroyed.

Nor does the source of water match. For the Black Sea flood, the water gushed sideways through a localised channel, but for the biblical Flood the water came from the fountains of the great deep and the windows of heaven—below and above (Gen. 7:11–12).

The Black Sea flood does not match the record in the Bible. Not one characteristic agrees.

And the Black Sea flood did not go down—that is why there are plans to look for settlements under the water. But the biblical flood receded off the earth while the Ark and its cargo rested on the Mountains of Ararat (Gen. 8:3–4). It was two months before Noah could see the nearby mountains emerge (Gen. 8:5) and another four months before the whole earth was dry enough to unload (Gen. 8:13–14). The Black Sea flood was not Noah’s Flood, because the flood waters have not receded.

So, the signature of the Black Sea flood does not match the record in the Bible. Not one characteristic agrees. The differences are so great that we wonder why the proposal has been entertained at all.

The reason why it matters is that these scientists know that the Black Sea flood doesn’t match the details for Noah’s flood, but they just don’t care:

Ryan and Pitman know that their link between their Black Sea flood and Noah’s Flood does not fit with the Bible. So, how do they justify their claim? Simple. They say that the Bible got it wrong. Their Black Sea flood was the real flood. The biblical record is a poorly assembled compilation of the flood legends that arose from their Black Sea flood. They claim it was their flood that was burned into the memories of surviving generations and recounted by word of mouth for thousands of years. After becoming more and more distorted, the stories were eventually written down. So by branding the biblical record a ‘myth’, they feel justified in disregarding all its details. They simply say that they do not read the Bible literally.

So their link with Noah’s Flood is totally arbitrary. They need a flood, so presto, pluck Noah’s Flood out of the air. It is a good flood to pick, because it sells lots of books. Furthermore, the scientists love it. By saying that Noah’s Flood was a local flood they think they can dismiss the implications of the real global Flood described in the Bible, viz. that God judges human sin.

So many in the scientific community are pleased with “evidence” that there might have been a flood, but certainly not a global one that killed all but eight people, and, sadly, a great many scholars and theologians are too.

” the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole”

We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts (WCF Chapter 1, V).

Back in January, I started a “Bible in a Year” reading plan. I’ve done these before, but this year I did one that was slightly different. It’s a chronological reading plan. The idea is that your reading schedule is based on the historical order of events. For example, Job, who most likely lived after the flood but before Abraham, is read between Genesis 11 and 12.

For me the most helpful part of reading the Bible this way was putting together the history with the corresponding prophets. The books of the prophets are interspersed with the histories of 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles, as well as the various Psalms that fit with particular historical events. This helped me understand the flow of the history so much more than simply reading straight through. By the time I reached Malachi, my heart ached over how unfaithful we have always been as a people, I rejoiced in how merciful and faithful God has always been, and I longed for the coming of the Messiah. It was amazing to see God’s promises unfold.

But the most encouraging thing about reading the Bible this way was the examples over and over again, in both the Old and New Testaments, of the consistency of the whole of Scripture. It is amazing to read the same event described in Kings, Chronicles, and Jeremiah or in the Gospels. At times the focus or the length of the account is slightly different, but on the whole the the “consent of the parts” is striking. I know there are so many “scholars” who rejoice in pointing out the apparent inconsistencies and purported errors that Scripture contains, but only someone intentionally blinded to the truth can deny the beauty and majesty and absolute glory of the Word of God. There is no written word that compares to it.

If you would are interested, you can find a pdf document with the reading plan here. You can use it with whatever translation you prefer.

The God of Peace

This weekend my family and I went to College Station for an RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) reunion. RUF has been on campus at Texas A&M for 25 years now. It was wonderful to see everyone. It was especially sweet to watch the Aggies beat Alabama in perhaps the best college football game ever. But the best part of the whole weekend was hearing my former campus minister, Chris Yates, preach. I am so thankful for him and his family and for all I learned in my years at RUF.

Pastor Yates preached from 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24:

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.(ESV)

While I’m not going to summarize the whole of his excellent sermon (you can listen to it here), I want to share and expound on one of the points he made.

Pastor Yates opened by discussing what it means that God is a “God of peace.” Since it comes in the opening or closing parts of Paul’s letters, it is easy to skim over it and not really consider the importance of those words. What kind of peace is Paul referring to? Political peace? No, there wasn’t political peace in Paul’s day anymore than there is today. How about world peace? Is there world peace? Was there then? No, there isn’t and wasn’t. Well, since Paul isn’t lying, it must mean something else. What other kind of peace is there?

Pastor Yates then pointed us to the verse in Luke 2:14:

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!

And then to the hymn, Hark the Herald Angels Sing:

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”

The peace that Paul refers to is the peace of “God and sinners reconciled.” What joyful news this is! As the country preacher once said, “God ain’t mad no more!”

This was such a timely reminder for me. I had had a particularly difficult week, and not just the disappointing election results. In troubled times, it is easy to despair. But when we remember that God, through the work of Christ, has defeated sin and death and has reconciled us to Himself, we can lift our eyes and rejoice. When we remember that God is still at work, in the world and in our lives sanctifying us, we can be at peace. Because we are at peace with God, we can be at peace in our lives. What better news is there?

In our culture, it’s in vogue to treat this glorious gospel message with disdain, and not just outside the church. Plenty of scholars, theologians, and pastors will say that it’s wrong to focus on the salvation of God’s people. As Peter Enns has said, “The gospel is not about how you get saved.” They say we’re missing the big picture of the work that God is doing to redeem the cosmos. As Dr. Tim Keller has said:

The whole purpose of salvation is to cleanse and purify this material world. … [T]he whole purpose of salvation is to make this world a great place. … God sees this world as not a temporary means to an end of salvation, but actually salvation is a temporary means to an end – to the renewal of creation. Saving souls is a means to an end of cultural renewal.

It seems to me that while it is certainly true that God is at work in the world and that there is an ultimate renewal/restoration/re-creation coming that will include the whole of the creation, that as a culture we’ve lost sight of the depths and seriousness of our sin. The weight of our sins, from Adam down to the believers yet to be born, was so severe, the cost of our sins was so high, the chasm between God and man brought about by our sin was so great, that God Himself DIED to pay the penalty. Let me say that again. God DIED. Because of me. Because He LOVES me. Because He has called me by name and written my name of the palm of His hand. Do you not feel the weight of that? Is there anything that could possibly be better news?

Apart from Christ, we are sinners, separated from God, bearing the weight of our sins, unable to save ourselves, but that’s not the end of the story. The God of peace has come, has redeemed His people, is at work sanctifying them Himself, and will come again to present them as holy and blameless. This Sunday, I was reminded of His love for me, of all He has done, is doing, and will do for me. Oh, what joy!

I’ll close with words from the second verse of “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted.” When we sang it this Sunday, the words struck me anew:

Ye who think of sin but lightly,
Nor suppose the evil great,
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the Sacrifice appointed!
See Who bears the awful load!
’Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man, and Son of God.

Justification by Faith Alone: The Doctrine upon which the Church Stands or Falls

While there is some debate as to whether or not Martin Luther said those exact words (in Latin or German, of course), it seems very clear that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is central to the Reformation. It breaks my heart to hear pastors, elders, and others who are the spiritual descendants of the Reformers treat this vital doctrine as if it doesn’t really matter all that much. Our ancestors in the faith, those in Germany, Geneva, France, England, etc., fought and died horrible deaths because they believed that Scripture clearly teaches that we are justified by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, to God alone be the glory. We must not treat our birthright so lightly.

Pastor Wes White has an excellent post with quotes from many of the Reformed Fathers on the subject of justification by faith alone. Here is an excerpt from his post:

However, as I have read classic Reformed theology, I have found that they generally did believe in a central dogma. They believed that it was justification by faith alone. This did not mean that it was a theological axiom from which all other theology was deduced. Rather, it meant:

  1. That the purity of this doctrine was basic to purity in all other doctrines.
  2. That any error in this doctrine was extremely dangerous.
  3. That this doctrine, above all, was to be defended, explained, and meditated upon.
  4. That this doctrine was the foundation of all true religion and holiness.
  5. That the true Church could not be maintained without this doctrine.

In this post, I would like to demonstrate this from the writings of several different theologians from several different regions and eras.

Here is one of my favorites quotes:

Thomas Watson (1620–1686, England), A Body of Divinity, 226: “Justification is the very hinge and pillar of Christianity. An error about justification is dangerous, like a defect in a foundation. Justification by Christ is a spring of the water of life. To have the poison of corrupt doctrine cast into this spring is damnable.”

You can read the whole post here.

Calvin on Ephesians 4

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

Ephesians 4:11-14 ESV

This passage of Scripture came to mind today, and I thought it might be interesting to read Calvin’s teaching on these verses. From his commentary on Ephesians:

Tossed to and fro, and carried about. The distressing hesitation of those who do not place absolute reliance on the word of the Lord, is illustrated by two striking metaphors. The first is taken from small ships, exposed to the fury of the billows in the open sea, holding no fixed course, guided neither by skill nor design, but hurried along by the violence of the tempest.

The next is taken from straws, or other light substances, which are carried hither and thither as the wind drives them, and often in opposite directions. Such must be the changeable and unsteady character of all who do not rest on the foundation of God’s eternal truth. It is their just punishment for looking, not to God, but to men. Paul declares, on the other hand, that faith, which rests on the word of God, stands unshaken against all the attacks of Satan.

By every wind of doctrine. By a beautiful metaphor, all the doctrines of men, by which we are drawn away from the simplicity of the gospel, are called winds God gave us his word, by which we might have placed ourselves beyond the possibility of being moved; but, giving way to the contrivances of men, we are carried about in all directions.

By the cunning of men. There will always be impostors, who make insidious attacks upon our faith; but, if we are fortified by the truth of God, their efforts will be unavailing. Both parts of this statement deserve our careful attention. When new sects, or wicked tenets, spring up, many persons become alarmed. But the attempts of Satan to darken, by his falsehoods, the pure doctrine of Christ, are at no time interrupted; and it is the will of God that these struggles should be the trial of our faith. When we are informed, on the other hand, that the best and readiest defense against every kind of error is to bring forward that doctrine which we have learned from Christ and his apostles, this surely is no ordinary consolation. …

Let us therefore confidently expect that we shall reap the advantage which is here promised, — that all the impostures of men will do us no harm. They will attack us, indeed, but they will not prevail. We are entitled, I acknowledge, to look for the dispensation of sound doctrine from the church, for God has committed it to her charge … .

Calvin on the Creation of Eve

In his commentary on Genesis, John Calvin answers objections to the manner in which Eve was created:

Although to profane persons this method of forming woman may seem ridiculous, and some of these may say that Moses is dealing in fables, yet to us the wonderful providence of God here shines forth; for, to the end that the conjunction of the human race might be the more sacred he purposed that both males and females should spring from one and the same origin. Therefore he created human nature in the person of Adam, and thence formed Eve, that the woman should be only a portion of the whole human race. This is the import of the words of Moses which we have had before, (Genesis 1:28,) “God created man… he made them male and female.” In this manner Adam was taught to recognize himself in his wife, as in a mirror; and Eve, in her turn, to submit herself willingly to her husband, as being taken out of him. But if the two sexes had proceeded from different sources, there would have been occasion either of mutual contempt, or envy, or contentions. And against what do perverse men here object? ‘The narration does not seem credible, since it is at variance with custom.’ As if, indeed, such an objection would have more color than one raised against the usual mode of the production of mankind, if the latter were not known by use and experience.

Science Departments More Conservative Than Religion Departments

Recently, I read Ken Ham’s book, Already Compromised. A significant part of the book is the results from a survey of Christian colleges and universities that Answers in Genesis conducted. The most interesting part of the book, for me, was the comparison between the Science and Religion departments on the subject of origins. One might think that at Christian colleges and universities the Religion departments would be more likely to support young earth and 6 day creation. But, that’s not what the survey showed.

Only 57% of the Religion department professors believed that God created in 6 24-hour days. On the other hand, 71% of Science department professors answered that they believed in a literal 6 days of creation (Ham, Already Compromised,49). When it comes to old-earth versus young-earth, the Religion department professors believe in an old earth by 78% compared to 15% who hold to a young earth. The Science department numbers are considerably different with 57% professing belief in a young earth and only 35% believing in an old earth (50).

So why the difference? One of the things that I’ve read by so many religious scholars on the subject of origins is that the science of evolution and long ages is so proven that we’d be foolish not to accept it. But that doesn’t explain why so many of the men and women who are professors in the various science fields, with PhD’s in the sciences and experience with the scientific method, do not accept the “current scientific consensus” on the age of the earth and evolution.

My own husband is a good example of this. He has a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry from a major, public university with a highly respected Chemistry program. He does not accept the long ages and evolutionary theories of the scientific consensus. He believes that God created in 6 literal 24-hour days less than 10,000 years ago. He is very familiar with the research and the evolutionary theories, but he doesn’t find them compelling.

Maybe it would be a good idea to consider why many Christians with science backgrounds don’t buy into the scientific consensus on the age of the earth and evolution.

Did Ken Ham Misrepresent Tim Keller on Genesis 1 and 2?

A couple of weeks ago, Ken Ham, President of Answers in Genesis, wrote a blog post accusing Dr. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer NYC, of misrepresenting the views of young-earth creationists. In one of Dr. Keller’s articles for the BioLogos Foundation, he says:

Many secular and many evangelical voices agree on one ‘truism’—that if you are an orthodox Christian with a high view of the authority of the Bible, you cannot believe in evolution in any form at all. New Atheist authors such as Richard Dawkins and creationist writers such as Ken Ham seem to have arrived at consensus on this, and so more and more in the general population are treating it as given. If you believe in God, you can’t believe in evolution. If you believe in evolution, you can’t believe in God.

Ken Ham believes that his own views have been misrepresented in that he does not believe that, “If you believe in God, you can’t believe in evolution. If you believe in evolution, you can’t believe in God.”

You can read the rest of Ken Ham’s post at the above link.

Today, a PCA pastor, David Wallover, has written an article in response to Ken Ham’s post in which he accuses Ken Ham of having misrepresented Dr. Keller’s teaching on the relationship between Genesis 1 and 2. For reference, Ken Ham wrote the following:

Pastor Keller is quoted as saying that he takes Genesis 2 literally, but not Genesis 1. In a teaching session on Genesis 1 and 2, Keller claims that Genesis 1 and 2 contradict one another and says that Christians can do either of the following: they can believe that Genesis 1 and 2 contradict each other and an “idiotic editor” put them together in the Bible, or Christians can adopt his perspective that Genesis 1 is a poem, while Genesis 2 is historical.

Ken Ham gave a link for the teaching session.

Pastor Wallover wrote that Ken Ham’s summary misrepresents what Dr. Keller said in his teaching session:

Now, did Keller misrepresent Ham? He may well have; I do not know, not being privy to the entire discussion. Even after reading the remainder of the article, I am not entirely willing to give Ham the benefit of the doubt as to the accuracy of his summary of Keller’s statements about Ham, given Ham’s inaccurate summary of Keller’s position at the outset.

So, I decided to listen to the talk by Dr. Keller and decide for myself if Ken Ham’s summary was accurate or not. Here is a transcription of the relevant portion of the talk (beginning at 3:54):

In Genesis 2, it’s very clear that God followed a natural order. There’s a place where it says that there was no vegetation yet because it hadn’t rained yet. There’s a place in Genesis 2. I read a whole article from our old, Old Testament professor, Meredith Kline, years ago, I read an article on Genesis 2:4, “Because It Had Not Rained,” or maybe it’s 2:6. And Meredith Kline asked the question, he says, if Genesis 2 says that you had to have rain before you had vegetation, but if you go back to Genesis 1 you have vegetation before you have the sun and the moon, therefore, before you have weather. You have day 3 which means you have vegetation but day 4 you don’t have weather yet. If Genesis 2 says that God did things in a natural order, that He didn’t do vegetation until there was rain, but in Genesis 1 we have vegetation before there was rain, then you actually have this choice before you. You can either believe that Genesis 1 and 2 contradict each other and that we can’t trust the Bible. Alright? That somebody wrote Genesis 2, and somebody wrote Genesis 1, and some idiotic editor just slapped them together. And they totally contradict each other and that’s the way the Bible is. It’s just this compendium, right? Or you can believe that Genesis 2 is historical reporting and Genesis 1 is a poem. That’s your only two. This is one of the reasons that I do not believe that Genesis 1 can be taken literally. Because if you take it literally then you have a Bible that contradicts itself. Because the order in which God makes things in Genesis 2 contradicts Genesis 1. Now critical scholars have have all along have always said sure that’s because the Bible is just plopped together by different people, it’s a bunch of different legends, sort of like a compendium of myths. But if you believe that the Bible is true then you have to believe that they’re two different literary genres. You have to. And that’s one of the reasons I do not take every part of Genesis 1 literally is because if I do it undermines the authority of the Bible. … (6:35) Genesis 2 is historical reporting and it contradicts Genesis 1 unless Genesis 1 is a song.

Did Ken Ham misrepresent Dr. Keller’s teaching on Genesis 1 and 2? I’m not so sure.

Death Before the Fall

When one moves away from a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11, there are a number of theological questions that have to be answered. How long is a “day” of creation? Were Adam and Eve actual, historical persons? Were they the very first man and woman? Did God create them de novo, or did He adopt a couple of hominids whose bodies were the result of evolution?

These last three questions have been the subject of much debate in recent days. But there is another question that should be addressed: Was there death before the Fall? To be honest, this is not a question that had occurred to me until recently. For most young-earth creationists, the easy answer is “no.” However, for many Christians who believe in an old earth and long ages, it’s a valid question.

If there were long ages of time, millions and millions of years (at least), there must have been death of some kind. If animals and humans are the result of evolution and natural selection (even God directed), then death is a necessary part of that. How do you reconcile what Scripture teaches about the origin of death with the necessity of death as part of the process of creation? Here are a selection of quotes from several scholars on how they answer the question of death before the Fall:

God’s estimation that it is “good” does not mean that it is consummately perfect; both surd and moral evil are already in existence. One can infer that prior to the Fall, decay existed in the flora because humans and animals were to eat it (Gen. 1:29-30), and wild animals (carnivores) that kill prey were also present among the species of fauna (1:30; 2:19). the biblical text represents the human, not the animal, realm as punished with death through Adam’s fall (Gen. 3:19; Rom. 5;12-19). The analogy between Adam and Christ also pertains to the human, not the animal, realm: as Adam brought death to all humanity, Christ brings life to all believers, not to animals. Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 184

If we think that animal death would be a blot on the goodness of creation, we’re out of step with Psalm 104. But we have no reason to believe that the Bible teaches that no animal died before the fall. Remember, as we saw in the last chapter that Genesis 2:17 (“for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die”) was spoken directly to Adam: its “you” is singular. Then when Eve shows that she considers herself under the same threat (3:3), the “you” is plural – but it refers still to the human couple, not to anyone else. When we further remember just what this “death” is – spiritual death, alienation from God – we see as well that this penalty is for man (though it may have effects on the beasts, as we’ll see later.) Jack Collins, Science and Faith, 156

[W]e have no biblical warrant for arguing that animal death was the result of man’s fall, or that no animal ate another before then. This means that there is no theological objection to the possibility that fossils are the remains of animals that died before Adam was even created.

Along these lines, we can say that animal death is not part of the problem of evil. Not even when some kind of animal goes extinct is it really an evil – so long as it came from nature doing its own thing and not from humans’ sinful exploitation of the world. That means that when people try to argue for a young earth by saying that an old earth involves evil (especially animals dying), or when others argue against believing in God at all in view of “nature red in tooth and claw,” they are making a theological mistake. Jack Collins, Science and Faith, 162

But there is another question that looms over the others. In this model, how could there have
been suffering and death before the fall? Some answer may be in the second verse of the Bible, where we are told that ‘the earth was without form’ and was filled with darkness and chaos. Most traditional interpreters believe that God initially made the world in this ‘formless’ state and then proceeded to subdue the disorder through the creative process of separation, elaboration, and development depicted in Genesis 1.

However, even this traditional interpretation means that there was not perfect order and peace in creation from the first moment. Also, Satan seems to have been present in the world before the Fall. What makes us think that Satan and demons were not in the world before the moment the serpent appears? One of the biggest unanswered (and unanswerable) theological
questions is—what was Satan doing there? By definition, if Satan was somewhere in the world, it was not all a perfect place.

Traditional theology has never believed that humanity and the world in Genesis 2-3 was in a
glorified, perfect state. Augustine taught that Adam and Eve were posse non peccare (able not to sin) but they fell into the state of non posse non peccare (not able not to sin). In our final state of full salvation, however, we will be non posse peccare (not capable of sinning.) Eden was not the
consummated world of the future. Some have pointed out that in the Garden of Eden that there would have had to be some kind of death and decay or fruit would not have been edible. Tim Keller, “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople,” 11-12

In the standard picture of biological evolution embraced by BioLogos there exists insurmountable evidence of death before the Fall. Humans appear very late in the history of life, so the fossil record clearly shows that many creatures died before humans appeared. In fact, compelling evidence exists that many entire species had already become extinct. Dinosaurs are the most famous example, but there are thousands of others. However, the curse of Genesis 3 was that Adam and Eve, and not animals, should die. Therefore, the animal death that BioLogos acknowledges is entirely compatible with Christian doctrine. It can even be argued that Adam must have been familiar with the reality of animal death, or he would not have understood God’s warning. Granting that animal death before the Fall is consistent with Christian doctrine, we consider the question of human death before the Fall.

One interpretation contends Adam and Eve experienced spiritual death as a result of their disobedience. The physical death of humans is thus not a result of the Fall and could therefore have occurred beforehand. …

In this way we might distinguish between Homo sapiens and the image-bearing creatures that we might call Homo divinus. While Homo sapiens might have a similar body structure or physical capabilities of Homo divinus, the latter exists in God’s image.

With this critically important distinction, BioLogos is thus compatible with the belief that part of Adam’s curse was the onset of physical death for the human race, because the human race in the full Imago Dei really began with Adam. Although many human-like creatures lived and died before the Fall, these Homo sapiens did not yet bear the image of God. After the bestowal of God’s image, there was no death of Homo divinus until after the Fall. As soon as image-bearing humanity fully emerged through God’s creative process of evolution, no member of that species experienced death until after the Fall. Peter Enns, BioLogos Foundation

Some might object that if the material phase had been carried out for long ages prior to the seven days of Genesis, there would be a problem about death. Romans 5:12 states unequivocally, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” Interpreters have inferred from this verse that there was no death at any level prior to the Fall, the entrance of sin. But we should notice that the verse does not say that. Paul is talking about how death came to people – why all of humanity is subject to death. Just because death came to us because of sin, does not mean that death did not exist at any level prior to the Fall. John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, 99

Modern science has amply demonstrated that phenomena such as predation, death, and the extinction of the species have been intrinsic and even necessary aspects of life on earth for billions of years, long before the arrival of Homo sapiens. …

Recent research in molecular biology, primatology, sociobiology, and phylogenetics indicates that the species Homo sapiens cannot be traced back to a single pair of individuals, and that the earliest human beings did not come on the scene in anything like paradisal physical or moral conditions. It is therefore difficult to read Genesis 1-3 as a factual account of human origins. …

We must trust that God created the kind of world that he did because an evolutionary process involving selfishness, suffering, and death was the only way to bring about such creaturely values as novelty, complexity, and freedom. Daniel Harlow, “After Adam: Reading Genesis in an Age of Evolutionary Science,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, volume 62, number 3 (Sept. 2010), 179-193

For it seems, on this science, that not just natural evils, such as animal suffering and violent episodes in nature, but also the disposition for human moral evils, are practically part of God’s original design. …

One part of this conflict between evolutionary science and the Christian doctrine of a historical Fall is old hat by now, and the new genomic science merely intensifies the problem at a microgenetic level. It is that Genesis and premodern Christian tradition attribute quite a list of unpleasant and peculiar things in nature to the occurrence of a historical Fall of human beings. The trouble is that paleoscience overwhelmingly proves that labor pains, the locomotion of snakes, predation, deadly diseases, mass extinction, thorn plants and weeds, and violent natural events existed for millennia before the existence of the first humans. Thus, they cannot be the consequence of a “curse” that God placed on the creation as punishment for human sin. John Schneider, “Recent Genetic Science and Christian Theology on Human Origins: An ‘Aesthetic Supralapsarianism'”