The ideal or allegorical interpretation.

This theory of the account of creation is called the “ideal” because it maintains the idea if not the historical narrative of creation according to Holy Writ. Genesis 1 is not a historical description of the work of creation but a poetical setting forth of this creative work of the Lord. The six days of creation must not be regarded as chronological periods of time of longer or shorter duration, but merely different viewpoints from which the created world is repeatedly viewed in order that we might gain a clearer picture of this mighty work of the living God. The six days of creation, according to Genesis, are not to be regarded as really occurring successively, but they merely present to us the causal connection between the various creatures, the logical (not temporal) order of the different creatures, and also describe to us how the angels, successively, gained knowledge of the divine work of creation. What this means is not difficult to understand. Although it is true, then, that all things were created at once, this does not necessarily mean that the various things are not connected and related. Hence, this logical order of the various creatures is held before us in the Scriptural account of creation—the six days do not present to us a temporal order of events, but merely a logical order, the causal connection between all the different works of God’s hands. Neither must he believe, so it is said, that the angels always enjoyed a complete knowledge of the creative work of the Lord. They gradually attained unto this knowledge. And this gradual attainment unto this knowledge by the angels is described unto us in the Scriptural account of creation.

However, over against this ideal presentation of the work of creation we may lodge serious objections. First, is it not amazing that the foolish and vain philosophy of this world will go to such great length to make difficult an historical account which is so obviously clear and simple. One may not understand this work of the Lord or fathom the divine origin of all things. This lies in the nature of the case. But the narrative as set forth before us in Genesis is surely so clear and plain that, although the finite mind will never be able to fathom it, yet a child can grasp it and a child can be told the Scriptural story of the creation of the world. We should never make matters intricate and involved which are obviously simple and clear. And this surely applies to this vain attempt to explain the divine origin of the world. Surely, it must be clear to anyone who will read Genesis 1 that the Scriptures there present to us an historical narrative of the work of creation in time. And this is certainly abundantly sustained by Holy Writ, as in: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it”—Exodus 20:11; “Thou, even Thou, are Lord alone; Thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and Thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshipped Thee”—Nehemiah 9:6; “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall praise Thy works to another, and shall declare Thy mighty acts. I will speak of the glorious honor of Thy majesty, and of Thy wondrous works. And men shall speak of the might of Thy terrible acts: and I will declare Thy greatness”—Psalm 145:8-6. Secondly, if Genesis 1 and 2 must not be regarded as an historical narrative, what about the chapters that follow in this book of Genesis? Surely, Genesis 3, etc., follows historically upon the first two chapters. If Gen. 1 and 2 are not historical, the rest of the chapters of this book may not be historical either; and what, then, we ask, is historical?

The mythical theory of creation.

This theory does not merely reject the historical narrative of creation as revealed in the Scriptures, but also the idea as such of creation, and regards the record of Genesis 1 as merely a myth, a legend, a piece of fiction, embodying a religious lesson. The things themselves, as recorded in the first book of Moses, are not necessarily real; Scripture simply speaks as it does figuratively. When we read, e.g., that the Lord made coats of skins for Adam and Eve, this does not mean that He actually did that, but merely that He somehow clothed them. Some go so far as to deny that we have any history in Genesis 1 but exclusively t a myth, a legend. The Scriptural narrative simply tells us how certain writers conceived of the first dwelling-place of man, and how they conceived of the entrance of sin into the world. History we do not have here. Others did not wish to proceed to such extremes, maintained that Genesis does not give us an historical account, but declared that the presentation of this account is mythical. It is true, then, that that which is recorded in Genesis 1 is historical, but we do not know whether the things actually occurred as narrated in the first book of Moses. The first chapters of Genesis, it is asserted, do tell us of the original state of rectitude, of man as he was put to the test by the Lord, of the entrance of the devil to tempt man, of a falling in sin and the subsequent driving out of man by the living God. That is the history, the facts, which are recorded in Holy Writ. But this does not imply that these facts actually occurred as revealed to us in Holy Writ. We do not know whether there was actually a garden of Eden, or whether there was actually a tree of life or a tree of knowledge of good and evil in that garden, whether there was actually a serpent in paradise and whether that serpent actually spoke. Scripture simply reveals to us these historical facts in figurative language. Even as we cannot form an idea, conceive of the heavenly things as they shall be, so also we cannot conceive of the things as they once were in the original state of righteousness. And just as the Scriptures describe to us these heavenly realities in terms which are adapted to our present earthly life, so also the Scriptures describe the things as they were in paradise in terms which are adapted to our present life and thinking. There was a tree in paradise but we do not know what kind of a tree it was; there was a temptation but we do not know how that temptation actually occurred. Besides, it is said, what difference does it really make? The important thing is that we grasp the higher reality which is revealed to us in figurative language. All we need do is believe that the man was originally righteous, that he lived in fellowship with the Lord, that he was tempted and fell into sin. The rest is merely incidental. (See Volume V, page 205, of the Standard Bearer).

In this connection we may also call attention to the fact that some years ago a certain Dr. Geelkerken in the Netherlands denied the historical and objective reality with respect to the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and of evil, the serpent, the seed of the serpent, maintaining that these were not historically real but simply Scripture’s way of teaching us certain truths.

Against this presentation of the Scriptural account of creation we may lodge all the objections which we lodged against the ideal or allegorical theory. When the Word of the Lord speaks of the heavenly Jerusalem and of that city’s golden streets, everyone knows that the language is figurative. On the other hand, it is equally clear that Scripture’s account of the creation of the world as set forth in the book of Genesis must be viewed as an historical account of the work of creation. Besides, against his mythical theory we would repeat: If these things of Genesis 1 are not real, what then, is real? Who, then, will determine what is true or fictional and legendary? The same thing could then also be said of many other things in Holy Writ, such as: Israel, Israel’s deliverance out of Egypt, Mount Sinai, the rock, the manna, Christ, etc. To proceed from the assumption that Scripture reveals these matters to us in figurative language is surely a very arbitrary approach to Holy Writ, and simply deprives us of whatever certainty one may possess with respect to the one and only book of divinely infallible inspiration. We do well to hold to the literal and natural interpretation of Holy Writ unless the Scriptures themselves inform us that the interpretation must be based upon a figurative explanation of the text. For example, we are told in the Word of God that the heavenly Jerusalem has golden streets, but we are also informed that the heavenly and eternal realization of God’s covenant and salvation is such that human heart could never conceive, of it, and that it could never enter into the heart and mind of man, and also that flesh and blood can never enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Besides, is it not true, that as far as the heavenly renewal of all things is concerned, we expect exactly heavenly things, and heavenly things are surely different than the things earthly; but, as far as the earthly paradise is concerned, we deal with earthly things. Because we are earthly we cannot form a conception of that which once shall be in heavenly glory, and the heavenly renewal of all things must be described to us in terms adapted to our earthly life and thinking; but, also because we are earthly, we can form a conception of the things as they once were in the earthly paradise. Scripture’s account of creation must stand as recorded in Holy Writ. If we do or cannot believe the account in Holy Writ, what, then, shall we believe?

The restitution theory.

This conception would make separation between Gen. 1:1 and Gen. 1:2, and assumes that a long period of time elapsed between the creation of the heavens and the earth as recorded in verse 1 and the so-called secondary creation as described in the following verses. The Hexaemeron, or creation-week, begins really with verse 3, describes only the restoration and preparation of the earth for man. This restitution theory, therefore, ascribes a long period of time to the chaos of verse 2 and attempts to explain in the light of that chaos all the different phenomena which the science of geology presents to us. Geology is that science which deals with the structure of the crust of the globe and all the substances which compose it. The geologist digs into the earth and comes up with all kinds of “scientific findings”. This long period of time was characterized by several catastrophic changes, which resulted in the destruction described by the words “waste and void”. They would read verse 2: And the earth became waste and void. And then, out of this chaos, God created a habitable world for man. In fact, some even declare that the earth was originally inhabited by the angels, and that the fall in the angelic world caused the chaos whereof we read in verse 2.

This restitution theory, however, is pure philosophy and is not acquired from a careful and honest reading of the Holy Scriptures. Fact is, the Word of God tells us that God created the heavens and the earth “and all that in them is” in six days—Gen. 2:1, Ex. 20:11.

The concordistic theory.

This theory of the creation of the world maintains that the days of creation were periods of time, periods of thousands of years. To this theory we will now call attention somewhat in detail.


Defended by Dr. H. Bavinck.

This concordistic theory of the creation of the universe has been defended, among others, by the late Dr. H. Bavinck (see his “Reformed Dogmatics’”, II, 478, f.f.)

He declares, in the first place, that Genesis 1:1 must apparently be regarded as occurring before the six actual days of creation. He affirms that the restitution theory with respect to the fall of the angels and the resultant chaos of the earth (without form and void) is fallacious and does not rest upon anything which can be read in the Word of God (see “restitution theory” above). But, on the other hand, he also declares that the creation of the heavens and the earth, the chaotic condition of the earth (without form and void), cannot be placed upon the first day, declaring that the first day was not formed by the original darkness and the subsequently created light, but by the first exchange of light and darkness. The darkness of verse 2, he continues, was not the first evening, but only after the light was created did it become evening and then morning. And the morning concluded the first day, which had begun with the creation of light. The late professor also declares that, even if we wished to regard Gen. 1:1, 2 as occurring on the first day, because of what we read in Ex. 20:11 and Ex. 31:17, this first day would be a very unusual and extraordinary day, which began with the first moment of creation and then was dark for some time. This reasoning of the professor, therefore, proceeds upon the basis that the six days, whereof we read in Genesis 1, were characterized by the fact that it was evening and morning, and therefore by the exchange of light and darkness. However, verse 1 cannot refer to the first of these six days for the simple reason that there was no exchange of light and darkness, that darkness covered the face of the deep, and that light was created on the first of the six days. Hence, if we wish to accept the testimony of Ex. 20:11 and Ex. 31:17 in the sense that the Lord created the heavens and the earth in six days, together with all that they contain, then the first day surely becomes a very unusual and extraordinary day, inasmuch as it began with the first moment of creation and then was dark for some time. However, Dr. Bavinck also declares that the exegesis of Genesis 1 is possible which regards also the six days as periods. But to this we will call attention, the Lord willing, in our subsequent article.