Deviating Views (continued)
Before commenting on the various views referred to in the last issue, we want to quote further from the little book by Dr. N.H. Ridderbos, Is There a Conflict Between Genesis 1 and Natural Science? Immediately following his description, on page 45, of the “framework-hypothesis,” he writes as follows:
“And now I come to my conclusion. From the above it follows in my opinion that the framework-hypothesis offers an acceptable exegesis of Genesis 1. One can surely raise objections to it (see particularly pp. 40-42), but already at the point where we are faced by arguments of a purely exegetical nature this position is stronger, in my opinion, than any other. (For objections to other views see pp. 53-55. In the nature of the case, I refer only to those views which fully recognize the authority of Genesis 1. He who stops short of this full recognition need not a priori concern himself with the results of natural science in his exegesis of Gen. 1.)
“To this must be added that on any other view apart from what was said on pp. 42-44—there arise grave difficulties with respect to natural science. As was said on pp. 18-21: it is true that natural science may not at any point decree how Scripture should be interpreted. Still, we may not in our exegesis ignore the results of natural science. The fact that there arise objections of a scientific nature to every more literal conception may and should occasion the question, Is it perhaps possible to offer some other acceptable exegesis? (See pp. 68-71.)
“Perhaps some readers will suspect that the results of natural science have contributed more to the attractiveness of the framework-hypothesis than is expressed in the preceding. However this be—who knows his own heart?—it is a fact that the framework-hypothesis or related conceptions date back to a period when the results of natural science by no means exerted influence in that direction (cf. pp. 9-12).”
It is not my intention to treat each one of these different views separately and to offer detailed arguments against them. This would indeed be profitable. And especially this “framework-hypothesis,” which is becoming more popular than the “period hypothesis,” could be the object of an interesting and profitable study. For I believe the arguments advanced by Dr. Ridderbos to be quite demonstrably specious. However, our treatment of Article XII would suffer if we took the time for such a study under this rubric. Nevertheless, I would like to see this theory and its argumentation carefully and thoroughly examined sometime in our Standard Bearer. I merely purpose to point out a few factors which are of importance with respect to all these theories which deny a literal, historical creation in six successive, ordinary days.
In the first place, all of these theories agree in getting rid of a literal creation-week. Let us make no mistake about this. The period-hypothesis does this. The inter-period-hypothesis does this. The restitution theory does this. Aalders does this, when he claims that these days “need not have lasted longer than our days, they may have been much shorter; they may by our chronometric standards have lasted only a few seconds.” The mythological theory does this, surely. And Dr. Ridderbos does the same thing with his framework-hypothesis. True, he writes: “he distributes it over six days, to which he adds a seventh day as the day of rest.” And when we read such language, it sounds as though the “days” of Genesis 1 are preserved. But we must remember that these are no days at all. They are a literary framework. In other words, they are a mere figment of the imagination. What is written inGenesis 1 did not take place in six days, followed by the sabbath of the seventh day. This is merely a manner of speaking. It is a medium that is artificially imposed on the work of creation in order to present the work of creation as complete and orderly. It is “a story of creation.” It is not the purpose of Genesis 1 “to present an exact report of what happened at creation.” All of this simply means that there were not really any creation days. And this theory, of course, is another means of conceding to natural science, so-called, that the world may be millions upon millions of years old.
In the second place, the question arises, with respect to all these theories: why? What is the reason for rejecting the literal interpretation of Genesis l? My answer is, negatively, that the reason is not an exegetical one, first of all. I want to emphasize this especially because Dr. Ridderbos claims that “already at the point where we are faced by arguments of a purely exegetical nature this position is stronger, in my opinion, than any other.” He is speaking, you understand, of the framework-hypothesis. In regard to this, I would remark:
1) That the distinction between “more literal” and “less literal” conceptions is not valid. Your conception ofGenesis 1 is either literal; or it is not literal. The days, for example, were either literal days, or they simply were not days. The “literary” days of the framework-hypothesis are not days. They are not even figures of speech. They are a device that does away with the time element of Genesis 1 altogether.
2) That the arguments of a “purely exegetical nature” against the literal interpretation are old arguments that have been raised many times: One of them is the fact that Genesis 1 presents the creation of light on the first day, while the sun, moon, and stars were not created until the fourth day, for example. However, as far aspure exegesis is concerned, this is not a problem, first of all. It is a rationalistic argument, after all. The exegesis of the account of the six days of creation does not require an answer to this problem necessarily, if only one is willing to accept, without reservation, the account of Scripture. Secondly, the framework-hypothesis does not answer this problem in any better fashion than the literal interpretation does. Rather, it destroys the problem by discarding completely the idea that light was created before the creation of the heavenly luminaries. And unless the framework hypothesis does this, it does not succeed in answering this problem at all.
Positively speaking, I would point out the fact that an unprepossessed approach to the account of Genesis 1binds one to the literal interpretation. In other words, the real reason (not the secondary one) is that all these different theories constitute an attempt to get away from what Dr. Ridderbos calls “grave difficulties with respect to natural science.” The fact that some of these conceptions date back to a period when the results of natural science by no means exerted influence in that direction is of no weight at all here. This merely means that there were rationalistic considerations brought to bear against Scripture before there was a forrnal discipline known as “natural science.” The simple fact is that this whole argument of “grave difficulties” violates a fundamental requisite of the science of exegesis, namely, that the exegete must be unprepossessed, except for the one, fundamental prepossession, that he is prepared to bow unconditionally before the authority of Scripture. Dr. Ridderbos states the truth when he writes that “natural science may not at any point decree how Scripture should be interpreted.” He immediately contradicts this when he writes: “The fact that there arise objections of a scientific nature to every more literal conception may and should occasion the question, Is it perhaps possible to offer some other acceptable exegesis?” The position of the sound exegete should be precisely the opposite, namely: when our established and Scripturally orientated exegesis of Genesis 1 brings us into difficulties with natural science, we should ask the question, Is it perhaps possible that our natural science has led us to some wrong conclusions, some unjustified hypotheses?
Moreover, as far as exegesis is concerned—pure exegesis—there is not in Genesis 1 the hint of a suggestion that the sacred writer has any of these theories, such as the framework hypothesis, the period theory, the restitution theory; and others, in mind. Certainly, one would expect that if the purpose of the sacred writer—and above all, of the Holy Spirit—were to present creation in a mere, unliteral, literary framework, there would be evidence of this and reason for it in the Scriptures themselves. In every other case when Scripture is not to be interpreted literally, the Scriptures themselves make it plain beyond a shadow of a doubt that our interpretation must not be literal. This also holds true of all that is mentioned concerning the chronology of Scripture, concerning which much argument is raised. Certainly, there are genealogies in Scripture which are not chronologically successive and consecutive. But when a genealogy is not at the same time a chronology (from father to son), the Scriptures either in the same passage or by comparison with other passages make this clear. The Holy Spirit does not deceive God’s people in Scripture. He does not write one thing, and ask them to believe another. And this is probably the most fundamental issue here. The whole notion of any non-literal interpretation of Genesis 1 is simply preposterous when you take the Scriptures themselves in hand and read them. There is not even a hint that we must attempt any non-literal interpretation. And when such is the case, then sound, unbiased exegesis requires that we abide by the literal interpretation, which is then, in fact, the only interpretation. We must not engage in “inlegkunde,” in pouring into the Scriptures a foreign content. We must rather engage in exegesis, that is, in leading out of the Scriptures the truth of God’s revelation that is inherent in them and conveyed by them.
Finally, I want to point out that the position of natural science, especially with its theories as to the age of the world and the age of man, rests, after all, on very shaky grounds.
In this connection, I would mention, in the first place, that so-called natural science will not accept the wonder. Of course, the wonder itself cannot be the object of scientific investigation. Nor can it be scientifically explained. And the position of natural science (I use the term in the ordinary sense, now) is that it will not accept that which it cannot explain. This is true, first of all, with a view to the act of creation itself. A creation ex nihilo in the very nature of the case is not and cannot be the object of scientific investigation. It is too high for us. We cannot understand it. It can only be accepted by faith. And indeed, de wonder is faith’s most beloved child!
But we will have more on this next time, D.V.