Historical Christadelphian Approaches - 3

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Index of Early Genesis, A review of historical Christadelphian approaches

by Bro Ken Chalmers, January, 2016

3. Do we really mean “literal”?

The reference to ‘literal’ reading is demonstrated by the following examples within our community:

“The work of the creation week began about 6,000 years ago . . .  God’s power was all sufficient to complete the creative work in six literal days each of 24 hours”[1]

“We accept the creation record as literal in its details . . .  Christ and the apostles. . . upheld the literal interpretation of the creation record.”[2]

In the latter instance, if it was intended to mean that Jesus and the apostles believed God literally created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, then all would agree. But the statement speaks of ‘literal in its details’ and a ‘literal interpretation’ of the record and suggests more is intended. So, are the above statements correct? Have we upheld a literal interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis which is consistent and unequivocal? Have we unanimously agreed that God’s creative work took place in six literal days each of 24 hours? Have we accepted that the ‘creation record is literal in its details?

A simple exercise will reveal that we have traditionally interpreted non-literally. Day 4 in the Genesis record reads as follows:

God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them be signs to indicate seasons and days and years, and let them serve as lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” It was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to rule over the day and the lesser light to rule over the night. He made the stars also. God placed the lights in the expanse of the sky to shine on the earth, to preside over the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. God saw that it was good. There was evening, and there was morning, a fourth day”.[3]

A literal reading of the text in all versions indicates that our earth’s two ‘great lights’ (both unnamed) were made on day 4. Indeed, the record goes further and adds, ‘he made the stars also’. Knowing what we know about ‘stars’, this description appears as a very ‘inadequate’ and almost dismissive account of the creation of the Universe. This activity is brought to its close by the signatory line “there was evening, and there was morning, a fourth day”. If we read literally, there can be no dispute that these heavenly bodies—indeed the universe itself, were created on day 4. Yet, those who would have us read ‘literally’ base part of their commentary on our pioneers who believed, not that they were created on day 4, having been created prior to day 1, but that they were ‘revealed’ and ‘organised’ for their earthly purpose:

‘On the fourth day, the expanded atmosphere becoming transparent, and the shining orbs of the universe could be seen from the surface of the earth. Our globe was then placed in such astronomical relation to them as to be subjected by their influences to the vicissitudes of day and night, summer and winter; and that they might serve for signs, and for years.”[4]

There are other similar references in following sections of this paper. Evidently, on a matter as simple as this, we do not read Genesis literally. We have chosen to read some texts literally, and some non-literally—we have interpreted, in a way which has been consistent with our particular view. If we needed the text to speak literally, then it has. But if not, and we have had to interpret non-literally, we have chosen to do so. So the statement that we have chosen to interpret the Creation record literally, is simply untrue. This situation is recognized in bro Carter’s earlier reference in which he warned against imposing an interpretation as we are likely to make mistakes.

Bro John Bilello gives an additional warning on the use of ‘literal’ in the context of those who ignore science and suggest that:

“....one must throw out all the observations of science and simply have faith in a literal interpretation of the Bible. Of course, by ‘literal’ religious zealots mean their particular literal interpretation of scripture!”[5]

Some honesty is required in recognizing that we have regularly done this and that there is no single, ‘literal interpretation’ that is upheld and agreed by all or is required as part of our Statement of Faith. The only literal expectation of all of us, is that we believe ‘in the beginning God created’.

  1. Instruction Unto the Kingdom, Christadelphian Sunday School Association, 10, 12 “Genesis is literal” (1997)
  2. “Reaffirmation Statement concerning Creation and the Fall of Man” – 15 Adelaide ecclesias (4 Nov 2015)
  3. Genesis 1:14-19 (NET)
  4. Thomas, J, Elpis Israel, p 12, 13 (14th Edition; Revised 1958)
  5. Bilello, J C, Bible and Science – design vs chance, p8 (2005)

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