Historical Christadelphian Approaches - 6

From Reconciling understandings of Scripture and Science
Jump to navigationJump to search

Index of Early Genesis, A review of historical Christadelphian approaches

by Bro Ken Chalmers, January, 2016

6. In the beginning. . . 

6.1 When did the beginning ‘begin’?

In general terms, our writings throughout the twentieth century, have continued to express themselves in similar ways to brethren Thomas and Roberts, such as ‘we are not told’. As an example:

“The ‘beginning’ spoken of in the opening of Genesis is quite indefinite in relation to the present time. All we know is that it was some time in the immensely distant past, and that the characteristics of this world of ours then were chaos and darkness”.[1]

“Our subject begins with the first verse of Genesis 1: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’ We are not given any details. We are not told when ‘the beginning’ began; nor are we told how the work was done; nor how long it took. We sometimes hear it said that Genesis teaches that the earth was created in six days. The Genesis account of creation does not say this. It simply tells us that in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. All that we need to know about the birth of the planet is that it was the work of God, and that God also created the heaven during the same undefined period.”[2]

“Many lines of evidence show that the earth is immensely old....” [3]

“We do not know how long ago it (Gen 1:1) was, for we are not told....it seems that verse 1 records a period of time long before verse 2. It took place long before the creation of Adam and Eve....it could have been millions of years ago.... The antiquity of the earth is strongly implied in the Bible.... If the fossils...are as old as the scientists say, they would apply to that pre- Adamic creation. It might well be that the angels peopled the earth as mortals before this creation, and by a life of probation ultimately attained unto their present state.”[4]

Some of the following suggestions require an interpretation which has a ‘gap’ in the early verses of Genesis 1. In considering an old earth, and a re-organising or ‘re-creation’ on the earth, the concept of this gap appears to be universally accepted in our early and some recent writing. The following, presented by a Hebrew speaker, is an example:

“The prologue is not part of Day One. Structurally, chronologically, and conceptually, verses 1 and 2 form a separate unit that precedes the first day. The Prologue has a different structure than the daily accounts, and its scope of activity includes the entire universe, not just one aspect. Conceptually, the Prologue includes the entire creation week, the remainder of Genesis and even, in figure, the entire Bible. Also, it describes the condition of the earth upon which the creative program begins to act. Therefore, verses 1 and 2 precede Day One. The structure of the creation week places the Prologue as the counterpart to Day Seven, the Sabbath. The Prologue introduces the six-day creative program and the Sabbath concludes it.”[5]

However, an alternative view has been presented which suggests that there is no gap and that the ‘beginning’ relates only to the beginning of the Adamic creation on this earth. This places all other natural evidence outside of Scripture’s ‘commentary’.

“On the authority of the text therefore the gap theory must be disallowed, and verse 1 treated as a title announcing with sublime solemnity the mighty work of God about to commence. ‘The beginning’ of verse 1 was no earlier than the time of the Adamic creation.”[6]

This view appears to be supported by bro Andrew Perry.[7]

In considering ‘age’ or ‘how old’, bro Levin interestingly continues:

“I do not use chronology to answer questions such as ‘How old is the universe’ or ‘How much time elapsed between the creation of the universe and the first day of creation?’ The text takes no interest in such matters.. . . ”[8]

6.2 An old Universe and old earth

It has been a longstanding view in our community, that the Universe, of which our solar system is only a small part, has existed for long epochs of time.

“The Mosaic account is not a revelation to the inhabitants of other orbs remote from the earth of the formation of the boundless universe; but to man, as a constituent of the terrestrial system. This will explain why light is said to have been created four days before the sun, moon and stars. To an observer on earth this was the order of their appearance; and in relation to him a primary creation, though absolutely pre-existent for millions of ages before the Adamic era.”[9]

“That the earth had a history anterior to the six days’ work, is certain, from both scripture and nature. Geology proves the existence of forms of life long before the Mosaic creation; and the Bible tacitly affirms a pre-Adamite order of things.”[10]

“God made two great lights, &c; true: in this there is nothing as to how long He took to make them. Having made them, He placed them (or caused them to appear) in the terrestrial firmament on the fourth day. Thus the narrative suits the proximate aspect of the case as it would have appeared to a man witnessing the evolutions of the six days, and at the same time, is not in conflict with the mightier phase in which they are to be contemplated through the medium of astronomical science.”[11]

“It is a demonstrable fact that the earth has existed for ages. To adopt a view that appears to make it begin only 6,000 years ago would create a difficulty. There is no need for adopting such a view. The Genesis account itself admits of these antecedent times and states which science has proved.”[12]

“As with fishes, so with birds, many remains are found in the rocks, of a kind not now found upon earth. Our museums contain footprints of gigantic birds impressed in sand now turned to rock, and remains actually embedded in rock. If we understand Moses as teaching that the earth and all that therein is came into existence some 6,000 years ago, we shall scarcely be able to account for these evidently very ancient remains of creatures that do not now exist. If we suppose a sudden and absolute break some 6,000 years ago, or before, resulting in the destruction of all life, and that the creation account of Genesis describes a new creation following, we ought to find some evidence of the break, and we cannot well account for the apparently close relationship that obtains between extinct and existing forms. There are forms becoming extinct in our own day from slow and natural causes. May it not have been so in pre-Adamic times? The professors tell us for instance that some of these ancient birds, whose strides we can see for ourselves from their footprints were from four to six feet long, were like gigantic ostriches. Supposing that it were ever established that they were the actual progenitors of our smaller forms (“There were giants in the earth in those days” might apply to the birds and beasts), would the credibility of the Mosaic narrative suffer? Not at all, in our estimation. We should indeed have to revise somewhat our interpretation of the brief cosmogony of Gen. 1.; but should not waver as concerning its divinity, nor await with less faith and patience the reappearance of Moses in the land of the living.[13]

6.3 An old earth and young (re)creation

Our community’s writings seem to have been consistent, at least up to the early 1960’s, that the earth was very old and that the Genesis creation is a recent ‘re-recreation’ based on ‘re-organisation’. Consider the following examples:

“The only practical difficulty in the way of accepting the Mosaic narrative is the assumption that it teaches that the work of creation began 6,000 years ago. Close study will show that there is no real foundation for this assumption, and that all that the Bible teaches us is that the earth was put in order and the Adamic race appeared on the scene 6,000 years ago. The pre- existence of the earth and of races upon it, is not only compatible with the Mosaic narrative, but is recognised in the opening chapters.. . .  The very first incident described is the movement of the spirit of God ‘on the face of the waters’, from which it follows the earth and the waters existed before the reorganising work of 6,000 years ago began. How long it had existed in that state there is nothing to show; but there is room for any length of time the evidences of geology may claim. Consequently, there is none of the practical and insuperable difficulty which most people suppose in the way of receiving the Mosaic account of creation. The earth had a history before the six days’ work. . . ”[14]

“’Heaven and earth’ of Genesis is not synonymous with ‘the Universe’. Heaven is described as ‘the firmament’, formed ‘to divide the waters that are above the firmament from the waters that were under it.’ It is, therefore, the body of atmosphere encircling the globe, whose existence was thus Mosaically made known ages before it was philosophically ascertained. The testimony is, that heaven and earth in this limited extent, were the subject, six thousand years ago, of a process called ‘create’. But does this ‘create’ (bara) express the theological idea of being ‘made out of nothing?’ By no means, for such an idea is foreign to the Bible. The teaching on this point is, that all things were formed ‘out of God’ – (Rom. xi.), and the Hebrew verb bara, translated ‘create’, signifies to make, in the sense of constitute, arrange, set in order.. . .  That Moses does not teach the creation of the earth in the ordinary sense six thousand years ago, is proved by his recognition of a pre ‘creation’ existence. Before the six days’ work began, he speaks of the earth as being ‘without form and void’ and ‘darkness on the face of the deep’ (Gen. i. 2.) How long it had been in this state is not hinted; but the narrative leaves room for the measureless ages said to be required by geology.“[15]

“Geology teaches us much; it speaks of a time and creation on this earth when animal life, if not totally, was nearly unknown, and only the lower order of vegetable life covering its face, and this must have existed many thousands of years; and during the whole of that long period, the earth was undergoing wonderful and necessary changes to fit it for a creation of a higher order, and evidently with the creature man in view. There are evidences to show that when this early period had done its work, it was replaced by a creation of a higher order, when animal and vegetable forms were brought into existence and most admirably adopted to the atmosphere, climate, and peculiarities of that creation; and this again, must have lasted for many thousands of years, and in its turn been swept away, and a grander creation built on its ruins. And so on, stage after stage. Geologists show that there has been five separate independent creations on the face of our earth prior to the present, and during the whole of those long periods, the Almighty Architect has been bringing the earth into form and suitability to the creatures His wisdom has made. Throughout the long ages of the past, careful investigation can trace the preparations for the creature of intelligence. . . man.”[16]

“I have not the slightest doubt concerning the truths revealed in the strata of the earth’s crust. There can be no reasonable doubt that long ages have passed away since the matter of the earth first took existences by the fiat of its Almighty Creator. There can be no reasonable doubt that when the non- fossiliferous rocks were first formed the heat of the earth’s matter was too intense for vegetable and animal life to exist. There can be no reasonable doubt that it was only in a later age that the lower forms of plant and animal life could exist. And there can be no reasonable doubt that the succeeding ages allowed the creation of still higher and more perfect forms, till we reach the age called the ‘Tertiary’, and the ‘Post-pliocene period of that age, when we are told remains of man are found for the first time. All of this, I say, I do not doubt. The facts of old mother earth’s storehouse are too convincingly inscribed upon her crust to allow me to doubt. At the same time, and amid it all, I have the most implicit faith and unbounded trust in God and His sacred word.”[17]

Likewise, in response to EHT a correspondent, bro Roberts answers:

“At the era of the Adamic creation, the water covered earth was wrapped in darkness, though (sic? – through?) the prevalence of dense vapour which obstructed the light (Gen i. 2; Job xxxviii. 4). For how long a period it had lain in this state is not revealed and cannot be known. Geology shows there was a long break, and a sudden transition at a certain time to a new class of vegetation and new types of animal life. When this transition took place, the vapour (which in Job is styled ‘the thick cloud’) was dissipated by divine power, and the sun, moon, and stars made to appear as if just made for the first time for the earth, which practically was the case so far as the new inhabitants were concerned.”[18]

Later, Bro C. C. Walker writes:

“Ten years ago the average scientist would have asserted that our habitable globe had not existed for more than a million years. Now it would be hard to find a competent physical specialist who would fix a definite maximum below a thousand million years”[19]

Or again, brother Henry Sulley, writing to the Nottingham Guardian:

“All that is here” (in Gen 1 vv 1-3) “affirmed is that the first day of creative work was an alteration in the relation of the sphere then existent to light and darkness. The earth may have existed the many millions of years which scientists think from their observations to be the case. Untold ages may have extended to the events which introduce the Adamic era” [20]

A view that is consistent with these early views in our community has been proposed which suggests that while evolution cannot be considered post the Adamic creation (revealed in Gen 1 & 2), that the ‘pre-Adamic space’ is possible:

“I don’t equate ‘creation’ with ‘evolution’; I don’t think the theory of evolution can exclude either special creation or divine agency from our understanding of origins. Consequently, I hold a fairly literal view of Genesis—not entirely; there is some metaphor. This does not mean I reject evolution; the conflict with religious thinking is philosophical when evolutionists make their view exclusively true—when they exclude special creation, reject Genesis, or deny divine agency at work in various ways throughout the known history of the universe. Thus, in pre-historic terms, I situate evolution as a set of natural processes within the framework of Old Earth Creationism in the pre-Adamic space. What we can then do is expand our horizon as to how God has been involved with his creation since the birth of the universe. If we want, we have to learn to distinguish when features are best attributed to slow natural processes of change and when they are best attributed to direct involvement of God. Genesis is an historical account of recent creative work which we should take as exemplary for God’s creative work throughout known history.” (authors emphasis) [21]

This view that the earth is very old is repeated by Christadelphian authors in recent publications. For example, Paul Boyd writes:

“The date of the origin of the earth comes from rocks. The age of the earth is generally agreed to be 4.5 billion years”.[22]

Likewise in the more recent sequel, agreement on age is recorded:

“How long did God’s creative work take? The Bible is silent. It took however long it took. Outside of the Bible, the evidence from many different branches of scientific study is overwhelming. Separate considerations from astronomy, physics, and geology all indicate that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old, and the universe about 13.8 billion years.” [23]

6.4 An old creation

Some of our brethren however, have taken the view that the current creation is actually very old. Bro C. C. Walker believed that the Genesis creation is ancient. In relation to the third day he writes:

“The appearance of herbage naturally preceded that of the creatures which fed upon it. Some of their fossil remains have even contained herbal remains within the wreckage of their gigantic ribs, strongly suggesting some primeval cataclysm in which the great beasts suddenly perished. It will be perceived that this view regards the third day as ages before the creation of man, and the cataclysm in question as of incalculable antiquity”. [24]

A previous CCW reference makes similar record of his belief in this matter. His reference ‘supposes’ what would occur should it ever be discovered that the fossilized remains were progenitors of later and current forms and notes that the narrative would not suffer but we may have to revise our interpretation of the brief Genesis record. It is likely that others have reconciled their knowledge of the Scriptures and what they believed to be evidence of nature in a similar way.

It is also important to note that this view of bro Walker’s was not a ‘one off’ that he later revised. His writings, as revealed by multiple references in this paper, reveal a consistent approach taken while editor, for more than 20 years.

6.5 Young universe, earth and creation

The prevalent view in our community has been that the current creation, as seen on our planet, is recent, not older than 10,000 years. As has been previously shown, it is generally described as a ‘re-creation’ or a ‘re-organising’ of what might have previously existed. Nevertheless, for the proponents of this view, both the universe and earth are old. However, this particular position is quite new to our community, albeit seems to have been known at least as early as 1947:

“There have been some who have insisted that the days are literal days of 24 hours, and the creation spoken of, the prime creation: all fossil remains are on this view a delusion—sometimes a designed delusion to mislead those who have intruded where they are not welcome! This is a conclusion which will not readily commend itself to those who believe that God is not the Author of a lie—even a white lie.”[25]

For some recent writers, the view incorporates fossils as part of the recent creation and that dating techniques are to blame for the discrepancy in timing:

“All natural processes move in endless cycles. . . when God created He must have broken into this circle (sic? – cycle?) somewhere. The pristine world therefore had the appearance of age . . .  when God blew air into Adam’s nostrils, a man. . . resulted. Less than one day old he was a mature man, with beard, hair on his chest, a deep voice, thirty two permanent teeth (including erupted wisdom teeth). . .  After only six days of creation there were expansive forests, with abundant layers of leaf litter, humus rotting on the forest floor from leaves which had never grown, hollow openings in trees for nesting birds, and hollow logs of trees which had never lived. Giant cedars that had never been seeds towered above with hundreds of growth rings hidden under their bark . . .  rivers surged from rain that had never fallen, flowing through canyons which appeared to have been carved out for centuries . . .  there were massive bull elephants carrying tusks they had never grown, and pregnant cows with embryos which had never been conceived . . .  God did not create deliberately to give the false appearance of age or pre-existence. When creating a fully working system there is clearly no other way than to create a system with an apparent age. Although the creation must have begun fully functional and with an apparent history, the God we know would not create fossils of creatures which never existed to trick people into thinking the work was old. He did not construct an elaborate lie to test our faith. The evolutionary dating methods are simply based on incorrect assumptions and cannot be trusted.”[26]

In commentary on this view, bro Alan Fowler writes:

“Darwin lost faith in the Bible because he assumed that it taught that the earth is only 6,000 years old—a timescape that is incompatible with the huge variety of fossils that are different from today’s plants and animals. The majority of earth scientists make the same assumption. In this they are influenced by the dogmatic assertions of young earth creationists. It is a tragic irony that those who insist on a young earth are unwittingly bringing the Bible into disrepute.”[27]

Bro John Launchbury similarly comments:

“Another common Young Earth approach is to argue that rocks were created to look old, that God made them with cracks and fossils and other sedimentary evidence. Similarly, God could have created beams of star light en route from stars they never actually came from. This argument allows the universe to be 6000 years old despite any and all evidence to the contrary. However, this suggests that God was deliberately intending to deceive: fossils from non-existent animals, light from non-existent stars.. . .  If God has fabricated the world to that extent why should we believe anything we observe or remember? History could just as easily have been fabricated—and that strikes at the heart of Christianity.”[28]

Recently, The Christadelphian has published a contribution on the island of Surtsey, which was formed in the Atlantic Ocean about 50 years ago in a volcanic eruption, in which the following is stated:

“This should give us more confidence in believing in the six day creation, six thousand years ago. And of course, unlike Surtsey, the Genesis creation involved the miraculous intervention of the Creator.”[29]

This clearly implies that the earth at least is young, as well as the current creation, albeit that no conclusion can be drawn from the article on the age of the universe. Nevertheless, as a ‘position’, it marks a significant change from the position of the magazine at least up to the editorship of bro L G Sargent.

It is again noted, that this view is comparatively recent in our community’s literature. It is not our historical position, nor did it influence or form thinking associated with the community’s basis of fellowship in its Statement of Faith.

  1. Walker, C C, “Creation” in The Word of God, p24 (1926)
  2. Watkins, P, The Christadelphian, v97, p6, (1960)
  3. Hayward, A, God’s Truth, p 211, Marshall Morgan and Scott (1973)
  4. Mansfield, H P, Story of the Bible, Vol 1, pp35,36 (1992ed)
  5. Levin, D, op. cit., p7
  6. Whittaker, E, The Genesis Record of Creation, Testimony Magazine, v39, p132 (1969)
  7. Perry, A, The Gap Theory – a revision, in Testimony Magazine, v67, p326-328 (1997)
  8. Levin, D, op cit.
  9. Thomas, J, op cit., p 10
  10. Roberts, R, Ambassador of the Coming Age, v5, p172 (1868)
  11. Roberts, R, Saturday Evening Scripture Studies, The Christadelphian, v12, p158 (1875)
  12. Roberts, R Answers to Correspondents, in The Christadelphian, v32, p 141 (1895)
  13. Walker, C C, The Christadelphian, v47, p501 (1910)
  14. Roberts, R, The Visible Hand of God, p 12,13, The Dawn Book Supply (1959—1st edition 1883)
  15. Roberts, R, A Brush with Modern Scepticism, in The Christadelphian, v10, p163 (1873)
  16. Simons, R, The Christadelphian, v21, p177, 178 (1884)
  17. Welch, L B, The Christadelphian, v28, p 416 (1891)
  18. Roberts, R, The Christadelphian, v28, p219 (1891)
  19. Walker, C C, The Christadelphian, v48, p450 (1911)
  20. Sulley, H, Quoted in The Christadelphian, v63, p472, (1926)
  21. Perry, A, Special Creationism, Willow Publications, p 14, 15 (2nd edition, 2014)
  22. Boyd, P, “The Origin of Life” in Reasons – Evidence for God, Jesus and the Bible, p65 (2011).
  23. Launchbury, J, Science and the Bible – days and ages, in More Reasons – More Evidence for God, Jesus & the Bible, p190, Willow Publications (2014)
  24. Walker, C C, “Creation” in The Word of God, p35 (1926)
  25. Norris, A D, Believing the Bible, p130, Aletheia Books (1947?)
  26. Hurn, B, Apparent Age, Testimony Magazine, v67, p291,292 (1997)
  27. Fowler, A, Twenty Essays in search for Truth, p10, Ortho Books (2011)
  28. Launchbury, J, op cit p 194.
  29. Bernard, N and Pearce, Don, Surtsey: a pattern for creation, in The Christadelphian, v150, p496 (2013)

← Back to Index