aA
aA
aA
aA
aA
aA
Systematic Theology - Volume I
« Prev 6. The Mosaic Account of the Creation. Next »

§ 6. The Mosaic Account of the Creation.

There are three methods of interpreting this portion of the Bible. (1.) The historical. (2.) The allegorical. (3.) The mythical. The first assumes it to be a veritable history. The second has two forms. Many of the Fathers who allegorized the whole of the Old Testament without denying its historical verity, allegorized in like manner the history of the creation. That is, they sought for a hidden moral or spiritual sense under all historical facts. Others regarded it as purely an allegory without any historical basis, any more than the parables of our Lord. The mythical theory, as the name imports, regards the record of the creation as a mere fable, or fabulous cosmogony, designed to express a theory as to the origin of the universe, of man, and of evil, of no more value than the similar cosmogonies which are found in the early literature of all nations. In favour of the historical character of the record are the following considerations, (1.) It purports to be a veritable history. (2.) It is the appropriate and necessary introduction or an acknowledged history. (3.) It is referred to and quoted in other parts of the Bible as the true account of the creation of the world; especially in the fourth commandment, where, as well as in other parts of Scripture, it is made the foundation of the institution of the Sabbath. (4.) The facts here recorded, including as they do the creation and probation of man, lie at the foundation of the whole revealed plan of redemption. The whole Bible, therefore, rests upon the record here given of the work of creation, and consequently all the evidence which goes to support the divine authority of the Bible, tends to sustain the historical verity of that record.

Objections to the Mosaic Account of the Creation.

The principal objections to the Mosaic account of the creation are either critical, astronomical, or geological. Under the first head it is objected that the account is inconsistent with itself, especially in what is said of the creation of man; and that it is evidently composed of independent documents, in one of which God is called אֱלֹהִים, and in the other יְהוָה. The former of these objections is answered by showing that the two accounts of the creation are not inconsistent; the one is a concise statement of the fact, the other a fuller account of the manner of its occurrence. As to the second objection, it is enough to say that, admitting the fact on which it is founded, it creates no difficulty in the way of acknowledging the historical character of the record. It is of no importance to us whence Moses derived his information, whether from one or more historical documents, from tradition, or from direct revelation. We receive the account on his authority and on the authority of the Book of which it is a recognized and authentic portion.

The astronomical objections are, (1.) That the whole account evidently assumes that our earth is the centre of the universe, and that the sun, moon, and stars are its satellites. (2.) That light is said to have been created and the alternation between day and night established before the creation of the sun; and (3.) That the visible heavens are represented as a solid expanse. The first of these objections bears with as much force against all the representations of the Bible and the language of common life. Men instinctively form their language according to apparent, and not absolute or scientific truth. They speak of the sun as rising and setting; of its running its course through the heavens, although they know that this is only apparently and not really true. The language of the Bible on this, as well as on all other subjects, is framed in accordance with the common usage of men. The second objection is founded on the assumption that the fourteenth verse speaks of the creation of the sun and other heavenly bodies. This is not its necessary meaning. The sense may be that God then appointed the sun and moon to the service of measuring and regulating times and seasons. But even if the other interpretation be adopted, there need be no conflict between the record and the astronomical fact that the sun is now the source of light to the world. The narrative makes a distinction between the cosmical light mentioned in the earlier part of the chapter, and the light enanating from the sun, specially designed for our globe. The third objection is met by the remark already made. If we speak of the concave heavens, why might not the Hebrews speak of the solid heavens? The word firmament applied to the visible heavens is as familiar to us as it was to them. Calvin well remarks, “Moses vulgi ruditati se accommodans, non alia Dei opera commemorat in historia creationis, nisi quæ oculis nostris occurrunt.”527527Institutio, I. xiv. 3, edit. Berlin, 1834, p. 112.

Geology and the Bible.

The geological objections to the Mosaic record are apparently the most serious. According to the commonly received chronology, our globe has existed only a few thousand years. According to geologists, it must have existed for countless ages. And again, according to the generally received interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis, the process of creation was completed in six days, whereas geology teaches that it must have been in progress through periods of time which cannot be computed.

Admitting the facts to be as geologists would have us to believe, two methods of reconciling the Mosaic account with those facts have been adopted. First, some understand the first verse to refer to the original creation of the matter of the universe in the indefinite past, and what follows to refer to the last reorganizing change in the state of our earth to fit it for the habitation of man. Second, the word day as used throughout the chapter is understood of geological periods of indefinite duration.

In favour of this latter view it is urged that the word day is used in Scripture in many different senses; sometimes for the time the sun is above the horizon; sometimes for a period of twenty-four hours; sometimes for a year, as in Lev. xxv. 29, Judges xvii. 10, and often elsewhere; sometimes for an indefinite period, as in the phrases, “the day of your calamity,” “the day of salvation,” “the day of the Lord,” “the day of judgment.” And in this account of the creation it is used for the period of light in antithesis to night; for the separate periods in the progress of creation; and then, ch. ii. 4, for the whole period: “In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.”

It is of course admitted that, taking this account by itself, it would be most natural to understand the word in its ordinary sense; but if that sense brings the Mosaic account into conflict with facts, and another sense avoids such conflict, then it is obligatory on us to adopt that other. Now it is urged that if the word “day” be taken in the sense of “an indefinite period of time,” a sense which it undoubtedly has in other parts of Scripture, there is not only no discrepancy between the Mosaic account of the creation and the assumed facts of geology, but there is a most marvellous coincidence between them.

The cosmogony of modern science teaches that the universe, “the heaven and the earth,” was first in a chaotic or gaseous state. The process of its development included the following steps: (1.) “Activity begun, — light an immediate result. (2.) The earth made an independent sphere. (3.) Outlining of the land and water, determining the earth’s general configuration. (4.) The idea of life in the lowest plants, and afterwards, if not contemporaneously, in the lowest or systemless animals, or Protozoans. (5.) The energizing light of the sun shining on the earth — an essential preliminary to the display of the systems of life. (6.) lntroduction of the systems of life. (7.) Introduction of mammals — the highest order of the vertebrates, — the class afterwards to be dignified by including a being of moral and intellectual nature. (8.) Introduction of man.”528528Manual of Geology. By James D. Dana, M. A., LL. D., Silliman Professor of Geology and Natural History in Yale College, p. 743.

Professor Dana further says, “The order of events in the Scripture cosmogony corresponds essentially with that which has been given. There was first a void and formless earth: this was literally true of the ‘heavens and the earth, if they were in the condition of a gaseous fluid. The succession is as follows: —

“1. Light.

“2. The dividing of the waters below from the waters above the earth (the word translated waters may mean fluid).

“3. The dividing of the land and water on the earth.

“4. Vegetation; which Moses, appreciating the philosophical characteristic of the new creation distinguishing it from previous inorganic substances, defines as that ‘which had seed in itself.’

“5. The sun, moon, and stars.

“6. The lower animals, those that swarm in the waters, and the creeping and flying species of the land.

“7. Beasts of prey (‘creeping’ here meaning prowling).

“8. Man.

“In this succession, we observe not merely an order of events, like that deduced from science; there is a system in the arrangement, and a far-reaching prophecy, to which philosophy could not nave attained, however instructed.

“The account recognizes in creation two great eras of three days each, — an Inorganic and an Organic. Each of these eras open with the appearance of light; the first, light cosmical; the second, light from the sun for the special uses of the earth.

“Each era ends in ‘a day’ of two great works — the two shown to be distinct by being severally pronounced ‘good.’ On the third day, that closing the Inorganic Era, there was first the dividing of the land from the waters, and afterwards the creation of vegetation, or the institution of a kingdom of life — a work widely diverse fromn all that preceded it in the era. So on the sixth day, terminating the Organic Era, there was first the creation of mammals, and then a second far greater work, totally new in its grandest element, the creation of Man.

“The arrangement is, then, as follows: —

“I. The Inorganic Era.

“1st Day. — Light cosmical.

“2d Day. — The earth divided from the fluid around it, or indvidualized.

“3d Day. — {

“1. Outlining of the land and water.

2. Creation of vegetation.

“II. The Organic Era.

“4th Day. — Light from the sun.

“5th Day. — Creation of the lower order of animals.

“6th Day. — {

1. Creation of mammals.

2. Creation of man.”

“The record in the Bible,” adds Professor Dana,529529Page 745. “is therefore profoundly philosophical in the scheme of creation which it presents. It is both true and divine. It is a declaration of authorship, both of creation and the Bible, on the first page of the sacred volume.”530530Page 746. To the same effect he elsewhere says: “The first thought that strikes the scientific reader [of the Mosaic account of the creation] is the evidence of divinity, not merely in the first verse of the record, and the successive fiats, but in the whole order of creation. There is so much that the most recent readings of science have for the first time explained, that the idea of man as the author becomes utterly incomprehensible. By proving the record true, science pronounces it divine; for who could have correctly narrated the secrets of eternity but God himself?”531531Bibliotheca Sacra for January, 1856, p. 110.

The views given in his “Manual of Geology” are more fully elaborated by Professor Dana in two admirable articles in the “Bibliotheca Sacra” (January and July, 1856). He says, in the former of those articles, “The best views we have met with on the harmony between science and the Bible, are those of Professor Arnold Guyot, a philosopher of enlarged comprehension of nature and a truly Christian spirit; and the following interpretations of the sacred record are, in the main, such as we have gathered from personal intercourse with him.”532532The views of Professor Guyot are presented at some length by the Rev. J.O. Means, in the numbers of the Bibliotheca Sacra for January and April, 1855.

Professor Dana of Yale and Professor Guyot of Princeton, belong to the first rank of scientific naturalists; and the friends of the Bible owe them a debt of gratitude for their able vindication of the sacred record.

As the Bible is of God, it is certain that there can be no conflict between the teachings of the Scriptures and the facts of science. It is not with Facts, but with theories, believers have to contend. Many such theories have, from time to time, been presented, apparently or really inconsistent with the Bible. But these theories have either proved to be false, or to harmonize with the Word of God, properly interpreted. The Church has been forced more than once to alter her interpretation of the Bible to accommodate the discoveries of science. But this has been done without doing any violence to the Scriptures or in any degree impairing their authority. Such change, however, cannot be effected without a struggle. It is impossible that our mode of understanding the Bible should not be determined by our views of the subjects of which it treats. So long as men believed that the earth was the centre of our system, the sun its satellite, and the stars its ornamentation, they of necessity understood the Bible in accordance with that hypothesis. But when it was discovered that the earth was only one of the smaller satellites of the sun, and that the stars were worlds, then faith, although at first staggered, soon grew strong enough to take it all in, and rejoice to find that the Bible, and the Bible alone of all ancient books, was in full accord with these stupendous revelations of science. And so if it should be proved that the creation was a process continued through countless ages, and that the Bible alone of all the books of antiquity recognized that fact, then, as Professor Dana says, the idea of its being of human origin would become “utterly incomprehensible.”


« Prev 6. The Mosaic Account of the Creation. Next »

Advertisements


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |