The Biblical Doctrine of Creation

Is the Genesis record to be accepted literally or only in figure?

H.W. Clark, Professor Emeritus of Biology, Pacific Union College

[Prof. Harold Willard Clark has had a long and distin­guished service as head of the Biology Department of Pacific Union College, Angwin, California, which position he has held for thirty-five years, from 1922 to 1957. He received his Master's degree from the University of California in 1933.

He has served as director of the Pacific Union College Field Nature School and as associate editor of The Naturalist. He is the author of a number of books, including Genes and Genesis and Creation Speaks, and has written a number of scientific articles for our various journals.

Professor Clark has held membership in numerous scien­tific societies, including the following: American Association for the Advancement of Science, Ecological Society of Amer­ica, American Ornithologists' Union, and History of Science Society.

His hobbies include nature photography and oil painting. We appreciate very much the series of articles he has espe­cially written for THE MINISTRY, the first of which appears in this issue.—Editors]


Modern science and theology have gen­erally taken the position that the Gen­esis record of creation is merely a symboli­cal explanation, made to an ignorant race of Hebrew slaves in terms they could under­stand, of the great facts of the origin of the world—facts that scientists now interpret in terms of long geological ages. In any study of the problem of creation versus evolu­tion, therefore, we are immediately faced with the question, Is the Genesis record to be accepted literally or only in figure? A clear understanding of the problem re­quires a discussion of various aspects, which we shall present in question-and-answer form.

1. Is the Genesis record to be taken lit­erally?

Jesus said to the Pharisees: "But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female" (Mark 10:6). This is no allegory, but the straight statement of the Son of God, who was in a position to know whereof He spoke, for "all things were made by him" (John 1:3). He said, "from the beginning of the creation." Man did not develop by slow processes; Adam and Eve are not symbolic of early man; they were real flesh-and-blood persons. They existed at "the beginning." They had no long, barbarous past. While a mod­ernistic interpretation of the Bible might suppose that the writer of Genesis used symbolism, it would be denying the di­vinity of Christ to propose that He did not actually and fully comprehend the truth in regard to man's origin. And yet He gave no hint whatsoever as to anything except a lit­eral interpretation of the Genesis record of creation.

2. How does the Bible set forth the truth of creation?

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made.. . . For he spake, and it was done; he com­manded, and it stood fast" (Ps. 33:6-9).

Here a direct act is indicated. It does not say that He created the heavens and the earth by any kind of natural processes. Rather, 'he spake, and it was done." The picture is that of giving a command and having that command instantly obeyed.

3.    How did God distinguish Himself in ancient times from the gods of the heathen?

"Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things" (Isa. 40: 26). "Thus saith God the Lord, he that created the heavens" (Isa. 42:5), "I the Lord have created it" (Isa. 45:8). Many other statements in Isaiah portray God's superiority because of His creative power.

The gods of the heathen were not crea­tor-gods. Matter and energy were supposed to be eternal entities. The gods were either personifications of natural forces or else beings of superior wisdom who had gained control over some of the forces of nature. This principle is seen in all pagan worship. For instance, many of the gods of ancient times were sun-gods. The sun, because of its influence on the earth, was personified as a living god.

The transfer of divine attributes to cre­ated things, and their deification, is clearly portrayed by Paul in the first chapter of Romans. Notice these points: (1) glorified Him not as God (verse 21), (2) became vain in their imaginations (verse 21), (3) changed the glory of God into images of created things (verse 23). All ancient pa­ganism was nature worship in one form or another.

4.    What persons of the Trinity are specifi­cally mentioned as having a part in crea­tion?

God. In Genesis 1. He said, "Let us make."

Christ. "The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him" (John 1:2, 3).

Holy Spirit. "And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters" (Gen. 1:2).

Thus, according to the Bible, all mem­bers of the Godhead had a part in creation.

5.   How much time was occupied in the creation of this earth?

"For in six days the Lord made" (Ex. 20:11).

"And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made" (Gen. 2:2).

6.   What reason is there for believing that these were literal days, and not long periods of time?

After each day the record states: "And the evening and the morning were the_______ day" (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31).

The Hebrew day began at sunset. Each day consisted of a dark portion and a lighted portion. This same sequence is given for the days of creation. Therefore these days could not have been symbolic of long time periods.

In the latter part of the eighteenth cen­tury the French philosopher Buffon pro­pounded the theory of "epochs of the earth," assuming that past time had been divided into six or more geological epochs of unequal length. Theologians seized upon this idea as a means of harmonizing Gene­sis with the growing science of geology. They adopted the viewpoint that made the days of Genesis merely symbolic of geologi­cal epochs. This new theological interpreta­tion became the "day-age" theory of the middle nineteenth century. However, as geological knowledge grew, it became im­possible to fit the details of geological facts into the day-age scheme, and eventually full-fledged geological ages replaced the "days."

7.   If every day had an evening and a morning, how could this be possible if the sun was not created until the fourth day?

Creationist scientists now generally re­gard the record of the fourth day as refer­ring to the establishment of the heavenly bodies as time markers, and not to their being brought into existence. The language of the first chapter of Genesis seems to be significant, in that two words are used in describing the events of Creation Week—bara and asah. The first, as used in Genesis 1, refers to an act of God in bringing into being that which had had no previous ex­istence. It is found in verse 1, referring to the production of the material substance of the earth; in verse 21, referring to animate creatures; and in verse 27, referring to man created in the image of God. In chapter 2, verse 3, both words are used, speaking of the things which God created (bara) and made (asah).

The word asah, translated "made," means to form, establish, or set in order. Thus, in chapter 1, verse 16, the record says that God made (asah) two great lights. That is, He set them in order, or estab­lished them as time markers for the earth. When they were actually brought into ex­istence we have no way of knowing. Much speculation has been indulged in regarding this point, but there are no facts available to give any definite support to any particu­lar theory.

The record of Genesis is consistent, how­ever, with the interpretation here pre­sented, for it makes every day of the six alike in having an evening and morning marked by the rising and setting of the sun as the earth rotated on its axis. It would be impossible to find any reasonable explana­tion for the light and dark sides of the earth on any other basis. The events of the fourth day were doubtless due to changes in the earth's atmosphere that allowed the heav­enly bodies to show through. The statement in verse 16, "he made the stars also," pre­cludes the actual creation (bara) of these bodies at this time, as we know that the stars are much older than the earth.

Viewed in this light, the command in verse 14, "Let there be lights in the firma­ment of the heaven," would simply mean, Let lights appear in the sky.

Although Spirit of prophecy statements cannot be used in presenting these points to non-Adventist audiences, yet it is of in­terest for us to note what Ellen G. White has said on this point. Notice these state­ments:

When the Lord declares that He made the world in six days . . . He means the day of twenty-four hours, which He has marked off by the rising and setting of the sun.—Testimonies to Ministers, p. 136.

The first week . . . was just like every other week. The great God, in his days of creation and day of rest, measured off the first cycle as a sample for successive weeks till the close of time.—Spirit­ual Gifts, vol. 3, p. 90. 

8. How is the creation of plants de­scribed?

Verse 11 says: "Let the earth bring forth." This implies some kind of process whereby the substance of the ground was formed into plant material. Frank L. Marsh makes this comment:

Verse 12 records that the earth caused the plants to "go out" (yatsa). The indication is that plants appeared as a result of growth which was acceler­ated so as to occupy but a moment of time.... Thus the substance of the plant was the substance of the earth.—Studies in Creationism, p. 221.

Another interesting comment on the plants is found in chapter 2, verse 5, where two types of plant are mentioned as being restrained because there was no man to cultivate them. The King James Version calls them the "plant of the field" and the "herb of the field." Another translation, by H. C. Leupold, reads "shrub of the field" and "plant of the field." (See Marsh, /oc. cit., pp. 210, 267.) Apparently this com­ment refers to types of plants that required care by man. Doubtless similar plants were formed on the third day, but the plants as we know them were either planted by Je­hovah in the Garden of Eden, to which chapter 2 refers, or were later domesticated by man.

The statement of verse 6 regarding the watering of the earth is also interesting. With a perfect watering system, implied in the rivers flowing outward from Eden, water would be properly distributed over the whole earth. With proper shielding of the earth from the intensity of the sun's rays by the atmospheric moisture (waters above the firmament) and a mist ascending from the earth each night and condensing as dew, the surface of the ground would have been maintained in a perfect condition for the maintenance of plant life.

9.    How is the creation of animals de­scribed?

In Genesis 1:20 the command is given, "Let the waters bring forth," and in verse 24, "Let the earth bring forth." Then it says that God not only created (as has already been mentioned) but that He made the living creatures. A comment on this is found in chapter 2, verse 3, where God is said to have rested from all His work "which God created and made." Both prin­ciples were involved, the bringing of new material and new beings into existence, and their formation or construction from the materials of the earth.

10.  What of man?

Although man was created (Gen. 1:27) and made (verse 26), he differed from the other creatures in being created in the image of God. Note that he was created, not made, in God's image. No kind of purely physical formation could have given man his Godlike character. Only the divine cre­ative act could endow him with possibilities that no other created being possessed.

11.   What conclusion does the record give for creation week?

"These are the generations of the heav­ens and of the earth when they were cre­ated, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens" (Gen. 2:4).

We could correctly translate the word generations as origins. Here is the only authentic record of the origins of the earth and the heavens. Human theories are mere speculation, but here is a record certified by the authority of the One who performed the creative acts. Why, then, has man pre­tended to tamper with the Genesis story? Our next study will attempt the answer.

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H.W. Clark, Professor Emeritus of Biology, Pacific Union College

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