Seventh-day Adventist Belief #6: God is Creator of all things, and has revealed in Scripture the authentic account of His creative activity. In six days the Lord made "the heavens and the earth" and all living things upon the earth, and rested on the seventh day of that first week. Thus He established the Sabbath as a perpetual memorial of His completed creative work. The first man and woman were made in the image of God as the crowning work of Creation, given dominion over the world, and charged with responsibility to care for it. When the world was finished it was "very good," declaring the glory of God.
Probably no single biblical doctrine challenges the contemporary worldview more than the doctrine of Creation. Whereas science tells us that life on this planet gradually evolved through natural processes that occurred over hundreds of millions of years, the Bible boldly proclaims that Cod created life on this planet in the more recent past, in six literal days (Gen. 1).
While contemporary geology describes a highly protracted, natural origin for the rock strata that cover the earth's surface, the Bible describes a sudden, global post-Creation catastrophe that destroyed terrestrial life and drastically altered the planet. The description of the Flood's damage to the original creation was so massive and complete that many scholars describe this catastrophe as a "de-creation."
The biblical teaching of Creation has intimate bearing on other seminal biblical tenets, not the least of which is the proclamation that Jesus Christ is, in fact, the active Creator God of the Old Testament (John 1:1 -3,14), and that it is His act as Creator that, in part, guarantees His role as our Savior and Redeemer (Eph. 2:10; 2 Cor. 5:17; Isa. 65:17-19; Rev. 21; 22).
It is not the purpose of this brief article to provide scientific answers for the many questions that evolution might pose for Creation.1 Nor do we wish to minimize the significance and difficulties of some of these questions. Rather, in concert with Seventh-day Adventist faith, our goal is to examine the significance of the biblical proclamations of a recent, literal Creation week and world wide Flood and how these interface with our understanding of Christ's death on the cross.
While our belief in a recent Creation week and global Flood emerge, from our traditional view of Scripture, which accepts these narratives as historical accounts, such beliefs are also held because of their coherence with other clear biblical pronouncements about the nature of God, the origin and nature of humans, the origin of sin, and the means of salvation.
Major challenges from science
Before we consider the importance of a recent six-day Creation to our understanding of the Cross, it will be helpful to briefly note two main reasons why this view is so unacceptable to so many people today.2 This twofold challenge rises from the geologic column and radiometric dating.
The Geologic Column and the Fossil Record. The geologic column refers to layers (or strata) of rocks that cover much of the earth's surface. Many of MAGAZINE these rock strata contain the remains of dead organisms known as "fossils." These fossils include both plant and animal remains.
The specific challenge of this "fossil record" is that the fossils in the lower rocks appear to be what might be expected as "earlier" life forms (such as invertebrates) in the evolutionary progression, while "higher" life forms, such as mammals and flowering plants, appear only in the upper rock strata.
Human fossils are found only in the very highest strata. This fossil sequence seems to correlate with the sequence in which life forms would be expected to evolve, according to evolutionists. This view obviously conflicts with the Genesis 1 biblical teaching that God created life on this planet during the Creation week.
Radiometric Dating and Deep Time. In addition to the fossil sequence in the geologic column, creationists are con fronted with the problem of the radiometric dating of these fossil-bearing rocks. Scientists rely on several techniques to arrive at dates for inorganic rocks. Some of these techniques include potassium/argon and uranium/lead dating methods. These methods seem to show that rocks get progressively older at deeper levels. Why this seems to be so is a challenge that confronts the creationists.
Aside from this, virtually all these different radiometric-dating techniques come up with very similar dates for any given layer of rocks. For example, no matter what radiometric dating technique is used, scientists find that the uppermost Cretaceous rocks (the end of the "Cretaceous" Period) date to about 65 million years. Scientists refer to this as a concordance of dating methods. The long ages that appear to be supported by radiometric data, thus constitute the most serious challenge to the biblical teaching of a recent six-day Creation.
Dealing with the challenges from science
How may Christians face this challenge? Many biblical scholars, including otherwise rather conservative evangelical Christians, have found the geologic and radiometric data so convincing that they have felt compelled to suggest that the original author of the Genesis Creation and Deluge accounts did not expect his readers to take literally or historically those biblical texts that speak of a recent six-day Creation and a global Flood.
They conclude, rather, that these passages should be reinterpreted in a nonliteral, nonhistorical manner. Thus, the days of Creation are not literal 24-hour days, and the Flood is only a local inundation and not a global catastrophe. The result of this interpretive approach generally leads to one of two positions progressive creationism or theistic evolution.
It is interesting to note that those who propose that Scripture should be reinterpreted to accommodate the findings of science generally tend to come from the "evangelical" ranks of Christianity. These scholars usually place a high value not only on Scripture and Jesus' saving ministry but also on science's ability to interpret and explain the world around us.
In evangelical scholarly literature, scholars who attempt to bring the consensus views of science into harmony with the Bible by reinterpreting the latter are sometimes referred to as "accommodationists." 3 But is this a good hermeneutical approach to Scripture?
Why accommodation doesn't work
Exegetical problems. One reason why Adventists have generally not found accommodation theory acceptable is that careful exegesis of the biblical text does not support such a position.
For example, the argument that the Genesis writer did not intend the six days to be taken literally as six 24-hour days, does not stand up to close scrutiny. 4 When the Hebrew text uses a definite (ordinal) number, it always means a literal 24-hour day. Even liberal exegetes such as Gerhard von Rad acknowledge: "The seven days [of Creation week] are unquestionably to be understood as actual days and as a unique, unrepeatable lapse in time in the world."5
Similarly, a study of Genesis 6-9 does not support the idea that the Flood was understood by both the original author and his audience to be only a local flood.6 The unique geographical expressions associated with the biblical Flood account, such as "the face of all the earth," the universal context of the Flood narrative within Genesis 1-11, and an analysis of the word for "flood" (mabbul, which expresses an undoing of creation) are among numerous reasons for believing the original writer intended to describe an expansive catastrophe and not a local event.
Again, even liberal exegetes such as von Rad, who don't accept the historicity of the Flood, acknowledge what the writer intended to say. According to von Rad, "We must understand the flood, therefore, as a catastrophe involving the entire cosmos."7
Thus, a careful exegesis of the original Hebrew text of Creation and Flood narratives shows this: The interpretation that the six days are figurative and that the Flood was only a local occurrence appears forced, and is motivated more by a desire to harmonize the under standing of science with the claims of the Bible than by a hope to get at the original meaning of the biblical text.
Philosophical problems. A second reason why Seventh-day Adventists have not accepted an accommodation theory is a reluctance to subjugate a clear reading of what the Bible says on origins to a purely scientific understanding.
Adventists do have a great respect for science, as is evident from the prominence science plays in their colleges, universities, and medical institutions. However, Adventists have refused to restrict their quest for truth to science. They have long held what many astute philosophers have said, that there are other methods (epistemologies) outside or beyond science for discerning truth. Science alone is not adequate to explore, understand, and analyze all aspects of human reality and experience.8
Adventists believe that it is rational and even essential to leave the door open to realities beyond what science itself is able to detect. These realities include God's existence, His creation of the universe, His personal and caring nature, His love, and His desire and ability to communicate to human beings through the Spirit, the Son, and the Bible. To Adventists, these concepts are not mere philosophical notions, but experiential reality, grounded in the teachings of Scripture itself.
When there is a conflict between the findings of science and the claims of Scripture, Adventists will respect the claims of science, study them, and hope for a resolution. This does not preclude an ongoing return to Scripture to verify if it is being properly understood. However, if a resolution is not immediately forthcoming, Adventists recognize that it is not valid to hold Scripture's claims hostage to the assertions of science (Col. 2:8; 1 Tim. 6:20).
Theological problems. A third, and perhaps the most important, reason why Adventists have been reluctant to accept the accommodation theory is the theological implication this approach holds for key Christian beliefs, especially the trustworthiness of the Bible, the relationship of the entrance of sin to our planet, the origin of death, and the relationship of the fall of humanity to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Each of these is related and thus inevitably affected by an effort to accommodate a less literal understanding of Genesis 1-11.
As we have seen, the accommodationist position requires questionable exegetical approaches that seem to go well beyond what the writers of Scripture intended. Adventists recognize the challenges that come with reading a text that was written years ago in a very different historical and cultural setting, and in ancient languages. That is why they train their scholars and ministers to become adept in those skills necessary for good interpretation.
These skills alert careful Bible students to the great lengths that some scholars go to to explain away the clear meaning of the text; these stretched interpretations appropriately strike the average reader as suspect. Adventists prefer to give the benefit of doubt to the Bible's testimony about its trustworthiness.
Furthermore, Adventists hold that God is quite capable of effectively communicating to the average human being through His Word (Isa. 43:10-12). The challenges of science are not enough to dissuade Adventists from accepting what the Word of God clearly says. Therefore, we continue to believe in a Creator who created life on this planet in six literal 24-hour days.
The second theological concern with the accommodationist position is that acceptance of the evolutionary interpretation of the origin of the geologic column and fossil record requires the dismissal of the biblical position that death came into this world as a result of sin (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 5:12).9
According to evolutionary presupposition, humans have appeared on the world stage only in the most recent phase of evolution, preceded by mil lions of years in which only animals lived and died on the planet. According to these assumptions, death had long been a companion of the life forms of this planet. Before the human Fall described in Scripture, the death that is proclaimed by the Bible to have been sin's inseparable companion, existed on the planet.
The argument of some that the Bible is concerned only with human death is contradicted by, and is seriously incongruent with, Paul's argument (Rom. 8:20-22) that it was human sin that brought about death on this planet a death that affected the entire creation (ktisis) and plunged this world into a bondage of decay.
Some Old Testament scholars have persuasively argued that the violence (comas) that filled the earth prior to the Flood, was concerned as much with animals as humans (Gen. 6:11-13; 9:5, 9-11; note that the post-Flood Noachian covenant included capital punishment for animals that kill human beings!).
Perhaps the most serious theological challenge that accommodation theory poses to the Christian who holds to the more literal-historical view of the biblical account of origins, is that it questions the foundational reason for humanity's need for Christ the historic chronicle of the Fall.
Through the ages Christians have understood that the main biblical reason for being Christian is that they have accepted Christ as their Savior from sin. Sin is a historic reality that has reigned since Adam and Eve's fall (Rom. 5:12, 19), a fall completely enmeshed in the Creation account of Genesis, and a fall from which Jesus Christ came to save or redeem humankind.
Theologians have hotly debated exactly how this happened and what it means the debate over "original sin" is part of this discussion. While a full discussion of original sin is beyond the scope of our discussion here, Adventist position has been well summarized: "Adventists do not stress the idea of original sin in the sense that 'personal, individual moral guilt adheres to Adam's descendants because of his [Adam's] sin.
They stress, instead, that his sin resulted in the condition of estrangement from God in which every human being is born. This estrangement involves an inherent tendency to commit sin.'" 10
This statement, based on careful examination of the Scriptural evidence, shows that belief in the historic Fall is essential to the Adventist understanding of salvation. It is this sinful condition that resulted from the historic Fall humanity's estrangement from God and their inherent tendency to commit sin that necessitates humanity's acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior.
That acceptance includes a belief in the efficacy of Christ's actual death on the cross the shedding of His blood for humanity and His literal, physical resurrection. By its nature, theistic evolution has no place for a historic Adam and Eve, or for a historic Fall.
To fully appreciate this, it is important to understand how most physical anthropologists explain the origin of humans. In brief, they do not believe that a single pair of human beings evolved into existence. Rather, it was an entire population of hominids that some how became isolated from a "parent" population, and due to a variety of factors, evolved into a new species that they define as the "first" modern humans.
Some theologians immediately recognized the implications of this view of human origins and suggested a variety of solutions: Some saw the fall of an entire population; others redefined "fall"; and still others suggested that God picked two of these new, modern hominids and infused them with a "soul," making them truly human, after which the two chose to rebel against God.
There are still other explanations, but all of them have emerged from the springs of speculation, outside of the biblical text. They require rather creative "exegesis," and pose as many theological problems as they solve. The only common thread among them is that they agree that the biblical depiction of the Fall cannot be understood in the simple manner in which the text reads.
Adventists, on the other hand, find the biblical position on Creation, sin, the Fall, the plan of redemption as wrought by Jesus on the cross, and the eschatological eradication of sin the most complete, convincing, and satisfying explanation of the mysteries of life.
Thus we see that the biblical doctrine of Creation does not revolve simply around the question of long and short chronology. Rather, all aspects of the biblical view of Creation, including the idea of a six-day Creation and a global Flood, are inseparably interconnected to other teachings that reach right into the heart of what Christianity is all about Christ's ability to save humanity by His death on the cross.
While there is no doubt that many findings from the world of science challenge the biblical view of origins, the Creation view cannot simply be cast aside so that the church looks scientifically credible the theological stakes are too high. These stakes include nothing less than the efficacy of Christ's death on the cross for humanity.
Moreover, Seventh-day Adventists believe that this question will be one of the defining issues that will identify God's eschatological people. The call of the first angel of Revelation 14:6, 7, is to "Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and the springs of water." It is a call for our time a time when God's very existence is questioned by so many, and yet a time when God has never been more needed,
1 Recent works that deal with these issues in detail include: Leonard Brand, Faith, Reason and Earth History (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University, 1997); Arial Roth, Origins (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1998).
2 It is not just the secular scientific community that rejects the idea of a recent, six-day Creation and a global Flood. An increasing number of Christians who otherwise may share Adventism's high view of Scripture also question the historicity of these two
biblical events. Indeed, these positions are now almost unique to Seventh-day Adventism.
3 For a definition of "accommodation," see Van A. Harvey, A Handbook of Theological Terms (New York: Macmillan), 12.
4 See Gerhard F. Ilasel, "The 'Days' of Creation in Genesis 1: Literal 'Days' or Figurative 'Periods/Epochs' of Time," in Creation, Catastrophe and Calvary, ed. John Templeton Baldwin (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2000), 40-68.
5 Gerhard von Rad, "The Biblical Story of Creation," in God at Work in Israel (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), 99.
6 See Richard M. Davidson, "Biblical Evidence for the Universality of the Genesis Flood" in Baldwin, ed., 79-92.
7 Von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1972), 128.
8 For an insightful discussion of this see J. P. Moreland, Christianity and the Nature of Science (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1989).
9 For a fuller discussion of this problem see John T. Baldwin, "The Geologic Column and Calvary: The Rainbow Connection" in Baldwin,108-123; and Marco T. Terreros, Theistic Evolution and Its Theological Implications, Andrews University Ph.D. dissertation, 1994.
10 John M. Fowler, "Sin" in Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology, ed. Raoul Dederen (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2000), 265.