Amid the current discussion about the early chapters of Genesis, some have suggested that belief about origins is not a big deal. I disagree. What we believe about Creation matters greatly because our belief in Creation has far-reaching implications for other doctrines and practices as well.
What are those implications, and what can result from rejecting the biblical position on origins?
Scripture has a position
The first reason that what we believe about Creation matters is that the Bible sets forth a clear position on it; and the Adventist Church accepts Scripture as authoritative. We need, therefore, to advocate the biblical position. Passages throughout Scripture are consistent with, and supportive of, the description in Genesis that God began life on earth by creating all original life forms over one literal week.1 Exodus 20:11 declares, “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.”2 Additionally, Psalm 33:6 proclaims, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.” And verse 9 of the same chapter asserts, “For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.”
Whenever the Bible alludes to the Creation story in Genesis, the Scriptures depict Creation as a reliable portrayal of life’s origins.3 In light of this consistency, there is no credible way to be faithful to a high view of Scripture and hold to an alternative concept of creation, such as progressive creation or theistic evolution.
Because the Bible takes a clear position on this matter, grave implications exist if the Adventist Church abandons the biblical position in an attempt to agree with the current interpretations of science. One of the most obvious is that if Scripture is untrustworthy on this point, what else, among its teachings, should be doubted, modified, and discarded? The Bible’s status as the revealed Word of God is thus in jeopardy.
Jesus took a position
A second reason why it matters what we believe about Creation follows the first naturally: Jesus had a position on Creation, and the church’s position should be in harmony. What did Jesus teach about Creation? In Matthew 19:4, Jesus—clearly drawing from the biblical Creation account—asks, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female?”
With this statement, Jesus affirms the biblical position that the first two humans were created, male and female, at the beginning and by a direct act of God. By contrast, progressive creation, theistic evolution, or some other variant, contend that animal life went on for long periods before humans even came into existence. None of these views hold that humans were created directly by God at the time life began.
Should the Adventist Church turn away from the biblical teaching on Creation, it would also be turning away from Jesus’ view on origins. This move would involve a rejection of the hermeneutics of Jesus. In contrast, our fervent desire should be to follow the same approach to Scripture that Jesus used. Jesus, the Lord of Creation, must be our Model and Guide for understanding the Creation story.
Relationship to the plan of salvation
A third reason is that the Bible’s doctrine of creation is integrally tied in with its teaching about salvation. 4 The great story of redemption, the theme of the entire Bible, is intimately related to the Creation account.
According to Scripture, God created the world perfect, harmonious, lovely, and free of any taint of sin or death. Because Adam and Eve sinned, they and their descendants became alienated from God. Consequently, death, the penalty for sin, spread over the entire created world. But God enacted a plan: through the gift of His Son, all people have the opportunity to be redeemed and overcome death, the “last enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26).
Romans 5:12 is key, because it unambiguously states that death came into this world through sin. The clear implication is that, prior to sin, there was no death. Simply put, death was not a part of the original creation.
All other positions on creation maintain that death has been part and parcel of this world ever since the first and simplest forms of life. Not only has death been ever-present in this world, it also played an essential role in the process by which higher life forms evolved. In other words, death, far from being an enemy and an alien force, was God’s modus operandi in creation.
Thus, at their core, these alternative theories, if embraced, would destroy our basic understanding of salvation.
Foreshadows the new earth
The fourth reason why it matters what we believe about Creation is that the biblical portrayal of the new earth in the last book of Scripture, Revelation, parallels the description of God’s original creation. Eschatology echoes its protology.5 Just as the tree of life was in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:9), so it will be in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 22:2). God personally interacted with His children in Eden, sharing His presence with them in a very real way, and such will be the case also in the new earth (Rev. 21:3). As the original world was said by God Himself to be “very good” (Gen. 1:31), implying it was without sin, suffering, and death, so the earth restored will be devoid of these same elements (Rev. 21:4). The earth at the beginning had a source of light apart from the sun (cf. Gen. 1:3–5, 14–16), and the same is true of the new earth (Rev. 22:5). According to Scripture, the earth restored will be like the earth at the beginning.
In contrast, none of the alternative creation accounts believes in the existence of a good and perfect world at the beginning. All depict a world where suffering and death are part of the equation. Whether progressive creation, theistic evolution, or some other variant, none believe that a world devoid of suffering and death ever existed.
I was talking with a fellow pastor who took a position on origins that involved long ages of predation and death in the animal kingdom before human existence.
“According to this view,” I asked, “when did the world, described in Genesis, a world free of suffering and death, exist?”
His reply was illuminating. He said (and at least he was consistent with the position he was espousing), “I suppose one would have to say it existed only as an ideal in the mind of God.”
If so, is it possible that the new earth, as described in Scripture, will exist only as an ideal in the mind of God? If there never was a perfect world at the beginning, in which none of the effects of sin were present, how can we be certain that a perfect world will be a future reality? We, in fact, cannot.
Implications for the character of God
The fifth reason why what we believe about Creation matters is the implications about the character of God, which are at the heart of the great controversy, the ongoing battle between good and evil. What is more central to the character of God other than His benevolence, goodness, graciousness—and love (1 John 4:8)?
How do we know that love is at the core of God’s being? Many things could be emphasized, such as the plan of salvation. God also demonstrated His loving character through Creation. He formed a wonderful, magnificent world and gave it to His human children. He placed them in a beautiful garden in which they could thrive and prosper. He blessed them and gave them dominion (see Gen. 1; 2). Nothing that could have added to their happiness or fulfillment was lacking. Clearly, God’s character of love was on display in the world He created.
But what if someone does not accept the biblical record and instead embraces a view such as progressive creation? Because all alternative views on origins hold that God used the process of natural selection over long ages to get to more advanced forms of life, these other views raise grave questions about God’s character. How can we say that God is loving, kind, and benevolent if He used the “law of claw and fang” to create? Is a God who would make extensive use of predation and extinction in order get to advanced life forms a good and loving God worthy of worship and service? If there never was a world in which perfection reigned, in which death, suffering, pain, disease, tragedy, and death were nonexistent, the question could be asked, What kind of God do we really serve?
Implications for the worth of humans The sixth reason why it matters what we believe about Creation is what it teaches about humanity and human worth.
We as humans have worth and value because of the truth proclaimed in the first chapter of the Bible. Genesis 1:26, 27 states, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Sometimes verses of Scripture become so familiar that the profound truths they express cease to impress us. It would be tragic should that be true of this passage. What a majestic and profound thought, that humans are a direct creation of God, formed in His own image!
Other perspectives on human origins see us as the result of a long chain of development, moving from invertebrates to vertebrates, progressing from reptiles to birds to mammals. Should a view like this be adopted, one might be tempted to conclude with Stephen Jay Gould: “Why do humans exist? . . . I do not think that any ‘higher’ answer can be given. We are the offspring of history and must establish our own paths in this most diverse and interesting of conceivable universes—one indifferent to our suffering, and therefore offering us maximal freedom to thrive or to fail, in our own chosen way.”6
What we teach about the origin of humans has a pronounced impact on how humans will view and conduct themselves. It is sadly ironic that in science classrooms all across the world, young people are taught that humans are the direct descendants of apelike ancestors, and then when the bell rings and with the class dismissed, these same students go to a class that attempts to build their self-esteem and encourages them to have good ethics. The connection is there, articulated so succinctly by Barbara Reynolds in her USA Today op-ed piece titled “If Your Kids Go Ape in School, You’ll Know Why.”7
The only perspective on origins that truly values humans as children of God, formed in His own image, comes from the biblical Creation story. Therefore, it remains vital that the Adventist Church continue to embrace this perspective.
Implications for the Sabbath
The seventh reason why it matters what we believe about Creation is the Sabbath. If we adopt another view on origins and are consistent with that view, following it to its logical conclusion, the Sabbath is shorn of its biblical foundation and loses some of its theological significance. For example, according to progressive creation, long ages elapsed in the history of this earth before humans arrived. At the various major transition points, such as from reptiles to birds and from birds to mammals, God stepped in and performed a creative act.
But what can one say about the Sabbath? If there was no Creation week, as stated in the Bible, when did God rest? The assertions of Genesis 2:2, 3 that God “rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done” and that He “blessed the seventh day and made it holy” become merely a theological metaphor with no historical reality. Or, as some biblical skeptics suggest, they may be the statements of a later Israelite who wanted to make the Sabbath seem more convincing and important by foisting it onto the literary account describing the first week of this planet’s history. Thus, the Sabbath is no memorial of Creation but merely a Jewish institution that some unknown, but resourceful, individual wanted to link with Creation.
Are the declarations of Genesis 2:2, 3 true or not? If not, how should we understand the statement of Jesus in Mark 2:27 that “the Sabbath was made for man,” in which our Lord seems to make a clear reference to the setting aside of the Sabbath for humans at the beginning of earth’s history?
As Seventh-day Adventists, we value and treasure the Sabbath day as a memorial of our Lord’s rest from His creative work in Eden; as a memorial of His rest from His redemptive work on the cross, and, as Hebrews 4 suggests, as a foretaste of the ultimate rest we will experience in the kingdom of God. Such theological richness about the Sabbath is diminished if we reject the biblical account of origins.
Ultimately, God gives us the choice about what we believe. We are thus confronted with this fundamental question: Will we accept the Creation story as related in His Word, or will we embrace one of the various alternative positions? Do we opt for a God who, over long periods of time, with minimal involvement, supervised a process by which advanced life forms gradually evolved through pain, suffering, and death? Or do we choose the Lord of Creation described in the Bible, who formed a world that was perfect and beautiful and promises to restore us to that original perfection and beauty?
Upon our answer, a great deal depends.
1 For a survey and brief exposition of biblical verses outside of Genesis that deal with Creation, see William H. Shea, “Creation,” in Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology, ed. Raoul Dederen (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2000), 428–436.
2 Unless otherwise indicated, biblical passages in this article are quoted from the English Standard Version.
3 There are many verses and passages in the Bible that refer to Creation, and all of them build upon the teaching of Creation in Genesis, assuming its validity and reliability. These include Job 38; Pss. 104; 8:5–8; Isa. 40:26–28; 42:5; 44:24; 45:12, 18; 48:13; Jer. 10:11, 12; 27:5; 51:15, 16; 32:17; 2 Cor. 4:6; and Heb. 4:4.
4 For a fine volume that emphasizes the relationship of Creation and the Flood to the plan of salvation, see John Templeton Baldwin, ed., Creation, Castastrophe, & Calvary (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2000).
5 For a good presentation of the theological nexus between the beginning and the end, see Michael G. Hasel, “In the Beginning . . . The Relationship Between Protology and Eschatology,” in The Cosmic Battle for Planet Earth, eds. Ron du Preez and Jiri Moskala (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University, 2003), 17–32.
6 Stephen J. Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1989), 322, 323.
7 Barbara Reynolds, “If Your Kids Go Ape in School, You’ll Know Why,” USA Today, August 27, 1993, 11.