|Vol. 10, No. 2||© James B. Jordan, 1998||February, 1998|
DR. WALTKE ON GENESIS ONE, CONCLUDED
by James B. Jordan
Dr. Waltke now turns to the process and progress of creation. The process he notes as the acts of God in bringing creation into its full and finished form. The progress he associates with parallels between the first three and the second three days of creation. As we have seen in previous essays, this set of associations, which Dr. Waltke says goes back to Herder (c. 1750), does not really work. In fact, the seven days are structured chiastically.
Now Dr. Waltke turns to the third part of his essay, the "genre" of Genesis 1. He quickly dismisses the notions that Genesis 1 is either a hymn or a liturgy or a myth. He then turns to the question of whether Genesis 1 is to be taken as history, and he answers that question "yes and no."
He rightly notes that Genesis 1 is linked to the history that follows it. Chapters 2:4-4:26 and 5:1-6:8 contain numerous allusions to Genesis 1. Genesis 1 is historical, he affirms, in the sense of saying God made everything to start with.
On the other hand, writes Dr. Waltke, the author of Genesis 1 "is just as clearly not giving us in his prologue a straight-forward, sequential history" (p. 6). He continues by writing that Henry Morris is wrong to write: "The creation account is clear, definite, sequential, and matter-of-fact, giving every appearance of straightforward historical narrative." Dr. Waltke writes that "the text, however, is begging us not to read it in this way."
Now this is a bold claim. According to Dr. Waltke, it should be clear to any unbiased reader that Genesis 1 is not to be taken as a sequence of normal days. We may ask at the outset: If this is true, then why have the vast majority of commentators and theologians in the history of the Church read it that way? How could they all miss something so obvious?
With this in mind, let us look at the factors in the text that, according to Dr. Waltke, "beg" us not to take the passage as an historical narrative.
First, he writes, "such a reading creates an irreconcilable contradiction between the prologue of Genesis and the supplemental creation account in Genesis 2:4-25" (p. 7, emphasis his). Before looking at just what this contradiction amounts to, notice that Dr. Waltke has called Genesis 1 a "prologue" and Genesis 2 a "supplementary creation account." This in itself prejudices the discussion. Sure, Genesis 1 is a prologue to the whole Bible, and Genesis 1-2 is a prologue to the whole Bible, and so is Genesis 1-3. And so is Genesis 1-4. And Genesis 1-5. Ezekiel is a prologue to the Gospels. But Genesis 1 is far more than a prologue. Similarly, Genesis 2 is not a "supplementary creation account." Historically, the Church has understood Genesis 2 as an amplification of events of the sixth day, not as a creation account of any kind.
Dr. Waltke lists a series of things that are said to have happened in the "supplementary creation account." First, "between the creation of man (2:7) and the creation of woman (2:18-25), God planted a garden (2:8); caused its trees to grow...." (p. 7) Dr. Waltke asks, "Are we to put our imaginations in fast-forward and see its trees as growing to maturity and bearing fruit" in a very short span of time? He asserts that when the text of Genesis 2:8-9 says God "planted" and "caused to grow," this implies normal growth, not an extraordinary quick growth. He contrasts such normal growth with the immediacy of Jesus' turning water into wine.
Well, what if this were true? Did Adam stand on the Edenic plateau for 30 years and watch the Garden grow up? If not, does Dr. Waltke also deny the historicity of Genesis 2? Was Eve not, in fact, made from Adam's side while he slept? Did two such people as Adam and Eve ever really exist?
According to Genesis 2, God made Adam, and then planted the Garden-Orchard, obviously while Adam watched. Adam learned what it meant to tend the world by watching his Father. As for the trees springing up rapidly, what's so strange about that? If we compare it not with the miracle at Cana but with the multiplication of loaves, we can see that God does do "miracles of acceleration."
Thus, contrary to Dr. Waltke, everything in the passage indicates that the Garden sprang up very quickly, just like the grains and fruit trees of Genesis 1:11-12.
Dr. Waltke continues, second, by writing that after God planted the Garden he "caused a heavenly river to flow from the top of Mount Eden through the garden whereupon it divided into four rivers flowing to the four corners of the earth (2:10)." But the text of Genesis 2 does not say this. It only says that a river was flowing out of Eden, etc. The river may well have been flowing since Day 3 of Genesis 1. Indeed, it almost certainly had been.
Then, third, he writes that God "apparently, before he built the woman, formed the birds and animals (v. 19), and the man named them all (v. 20)." Supposedly this contradicts the account in Genesis 1, wherein the birds and beasts were made before man. Once again, however, there is no good reason to read the text this way. For one thing, only birds and wild beasts were "formed" and brought to Adam. This implies that the tame animals ("cattle") were already in the Garden with him. And this state of affairs tells us in what sense God "formed" the birds and beasts. The verb does not necessarily mean that God made the birds and beasts on this occasion, or even that He made a few extra ones for Adam to name. Rather, He "formed" them, pressed them together, in the sense of bringing them together in one place. He collected them. They needed to be collected because they were wild, not domestic, animals. It is normally assumed that God did the same thing when He collected the animals to Noah for the ark.
Dr. Waltke then quotes Gleason Archer's exclamation: "Who can imagine that all these transactions could possibly have taken place in 120 minutes of the sixth day (or even within twenty-four hours, for that matter)?" (Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction [Chicago: Moody Press, 1964), p. 192.)
Well, anyone can imagine it:
6:00 am God makes the animals.
6:01 am God takes counsel with Himself to make man.
6:02 am God makes Adam. Forming him of dust takes one minute.
6:05 am After talking with Adam for a minute, God starts to plant the garden.
6:10 am The garden is completed.
6:11 am God puts Adam in the garden.
6:12 am God warns Adam about the forbidden tree.
6:13 am Adam has breakfast.
6:30 am God decides to make Eve.
6:31 am God brings the animals to Adam to name. They are brought by
"kinds," so not every specific species, let alone every individual,
is brought. Let's say that it takes Adam eight hours to name them
all, male and female, with a half hour lunch break. (This is probably
far too long at time.) This brings us to
3:00 pm Adam takes a nap.
3:28 pm Adam wakes up and meets Eve.
3:29 pm God speaks to Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:28-30)
3:30 pm We still have two and half hours to sunset.
Now, what's so hard about that?
Then Dr. Waltke explains that from time to time the Bible presents things in summaries, and then expands upon them, so that the narratives are dischronologized. Of course. In fact, the account of creation week runs all the way through the seventh day, before going back and picking up the sixth and seventh days in more detail in chapters 2 & 3. The fact that Bible passages are sometimes dischronologized does not mean that they are not historically accurate, or are not to be taken as history.
Then Dr. Waltke turns to his second line of evidence that shows Genesis 1 is obviously not historical. He writes: "A straightforward reading of Genesis 1:4 and 14 leads to the incompatible notions that the sun was created on the first day and again on the fourth day" (p. 7, emphasis his). Now, how on earth does Dr. Waltke get this? We are clearly told that the Spirit of God was hovering over the earth on the first day, and then that light came forth. Rather obviously, the light came from the Spirit, who always appears in a shekinah glory of light in the Bible. There is absolutely no reason to think that the sun was made on the first day.
Dr. Waltke becomes even more insistent when he writes: "Furthermore, verse 14 cannot be reconciled readily with verses 5, 8, and 13. Our narrator begs us not to read him in a straightforward, sequential account by marking off three days (vv. 5, 8, 13), each with its own `evening and morning,' before narrating that on the fourth day God created `the luminaries . . .. to separate the day from the night, and . . . to mark . . . days (v. 14). A sequential reading of the text lacks cogency. How can there be three days characterized by day and night before the creation of the luminaries to separate the day from the night and to mark off the days? Are we clueless?"
Well, we can certainly see once again that Dr. Waltke thinks it is obvious that Genesis 1 is not to be read in the traditional way, but is he right? Well, no. We are told that on the first day, after God sent forth light, He distinguished night and day, evening and morning. This clearly means that there was an alternation of darkness and light on the three days before the luminaries were made and appointed to take up the role of ruling day and night. There is nothing difficult or strained about reading the text this way. In fact, if we read it sentence by sentence, absorbing each statement as it comes, this is the plain and obvious meaning of Genesis 1. The sun replaced the glory-light on the fourth day. The cycle of night and day was in place before the sun was made. What's so hard about that?
Finally, third, Dr. Waltke offers as his third argument that Genesis 1 is obviously not historical narrative: "the language of our creation narrative is figurative, anthropomorphic, not plain." He asserts that the vantage point of the narrator is with God in heaven, and so Genesis 1 is designed to represent things taking place in that transcendent sphere. He quotes John Stek as observing, "What occurs in the arena of God's actions can be storied after the manner of human events, but accounts of `events' in that arena are fundamentally different in kind from all forms of historiography." (Stek, "What Says the Scripture," in Portraits of Creation , p. 236.)
Now, such assertions as these sound profound, but they have more to do with Barthianism than with orthodox Christianity. For one thing, Genesis 1 is about the creation of this world, not some other world. Regardless of "vantage point," it is not describing events in some transcendent realm. For another thing, the so-called transcendent realm of heaven is itself a created place, where the angels dwell with God, and where the saints now dwell with Him also. Is it really so radically different from the earthly realm that nothing can be said about it except metaphorically? What kinds of presuppositions would lead to such a notion?
Dr. Waltke concludes this section by writing, "To be sure the six days in the Genesis creation account are our twenty-four hour days, but they are metaphorical representations of a reality beyond human comprehension and imitation." To which we have to reply: Who says? Where is there even a hint in the narrative of Genesis 1 that this is the case? As we have seen, nowhere.
Dr. Waltke concludes his article with a few remarks about science, which are neither here nor there for our purposes. He concludes that Genesis 1 is a "literary-artistic representation of creation" (p. 9).
We conclude that Dr. Waltke has provided no reasons at all for taking Genesis 1 in anything other than as a straightforward narrative of the first seven twenty-four hour days of the universe in which we live.
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