Genesis is not simple & interpretations have varied

Although the text appears quite simple, our community’s conflicting views on Genesis 1 prove the shifting sands of Christadelphian interpretation cannot be relied on; we have never arrived at an interpretation with which we can all agree. Even the apparently simple description of the creation of man is sufficiently ambiguous that brother Roberts said it is unclear how it actually happened.

“GENERAL PRINCIPLE.—That God made man of the dust of the ground. Uncertain Detail.—But as to whether it was a direct action of the Father’s formative energy, after the manner in which sound creates geometric figures in sand scattered loosely upon a tightly extended vibrating surface? or by the expert manipulation of angelic hands, we cannot be sure. There are grounds for a strong opinion in favour of the latter, but it would be unwarrantable to insist on the reception of that opinion as a condition of fellowship. It is sufficient if the brother or sister believe that “God made man of the dust of the ground.””[1]

Christadelphian theories about what Genesis 1 teaches have varied widely throughout our history. Even the earliest interpretations contain a range of different views; one pre-Adamic creation (brother Thomas), many pre-Adamic creations (brothers Roberts and Simons), the universe created in a mere six literal days (brothers Thomas and Roberts), or only the creation of the area of the earth to be inhabited by Adam created in six days (brother Jardine), or the six days were long ages (brother Walker). In the 1960s, many Christadelphians decided all these previous Christadelphian views were wrong, and adopted the Young Earth Creation view borrowed from the evangelicals.

This constant disagreement among Christadelphians (including over the timeframe) demonstrates that the interpretation of Genesis 1 is not as simple as we might imagine; after 150 years our community has at least half a dozen different interpretations deemed acceptable, but we still can’t all agree on what the chapter means.

Christadelphians concede

In 1964 an article in The Christadelphian noted that the ‘Big Bang’ model of the universe was competing with an alternative scientific view, and dismissed the Big Bang as yet another passing whim.[2] But twenty years later, an article in The Christadelphian acknowledged the Big Bang theory had not gone away and was now considered well established; the article went on to say the Big Bang is ‘a theory which may be said to be compatible with the Biblical concept of creation’, concluding ‘Thus man has proved creation but declines to believe it!’.[3]

Ironically, the article also advised ‘For ourselves, let us not be distracted by the moods of men of learning, which are notoriously changeable’,[4] when over that twenty years scientists supporting the Big Bang theory had remained firm in their views, whilst Christadelphian views published in The Christadelphian had shifted from complete rejection to qualified acceptance; we were the ones who proved to be changeable, not the scientists. Just five years later, an article in The Christadelphian was openly endorsing the Big Bang, exhorting readers ‘let us also accept that our planet arose, with others, as the cooling dust and debris arising from the Big Bang coalesced; that it was consolidated by gravitational forces, and settled down in orbit around the sun’.[5]

The Christadelphian concession was complete; science had stood firmly on one conclusion for decades, while Christadelphian interpretations of Genesis wavered and shifted, eventually conceding victory to the very scientific conclusion which had once been dismissed. All this proves the shifting sands of Christadelphian interpretation cannot be relied on; we must turn to God’s own record of His handiwork to guide us. It also shows our community is still in need of a Biblically consistent interpretation of Genesis 1 which does not ignore established science. We have spent 150 years reading Genesis 1, and we still can’t agree on what it means; meanwhile we have been compelled to acknowledge science has progressed further its understanding of the universe than we have in our understanding of Genesis 1. This should warn us against being dogmatic in the face of established science.

Facing the facts

In 1965 brother Ralph Lovelock’s series of lecture notes in 1965 became the focus of widespread attention. In The Christadelphian magazine, editor brother Sargent critiqued the notes and brother Lovelock replied, while many letters from other brothers and sisters on the notes were published in the magazine.

Significantly, brother Sargent recognized that some new form of reconciliation of Scripture with the current scientific knowledge, was absolutely necessary. Whilst disagreeing with brother Lovelock’s interpretation of Scripture, brother Sargent acknowledged without dispute that ‘there is abundant evidence of early “man” at a time which certainly appears to be far beyond the limits allowed by Bible chronology’.[6] Brother Sargent found brother Lovelock’s proposed reconciliation scientifically unconvincing and Biblically unsupportable, but argued a solution must be found. Watford Ecclesia withdrew fellowship from brother Lovelock, though with great reluctance and much regret. Nevertheless their committee expressed honestly their recognition of the problem which brother Lovelock had attempted to solve, urging greater study of the issue in order to seek a solution.

‘At the same time, we are strongly of the opinion that the problems that undoubtedly exist should be frankly admitted by us as a community, for we do naught but dishonour to the word of God by pretending that these problems are not there. Our Brotherhood bears a responsibility to those in search of Scripture truth, and especially to those of tender years, to turn its attention to the solving of these difficulties in an atmosphere of calm, sincere, conscientious study, unhindered by the rumours, mistrust, suspicion and hasty judgments that have been all too prevalent among us in recent times.’[7]

Nearly 50 years later the issue is even more pressing, and a solution must be found.
__________________________________________________________

[1] Roberts, ‘True Principles & Uncertain Details’, The Christadelphian (35.407.183), 1898; nevertheless, brother Roberts did not accept evolution and certainly did not write this to encourage fellowship of anyone who did.

[2] ‘Theories of the origin of the universe have followed one another in succession since the eighteenth century, each being rejected in turn. Today the controversy continues between the “big bang” and “steady state” theories, each having an eminent Cambridge professor as its protagonist. The point of all this is to show how far from the truth is the supposition that scientists are reading the book of nature as Bible students read the book of revelation.’, ‘Science, Revelation and Origins’, The Christadelphian (102.1217.509), 1965.

[3] ‘After toying with various theories of the origin of the universe, quite recently scientists have expressed themselves confident of the so-called ‘Big Bang’ theory, according to which the universe began in an immense explosion, a fireball which has sent matter hurtling to the boundaries of space ever since. It is a theory which may be said to be compatible with the Biblical concept of creation, and creationists have seized upon it to show how the Bible and science may be reconciled. Thus man has proved creation but declines to believe it!’ “Signs of the Times: AND KNOWLEDGE SHALL BE INCREASED”, The Christadelphian (121.1441.264), 1984.

[4] Ibid., p. 265.

[5] ‘Of course, some things may indeed have occurred by gradual change: what we stated in an earlier article about the development of galaxies and the natural history of stars may be acceptable; until we have other evidence, let us also accept that our planet arose, with others, as the cooling dust and debris arising from the ‘Big Bang’ coalesced; that it was consolidated by gravitational forces, and settled down in orbit around the sun.’ , Morris, ‘Science and the Disciple: 11 – “Or Ever Thou Hadst Formed The Earth”‘, The Christadelphian (126.1506.453), 1989.

[6]Let two things be granted. First, that bro. Lovelock accepts fully the Biblical evidence as to chronology, after allowing for the uncertainty which results from the divergence between the Masoretic and Samaritan texts and the Septuagint. Secondly, that there is abundant evidence of early “man” at a time which certainly appears to be far beyond the limits allowed by Bible chronology. This must be admitted even after discounting the slender and uncertain remains claimed for a still more remote antiquity, about which there have been such notorious blunders and even downright fraud.’, Sargent, ‘”The Origin of Man”’, The Christadelphian (102.1214.344), 1965.

[7] Watford Committee (Clark, Cooper, Dean, Driver, Egerton, Johnson, Smart, Tennant), ‘Statement From the Watford Ecclesia’, The Christadelphian (103.1230.543-544), 1965.

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One thought on “Genesis is not simple & interpretations have varied

  1. Joe Coutts

    Thank you. In all honesty these details ought to be more widely known.
    We can be very selective in how we react to others’ arguements, even in everyday exchanges.
    To disfellowship a brother and then seek a convincing solution seems to be sadly political, or ‘resolved’ due to imagined peer pressure.
    What heartache and soul searching has been inflicted in the name of fellowship: or I might say disfellowship.
    I have had this example quoted at me when I have discussed similar alternatives to Genesis 1 & 2.
    Why so many spend precious time trying to prove others wrong is a mystery to me.

    Like

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