How important is a literal creation account for one’s theology? If the creation account were not literally true, it was either just Moses’ conjecture or it was a myth he repeated. If what we read in Genesis 1–11 were not literally true, what difference would it make for us a Bible-believing Christians?
Self-professed evangelicals are increasingly saying, “It matters very little to the central tenants of the faith whether it is literally true or not.” While all evangelicals assert that God is the “Creator,” a surprising number of theologians downplay the theological significance of the Genesis creation account (Dunham, 2018).
For example, while agreeing that the biblical data favors young-earth creationism, Wayne Grudem argues that “both ‘Old Earth’ and ‘Young Earth’ theories are valid options for Christians who believe the Bible today” (Grudem 2000, 297). Another conservative theologian likewise suggests in his Systematic Theology that evangelicals need only affirm the truthfulness of Genesis 1–2 but are well-advised not to hold tightly to a position on the age of the earth (Culver 2013, 163). And Canadian astrophysicist and founder of the old-earth creationist organization Reasons to Believe, Hugh Ross, warningly insists that “many skeptics [i.e. unbelievers] who need solid evidence to resolve their doubts [i.e. about Christianity] remain untouched by the claims of Christ” because they see evangelical Christians as “nonthinkers or even as antiscience or anti-rational” (Ross 2015. 16–17). He means that those who hold to a literal understanding of the Creation account are keeping people from coming to faith in Christ because of that belief.
Is belief in a literal creation account all that important? So what’s the problem, theologically speaking, if the creation account were not literally true? What fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith stand or fall with a literal creation account?
Very coincidentally, Trinity International University in Deerfield, IL is conducting a conference that started on Wednesday and ends today entitled “The Doctrine of Creation: Theological Significance and Implications.” In an introductory blogpost about the conference, one of the leaders in the EFCA writes, “Specifically, we consider how affirming the truth of God’s creation affects us, human beings created in the imago Dei, the image of God, who are the culmination of God’s creation. The doctrine of creation is foundational not just for beginnings, but also for endings, and additionally for everything in between” (Strand 2019). As Ken Ham states it, “Genesis teaches us more than mere history, but not less than history. And the literal history is critical to what it teaches us about God, man, sin, marriage, etc. We must let God speak to us and not in any way allow fallible man’s ideas to be imposed on Scripture” (Ham 2014).
In a very summary fashion, I want to argue that belief in a literal Creation account is essential to our theological conclusions in several significant ways. Orthodox theological beliefs are predicated on a literal creation account. While I cannot touch on all the theological implications of the Creation account, I will touch on several categories of systematic theology which are affected by one’s understanding of the information recorded in the Genesis account of Creation. If we get our belief about Creation wrong, our fundamental beliefs in other areas will be seriously undermined.
First, a literal Creation account is essential for an orthodox understanding of Bibliology – what we understand about God’s Word.
2 Peter 1:20–21 (NASBU) – But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” [All Bible quotations are taken from the NASB-U]
We know that our understanding of Bibliology is the fundamental issue that will inform and guide all of our discussions on all aspects of truth. But my focus today is not upon the accuracy of the Manuscripts, questions about our definitions of Revelation and Inspiration, or even questions about what God did as described in the Creation account in Genesis. I speak on the assumption of the accuracy, inerrancy, and inspiration of God’s Word. If we do not begin with that approach to this (and indeed all) portion of God’s Word, then we “open doubt about the rest of the Word of God” (Ham 2014).
I want to focus upon the implications of a literal reading of the text of the Creation account. Peter’s words in 2 Peter 1 (“men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God”) declare that what God inspired the human authors to write about Creation is what God actually said happened. And this assertion applies first to Moses as he recorded the Creation account and then to the other authors in Scripture as they referred back to the Creation account.
To begin, Genesis 1, the recording of what God said to Moses about how creation happened, says that God created everything. And most particularly, it says that God created by speaking—God, through Moses, says that all that came into existence did so because He spoke and it appeared.
- Genesis 1:3 – “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.”
- Genesis 1:6–7 – “Then God said, ‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, . . . and it was so.”
- Genesis 1:9 – “Then God said, ‘Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear’; and it was so.”
- Genesis 1:14–15 – “Then God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, . . . and it was so.”
- Genesis 1:20 – “Then God said, ‘Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth . . . .”
- Genesis 1:24 – “Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: . . . and it was so.”
- Genesis 1:26, 30 – “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; . . . and it was so.”
I understand that some people want to insert great amounts of time between “God said” and the clause “and it was so.” But can we set that question aside for a moment and appreciate the import of the statement of the text? Did God “speak” and Creation occurred? Did Creation happen by divine decree—by fiat—or is the statement “then God said” just a euphemism Moses used to mean that God is sovereign over the processes of natural selection and genetic drift, for example?
To answer that question we can look at what the other Bible authors wrote. For example, the Psalmist (the Septuagint translators say it was David) praised God for His creative acts in nature (Constable 2019, 160) and said, “For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Psalm 33:9).
The writer to the Hebrews (11:3) wrote, “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible”—meaning, out of matter.
We have expressions like “His word is as good as gold.” By this we mean that once some people say they will do something, we can count it as having been done—it will happen. In the Bible God asserts something even better: when He “says” something will happen, it IS done—right when He says it.
The Apostle Peter, writing of skeptics in his day who denied what the Christians had been asserting: that the resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus promised to return and that when He returned the prophesied judgments would occur. In his response to this skepticism, Peter declared that although world conditions do not seem to fit what people think they should be if Jesus were about to come back right now, God can make Jesus’ return happen in an instant, for just like He brought the universe into existence in an instant so too He can end it all in an instant: judgment will come when He just says the word.
For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men (2 Peter 3:5–7).
The Apostle John writes in his Gospel account (1:1–3), “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” Why did John refer to Jesus as the “Word”? And why begin his Gospel with an obvious reference to creation: “In the beginning . . . “?
Ross helps us to understand the connection between Jesus being referred to in John 1 as “the Word” and the creation account (1988, 108). Writing of Genesis 1:3, Ross says, . . .
At the beginning of the account [of creation] the reader learns that the means of creation is the Word of God. The first verb [in verse 3], “and he said,” sets the tone for the emphasis throughout the chapter and the rest of the biblical revelation (Ps. 33:9; John 1:1–3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16). What God said in his creative decree makes the point more striking: “Let there be . . . and there was.” The verbs use here (yehî . . . wahî) are related to the holy name Yahweh, the great I Am. The use of these words suggests a significant word play: God, who in Exodus 3:14 is known as “I Am” (‘ehyeh explains Yahweh), says, “Let there be (yehî), “and there was” (wayhî). It is not surprising, then, that John records that Jesus Christ is the Word of God, who created everything (John 1:3).
John is writing an account of the life of Jesus to demonstrate without a doubt that He was Yahweh of the Old Testament—The Creator of Genesis 1. This is important for Jesus as the Creator also spoke life into existence in the New Testament in His miracles.
For example, in John 4, John records the miracle of healing a “royal official’s” son who was close to death. The father asks Jesus to “come down and heal his son”—come back to his house in Capernaum where his son is. But instead of going with the father to heal the son, Jesus tells the father to “Go; your son lives” (4:49). By faith in Jesus’s promise, the father leaves to go home, and on the way he encounters one of his servants who had come to tell him that his son had gotten better. The text of John records that the father quickly asked the servant when the boy had shown signs of getting better—at what time. When the servant told him the time of day that the boy got better, John recorded, “So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives; . . . “ (6:53). Being God, all Jesus needed to do to create life in that young boy was to speak and it existed—that’s John’s point! Believe that when Jesus, God incarnate, says something will happen, then it happens—with no time delay!
In fact, all of Jesus’ miracles were instantaneous—they happened when He spoke. None included a process of change over time.
Moses and other writers of Scripture believed that God created by “speaking” it into existence. That is the only conclusion that can be made using a normative hermeneutic as we read Genesis 1. To believe that another mechanism for how creation happened—other than by the fiat and instantaneous decree of God—is to deny the plain statements of Scripture.
If the plain, literal meaning of “God said . . . and it was so” is not what Moses meant, then how can we trust what Moses wrote about other things he recorded in Genesis? And even more importantly, how can we trust that what God said to any of the authors of Scripture is literally true if what He said to Moses here is not to be taken literally? Our understanding concerning Bibliology—what we understand about God’s Word—stands strong or totters and falls if what Moses wrote is not literally true.
Note: This is Part 1 of a 4-Part series. Presented to the Christian Leaders’ Conference at Calvary University, February 8, 2019, by Dr. Michel L. Dodds
Christalignment. 2019. “Christalignment Readings.” Spiritual Events & Directory. Accessed February 7, 2019. https://spiritualeventsdirectory.com/listing/christalignment/.
Constable, Thomas L. 2019. Notes on Psalms 2019 Edition. Accessed January 31, 2019. https://planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/pdf/psalms.pdf.
Culver, Robert Duncan. 2013. Systematic Theology: Biblical and Historical. Fearn, Tain, Scotland, UK: Christian Focus Publications.
Dunham, Kyle. 2018. “The Importance of Biblical Creationism for Theology.” DBTS Blog, 28 Nov 2018. Accessed 19 January 2019. http://www.dbts.edu/2018/11/28/the-importance-of-biblical-creationism-for-theology/.
Grudem, Wayne A. 2000. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI Zondervan.
Ham, Ken. 2014. “The Ultimate Motivation of This Prominent Theologian?” Answers in Genesis, February 14, 2014. Accessed 26 January 2019. https://answersingenesis.org/creationism/old-earth/the-ultimate-motivation-of-this-prominent-theologian/.
Ross, Allen P. 1988. Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
Ross, Hugh. 2015. A Matter of Days: Resolving a Creation Controversy, 2md Expanded Edition. Covina, CA: RTB Press.
Strand, Greg. 2019. “The Doctrine of Creation: Theological Significance and Implications, Part 1.” EFCA Blog. January 4, 2019. Accessed 23 January 2019. https://www.efca.org/blog/understanding-scripture/doctrine-creation-theological-significance-and-implications-part-1.