The Battle for the Beginning

by | Apr 30, 2017 | Adult Christian Learning | 0 comments

1) Genesis 1:2 the earth is tohu wa bohu “formless and void”.  Tohu wa bohu also occurs in Jerimiah 4:23 to describe light gone, mountains quaking, no people, no birds, fruitful lands laid waste, towns in ruins (Walton, p. 47, Lost World of Genesis One).  Also in Genesis 1:2 water already exists. The first act of spoken creation (which I do affirm spoken creation btw) doesn’t occur until Genesis 1:3. It doesn’t HAVE to be creation ex nilo.  Whatever existed before verse 3 God also created that too, I’m not denying that.  I’m just saying we insist on overlooking this bullet point.

The above argument, abbreviated though it may be, is a view that I already responded to in my own abbreviated way on a forum over at Faithlife. That said, I wanted to take a little more time to respond to this position, and the 11 that follow it, in more detail. The point of these 12 positions is summed up in the following premise: There is a problem with our traditional understanding of Genesis 1-11. The traditional understanding is that God created the heavens and the earth in six literal days and that Genesis 1-11, as far as genres go, is historical narrative. NL has outlined 12 supposed problems with the traditional understanding of Genesis 1-11 that, apparently, need to be modified. For the next twelve posts (with maybe a distraction here or there), I am going to respond in greater detail with NL, all the while defending the traditional interpretation of Genesis 1-11 and demonstrating that the problems NL outlines are not actual problems as much as they are conclusions derived from faulty exegesis, logic, and uncritical philosophical commitments.

NL appears to be the following point: there is no exegetical reason that Christians must affirm that God created ex nihilo based on Gen. 1:1-3. I believe there is a fly in NL’s exegetical ointment. My purpose for this post is to identify the fly in the ointment of NL’s first point as he attempts to demonstrate that the traditional interpretation of Genesis 1-11 is wrought with problems. In support of this view, NL seems to believe that Jer. 4:23 lends warrant to his argument. However, I do not believe that, when interpreted correctly and within its context, that Jer. 4:23 lends any support whatsoever to NL’s first point.

One of the most common errors made by those interpreting the Scripture is genre confusion. This happens when one is guilty of “Assuming that the interpretational rules for one genre apply to another.”[1] For starters, NL points to the phrase thohu wavohu. This expression appears only one other time in the Hebrew Scriptures: Jer. 4:23. For starters, NL is comparing historical narrative with prophetic utterance (genre confusion). That fact alone is enough to create pause and cause any discerning reader to slow down and begin to ask questions. For instance, what does the word, thohu mean in this context versus when it is used in other contexts? Is there a relationship between Jer. 4:23 and Genesis 1:2? If so, what kind of relationship exists between them? And does that relationship lend backing to NL’s warrant?

We know that Jeremiah is employing the subgenre known as prophetic announcement of judgment. Jeremiah prophesied during the reign of the last kings of Judah: Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah. The warning for Judah clearly indicates that Babylon is about to be used to carry out God’s wrath on them just as Assyria had been used to inflict divine punishment on Israel to the north. The construction in Jeremiah is fascinating. It is as if the wrath of God is about the take Israel back to the very beginning. That God intends to undue the nation and its land. Each verse contains the following: a sentence containing the phrase, raithiy wehinneh, followed by elaboration. I looked and behold, the earth was without form and void, and the heavens had no light. Both the domain of the earth and of the heavens were undone. The mountains quake and the hills move. Both are symbols of the immoveable. Yet they are about to be moved. The dominant land dweller, man, and the dominant air dweller, the birds are dominant no longer. Even the plush land is a desert and the thriving city is in ruins. The destruction is massive. The language is clearly a prophetic announcement of judgment. What is the relationship between Jer. 4:23 and Gen. 1:2? Clearly God is reminding Judah just as he brought order from chaos, something from nothing, he can return the current state back to its previous one. The point is not at all related to a discussion on whether or not God created something from nothing. This is a warning to Judah about their covenant-breaking idolatry and the utter destruction that is about to be unleashed. Genesis 1:2 is not that. It isn’t even close to being that. This leaves one with no alternative but to conclude that Jer. 4:23 adds no backing or warrant to NL’s first point.

NL then tells us that according to Genesis 1:2 that water already exists. But this is a confused statement at best. Does NL mean to say that water existed prior to God’s creative activity in 1:1? By the time we get to the end of v. 2, the heavens, the earth, and water all exist. But there is absolutely no reason to interpret Gen. 1:2 “weruah elohim merahefeth al-pene hammayim” to mean that water existed prior to 1:1. In fact, the first word of Genesis is a prepositional phrase: bereshith. “In the beginning.” This phrase in context means an absolute beginning, as per the orthodox translations, “In the beginning God created…”[2] In fact, Safarti is right when he points out, “This is the traditional understanding, reflected in the ancient translations, including the LXX, Vulgate, and the Targums, and the dominant understanding throughout church history.”[3] It would seem to me then that NL is inserting a view of his own into the text rather than simply allowing the text to just speak for itself. NL’s assumption that water existed prior to 1:1, if indeed that is what he is getting at, is exegetically baseless.

The reason I interpret NL’s statement this way is context. His very next sentence states: It doesn’t HAVE to be creation ex nilo [sic]. NL apparently wants to entertain the possibility that God created some things from pre-existing material. The problem with this view is that it fails to take into account that the Christian doctrine of Creation ex-nihilo is not founded on a single text. No doctrine of the Christian faith is founded on a single text. That God did create the world out of nothing is certainly implied by other OT passages which speak of his creating everything by his word and his existence before the world (Ps 148:5; Prov 8:22–27) (Ridderbos, OTS 12 [1958] 257). Though such an interpretation of Gen 1:1 is quite possible, the phraseology used leaves the author’s precise meaning uncertain on this point.[4] Wenham admits that while this text is possibly open to the idea of creation from pre-existing materials, other texts point in the opposite direction. The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” (Heb. 11:3) The universe includes everything in the physical world. It was all created by the word of God. Of course NL could argue that the universe was created by pre-existing matter, but that argument would not hold for the simple reason being that according to Heb. 11:3, even that matter itself would have been created by the word of God. Inevitably, since all things that exist are created by the word of God, then even the matter that NL or others postulate would have had to have been created by God according to Scripture. Romans 4:17 says that God calls into existence the things that do not exist. He does not shape things that do not exist into things that do exist.

Ps. 148:5 clearly expresses the view that God ordered the heavens and earth and all things within the physical universe into existence. Ps. 33:6 says “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.” Again, Ps. 33:9 says, “For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.” If one follows the principle that Scripture is self-interpreting, it is simply impossible to take any view seriously that entertains the possibility of an interpretation of Genesis 1:1-3 that allows for creation any other way than ex-nihilo.

The first day of creation ex-nihilo begins on Genesis 1:1 with God calling the heavens and the earth into existence, continues with God creating the light, and ends as God separates the light from the darkness. When one considers that numerous other passages in the text that clearly teach that God created everything that exists outside of himself, then it does follow that God had to create ex-nihilo for the simple reason being that there was nothing from which to create. There is the eternal and the temporal, the created and the uncreated. Only God is uncreated, eternal. The created is temporal which means there was a time when it was not. NL’s desire to allow for any interpretation of Genesis 1:1-3 is not based on sound hermeneutical principles and creates more theological problems that it solves. In fact, I am not convinced such a hypothesis solves any problems whatsoever.

The Historical-Critical Method

Most of the problems surrounding the supposed problems of the standard or traditional interpretation of Genesis 1-11 as straightforward history are borne out of the historical-critical method. Ginger has sang the praises of the historical-critical hermeneutic. He has, on more than one occasion, praised post-enlightenment progress and its seemingly glowing contribution to biblical interpretation. The historical-critical method is held in low esteem by conservative evangelical theologians and scholars. The method itself embraces the following tenets: 1. Reality is uniform and universal; 2. Reality is accessible to human reason and investigation; 3. All events historical and natural occurring within it are in principle interconnected and comparable by analogy; 4. Humanity’s contemporary experience of reality can provide objective criteria by which what could or could not have happened in the past can be determined. This isn’t merely a method of interpreting the Bible. It has many constituent parts, and as produced within liberal protestantism, profound rejection of much of the supernatural elements of Scripture. It is embraced by pseudo-Christians for the most part as they place human reason as magistrate over faith. Some Christians may unwittingly embrace components of this method by when educated on its damning effects for Christian belief, they will abandon it.

When Nathan points out the impossibility of photosynthesis before the sun, which in turn creates problems for the traditional interpretation that plants existed prior to the sun, this is the historical-critical method doing its work. The text must be wrong! Post-enlightenment optimism concerning the epistemic authority of human reason displaces divine revelation as the standard by which these people determine what possible and what must be re-classified from literal, historical, to myth, etc. This is not a small problem. The historical-critical method can separate the sheep from the goats.  It is that serious of an issue.

When Ginger talks about Moses using all those thoughts, ideas, education, and stories in his head to write the Torah, and then implies that plenary inspiration is dictation theory, he not only betrays a lack of knowledge of the dictation theory, he demonstrates a profound failure to grasp what it means to say that men of God wrote (Moses) as the Holy Spirit moved them to write so that what they wrote was theopneustos, God-speaking. This point of view expressed by Ginger is the product of the historical-critical method, a method of hermeneutics arising entirely from the pagan ideas and presuppositions borne out of enlightenment philosophies. What Ginger is advocating is the historical-critical method known as a canon within the canon. Some of it is all Moses and some of it is divine revelation.

What is the deciding factor for the historical-critical method? The final authority is not God-speaking. The final authority is autonomous human reason. Since these decisions come down to a man, the question is which man? We now enter the very same problem of the criterion that atheists encounter in epistemology.

The historical-critical method leads to the following basic tenets:

  1. The NT can no longer be conceived of as a unit, but merely as a a collection of various testimonies that are often contradictory. (See Nathan’s comment about Luke manipulating his genealogy)
  2. There is a distinction between Scripture and the Word of God.
  3. For 200+ years, the critics that follow this method have searched in vain to discover the “canon within the canon.”
  4. Uncontrolled subjectivity has the last word concerning what should have divine authority. The decision comes down to the man. Which man?
  5. The unity of Scripture must be located outside of Scripture. And that governing principle again must be human reason. It must be the man. Which man?

Gerhard Maier: Thus the use of the higher-critical method has put us into a monstrous hole. The downfall here described to be inescapable. What the real Word of God is became more and more nebulous. [Maier, The End of the Historical-Critical Method]

The historical-critical champions have been enemies of the doctrines of perspicuity and sufficiency of Scripture. They have claimed that their method is necessary in order to understand the Scriptures. Ginger says as much when he over-emphasizes a knowledge of ANE culture. No one says such knowledge is irrelevant. But to make it necessary in order to understand the basics of the Hebrew text, those big rocks, if you will, is simply to stretch the truth. I do not need to understand anything about ANE culture in order to understand that God created the world supernaturally ex nihilo. I agree that much can be gained by understanding the culture within which the revelation comes to us. Such study should NOT be ignored. But such an understanding will NOT change the historical interpretation of the church in fundamental ways.

The method for interpreting Scripture must, without question, accept Scripture as divine revelation. It must from the start acknowledge and trust that what it is investigating is God-speaking. The method for interpreting Scripture must hold firmly to faith as the method for illumination. The Holy Scripture is a sacred and supernatural text, and the only method that can rightly understood it is one that holds that the God who authored it must perform a work of illumination on a regenerated mind.





[1] Douglas K. Stuart, Old Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors, 3rd ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 178.

[2] Jonathan D. Sarfati, The Genesis Account: A Theological, Historical, and Scientific Commentary On Genesis 1-11 (Powder Springs, Georgia, USA: Creation Book Publishers, 2015), 89.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, vol. 1, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 14.

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