A confessing community: Creation of heaven and earth

It may surprise you—or perhaps it won’t—that Bible interpreters have never fully agreed on a single interpretation of the creation story in Genesis 1–2.

Some of the early church fathers (e.g. Victorinus, Lactantius, Basil the Great, Ambrose of Milan, and John Damascene) explicitly affirmed that God created in six, 24-hour days. On the other hand, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyon, leaning on Psalm 90:4, argued that each of the “days” in Genesis 1 was a thousand years, so that creation took place over the course of six thousand years. Augustine took a completely different approach, understanding the days to be an order of priority, of sorts, but asserting that God created everything—formed and filled—in an instant rather than over a period of time.

This varied approach to the interpretation of the creation account helps us to understand that, while we want to work hard to interpret the text correctly, and while it is absolutely acceptable to have our own, very defined and settled views, Christian orthodoxy has always allowed for diversity on this important subject. There are hills to die on in Genesis 1–2, and there are hills to avoid.

The Confession we are studying sticks closely to biblical language, which allows for a broad agreement despite potentially differing views.

In the beginning the triune God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing, by the power of his word, in six days according to Scripture (Genesis 1:1–2:3; Hebrews 11:3). God created everything good and perfect for the glory of his own name (Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31; Psalm 104:31; Romans 11:36). God created mankind, male and female, in his own image (Genesis 1:26–27). The whole human race is descended from Adam and Eve, the first man and woman (Genesis 1:28; Acts 17:26). (Sola 5 Confession 3.1)

While the Confession does potentially allow for differing views, we should not be naïve: The formulators of the Confession had their own distinct understanding of the creation account. I likewise have my own understanding, and it may be helpful at this point to be up front about it. I am personally persuaded that Moses intended his record of creation to be read as historical narrative, and that he expected his readers to understand the days to be ordinary, 24-hour days. Writers like John Walton have disagreed, and while I do not find their arguments persuasive, this is not the place for a full critique. As we saw when we considered the doctrine of Scripture, the interpreter must allow his interpretation to be guided by authorial intent, and since I am persuaded that the author’s intent was historical narrative, my conviction on young earth creationism, in six 24-hour days, necessarily follows.

The Confession begins by affirming: “In the beginning the triune God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing, by the power of his word, in six days according to Scripture.”

As I have said, by sticking closely to the actual words of Scripture, the Confession allows for broad embracing. Few Christians would take issue with the opening affirmation, even if they differ on what the Bible means by “six days.”

This opening sentence is packed with important truth about origins. Consider a few of them.

Creation took place “in the beginning.” Anyone who believes Genesis 1:1 believes that. In the beginning, other than God himself, nothing existed. God spoke everything into being, as recorded in Genesis 1. God existed from eternity, but creation as we know it and can observe it came into being as recorded in Genesis 1. Everything that exists, except God himself, came into being in those six days of creation.

For anyone who believes the Bible, the claim that “the triune God created the heavens and the earth” is not controversial. The Bible plainly and unabashedly ascribes everything that exists to the creative power of a personal, wise, and loving God. Whatever other disagreements may exist within orthodoxy about the creation account, biblical Christianity has always ascribed creative power to God alone.

Nor is it controversial that creation occurred “out of nothing.” Even if you do not affirm a young earth creation in six 24-hour days, it is difficult to read the Genesis creation account and conclude that God worked from existing raw materials. He created everything out of nothing. “What is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:3).

Even theistic evolutionists, who believe that God used the process of evolution to create, will have little problem affirming that this happened “by the power of his word.” The text of Genesis portrays God speaking things into existence out of nothing. If we interpret according to the grammatical-historical method of interpretation, it would seem that the best way to understand this text is to see it as God literally speaking creation into existence out of nothing.

All of this took place “in six days according to Scripture.” As I have said, I am persuaded that the plainest sense of the text suggests that the days of Genesis 1 are ordinary, 24-hour days. Even if you are not persuaded that the author intended to communicate this, Bible-believing Christians will surely agree that it is not beyond the power of God to create in this short space of time, and we cannot allow the so-called “authority” of science to override the clear teaching of Scripture.

It will prove helpful to pause here for a word about how young earth creationists should think about those who profess faith in Christ but hold to a form of theistic evolution, or some other creative framework that denies an understanding of creation in six, 24-hour days. This is one of the areas in which we need to be gracious to others with differing opinions. While the doctrine of creation is a very important one, good brothers may disagree on their interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis. We should hold tenaciously to what we believe and be willing to dialogue respectfully with those who disagree. A denial of creation in six, 24-hour days is not heresy.

“God created everything good and perfect” (Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31) and he did so “for the glory of his own name.” “The glory of the LORD” will “endure forever” as he “rejoice[s] in his works” (Psalm 104:31), “for from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36). Some have felt that it is incredibly narcissistic of God to do things for his own glory, but the Bible is unequivocal on this point: “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other” (Isaiah 42:8). It is only narcissistic to direct glory to yourself that you don’t actually deserve. Since all glory belongs to God, it would be an affront to his glory to not claim that which rightly belongs to him.

While “God created everything good,” this speaks of original creation, before humanity’s fall into sin. The Bible makes it clear that humanity’s fall affected the entire creation, and the entire creation longs for the day of ultimate redemption, when the curse will be completely reversed (Romans 8:20–23).

The Confession concludes this particular affirmation with a crucial claim for the day and age in which we live: “God created mankind, male and female, in his own image” (Genesis 1:26–27). This is an important affirmation for at least three reasons.

First, we recognise that human beings alone are created in God’s image, which means that mankind has inherent dignity that the rest of creation does not. Biblically, human beings are a higher form of creation than plants and trees and animal. This is a claim that runs contrary to much of human wisdom today, which views human beings as just one particular form of evolved animal.

Second, we recognise that God created male and female equal, because both were created in his image. Men and women have equal dignity before God. This does not mean that men and women do not have different roles, but it does mean that men are not inherently superior to women, or vice versa. Human beings—male and female—are fully divine image-bearers.

Third, we recognise that God created two, binary sexes: male and female, which flies in the face of contemporary thinking, in which gender fluidity is strongly promoted. Some have even tried to find space for gender fluidity in the biblical creation account. For example, there are some who have claimed that, just as God’s creation of “dry land” and “sea” doesn’t rule out the creation of lakes and dams and marshes, so God’s creation of “male” and “female” doesn’t necessarily rule out the possibility of an array of gender identities between these two extremes.

One problem with this line of argumentation is that, while lakes and dams and marshes aren’t specifically mentioned in the Genesis account, they are mentioned elsewhere in the Bible as narrative progresses. The Bible nowhere recognises any sexes beside male and female. There may be rare cases when a biological sex, because of the fall, is anatomically difficult to determine for various reasons, but that doesn’t mean that a binary sex doesn’t exist in those cases. As late as the New Testament—a long time after humanity’s creation—the Bible still recognises only two binary sexes.

Citing Genesis 1:28 and Acts 17:26 (“he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place”), the Confession states: “The whole human race is descended from Adam and Eve, the first man and woman.” This is more than a theological curiosity, but has deep, practical implications. If we recognise that all humanity is descended from Adam and Eve, we will recognise that all humanity—regardless of sex, race, age, ability, etc. has inherent dignity. Every human being deserves to be treated with the dignity ascribed to him or her by the Creator. This theological understanding condemns sinful practices like abortion, slavery, racism, sexism, assisted suicide, etc. Every human being should be treated with full dignity. To fail to do so is nothing less than a subtle form of blasphemy.

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