What Can We Agree On in the Creation Account?

This Sunday we begin our study of Genesis. There is a term called a ‘shibboleth’. It comes from the book of Judges (12:6) where the rogue tribe of Ephraim was taking arms against their own Israelite brethren, the Gileadites. The leader of the Gileadites, Jephthah, devised a way for his army to decipher if an Ephraimite was sneaking through a mountain pass by asking him to pronounce a certain word which would in turn reveal their identity, given local pronunciations. Evidently, the Ephraimites could not say ‘sh’ very well. So, the Gileadites would ask passersby to say the word ‘shibboleth’. A true Ephraimite could only pronounce it ‘sibbolet’. Now we have a saying called a shibboleth in our modern vernacular, referring to an idea or belief that reveals if one stands on the side of truth or not. 

One modern Christian “shibboleth” is the position we take on the Biblical creation account.

People debate whether the Bible describes the process of creation as a six, twenty-four-hour-day event, or if the days are figurative. Some believe that not taking it as a six-calendar-day event is tantamount to rejecting the truth of the Bible, and that in turn could lead to a host of doctrinal and spiritual problems down the line. This is a shibboleth that reveals one’s doctrine of Scripture, for some. Do we take the Bible literally or not?

To be brief, we believe the Bible is God’s inerrant and infallible Word, based on the conviction that God inspired it verbally and as a whole, and his character of truthfulness is wed to the text. There are no errors, even unintentional ones, in the original words of the Bible, which we have almost in total, provable by good text-detective work. Proceeding with those convictions in mind, the question then becomes: what kind of literary devices is the inspired author of the Biblical text using to convey the truth? That question must be answered to get at the literal meaning of a Biblical text. 

So, as it pertains to Genesis, we must ask ourselves if the first part of Genesis is a non-figurative chronicling of the creation event or a more figurative description with a theological point. I’m not going to answer that in full right now, but what I am going to do is lay out a list of 10 core convictions that a friend of mine, Todd Wilson, wrote up several years ago, first for his elders, and then for an article. We will handle these 10 convictions over the next two weeks. I think they will be a helpful primer for us as we prepare for Genesis 1-3.

Ten Theses on Creation and Evolution That (Most) Evangelicals Can Support

  1. The doctrine of creation is central to the Christian faith
  2. The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is the Word of God, inspired, authoritative, and without error. Therefore whatever Scripture teaches is to be believed as God’s instruction, without denying that the human authors of Scripture communicated using the cultural conventions of their time.
  3. Genesis 1–2 is historical in nature, rich in literary artistry, and theological in purpose. These chapters should be read with the intent of discerning what God says through what the human author has said.
  4. God created and sustains everything. This means that he is as much involved in natural processes as he is in supernatural events. Creation itself provides unmistakable evidence of God’s handiwork.
  5. Adam and Eve were real persons in a real past, and the fall was a real event with real and devastating consequences for the entire human race.
  6. Human beings are created in the image of God and are thus unique among God’s creatures. They possess special dignity within creation.
  7. There is no final conflict between the Bible rightly understood and the facts of science rightly understood. God’s “two books,” Scripture and nature, ultimately agree. Therefore, Christians should approach the claims of contemporary science with both interest and discernment, confident that all truth is God’s truth.
  8. The Christian faith is compatible with different scientific theories of origins, from young-earth creationism to evolutionary creationism, but it is incompatible with any view that rejects God as the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Christians can (and do) differ on their assessment of the merits of various scientific theories of origins.
  9. Christians should be well grounded in the Bible’s teaching on creation but always hold their views with humility, respecting the convictions of others and not aggressively advocating for positions on which evangelicals disagree.
  10. Everything in creation finds its source, goal, and meaning in Jesus Christ, in whom the whole of creation will one day achieve eschatological redemption and renewal. All things will be united in him, things in heaven and things on earth.