The Danger of ill-considered Literalism
In light of the fact that the Bible itself transcends or spiritualises aspects of the OT in particular (see e.g. John 2:19-21; Col. 2:11; Hebrews, 11:10-16), literalistic interpretations must always be subject to careful scrutiny. It has been contended many times that both Genesis and Revelation are highly symbolic books. This apart, the word ‘day’, like the word ‘hour’ (cf. 1 John 2:18), is often used very generally as in English. The reasons for adopting a literal interpretation of the Genesis days must be compelling, and, as I shall try to show below, they are not. Writers often point out that the context is a useful guide in helping us to interpret texts. How true – provided we recognise that the whole Bible is the ultimate context, and this is important in dealing with the word ‘day’ in Genesis.
The danger of tying the word day to a literal solar day first becomes evident in Genesis 1 and 2 themselves. W.J.Dumbrell points out that “The Hebrew word for ‘day’ is used in three senses between Genesis 1:1 and 2:4: for evening and morning taken together (e.g. v.5), for light as opposed to darkness (v.5), and in the broader sense of ‘when’ (2:4)” (p.15).
In his article on Last Days, Days in Evangelical Dictionary (p.619, cf. pp.294f.) R.G.Gruenler highlights the unspecific nature of the day of the Lord in Joel 2:11 when he notes that it spells a time of judgement for some but becomes “those days” and “that time” of salvation for survivors in 3:1. (See also O.P. Robertson, pp. 272f., who notes the reference to the ‘eternal day’ in 2 Pet. 3:18). In Isaiah 49:8 “a day of salvation“ is “a time of favour” reminding us of the year of Jubilee (cf. Lev. 25:10; Isa. 61:2; Luke 4:19). Admittedly, in Isaiah 63:4 (cf. 9:4) “the day of vengeance” seems to be deliberately contrasted with “my year of redemption”, but the chronologically non-specific nature of both terms would seem to be obvious as it is, for example, when Jesus refers to “my day” in John 8:56. Then the latter is followed up by a reference to day and night in 9:4, both of which are manifestly non-specific but are strongly reminiscent of Genesis 1:5. Again, the same conclusion must be drawn from what Hebrews 4:7f. where “today” is “a certain day” which must extend beyond twenty-four hours as 4:1,6,9 indicate. In fact this day of promise of entering God’s seventh day or Sabbath rest, which is eternal, remains throughout the gospel age (cf. 2 Cor. 6:2).
E.A.Martens appropriately sums up his survey of the word day in the Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology as follows: “With regard to the history of redemption the word ‘day’ is shorthand for a particular event (such as the exodus), but more often for an era as a singular stage in the progress of God’s plan for salvation” (p.145, col. 2).
While it may be freely conceded that the Bible nowhere directly specifies the chronological duration of the Genesis days, there are fundamental theological reasons for doubting that they necessarily imply twenty-four hours. For a start, the creation of man himself raises pertinent questions
The Meaning of Adam
The word ‘Adam’ means man as both individual and community, and what is true of the one is presumably true of the other. Since we know that procreation mirrors creation (Gen. 5:1-3, cf. 1:28 and 9:1,7) and that the individual begins as seed, fetus, etc., we are surely meant to conclude that the same is true in all cases.
The first Adam
It may, of course, be argued that, as the first, Adam was different, but since all his progeny undergo a period of preconscious development, it is a reasonable deduction that Adam both as individual and community did likewise. This is supported by the fact that he is first presented to us as not knowing the law or commandment. Like a baby he had no knowledge of good or evil (Gen. 2:17; 3:5,22). (In other words, like Melchisedek, who lacked a genealogy, Heb. 7:3, he had a navel if not a ‘history’. I gather Ken Ham of ‘Answers in Genesis’ has a book on this subject and presumably concludes that Adam lacked a belly button!) His predecessors (pre-Adamites) were purely fleshly (cf. 1 Cor. 15:46, cf. John 1:13; 3:6) and fell short of the image of God, which differentiated Adam from the animals (cf. Ps. 32:9; Isa. 31:3, etc.). We do well to remember that it is only on the physical plane that babies are recognisable as human beings. There is no evidence in their early months that they are created in the image of God. This is a very important consideration, for if they are still-born or die before they understand the commandment which promises life (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 7:9:f.), then their death, clearly apart from sin, must be a natural phenomenon characteristic of the entire temporal creation (cf. Eccles. 3:19-21). Since Genesis refers to things being created according to their kind (Gen. 1:11ff.), and in man’s case according to ‘image’ (cf. Gen. 5:1-3), we are almost compelled to draw the conclusion that the offspring replicates or recapitulates the parent. (Other things apart, this surely implies that if the parent is created in one day so is the child! That such is not the case is manifest to all. Clearly it is safer to argue from the known to the unknown rather than vice versa.) As we shall see below, this is of prime importance to our understanding of Scripture.
The Correspondence between Adam and Eve and Children
We read how Adam was created from the dust and placed in Eden where he and Eve lived in blissful and child-like ignorance of the commandment (cf. Dt. 1:39, etc.). Once the commandment was given, however, they both sinned though, as Paul indicates, in somewhat different ways (2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim. 2:13). Later in Scripture we recognise that their experience is repeated in the lives of us all as children. Deuteronomy 1:39 (cf. Num. 14:3,31-35; Isa. 7:15f.; 1 Kings 3:7; Rom. 9:11; Heb. 5:13f.) makes it indisputably clear that so long as we are ignorant of law, we are innocent (Rom. 4:15, cf. 9:11) or in Paul’s words ‘alive’ (Rom. 7:9). But once that ignorance is dispelled by knowledge and understanding of the commandment, we are first, like Eve, deceived (cf. Rom. 7:11); then, as we get older and acquire a deeper appreciation of the law, we sin like Adam with our eyes open, just as the Jews, a rebellious house (Ezek. 2:6, etc.) in contrast with the heathen, did (cf. Rom. 5:13).
There is an obvious lesson to be drawn from this. If Adam was physically an adult when, like a child, he became acquainted with the commandment, his infancy was necessarily longer than a 24-hour day. If we deny this, we have to conclude that time was telescoped in his case; but this raises another problem. How can he be regarded as truly human when he failed to undergo the development, including the learning process, that is intrinsic to man?
The Second Adam
Jesus was the second Adam and the perfect human being. His incarnate life clearly conformed with the pattern of human development that is common to all of us and was equally clearly ordained by God (cf. Luke 2; Heb. 2). So, extrapolating from this known fact, we are bound to conclude that the pattern he followed at conception and birth was that of the first Adam whose son he was (Luke 3:38, cf. 1 Cor. 15:45ff. and Job 4:19; 10:8,9,11; 34:15; Ps. 78:39; 103:14; 139:13,15). It might be remembered at this point that the first Adam was a type of Christ (Rom. 5:14), not vice versa.
The Image of Adam
We are all, like Seth, born in the physical and spiritual image of Adam (Gen.5:3) as Jesus was. But that image is potential and hence dynamic in both cases. To put it otherwise, as I have indicated above, our status as human beings is purely potential at the start (cf. 1 Cor. 15:46) and is meant to be fulfilled or to reach its fullness or maturity in the course of time. Thus, on the spiritual level, having begun in infancy, (cf. the new birth and 1 Cor. 3:1f.), we are progressively conformed to the image of Jesus as mature adults (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:13-16). It might be added at this point that Jesus himself was perfected (see below) in the image of God as Adam should have and would have been had he not sinned (Mt. 5:48; Heb. 1:3). In this respect Jesus stands in violent contrast to the first Adam (Rom. 5:12-21). So, at this point we might reason as follows: If it was necessary for Jesus to be like his brethren in all respects (Heb. 2), then it was equally so for Adam. If intrinsic difference would have disqualified Jesus from acting as representative man, then it would have disqualified Adam too. It is theologically impossible to posit an instantly created Adam in whose image we are made (Gen. 5:1-3; 1 Cor. 15:45ff.) who was inherently different from all his posterity. In any case, it is only like that produces like.
The doctrine of perfection, which is frequently understood in terms of flawlessness or sinlessness, normally means completeness or maturity (see e.g. James 1:4) and is fundamental to the Bible. (Sadly it has been distorted by, and neglected in reaction to, Wesleyan perfectionism.) Just as the acorn achieves physical maturity in the oak tree, so the offspring of man likewise achieves maturity first in the flesh. In contrast to the animal world (cf. Ps. 32:9; Isa. 31:3), however, man is also created in the image of God and has another dimension. Thus he is called to achieve spiritual maturity like Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of his faith, who was himself conformed to the image of his heavenly Father by a spiritual process (Mt. 5:48; 19:21; Heb. 2:9f.; 5:9; 7:28, cf. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet. 3:22; John 17:5,24). Perfection, however, is true not simply on the individual plane (cf. 1 Cor. 15:11; 14:20; Phil. 3:14, etc.) but on the community level too (Eph. 2:15; 4:13). If Jesus was necessarily subject to the perfecting process, then clearly Adam was also. Denial of this has catastrophic implications for our theology, as we shall see further.
The Development or Maturation of the Second Adam
It has been said, not without reason, that man is creation in miniature (cf. Gen.1:2; Ps. 139:15f.; Luke 1:35). (1* If this is so, by parity of reasoning we might well conclude that our 7 x 24-hour week is God’s creation week in miniature.) With respect to this, it is useful to recognise that there is a correlation between Genesis 1:2 (cf. Ex. 40:35; Ps. 104:30; Isa. 32:15) and Luke 1:35. Since we know that it took God nine whole months to bring Jesus from conception to birth and prepare a body for him (cf. Heb. 10:5b), we unavoidably infer that it took him at least the same amount of time to bring Adam, the individual, into the world and mankind even longer. Indeed, he is still doing the latter (cf. Gen. 30:2, etc.). No wonder Jesus said that his Father was working still (John 5:17), not hours but millennia later!
If the incarnation suggests that the Genesis days were more than 24 hours, so does the atonement. John tells us that Jesus Christ was the propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Whatever else this involves, it means that the atonement covered the past, present and future sins of mankind (cf. Acts 17:30; Rom. 3:25f.; Heb. 9:15). If it is true, as Gregory of Nazianzus maintained, that what is not assumed is not healed (cf. Heb. 2, esp. v. 17), then Jesus had to go back to the start of mankind’s history. But how could he do this when he was born in the fullness of time (Gal.4:4)? When God tested him by suggesting that he should make of him a great nation, Moses was horrified (Ex. 32:10; Dt. 9:14; Num. 14:12) because it would imply that God’s original promise had failed, that his honour was tarnished and his chosen nation lost. How then could Jesus atone for the sins of his own forebears including David and Adam himself (cf. Heb. 7:25; 9:15; 10:14), both of whose son he was? How could he go back to the beginning without going back to the beginning of history and starting de novo? How could he, in other words, be a second or last Adam and eventually a new or rather the true Israel (cf. John 15:1ff., etc.)? There can be only one answer to this question – the virgin birth and recapitulation. In plain terms, as mankind in summary Jesus re-enacted the first Adam’s experience in his own life (cf. Eph. 1:9f.). He was ‘created’ in his image by the same Father, for both were sons of God (Luke 3:38. This is not to deny, of course, that Jesus was the Son of God in a way that Adam certainly was not.). Like him he spent time naked in the womb, i.e. Eden (cf. Job 3:3;10:18f.; Jer. 20:14ff., and note Ps. 139:15 and 13 where the latter verse is a recapitulation or symbolic re-enactment of the former, cf. Job 10:8,9,11; 31:15; 33:6). At birth he knew neither good nor evil (Isa. 7:15f. cf. Dt. 1:39; Num. 14:31). Then, as he developed consciousness as a child, he received the commandment from his parents (cf. Dt. 4:9, etc.) as Adam had done from his Father (Gen. 2:17; Luke 3:38). In contrast to Eve, Adam and Paul (Rom. 7:7-14), however, he kept it. And, having undergone his heathen experience like Israel in Egypt (Mt. 2:15), he went on to keep the whole law, which again Paul, like Israel as a whole, did not (cf. John 7:19; Rom. 7:13-23; 9:31). Thus, in accordance with the original promise (Gen. 2:17), he inherited life (Lev.18:5; Ezek. 18:5-9; Mt. 3:17; John 15:10) and pioneered the regenerate or ‘Christian’ life here on earth (cf. Mt. 3:15; 19:21; Heb. 5:9; 12:2). This culminated in his death on the cross for men and women of every race and nation throughout history (Rev. 7:9, cf. Heb. 11). In other words, in Jesus, the second Adam, we have the only perfect man ever to live on this earth and, as B.B.Warfield well recognised, “a normal human development, the only strictly normal human development, from birth to manhood, the world has ever seen” (p.160). The unavoidable corollary of this is, as H.W.Robinson expressed it, that “if regeneration be entrance into the life of conscious sonship to God, we must regard regeneration as the normal and ‘natural’ completion of what was begun in the first birth” (p. 327. Cf. Bishop Westcott: “… man … was made in God’s image to gain his likeness” (p.306) and “We must look to the perfection and not only to the redemption of man”, p.311). This is surely the implication of what Jesus says to Nicodemus in John 3 especially verse 6. The wonder of Christ’s accomplishment is that it was achieved in the flesh (Rom. 8:3) despite its weakness even in his case (2 Cor. 13:4). In sharp contrast, the first Adam’s spiritual development came a cropper at the first hurdle. It required only one commandment to up-end him. And the same is true of the rest of us, for we, like Paul, also sin in childhood (Gen. 8:21; Job 13:26; Ps. 25:7; Jer. 3:24f.; Rom. 7:9; Eph. 2:3; Tit. 3:3; 2 Tim. 2:22).
How does this bear on the days of Genesis? The point is that in order to make atonement Jesus had to identify with his brethren in every respect (Heb. 2:9f.,14,17). This necessitated his ‘reliving’ or re-enacting the creation and life of Adam and all his progeny (cf. 139:13ff. referred to above). Since Jesus’ preconscious life of fleshly development took more than 24 hours, the conclusion must be drawn that Adam’s own creation took more than a solar day. To deny it is not merely to destroy the pattern so widely and deeply etched and so constantly referred to in Scripture (see e.g. Jer. 2:21; Mark 4:28f., and note Rev. 14:15) but to posit a fundamental difference or hiatus between Adam, the biblical prototype and epitome of the natural man, and all his successors. If, as Paul clearly indicates in 1 Corinthians 15:21f., 45-49, Adam is representative man according to the flesh (cf. e.g. Fee, pp.789,791), the notion that he was different from all his posterity is intolerable. The very idea can only spell disaster for Christian theology.
The Genesis Days
Mention of a solar day reminds us of the fact that according to the Genesis account the sun was not created till the fourth day. How then can we be sure that days 1-3 were of 24 hours’ duration? This coupled with the fact that the seventh day is still with us makes dogmatic literalism inappropriate. If it is replied that the text refers to morning and evening, apart from the fact that these are part of the symbolism, they indicate separation, which Wenham informs us is synonymous with election elsewhere in Scripture (p. 18). And this idea, like the seven-day week and its sabbath, was fundamental to Israel. It is therefore most fitting from the literary, religious, didactic and pragmatic points of view that, assuming the Genesis days are not literal, they should be used to teach about a progressive creation (cf. Gen. 1:2). Considering the minority of the race and the lack of sophistication that characterises many readers even in modern times, Genesis 1 constitutes truly inspired writing. Thus, still assuming that ages (cf. 1 Cor. 2:7; 1 Tim. 1:17), long or short, were involved, the importance of man’s working week being modelled on God’s can hardly be overestimated. When we consider that it would have been readily accepted by all Israelites that God worked on a far grander scale than his creatures, the notion of ‘days’ of undefined length would not have caused great concern. Indeed, it is hard to imagine that the Psalmist (e.g. 33:6-9; 104:1ff.; 139:13ff.), the prophet (e.g. Jer. 10:10-13) and the apostle (2 Pet. 3:8) would have been unduly limited in their perception. So neither should we in our day (cf. John 8:56!), not least because we, as Christians, are more fully aware of the difference between natural and supernatural processes than Isaiah ever was (see Isa. 66:7f.). In other words, we can be sure that if our mother Zion (Gal. 4:26) gives birth in a day (cf. 1 Cor. 15:52), it took mother earth a good deal longer (cf. Ps. 139:15)!
It is worth considering another point here. The OT writers set no little store on the divine commitment to human creation. Man’s body appears to them fearfully and wonderfully made in the womb (Ps. 139:13-16, ESV), the result of a process like a work of art (Ps. 119:73), not the product of instant sleight of hand. It is this apparently that helped to make his destruction so mystifying (Job 10:8-13,18-22; Ps. 30:9; Isa. 38:18). By the grace of God we in NT times are better informed (though note Ps. 138:8).
Growth in Knowledge and Intellectual Maturity
This raises another question, that is, our own increase in knowledge. Even if it can be proved conclusively that the intention of the writer of the Genesis account was to describe literal days and that this was the way he was originally understood, we still have to make room for the increase in knowledge and maturity that is our own experience. There are two points to be made here. First, what Peter says in 1 Peter 1:10f. indicates that the OT prophets were necessarily limited in their understanding since revelation is progressive. Next, Paul talks on the one hand of the mystery that was revealed to him but not to earlier generations, and on the other of the need to grow in our understanding as we mature (1 Cor. 13:11; 14:20, cf. Eph. 4:13-16). Since nature itself is revelatory (Ps. 19; Rom. 1:20, etc.), increasing knowledge of it can reasonably pave the way to greater comprehension of aspects of Scripture. This does not necessarily make us prey to the latest scientific theory. It is no more dangerous than unexamined creeds and confessions, which consist of ancient interpretation and imprison us intellectually and spiritually in outdated traditions. Mention of this should remind us that Pharisaic traditionalism did more to oppose the gospel than anything else in NT times. What is more, it received withering condemnation from both Jesus and Paul. (Even as I write I pause from time to time to catch up on the news following the Bali bombing and become increasingly aware of just how dangerous an uncritical fundamentalism is. I once heard Professor Don Carson say that all views should be expressed in the open forum and become subject to proper criticism. What he forgot to add is that there is no open forum in traditional fundamentalism where the Bereans are an alien race, cf. Acts 17:10ff. As always with traditionalists, who think they have got the truth sewn up and “Moses” has spoken the final word (John 9:28f.), there is nothing else to learn. Thus their message is the always the same (semper eadem not semper reformanda): agree or be pilloried, stoned, burnt at the stake, shot or, where that is not possible, as I myself am so painfully aware, be ignored.
From Beginning to End
The whole Bible testifies to the maturation process; it begins with genesis (creation, birth, inauguration) and ends with revelation (perfection, consummation or goal achieved). (As in Romans 10:4 we ourselves often use the word ‘end’ ambiguously; it may mean either terminus or goal or both.) The process pervades the entire temporal creation (Rom. 8:19-25): it occurs in all flora (acorn-oak, cf. Gen. 1:11; Mt. 13:1ff.) and fauna (lamb-sheep), in man the individual (child-adult, 1 Cor. 13:11) who is called to complete or finish his course (Luke 13:32; Acts 13:25; 20:24; Phil. 3:14; 2 Tim. 4:7, Heb. 12:1, etc.), mankind as a whole (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:15; 4:13) and Israel (Isa. 43:1,7; 44:2; 46:3; Jer. 1:5; Hos. 11:1, cf. Gal. 3:19-4:7, etc.). We see it also in the Levites whose origin was in the loins of Abraham, the heathen (Heb. 7:10), and in the regenerate life which by definition begins with new birth and ends in Christ-like maturity (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18) in contrast with the life of sin (Gen. 15:16; James 1:14f.) which ends in death (cf. Rom. 6:16, 21-23, etc.). Jesus himself was born of woman (Gal. 4:4) in order to be perfected in his Father’s image (Mt. 5:48; 19:21; 2 Cor. 4:4b; Heb. 1:3; 5:9, etc.) in contrast with the first Adam whose growth, evident in his creation from the dust, his ignorance then his knowledge of and probation under the commandment, was stunted or, in effect, terminated by sin. Indeed the story of the whole Bible (cf. salvation history or heilgeschichte) is one of progression from flesh to spirit (1 Cor. 15:46, cf. v.23), from earth to heaven (John 1:51), from darkness to light (2 Cor. 4:6, cf. Col. 1:13; 1 Pet. 2:9), seed to harvest (Mt. 3:10,12; Rev.14:15), ground to glory, dust to destiny (1 Cor. 15:45ff., cf. 1 K. 16:2), and land to life. In other words, evolution in the sense of development is intrinsic to the Bible and hence to creation and the procreation which mirrors or recapitulates it (cf. Isa. 45:9f.). Though a man (Adam) cannot enter again into his mother’s womb (John 3:4,6, cf. Gen. 3:23f.), as an imitator of God (Gen. 2:8,15), whose image and glory he is (1 Cor. 11:7), he can be pro-creatively fruitful and implant his seed in his wife’s womb, the Eden of procreation, to produce children who are created as he was in the image of God (Gen. 5:1-3).
The Adult Adam
Adam, our original human progenitor is clearly presented to us as an adult. If we say he was created as such in one 24-hour day, we are then at odds with the entire Scripture, as we have just seen. Given that man by definition is subject, like all creation, to the maturation process, the truth is that a 24-hour-old adult Adam is not recognisably a man at all, least of all the fleshly paradigm of the rest of us as Paul clearly sees him to be. (2* I am painfully conscious of the claim by popular writers that Adam was created an adult, that is, he appeared to be between 20 and 30 years old! If they are right, it may well be asked why God did not create the rest of us fully mature (perfect) in the same way. Surely if he did this once, he could so easily have done it again making procreation, creation in the womb, Isa.44:2,24, etc., and development from seed superfluous. The only reasonable inference we may draw from the Bible is that he created us and indeed all flora and fauna as seed bearers (cf. Gen. 1:11) clearly intending that the pattern once established should be repeated. The inference from this in light of Hebrews 7:23 and from created things in general, is again that death is natural in nature as Romans 8:18-25 implies. Otherwise expressed, creation, evolution or development, though not the naturalistic variety, and death are intrinsic to the material universe, Heb. 1:10-12. The tragedy is that traditional Christianity has made false deductions from Romans 5:12 and has seen all death as the consequence of sin – an impossible conclusion to draw from the biblical evidence. It is clearly not the case. Man, as deriving from the corruptible earth, was himself unavoidably corruptible according to the flesh, but, as created in the image of God, was promised eternal life if the kept the commandment, Gen. 1:17, cf. Lev. 18:5; Dt. 30:20; 32:47. The only reason why Jesus, who clearly aged, Luke 2:40,52; John 8:57, did not see corruption is that he met the condition of life and kept the commandments, John 15:10. It was impossible for death, which he underwent on our behalf, to retain its hold over him, Acts 2:23f. Thus he rose from the dead and was transformed as he ascended into heaven.) He is reminiscent of the age of fable, of classical mythology, which pictured motherless Minerva, the goddess of wisdom springing fully mature from the head of Jupiter. He is in fact as docetic as the false Christs that we are so frequently presented with, a freak, a contradiction in terms, a square circle that, given the definition of man, even God could not create. At best he is a miracle like Aaron’s rod that blossomed overnight and was recognisably abnormal or supernatural. Far from being our fleshly archetype, he is different in kind from us. To speak in this way, however, raises questions. Why do intelligent Christian men in our own age insist on such an Adam?
While Irenaeus, whose intention was above all to be biblical, made recapitulation integral to his theology, Augustine, whose roots were in Manicheism and Neo-Platonism, presented a different view. He assumed that creation was perfect (see Ham, et al. pp.50,240, etc.) and that Adam was originally holy and righteous despite the clear teaching of Genesis 2 and 3 to the contrary. For there we are plainly told that Adam, like a child lacking the commandment, knew neither good nor evil (Gen. 2:17, cf. 3:5,22; Dt. 1:39, etc.) and was hence certainly not righteous (cf. Col. 3:10 where knowledge is a prime requisite). Indeed, it was precisely because this was the case that he was put under probation by the commandment (Gen. 2:17). There are three points to be made here: first, the commandment gives knowledge and is in fact a promise of life if it is kept (cf. Luke 10:25-28) as well as a warning of death if it is not (cf. Rom.3:19, cf. Neh. 10:28; Jas. 4:17); second, it reveals what is the heart of those who are put to the test (cf. Ex. 15:25f.; Dt. 8:1f.,16; 13:1-4); and, third, it establishes the moral status of the one to whom it is given. For, just as it is impossible to be a sinner without breaking the law (Rom. 4:15; James 2:9-11; 4:17; 1 John 3:4; 5:17), so it is impossible to be righteous without keeping it (Dt. 6:25; Rom. 2:13; 1 John 3:7). But for Augustine, Adam’s fall from original righteousness and perfection involved the entire creation in a so-called cosmic curse. His view was, however, based on a patently erroneous interpretation of Genesis 3:17-19 and Romans 8:18-25. In other words, assuming that perfection was the starting point rather than the goal of creation, he put the cart before the horse, the harvest before the seed, the chicken before the egg, the sheep before the lamb, the adult before the baby, and, irony of ironies, last Adam before first, at least in principle. (3* Righteousness, like holiness, far from being native to Adam, became the hallmark of the second Adam, see Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; 1 John 2:1. For him, however, having been born like all human beings knowing neither good nor evil, cf. Isa. 7:15f., it had to be acquired by keeping the whole law, both its letter, cf. Mt. 3:17; 1 John 3:7, etc., and its spirit, Mt. 3:15; 19;19:21; John 15:10. The latter culminated, of course, when he lay down his life for his sheep. It was not until then, having fulfilled his Father’s will without compromise, that he achieved perfection, John 19:30, cf. 17:4, and sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2.) The tragedy is, however, that his influence on the church has been enormous. Even in Protestantism his victory over Pelagius regarding grace and works has blinded our eyes to monumental errors in the rest of his thinking. For example, as Article 1X of the Church of England makes clear, he denied Pelagius’ contention that we imitate Adam in his sin (cf. Rom. 5:12) just as the Jews imitated or repeated the sins of their fathers (Jer. 3:25; Dan. 9:16; Acts 7:51, etc., and note Gen. 3 and Ex. 32 in particular). The result of all this is that modern evangelicals, even those who are not fundamentalists, read Scripture through Augustinian eyes and attribute ‘adult’ sin to unconscious infants, even embryos! But the real problem, as I have already hinted, is that he has left us with a palpably false worldview involving “the Creation/Fall/Restoration framework within which the gospel is presented in the Bible” (Ham, et al. p..90). This picture was in essence the brainchild of Augustine, and that it is contrary to the NT can be demonstrated time and time again. (It has to be admitted, however, that restoration figures extensively in the OT, but it is clearly superseded in the new covenant.) It is based on woeful exegesis, bad theology and defiance of elementary logic. But the power of tradition to blind our eyes is immense, as Jesus was far from loath to make clear (e.g. Mark 7).
The True View
What is the true view? Surely it is, as the very first words in our Bibles intimate, that our world, created ‘by hand’ (Ps. 8:6, cf. Heb. 9:11) and hence irrespective of sin, is purely temporal, a creature of time, an impermanent tool being used for a purpose (cf. Ps. 119:91) (4* This is surely what is intended by the word ‘good’, cf. 2:9; 3:6, kalos, literally ‘beautiful’, in the LXX. See, e.g. Wenham, p.18, cf. p.38.) like flesh and blood which derives from it (1 Cor. 15:50). As it has had a beginning, so it will have an end (cf. Heb. 7:3), that is, a terminus as well as a goal. In this alone it is shown to be intrinsically impermanent, imperfect and corruptible in violent contrast to the eternal Creator himself (see Ps. 102:25-27; Isa. 34:4; Mt. 5:18; 24:35; Heb. 7:3,16; 10:9, etc.). And Peter (2 Pet. 3:7,10-12), Paul (1 Cor. 15:50; 2 Cor. 4:18, etc.) and the author of Hebrews (6:7f.;12:25-29) draw the unavoidable conclusion regarding its final end, which is destruction. If our goal is knowledge of God (John 17:3) and access into his presence (Heb. 9:24; 1 Pet. 3:18, etc.), then once this has been achieved in Christ, who himself for the first time “brought life and immortality (incorruption) to light” (2 Tim. 1:10), the present world will be superfluous (Rev. 20:11; 21:1-5). Having produced its harvest of the sons of God (Mt. 13:38-43; Rom. 8:19-23; Rev. 14:15f., cf. 11:15) it will have reached its use-by date (cf. Heb. 6:7f.). Once it has, like the temple (Mark 14:58), been destroyed, shadow will give way to substance (Rev. 21:1-5). In other words, relative to the subject under discussion, history, in which Adam as both individual and community will have played his part, will be brought by the grace of God to its glorious consummation as was intended from the start (2 Cor. 5:1-5). But if we insist on perfect one-day-old men, who would appear to be a contradiction in terms, we nullify the historical process and reduce it to absurdity.
Of course, the literalists tell us that unlike Jesus, who clearly grew, learned to speak and so forth (see esp. Luke 2:41ff.), Adam was ‘programmed’ as an adult, rather like a robot. This, however, simply emphasises his freakish nature and by so much divorces him from humanity as we know it. Paul, however, sees him as being truly man, our fleshly forerunner just as Jesus was our spiritual one (1 Cor. 15:45ff.; Heb. 12:2). Those who subscribe to federal theology and the Augustinian concept of original sin would seem to have special difficulties at this point since they believe that we are in covenant with Adam at birth, even conception! Still more to the point, how one who is to all intents and purposes an automaton and a perfect one at that could fall into sin must ever remain an insoluble mystery. How much simpler it is to believe what the Bible teaches and recognise that Adam (along with Eve) is the paradigm and prototype of fleshly man in whose fleshly image we are made and whose pattern of sin we so obviously follow. In other words, the Pelagian interpretation of Romans 5:12 is not only possible, as even Professor John Murray was prepared to concede (p. 183), it is clearly the correct one. His own ‘conclusive objections to this view’ prove on examination to be lamentably inadequate. (It is surely ironic that Murray who was the twentieth century’s greatest advocate of the imputation of Adam’s sin denied the Adamic administration covenantal status, Collected Writings 2, pp.47ff. This logically undermined his entire case.)
The Creation of the Animals
Yet another issue of great importance and relevance must be addressed, for if Adam was created adult in 24 hours, so were the animals. This means that predators were created full-grown killing machines and nature was ‘red in tooth and claw’ from the start. And since Adam and Eve manifestly ate before they received the law and sinned, so did animals like lions and tigers. Instead of recognising that God provides the predators he has created with food (Ps. 104:21, cf. vv.27f.; 145:15f.; Job 38:39-41), the advocates of a literal six-day creation are forced to assume that carnivores first lived on green plants (Gen. 1:29f.) and that meat eating stemmed from sin and the curse of Genesis 3:17-19. But how? If predators were not created as such, then they must have developed their weapons of destruction by a naturalistic evolutionary process. That is the last inference traditionalists want to draw. After all, their entire polemic is based on anti-evolutionism and Augustinian theology.
A Confusion of Categories
Before reaching a conclusion, it needs to be stressed that the advocates of a 24-hour -old Adam are involved in a confusion of categories. While it may be conceded that the entire cosmos is a miracle stemming from the supernatural (Heb. 11:3), biblically speaking, creation as such is natural and ‘hand-made’ (Ps. 19:1; Isa. 48:13; Heb. 1:10) in character not supernatural and not ‘not hand-made’ (cf. Heb. 9:11). The same is true with regard to man who on the natural level is ‘made by hand’ (Job 10:8f.; Ps. 119:73; 138:8; Isa. 19:25; 60:21; 64:8; 2 Cor. 4:7, etc.) but supernaturally reborn, that is, ‘not by hand’ (John 1:13; 3:6; 6:63; Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13, cf. 2 Cor. 5:1). In essence, this point was made by Isaiah when he differentiated between natural and supernatural birth long before the inauguration of the new covenant (66:7f.).
So I conclude that to posit a 24-hour-old adult man is at worst to enter either the realm of fable or magic or at best to put Adam, who is the very epitome of the ‘hand-made’ natural man (Gen. 2:7; 3:19), illegitimately among the supernatural, that is, with the last Adam whose conception, but certainly not his gestation, was miraculous. This suggests a basic failure to differentiate between the man of dust and the man of heaven (1 Cor. 15:45ff.). In this situation science, anthropology in particular, seen as the legitimate study of the natural or normal, is undermined. In the final analysis, the picture painted by traditional theology, which was based on a somewhat simplistic and literalistic hermeneutic, is an argument from silence and moves from the unknown to the known rather than the other way around. As such it is highly suspect. In contrast, the Bible presents a different and a more rationally coherent view.
(It would appear that another reason why traditionalist fundamentalists insist on the 24-hour days in Genesis is their quite unwarranted assumption that denial entails evolution. Evolution is a loaded term, however, and requires definition. All sane Christians believe in evolution in the sense of development. After all, their own biography, not to mention history, insists on it. But since they accept divine creation and providence, they uncompromisingly deny naturalistic evolutionism.)
Finally, as has been hinted above, the most basic reason why theological writers palm off on us a one-day old Adam is that they fail to understand the biblical doctrine of the covenants. Traditional theology, headed by Augustine rather than by Irenaeus, stood man on his head and made both him and the creation from which he stemmed perfect, complete or adult from the beginning (5* This, of course, gives rise not merely to the unwarrantable and unsustainable notion that OT believers were born again before the coming of Christ and the Spirit consequent on it but that John the Baptist, for example, experienced rebirth before natural birth!). This inevitably had the effect of reducing him to a flat uniformity and gave rise to the monolithic undifferentiated unity of the covenant of grace. (Dispensatinalists rightly complain that covenant theologians who are Augustinians cannot accommodate progressive revelation and development. See e.g. Ryrie, p.188.) The fact is, however, that he, as both individual and community, is by nature a creature subject to development and hence to different covenants as he matures. Nowhere is this made more plain than in Galatians 3:23-4:7 where like Jesus we are, first, born of woman (nature/slaves), next, especially if we are Jews, subjected to the law (servants) and finally recipients of the promised life by the Spirit (sons). To put the issue somewhat differently, creation is teleological; it moves (under the direction of a God who is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last) from A to Z, from its beginning in immaturity (genesis) to its predestined end in maturity or completion culminating in revelation. And to confuse the two is to destroy the essence of the plan of salvation and what is nowadays recognised as salvation history. I submit that Adam was created like the rest of us by a process that required more than 24 hours.
There are other matters to consider in our assessment of the length of the Genesis days. First, the great age of the antediluvians begs questions. If with Augustine we assume, despite its intrinsic absurdity, that man was created perfect, i.e. righteous and fully mature, in 24 hours but then entered into slow decline as his sin took effect, we might well be ready to believe that one man could attain to the age of approximately a thousand years. But if we accept the known development of the individual as reflected in Jesus, for example, from immaturity or imperfection to maturity, the Augustinian scenario looks a good deal less likely. Assuming that Adam, like all human beings began his fleshly existence without self-consciousness and understanding (cf. his ignorance of law) and underwent a period of preconscious fleshly development like a baby, then it seems much more likely that Adam (mankind) and Adam (individual) are not readily differentiated (cf. Wenham, p.91). In other words, the individual Adam as he appears in the Genesis 2 and 3 (cf. Rom. 5:12ff. and 1 Cor. 15:21f., 45-49) symbolises the race or, more specifically in 5:5, the family or tribe (cf. Seth, etc.) which obviously has a greater life-span than the individual. The notion of the eponymous hero has relevance here. If this is indeed the picture, then once again immediate creation in twenty-four hours devoid of development looks highly unlikely. Having said this, however, it must be conceded that specific evidence is lacking.
Further to this, however, commentators in general do not seem to take seriously what Scripture actually says about Eve. What Genesis 3:16 tells us is that Eve’s pain in childbirth will greatly increase. Again, if we assume with Augustine that Eve, like Adam, is simply an individual, the point is extremely difficult to understand since at this stage Eve has never given birth. So, we must ask how her pain can be multiplied or increased? I always thought that 10×0=0. On the other hand, if Eve is not simply an individual but mirrors women in general who underwent slow fleshly as opposed to moral development before they achieved full self-consciousness, then it can be assumed that they had children, like animals, with minimal pain (cf. the old saying no brain, no pain). Again we need to remember with Paul that flesh precedes spirit (1 Cor. 15:46, cf. v.23).
W.J.Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel, Grand Rapids, 2002.
W.A.Elwell, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Grand Rapids, 1996.
W.A.Elwell, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Grand Rapids, 1984.
G.D.Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Grand Rapids, 1987.
Ken Ham, et al., The Answers Book, Brisbane, 1999.
J.Murray, Romans, London, 1967.
J.Murray, Collected Writings 2, Edinburgh, 1977.
O.P.Robertson, The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, Grand Rapids, 1990.
H.W.Robinson, The Christian Doctrine of Man, Edinburgh, 1911.
C.C.Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, Chicago, 1965.
B.B.Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings, Vol. 1, Nutley, 1970.
G.J.Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Waco, 1987.
B.F.Westcott, The Epistles of John, London, 1883.