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Last updated March 03.

March 3, 2014 issue

Debating Genesis

By Jane Yoder-Short

It’s not always easy to distinguish sand from rocks. The Feb. 4 debate between Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis and Bill Nye “The Science Guy” seemed at times to turn into an attempt to prove the stupidity of each other’s assumptions.

Yoder-Short

Yoder-Short

I thought of the two build­ers that Jesus talked about and that as kids we sang about. The rains came down and floods came up and the house on the rock stood firm. But the house on the sand went splat! As kids we liked the song with its actions and its big clap. Ham and Nye seemed like kids, rooting for each other’s truths to fall down. They seemed a little too cheery about their superiority.

We want our foundations to hold up. For some, science is unquestionable. For others science is a threat. Will science discover something that makes our faith go splat? Does digging in and defending a literal Genesis build a solid foundation? Our Anabaptist foundation can help us sort sand from rock.

Are we building on sand when we read the Bible thinking it needs no interpretation? Ham kept saying he has a book. How do we read this book, this Bible? The Ancient Near East culture is not our culture. Reading implies interpretation.

The Anabaptists viewed the Bible as foundational, but they weren’t interested in empty belief-dueling. According to Walter Klaassen, the Anabaptists “were most concerned, not with the intellectual questions, but with humble obedience to Jesus to whom the scriptures testify” (Anabaptism in Outline). Beliefs need to connect with living.

Are we building on sand when we make Genesis the focal point of the Bible? Ham would have us believe that if we don’t agree with his young-Earth, six-day creation view, then our faith is in danger: “Creationism is the only viable option.” To those of us who may read the Bible differently: splat!

The Anabaptists read the Bible through the lens of Jesus, not Genesis. Sixteenth-century Anabaptist Bernhard Rothmann said, “An interpretation is reliable if it leads to behavior that conforms to Christ. If such behavior is not there, Scripture has not been understood.”

Are we building on sand when we hang onto a literal biblical interpretation? What do we do with owning slaves, allowing concubines and stoning adulterers? Christian philosopher Nancey Murphy, who has written on the relationship between theology and science, said, “I shocked some Christians by saying I am in favor of reading the Bible literally, so long as we begin with the Sermon on the Mount and work our way to other passages after we have gotten that one right” (Reconciling Theology and Science). Taking enemy love literally doesn’t seem as popular as debating creationism.

When we color Genesis with our modern scientific questions, we miss valuable insight. Israel was debating their neighbors’ claims that the sun, moon and stars were gods. They disagreed with neighboring creation accounts that humans came from the blood of violent dueling gods. As Millard Lind reminds us in Yahweh Is a Warrior, the biblical creation account climaxes in the human family rather than being used to justify the state or the rule of an emperor.

It’s easier to argue over beliefs than to live a foundation modeled by Jesus. It’s easy to think our way of reading the Bible is the correct one. It’s easy to confuse science and belief. We need each other’s perspectives to sort the cheap sand from the more costly rock.

Now, what was the original context of the builder’s story? Was Jesus talking about a science debate?

Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.

Comments

  • Ms Short: ll Tim 3:16 tells us that " All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. Ms. Short, do you understand what the word 'all' means? Do you understand what the word 'inspiration of God' means? Do you understand that the word 'day' means a 24 hour period or do you doubt that God was able to do the creation in six days?

    It was Moses who wrote Genesis. How could he have written the account of creation in Genesis if he was not even a gleam in his mother's eye? It was Jesus who confirmed that Biblical marriage is between one man and one woman. Somehow that needs to be expanded by Anabaptists to fit into today's culture which is no different than the sinful culture of Sodom and Gomorrah

    There are other verses in ll Tim 3 that speak to the self appointed Anabaptist wisdom thinkers who would encourage people in MC USA to be doubters of certain portions of Bible which violate their flawed theology.

    It was Satan who planted doubt in Eve's mind when he responded to Eve by saying : "Hath God Said?" Satan successfully plants doubt to the Anabaptists regarding other teachings of the Bible.

    The Bible warns us in ll Tim 3:5 that in the last times there will be those among us that have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof: from such turn away. I see that happening in various denominations of the religious left today who are struggling with decreasing membership.

    - Dale Welty (mar 10 at 1:18 p.m.)

  • Amen Welty! Your reply gives me courage to answer this op-ed as well. Although I do not for a moment believe that I will change anyone's mind on this 6-day, 6,000-year issue, I will nevertheless try: I never listened to the debate but my very competent internet friends were saddened by the fact that Ham did not do better. However he did make an excellent presentation of the Gospel--which is all that may matter anyway. The Mennonite (Anabaptist) farmer who goes out to his field on Monday morning must know that the bird or the rabbit he sees was created in exactly the same morphology and biochemical makeup as we see it today. We dare not preach a garbled message to that farmer. In the parable about the stone-foundation vs the sand-foundation Jesus was talking about His Word(s) and His principles but the words and the principles of Genesis 1 are His Word(s)and His principles! The wisdom of Proverbs 8:8,9 [nasb] reads, "All the utterances of my mouth are in righteousness; There is nothing crooked or perverted in them. They are all STRAIGHTFORWARD [kjv "plain"] to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge."

    - whentz40 (mar 10 at 6:27 p.m.)

  • Ms Short has used a well thought of "Anabaptist" method of theology by referring to Walter Klaassen's quote “were most concerned, not with the intellectual questions, but with humble obedience to Jesus to whom the scriptures testify” .....this is the base of Love......this is the testimony of Christ and the Church! We are to live and learn the concepts of the Greatest recorded sermon ever preached....and then all else will come together. Certainly legalism is not taking over your heart, if it creeps in then get reading...for love is the Greatest of all. Because we would perish if we were under those "Old" laws....I mean die forever...

    To just argue the concept of Genesis' time frame....we read elsewhere that a 1000 days to God is like a day to us....better said, it could very well be a million, or billion or billion billion is equal to a day to God, the idea is that it is just a long...long time. So, the mystery of Creation is buried in the past....and do we really need to know and worry our little heads off, when the NT focus is healing the sick......and for most of us the sickness is that we are not learning how to love our neighbors like ourselves...and even better how to love ourselves...This is the works of what Jesus wanted us to learn, discuss and place in the forfront of our lives

    God Bless Henry

    - Henry Immanuel (mar 12 at 6:45 a.m.)

  • Henry, I readily accept that God created the earth in six days consisting of 24 hours each. Your and Ms Short's argument is with God and not me. The fact that you go to ll Peter 3 to create doubt on the Genesis account is troublesome. That portion of scripture pertains to religious scoffers that emerge in the last days to cast doubt of the second coming of Jesus Christ. You're taking that scripture completely out of context and misapplying it.

    - Dale Welty (mar 17 at 11:53 p.m.)

  • Create the world in 6-24 hour days. "All scripture"

    The problem that I see with both of these ideas is that at the point of their origin, the final product is not there.

    "Day" cannot mean 24 hours before the earth & sun are created.

    "All Scripture" at the point Timothy was written could not have even included Timothy because it was not part of the book.

    Does this make any sense, Mr. Welty?

    - David Hiebert (mar 19 at 11:10 p.m.)

  • David, here are my comments to you:

    Day can mean 24 hours because In Genesis 1 we read: "1) In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. Darkness is the absence of light. When light arrives, darkness flees.

    The final product is not yet here but God, in in foreknowledge, had it in his plan.

    The following is additional scripture that speak to this subject: l Cor 2:13-15 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man (once born) receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.15 But he that is spiritual (twice born) judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. l Peter 1:19-21 "We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation (personal thinking)21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost".

    I hope my comments answer your questions

    - Dale Welty (mar 20 at 1:43 p.m.)

  • I hesitate about getting into this but I would just humbly relate a bit of my own story here. I struggled for several years as a young man trying to reconcile a literal reading of Genesis with my understanding of science. This is where I have come to after 60 years or so thinking about this.

    One can accept the "all scripture" quote without taking scripture literally. The quote says nothing about using scripture to teach science or history, for example. And inspiration does not equal "dictated."

    Secondly, if one believes that humans were created in the image of God, does that not also include our intellect, which is in fact a gift from God? Does God not expect humans to be good stewards and make full use of the gifts he has so graciously given us? Man has created science using intellect. When the overwhelming evidence from science is that the 6 day creation story or a world-wide flood cannot possibly be literally true, should we not accept that these accounts serve a purpose other than history? For my part as an agricultural scientist, I firmly believe that the account of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden is a wonderful poetic rendering of the transition from hunter-gatherer to agriculture approximately 10,000 years ago. Agriculture misused does indeed curse the earth itself. One example is the Dust Bowl of the 1930's. Some of the best agricultural land (Mollisols) in the world blew away because of human foolishness. Was the earth cursed because of man? You bet it was.

    The alternative of taking Genesis literally puts God into a category of capriciousness akin to the Greek and Roman gods, imo. We have all of the fossils and the geological layers of strata, for example. How did they get there if there was a 6 day creation and a world wide flood? The only conclusion if one accepts Young Earth Creationism is that God created the layers with the fossils there as well as overrode all kinds of basic laws of chemistry and physics to engineer a world wide flood. Why would God do that? Just to confuse and test us? I truly do not see another explanation and my faith is in fact much stronger believing that no, that is not how God works. We accept the findings of science in other areas, why not in this one?

    - Herbert Reed (mar 20 at 5:41 p.m.)

  • Herbert, if you want to believe science and chemistry trumps Scripture, be my guest, but I'll no go there.

    If your intellect tells you man has created science, what science did man specifically create? You want me to discard the Biblical account of creation and the world wide flood and believe what your intellect tells me?

    If your intellect makes you unable to believe creation and the flood as presented in the scriptures, how then can your intellect allow you to believe the birth, sinless life, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension to Heaven of Jesus?

    Does your intellect allow you to accept that there is a Heaven and Hell and as humans, we will eventually go to one of those two places? And further, will man's intellect or knowledge of science be the determining factor of where we will eventually go?

    - Dale Welty (mar 21 at 12:04 p.m.)

  • Dale, you do not engage in fair debate - you play fast and loose with the words of others and then extrapolate them into straw man arguments. I made my case. I am not going to debate with you as you do not follow standard rules of debate.

    - Herbert Reed (mar 21 at 2:52 p.m.)

  • Herbert, first, to me the Genesis account of creation and the flood is not debatable, period.

    I have no reason to question anything stated in Genesis You are the one who suggested that I was ignoring man's/your intellect. I simply asked several questions in that regard and you refused to answer my questions. Therefore, until you or someone else want to carry your water, have at it.

    While I'm at it, please add the word 'virgin' to precede the word 'birth' in the next to my last paragraph..

    - Dale Welty (mar 21 at 9:37 p.m.)

  • The entire article falls flat because the building on sand analogy misrepresents Jesus' parable. Those who build on sand are those who hear and do not obey, not those who choose to read the Bible literally. I find this misrepresentation a little ironic since this parable is found at the end of the Sermon on the Mount.

    - Allen R Troyer (jan 10 at 10:46 a.m.)

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