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Response to Spencer Boersma's article "Why Genesis One Does Not Teach Creationism"
by Richard Peachey
[Note: Subsequent to the initial posting of my response, Mr. Boersma changed several parts of his original article. I will take up those changes in a "Postscript" at the end of my response.]
1. Spencer Boersma's title implies that the Bible's first chapter presents no significant information that would tend to support any key aspect of creationism against its primary opponent, evolutionism.
But Genesis 1 certainly seems to present some key aspects of creationism: it speaks of divine creation in six consecutive normal-length days (contextually associated with periods of light and darkness, evening and morning). And the order of some of the major events in that chapter clearly contradicts the order of appearance within schemes of cosmic and biological evolution — for example, the earth is formed prior to the sun, and birds arise before land-dwelling reptiles.
So I suggest Mr. Boersma will have an uphill battle convincing readers that Genesis 1 does not teach creationism. But let's hear what he has to say.
2. After the title, the next item to appear in Mr. Boersma's article is a drawing of the cosmos as supposedly understood by the ancients:
It should be noted that this diagram includes several labels not found in Genesis 1 — including "Floodgates" (twice), "Columns of Mountains," "Columns of the Earth," "Sheol," and "Abyss" (twice); the last term is a Greek word meaning "bottomless." Note also that the word "Firmament" (used twice in the drawing) is derived from firmamentum, used in the Latin Vulgate to translate the Hebrew term rāqiya‘ (Genesis 1:6). But the Hebrew term itself does not necessarily imply firmness or solidity; the word is translated "expanse" in many modern English versions. (More on this below.)
3. Beneath the drawing, the following quotation is given: "One does not read in the Gospel that the Lord said: I will send you the Holy Spirit who will teach you about the course of the sun and moon. For He willed to make them Christians, not astronomers." The quote is ascribed to "Saint Augustine, regarding Genesis chapter one."
This citation is from his Contra Felicem Manichaeum ("Against Felix the Manichaean"), book 1, paragraph 10, which can be read in the original Latin here.
But contrary to Mr. Boersma's attribution, neither Augustine's statement nor the surrounding context (in paragraphs 9 through 11) says anything about "Genesis chapter one," or about "Genesis" at all. Augustine is here contrasting the teaching of Mani (or Manichaeus) with the teaching of Christ in the gospel. A significant part of Mani's teaching involved ongoing processes related to the sun and moon. Augustine is saying that such teaching is not germane to the gospel, that is, it's not what the Paraclete (Holy Spirit) was sent to teach about. But Augustine is not saying here that Genesis (or creation, or the origin of the sun, moon, etc.) is irrelevant for Christian theology.
It's worth noting that Augustine elsewhere warns against Christians taking secular scientific theories too seriously! For details, see my article here.
4. Mr. Boersma begins his article proper by claiming that Genesis 1 is a "'counter-myth,' a story that intentionally resembles myths that [preceded] it." He thinks Genesis 1 was "crafted . . . in order to counter pagan ideas" and that it "has 'mythic' qualities." He calls Genesis 1 "nonscientific" — not in the sense that it uses non-technical language (all of us would agree with that), but in the sense that it contains scientific errors. But three paragraphs later Mr. Boersma writes, "I do think Genesis one is God's Word." And near the conclusion of his article he writes, "What we have to keep in mind is that God [has] communicated something enduring in something culturally-[bound]." Thus Mr. Boersma seems to be ascribing to God a calculated strategy of "intentionally" crafting a creation account containing various errors from the surrounding pagan cultures.
The idea that Genesis 1 was formulated as a polemic against surrounding cultural beliefs goes back to at least 1971 and Gerhard Hasel's work, "The Polemic Nature of the Genesis Cosmology." But there are difficulties with this view, in particular the reality that Genesis 1 does not immediately strike the reader as attacking anything at all! The chapter is a calm, simple but majestic, orderly, matter-of-fact narrative account of how God spoke things into existence, named them, assigned roles to them, evaluated them, and blessed them. No opposing view, or opposition of any kind, is evident anywhere in this chapter. The fact that a historical account can be used polemically — which Genesis 1 certainly can — does not entail that this was the document's original main purpose. Rather, the early chapters of Genesis are readily understood as laying the historical, logical, and theological foundation of all that comes later. Genesis 1 and the following chapters describe the origins of the heavens and the earth and their contents, mankind, sin, and eventually the nation of Israel. Yes, these chapters are useful in the refutation of polytheism, deism, an eternal universe, evolutionism, and many other false concepts — but such polemical uses are secondary to the primary purpose of simply inculcating God's truth. Speaking as an old banker, I understand that a detailed knowledge of the appearance of genuine twenty-dollar bills is valuable when one is trying to detect counterfeits, but that is not the original purpose of the genuine bills — is it?
5. At the end of his opening paragraph Mr. Boersma writes that "the enduring message or substance" of Genesis 1 is that "God is creator, nothing else is, the creation is good, life-giving[,] ordered, and beautiful, and humans are made in God's image, designed to inherent dignity and to find themselves in [his] love." Toward the end of his article Mr. Boersma returns to this theme:
. . . the substance or enduring message of the text is . . . .
1 God is creator of all that exists and creates out of nothing.
2 God is beyond creation, nothing in creation is to be treated as god, and therefore, humans ought not to be enslaved to the worship of finite things.
3 Creation is made by divine decree, and therefore is ordered, good and life-giving.
4 Creation is designed for peace, worship and Sabbath
5 All humans, not just kings, high priests, or warlords but all people, male and female, rich and poor, are made in God’s image, deserving the dignity and rights God’s children deserve.
6 All humans are designed to act like God, emulating his "likeness" of goodness and love.
7 People have a responsibility to be stewards of the environment, not to destroy it or waste the precious gift we have been given, but to care for it.
Thus Mr. Boersma arbitrarily determines which aspects of Genesis 1 count as "enduring" and which parts can be safely ignored as "incidental." The six days of creation apparently count for little — despite the fact that God later inscribed them in stone! (See Exodus 20:11; 31:18.) Also ignorable (in Mr. Boersma's view) are all God's acts of speaking, naming, assigning roles, and blessing; and the specific order of events; and God's command to animals and humans to reproduce; and human dominion over all the animals; and God's original gift of only plant food to humans and animals.
But not only does Mr. Boersma attempt to suppress what Genesis 1 plainly teaches, he also injects concepts that the passage does not clearly present. Genesis 1 does not clearly teach that God created "out of nothing," or that "God is beyond creation," or that "nothing in creation is to be treated as god." Furthermore, there is nothing in Genesis 1 about "peace" or "worship" or "Sabbath" or "kings" or "high priests" or "warlords" or "rich and poor" or "rights" or "God's children" or being "designed to act like God" or being "stewards of the environment." Many, perhaps all, of these concepts do come up elsewhere in Scripture, but Genesis 1 itself does not plainly teach them.
In dealing with Genesis 1 Mr. Boersma discards what the chapter actually sets forth and instead inserts his own preferred ideas. Theologians have a name for such a tactic: it's called "eisegesis."
6. A major feature of Mr. Boersma's article is his antipathy toward creationists. In his second paragraph he calls them "people who refuse to take their hermeneutical responsibility seriously." ". . . I get frustrated with creationists," he writes, "because for all their talk of taking the text seriously, they do everything possible to dismiss the actual details of the text." In later paragraphs he accuses creationists of "uneven literalism . . . consistent neglect of what the text literally says" so that their interpretation "collapses into self-contradiction" and "absurdity." "Often," he says, "I find creationists doing these kinds of ad hoc interpretations in order to save their theology. . . . creationist[s] invent miracles . . . . in order for [their] interpretations to make sense." "For all their talk about reading the Bible plainly, creationist[s] find all sorts of cute interpretation to undermine the implications of these texts."
Mr. Boersma then proceeds to elaborate eight major "exegetical points" illustrating his concerns about creationist hermeneutics. As we examine each of these points, be on the watch for Mr. Boersma's complaints against creationists to come back and bite him!
7. Mr. Boersma's first "exegetical point" is titled "Creation from Water?" He reasons as follows:
Before everything else is created, there is water. Before there is time, planets, stars, there is water. That seems odd. Why is that? . . . Water was a symbol of nothingness. The Mediterranean Sea was thought to be an "abyss." Why? If a sailor sank into the depths of the sea, they would disappear into what would seem like bottomless black nothingness, a void. Beginning with water is a metaphorical way of saying the world was "formless" and "void," and so, God created the world out of nothing.
But is water really a metaphorical symbol of "nothingness"? How about if we track this interpretive symbol through the remainder of the chapter. Genesis 1:2 states, "The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters." In Genesis 1:6-8, those waters are separated by the expanse/heaven, so that some waters are above it and some are under it. Then in Genesis 1:9f., the waters under the heavens are gathered into one place, and God calls them "seas." In Genesis 1:20-22 those waters become populated with swarms of living creatures who are blessed and commanded to multiply and fill the waters in the seas. In Genesis 1:26-28 the fish of the sea are placed under human dominion.
The interpretation according to Mr. Boersma has to be as follows: God created the world out of nothingness (Genesis 1:2); the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the nothingness (1:2); God separates the original nothingness into some nothingness above the expanse/heaven and some nothingness under it (1:6-8); the nothingness under the heavens is gathered into one place and called "seas" (1:9f.); the nothingness becomes populated by swarms of living creatures who are blessed and commanded to multiply and fill the nothingness in the seas (1:20-22); and the fish of the nothingness (here called "sea") are placed under human dominion (1:26-28).
Mr. Boersma earlier charged creationists with doing "everything possible to dismiss the actual details of the text" and "consistent neglect of what the text literally says" so that creationist interpretation "collapses" into "absurdity." He accused creationists of finding "all sorts of cute interpretation to undermine the implications of these texts." But it is not creationists who want to avoid the text's use of the word "water" in Genesis 1:2; that "absurdity" belongs solely to Mr. Boersma.
The water in Genesis 1:2 is not a symbol. It is not a metaphorical way of saying the world was formless and void. Mr. Boersma may think it "odd" that water existed before stars (created on Day 4), but that is the plain teaching of Genesis 1. The reality of the original water is also taught by the New Testament, in 2 Peter 3:5f.: "For they [i.e., sinful scoffers] deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished." The "water" in Genesis 1:2 is here paralleled with the "water" of the worldwide flood; both of them refer to literal, actual water, not "nothingness."
8. Mr. Boersma's second "exegetical point" is titled "Earth then Universe?"
Next we see that the creation of the earth precedes the creation of the very universe it is supposed to be situated in. This should tip us off that this is not a scientific description. In fact, we commit violence to the text by reading [our] modern assumptions into it. Land, sea, and vegetation are created before the gravity generated by an orbit to hold them in place.
Mr. Boersma makes a strange scientific error here. Gravity is not generated by "an orbit." Gravity is a function of mass. In Newton's formulation, the gravitational force between two objects depends only on their individual masses and the inverse square of the distance between their centres of mass. As soon as the earth existed, therefore, it could exert gravitational force on any matter near its surface. There is no need for the earth to be orbiting the sun (created on Day 4) before it could hold objects through gravity. Furthermore, there is no real reason related to gravity that the creation of the earth could not have preceded the creation of the sun and other objects in the universe.
I'm not sure what Mr. Boersma means by his cryptic comment about reading "modern assumptions" into the text. Wouldn't it be a "modern assumption" on his part that the earth could not have existed prior to the sun?
9. Mr. Boersma's third "exegetical point" is titled "Light/Day before Sun?"
Light and darkness as well as night and day are placed before the sun and moon, by which light, time and day are generated and measured. Even the ancient people understood that light only comes from the sun and moon (remember, they did not have electricity). Yet the sun was often worshiped, so we see the sun’s importance relegated to a later day in creation. It is no longer the primary act of creation or its pinnacle. Light, the source of all the earth’s nourishment, the symbol of moral goodness, comes directly from God. Time and day, the forces that structure reality, again, are not controlled by a solar deity, but proceed directly from God. The sun, not even named, is demoted to merely being a sign for the seasons. The "seasons" are the times of the worship festivals. So, instead of being a god, it is merely a sign for the people of God to know when to worship the true God! Thus, we see that the creation days are most meaningful when we see them as a rhetorical strategy for countering pagan mythology.
In the opening paragraph of his article Mr. Boersma had informed us that Genesis 1 is a "'counter-myth,' a story that intentionally resembles myths that [preceded] it." But now he says that "even the ancient people understood that light only comes from the sun and moon." So he seems to be admitting that on this key issue, Genesis 1 does not "intentionally resemble" pagan thinking, and is actually intended to correct pagan thinking. If God had wanted to conform Genesis 1 to Mr. Boersma's concept of ancient thought, he could easily have kept the world completely dark until the sun was created — but God didn't do that! So Mr. Boersma's proposed genre of "counter-myth" falls flat at this crucial point.
The creation of the earth and light on it before the sun is a corrective not only to the thinking of ancient pagans: it also serves as a corrective to modern theorizers. "Big Bang" cosmology, the secularist's millions/billions of years, Hugh Ross-style progressive creationism, and various other current views are severely challenged by the historical fact that the earth, with light shining on it, existed before the sun. Mr. Boersma has charged that creationists "invent miracles;" that they "refuse to take their hermeneutical responsibility seriously;" that they do "ad hoc interpretations in order to save their theology." But on this critical issue the creationists seem to be the only ones who dare to take the text as it stands!
There is no absurdity or self-contradiction involved here. The creationist view does indeed conflict with modern secular thinking, but there is no internal contradiction within Genesis on this matter. In order to have a day/night cycle (with morning and evening), you only need a rotating planet and a directional light source. God created light on Day 1 (Genesis 1:3), and the "separation" of light from darkness (1:4) seems to indicate that the light was directional. That God is able to produce light on the earth apart from the sun is shown in such texts as Exodus 10:23; 40:34; Acts 9:3; Revelation 21:23. (Conversely, God can also make it dark despite the sun's presence, as in Exodus 10:22; Matthew 27:45.) Certainly, the Bible disagrees with current cosmological theorizing, but there is no internal inconsistency within the Genesis cosmology itself.
10. Mr. Boersma's fourth "exegetical point" is titled "Blue Sky Made of Water?" He writes, "The Sky is described as being made out of water." But this is simply false. The sky (or expanse, or heaven) was not made out of water; it was created to separate the water above it from the water below it (Genesis 1:6-8). Strangely, Mr. Boersma contradicts himself when he goes on to write, ". . . the expanse is not merely water held in the sky. It is literally thought to be a hard dome of glass, which we will see in the next point."
11. Mr. Boersma's fifth "exegetical point" is titled "Sky is a Hard Dome?" But the Hebrew term rāqiya‘ (Genesis 1:6), which modern Bible versions typically translate as "expanse," and which is synonymous with "heaven" (Genesis 1:8), does not necessarily imply a solid structure. J. P. Holding's classic article on this topic is worth reading in detail. Mr. Boersma brings in several Scriptures that mention "pillars," "beams," etc., but these are all (except one) from poetical books which were written millennia after the events in Genesis 1. None of these demonstrate that "Genesis 1 does not teach creationism."
12. Mr. Boersma's sixth "exegetical point," closely tied to the previous two points, is titled "Creation is a Building?" He writes,
. . . the sun and the moon are described as embedded in this dome like lamps in a ceiling, "lights in the dome…God set them in the dome of the sky" (Gen. 1:1, 17). Experientially, we can look up and see that the sun and moon appear to be in front of the blue of the sky and it is no surprise that the ancient people literally thought this. They thought that the sun and moon were embedded in the dome of the sky, like lamps in a ceiling.
Mr. Boersma is overstating his case here. The word "embedded" (which he uses twice) is his, not the Bible's. The Hebrew term that Mr. Boersma translates as "dome" does not necessarily imply a solid structure, as already discussed above. The term "in" (Genesis 1:17) does not have to mean "embedded;" it has a wide semantic range as can be seen from Genesis 1:1 and 1:27.
According to Mr. Boersma, "the ancient people saw the earth as a flat immovable building. Earth is described like a flat 'circle,' not a sphere (Isaiah 40:22)." Again, he is overstating his case. The Hebrew term translated "circle" does not necessarily refer to a flat disk, as I discuss in detail here.
Mr. Boersma then refers to Scriptures that mention "foundations" and "pillars," but (again) these references are from poetical books written long after Genesis 1, and (again) such references do not demonstrate that "Genesis 1 does not teach creationism."
Mr. Boersma writes, "The sun and moon are described as rotating [he should have said "revolving"] around the earth building, not the earth around the sun. Ecclesiastes poetically describes this: 'The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises' (Ecc. 1:8)." He then comments, "A creationist might respond by saying these are merely a metaphor. . . . Why not be consistent and read the whole description as pre-modern poetic description?" To this I respond with two points:
(a) Job, the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Isaiah — the poetical books referenced by Mr. Boersma — are recognized by everyone as Hebrew poetry, based on their parallelism and other features. But the genre of Genesis 1 is straightforward narrative prose, not Hebrew poetry. So it is not a live option to call Genesis 1 a "poetic" description. (On the characteristics of Hebrew poetry and prose, see my article here.)
(b) Contrary to Mr. Boersma's suggestion, creationists would not label this as "a metaphor." Creationists would understand this as a phenomenological description using the language of observation. A modern physicist might say that the writer of Ecclesiastes is using the fixed earth as a reference frame, which is a perfectly valid thing to do. We do the same thing today when we speak of "sunset" rather than "earthspin." The use of such phenomenological language does not imply any particular view of the cosmos, either in us or in the Bible.
13. Mr. Boersma's seventh "exegetical point" is titled "Dragons Existing?" He writes, "The fifth day mentions the creation of the great 'sea monsters' (v. 21). . . . the word in Hebrew is tannim, which literally means 'dragons' or 'monsters.'" Yes, that's right. Creationists accept this. There is no "self-contradiction" within Genesis or within the Bible on this point.
Mr. Boersma goes on to say, ". . . the Book of Job reports the Leviathan and Behemoth as massive mythological forces of evil and chaos, but assumes they are real: 'as I made you [Job] I made it' (Job 40: 15)." Now this is a self-contradiction — not within the Bible, but within Mr. Boersma's own statement! Behemoth and Leviathan are indeed presented as mighty but real created animals, not as "mythological." Throughout Job 38:39–39:30 God is describing real animals, albeit with the use of some poetical devices such as when the horse laughs and says "Aha!" The next two chapters present Behemoth and Leviathan, who appear not as symbols of evil but as prime examples of exceptional creaturely size, strength, and invincibility, pointing to their even more powerful Creator (Job 40:15-19; 41:1-11). Leviathan is also treated as a real animal in Psalm 104:26, with a variety of real organisms and other created things mentioned in that context.
The Bible does indeed use dragons and other reptiles as symbols of evil. For example, the dragon Rahab was used as a symbol of Egypt, and Pharaoh himself was called a "dragon" (Psalm 87:4; 89:8-10; Isaiah 30:7; 51:9; Ezekiel 29:3; 32:2). But such symbolic use does not by itself determine whether the people using the symbols think of the animals as real or "mythological."
Modern creationists often argue that Behemoth and Leviathan were animals that have now gone extinct, perhaps huge reptiles. For example, see Mart-Jan Paul's article, "Behemoth and leviathan in the book of Job." A great deal of scientific evidence has recently come to light indicating that the extinction of dinosaurs may not have occurred as long ago as secular scientists tend to think. All of this would contradict modern secular thought, but it does not constitute a self-contradiction within the Bible.
It should be noted that the thought that Behemoth and Leviathan may have been huge extinct animals originated well before modern creationism. For example, such ideas were discussed by Albert Barnes (Notes on the Old Testament: Job, circa 1840) and David Thomas (Book of Job: expository and homiletical commentary, 1878).
14. Mr. Boersma's eighth and final "exegetical point" is titled "Different Creation Order from Genesis Two?" He writes, "Notice in comparison to Genesis Two that these narratives report the order and events of creation differently. Thus, if they are read as strictly historical accounts rather than literary-theological accounts, they are contradictory."
If it could be established with certainty that Genesis 1 unavoidably conflicts with Genesis 2, that would certainly be a serious difficulty for the doctrine of biblical inerrancy — but even that would not demonstrate that "Genesis 1 does not teach creationism." Genesis 1 considered on its own very clearly does present key aspects of creationism, and it plainly clashes with evolutionism. But having said that, let us consider Mr. Boersma's claims of contradiction.
(a) Mr. Boersma writes, "First, while in chapter one creation occurred in a week-long process, in chapter two it is in a day: 'In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens' (2:4)."
The term that Mr. Boersma renders as "In the day that" is beyôm, a specialized (idiomatic) use of yôm, the Hebrew word for "day." Some translations, including NASB and ESV, render the term in the same way as Mr. Boersma does. The better translation, however, is simply "when," as in the NIV. The translation "when" is supported by various lexicons, commentaries, and especially the use of the term in Numbers 7:10-84. For detailed documentation of this, see my article "Genesis 2:4 and the Meaning of 'Day' in Genesis 1."
(b) Mr. Boersma writes,
Second, there is a different creation mode. Genesis one creates by divine word alone. Genesis two uses the imagery of a fountain (perhaps the river of life alluded to [in] Rev. 22:1-2) springing forth and covering the whole earth (decidedly different from water being the beginning substance that is pushed back in chapter one). From there, God "formed out [of] the ground" man, plants, animals, and birds. Chapter two describes creation not by word instantaneously but like a potter forming clay, then breathing life into it.
Genesis 2:5-25 expands on the events of Day 6; it is not a "second creation account" (more on this in the next section). Its focus is local, rather than worldwide. There is no mention here of the creation of heavens and earth, light, the expanse, the dry land, seas, the sun, moon, and stars, the great sea creatures, the fish, or the creeping things, and there is no reference to God's day of rest from creating.
Plants are mentioned only as they connect to man; in Genesis 2 their original creation does not seem to be in view (more on this in the next section).
Regarding the land animals, Genesis 1 has God saying, "Let the earth bring forth. . . .", followed by, "And it was so. And God made. . . ." (1:24f.) But this is quite compatible with Genesis 2, which says, "Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field. . . ." (2:19)
The creation of man in Genesis 1, it must be noted, is not done in the same way as other acts of creation. First, God deliberates: "Let us make man. . . ." (1:26) Man is not said to be created instantaneously by the spoken word. God's creation of man occurs in the next verse: "So God created man. . . . male and female he created them" (1:27). This is fully compatible with the more extended description of the creation of man and woman in 2:7,21f. Genesis 2 even shows God deliberating — as he did in chapter 1 — before the creation of the woman: ". . . I will make him a helper fit for him" (2:18). Genesis 1 does not imply that man and woman were created "instantaneously," so it does not conflict with Genesis 2 on this point.
Regarding the Edenic river that divided to become four rivers, there is no contextual indication that this is mere "imagery." The four rivers are given names, three of them have their locations described, and one is associated with a variety of mineral deposits. Contrary to Mr. Boersma's statement, there is nothing in Genesis 2 about water "covering the whole earth." The mist or spring in 2:6 "was watering" (not covering) the whole face of "the ground" (hā'adāmāh, not hā'āretz). The Edenic river watered "the garden," and two of the four named rivers flowed "around" specified lands, not "over" them.
(c) Mr. Boersma writes,
Third, there is a different order to the two creation stories. In chapter one, the order of creation goes birds and fish on day five, then on day six animals first and then male and female created simultaneously that same day. Day five: birds fish; day six: animals then humans, male and female. In chapter two the order goes the man, then vegetation comes up (v. 9 – where it is ready made in the first account), then animals and birds are formed (v. 19), then the woman from Adam’s rib. It is an often neglected detail that in the second creation account God creates the man first, and it is only after he realizes that it is not good for the man to be alone that he creates animals and birds, who are not suited for him, and only after that realization that the woman is formed. Verse 19 sees the creation of every [animal] as a consequent act to realize Adam is alone: "So then out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air…" It describes a subsequent and consecutive event.
I have already dealt with the alleged contradiction between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 regarding the creation of man and woman (see above). The main issue to be considered now is the supposed difference in the creation sequence of plants, land animals and birds, and humans.
Regarding plants, Genesis 2:5-9 can reasonably be read as God's preparation of local vegetation, especially trees, for man. Verse 5 seems to refer to cultivated plants not yet being present since man was not yet in existence. Verses 8 and 9 say that God "planted" (vayyiṯṯa') and "made to sprout" (vayyatzmakh) a specific local region for man's benefit.
Regarding land animals and birds, the Hebrew verb vayyitzer (2:19) can legitimately be rendered as "and he had formed" (i.e., as pluperfect rather than simple past) — as it is in some modern translations including the NIV and ESV. For an academic justification of such a translation, see the article by C. John Collins, "The Wayyiqtol as 'Pluperfect': When and Why."
Mr. Boersma's translation of verse 19 as "So then. . . .", as if "a subsequent and consecutive event" were being described, does not seem justified at all. I have not seen any translation that renders the verse in that way. Even the word "So. . . .", all by itself, as seen in the NLT, is a bit of a stretch.
Again, if you read them as historical accounts, you force the passages to contradict themselves. If you try to [use] the passage to support creationism, you are glossing over a lot of details to make it work. If you read them like they intend to be read, as theological narratives, then you will have no problem seeing these different orders as incidental to the enduring theological truth of the passage.
But may God deliver us from treating his holy Word like this.
15. In his final paragraph, Mr. Boersma reveals his overriding concern, his true motivation for wanting to treat Genesis 1 as he does: "You can hold to evolution and that [the] universe is billions of years old and that Genesis is God's Word."
It is evident that Mr. Boersma's mind is held captive by a modern secular evolutionary worldview. He has permitted an alien, anti-biblical philosophical framework to distort his thinking about God's holy Word. And there are, sadly, many other scholars who, like him, have allowed this to happen to them; some even admit that this is their motivation. For examples, see Simon Turpin's article "Evangelical Commentaries on the Days of Creation in Genesis One."
Believers must adopt the attitude of our Master Teacher, Jesus Christ, toward every part of Scripture. Our Lord held God's Word to be unbreakable truth — including the first two chapters of Genesis (as seen in Matthew 19:4-6). For a complete list of the ways in which the Saviour referred to (Old Testament) Scripture, see my article "Christ's View of the Bible."
The prophet Isaiah proclaimed,
Thus says the Lord:
Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?
All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things came to be,
declares the Lord.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word.
Subsequent to my initial posting of the above response, Mr. Boersma changed several parts of his original article. I will now consider those changes.
1. Under his second "exegetical point," Mr. Boersma had originally written:
Land, sea, and vegetation are created before the gravity generated by an orbit to hold them in place.
A creationist might retort and say that God held these things in place until gravity was created. However, the text does not say that nor would it even be suggesting it as it is speaking to a non-scientific world.
Mr. Boersma has now removed his ill-advised idea about "gravity generated by an orbit" and inserted the following instead:
By all accounts the Sun is older than the earth, and the earth (as well as the moon) all formed because they were in orbit around the Sun.
A creationist might retort and say that God held these things in place until the solar system was created, but then natural history is being portrayed as intentionally deceptive. However, the text does not say anything about such a process nor would it even be suggesting it as it is speaking to a non-scientific world.
Although the word "gravity" is gone, Mr. Boersma still appears to be trying to maintain the concept as he suggests a creationist might say that "God held these things in place until the solar system was created...." Once again, Mr. Boersma needs to realize that earth's ability to keep things in place does not depend on the existence of the rest of the solar system. As soon as the earth had been formed, it exerted a gravitational force on objects near its surface, due to its mass. There is no need for creationists or anyone else to invoke a supernatural holding of "things in place" pending the creation of the sun or solar system.
Mr. Boersma writes, "By all accounts the Sun is older than the earth...." But he should have been more accurate: "Secular scientists believe the Sun is older than the earth." After all, there is one very important account that speaks of the earth being formed prior to the sun: the Genesis account. (Recall that Mr. Boersma had earlier stated, "I do think Genesis one is God's Word.") In fact, the secular scientific story can hardly even be called an "account," since the formation of the earth and sun were not personally witnessed, experienced, or reported by any human being. (Google defines "account" in this sense as "a report or description of an event or experience.") Secular scientists can only propose hypothetical reconstructions or theoretical models of such past events; they cannot provide genuine "accounts." Genesis 1, on the other hand, is a report from one who was actually present.
It's ironic that Mr. Boersma here comments on what "the text does not say." Furthermore, just before the above-quoted section he had warned against committing "violence to the text by reading [our] modern assumptions into it." But it is the creationists who keep to what the text says, doing their best to resist modern secular assumptions. That's why we continue to maintain, in the face of ongoing opposition and ridicule, that God created the earth before the sun, just as Genesis states. Let God be true even though that makes every secular scientist a liar (cf. Romans 3:4).
2. Under his seventh "exegetical point," Mr. Boersma has added this sentence at the end of the first paragraph:
Creationists, rather adorably, have tried to say that these refer to the dinosaurs, but these passages refer to these beasts as presently existing at the time of writing.
Everyone understands that Behemoth and Leviathan are described as existing at the time of writing. They are creatures with which Job had experience or about which he had at least heard reports. Creationists hold that dinosaurs existed in the relatively recent past, though they may be extinct today. Dinosaurs, as land-dwelling animals, were created on Day Six. Based on the descriptions in Job chapters 40 and 41, many creationists suggest that Behemoth may have been a large sauropod dinosaur, and Leviathan a large marine reptile. To call this "adorable" is simply a dismissive expression of ridicule on Mr. Boersma's part — obviously it does not constitute a theological or scientific argument.
3. Under his eighth "exegetical point," Mr. Boersma has added this comment about Genesis 2:4 to the end of his first paragraph:
Now, "in the day" can mean a period of time, but in this context it does not seem to. This refers to Genesis two, where, as we will see, a new creation story is being presented, which does not use a creation week. Its events are presented undifferentiated by days. Thus, it seems that "day," while it could mean period, there are no creation days in Genesis two for it to correspond to.
The Hebrew term beyôm, which Mr. Boersma literalistically renders as "in the day," simply means "when" — as I have already argued. Mr. Boersma offers no evidence that beyôm can mean "a period of time," whereas in my linked article I have presented a good deal of evidence from lexicons and commentators that the term means "when."
A clear parallel to Genesis 1's repeated use of yôm ("day"), followed by a summarizing beyôm, is found in Numbers 7:10-84. Numbers 7:10 and 7:84 (both using beyôm) bookend the account of the offerings of the leaders of Israel, which undoubtedly took place during twelve literal (calendar) days (Numbers 7:12-83). This pattern is remarkably similar to Genesis 2:4 (which likewise uses beyôm) placed immediately after the seven days of the creation week in Genesis 1:1-2:3. From this we can conclude that the use of beyôm in a summarizing statement provides no evidence that the numbered days in the sequence being summarized are anything other than ordinary (normal-length) days.
Mr. Boersma writes that in Genesis 2 "a new creation story is being presented, which does not use a creation week." The reason Genesis 2 does not use a creation week is that it is not a new creation story. As I explained earlier, it is an expansion of the Day Six account of the creation of humans as given in Genesis 1. The focus of Genesis 2 is local, rather than worldwide. There is no mention here of the creation of heavens and earth, light, the expanse, the dry land, seas, the sun, moon, and stars, the great sea creatures, the fish, or the creeping things, and there is no reference to God's day of rest from creating. It is not a second "creation story." And that is why "there are no creation days in Genesis two."
4. Also under his eighth "exegetical point," Mr. Boersma inserts this commentary at the end of his second last paragraph, in order to argue against understanding the first verb in Genesis 2:19 as a pluperfect (as the NIV and ESV do):
In fact, it is similar to most verses in this chapter that begins with what is called a waw consecutive (the [H]ebrew word for “and then”), which is the engine of Hebrew narrative (literally every sentence in a narrative will begin with a waw, “and then,” but most translations edit them out). Some translations make the waw into a logical “then” rather than a temporal “then.” However, to do that inserts past events into the present of the text (which means the author is inserting events out of narrative sequence, which is possible but unlikely). Also, translating this one waw this way, where all the others in the Hebrew indicate the waw consecutive, makes the translation arbitrary and inconsistent.
A Hebrew waw placed at the beginning of a new sentence does not automatically mean that the event described in the new sentence chronologically follows the event in the previous sentence. This has to be determined from the context. Mr. Boersma actually acknowledges that a Hebrew author may possibly insert events "out of narrative sequence," even though this admittedly occurs with a low frequency. But since an author can in fact do such a thing, it makes no sense for a translator to strive for complete "consistency" while ignoring the possibility that a pluperfect may be the best rendering in a given context. Mr. Boersma should carefully read the article by C. John Collins that I linked earlier.
Mr. Boersma may wish to consider: When God put the man in the garden in Genesis 2:15, must that have been a subsequent event to when God put the man in the garden in Genesis 2:8?
5. Just before his closing paragraph, Mr. Boersma has added the following sentence regarding potential additional "enduring" lessons from Genesis 1:
There are more, and these are discerned with wisdom, in the community of the faithful, gathered to listen to how the Spirit will use the Scripture to speak to us.
May I suggest to Mr. Boersma that the "faithful" are those who adhere to what God has clearly spoken in his inspired Word. The "faithful" are not those who succumb to the pressures of this world's wisdom, misusing their God-given ingenuity to grieve the Holy Spirit by twisting the holy Scriptures through which he works.
Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
— Jeremiah 17:5-8