DOES GENESIS 2:4-5 CONTRADICT SIX-DAY YOUNG-EARTH CREATIONISM? A Response to Meredith Kline

DOES GENESIS 2:4-5 CONTRADICT SIX-DAY YOUNG-EARTH CREATIONISM? A Response to Meredith Kline

© 2016, by John Tors. All Rights Reserved.

Introduction

The first two chapters of the Bible, Genesis 1 and 2, describe the original creation by God of the world and the life in it, including ManPrima facie, these chapters are not difficult to understand.  Genesis 1 gives a description of the entire process, beginning with the creation of the sum total of matter/energy from which God makes the entire universe, and ending with the creation of human beings. All of this took place in six “days,” a term easily understandable to the original and subsequent readers as those 24-hour periods made up of light and darkness that is familiar to every human who has ever lived.  Indeed, for some 3,400 years, from the time Genesis was written, there is no record of anyone ever seeing “day” in Genesis 1 as something other than a 24-hour period.[1]

Nor was there any question as to when all this happened.  Genesis 5 and 11 provide the information, in the form of chronogenealogies, needed to establish the date of the original creation.  While genealogies may contain gaps (i.e. link men with more distant descendants than their immediate sons), that fact does not prevent us from calculating the times involved, since chronogenealogies include the time span between each name that is included.  The information in Genesis 5 and 11 thus allows us to calculate the passage of time from the creation to Abraham, and subsequent data in the Bible allows us to calculate the passage of time from Abraham to the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 587 BC, and the time from then until now is obviously not in any doubt.[2]

The universal acceptance of six-day young-earth creationism (i.e. that God created the world and the life in it in six 24-hours a maximum of 7,681 years ago) began to change around the beginning of the 19th century, when theories of “deep time” (i.e. the earth being hundreds of thousands of years old, which became millions and then billions) and then of organic evolution (with the publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859) were put forth.  It should be noted that the theory of evolution was not based on science.  According to the scientific method, evidence must be gathered and a theory formulated as a proposed explanation for that evidence; in other words, the evidence must come first and then the theory follows.  In sharp contrast, with evolution the theory came first, with the promise that the evidence would follow (though it never did).

It is no wonder, then, that Professor Edward J. Larson, Pulitzer Prize winner and the world’s leading expert on the history of the theory of evolution, and himself a doctrinaire evolutionist, said,

During the Enlightenment, during, say, the 1700’s, notions of evolution began creeping back in, that, is, creation by natural law.  If a people are intent in pushing out God, or rejecting divine causation, really the only alternative is where species, well, they could be eternal, as Aristotle said, or they had to come from other species.  Where else could they come from?[3]

As the concept of deep time and the theory of evolution became more widely accepted, Biblical scholars and exegetes saw the clear conflict between these views and the six-day, young-earth view that believers had understood to be the case for 3,400 years; they could not both be correct.  There was, of course, the option of challenging the claims of deep time and evolution, but few if any of these Bible scholars and exegetes had any formal scientific qualifications and so, tragically, this option was not taken; the claims of deep time and evolution were accepted without serious question.[4]

Now, since deep time and the theory of evolution on the one hand and six-day young-earth creationism on the other cannot both be true, accepting the former, as these Bible scholars did, meant abandoning the latter.  This, in turn, meant that the Bible would have to be abandoned as clearly unreliable – or a new interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 would have to be concocted that would be reconcilable with the scientific claims that had been accepted.  A variety of models were advanced, include the gap/recreation model,[5] the day/age model,[6] the literary framework model,[7] and the revelatory days model.[8]  What is common to all these models is the acceptance of the claim that the earth is billions of years old and the rejection of the historical understanding that the world was made in six 24-hour days no more than 7,681 years ago.

Yet surely for the serious Christian, the word of God must trump all theories of Man, no matter how widely such theories are held or how stridently they are promoted:

… let God be true but every man a liar. (Romans 3:4b)

To hold to any interpretation of Genesis 1 other than the prima facie one of creation in six 24-hour days, the minimum requirement is to show that is at least possible to take the Hebrew text as teaching something other than six 24-hour days.  And, as we have shown in our article “Is a 4.6-Billion Year-Old Earth Compatible with Biblical Inerrancy? A Response to Norman Geisler,”[9] it is not possible to do so.  The grammar of the Hebrew and the various indicators that 24-hour days are in view in Genesis 1 rule out any other interpretation.  The numerical data in the chronogenealogies and elsewhere in Scripture are unassailable.[10]  Thus, regarding origins there is only one view that is in accordance with Scripture, and that is six-day young-earth creationism.

Nevertheless, there are many Biblical scholars and evangelicals who reject this view, apparently believing that the scientific evidence against it is certain and choosing to let that be the determining factor.  Such will often try to find some statement in the Hebrew text which they see as inconsistent with six-day young-earth creationism and then argue from that that this view is not true.  In doing so, they paint themselves into a fatal corner; as we have seen, an understanding of Genesis 1 different from six-day young-earth creationism is not possible, so showing anything in the Bible that contradicts this is to show that the Bible is wrong and unreliable.

This is no small matter.  There is no question but that Jesus endorsed the creation account (Mark 10:6-9), and the same Jesus said,

“If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12)

If we do not believe what He said about the beginning of life, why indeed should we believe Him about eternal life? While there are certainly evangelical apologists who manage to hold to a sort of cognitive dissonance wherein they reject six-day young-earth creationism while accepting the Gospel, skeptics will simply laugh such a position to scorn.  This is no small matter, then.

Meredith G. Kline and Genesis 2:5

Now, one of the ways in which such scholars endeavour to overturn six-day young-earth creationism is by appealing to Genesis 2:4-5, which reads,

This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown. For the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to till the ground …

One scholar who appeals to this passage to deny the prima facie meaning of Genesis 1 is Old Testament Professor Dr. Meredith G. Kline.  In an article entitled “Because It Had Not Rained,”[11]  Kline boldly asserts that Genesis 2:5 “constitutes a decisive word against the traditional interpretation[12] of Genesis 1 (i.e., six-day young-earth creationism).  Kline focuses on the fact that in Genesis 2:5

an explanation – a perfectly natural explanation – is given for the absence of vegetation at that time: “for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth.”[13]

According to Kline, this shows that “The Creator did not originate plant life on earth before he had prepared an environment in which he might preserve it without by-passing secondary means and without having recourse to extraordinary means such as marvellous methods of fertilization,[14] and on this basis Kline asserts that “the unargued presupposition of Gen. 2:5 is clearly that the divine providence was operating during the creation period through processes which any reader would recognize as normal in the natural world of his day.[15]

Kline concludes that

Embedded in Gen. 2:5 ff.is the principle that the modus operandi of the divine providence was the same during the creation period as that of ordinary providence at the present time.[16]

This is the crux of Kline’s case, and he avers that

those who adopt the traditional approaches cannot successfully integrate this revelation with Genesis 1 as they interpret it.[17]

By way of example of the application of this principle, Kline points to the separation of the seas and the dry land, and the populating of the latter with vegetation, on the third day (Genesis 1:9-13)[18] and maintains that “continents just emerged from under the seas do not become thirsty land as fast as that by the ordinary process of evaporation.  And yet according to the principle revealed in Gen. 2:5 the process of evaporation in operation at that time was the ordinary one.[19]

This, folks, is the argument by which Kline would overturn six-day young-earth creationism.

Kline, however, is not content simply with discarding this “traditional approach”; his target is the entire historicity of the Genesis 1 account as it stands. No day/age model for Dr. Kline, to reconcile Genesis with deep time and the theory of evolution; Genesis 1 cannot be seen as any sort of genuinely historical narrative at all. He insists that

Any strictly chronological interpretation of Genesis 1, even if the ‘days’ are regarded as ages, forces the exegete inescapably into conflict with the principle disclosed in Gen. 2:5.[20]

For example, he says, according to Genesis 1 plants were created on the third day and the sun on the fourth day, and therefore according to this chronology “plant life had flourished on the earth contrary to present natural law,[21] and so “on this traditional reconstruction it is impossible to make sense of Gen. 2:5.  Surely if vegetation could have flourished without the sun it could have survived without rain.[22]

Then what is Genesis 1?  Kline tells us that

The divine author has employed the imagery of an ordinary week to provide a figurative chronological framework for the account of his creative acts. And if it is a figurative week then it is not a literal week of twenty-four-hour days. Furthermore, once the figurative nature of the chronological pattern is appreciated the literalness of the sequence is no more sacrosanct than the literalness of the duration of the days in this figurative week.[23]

Neither the duration of the days nor the order of creation events is to be accepted.  To be sure, Kline insists that Genesis 1 does provide a “genuinely historical record of the origins of the universe[24] (with a “figurative strand[25]), though it is impossible to see how a “record” that is wrong in all its particulars, as Kline seems to propose, could be considered “genuinely historical” in any meaningful sense.

Where, then, do we find the actual history?  Kline tells us that we “would certainly be justified in turning to natural revelation for possible illumination of the question left open by special revelation.[26]  And – Quelle surprise! – by that Kline means that we are to swallow the claims of deep time and the theory of evolution whole. He insists that

surely natural revelation concerning the sequence of developments in the universe as a whole and the sequence of the appearance of the various orders of life on our planet (unless that revelation has been completely misinterpreted) would require the exegete to incline to a not exclusively chronological interpretation of the creation week.[27]

But natural revelation does no such thing – unless one equates the pronouncements of Darwinists with “natural revelation.

This, then, is Kline’s case; in sum, he assures us that

the question is actually closed in favour of the non-chronological interpretation by the exegetical evidence of Gen. 2:5.[28]

Kline has certainly gotten a great deal of mileage from this one small verse.  But now it is time to consider whether he has been driving in wrong direction.

An Analysis of Kline’s Case

Frankly, it is difficult to understand how Kline’s argument could ever have been taken seriously.  There are two fatal flaws in it, both of which are quite obvious.

First, Kline does a careful exegesis of Genesis 2:5, taking what is said there literally and then using the principle he derives from this exegesis to deny the “traditional interpretation” of Genesis 1 (i.e., six-day young-earth creationism).  If we assume for the moment (and for the sake of argument) that Kline’s exegetical conclusion is correct, it doesn’t change the fact that a careful exegesis of a number of elements in Genesis 1 has shown that six-day young-earth creationism is the only valid interpretation possible for Genesis 1.[29]  This immediately raises a question for Kline: Why should his exegesis of Genesis 2:5 override the exegesis of Genesis 1?  It is doubtful that he has an answer.

But it is worse than that for Kline; his whole case is self-refuting, for if a literal interpretation of Genesis 2:5 shows that a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 is wrong, then why should we not also consider the literal interpretation of Genesis 2:5 to be wrong?  In other words, if the literal interpretation of Genesis 2:5 shows that Genesis 1 cannot be taken literally, then we have no reason to take Genesis 2:5 literally either (since the author obviously was not trying to write literally), so the reason for not taking Genesis 1 literally disappears in smoke.  Again, if Genesis 2:5 is literally true, then so should be Genesis 1.  If Genesis 1 is not literally true, then we have no warrant for taking Genesis 2:5 literally, but without that we have no warrant for not taking Genesis 1 literally.  Kline has thus created a self-refuting argument that simply cannot stand without a great deal of special pleading, a logical fallacy which is rightly to be rejected.

Of course, if a literal exegesis of Genesis 1 and of Genesis 2:5 contradict each other, we are in trouble.  But that leads us to the second obvious problem with Kline’s argument; the exegetical conclusion from Genesis 2:5 upon which he rests his entire case is wrong – spectacularly wrong.

Recall that Kline’s exegetical conclusion, upon which his entire case is based, is “the principle that the modus operandi of the divine providence was the same during the creation period as that of ordinary providence at the present time,[30] a principle based on the fact that Genesis 2:5 indicates that plants needed rain to grow, which is an illustration of ordinary providence.

Here, Kline’s error is another logical fallacy, this time the hasty generalization.  This is so obvious it scarcely needs to be said.  His claim that “the divine providence was operating during the creation period through processes which any reader would recognize as normal in the natural world of his day[31] cannot possibly be true!  Do notice how the creation period begins:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)

This was not normal in the natural world of Moses’ day nor in our day nor in any day.  It is nevernormal”!  It is a violation of the First Law of Thermodynamics,[32] and such a violation can never happen naturally; it indubitably requires a miraculous act of God.  Neither is the creation of life, a violation of the Law of Biogenesis,[33]normal” in Moses’ day or in ours or in any; it too requires a miraculous act of God.  In fact, Genesis 1 is full of miraculous acts of God that are the opposite of “ordinary providence,” so the claim that there is a principle in Genesis 2:5 or anywhere else in Scripture that “the modus operandi of the divine providence was the same during the creation period as that of ordinary providence at the present time[34] is lunacy.  It is well nigh impossible to understand how Kline or any of those who accept this argument of his could have missed something so glaringly obvious.

What about Kline’s claim about the plants and rainfall, in which he avers that “The Creator did not originate plant life on earth before he had prepared an environment in which he might preserve it without by-passing secondary means and without having recourse to extraordinary means such as marvellous methods of fertilization”?[35]  Kline has overlooked the fact that in the creation week God was preparing a world for us that would indeed operate according to ordinary providence, so that by the end of the sixth day, everything was operating by ordinary providence, but at the beginning it was all extraordinary providence.  Each of the different components of creation moved into control by ordinary providence when God chose – it did not all happen at the same time – so the fact that plant growth may have reached that stage on the third day does not mean the astronomical arrangement must also have done so. Kline’s case thus collapses irredeemably.  And Kline is very wrong to assume that plants needed the sun on the third day; what plants need from the sun is light (i.e., electromagnetic radiation of a particular range of wavelengths), and light was already present on the first day (Genesis 1:3) and so was available for the plants on the third day.  (On the fourth day of the creation week, some of this electromagnetic energy was coalesced into a fiery ball at the centre of the solar system, and “ordinary providence” in regard to light for our planet was implemented.)

In light of this, we see how nonsensical is Kline’s cavil that

continents just emerged from under the seas do not become thirsty land as fast as that by the ordinary process of evaporation.  And yet according to the principle revealed in Gen. 2:5 the process of evaporation in operation at that time was the ordinary one.[36]

As we have seen, Genesis 2:5 has no such principle, and yes, the separation of the dry land from the seas was a miraculous act; the dry land obviously did not dry out “by the ordinary process of evaporation.[37]

In sum, then, Kline’s case is an utter failure.  It is such an obvious failure, in fact, that it is difficult to see how anyone could possibly accept it.  It is hard to quell the suspicion that at least some of those who do so have been led to believe the claims of Darwinism and are trying to reconcile these claims with Genesis and are grasping at the straw offered by Kline to do this – though such a reconciliation is neither necessary nor possible.  Regardless of the reason, however, that one may accept Kline’s case, the case itself cannot stand.[38]

Conclusion

The Bible’s account of the creation of the world (recorded in Genesis 1) clearly teaches that God created the world and the life in it in six 24-hour days, and other data in the Bible tells us that this creation happened no more than 7,681 years ago.  For more than two centuries, this simple fact, universally understood by Christians for 1,800 years, has been under attack by liberal skeptics who sought to discredit the reliability of the Bible.  Such attacks have intensified in the late 20th/early 21st centuries, which have seen many evangelical Bible scholars and apologists join ranks with liberal scholarship in denying six-day young-earth creationism.  Such evangelicals have sought to show that the Bible does not, in fact, teach six-day young-earth creationism, but their attempts to do so by various exegetical gambits have been singularly in vain.  Following Meredith Kline, some try to argue that Genesis 2:4-5 disproves the concept of six-day young-earth creationism.  As we have seen, that suggestion belongs on the scrapheap of bad ideas. It is, simply put, a nonstarter.


Endnotes

[1] To be sure, there was at least one “church father” who argued for an allegorical interpretation of Genesis 1, but that was as a second, “deeper” meaning to the next, not as a replacement of it; he did not deny the literal truth of creation in six 24-hour days.

[2] See Hardy, Chris and Robert Carter. “The biblical minimum and maximum age of the earth.” Journal of Creation 28:2 (2014), pp. 89-96 for an extremely careful examination, which concludes that the earth is between 5,838 and 7,681 years old.

[3] Larson, Professor Edward J. “The Theory of Evolution: A History of Controversy” Lecture 1: “Before Darwin.” The Great Courses, CD version.  (Bolding and italics added.)

[4] While belief in six-day young-earth creationism never completely died out, it was not until the publication of The Genesis Flood, by John C. Whitcomb and Henry Morris, in 1961 that the modern creation science movement, with its challenge to evolutionary theory and deep time on scientific grounds, began.

[5] According to this model, there is a time gap of millions or billions of years between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, during which God made the world, destroyed it, and then later rebuilt it.

[6] According to this model, “day” actually refers to a fantastically long period of time, in the order of hundreds of millions of years, not a 24-hour day.

[7] According to this model, Genesis 1 is a poem about creation meant to highlight certain facts about God’s power, and is not an historical account at all.

[8] According to this model, the six days refer to six 24-hour days in which God revealed His creation to Moses, not to the period of creation itself.

[9] Tors, John. “Is a 4.6-Billion Year-Old Earth Compatible with Biblical Inerrancy? A Response to Norman Geisler” at https://truthinmydays.com/is-a-4-6-billion-year-old-earth-compatible-with-biblical-inerrancy-a-response-to-norman-geisler/

[10] With all possible uncertainties accounted for, the maximum possible age is 7,681 years.  (See Footnote 2)

[11] Kline, Meredith G. “Because It Had Not Rained.” WTJ 20 (1958), pp. 146-157

[12] ibid., p. 148.  (Bolding and underlining added.)

[13] ibid., p. 149

[14] ibid.

[15] Ibid., pp. 149-150.  (Bolding added.)

[16] ibid., p. 151.  (Bolding and underlining added.)

[17] ibid.

[18]ibid., pp. 151-152

[19] ibid., p. 152. (Bolding added.)

[20] ibid.  (Bolding added.)

[21] ibid., p. 153

[22] ibid.  (Bolding added.)

[23] ibid., pp. 156-157.  (Bolding and underlining added.)

[24] ibid., p. 156.  (Bolding added.)

[25] ibid.

[26] ibid., p. 157.  (Bolding and underlining added.)

[27] ibid.

[28] ibid.  (Bolding added.)

[29] Tors, “Is a 4.6-Billion Year-Old Earth Compatible with Biblical Inerrancy?” op. cit.

[30] ibid., p. 151.  (Bolding and underlining added.)

[31] Ibid., pp. 149-150

[32] The First Law of Thermodynamics states the fact that matter/energy can never be created or destroyed, but only changed from form to form.

[33] The Law of Biogenesis states the fact that only living matter can give rise to life; life can never come from non-living matter.

[34] ibid., p. 151.  (Bolding and underlining added.)

[35] ibid., p. 149

[36] ibid., p. 152.  (Bolding and underlining added.)

[37] ibid.

[38] Forty years after the publication of Kline’s article, Mark D. Futato published what he called a complementary article in the same journal (Futato, Mark D. “Because It Had Rained: A Study of Gen 2:5-7 With Implications for Gen 2:4-25 and Gen 1:1-2:3” WTJ 60 (1988), pp. 1-21).  Futato accepts Kline’s claims and adds very little regarding the historicity of Genesis 1.  He adds only the claim that the description of the fourth day was meant to be an overlay to the description of the first day, describing the same events but with added details, and this destroys the six-day chronology.  He does admit that had Moses wished to make such an overlay, he would have started Genesis 1:14 with a “waw + subject + predicate” and that “the use of the waw-relative indicates that the events of Day 4 are temporally sequential to those of Days 1 through 3” (p. 17).

This would seem to knock Futato’s claims into a cocked hat, but he argues that “as we have already noted, the waw-relative (here wayyô’mer) can be used for temporal overlay when either lexical repetition or knowledge of the real world signals such an overlay.  Here both criteria are met: lexical repetitions abound between Day 1 and Day 4, and light without luminaries is not part of the real world in which the original audience lived.” (p. 17).  Futato, however, fails to make his case.  He does not address the first objection, and his assertion that “lexical repetitions abound between Day 1 and Day 4” is pointless, since “lexical repetitions” abound throughout the entire chapter.  As to the fact that “light without luminaries is not part of the real world in which the original audience lived,” neither was creating matter/energy out of nothing nor making people out of the dust of the earth.  The original readers could certainly grasp miraculous concepts.  In sum, then, Futato adds nothing that would mitigate against the “traditional interpretation” of Genesis 1 (i.e., six-day young-earth creationism).

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