O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

Creationism & the Early Church

by Robert I. Bradshaw

An examination of the interpretation of the early church's interpretations of Genesis 1-11 from the time of the close of the New Testament until the death of Augustine of Hippo (430 AD)

Version 2.0, Last Updated 25th January 1999


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Abbreviations For Works of Ancient Writers

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Chapter 1

The Use & Abuse of Church History

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Chapter 2

Creation ex nihilo (Out of Nothing)

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Chapter 3

The Days of Genesis 1

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Chapter 4

The Fall of Man

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Chapter 5

The ‘Sons of God’ (Genesis 6:1-4)

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Chapter 6

Noah’s Flood & the Tower of Babel

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Chapter 7

The Early Church and Science

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Chapter 8

Interpretations of the Evidence

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Origen’s Interpretation of the Creation

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Abbreviations For Modern Works

ACW Ancient Christian Writers
ANF Ante-Nicene Fathers
BEC Backgrounds of Early Christianity
BETS Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society
CUP Cambridge University Press
EBC The Expositor's Bible Commentary
EEC Encyclopedia of Early Christianity
EQ Evangelical Quarterly
GP Gospel Perspectives
GTJ Grace Theological Journal
HNTC Harper's New Testament Commentaries
ICC International Critical Commentary
ISBE International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, revised
JSOT Journal for the Study of the Old Testament
JAOS Journal of the American Oriental Society
LXX Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament)
LCL Loeb Classical Library
NIBC New International Biblical Commentary
NICNT New International Commentary on the New Testament
NICOT New International Commentary on the Old Testament
NIGTC New International Greek Testament Commentary
NIV New International Version
NPNF Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers
NRSV New Revised Standard Version
ODCC Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church
OHCW Oxford History of the Classical World
OUP Oxford University Press
SJT Scottish Journal of Theology
TB Tyndale Bulletin
TJ Trinity Journal
TNTC Tyndale New Testament Commentaries
TOTC Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries
WBC Word Biblical Commentary
ZPEC The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible


I would like to thank the following individuals and organisations for their assistance in the production of this study:

Robert Doolan, Editor, Creation Ex Nihilo Magazine, Creation Science Foundation Ltd.

Ted Faulkner

Dr. Arthur Jones

Dr. Walter C. Kaiser, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Tracey Larter

Dr. Marvin L. Lubenow, Christian Heritage College

Shane Michaels

Prof. Alan R. Millard, Liverpool University

Dr Robert C. Newman, Biblical Theological Seminary

Frank S. Palmisano III

Dr. John Peet, Biblical Creation Society

Alan Radcliffe-Smith, Creation Science Movement

Ian Taylor, President, Bible Science Association, Inc.

David C.C. Watson

I would also like to thank the staff of the following libraries:

Dr. Williams's Library, 14 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0AG

Higher Bebington Library and Bebington Central Library, Bebington, Wirral.

Regents College Library, Regents College, British Columbia, Canada.

The Research Library, Tyndale House, Cambridge.

Illustrations are from André Thevet, Les Prais Portraits et Vies Hommes Illustres, 1543 edition supplied by the Special Collections Library, University of Michigan

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I would like to hear from Tim Martin and Jeff Vaughn on Chapter 6 of this study. Especially I would like to hear what they have to say about the "universality" of the flood, given the evidence presented here that it was not a local event.



I believe one needs to start first analyzing what type of literature we have in Gen 1-11 before we settle in on a discussion of whether the story is about a universal flood or a local one.  The more accurate description may be that it’s a universal covenant description similar to the universal judgment upon on flesh and nations at AD70.  It’s probably not a good idea to throw up the early church or those without spiritual insight as authoritative about the meaning and purpose of the flood story because more than likely very few Jews or Gentiles would have understood the mystery embedded in this kind of literary genre.  Consider the difficulty that almost all people have with Ezekiel and especially Revelation unless they become something of an expert in understanding that type of literature and its purpose. I would state quite frankly that is what we have in Gen 1-11 and it simply cannot be judged by those who do not have spiritual insight into its meaning no matter what era of history they lived in. We Preterist know how difficult it is to explain revelation to the typical Christian and I would venture that it has always been the case even from when this writing was first produced.


The typical audience rightly discerns that the language is universally inclusive and I believe rightly so because it was intended to be understood as universal in scope. However it’s imagery is built upon the same type of motifs that beg the question of whether to take it literal or not in the first place. In Gen 3 we have talking snakes, a woman bearing all living children and the idea of a Garden paradise; but we know in Revelation these same motifs are used and we are pretty comfortable with understanding what they symbolize. However we seem to revert back to the literal in Genesis and mix it with physical ideas as well. The same goes for the understanding of the nature of the “Death” that Adam and Eve experienced in the Garden and typically many full Preterist have determined that it’s not physical but spiritual. However the literalist wants us to play by the literal rules of engagement in Genesis and we sometimes naturally accommodate them when things get difficult.


Then we get into the extremely long lives that never quite measure up to 1000 and then we find out in other Jewish literature that this was taken symbolically and John uses the 1000 year life span again in his interpretive account positing eternal life through Christ.  Just the thing that the children of the woman was supposed to obtain but started falling short shortly afterward. The Jewish book of Jubilees does a very effective job of illustrating the numeral symbolism of the Death ages including 1000 years. 


Finally we get to the post flood account where all the ANE nations essentially get off the Ark with Noah through a genealogy derived from his three sons. These individuals populated the entire Roman world from around 2500BC and were supposedly all speaking one language before dispersing. Even the Jews themselves played around with the Flood account as we see in Enoch and Jubilees typically using it metaphorically to illustrate a prophetic messianic reality for their known world. This biblical world was built around Israel and her neighbors just as it is in Ezekiel and Revelation.


Again I seriously doubt very many outside of Jewish inspired writers fully grasped what was written, however we know that these messianic stories were passed down until we have the end of prophecy and full understanding of their ending reality through Christ. Paul says knowledge would disappear and I believe he may have been alluding to the realization that a clear messianic understanding as laid out in Dan 9 would pass away with AD70 effectively.


Dan 9:24  `Seventy weeks are determined for thy people, and for thy holy city, to shut up the transgression, and to seal up sins, and to cover iniquity, and to bring in righteousness age-during, and to seal up vision and prophet, and to anoint the holy of holies.

1Co 13:8  Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.


I believe that the reason the church has struggled with understanding the scriptures is because we lost the lineage of those who were gifted with interpretation. No they were not raptured at AD70 but they were a gift from God to humanity until everything would be sealed up at the Parousia. I believe that except for a few scattered people here and there over the last 2000 years that it was simply too difficult to discern things biblically without someone to instruct you who was filled with spiritual interpretation. Something man would struggle with because it was embedded in this mysterious language that required prophets and apostles to pass on; and still was rejected wholesale by those they intended it for.  I believe God has brought humanity to the point in time now that resources are available in which to decipher these mysteries more effectively. That is supported by the work that Preterist are now doing which never got off the ground in the centuries before.


So my answer is that yes the Genesis flood was universal and global in scope because all flesh is under judgment just as it was in AD70. However I believe the account is similarly constructed to Revelation using imagery that still escapes our full comprehension and its intended purpose. I think we get glimpses of its intention when we read Enoch and Jubilees which are essentially Jewish inspired commentaries illustrating its pointing toward the messianic flood of judgment. Indeed the Judgment was always hanging over the head of Israel: according to the prophets; Genesis when understood as prophetic toward that end starts to make better sense.  It is very complex though and I believe will be hard to fathom what the mind of the author was who wrote it. We can rest assured though it was not written with a literal intent. This complexity means it will always be very difficult to put into comprehensible terminology so that laypeople will be able to grasp. In fact it is near impossible even as it is with Revelation.


There is a lot of work there for Genesis exegetes to ponder on and I would say that it and the Babel account are two peas in the same pod from a prophetic viewpoint.  I believe I fundamentally understand the intent of Gen 1,2, 3,4 and 5 but 6-9 are a little more mysterious in explaining. I feel extremely comfortable that it is more prophetic in intent than it is historically purposeful.



Let's see. Chapter 6?


That's the one where the author lists Josephus as a global flood advocate? Hmmm. Clearly, he has not read all of Josephus on the flood. Or he has intentionally omitted key passages to deceive the reader. (See BCS pp. 112-113). Makes me wonder what else the author has conveniently skipped over.


Beyond that problem, the only thing in this chapter is (selected) opinions of Christian writers. Is that the standard? No discussion of the language of the account itself or of the wider use of Noah's flood in biblical teaching, particularly NT prophetic teaching.


A few curious tidbits, however. Note Augustine's view on spontaneous generation of the animals from dirt:


"the animals being spontaneously generated from the earth in their new locations - as they were in the beginning (he says)."


Does the author find this view authoritative? Life comes from dirt. Sounds like an interesting theory. And then there is this most interesting citation from Augustine:


...all species were in the ark not so much for the purpose of restoring the animal population as with a view of typifying the various nations, thus presenting a symbol of the Church. This must be the explanation, if the earth produced many animals on islands to which they could not cross.


Nice! So Augustine actually suggested that the animals on the ark represent people, or more precisely, the nations coming into the church with Noah. Boy, that's a good one! I'll have to file that one away for future use, given how a few critics have mocked the suggestion that the animals on the ark are related to people in some sense.  


That one tidbit was worth the time to read an otherwise worthless chapter.




Tim Martin

I wonder if that's what Doug was expecting to hear?!:)

Just to let you know that this material has now moved to a new domain -

Thanks, Rob




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