In the ‘creation’ debate there seems to be no end of views. Awhile ago I laid out my present position HERE
which is akin to John Sailhamer’s “historical creationism” while acknowledging aspects of the CC view... seeing the value of appreciating the “both/and” as opposed to “either/or” approach which can sometimes have folk talking past each other. I haven’t had the opportunity to read Sailhamer’s work but have explored a number of reviews and articles of those who have. This “analysis” below of John Sailhamer’s Genesis Unbound
is extremely good and enlightening and the smattering of futurist type “already not yet” suppositions aside is quite brilliant...
Science, the Bible, and the Promised Land
An Analysis of John Sailhamer's Genesis Unbound
January 01, 1998 by Matt Perman
There is a genius in Genesis 1-3 that is often concealed by modern interpretations of the text. The genius of these chapters is the profound significance they give to the destination of the redeemed by establishing a unity between God's work of creation and plan of redemption. Many modern interpretations of Genesis, unfortunately, obscure this genius by assuming that the six days of Genesis 1 are about the creation of the entire universe. Additionally, this assumption places Genesis in direct opposition to what appear to be the solid findings of modern science concerning the age and creation of the universe.
"Because of this error," writes Dr. John Sailhamer in his provocative book Genesis Unbound
," many Christians have felt torn between an allegiance to the Bible and a recognition of the findings of modern science -- a tear that is neither necessary nor helpful" (John Sailhamer, Genesis Unbound
[Sisters, OR: Multnomah Books, 1996], p. 13). The purpose of Genesis Unbound
is to show that this tear is not necessary because "when Genesis 1 and 2 are understood as ...Moses intended them to be understood, nearly all the difficulties that perplex modern readers instantly vanish" (13-14).
Sailhamer's convincing analysis of Genesis not only resolves the apparent conflict between science and the Bible, but also (and, I would argue, more importantly) opens up to us the depths of God's plan to bless His people. Genesis Unbound
unveils the genius of Genesis 1-3 that is so obscured by many modern interpretations and will consequently make you marvel at the ways of God in creation and redemption and give you a stronger comprehension of the profound unity of the Bible.
My purpose in this analysis of Genesis Unbound
is to set forth the understanding of Genesis 1-3 that Sailhamer argues for (called "historical creationism"), why I believe that his understanding is correct, and to more fully develop the amazing implications of his view that he brings out. For this reason, this will not strictly be a review of the book, but more of an "expansive" analysis of the book. My motive and prayer in this work is the same as Sailhamer's goal in writing Genesis Unbound
, namely that "you will come away with a new appreciation for and understanding of the genius of these first two chapters of the Bible. We should be awed and grateful that God chose to give us this remarkable glimpse into His mighty works at the dawn of time!" (16).
is divided into four parts. The first
part explains why the issue of science and the Bible is important. Part two
marshals out the evidence for historical creationism and why it resolves the apparent conflict of science and the Bible. It is thus "the heart of the book" (15). Part three
seeks to clarify the picture by taking the reader through a brief exposition of Genesis 1:1-2:4a. As such, it builds "on the foundations laid previously in the book" in part two (16). Finally, part four
is written to give us "a better sense of the historical, philosophical, and interpretive issues that brought us to where we are today" (16). It shows that Sailhamer's view is not
new, but was held by many before the rise of modern science. And it shows where the erroneous interpretations of Genesis came from.
In this analysis, I will not strictly follow Sailhamer's format. Instead of marshaling out the evidence and then clarifying the picture in two separate stages as Sailhamer does, I will seek to clarify the picture as I marshal out the evidence. Then, I will seek to show the glory that is revealed by the genius of Genesis 1-3 by stepping back to behold the whole picture as it relates to the rest of the Bible.
How to Set Forth Your Case
There are two main ways that you can establish your case for something. The first way is to build your case as you go through the arguments for it and then
unveil it in its entirety at the end. In this method the arguments function almost like pieces of a puzzle that don't come together in their full unity until the very end. The benefit of this method is that it preserves mystery and thus perhaps a greater "aha" experience when the full puzzle is finally unveiled. But the difficulty is that it is hard to do this in a coherent way that does not "lose" the reader due to the lack of a system in which to place the arguments as he reads.
The second way to argue your case is to state your view first
argue for it. This often gives greater coherence to your case when you build your arguments because the reader will have an overall framework in which to place them. In other words, he will not get lost because you will have given him a map that shows him where he is headed. Thus, the reader can more directly see how each successive argument fits into the large scheme of things, how they connect to each other, and how they connect to your overall aim in writing. The result is that your case will generally be easier to follow and will probably stimulate more connections between your arguments in the reader's mind.
This is the approach that Sailhamer takes. He reveals his view in its entirety first
backs up to build his case for it. This is, I think, a major strength of the book because it gives the reader a framework in which to integrate the arguments and thus makes it easier to evaluate them. But, of course, it reveals that Sailhamer is "neither a card shark or a successful novelist," for as he himself says, "right at the beginning I want to show you my hand and reveal some of my best plot twists" (13).
Historical Creationism and the "Unbinding" of Genesis
To see the uniqueness of Genesis Unbound
, we must recognize that there are three main positions on the apparent conflict between science and the Bible. Creationism
, first of all, teaches that, according to Genesis, God made the universe in six twenty-four hour days and therefore the earth is very young (since humans, who were created on the sixth day, have only been around for perhaps 10 to 20 thousand years). This view declares that modern science is wrong in its belief that the earth is old and generally attempts to provide its own scientific evidence to counter the evidence for an old earth.
Second, progressive creationism
teaches that the days of Genesis are not twenty four hour periods, but unspecified periods of time (ages) in which God made the universe. This view, unlike creationism, agrees with the scientific evidence for an old earth, but, like creationism, does not accept evolution. Theistic evolution
, on the other hand, teaches that the earth is old and that God used evolution to create the universe.
Sailhamer's view, called historical creationism
, affirms the inerrancy of the Bible, upholds the historicity of Genesis, and rejects evolution -- just like creationism and progressive creationism. As Sailhamer writes, the author of Genesis "does not expect to be understood as writing mythology or poetry. His account, as he understands it, is a historical account of creation" (45).1 The main difference is that historical creationism denies the three central assumptions lying behind the other three views. These three assumptions are, first, "that the chapters' primary purpose is merely to describe how God created the world. Another is that originally the world was a formless mass, which God shaped into the world we know today. A third is 'the land' which God made during the six days is 'the earth' in its entirety, as we know it today" (11).
The early chapters of Genesis are "bound" by several bad translations in the English Bible "because those incorrect assumptions lie behind the English translations of Genesis 1 and 2 which we use today. Like it or not, Genesis in the English Bible is 'bound' by those assumptions. A major part of my task in this book is to loose those bonds and release the chapters to speak for themselves. Hence, the title" (11). What, then, is the meaning of these early chapters in Genesis that has been "bound" so often by these assumptions? To this question we will now turn.
The Meaning of Genesis 1 and 2
Sailhamer argues that Genesis 1 and 2 recount "two great acts of God" (14). The first great act is the creation of the entire universe-our planet, the animals, the sun, moon, stars, etc. This is recounted in 1:1, which declares that "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." The Hebrew word translated "beginning" does not mean an instant of time, but an "indefinite period of time." Since, then, God created the entire universe in an unspecified period of time, "we cannot say for certain when God created the world or how long he took to create it" (14). For this reason, the scientific evidence for an old universe does not contradict Genesis one. And this is the case even if we interpret the "days" as twenty four hour periods and not ages of time.
The second great act of God is recounted in 1:2-2:24 and "deals with a much more limited scope and period of time. Beginning with Genesis 1:2, the biblical narrative recounts God's preparation of a land for the man and woman He was to create. That 'land' was the same land later promised to Abraham and his descendants...According to Genesis 1, God prepared that land within a period of a six-day work week. On the sixth day of that week, God created human beings. God then rested on the seventh day" (14). One of the stunning truths this brings to light is that "when Israel was promised a land in which to live out God's blessings (Gen 15:8), it was not the first time God had prepared a place for them. From the beginning, God had prepared that place for His chosen people" (p. 92). When we understand this, we see that the land is a central unifying theme of God's acts of creation and redemption.
In sum, Sailhamer argues that Genesis 1:1 refers to the creation of the entire universe and that God did so over the period of an unspecified length of time that could have been one year or fifteen billion years. The text just does not say. Genesis 1:2 and following, which recount God's acts during the six days, therefore do not refer to the creation of the universe. They speak of a time after the creation of the universe when God prepared
a land (which is the same land later promised to Israel) for Adam and Eve whom he was to create on the sixth day. And the reason that God had to prepare the Garden for Adam and Eve was, among other things, because "the earth [promised land] was formless and void [a deserted wilderness], and darkness was over the surface of the deep" (v. 2).
This view is very uncommon to us today and so it will take much defending. The remainder of this analysis will therefore consist mainly in an unfolding of the main arguments for historical creationism. In other words, now that the "whole picture" of historical creationism has been unveiled, I will back up and argue to the whole picture. I will, however, save the unpacking of some of the greatest implications of Sailhamer's view until towards the end.
The whole article won’t fit here so read the rest of these thought provoking propositions in the full article right HERE