ANOTHER LOOK AT GENESIS 1-2

CIRCUIT PASTORS CONFERENCE
 Dr. Alvin H. Franzmeier

August 2000

Summer vacations with your grandsons are supposed to be about fishing, and eating ice cream and hot dogs at the ball game - not quantum mechanics. But at one point this summer my grandsons, ages 12 and 14, were more interested in the recent movie about Michael Crichton's book Timeline than my fishing stories. They are like most kids today, raised on special effects, and computer games. In the movie historians from the year 1999 step into a time machine, pass through a "quantum foam wormhole," and step out into feudal France around 1357. My job in their spirited discussion was to explain the quantum mechanics of wormholes, which they think I should know as much about as fishing. I admit that I was woefully under prepared. Astro-physics was not covered at seminary, my graduate work in both theology and counseling, or even in "How to be a Grandpa - 101." We have all learned in the real world of pastoring, that we are often called upon to do that for which we are unprepared. Many times we are called on to reconcile descriptions of the physical world we live in with Biblical principles.

     How is this related to our understanding of Genesis 1-2? None of us Christians - grandkids, grandparents, or pastors - dispute the fact we live in a physical world created by our Lord. Because it is physical, measurements and physical laws can be used to describe the world. These physical descriptions do not diminish in anyway, the wonder and magnitude of God's creation. In my forty plus years of ministry I have come to wonder whether we haven't done a disservice to our children and grandchildren by maintaining an apparently dogmatic approach to descriptions of the universe. The leather-bound King James Bible from Concordia Publishing House that I received at the time of my Confirmation back in 1946 listed the date of the creation of the earth in the center column as 6,004 BC. The Irish-Anglican Bishop James Ussher, based on his studies of OT genealogies, established that date in the 17th century. Those were man-made calculations, and we have no evidence they were divinely inspired. Are they anymore valid than the medieval church position that the sun revolved around the earth? I believe we Pastors must learn the vernacular of contemporary people who study the physical world created by God. We need a common language to explain God's Biblical account of creation to today's children who grow up with the concept of virtual reality. Quantum mechanics helps us do that. 

     In the years following my Confirmation I read the works of our own synod's professors. For instance, I read with great interest Paul A. Zimmerman's, "The Age of the Earth," in Darwin, Evolution, and Creation (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959) and the later work by John W. Klotz, Genes, Genesis, and Evolution (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1970). These men and many like them still today do their best to reconcile the Bible with the scientific world of measurements and scales. Based upon studies similar to Bishop Ussher they labor long and hard to demonstrate that the age of the earth must be numbered in terms of thousands rather than millions of years. However, in doing so they must discount huge stacks of information coming from the world of science. In fact, young-universe creationism requires, at a minimum, the abandonment of essentially all of modern astronomy, much of modern physics and most of the earth sciences, to say nothing of biology. 

     We have all heard and read about the tension between creationism and evolution. It is in the national news weekly. As I write this, the focus in the media is upon a high school teacher in Minnesota who wants to teach in his public school classes that there is some validity to creationism. Part of that battle is what we should teach to our children about the true age of the earth. 

     Typical of young age creationists is Henry M. Morris and The Institute for Creation Research. That Institute publishes books and papers, conducts many seminars and has a very active website (http://www.icr.org/). Currently one can find many books and websites that support the young age creationist approach. These are fellow believers-some of them are Lutherans-and many of them insist that one cannot believe in the inspiration of the Bible and in an old age for the universe at the same time. They link any belief in an old age universe to accepting Darwinian evolution and atheism. 

     Frankly, I have never been convinced by these arguments of my brothers and sisters in the faith. They force us to set aside that vast body of physical evidence to insist that only the scientific studies they quote are the way a Christian can reconcile modern science with the authority of Holy Scripture. That is not so. There is another equally sound Christ-centered and Bible-honoring approach. There are many devoted Christians who find no conflict with the Bible and an old age for the universe. These people do not discount the studies of modern science, but demonstrate very plausibly that there is no real conflict between true objective science and the Bible. 

     My original assignment was to reflect on and interpret all of Genesis 1 and 2. This is an impossible task in the very short time allotted to me. There are simply too many issues to be addressed in these chapters. So I will zero in on just one of them, namely the question of the age of the earth particularly as it relates to the six days of creation. I will demonstrate that we must take very seriously the Biblical account of six 24-hour days. Unless there is some indication in the context where the word 'day' occurs or some suggestion from the analogy of faith, it is always necessary that we interpret a word in its most obvious and literal meaning. So it is with the word 'day'. It refers to what we generally know as the 24 hours it takes our planet to make one spin on its axis. This is how we must take the term unless there is some clear indication otherwise. Much more has been said about that issue. 1

     At the same time we will consider that the universe may not be measured as only being something like 6-10,000 earth-years young. Every plausible measurement we have suggests that it is somewhere around 15 or more billion years old when measured in earthly years. We must always keep in mind that time is a creation of God of course. He is neither bound by time nor space. He is above and outside His creation. What He presents to us in Genesis 1 is His perspective on time from the beginning. It may be called universal time. Universal time and earthly time can be reconciled. Now if that sounds impossible, be patient with m