Tag Archives: creation

Dazed about the Days? Don’t be!

Genesis 1:1-2:4: a contribution towards reconciling differences

From The Presbyterian Banner, March 2004


I offer five propositions, add some explanatory notes and draw conclusions.

1. The primary meaning of the Hebrew term yom (day) is in reference to a normal day of about 24 hours. Unless the context requires otherwise the primary meaning should be maintained.

The Hebrew term yom has the same range of meanings as the English word day. It is natural to immediately think of ordinary days as we read the creation account for the first time, for we have a seven-day week as did Israel. Still, it is a week of divine activity. It’s clearly related to our weekly activity but the parallel is of necessity approximate – God does not work and rest in the same way that we do. More on this later.

2. Each of the first six days is qualified by a reference to ‘evening and morning’, which requires the interchange of darkness and light. In a context with numbered days we must think of our week.

Many seem to think that ‘evening and morning’ is just a standard way of describing a whole day, and so ordinary days are self-evidently in view. Others suppose it describes what follows the creative activity.
The Hebrew terms for ‘evening’ and ‘morning’ have the same meaning as in English in the 23 Old Testament examples outside Genesis 1 containing the two words in either order in the same verse. Examples of usage include a period of time during the day, such as the morning or evening sacrifice, a long period marked off by successive evenings and mornings (Dan 8:36), or a period from evening until morning, as when the lamps were lit in the tabernacle (Lev 24:1-4 cf. Ex 30:7-8). A day contains an evening and a morning but it contains more (cf. ‘at morning and at evening and at noonday’ in Psalm 55:17). Evening + morning = one ordinary day is not true – unless the use in Genesis 1 is an exception. It is ‘day’ and ‘night’ that make up a normal day (Gen 1:5), just as in English.

Leaving aside the complexities, and they are not a few, the expression “there was evening and morning” apparently implies that after the day’s work was done time passed into evening at dusk (so Keil/Delitzsch, Cassuto, Leupold). The first day began with the creation of light, passed through darkness and was completed as light dawned the next day.
If there is an exceptional use, then we could say that as far as creation is concerned a day is defined by the end of darkness through the onset of light. This might suggest that each day’s activity could be viewed as a further manifestation of God’s glory, moving from what is not, to what is, by his command (cf. 2 Cor 4:6).

3. Each day has a numerical adjective (one, two, three, etc) so that even the first few days before the creation of the sun, moon and stars are not to be distinguished from the rest as if unrelated to our week, especially as the heavenly bodies (day 4) were given to mark off the days. The numerical adjective throughout serves to bind the days into a harmonious unit of a week.

It is frequently added that a numbered series of days always involves ordinary days. However, it should be noted that the first day is more correctly translated ‘day one’ (so Cassuto), although perhaps the syntax implies a definite article (so Waltke). The next four days lack the definite article (thus, ‘a second day’ etc), whereas days 6 and 7 have it (‘the sixth day’, etc). Such features are not found in a series of ordinary days such as Numbers 29:17ff., so they may point to something unusual about the creation days.

4. If God wanted to say eras or ages he could have done so, but did not. Indeed, he qualified the days in ways such as the use of ‘evening and morning’, so that they are tied to our days. To introduce into the interpretation that the days represent long and overlapping periods of varying length, perhaps corresponding to geological time, is a quite foreign note that distracts from correct understanding. The narrative focuses on the creation week, not long eras.

There are features which suggest an interest other than length of days. The existence of seemingly ordinary days (1-3) without the existence of the heavenly bodies to regulate them would be as strange to the experience of Moses and the Israelites as it is to us. We could resolve this by an appeal to God’s almighty power, but perhaps we could just as well suggest that it is not seen as a big issue – unless we are focusing on the when and how rather than the who and why. Also of interest is the way day 4 gives a further perspective on day 1, and anticipates the holy rest day of the God who made the heavenly bodies. Prominent too, is creation by command, hardly the kind of work we know.

5. The week for humans is patterned on God’s creation week, the definitive week for us. We are to imitate God’s example. Exodus 20:11 and 31:17 specifically state God created the heavens and the earth in six days, and rested the seventh, and we are to do likewise. While there is no identity there is a real similarity between God’s week and ours. That similarity is sufficient to provide adequate foundation for our life.

The seventh day is not closed by the formula ‘there was evening and morning’. Given the explanation of this phrase in #2, and keeping in mind the very careful crafting of the creation narrative, this omission cannot be without meaning: God’s rest did not end. Whereas we are to work six days and rest the seventh, God did not follow a pattern of recurring work and rest. He worked six days and then entered on an enduring rest into which he calls humanity, what is otherwise termed eternal life. The goal of eternal life after man has fulfilled his mandate can now be realised only through redemption. Rest is illustrated in the life of Noah (his name is derived from nuah, to rest; note also Gen 5:29), in the entry into Canaan (Josh 1:13; Ps 132:14), and in the implications of the psalmist’s words long after (Ps 95). It is infallibly interpreted by Hebrews 3:7-4:13 as the goal at the end of our pilgrimage. Then there shall be no night (Rev 22:5) but instead the everlasting brightness of God’s presence (Is 60:19-20; Rev 21:23) in an endless day (Zech 14:7) illumined by Jesus, the light of the world and the bright morning star (Rev 22:15), who ends the night of weeping and ushers in the morning of everlasting joy (Ps 30:5).

This interpretation of God’s seventh day is supported in John 5:17-19, where Jesus states that whatever the Father does the Son does, and so parallels his work of restoration on the earthly Sabbath with his Father’s continual upholding and blessing of creation on his heavenly Sabbath.

In short, God does not work or rest as we do. He works by his word, and his rest is not like ours, even though Exodus 31:17 is bold to say ‘he was refreshed’ [not ‘he rested’ as in NIV], when we know God does not grow faint or weary. God gives the creation account for our sakes! God speaks to ordinary people like you and I, that all may grasp what we need to know of God, ourselves, and of his purpose for us.


Views of Genesis 1:1-2:3 which allow the intrusion of ideas alien to it should be entirely avoided. The day-age theory was common for around 150 years, until ‘scientific literalism’ asserted itself. The day-age view is not objectionable merely because it allows for an old earth, for it is not wrong in principle to seek to remove perceived conflict between an interpretation of scripture and apparently correct scientific theory. The objection is that it seeks to remove that conflict through an interpretation that brings in ideas foreign to the text of Scripture. Genesis is not concerned with the age of the earth or geological eras. Rather, God tells us of his creation week in ways that we can understand, with the object of us imitating him as his image-bearers in our weeks. God was sovereign over the darkness, subdued the waters, and populated the earth with creatures. Humans are to rule, subdue and fill the earth too. Man has a task and a goal: his days reflect God’s days but they are not the same; his weekly Sabbath reflects God’s unending Sabbath, the destiny in view for him, but it is not the same.

So I think the view propounded by scientific recent-creationists also imposes on the text, and frequently denigrates in a most unpleasant way those who disagree with its approach. It does not adequately recognise that the account is for us, that we may know God and serve him aright. In reaction to the modernist viewpoint, which reduced Genesis to myths and mocked any idea of creation in six days, scientific recent-creationism has an excessive need to prove itself over against the current claims of science. The ordinary believer, the average pastor too, is bombarded with technical jargon, and is prone to miss the very vital theological emphases in the text. There seem to be few recent-creationists who pay heed to the significance of God’s rest on day 7 for ultimate destiny and for Lord’s Day observance now.

The literary view, which suggests the days are a framework to stress the cohesion and order of creation, has much to offer that should be received, although it is sometimes over-elaborated. I believe it is best to regard God’s creation days as simply God’s creation days. They are related to our days but are not the same as ours in nature. On this analogical days view creation in six days is dogma, but the nature of those days in terms of time is not known to us (other than something of day 7). Any further definition of them is speculative.

So how old is the earth? The Bible doesn’t say. The scientific recent-creationist/ordinary days view insists on a few thousand years. The day-age view holds that the rather wide investigations in many scientific disciplines, often carried out by Christians, suggest that by and large the earth is very old, although humans are recent. Still, even if the earth is old, Scripture must be allowed to speak in its own terms. The literary/framework view does not find difficulty with an old or a young earth per se, nor does the analogical days position. Within the principles of Scripture there should be freedom to investigate and hypothesise, as we continue our mandate to rule over the earth. Let us hold fast to the teaching of the creation week. God’s week is a pattern for our work and worship until we enter that rest that remains for the people of God (Heb 4:9), that everlasting morning that has no night.

Rowland S., Ward
Knox Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia
26 Roxburgh Road, Wantirna Victoria 3152

God’s Covenant Unfolded: Creation to New Creation

God’s Covenant Unfolded: Creation to New Creation


Rowland S. Ward


Adam was made a king or ruler of the earth under God, and placed in a central sanctuary garden reminiscent of later priestly sanctuaries in Israel. Since the moment of Adam’s disobedience restoration to God’s fellowship by our obedience is impossible; we are shut up to reliance on another, Jesus Christ. He is in fact called the Last Adam (1 Cor 15:45) as well as ‘the first born from the dead and the Ruler of the kings of the earth’ (Rev 1:5). This is as much as to say that there have been several Adams after Adam who did not fulfil the promise of the seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head (Gen 3:15). Eventually came one who did meet every requirement and who is not succeeded by any other. This one, Jesus Christ, brings the new humanity into its true position as ‘a kingdom of priests to serve his God and Father’ (Rev 1:6).

Given Adam’s breaking of the covenant of works, the covenant of redemption operates to provide a covenant of grace for us. In accordance with the terms of the covenant of redemption with the Father, Christ was fully obedient and thereby fulfilled Adam’s covenant of works and secured the Holy Spirit for his people. Paul speaks of believers having been under the curse of a broken law but, he says, ‘Christ redeemed us by becoming a curse for us’ (Gal 3:13). ‘God sent his Son, who was born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those who were under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons’ and that the Holy Spirit might be given to us (Gal 4:5-6).

Here follows a basic outline of the theme of God’s covenant purposes.

1. Adam – the covenant of creation
In Genesis 1-7 God brings forth the earth from water, reducing chaos to order. He appoints Adam ruler of the earth. The goal of creation is to share God’s rest. God places man in his presence in a sanctuary garden, under his covenant, showing him how his dominion must be exercised to be effective. Adam disobeys. The nakedness of this sin God covers by coats of skins, and he is expelled to the east. One is promised who will destroy the works of the devil. Meantime, we see the fruit of Adam’s sin in his descendants, and the ultimate judgment of the flood, a reversal of creation, with a remnant saved in the ark.

In the promise to Adam (Gen 3:15) God continues his commitment to creation: the Serpent will be crushed by the woman’s seed. But Cain turns out not to be that seed: he is on the side of the Serpent. Even Seth does not prove to be the foundation of a better future: his line also descends into wickedness. Productive achievements in terms of livestock management, music and metal-working are noted (Gen 4:19ff), but are associated with spiritual decline – Lamech’s polygamy and arrogant sword-song.

The judgment of the Flood means that creation returns to something like the watery formless mass at its beginning. Noah’s Flood is a picture of the ultimate judgment at the end of the world that Enoch spoke about (cf. Jude 14). The New Testament uses it to point to the end of this order and the introduction of a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:6-7,10-13).

2. Noah – the covenant of the rainbow
Genesis 8-11 is a redemptive re-enactment. The world is recreated out of the waters of the flood, reducing chaos to order. God appoints Noah (Gen 6:18; 7:1) head of this new creation and continues his creation covenant with him (Gen 8:15-20). Noah’s name is from the Hebrew root nuah, to rest (cf. Gen 5:29). Noah plants a vineyard where he sins in drinking to excess. The nakedness of this sin two of his sons cover with a garment. The fruit of Noah’s sin is seen in his descendants, particularly the wicked citizens of Babel who aim to make a name for themselves through cultural achievements. However, ultimate judgment is postponed for it is God’s determination to fulfil his covenant with creation.

It is ‘righteous’ Noah (6:6; 7:1) who heads up a new creation as a kind of new Adam, but it was because he found grace in God’s sight (6:5), not that he was inherently righteous. God pledges to continue his covenant with him (6:18). God preserves him and his family in the ark, ‘remembers’ his covenant with him (8:1) and so, by a strong wind reminiscent of the moving of the Spirit on the face of the waters in 1:3, dries up the waters so that dry land appears. When Noah steps out on a new and cleansed earth, the covenant of the rainbow is confirmed in terms which echo unmistakeably the blessing of creation in Genesis 1:28, and which speak just as clearly of God’s unilateral determination to continue his purposes to bring creation to its goal. The rainbow is to ‘remind’ God of his purpose, a powerful way of saying that God will act to ensure his purpose is fulfilled.

There will be no further Noah-like Flood since it cannot eradicate the sin in the human heart (8:21). Noah offers a burnt offering in sacrifice. However, between the reiterated blessing of human fruitfulness in 9:1 and 9:7 are several new points. They amount to provisions to advance respect for human life by protecting it (vv2, 4-6) and sustaining it (v3). They are laws to be obeyed that will not be irrelevant for the later system of sacrifices in Israel.

But Noah is himself part of the problem (9:20-21). He is not able to bear the weight of the world’s redemption. Noah cannot bring that rest of which his name speaks and which is creation’s goal. As Adam’s sin had resulted in division among his descendants, so does Noah’s sin. As Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened unaided, so Noah seems to know what had happened without being told. Whereas God judged Adam and Eve, Noah exercises the authority given in 9:6 and utters predictions in terms of a curse on part of his family and blessings for others. The Serpent was cursed and so was Cain. Now Canaan is cursed too. It is as if the Canaanite peoples represent the Serpent’s seed, and thus their historic overthrow by Israel is justified and is a picture of the ultimate judgment of all workers of evil.

The other two sons receive blessings but Shem is given the pre-eminence without anything stated as the basis of the preference. This points to the sheer unmerited favour of God. He chooses Shem, apparently the youngest son (10:21), rather than Japheth. Shem means name. But if Shem’s line is the favoured one, progress still seems to be downward. The Tower of Babel episode is a re-run of times before the Flood: man without God is a clever devil. Men suppose to make a name for themselves. In effect they think that they can reach up to God’s throne and access the power and authority of heaven and use it for their own glory. The desire for unity and a city is not of itself wrong. God has a plan for unity and for a city too, but it does not come on the foundation of human sin but through its overthrow and the establishing of righteousness. In mercy and in judgment, God limits the cruel power of man and scatters the builders. Yet Shem’s descendants end up in the Babel-like civilisation of Ur as idolaters (Josh 24:2). Only the fact of God’s commitment to his creation means that all is not lost. There will be another new Adam.

3. Abraham – the covenant of circumcision

Genesis 11:27-50:26 records a more developed redemptive re-enactment in the events in the family line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God’s choice of Abram occurs in the context of the disunity of humanity and the impression God’s creation covenant will fail. That would be a wrong impression for the choice of Abram is with a view to the fulfilment of the creation covenant. Abram and the descendants God gives him are to be a means of bringing the covenant blessings to the whole world.

Abram is like a dead man, his name (meaning proud father) a mockery, for he has no children and his wife is barren (Gen 11:30). But God calls into being things that are not (cf. Rom 4:17) and he commands Abram to leave his father’s house and go to a land he will show him. In contrast to the Babel builders, God will act to make Abram a great nation, to bless him, to make his name great, decide the fate of men on how they relate to him, and to bless the whole world through him (Gen 12:1-3). It will be 25 years before Abram has the child of the promise (Gen 12:4;17:1,21), and his faith was tested. Yet he believed the LORD and it was reckoned to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6). The thought is not that faith is meritorious, but that the one in whom Abram trusted provides for him the righteousness he needs as the basis of fellowship, a righteousness he receives as God’s gift through faith.

A year before Isaac’s birth God formalises his promise in the covenant of circumcision. Abram’s name is changed to Abraham, father of a multitude, because God’s blessing will result in him being the father of nations and of kings (Gen 17:1ff). Whereas in 1:28 God had said to Adam and Eve, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’, and similarly to Noah and his sons in 9:1, the emphasis now is different. God says to Abraham, ‘I will make you very fruitful’ (17:6). The heart of the covenant is God’s total commitment: ‘I will be your God and the God of your children after you’. The New Testament does not provide any greater promise, but rather discloses the implications of God’s commitment. Abraham is also assured of possession of the land of Canaan as a free gift.

We find therefore no total lapse in Abraham. He is kept by the power of God. God does not favour him because he is worthy but because God is gracious and provides righteousness for him. He is promised greatness by God, not rewarded for already existing greatness. God’s total commitment to Abraham is shown ultimately in the gift of God’s son as the true and Last Adam.

Adam was given the whole earth to subdue whereas Abraham is promised the land of Canaan as God’s gift (15:7; 17:8). Nevertheless, all nations will be blessed through Abraham (12:3 cf. Gal 3:8). When the writer to the Hebrews speaks of Abraham looking beyond Canaan to a new creation (Heb 11:9-10,16), he writes perceptively, for Canaan has replaced the whole earth only temporarily and typically. Abraham is the inheritor of the creation covenant as a new Adam. As Paul puts it, Abraham inherits the world (Rom 4:13). The inclusiveness of the church composed of both Jews and Gentiles, which is so insisted upon in the New Testament, reflects the reality of all believers, all true children of Abraham, as God’s new human family.

There is a dramatised curse ritual in connection with the covenant with Abraham. It is seen in Genesis 15 when God confirms his promise of the land (15:8-20). The Lord will be dismembered if he does not keep his promise! There is also obligation on Abraham. He is to walk before God Almighty and be perfect (17:1), and the rite of circumcision is the sign of God’s covenant, the expression of his obedience and the call to continue walking before the LORD.

The creation covenant formalised with Abraham continues through Isaac (26:3f) and on to Jacob (35:11). The continuation of the covenant is of God’s grace, for Isaac’s wife is also barren (25:21) and so is Jacob’s wife, Rachel (29:31), ultimately the mother of Joseph; it is also contrary to nature since the birthright is carried on by the younger: Jacob not Esau, Joseph not Reuben, Ephraim not Manasseh.

In Joseph’s life in particular, there is the beginning of a provisional fulfilment of the promise to Abraham: God is with Joseph in everything (Gen 39:20-23). Although he has many trials and his name seems to be cut off, yet his name is made great, and he becomes a blessing to the nations of ‘all the earth’ (Gen 41:56-57). Reckoned as the first born of his many brothers (49:22ff), he delivers and protects the children of Abraham. But as yet they are a nation only in embryo. Nevertheless, they prosper numerically and materially during their time in Egypt (47:27; Ex 1:7) until a Pharaoh came to the throne who cared nothing for Joseph’s work. He makes the Hebrews slaves, and orders their male babies to be killed at birth. It looks like the end. But then there is another new beginning. God’s covenant word brings hope.

4. Moses and the covenant at Sinai
The Book of Exodus speaks of God’s acts in terms of a new creation. Moses, like Noah, was saved in an ark from drowning so as to bring salvation to others. [The rare Hebrew word teba is used only of Noah’s boat and Moses’ basket.] Israel is God’s firstborn son (Ex 4:22) like Adam (cf. Luke 3:38), created by God (Isa 43:1) and saved from the waters of judgment that engulfed the Egyptians at the Red Sea after the plagues had reduced their ordered world to a waste (cf. Gen 12). Israel is God’s new Adam, God’s new humanity.

We read that God ‘remembered’ his covenant with Abraham (Ex 6:5), and therefore delivered the Israelites from their oppressors in Egypt: he cursed the Egyptians but blessed his people. It is important to note that this act of grace was not apart from the provision of a sacrifice in the Passover lamb. In the houses of the Egyptians the first-born died; in the house of the Israelites a lamb dies. Israel as a whole, God’s firstborn son, exits the bondage of Egypt into freedom under God.

The initial goal of their journey is Horeb or Mt Sinai (Ex 3:1,12). When they arrive Moses receives God’s law, which the people affirm they accept and will obey. Then the people are sprinkled with the blood of the covenant (Ex 24:1-9). Those who are already covenant people are thus committed to God’s law, but their inevitable failure in obedience will not overthrow the covenant because of the provision of the sprinkled blood.

God brought them to the land he had promised to Abraham generations before, giving them victories over the Canaanites so that they could settle in the land and experience rest (Deut 12:10; Josh 21:43-45). The curse of Canaan is being worked out, and God’s determination to put emnity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent is demonstrated (Gen 3:15), as also his determination to make for Abraham a great name and a great nation. It is all of grace.

Prior to Exodus 19:3 Scripture is a kind of prologue to the covenant then made at Sinai by which Israel, already belonging to God, is committed to become a kingdom of priests, a fully sanctified nation Ex 19:4-6). A detailed system of ritual or ceremonial law was also imposed, including a system of symbolic sacrifices to deal with sin. Strikingly, there appear no sacrifices for wilful sin, sin ‘with a high hand’, such as David’s adultery. For these there was nothing but the covenant mercy of God (Ps 51:1), which in fact underpinned the entire life of the nation.

A generation later the covenant is renewed before entry into the Promised Land. The book of Deuteronomy reviews the past (chs. 1-4), reiterates the Ten Words we commonly call the ten commandments (5), expounds and applies them in order (6-26), provides for reaffirmation of the covenant (27-30), and for its continuation (31-34). The commandments given to Israel by God cover all aspects of life, not just narrowly religious matters, and they are to be kept in the context of response to God’s gracious deliverance of his people. Obedience is a necessary fruit of the covenant relationship with God, not a means of establishing it. For Israel it is all of grace because God is faithful to his covenant.

As the new Adam, Israel (= Prince with God) is brought into the new Eden, entering it from the east which was guarded by a mysterious angel with a sword (Josh 5:13). This reminds us of the cherubim on the east of Eden who guarded the way to Paradise (Gen 3:24). The new Eden is a land flowing with milk and honey where the new Adam is to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28; Deut 6:3;8:6ff), living under God’s covenant.

At this point a difficulty is sometimes felt. The new Adam’s continuance in the land of Canaan depends on his obedience to that covenant as did the first Adam’s continuance in Eden. There are blessings for obedience, and curses for disobedience (Deut 28); ‘life and prosperity, death and destruction’ is set before Israel (Deut 30:15). If Israel disobeys she will be expelled to the east once more, to Babylon, or returned to captivity in Egypt. ‘Is not Israel actually under a covenant of works?’ one may ask.

However, as we have seen, it is fundamental that Israel is not received into God’s favour because of obedience but because of God’s gracious covenant with Abraham. The law of Moses has not overthrown the covenant promise of God to Abraham (Gal 3:17). Covenant and law are differently related. Noah, saved from the Flood by God’s grace, received God’s law (Gen 9:1ff). Abraham, justified through faith, was to walk before God and be perfect (Gen 17:1). Similarly, redeemed Israel receives God’s law, although in much more elaborated form than previously, so that she might be a holy nation (Ex 19:6). The exhortation to New Testament believers by the One greater than Moses is the same: ‘Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect’ (Matt 5:47). The giving of law to the redeemed of God reflects the fact that obedience to the covenant Lord is always the appropriate response of the redeemed. The demand of law, and the pressing toward the mark, does not imply that in this life perfect obedience will be achieved, or that we are justified on the basis of works.

Israel is the subject of grace just because it is impossible for righteousness to be obtained by Israel’s obedience. The addition of the Mosaic law instructs the people in God’s character, but multiplies the opportunities for sin, convicts and restricts with a view to preparing the people for the One who would crush the Serpent’s head (Gal 3). In this sense the Mosaic covenant is both gracious and burdensome (cf. Acts 15:10). At the same time the law holds out the promise of life for perfect obedience. ‘If you would enter into life keep the commandments’ is a faithful saying (Matt 19:17), even if it is only a theoretical possibility for sinners. Paul rightly stresses: ‘If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing’ (Gal 2:21).

There was a special peculiarity for Israel since her existence as a nation provided a pattern and a portrayal on the physical level of the reality of the Kingdom of God to be realised in Jesus Christ. Canaan as a picture of the heavenly country (cf. Heb 11:16) cannot continue to be possessed by a covenant breaking people. Hence on the temporal level the fortunes of Israel are tied to her spiritual faithfulness. This feature also emphasises the necessity of perfect obedience in order to inherit God’s rest, and so encourages the expectation of the promised seed of Abraham, the true Passover Lamb.

Adam had been made as ruler of the earth, and God’s purpose is that the goal of creation will be fulfilled despite the entry of sin. So humanity must again rule effectively. Israel was to be a kingdom of priests (Ex 19:4-6), ruling for God in fellowship with him, but in the absence of a king each person did what seemed right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6; 21:25. They fell into religious syncretism (Judg 17) and Sodom-like depravity (Judg 19:16ff cf. Gen 19:1ff), and their enemies plundered them. Only through God’s gift of kingship could God’s purpose be realised.

5. David and the Kingdom covenant
But the Lord in mercy (Judg 9:16) yields to the people’s wrongly motivated desire for a king by giving them one (Saul) who outwardly appeared ideal, but who was a failure. David, God’s replacement for Saul, was not the likely choice. Even Samuel thought David’s older brother was the obvious candidate (1 Sam 6:6-7). But David was a man who feared the Lord and hoped in his mercy. To him God continued his covenant. The lesson: man’s choice leads to disaster; God’s choice leads to salvation.

The arrangement with David as recorded in 2 Samuel 7:1ff is not in fact described as a covenant. However, like the arrangement in Eden, it has all the features of a covenant, and is described as such elsewhere in Scripture (eg. Psa 89:3). It is also noteworthy that the unusual form of God’s name (LORD God) found in Genesis 2 is also found in 2 Samuel 7.

God’s promise to David includes terms which bring the previous promises to mind: the promise of a great name (7:9), a place for Israel to call home (7:10), freedom from oppression and rest from all enemies (7:11-11), a future seed (7:12) who will be God’s son (7:14), and the linking of the choice of Israel as God’s own with the establishing of David’s kingdom for ever (7:24,16). Clearly, God’s blessing to Abraham is to be fulfilled through David’s line. As the formless and empty earth had been formed and filled by the Great King, with his son Adam placed in it as image and ruler, so God will make a house for David that his son may rule in peace and righteousness. In turn, David’s son will build God’s House where God may dwell in the midst of his people. God will relate to him as a father to his son. Individuals may be chastised but David’s dynasty and kingdom will be eternal.

David’s reaction is striking. The difficult phrase in 7:19 is commonly translated ‘Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O LORD God?’ The verse is David’s response to God’s revelation, and reads literally, ‘This is the law (or charter) [torah] of humanity, O LORD God’. This fits the context perfectly. David recognises that God’s promise through him secures the future of humanity. One will arise from David’s line to fulfil the promise made to Abraham, overthrow the Serpent and bring about the goal of creation, God with his people for ever.

Several passages in the Psalms point to God’s special son as the true occupant of David’s throne (eg. Ps 110:1; 45:7). Indeed, David’s throne was really God’s throne (1 Chron 29:22). A preliminary fulfilment comes in David’s son Solomon, who has a reign of outward splendour and peace (ca.970-931 BC), and who is acknowledged among the nations for his wisdom and the glory of his kingdom. Yet he is not the perfect king, and his successors still less, and they experience the promised chastisement. The true fulfilment awaits the coming of David’s greater son who is in a very special way God’s son, and so also David’s Lord (Psa 110:1 cf. Matt 22:41-45).

The decline of the nation continued. Two hundred years after David, Isaiah anticipates the defeat of the people and their exile to a foreign land, He also speaks encouragingly about a remnant returning from captivity as the nucleus of a new Israel through the Lord’s anointed one/messiah, Cyrus (45:1), whose work provides an illustration of the work of the true anointed one/messiah. Strikingly, around 732 BC Isaiah speaks to the house of David of a child born of a virgin who will be called Immanuel, God with us, and who will rule on David’s throne for ever (Isa 7:13-14; 9:6-7). He also speaks of a righteous servant, equipped by God’s Spirit, who brings justice to the nations (42:1-6). This servant is identified with God yet distinguished from him (50:1-3, 14-17). Nor is he identified with Cyrus, who is plainly stated to be an unbeliever (45:4). The servant will suffer for the sins of the unfaithful people to remove their guilt. Here, surely, is the seed of the woman who will overthrow the Serpent.

In 722 BC the ten northern tribes, who had rebelled against the Davidic dynasty after Solomon’s death, were defeated by the Assyrians and many of the people forcibly resettled elsewhere in the Assyrian Empire. The two remaining tribes (Judah and little Benjamin) did not follow the LORD rightly either. Things were going from bad to worse. Where is the promised King, the promised son of God? Where is the faithful servant, the redeemer from sin?

From about 626 BC the prophet Jeremiah spoke God’s word to the people although it was not well received. Beginning about 605 BC the people of Judah came under the control of the Babylonian Empire. Some, like Daniel and Ezekiel, were deported to Babylon. Jerusalem itself was destroyed in 587 BC, and many more Jews taken into captivity. The principle was simply that Israel had not kept God’s covenant law, and the land had not enjoyed its sabbath rest for 490 years, so it would now have 70 years of enforced rest (2 Chron 36:21) in line with the principle of Leviticus 26:43. Thus Israel was banished from the land for her sins, just as Adam and Eve had been banished from the Garden. Apart from the promise of God all again seemed dark and hopeless. No temple, no king, no land. Who would save the remnant of God’s covenant people?

6. Cyrus and the promise of a new covenant
Jeremiah, like Isaiah, recognises the failure of the theocracy; her day of earthly glory is past. The fundamental relationship of God to Israel will be realised somewhat differently in the future, and it depends upon God’s work. Jeremiah speaks of a new covenant which God would make with his people which would ensure God’s law was written on their hearts. He spoke about return from captivity (Jer 30:1ff), and the rebuilding of a Jerusalem that would be truly holy (Jer 31:38ff), of a reconstituted house of Judah and house of Israel under a new covenant (31:31).

Daniel in Babylon, read Jeremiah’s writing (Dan 9:2), and prayed accordingly. 2 Chronicles 36:21 explains that the number of years of exile corresponded to the number of years the land had not enjoyed the sabbath it was due each seven years (Leviticus 25). The prayer (9:3-19) is the prayer of one who knows the nation has lost the privileges of the covenant – the temple and sacrificial system, the city of Jerusalem and life in a land flowing with milk and honey – because of covenant disobedience. ‘But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers…I will remember my covenant….I will remember the land’ (Leviticus 26:40ff. cf. Deut 30:1ff.).

Their human deliverer was in fact the ruler of the Medes and Persians, a man named Cyrus, just as predicted by God through Isaiah (45:1). He and his men overthrew the Babylonian Empire in 538 BC, and allowed the resettled peoples to return to their own lands. It was a new beginning, life from death. Cyrus was not the promised seed of the woman but he provided a picture of the promised seed in the way in which he brought God’s people’s bondage to an end and allowed them to return to their own land. By 516 BC the temple had been rebuilt under Haggai (Ezra 6), and eventually Jerusalem was also rebuilt in the time of Nehemiah.
Psalm 126 sings:

1 When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion,
we were like men who dreamed.
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
‘The LORD has done great things for them.’
3 The LORD has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.

The return from exile is certainly fulfilment of Jeremiah’s prediction (Jer 30:3), as is the rebuilding of Jerusalem (Jer 31:38-40). But Jerusalem does not turn out to be fully holy in terms of the prediction, nor, despite religious renewal under Nehemiah, were all the people sincere believers – although their fondness for idolatry was curbed. The pious knew that the prophesied time of God’s complete redemption had not yet come. The prophecies of Ezekiel about the restoration and blessing of God’s people through an eternal covenant of peace (34:25; 37:26) were not fulfilled either. Psalm 126 continues:

4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD ,
like streams in the desert.
5 Those who sow in tears
will reap with songs of joy.
6 He who goes out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with him. [NIV]


The return from exile is not the ultimate fulfilment of Jeremiah’s new covenant prediction, but it began with the reconstitution of the remnant of God’s people from both Israel and Judah (Jer 31:31ff). They have been brought back from the dead (Ezekiel 37) to again be God’s people in God’s land under his Lordship and with a true priesthood. Yet the prophecies of Zechariah (ca 520 BC) show that the goal of the temple building of that time will ultimately lead to a Messianic era when priesthood and kingship will be combined in one person. The day of small things will give way to greater glory through God’s Spirit (Zech 4:6).

In Daniel 9:24-27 we find a remarkable prophecy in which the seventy years of captivity in Babylon complete a cycle but also introduce a further period of ’70 sevens’. During this period events which achieve the goal of history will be realised by the true Messiah, the Last Adam.

24″Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy. 25 “Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. 26After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. 27He will confirm a covenant with many for one ‘seven.’ In the middle of the ‘seven’ he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing [of the temple] he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.” NIV

The passage tells us that the end of the 70 years of exile (Jer 25:8-14; 29:10) will introduce a new period of 70 units of seven. The exile was closed by Cyrus as God’s “Anointed One” (Isaiah 45:1) who allowed the Jews to return. The new period will be climaxed by the true Anointed One who will deal with the sin problem that had caused the exile in the first place; in fact, all sin would be so effectively dealt with that further sacrifices would not be needed.

The sabbath and numerical symbolism in the passage is important, more so that any precise calculation of time. The 70 sevens is a complete and perfect period during which the perfect plan of God will be realised in effective dealing with sin and deliverance from sin’s bondage (v24) through Messiah’s death (v27) which causes God’s covenant to prevail. The end point of the 70 sevens is therefore the eternal sabbath, the goal of history.

Notice the 3-fold division:
seven sevens – the city will be rebuilt but no 50th jubilee year follows (Lev 25:8-13) since true liberty will not follow the rebuilding of Jerusalem; this comes only with the Messiah.
sixty-two sevens – an odd or broken period as if to convey the idea that the period from the rebuilding until the coming of Christ (the first time) is uncertain to us, and a period which even with what has gone before is still incomplete.
one seven – the last seven is itself complete, a single seven. Like creation it suggests a new and complete work of God (cf Gen 1:1ff), but also completes the perfect plan of God (70 sevens). In the middle (not at the end) of this seven Jerusalem is destroyed [which it was in AD 70] through the application of the curses of the covenant, leaving three and one half to the end of history. This broken period appears to be a symbol of the Christian dispensation – a period of trial and persecution but also a period which ends in triumph. [The same period is expressed as 42 months in Rev 11:2; 13:5 and 1260 days in Rev 11:3; 12:6.]

So Daniel learns that the city will be rebuilt but eventually destroyed in order that God’s covenant may prevail through Messiah’s death so that its full benefits will be realised in the building of the spiritual temple and the establishing of the kingdom which will have no end. The earthly city/temple is not the key: it was always only a symbol of God’s presence. Messiah is the key for the future, the seed of the woman, the one who defeats the Serpent. Already anticipated as Immanuel, he guides the destiny of Israel in the absence of the king on David’s throne, and will come to be personally present with his people.

Significantly, the last of the Old Testament books, Malachi (ca. 430 BC), speaks of the messenger of God’s covenant, the Lord whom you seek, coming suddenly to his temple (3:1). Only such a one can fulfil the promise to Abraham, only such a one can fulfil the purposes of God in creation.

7. Jesus and the new covenant
Matthew traces the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham through David (Matt 1:1), while Luke traces it back to Adam the son of God (Luke 3:31). Both Mary and Zacharias recognise the coming of Jesus is the fulfilment of the covenant promises to Abraham (Luke 2:55,72-75). John notes that the law came through Moses but grace and truth came into being through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). The idea is not a contrast between what is false and what is true, for indeed the law came through Moses from God, but a contrast between old and new, shadow and reality, and between one who was a messenger and one who was the very embodiment of the message.

The clear portrayal of Jesus as the Last Adam in the temptation should be noted. Jesus’ temptation at the beginning of his public ministry is in a setting of social and environmental deprivation – in the desert among wild animals (Mark 1:12-13), not in a garden. It comes from outside of him, from Satan, and it aims to overthrow Jesus’ trust in the Father’s love and care. But the Last Adam worships and serves the LORD his God according to every word of God. No one is ever able to convict him of sin, and so death should not be his lot. His death is explicable only on the principles of the Father’s redemptive purpose: he will yield his son, his only son, whom he loves, Jesus, to bear the sin of others as representative and substitute. He is the Servant of the Lord, the true Passover, the Lamb of God. Here in Christ’s sacrifice is the ultimate implication of God’s commitment to Abraham to be his God.

In Luke 24:25 the risen Jesus begins at Moses and all the prophets, explaining to the disciples what was said in the Scriptures concerning himself. He also speaks (v.44) of everything written about him in the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms (terms standing for the three great divisions of the Hebrew Bible) having to be fulfilled. Here we have the origin of the Apostolic use of the Old Testament in the early church.

Jesus expressly identifies his sacrifice as ‘the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you’ (Luke 22:20), and the New Testament proclaims and applies this reality. Jesus is the Last Adam, the obedient son through whom sinners are redeemed and made the people of God (Rom 5:12-21). He is the one now enthroned on the true throne of David exercising his rule so as to put down all his enemies (1 Cor 15:20-28), whose glory will be revealed in the new creation when his task is complete.

The old (Mosaic) covenant is superseded because fulfilled by Jesus (Matt 5:17). Yet the righteousness requirements of the law are fulfilled in Christ’s people, for they live according to the Spirit and not the sinful nature (Rom 8:4). Here again is the internalisation of the law which was to characterise the new covenant referred to by Jeremiah. The moral law of love for God and neighbour, which of old was expressed in the ten commandments rooted in the redemption from slavery in Egypt, is now commended to us by the one who embodied it perfectly, and whose sacrifice as the true Passover Lamb provides the foundation of the ‘new’ commandment of love ‘as I have loved you’ (John 13:24).

Yet the promised accomplishment of the new covenant in a universally holy people is not yet fully realised among the people of God. It still remains that they are not all Israel who are of Israel. The professing people of God are not all regenerate. It still remains that they are not all perfectly sanctified.

The ultimate fulfilment of the new covenant is in the final and glorious manifestation of the kingdom of God already established in Jesus. The Book of Revelation reminds us that God will be with his people in an unparalleled way (21:3); there will be no sin in the new creation (21:8,27), no tears, no death (21:4) no curse (22:3). The redeemed will be sons who inherit all this (21:7), servants who serve (22:3), kings who reign (22:5). Conditions in the new creation remind us of Eden, yet far exceed them (22:1ff). The garden becomes a city of light and glory in God’s presence for ever and ever. God’s purpose in creation is realised in a world of love and righteousness.

In conclusion, it is worth noting, as Donald Macleod puts it: ‘that the familiar words of the great Commission of Matthew 28 are cast in the form of an ancient covenant. There is a preamble, “All authority is given to me in heaven and in earth.” There is a stipulation, “Go, teach the nations.” And there is a promise, “I am with you always.”If we divorce the promise from the stipulation, there is no presence. It is the going church which alone enjoys the promise of the presence of God.’

Creation & Covenant: Covenant Theology in Outline

Creation & Covenant: Covenant Theology in Outline


Rowland S Ward

The Presbyterian Banner
, October 2002.

Covenant theology in outline
The Bible is a covenant book, and its two parts could be better described as the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. The intended contrast is between the covenant with Moses at Sinai and the covenant fulfilled in Jesus Christ 1500 years later, which the old covenant foreshadowed. However, there are other covenant arrangements in the Bible to be considered as well.

Covenant theology understands that God’s relationship with humanity always involved a personal, loving, covenant bond, and that God’s intention in creation was the rich blessing of the creature he had made in his image. That blessing would come by way of obedience to God’s word, although the blessing would be of grace, not wages for work done. The covenant with the First Adam (generally called, if not entirely happily, the covenant of works) was broken, affecting not only Adam but those descending from him in the ordinary way, since humanity forms not merely a physical unity but a spiritual and ethical one also. Adam transmitted a corrupted nature but his sin was also imputed to his posterity. It was therefore necessary that the obligations of the covenant be met by another if God’s purpose for humanity was to be realised. The suitable substitute was Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Last Adam. This was in accordance with the agreement or pact among the members of the Trinity (cf. John 6:37-40;17:1ff), usually called the covenant of redemption. It is the foundation of the covenant of grace made with believers by which, through faith in Christ, they are received back into God’s favour – not simply as if they had never sinned but as if they had fully obeyed, as indeed, in Christ they have.

This covenant of grace is God’s doing but on man’s part it calls for the response of repentance and faith issuing in obedience. Nevertheless, these requirements on man’s part are not strictly conditions in the sense of things supplied by man to obtain God’s blessing as a kind of business contract. Since we are dead in sin we cannot supply them anyway. Rather, they are themselves blessings of the covenant given to the elect on the basis of the work of Christ. The ground of salvation is thus Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the obedient Servant, crucified Saviour and risen Lord. Faith in this Christ is the instrumental cause of salvation, the means of receiving it; and good works are fruits of the new relationship, not means of establishing it.

The unfolding of God’s gracious covenant is progressive. Covenant theology at its best is keen to pay attention to this historical unfolding of God’s purposes. The covenant of grace was given in promise to Adam immediately after he sinned (Gen 3:15), was continued through Noah (Gen 6:18; 9:1-17) and formalised with Abraham in the covenant of circumcision (Gen 17). All believers are beneficiaries of the covenant with Abraham (Gal 3:7), and the special administration adopted in the covenant with Moses (Ex 19), did not annul the Abrahamic covenant or alter its gracious character (Gal 3:17ff). The covenant with David to establish his throne for ever (2 Sam 7:12) is also important, as is the promise of a new covenant made in Jeremiah’s time (Jer 31 & 33). Then Christ came in accordance with the everlasting covenant and ratified the new covenant in his blood (Luke 22:20), which brought to fulfilment the ancient promises.

The relationship of Adam and Christ is often poorly perceived today. Under pressure from currently popular scientific world-views, the account of Adam and Eve is regarded as a fictional story without historical basis, or else something a bit difficult to discuss for fear of embarrassment. On the other hand, many conservative Christians have a very exaggerated view of the original state of creation. They read the early narratives as if it they were designed to counter 21st century scientific atheists rather than to provide an historical prelude to God’s covenant with Moses in the 15th century BC. The Bible is not an encyclopaedia of the sciences but a distinctly covenant book to teach us the ways of God with humanity. The creation covenant or the covenant of works (or whatever we choose to call it) is a very clear indication that Adam’s perfection was not an absolute perfection. He did not yet possess eternal life. He was made as God intended and free from moral evil, but there was glory and honour in prospect too (cf. 1 Cor 15:44ff).

Let us now look at our subject theologically.

1. Kinds of covenants
Agreements in human society which enable close relationship and the discharge of mutual obligations may be called covenants. Perhaps we may divide these agreements into two kinds, some more suitably called contracts and the others covenants. Contracts may imply a certain degree of mistrust and may not imply friendship between the parties. Covenants can be thought of as agreements between friends who love each other. Thus, marriage is best described as a covenant rather than a contract. Doing so does not deny the obligation in the pledges made, but suggests a more adequate context for understanding the relationship as one of personal loving commitment.

Covenant is a term that also may be used to describe the relationship between God and his creation. It is used of God’s unconditional promise to Noah, and to the birds, livestock and wild animals with him in the ark, in the covenant of the rainbow (Genesis 9:12ff). It is also used of God’s commitment to the fixed order of day and night established at creation (Jeremiah 33:20ff. cf. 31:35). It is more commonly used of God’s commitments to people, and calls for appropriate response on their part. The term becomes one of the most significant words in the language of the Old Testament. The climax of a ‘new covenant’ is reached in Jesus. Indeed, the very terms Old Testament and New Testament are more accurately translated Old Covenant and New Covenant. The Bible is unique is this since other religious traditions do not speak of God making covenant with his creatures.

2. The Trinity and Humanity
God does not exist in a vacuum eternally alone. Love, fellowship and faithfulness are at the heart of God, for he eternally exists in a communion of love as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Made in his image, humans therefore are made to express their lives in love, fellowship and faithfulness to God and their fellow image-bearers. Such is the Christian confession.

Religions drawing from the Bible yet rejecting the Trinity have no consistently logical basis for these qualities of love, fellowship and faithfulness since, on their view, they are not reflections of what is true of God. For they will admit that God is not dependent on his creation. Creation is not eternal. Now if God has no eternal relationship with another, no one outside of creation to love, then love, fellowship and faithfulness cannot be among his essential attributes, and to be like God is to have a life without them. Hence, vital Christianity has always had an instinctive recognition of the Triune God, whatever difficulties in formal expression of the doctrine. Thus also she has always recognised the significance of human personality as reflecting the ultimate reality in God himself.

The Bible speaks of the three persons of the Trinity in terms of love and fellowship and faithfulness. In God himself there is an ordered relationship, a personal commitment of love, a covenant bond between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Scripture assures us that this relationship issues also in binding agreements between the Father, the Son and the Spirit. Jesus speaks of an agreement with the Father in accord with which he has come into the world (John 6:37ff cf. Psalm 40:7-8, Hebrews 10:5ff). He also speaks of the Holy Spirit who is sent from the Father and the Son as a consequence of Son’s atoning work with a view to rendering it effective in the lives of those whom the Father gave him (John 16:7ff). All that he said and did reflected his undertaking with the Father (John 5:36; 17:4). The Son was ever in a loving relationship with the Father, but he also entered into binding undertakings with him. You have the familial but you also have the legal in what for substance is a covenant relationship, although the actual term is not used.

3. God’s covenant with creation
If we put the question, ‘At what point does God begin the covenant relationship with his creatures?’ we could answer in the following way:
When the first world is to be cleansed by a Flood so as to begin anew in Noah, God promises that he will ‘confirm’ his covenant with Noah (Genesis 6:18). The Hebrew term [heqim] in this context is that for continuing a relationship not commencing a new one.1 So there was already a covenant before Noah. When did that covenant begin?

(1) That covenant began with creation for, in the aftermath of Noah’s Flood, the words of blessing at creation (Genesis 1:28) are repeated (Genesis 9:1-7). By the judgment of the Flood God has given an illustration of what sin brings, and has begun again with Noah, a kind of second Adam, on a new and cleansed earth like that which had emerged from the waters in creation (Genesis 1:2ff). Hence the original promise in creation is repeated, and is described specifically as a covenant.

(2) To the same effect is Jeremiah’s reference to God’s ‘covenant for day and night’ (33:20ff). This passage refers back beyond Genesis 9:8 to Genesis 1 and God’s blessing of his good creation, as Jeremiah 31:35 makes clear. Thus we see God’s covenant commitment at the very beginning of creation.

(3) God has a plan for his creation, he is committed to it and he is its Ruler. Covenant in the sense of committed relationship applies to creation as such, and it comes to a specially focussed expression in the case of humanity.

We must not think of creation in the beginning as a natural order to which is added a supernatural order subsequently so that man can relate to God. A nature/grace dualism is not to be thought of. Rather, all creation is in a dependent relationship to God as its Sovereign, King and Lord. This is the same as saying creation as such is in a covenant relationship since all creation is to live in accordance with the charter given. For humanity, all of life is fundamentally religious because all is lived before the face of God, either obediently in his service or disobediently in the service of an idol.

There is an absolute difference between the Creator and the creation. God is its Originator and Ruler, and it is accountable to him. God administers his rule by way of covenant. As God was not under any obligation to create, and his decision to do so was an absolutely free one, we can speak of a voluntary condescension on God’s part. Many older writers, following a view suggested by the Westminster Confession (1646), refer God’s voluntary condescension to the act of entering into a covenant with humanity post-creation. This approach could imply humanity was created in God’s image but not in covenant, and that God could have withheld his covenant blessing from the creature. I think this would be a somewhat speculative construction that does not mesh well with a careful assessment of Scripture. It risks thinking in terms of a dualism unwarranted by Scripture.

4. Humanity’s unique position
Humans are created in the image and likeness of God, both male and female. In the world of Moses’ time the word ‘image’ can refer to a statue which represented the one imaged. It can also refer to the king as the adopted son of a god fulfilling the role of representing the god in a portion of his kingdom. Genesis shows that the humans are God’s in fact vice-regents of a sort2, called to represent God and to rule over his creation and subdue it to bring out its full potential. The first man is thus correctly recognised as the son of God (Luke 3:38), not his slave. Further, all humans are recognised as bearing God’s image, not just the rulers or the nobility. The image or likeness (the terms appear to be interchangeable) is not some spiritual part of man only, but his totality. Note the way Jesus is described as the express image of the invisible God (Hebrew 1:3).

The unique relationship with God involved in being God’s image, finds expression in the blessing in Genesis 1:28. The ordinance of work and rest provides for humanity’s proper relationship to the creation and to the Creator. Labour in God’s creation is a blessing not a necessary evil, and the day of rest is a blessing also (Genesis 1:28; 2:3), being made for man (Mark 2:27). Labour has a purpose, and creation has a goal. The seventh day shows that work is not an end in itself, but has its proper place when it is consecrated to God as we subdue the earth in his name. The seventh day represents the goal of history when humanity’s work is done and God’s rest is entered.3

5. Adam’s limitations

Creatures other than man are made of the dust of the ground (Genesis 1:24; 3:19) and have the breath of life (7:22) so that they are living beings (1.20; 9:10) as he is. The description in Genesis 2 of the making of the human does highlight the unique position of the man. Still, being from the earth he remains dependent on it. He needs and receives food as surely as fresh air. He needs and receives daylight for labour and night for sleep. He needs and receives a place of sanctuary, where he may worship and obey the LORD so that he may fulfil his task properly in the world beyond the garden with all its rich potential (2:8-15).4 He needs and receives direction for his life (2:16-17). He needs and receives a woman as a companion and covenant partner (2:18-25). The two become one and the race is multiplied. All these are rich blessings, but these blessings also speak of limitations, of that which is temporary in contrast to the promise of eternal life.
* The body of dust is capable of dissolution, unlike the incorruptible body of future glory, so in the final kingdom of God the perishable must be supplanted by the imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:50).
* The need for food will not exist in God’s ultimate order (1 Corinthians 6:13).
* The regularity of six days of work and one of rest will be superseded when humans enter God’s eternal rest that is creation’s goal.
* In the promised glory the possibility of disobedience, sin and death will not be present.
* Nor will there be marriage or procreation (Matthew 22:30).
Adam is at the beginning of a history with obedience to be given and a reward to be gained. What is natural is first, only later the spiritual (1 Corinthians 15:46-47). We must not idealise conditions in the world before sin. The state of innocence in paradise is far surpassed by the state of glory in the new Jerusalem. Put another way, we can say there was an eschatology before there was sin, that is, a glorious destiny was in view of which the tree of life in Genesis 2 was also a token. Creation at the beginning was not like it will be in the end, when it will be richer and more enduring.

6. God and the righteous Adam
The first Adam was created innocent and holy, in the image of God, with the law of God written on his heart, and therefore God delighted in him and loved him, and the creature likewise delighted in God. Likeness is the basis of fellowship and love. God cannot help loving such a creature just as he cannot but delight in himself. God wants that creature to be a close confident, a friend, a lover. Once he had determined to create such a creature he could not but desire to share his riches with him. God’s purpose with the man was always that there be a committed relationship of love. This kind of relationship is not something incidental or peripheral.

The covenant is the means by which God relates to his creation. The category of love is fundamental but so is the category of law. These categories are not mutually exclusive but complementary. Jesus as God’s Son speaks of the mutual love between himself and the Father at the same time as he speaks of obedience to the Father’s will. It is not suitable to describe the original relationship of God and Adam as one of love without law nor can it be described properly simply in contract terms. We do not make the separation in a marriage covenant, still less may we in the relationship with God. There are specific contract terms, and if there are blessings in Genesis 1, there is a curse threatened in Genesis 2. Yet the relationship is not and cannot be a mere formal and legal one. Adam had personal communion in righteousness with God from the beginning, and he was to be obedient in the covenant relationship.

The covenant relationship at creation is expressed in a highly focussed form in a specific arrangement with Adam described in Genesis 2:16-17. In this arrangement the common idea is present of a covenant as an agreement involving mutual faithfulness to the stated obligations, and for the lesser party (man), to receive a blessing of great richness from the greater party (God). It is true that the promise is not explicit in these verses, but the threat of death for disobedience implies the promise of life for obedience, and several features already noted in the context say the same. These include the blessing of humanity at creation (Gen 1:28), the blessing of the seventh day as representing creation’s goal, and the tree of life in the garden. One could add to them the remarkable use of the term LORD God (20 times) in Genesis 2/3. This is used only 16 times elsewhere in the Old Testament. The emphasis of the name is that the Creator (God) is also covenant partner of his people (LORD).5

One can look at the relationship from different angles. As the original relationship it may be called the covenant of creation. As it was to be fulfilled by man in the strength with which he is endowed it may be called the covenant of nature. Being made with Adam before sin it may be called the covenant of innocence. As made between parties who were friends it may be called the covenant of friendship. The blessing in view may lead us to call it a covenant of life, while the requirement of obedience to God suggests the term legal covenant, covenant of obedience or covenant of works. Consideration of the tender love and generosity God showed may suggest the term covenant of favour. A more neutral term could be Adamic covenant.

I remain mindful of the problems of terminology, but the terminology is not the issue. The distinctive significance of the Adamic covenant is the issue, and it must be seen as one requiring obedience to the covenant terms as the principle required in order to the blessing. In Protestant theology covenant of works has been the common expression and is contrasted with the covenant of grace instituted after the entry of sin. The covenant of grace is not a separate covenant so much as that development necessitated by the fact that God, confronted by sin, does not abandon his covenanted commitment to his creation but relates to it redemptively.

7. God’s direction to Adam
Although the creature was very good, that is, just as God intended, it was possible for Adam to turn aside from his holy state. Life and death were set before him, blessings and curses, as we have seen. The other class of moral beings of which we have some knowledge, the angels, were in the same position too. However, they were not created as a race but as individuals. In their testing some fell and some stood firm (2 Peter 2:4). This suggests that a creature with a moral nature must freely say its ‘Amen’ to God if it is to be confirmed in its relationship to him. Put another way, we may reverently say that, so far as we are aware, God could not create a moral creature free from the possibility of disobedience. God is motivated by love: ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:6). The creature made in God’s image in turn responds to God not through force but in love and freely. But if the creature is free the possibility of disobedience exists.

How can humans be brought to a position where the possibility of disobedience no longer exists? Those who are required to obey God perfectly anyway, can never bring God under obligation. In this light, when the creature has done everything, he has, as it were, earned his keep but he has not put God in his debt. A long course of obedience would still leave the creature with the possibility of disobedience, so ultimate security and bliss could never be certain.

Now if God as the supreme Lover desires the best for the one he loves, an intimate and lasting friendship crowned with all the blessings he can bestow, he could grant a reward of eternal fellowship as a consequence of obedience to the covenant terms. For although we grant that man can never stand before God in his own merit as if he has acquired rights, he can stand before God as an obedient covenant son and claim the reward God promised when he bound himself to the man in covenant.

Suppose a father says to his son that although he is obliged to be obedient to him he will give him a special benefit if he is careful to be good during the holidays, has he done something unjust? He has not promised something as of right as a reward, but he has promised a reward in terms of a covenant. Has he acted in an arbitrary way? No, for a father loves his son and wants the fullest blessing for him. Just so, the Heavenly Father wants his son, made in his image, to have the fullest blessing. If the desire of the Father to bless his son is complemented by the son’s desire to please his father, then the covenant obedience is crowned by the promised blessing.

God love was met by Adam’s rebellion, and in him we also are condemned. But God remained committed to his purposes in creation. In his Son, the Last Adam, Jesus, he provided a substitute who fulfilled all righteousness and endured the curse due to us for our sin. In him we are freed from condemnation; in him we are made the righteousness of God; in him we can fulfil our calling in every area of life; in him we know the purposes of creation will be realised in the goal of that blessed rest with God. Christians have the sure promise of glory in a world that is the home of righteousness, serving God with joy and gladness for ever.

1 W.J.Dumbrell, Covenant and Creation (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1984) 25-26 offers a succinct case for this position.
2 More accurately one could use the term vice-gerent (vice-manager/ruler).
3 Karl Barth has at least this point right when he states: ‘the goal of creation, and at the same time the beginning of all that follows, is the event of God’s Sabbath freedom, Sabbath rest and Sabbath joy, in which man, too, has been summoned to participate.’ – Church Dogmatics III/1 (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1958) 98.
4 The fitting translation in 2:15 is ‘to worship and to obey’ rather than ‘to work and to keep it’. The standard Hebrew text reads ‘to work her and take care of her’ and the ‘her’ cannot be the garden since that is a masculine word. However, some Hebrew manuscripts lack the dot (mappiq) in the last letter and that makes the translation infinitive – ‘to work and to take care’ [See U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1961) 122-123]. The usage of the two words for priestly duties – ‘to worship and to obey’ – is recognized by commentators such as Gordon Wenham although its significance is not always followed through adequately.
5 See the discussion in Gordon J. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary 1: Genesis 1-15 (Waco: Word Books, 1987) 56-57. Note that neither the serpent nor the woman use this name in Genesis 3:1-5 when God’s faithfulness is being questioned.

Thoughts On Those Genesis Days

This is a shortened slightly revised version of a fuller paper written February 2001 accessible at <http://www.spindleworks.com/library/ward/framework.htm>. This version last updated March 2008.


1.1 What is the literal meaning of a text?
The literal meaning is commonly taken today as the surface meaning: the ordinary sense of the words is to be understood unless an obvious contradiction or absurdity results. But we Reformed have always insisted that the nature of God’s covenant administration must be considered. The prophets promise not a literal restoration of Israel but a restoration that transcends the old kingdom and brings about the conditions that deal with the inadequacies in the old. The old was, after all, only a foreshadowing of that to come. The premillennialist argues otherwise, pleading the plain meaning of the words. We are not rattled but resist such an approach to interpretation. The broad principles of Scripture disclose a different intention than the premillennialist claims.

In the 16th century the complex multi-layered meaning given Scripture by the medieval church was rejected for the literal sense. Approaches varied a bit. Luther is far more given to a literalistic exegesis than Calvin. For example, in his 1535 Lectures on Genesis Luther follows many in teaching that the serpent in the Garden was once a most beautiful creature that walked erect (at 3:14). The more careful Calvin thought that God merely assigned the snake its original condition from which Satan has sought to raise it. Does this difference really matter enough for us to divide the church? Neither man was motivated by other than an endeavour to be loyal to the intent of Scripture. As a first generation Reformer. Luther was probably more reactive to the mystical and allegorical exegesis that had made Scripture like ‘a nose of wax’, and wrote accordingly. But no one got uptight over it.

After the magisterial reformers the main theological interest was systematic theology rather than a truly biblical theology with emphasis on the historical unfolding of redemption. In the 18th century things were hardly dynamic but often reflected the tendencies in the wider world of thought – and they exalted human reason. So you have a kind of analytical approach that could lead to rationalism, as in liberalism, or to a developed literalistic exegesis as in the early 19th century Brethren movement.

Take the godly Dutch Reformed minister Wilhelm à Brakel (1635-1711). In 1700 he writes, “Whatever God declares, also concerning things in the realm of nature, is true. God says that the world is motionless and stationery, being circled by the sun, and thus it is a certain and incontrovertible truth” [The Christian’s Reasonable Service (Soli Deo Gloria 1992) I:65]. But à Brakel was wrong because he mistook simple observational language for a description of physical reality – and this a long time after Galileo.

As liberalism became more dominant in the mainline church, with rapid change in the direction of secularism, what did lovers of the Bible do? Very often they had an inadequate grasp of Biblical principles of interpretation. In a world of constant movement they reacted against liberalism into the literalism which in North America is so often associated with a simplistic approach to Scripture and premillennialism in any of its various forms.

Interestingly, because of the ‘gap’ or ‘day-age’ theories, the ‘fundamentalists’ were generally not young earthers. That is something reserved usually for those who today are under 50 and so have been exposed to an endeavour to push back those wretched evolutionists by an unanswerable scientific defence of creation based on a literalistic hermeneutic which cannot be answered. A noble aim perhaps, but misguided!

I would contend that scientific creationism in its most usual forms is not a consistent development from a truly Reformed understanding of Scripture. I admit 6/24 was the position of the 16th century Reformers, indeed of most Christians of all persuasions in that period. But anyone who compares Calvin’s exegesis of Genesis and that of say Henry M. Morris in The Genesis Record (1976) will spot the difference.

The point to remember is that we are always in danger of being reactive. Polarised positions arising from controversy can become an interpretative grid through which we read Scripture, rather than listening carefully to it. And all of us have a biases and often unconscious presuppositions which affect our reading of Scripture.

1.2 The creation days in history
a. It is a common place that Augustine (354-430) considered everything was created instantaneously with the six days given symbolic interpretation according to the notion of science and theology in those days. Interesting too that he always professes to aim to give a literal explanation but always ends with something other than that.

b. Basil (329-79), reacting to Origin’s allegorical view, is more in the line of ordinary days. With the return to the intended meaning of the text and in a pre-scientific context the days were commonly regarded in the 16th and 17th centuries as ordinary days like our days. There were some variations within this basic approach.

c. For example, the learned John Lightfoot (1602-75), a Westminster Divine, regarded the first day as of 36 hours in length [A Few and New Observations Upon the booke of Genesis. The most of them certaine, the rest probable, all harmlesse, strange and rarely heard of before (London 1642) p.2]. The language in the Westminster Confession (1646) “in the space of six days” (4:1) certainly reflects the language of a non-allegorical approach, but any intention to exclude say the views of Lightfoot would have to be proved. The fact that the Divines were all of a calendar day view is not of course determinative of what they intended, since we know that sometimes they deliberately used language that left options of interpretation open, and in any case they were not faced with views that arose later.

d. Another variation is set out in the great Turretine (1623-87) in his famous Institutes (Latin 1679; English P & R, 1992) I.445. He held that the eight works of the six day were instantaneous, but successive days were employed to put some space so that we could consider the different works more distinctly, and also to provide an example for our labour (Vol 1, p.445 in English). The learned Baptist, John Gill has the same opinion (1770).

e. It is well known that the ‘gap’ theory is commonly attributed to Thomas Chalmers, the first Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland in 1843. He proposed this idea as early as 1814. On his view one could have long geological ages before the six (re-creative) days.

f. Continued scientific development showed the gap theory did not meet the requirements of the geological evidence while it was difficult if not impossible to justify grammatically from the Hebrew text. An alternative with earlier antecedents became popular, particularly through the work of Hugh Miller, an amateur but capable geologist and also a strong advocate of the Christian faith as understood by the Free Church of Scotland. This is the day age-viewpoint. It bears too much for my liking the marks of an endeavour to harmonise in an inappropriate way with scientific theories. Nevertheless, it was the most popular viewpoint among Christians in English-speaking countries in the period 1870 to 1970.

g. The American Presbyterian theologian W.G.T.Shedd (1820-1894) argued in 1888 in his Systematic Theology (Vol 1:474ff) for God-divided days, language also used on occasion by Augustine and others. The position of the great Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) in his Gereformeerde Dogmatiek is to the same effect [see the section translated as In the Beginning (Baker, 1999) pp. 120-126] On this view God’s days are God’s days and our days are related to them but not precisely the same. Similarly, the minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church at Geelong, Australia, Rev H.K.Mack, in his 16 page booklet Bible Story of Creation: True? (Melbourne: M.L.Hutchinson, 1911).

h. Finally, the Framework Interpretation should be considered. The two essential elements are: (1) the days are not normal days but function as a literary framework (2) there is an element of topical rather than sequential arrangement.

1.3 Concluding comment
It will be seen that the last two views (g) and (h) have some aspects in common. My own position draws on both. I hope this introductory historical part will give a helpful context for understanding the days of Genesis and evaluating the Framework Interpretation. In my experience, without a proper context we are prone to many mistakes and unlikely to progress in understanding.


2.1 Intent
If one works through Genesis to Deuteronomy (which form the single book of Moses), it is clear that there is a master literary craftsman at work. The way material is arranged highlights important themes that make the book memorable and well suited for a largely oral society. The content also shows concern to address questions relevant to the people of Israel as they leave Egypt and journey toward the Promised Land. I believe we should approach Genesis 1 out of the conviction that it is a kind of prologue which, together with the early history and the stories of the patriarchs, leads on to the Exodus and the covenant at Sinai. That in turn means that Christ is in Genesis, for all is part of the history of redemption.

Israel came to understand the significance of God’s redemptive name, Yahweh [LORD] in the Exodus (Ex 6:3-7). Israel had heard his words and seen his deeds as their Redeemer and Saviour. Who, then, is this God who brought his people out of slavery? What is his relationship to men and nations and to the gods these people worshipped? What right did he have to punish the Egyptians and to dispossess the Canaanites of their land? What are his purposes with the world and in history? What was the truth about their ancestors? These are the kinds of questions that loomed large for Israel. And they’re the relevant ones for us too.

2.2 What kind of writing?
It is generally recognised that Genesis 1 is not poetic, although it does have some special stylistic features that reflect its profound subject matter. These features do not mean that the narrative belongs to the level of myth, metaphor or imagination so that its content ceases to be factual.

In line with the ancient Jewish commentators, we should not look to Genesis for an account of the mechanics of creation – if it were it would certainly address certain issues with much greater clarity, and at greater length, than it does. However, this fact does not mean the account has no implications for scientific endeavour – it is the nature of those implications which is disputed. But all can insist that everything is demythologised by being reduced to the status of creatures. Sun, moon and stars, great sea creatures – these are not rival deities. The creation text provides a basis on which the scientific enterprise may proceed even if it is not itself a scientific account.

We should recognise that the narrative describes the world in simple observational ways common among ancient peoples without at all intending to teach that physical reality is a flat earth floating on water under a canopy of water. We would expect a genuine narrative from Moses’ time addressed to ordinary people would read in this way. [The same is true in the New Testament, eg. Phil 2:10.] What the first readers actually thought about the structure of the physical world is quite immaterial to the teaching intended by Genesis.

Further, from the way certain matters are referred to with the definite article [eg: ‘the deep’ (1:2), the two trees, the cherubim, the flaming sword] we can infer that much of the content of the early Genesis narratives was already known in some form to the early Hebrews. Moses gives an inspired account of the past as it bears upon Israel’s present. There are some parallels to events in Genesis 1-11 in other ancient writings, but the chaste Biblical text supports a quite different theology from them; it is free of the elements which make them demonstrably mythological or otherwise corrupt versions of the original.

Finally, mere chronology, so important in much of our Western writing, is not such a big deal in the Hebrew literary tradition. Topical arrangement or rearrangement is not infrequently found: even the ten plagues are summarised as seven, and in a different order, in Psalm 78:42-51; Ps 105:24-37. The emphasis in the creation narrative (compare Gen 1:2) appears to be on form (days 1-3) followed by fullness (days 4-6) climaxed by day 7. There is a very logical order; whether it is also entirely chronological is disputed. However, it should be noted that if the common position of Genesis 1:1 as a statement of initial creation is accepted, we have time between Genesis 1:1a and 2:2c before the creative word in verse 3 of Day 1 creating light.

2.3 The creation days and time and sequence
In general the Hebrew word for ‘day’ has the same range of meanings as the English word. Therefore it can include meanings such as a period of light, daytime as distinct from night (Gen 1:5), a day regulated by the sun (Gen 1:14), and also a period of time longer than a solar day during which something is done (Gen 2:4). The context usually makes clear which meaning applies. But here lies the difficulty. There are significant differences about the meaning of the six creation days among godly interpreters of Scripture.

I believe this is not simply due to a desire on the part of some to make the passage fit modern scientific views of the world, for every age has shown differences. The description of the unique activity of the creation days has suggested that there is something special about the days themselves.

      1) The first verse reminds us that God’s relation to time is different from ours: time and space are themselves part of the created order, as Augustine noted 1,600 years ago.
      2) The series of days is viewed from God’s perspective beginning with day one, not from a human perspective. Hence

Psalm 90:4

      , also written by Moses,


      relevant. Creation is in six days but the temporal duration of those days is not the concern of Scripture.
      3) The first day is more correctly translated ‘day one;’ the next four days lack a definite article, contrary to many translations, and thus should read, ‘a second day’ etc.), whereas days 6 and 7 have the definite article. Such features are not found in a series of ordinary days (eg.

Numbers 29:17ff

      4) Time during the first three days moves from evening to morning even in the absence of the sun. As far as creation is concerned a day is defined by the end of darkness through the onset of light, not by the rotation of the earth around the sun, and not by morning followed by evening as might seem more appropriate for us.
      5) On day 7 all is reviewed. The formless and empty original condition with the deep shrouded in darkness has been replaced by a formed (days 1-3) and filled (days 4-6) world. But day 7 is not closed for the goal of creation is still to be realised – and we know that there will be no night there but only the radiance of the light of the glory of God.
      6) Day 4 (the middle day of 7) has structural and theological significance in the narrative. (a) It gives a further perspective on the related work of day 1 and puts the heavenly bodies worshipped by the ancients in their true place. (b) It anticipates day 7 and marks the weekly day of rest and worship of the God who made sun, moon and stars.
      7) God’s work is accomplished by his word, the expression of his will, not by effort and labour as is the case on our days; nor is God’s rest the same as ours. The two other references to the creation days (

Exodus 20:5



      ) – and there are only two – cannot be taken in human terms so far as God’s work and rest is concerned, although they do apply to


      24 hour days.
      8) It seems that the narrative is given in a seven day form to teach us God’s purpose for man, and to show the basis and meaning of the day of rest. Recurring rest after work reflects God’s plan for humanity; that his destiny after his work is done is to enter into God’s rest, a higher form of bodily existence of which the tree of life in Eden was a pledge.
      9) The expanded view of the creation of the humans in 2:4ff suggests more activity than a solar day would allow.
    10) Words drawn from the standards of human work and measurement may be the only ways we can hear or talk about creation. However, such words cannot limit God’s mighty and mysterious acts to the span of human comprehension.

I think myself that the simple emphasis on God’s days is wisest. This avoids upsetting the simplicity and profundity of the passage which occurs when different human lengths are given to the days. We may do this to try and satisfy geologists or even to play off days 1-3 as non solar, and therefore perhaps of great length, against days 4-6 (or is it 5-6?) that are said to be solar. But these are forced approaches not warranted by the text. God created in six days but these are God’s days, related to ours but different.
It is very clear that the seven day scheme is designed to give a pattern for our work. Whatever distinctions of length in the creation days that there might be from God’s perspective, from our perspective it is missing the point to make such distinctions if by doing so we lose sight of the pattern provided for us of work and rest within a weekly cycle. On the simple narrative level for us, the seventh day is the seventh of whatever the first six were, and the recurring weekly cycle rather than the day is the crucial unit.
Obj: If it is said that we have lost the basis for the fourth commandment if the days are not identical to ours, I can only reiterate point 7 above. There is an analogy between God’s days and ours, but there is not perfect identity any more than God’s labour and his rest are identical to ours.

There is a strong emphasis on orderly progression in the narrative. Further, if light is sequentially first and humans sequentially last, as I imagine everyone would agree, would not it be logical to regard the other items as also sequential? Well it may be logical but yet not the logic of the account itself. I think there is sufficient evidence for the possibility of a degree of topicality that we should not dogmatise on the details of sequence.

Obj: Again it is claimed that we have lost the basis for the fourth commandment if we do not have sequence. Mr Walker says that it is ‘a logical fallacy and nonsense’ to say, that as God worked six topics and rested one topic so we are to work six topics and rest one. I submit that Mr Walker at this point is more interested in making Dr Futato look foolish than in really trying to understand him.

It is illegitimate to make a precise or scientific comparison of our work and God’s work, for no such comparison is possible. God does not bring to pass his works in time in the same way that we do, and only a general correspondence can exist. God created perfectly on his six days; we do not labour in this sense in our days. Indeed, God created by his word, but we must expend energy in labour. Hence, God’s work is not strictly related to the available hours of the day and night as if he clocked in and clocked off; we work in the day hours and rest at night. The question as to whether the works of each day were instantaneous, or occupied 12 or 24 hours is therefore missing the point. The teaching of the narrative does not depend on such precise correspondence.

God rested and was ‘refreshed’ (Ex 31:17) on his seventh day. This is not a rest because of exhaustion (cf. Isaiah 40:28), nor is it mere cessation from all work (John 5:17) Rather, it is a rest of satisfaction and pleasure in what God has done. We rest and are refreshed in a different way – a rest more of a physical kind – and not one which involves perfect satisfaction either.

If God, in accommodation to us, sets out his creative work in a somewhat topical form without concern for scientific chronology, it would not follow that we have no basis for our work (which must of necessity follow a temporal sequence). Nor would it follow that God has made up reasons for us to obey him. If it is not a strictly chronological sequence it is nevertheless a wise and logical order and just so should our work be done.

2.4 The Framework Interpretation
The position set out in 2.3, which has affinities to both the analogical days view and the FI, allows for an FI position since on the two key points of time and sequence it leaves matters somewhat open. It should be noted that the argument given in 2.3 does not endorse every possible FI view, nor does it depend on the distinctive exegesis of Genesis 2:4ff offered by Kline, Futato and others. You may think that exegesis seriously defective or inadequate, but you would still be left with a pretty strong case – an unanswerable case perhaps!, – against the 6/24 view. I give my understanding of Genesis 2:4ff in the next section. Here, let me deal with some specific criticism of FI.

Argument from Genesis 2:5.
Meredith Kline argues from the phrase in Gen 2:5 “because it had not rained”. thatnormal providence was in operation during the creation week, thus no plants because no rain. Now Gen 2:4ff could be describing conditions in the area where humans were created rather than the whole earth. Further, ordinary providence in one instance does not rule out extraordinary action in another. But it does not follow that we can be dogmatic against Kline without looking at the presuppositions of those who oppose him.

I consider Dr Futato’s paper “Because it Had Rained” is fundamentally on the right track. Those who have read it will probably not find it as confusing as some have alleged.

Argument about two-registers cosmology.
A third possible element in the Framework Interpretation additional to the time and sequence issues, relates to the idea that the heavens and the earth of Genesis 1:1 refer to God’s heavens including the angelic world and this physical universe (cf. Psalm 115:15-16). Most recent writers, overlooking the distinctive Hebrew way of thinking, seem to assume the words refer to the totality of the physical universe. Given that Genesis 1:1 is, I think, a statement of the initial act rather than a summary of what follows, we then have to ask why the earth gets a heavens. Kline argues that we are to see this earth with its heavens given to man as a kind of reflection of God’s heavens. There is nothing very startling about this. You find it in many older writers such as the influential William Ames, Marrow of Theology, 1623.

Meredith Kline reasserts it strongly and develops it to support the idea of this order of creation being a copy of the higher. As with the analogy of the tabernacle, the earthly copy is related to but not the same as the heavenly original, so with the days. In Dr Kline’s elaboration he uses a rather distinctive terminology that only the initiated manage to fully grasp (I don’t regard myself as one of the initiated!). Like anyone with a big intellect and a favourite theme he overdoes things at times, yet he provides many insights of considerable value. It is more important and helpful to interact with Kline than to rubbish him. You will learn and maybe he will too.

From an exegetical point of view FI is far superior to the day-age views commonly held by the greats in the Reformed and Presbyterian world a generation or two back. I fail to see any proper ground for the great alarm in some circles. What I do see in many young earth arguments is a truncated view of the order of creation which owes a great deal to the evangelical fundamentalist approach rather than a properly Biblical and Reformed understanding.

Response to some other objections.
I have already dealt with the allegation that a non-literal view provides no adequate basis for the fourth commandment. Some other objections are:

1. It suggests denial of the clarity (perspicuity) of Scripture.
I submit that the 10 points I have adduced about the days are plain enough in the text to thoughtful readers. They do not depend on knowledge of the physical world although such knowledge may make them seem more significant. They do not enable us to conclude the age of the earth from Scripture but leave that question open. They suggest we should agree with Augustine’s comment about the extreme difficulty or perhaps impossibility of conceiving the nature of the days (City of God, 11:6).

Secondly, the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture does not mean that matters of less moment are abundantly clear to everyone. The doctrine of creation is hardly suspended upon agreement about the precise nature of the days. The doctrine of creation is far more than many seem to think. The danger in the focus on the meaning of the days is that we bypass so much of an adequate doctrine of creation. Indeed, like views on the millennium of Rev 20 it can become a divisive shibboleth.

2. It suggests that a literary approach to Scripture is an imposition of the critic’s subjective philosophy on Scripture so the reader’s frame of reference dominates rather than the author’s intended meaning.

I must say I think this argument very unsatisfactory. Of course there are literary critics who dissect Scripture to fit their own agenda. But over-reaction to liberal critics and an interpretive principle that does not allow believing examination of the literary structure of Scripture should not be our position. The fact is that it is people like Dr Futato who are seeking to apply a proper grammatical-historical exegesis. He is wanting to set the narrative not in the context of the western philosophical tradition but in the context of God’s dealing with his people in the 15th century BC when they were delivered from Egypt and brought to Canaan. And he is not saying that literary form and literal meaning are mutually exclusive, but literal form may well disclose the emphasis of the narrative and of course sometimes show the surface meaning is not the intended meaning.

3. It is very commonly suggested that we are on a slippery slope with the non-literal approach. Even the resurrection of Christ is not safe.

What an appalling argument, and yet a common one! Is not a truly Reformed argument but the argument of one more influenced by evangelical fundamentalism that he realises! It can only be accounted for by perhaps unconscious polarisation of thought, such as I have described earlier, due to the wide dissemination of defective views of Scripture interpretation. Wisely does Prof H. Ohmann of the Liberated Reformed Churches in the Netherlands comment in Lux Mundi, December 2000:
Is it feasible to have the length of the days of creation play the role the resurrection of Christ has in the doctrine of the Church, and in the biblical revelation? The truth and reality of the resurrection of our Saviour in the history of revelation is the main point of interest throughout the Bible (esp. the New Testament). I simply remind the reader of 1 Corinthians 15 and many other passages in the letters of Paul. ‘Do you ever notice an equal importance being attached to the length of the days of creation in the rest of the Bible? Did you ever give that a thought?’
2.5 Genesis 2:4ff a complementary account
In the section beginning at 2:4 we have a complementary account of the creation of humankind. Verse 4 should be taken as a literary inversion as in NKJV: ‘This is the account [toledoth] of the heavens and the earth in the day they were created/when the LORD God made earth and heavens.’ Perhaps here the term is doing a double service, both forming an inclusio with 1:1 and introducing what follows (which is the standard usage). The word toledoth begins each of ten sections in Genesis. It moves the narrative forward by passing over certain people or subjects and concentrating on those matters which carry forward the covenant purpose of God. Chapter 2 does not contradict but fills out part of Chapter 1.

There are a number of contrasts in this more detailed picture. I’ll mention three of them.
1) The Creator is 35 times termed God [Elohim] in Genesis 1:1-2:3. This name gives emphasis to his power and majesty. In the unit Genesis 2:4-4:26 God is named 35 times also, but 20 occasions combine the name God with the covenant name Israel had come to appreciate in the Exodus from Egypt (Ex 6:1-9). LORD God [Yahweh Elohim] is the name of personal interest and covenant love. Here is no evidence of different sources and sloppy editing, but evidence of profound theological insight. The Redeemer of Israel is also the Creator of all; the Redeemer of Israel has never been a mere lordly sultan but always a God of love.

2) In Gen 1:1 we are faced with a watery mass to which God gives order, stability, form and population; in 2:5 we begin with dry land and an absence of rain. This is discussed below.

3) Genesis 1 leads us to think in terms of the instantaneous creation of the man and woman together at the command of God. Genesis 2 provides another perspective – the man first, then the woman, and at least some plants and animals after the man but before the woman.

Life support.
According to 2:5-6 it appears that there were a variety of soil types and ecological systems in the place of human origin. The whole world was not a garden, although conditions elsewhere than where man originated are not the immediate concern. It is the eretz, the earth or land where man originates, that is the focus, so the expedient of translating the verbs in 2:8,19 as pluperfects (had planted, had formed) as in NIV is needless.

There are special words for the plants in 2:5 which throw light on the passage. First, we are told that plants [siah – elsewhere only in Gen 21:15 and Job 30:4,7] of the plain have not sprouted because it has not rained. The kind of plants mentioned depend on annual rains in spring and autumn. This detail suggests that the length of the work of the days in Genesis 1 is not a concern of the text, and implies that ordinary providential process is operating (no rain therefore no plants). Second, fields of grain [esebh] have not been established because there is no human to cultivate the ground.

God meets these two deficiencies. First, he causes a mist, or rather, rainclouds [edh – elsewhere only in Job 36:27b] to rise from the earth. Thus the arid regions will have vegetation. Second, God makes a cultivator from the dust and his own breath (2:7), but first places him in a Garden and not in the agricultural land.

After a quite brief reference to the creation of the man we have a very extended reference to the river in Eden that divided into four heads, and to the regions through which they flowed (2:10-14). It is evident that even the Flood of Noah’s day did not work radical change, and the Tigris and Euphrates are still identifiable rivers today. The Gihon and the Pishon are perhaps the Nile and a now dry river in Arabia which flowed up to 5 kilometres wide through grassland from the Hejez mountains to the Gulf. But why such a lengthy reference? We have more here than anticipation of the words of God to Adam after his sin in 3:18.

Bear in mind the conditions of ancient life, so dependent on water. The common origin of the rivers does not fit our geographical science but does teach the vital truth that God is the single source of provision for man from ‘the waters below the firmament’ as the common view of the earth as a disk floating on water had it.

Egypt and Mesopotamia were river civilisations, using irrigation techniques, while Canaan depended on the autumn and spring rains (note Deut 11:10-17). It was important to Moses’ hearers to stress that life and fertility everywhere come from the LORD God, not from the gods of Egypt overthrown in the Plagues, and not from Baal, the storm and fertility god of the Canaanites whose land they were to possess. Elsewhere Scripture continues to use the river as a powerful symbol of the life-giving presence of God (Ps 46:5; Ezek 47:1-12), and it reappears in the New Jerusalem (Rev 22:1).

The making of the man
If God provided spring and autumn rains so that the plants of the plains would sprout, he also provided a cultivator so that fields of grain could be established. We would do well to recognise the figurative aspects in the language about man’s creation: we need not suppose God to be a literal potter actually breathing into the nostrils of a clay model of a man. Yet the language about the forming of the man tells us a great deal about the loving care of God. We may be made of the same stuff as worms but there is still this unique relationship with God. Chapter 1 had spoken of the image of God and chapter 2 speaks of covenant relationship.

Given that the literal existence of Adam is sometimes denied, it will be worth noting the following confirmations of the ordinary impression of historicity. The genealogies of Genesis 5 and of Luke 3 require an individual Adam, and Jesus’ references to Genesis 1 and 2 have the same implication (Matt 19:4-5). Paul’s testimony is that sin and death in the human family came through the transgression of one man, Adam (Rom 5), who was, he assures us, formed first (1 Cor 11:8-12) although Eve was the first to sin (1 Tim 2:13-14). It was through this first representative man, Adam, that death came, which the second representative man, Jesus, reverses by his resurrection (I Cor 15:45-47).

The Garden and the Earth
In Genesis 2:15 we are told that the LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden for certain purposes. Those purposes are traditionally stated ‘to till and to keep it’. However, there is no ‘it’ in Hebrew and the two verbs are frequently used in a religious sense for the duties of the Levites in the tent of meeting. They may be rendered very properly ‘to worship and obey’. Man is not being isolated in the Garden from the world he is to subdue, but he is being shown how is dominion must be exercised to be effective. Only in a right relationship to God can his relationship to creation be right.

The location of the Garden is uncertain but falls somewhere within the boundaries of the great and ancient rivers of life (2:10-14). If the narrative presupposes the Hebrews are still in Egypt, then it is somewhere east of there.

God establishes a variety of trees which are both desirable in appearance and satisfying to the taste. In this setting two special trees are mentioned which raise the question of desire and satisfaction for the man to a higher level than the merely physical (2:9). Given that Proverbs 3:18 says that wisdom is a tree of life, it seems that we should view the tree of life in the Garden as a symbol of the gift of life which comes through abiding in what God has revealed. We are not to live by food alone but by every word that comes from God (Matt 4:4). The other tree represents the condition connected with the promise. To eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is to decide for oneself what is desirable and what is not. For the man to act in this way is not the path of wisdom and life but folly and death.

The rivers and the mineral features mentioned (2:10-14) indicate a world well equipped for man’s global task: there is great potential, and much to bring as tribute to the LORD God. But how will he relate to the world around him? What will be his desire, and where his satisfaction? Will he serve the LORD God rightly in his world, or will the man go his own way? Will he worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator? These are the issues addressed in this profound passage.

2.3 Conclusion
The issues involved in a proper understanding of Genesis are very important. Many factors need to be considered and I have not done this fully. For example, the nature of creation, the meaning of its original goodness, whether there was death among the non-human creatures, are all among matters which have assumed quite a deal of importance in some minds. To many the subject is very emotional because of the claims of evolutionists, particularly those who are naturalistic to the core. I cannot deal with these in this paper. However, I hope a reasonable idea of the coherence of Genesis 1 and 2 has been given. I hope I’ve shown you don’t need to know much about the physical world at all to recognise that these creation days are unique and cannot be neatly packaged in our little boxes. The text itself drives you that way.

The question has been asked whether the FI is out of line with the Reformed Confessions. Certainly the Three Forms of Unity do not mention the length of the days of creation, nor other related issues recorded in Scripture, such as the Noahic Flood. Confessions are not intended to cover everything. Even the WCF, which does state in 4:1 that creation was “in the space of six days”, may not be doing other than reflecting Biblical language. In this case, whatever Scripture means is what the Confession means.

In my opinion there is nothing in the argument from Scripture for FI which is subversive of the doctrine of creation in our Confessions. There is perhaps one point and that is the relationship of creation and providence. Dr N.H.Gootjes of the Canadian Reformed Churches gave me a copy of a paper he wrote in 1993 entitled “Is Creation the Same as Providence?” In it he raises important issues. It could be that certain forms of the FI could clash with the traditional distinction between creation and providence. On the whole, however, I think this is a matter which can be debated among the orthodox without falling out over it.

Creation and the flood

This article is from Trowel & Sword, the magazine of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia, May 1999.

The letters of your two correspondents in the last issue of T & S suggest they have not understood, assuming they have read, the Biblical arguments I have tried to develop in Foundations in Genesis. Lord’s Day 43 in the Heidelberg Catechism reminds us that God’s will is that we never give false testimony against anyone or twist their words. We Christians must keep this in mind when we discuss our differences.

My two brothers seem to have such a narrow view of what is authentically Reformed that Herman Bavinck and B.B.Warfield, among many other giants in the Reformed tradition, would be in the dock with me. [In this case the privilege would be mine!]

Indeed, while Calvin accepts creation about 4000 BC in six ordinary days, as did just about every one in his time, he specifically rejects the notion that the Bible is a book of science; he affirms Moses wrote in a popular style for ordinary people. He recognises as legitimate the results of scientific investigation such as the greater size of Saturn relative to the moon. He was not a modern fundamentalist. Mind you, modern literalists are not consistently so, otherwise they would believe in a flat earth supported by pillars in the sea.

Expansion of a couple of topics not covered in my September T & S article may help your readers. I hope so, since the issues are important.

1. The nature of creation
Recent creationists usually suggest that creation was ‘perfect’, and that redemption involves a permanent return to pre-fall conditions. If this is true it supports the notion that all that is less than ideal in the present world is due to sin. The contention that animal ferocity and death comes from human sin could then seem plausible.

This approach is certainly flawed. Scripture teaches that creation was ‘very good’, that is, free of moral evil and as God intended, and in that sense perfect. However, creation had a greater destiny than simply to continue as God had made it. Eternal life was in prospect, the seventh day of God’s rest pointing to a glorious destiny. Accordingly, the body made of earth and earthy (1 Cor 15:44-49) was to undergo glorification following a history of obedience here.

Disobedience brings God’s judgment here and now (thorns and thistles), but it also means that the reward of obedience has been forfeited, and a dreadful end is in view if God does not mercifully intervene. Christ by his redeeming work gains the forfeited destiny and bestows it on his people. Redemption is not the abandonment of creation but its glorification as envisaged in the beginning and with a display of the Divine character that otherwise we would not have known.

Creation’s ‘bondage to decay’ (Rom 8:19ff) arises from the decree of God who has subjected it to frustration in the setting of hope. Creation looks forward to its glorification but it cannot attain it apart from the consummation of God’s redemptive purpose with humanity. The new heavens and the new earth as the dwelling place of the redeemed will reach a new standard of perfection set by God.

While recognising the cosmic dimension of sin we need not attribute everything around us that would be inappropriate in the world of glory to its effects. The original ‘very good’ pre-fall creation had features which will not be needed in the world to come: the relatively weak and powerless human body depended on food intake (1 Cor 6:13), and it excreted wastes; humanity was capable of being invaded by death.

Is animal death another of these features? Paul’s argument in 1 Tim 4:3-4 is that God made everything ‘good’ and therefore everything is able to be eaten. The recent creationist argument, based on Genesis 1:29-31, is just about the reverse. It runs, ‘God made everything good and therefore humans were to confine themselves to plants and vegetables’. Surely this view proves too much: fish, eggs and milk products would also be off limits if the interpretive principle used is correct.

What is ‘good’ is defined by God, not by abstract notions of perfection arising from human thinking.

2. The Noahic Flood
Similar care is necessary in considering the Noahic Flood narrative. In the Flood the primary theological factor is that of decreation/recreation. God foreshadows the cosmic judgement of which Enoch had spoken earlier (cf. Jude 14,15) by a particular judgement on Noah’s contemporaries which will powerfully show both his righteousness and his redemptive purpose. The New Testament uses the account in the same way.

The earth is reduced to a watery waste like that described in Gen 1:2, and a new, cleansed world is formed with righteous Noah at its head, a picture of the ultimate new heavens and new earth at the end of history. Noah, like Adam, sins but in contrast to Adam he is not a sinner only because he rebelled; he sins because he is a sinner, a partner in the rebellion. Though a recipient of God’s mercy he is unable to carry the weight of the redemption which God has promised. So we are encouraged to look for a new development: the covenant of life with Abraham, from whom comes Jesus, the true Redeemer.

The universal language in the Flood account is not to be down-played by translating eretz as ‘land’ rather than ‘earth’. The universal language would be perfectly proper even if the Flood was limited geographically, since the intention of the narrative is to prefigure the final judgement of all who have ever lived. In the same way, the provisional fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham is behind the statement in Genesis 41:56-57 that the people of ‘all the earth’ came to buy grain from Joseph; the statement is not scientifically true, and wasn’t intended to be, but it highlights God’s faithful covenant purpose to be climaxed in a greater that Joseph.

God said that never again would all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, never again would there be a flood to destroy the earth (Gen 9:10-11). If the Flood was not geographically universal what do these words mean? They mean the Flood did reach to all places where humans had settled and destroyed them, and/or they mean that there will never again be a flood of such significance in God’s purposes, although there may be extensive flooding and even numerically greater loss of life in the future.

For a parallel, notice Jesus said that the overthrow of Jerusalem in AD 70 would be “unequalled from the beginning of the world [not ‘since the Flood’] until now – and never to be equalled again” (Matt 24:31). If we object that more Jewish lives were lost, and more hideously, in Nazi Europe, we may speak truly yet miss the point. We must not interpret the narrative by our benchmarks of significance but by God’s.

The eminent Puritan commentator Matthew Poole (1669) was one of the earliest Protestants to suggest the flood was not geographically universal; the Talmudic sages had argued similarly much earlier. For examples of universal statements not meant in a physical or scientific sense see Deut 2:25; 1 Kings 18:10; Dan 2:38-39; Luke 2:1; Mark 1:5; Acts 2:5; Col 1:23.

We cannot be sure when the Flood occurred or its mechanism. However, the Bible shows not the slightest interest in explaining how the fresh and salt water creatures survived; obviously they did not have to survive in a thick global soup of sediments in suspension.

Similarly, the Bible shows no interest in explaining how all the other creatures fitted in the ark; obviously they were necessarily limited by the ability of 8 people to feed and care for them for a year. I would suppose representatives of the creatures in the cultural region where Noah lived were on the ark, probably some hundreds of animals and birds. This would be sufficient for the purpose of conveying the significance of the Flood to all succeeding generations.

Giving the language a scientific sense means 35,000 vertebrate creatures converge on the ark, according to Whitcomb and Morris, recent creationist leaders. There are some difficulties of course: for example, loading them through the single door using 8 people in seven 24 hour days (10,080 minutes) allows 17 seconds per creature, assuming no time for meals or sleep.

I’m wanting to stress that the definition of the Bible’s universal terms, of creation’s goodness and of the creation days themselves, is not to be determined by our standards: the benchmarks are God’s. Scripture does not exclude an old universe and so I am open to it. In fact it seems as clearly established by science as was the greater size of Saturn compared to the moon in Calvin’s day, but that does not mean I accept macro-evolution of living creatures.

All Christians must reject naturalistic evolution as inherently atheistic, while theistic evolution using the present dominant neo-Darwinian understanding of change does not meet the requirements of an adequate explanation, scientifically or biblically, in my view. But whatever turns out to be the right explanation Christianity is not at risk. As Romans 11:36 reminds us: ‘All things are from God, through God and for God. To whom be glory for ever! Amen.’