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THEOLOGY > Man > Question of Evolution > Interpretation of Genesis 


In regards to creation in general, the heavens and the earth, and specifically the creation of man, the interpretation of Genesis is crucial. The hermeneutics used by an interpreter embody larger issues than just the first few chapters of Genesis.

To illustrate, one’s approach here is related to the larger issue of Revelation, whether it is dynamic or propositional, that is, whether God’s speaking in Scripture is what He says to me in the present or is what He revealed in the past. It is the question of whether Revelation is to be understood as the communication of a relationship or the communication of information (see: Personal or Propositional).

Another issue is the relationship of science to the Scriptures. Which is normative and has priority? Are the Scriptures to be interpreted in light of science, or is science to be interpreted in light of the Scriptures. Where is the locus of final authority? The issue of science and Scripture is related to the larger issue of worldview and basic perspective of life (see: Foundations, Methodology, Approach, and Starting Point; also Evolutionist versus Theist).

With the realization that no interpreter approaches Genesis with a neutral mindset, devoid of presuppositional bias, several options will be considered.


This idea postulates a division or gap between verses 1 and 2 of Genesis One. Verse 1 speaks of a finished creation, while verse 2 speaks of the consequences of a cataclysm that devastated the earth of verse 1, perhaps when Satan sinned. Thus the words, “without form and void,” of verse 2 are not a description of the condition of the earth at the time of Creation, but describe the earth after a destruction of the original earth. The proper sequence then is Creation, Ruin, and Reconstruction.

On the initial earth was a pre-Adamic race that flourished for some unknown time before the destructive chaos described in verse 2; fossils that are said to be millions of years old, therefore, date from this original earth. And modern man is related to this pre-Adamic race.

Support of this speculation is found in the word “replenish” of Genesis 1:28 in the KJV, and also in God’s statement recorded in Isaiah 45:18. It is also declared that the word “was” in verse 2 should be translated “became.”

Some credit Thomas Chalmers, a Scottish theologian, with originating this view in the early 1800’s, but others claim it has a more ancient history; it is true, however, that the theory was popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible. Objections to the theory are as follows:

* the close grammatical association between verses 1 and 2 will not allow a division between the verses; Verse 2 is not separated from verse 1 by an unknown amount of time, but verse 2 describes the earth at the time of its creation; a pre-Adamic race cannot be supported exegetically, the syntax simply will not permit it;

* the idea of two races separated by a cataclysm is not taught in the rest of Scripture;

* additionally, the theory separates the human race into two separate and unconnected periods, but the Bible always speaks of the race as an essential unity;

* the gap theory prohibits Adam from being the father of the race, he becomes just the father of the second race; besides, Scripture speaks of Christ as the second Adam;

* the correct translation in v. 2 is “was” not “became”;

* the Hebrew words, bara and asah, require a creation and do not allow a reconstruction;

* “without form and void” do not speak of judgment or destruction, but describe the earth at the point of its creation;

* the theory is contradicted by the Fourth Commandment (Ex. 20:11);

* Scripture indicates that death is the result of Adam’s sin, so there was no human death before his sin in Eden;

* the fossil record does not support an ancient universal destruction prior to the Flood;

* the gap idea is used to harmonize evolutionary theory with Scriptural teaching.


According to this approach Genesis tells “Who” but not “What”; the text informs the reader about God, but it does not provide details of what actually happened. Scripture, therefore, is not rejected, just reinterpreted so that the history is not germane to the message.

This interpretation teaches that the Creation account is allegory, saga, myth, or legend; it does not matter which word is used, the conclusion is the same: the story in Genesis is symbolic, a story designed to teach lessons that are true regardless of the historicity of the account.

Evolution, as espoused by science, becomes the method God used to place humans on the earth. So the creation account is made to be consistent with the teaching of science; thus the interpreter can embrace both Scripture and science.

This posture allows science to be independent of Revelation, and gives science the prerogative of providing the facts that brought about the current state of things. The Bible becomes just another book, with its record of a human explanation for the appearance of man; thus the Bible is viewed as a book of religion, but not Revelation from God of factual history. The Creation account is merely a symbolic story.

But it reads like history, at least like the author intended it to be understood as history. If this is not history, where does the history begin in Genesis? If the Adam of Genesis, the first Adam, is not historical, then why should Jesus, the second Adam, be accepted as historical? If Adam did not fall, then why does Christ need to save? In Scripture the two are related by their respective acts in history, sin and redemption. Objections to the theory are as follows:

* it rejects the historical when nothing in the text warrants rejecting the historical; there is no hint, either linguistically or contextually, that the motive in writing is anything but history;

* the theory creates the dilemma of deciding at what point in Genesis historical reporting begins: the Fall in Ch. 3, Cain and Abel in Ch. 4, Enoch in Ch. 5, the Flood in Chs. 6-9, the nations in Ch. 10, the tower of Babel in Ch. 11, or Abraham in Ch. 12; that is, where does the mythical end and the historical begin;

* Genesis tells “Who” and “What”; it is not one or the other, it is both; Genesis informs of the God of Creation and the details of His deed in creating;

* this approach could be used to reject any historical passage in Scripture that is deemed unacceptable to human investigation and reflection;

* theistic evolution seeks to harmonize creation and evolution, which are two concepts that cannot be combined (see: Evolutionist versus Theist);

* the theory invalidates Biblical dating, for it is not known exactly at what point history begins; in addition there is no point of beginning, for the Creation is denied as being historical;

* there is the problem of Eve and her creation from a rib; her creation, like Adam, was instantaneous, without extending over a vast period of time; the entire description of the creation of the first female must be rejected;

* numerous words and phrases, such as “evening” and “morning,” have no meaning if the historical is denied.


The age theory, also known as progressive creationism, stresses that the “days” of Creation refer to periods or eras rather than the traditional twenty-four hours associated with the word “day.” In this scenario the arguments of science for the antiquity of the earth are accepted, and the traditional understanding of Genesis is adjusted to accept the affirmations of science. Suspicious support is found in  Psalm 90:4 and II Peter 3:8.

In this manner the Biblical account becomes compatible with the contentions of evolution and its uniformitarian foundation. Whatever the scientific estimate for the age of the earth, it is covered by the word “day” interpreted as an indeterminate age; so the concept of “day” is open ended.

Some interpreters have suggested placing the ages between each of the days of creation, so the days can be literal days and, simultaneously, the time needed for evolution can be maintained. But this is a blatant attempt to reconcile evolution and the Biblical text—this ultimate objective is obvious. Objections to the theory are as follows:

* there is nothing in Gen. 1 to suggest that the word “day” means age, olam (meaning “long or indefinite time”) should have been used rather than yom (day) if an extended time was intended by the author; (see: Literal or Symbolic Days);

* the two words, “evening” and “morning,” have no meaning if age is the true intent of the text;

* the concept of an imprecise age or ages invalidates Biblical dating, at least using Genesis 1 as a beginning point for matter itself and as the initiation of history;

* the theory accepts the idea of progression from the simple to the complex;

* the sequence in Genesis is inconsistent with the sequence hypothesized by evolution, for instance, in Genesis the earth appears before the sun, moon, and stars;

* the theory is based on the idea of an enormous amount of time that is required for evolution to take place;

* there is the problem of suffering and death for unknown ages before sin;

* the concept of the Sabbath Day loses its meaning;

* the theory is contrary to the wording of the Fourth Commandment, which specifies Creation in six days.


Creationism affirms fiat creation by God during six twenty-four hour days, a fact which mandates a recent date for Creation. This position is anchored in the traditional exegesis of Genesis which views the early chapters as a record of historical events. It is to affirm Scripture over science (see: Scripture or Science and Approach).

Evolution is dismissed outright as an atheistic theory that is inconsistent with Divine Revelation. Creation and evolution are viewed as competing and incompatible positions, with consistent commitment to either system prohibiting a synthesis between the two (see: Evolutionist versus Theist).

Some claim that the main obstacle to a traditional creationism is the antiquity of the earth—the problem of the conclusions reached by modern dating methods, which contend that “the present is the key to the past”: through present processes operating over vast a amount of time the cosmos has been brought to its present state.

The response of the creationist is that “the present is not the key to the past” as affirmed by uniformitarianism. Geological formations and fossils are largely explained by the dynamics of an original Creation and a subsequent world-wide Flood. Additionally, could not God have created the earth with the appearance of age? Was not Adam created with the appearance of an adult man?

This position rejects the mechanism of randomness and affirms Theistic purpose. In these two concepts, randomness and purpose, there is the essence of the dissimilarity between the two options. To embrace evolution is to postulate randomness, but to embrace creation is to attest to Purpose. These are at opposite ends of the intellectual spectrum and cannot be reconciled; the very idea of randomness in the cosmos is diametrically opposed to the concept of Purpose. God is the essence of purpose and plan; no randomness, chance, or luck abides within Him.

The Genesis account has internal continuity and consistency; it reads like history, and there is no hint by the author that he intended anything but history. In fact, there is even the hint of an outline: “these are the generations of” (Heb., toledoth), an introductory statement to successive divisions in Genesis. The following is from the NKJV:

This is the history of the heavens and earth (2:4);
This is the book of the genealogy of Adam (5:1);
This is the genealogy of Noah (6:9);
Now this is the genealogy of the sons of Noah (10:1);
This is the genealogy of Shem (11:10);
This is the genealogy of Terah (11:27);
Now this is the genealogy of Ishmael (25:12);
This is the genealogy of Isaac (25:19);
Now this is the genealogy of Esau (36:1);
This is the genealogy of Jacob (37:2).

Perhaps the above is an indication of organization or outline; but, at the very least, the device unites the book in content and approach, with the approach being historical. There should be no doubt that the author intended his composition to be understood as the record of events and people. If Jacob was a historical person, then so was Adam.

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