How old are they really?

Spend some time examining the following two photographs:

Nguyen-Thi-Phuong4 Barbara Tomasik - 43 years old

Using the criteria that we all use to determine age (although, of course, in polite society, we don’t discuss these things!), which of these women is older? Hold that thought.

Now take a look at the following picture:

charles brown - 50 years old

This is a man from Great Britain named Charles Brown. He has recently purchased some liquor; thus the pose. How old would you say that Mr. Brown is? Continue reading

Dust

dust

In March and April 2013, I wrote a three-part posting on the issue of man being created from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). It was written in response to a posting on the website reformedacademic.blogspot.com, in which questions were asked as to whether this passage actually refers to God using actual, physical dust to create man.

This issue has once again come to the forefront of discussion on the Internets, due to an overture made by the church of Hamilton-Providence to Classis Ontario West on March 11th of this year. According to the press release of Classis Ontario West (which you can find on www.canrc.org), Hamilton-Providence proposed an amendment to Article 14 of the Belgic Confession, which would “make explicit that Adam and Eve were created as the biological parents of all human beings, and that there were no so-called pre-Adamites or hominids.”

According to the press release, “Providence’s overture contended that this change is necessary in order to counter contemporary views that attempt to harmonize Genesis 1-2 with the theories of theistic evolution.”

Classis Ontario West decided to adopt the overture, and to submit it to the next Regional Synod East.

And that means that there has been a lot of discussion on the issue once again. And that’s a good thing, because this is not an issue that we as churches do well to ignore or minimize, or simply hope will go away – because it hasn’t. Much of the discussion of this overture and proposed clarification to Article 14 has centred on procedure, and the question of whether our confessions should be changed, or whether a change is necessary in response to this specific issue.

I plan on addressing the issue of the proposed amendment to Article 14 here in the near future. For the moment, suffice it to say that I do believe this change is necessary, and that we as Canadian Reformed Churches need to take a stand on the issue of theistic evolution (or whatever equivalent term one might prefer), and particularly on the idea that Adam and Eve had ancestors. But for now, here’s a slightly edited version of my previous series of posts on the issue of the interpretation of Genesis 2:7, which reads:

Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”

Two years ago, Reformed Academic wrote the following:

“Thought must be given as to what ‘dust’ means. Considering Psalm 103:14, we know that even we today are created from dust. (See also Genesis 18:27; 1 Kings 16:2; Job 10:9; Job 34:15; Psalm 90:3). Thus, comparing Scripture with Scripture, we see that Adam’s creation from ‘dust’ does not necessarily mean that God pushed around some mud and formed a humanoid shape. Instead, ‘dust’ has a range of acceptable interpretations including ‘the material Adam is made of,’ ‘the humble status of Adam,’ and ‘the clay used by the divine potter to fashion Adam.’ Contrary to this, many other religions assume humanity was formed out of divine substance.”

RA goes on to make the following statement:

“We believe that Adam and Eve were created in the image of God. As such Adam and Eve were the first human beings. No creature existing before this special action of God was created in his image, and no such creature is therefore to be regarded as human. This includes those beings which used primitive tools and whose skeletal remains we have as fossils. And we affirm a robust Christian anthropology, rejecting the notion that being human is simply biological; instead, humans alone among all creatures on earth relate to God as persons. Humans alone are created in God’s image, and have the calling and responsibility to obey his command of love and to articulate his praises.”

In this carefully formulated statement, RA is allowing for the existence of human-like (although not human) ancestors of Adam and Eve, and for the idea that Adam and Eve were born to other creatures (which were apparently non-human, not having been created in God’s image).

Let’s take a look at the texts cited by RA in defence of the hypothesis that the creation of man from the dust of the ground was not (in their careful and pejorative explanation, which makes subtle mockery of those who hold to a ‘literalistic’ interpretation of Genesis 2:7) accomplished by God “push[ing] around some mud and form[ing] a humanoid shape.”

Psalm 103:13-16:

As a father shows compassion to His children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.”

1 Kings 16:1,2:

And the word of the LORD came to Jehu the son of Hanani against Baasha, saying, ‘Since I exalted you out of the dust and made you leader over my people Israel, and you have walked in the way of Jeroboam and have made my people Israel to sin, provoking me to anger with their sins…’”

Job 10:9:

Remember that you have made me like clay; and will you return me to the dust?”

Job 34:14,15:

If he should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.”

I’ll begin by addressing the first text cited by RA, Psalm 103:14. RA wrote the following:

Considering Psalm 103:14, we know that even we today are created from dust.”

Once again, here’s the verse in question:

For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.”

RA’s citation of this text in support of a “non-literalistic” reading of Genesis 2:7 is misleading at best. It is true that we must compare Scripture with Scripture – the “analogy of faith” was a principle that was central to the Reformers’ interpretation of Scripture.

However, comparing Scripture with Scripture does not mean taking Scriptural texts that figuratively refer to human beings as being “dust” and using them to prove a “non-literalistic” understanding of the creation of man from the dust of the ground. In Genesis 2:7 we have what I would consider to be a straightforward accounting of the method that the LORD used to create Adam, the first human being.

We’re not told exactly how God accomplished this, and we’re certainly not told that He “pushed some mud around to form a humanoid shape.” But we are told, in a narrative account, an account that purports to be a record of events that actually happened in space and time, that God formed the first man from the dust of the ground.

The verb used in the original Hebrew text of Genesis 2:7, yatsar, means “to form or create something like a potter.” Man was not the product of a previously existing life form. He was not the son of a “pre-Adamite,” a non-human being that didn’t have a soul, a creature that was somewhat human-like in form, but non-human in that it was not created in the image of God. He was formed, in whatever way, from the dust of the ground, as a potter uses clay to form a vessel for his use. The image of the potter and the clay is a familiar one in Scripture:

Isaiah 29:16:

You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me'; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?”

Isaiah 64:8:

But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

Romans 9:21:

Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honoured use and another for dishonourable use?”

These three verses give us a graphic picture of who our God is, and who we are in relation to Him. He is the potter, we are the clay. He is the great and awesome Creator, we are his humble and lowly creation. Is He literally a potter, hunched over His potter’s wheel, with a lump of clay, forming it into each and every individual human being? No, that’s not what’s meant in these passages. He is like a potter. We are like clay. It’s a word picture, and a powerful and important word picture, because it reminds us of who we are in relation to our Creator God.

Now, back to Psalm 103. Psalm 103 speaks about God’s compassion on His children in a beautiful way. He cares for the oppressed. He’s merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. He doesn’t give us what we deserve, but He has mercy on us. He remembers who we are – that we are dust.

So… He still creates us from the dust? Is that what the psalmist is saying here? Is each and every individual human the product of God’s formative work in the same way that Adam was? No, not at all, and to use the text in this way can only be described as a serious misinterpretation!

John Calvin, in his commentary on Psalm 103:14, wrote the following:

David here annihilates all the worth which men would arrogate to themselves, and asserts that it is the consideration of our misery, and that alone, which moves God to exercise patience towards us… the more wretched and despicable our condition is, the more inclined is God to show mercy, for the remembrance that we are clay and dust is enough to incite Him to do us good.

To the same purpose is the comparison immediately following, that all the excellency of man withers away like a fading flower at the first blast of the wind… If it is asked why David, making no mention of the soul, which yet is the principal part of man, declares us to be dust and clay? I answer, that it is enough to induce God mercifully to sustain us, when He sees that nothing surpasses our life in frailty. And although the soul, after it has departed from the prison of the body, remains alive, yet its doing so does not arise from any inherent power of its own. Were God to withdraw His grace, the soul would be nothing more than a puff or blast, even as the body is dust; and thus there would doubtless be found in the whole man nothing but mere vanity.”

I’ll leave Calvin’s description of the human body as a ‘prison’ for another discussion at another time. But leaving that issue aside for the moment, Calvin clearly understands the text in the figurative way in which it was intended to be understood. Clearly the psalmist points us back to Genesis 2:7, and the creation of man from the dust of the ground. But in doing so, he is not saying that we are each still individually formed from the dust, as Adam was. Humanity, embodied in the person of Adam, the representative man, was created from the dust, and in relation to the Almighty Creator God, this is how we still stand.

To make the point even more clear, compare Psalm 103:14 with Isaiah 40:6:

A voice says, ‘Cry!’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.”

RA says that we can learn that “even we today are created from dust,” from Psalm 103:14. If I were to say, “In Isaiah 40:6 we learn that even today our flesh is made up of grass,” how would you respond? How should you respond? Surely you should tell me that this interpretation of Isaiah’s prophesy is ludicrous. And if you were to do that, you would be correct. I’m afraid that RA makes the same error in their use of Psalm 103:14.

Certainly there is an important theological point to the creation of the first man from the dust of the ground, a theological point that was re-emphasized by the prophet Isaiah and the apostle Paul. But that theological point, as I’ve written here before in connection with the subject of the creation account, is grounded in actual historical events, which have been recorded for us in God’s Word.

Genesis 2:7 doesn’t speak metaphorically, or allegorically, or in any way that could legitimately allow for an idea that the first man, Adam, descended from any other kind of life form. And that’s not even considering Eve, the first woman, who was formed from the rib of the man (Genesis 2:22)! Given the fact that there are no Scripture texts that can be cited that proclaim that even today women are formed of men’s ribs, I have no idea how one could come up with the idea of the existence of pre-Adamites without abandoning completely the idea of the factuality of the creation account as recorded for us in God’s Word.

Neither those texts nor Psalm 103:14 support in any way the idea that Genesis 2:7 can be understood in a ‘non-literalistic’ sense. Now as for the other four texts that were cited along with Psalm 103, I’ll take them in order, and examine whether they support RA’s contention that these verses support the idea that ‘even today we are created from dust,’ in the same way that Adam was created from dust.

First, 1 Kings 16:1,2:

And the word of the LORD came to Jehu the son of Hanani against Baasha, saying, ‘Since I exalted you out of the dust and made you leader over my people Israel, and you have walked in the way of Jeroboam and have made my people Israel to sin, provoking me to anger with their sins…’”

This passage says nothing about Baasha being ‘created’ from dust; it speaks of the LORD’s lifting Baasha up from a humble state, and placed in a position of authority. This is a figurative way of speaking, which is also found in Psalm 113:7,8:

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.”

The creation of the individual is not spoken of in these passages; rather, they have to do with exaltation, being raised from lowliness to a place of honour.

Secondly, Job 10:9:

Remember that you have made me like clay; and will you return me to the dust?”

This verse speaks of the way in which God relates to His human creation; once again, we return to the picture of God as the potter, and human beings as the product of His work. When Job says, ‘Will you return me to the dust?’ we can see a connection with Ecclesiastes 3:20:

All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.”

Again, we have a figurative way of speaking, that goes back to the historical actions of God creating man from the dust of the ground. We are formed by God, like clay, and when we die, our bodies our buried in the ground, where they return to dust.

Once again, this verse doesn’t support a figurative understanding of God’s work of creation of the first man from the dust of the ground.

In Job 34:14,15, we read the following:

If he should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.”

The same applies for this passage, as well as the following one, Psalm 90:2,3:

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man!’”

We have a poetic account, speaking of God’s sovereignty. He is in control of life. He gives it, and He takes it away. He is God, we are dust. Once again, if we use the correct principles of interpretation, there is no confusion here. Genesis 2:7, a narrative passage, recounts the work of God in history, and therefore cannot be taken in a strictly figurative manner. These other passages are meaningful in the light of the first; they have their meaning because of God’s real working in space and time, to form man from the dust of the ground.

It is often said concerning the issue of the relationship between scientific findings and Scripture that ‘God does not deceive us.’ If there were previously-existing human-like creatures, ancestors of Adam and Eve, it seems that God would be deceiving us by giving us the straightforward account of the creation of man as He has in Genesis 2:7 (and even more, in the account of the creation of woman in Genesis 2:21 and 22).

Of particular importance in this discussion is the time sequence of God’s formation of man and woman. Genesis 2 tells us that man was created first, of the dust of the ground, and that the woman was created by God using a rib taken from the man while he was in a deep sleep. This sequence of activities is referred to twice in the New Testament, in 1 Corinthians 11:8 and 9, and in 1 Timothy 2:13 and 14. ‘Adam was first formed, then Eve,’ ‘For man was not made from woman, but woman from man.’

The Apostle Paul apparently viewed Genesis 2 as a historical, chronological account of the creation of the first man and woman. If we are to take the account as being figurative, a story that makes a theological point, to be sure, but a story that is not firmly rooted in time, space, and matter, then what are we to do with the Apostle Paul’s statements in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians?

Are we to assume that Paul had a limited understanding of Genesis, or even that he may have been incorrect? Paul’s writing is included in Scripture; it was written under the inspiration of the Spirit. The Church confesses that ‘this Word of God did not come by the impulse of man, but that men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit, as the apostle Peter says (2 Peter 1:21)’ (Belgic Confession, Article 3).

This is an issue of the utmost seriousness, because our conclusions will inevitably impact our view of all of Scripture. If we begin to read Genesis 1 and 2 using a hermeneutic (principle of Scripture interpretation) that we wouldn’t think of using elsewhere in Scripture, we aren’t just doing damage to the opening chapters of the Bible, and our understanding of them; we are tearing apart the fabric of Scripture, and opening the entire Bible up to deconstruction.

And to do this based on scientific understandings that are constantly changing and developing, scientific understandings that have their roots in a world view that does not take into account the absolute truth of God’s Word in Scripture, is a huge step in the wrong direction. History shows where this leads; if we think we can follow the same path that previous generations have followed, and not experience the same results, we are sorely mistaken.

Sermons – a belated update

February seemed to have disappeared somewhere, so here is an updated list of links to the audio files for my sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount, in reverse order from latest to earliest. This coming Sunday I hope to preach sermon #19 in this series.

https://archive.org/details/SermonJudgeNot – Matthew 7:1-5

https://archive.org/details/SermonSeekFirstTheKingdomOfGod – Matthew 6:25-34

https://archive.org/details/SermonMatthew61924 – Matthew 6:19-24

https://archive.org/details/SermonMatthew6118 – Matthew 6:1-18

https://archive.org/details/35SermonMatthew53848 – Matthew 5:38-48

https://archive.org/details/SermonMatthew52732 – Matthew 5:27-32

 

Encouragement for sheep who think they might be goats

goat-and-sheep-friendsBefore Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And He will place the sheep on His right, but the goats on the left” (Matthew 25:32,33).

According to the Bible, there are two types of people in the world. To use Jesus’ description in Matthew 25, you can think of these two groups as “the sheep,” and “the goats.” Jesus is the Good Shepherd; His people are His sheep. The goats are those on the outside, those who don’t believe in Him, don’t trust Him, and don’t follow Him.

In theology, we talk about “election” and “reprobation.” Election is God’s choice of certain people to be a part of His flock – the “sheep.” Reprobation is the “flip-side” of election, you could say. The “reprobate” are those that God has decreed not to save – the “goats.”

This post is going to be about the sheep and the goats, the elect and the reprobate. I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue over the past few days, as I’ve been preparing for my next lesson on the Canons of Dort, which I’m going to give this coming Sunday afternoon. And in particular, I’ve been thinking about the ways that the sheep and the goats can think of themselves. The fact is, sometimes sheep will think they’re goats, and goats will think they’re sheep. And this is what Article 16 of the First Head of Doctrine in our Canons of Dort is all about. Continue reading