Friday, October 4, 2013

Two Creation Accounts

Think of this as a footnote to my last post. Normally I spend a lot of time on these posts because I don't much enjoy writing, but I am well versed on this particular issue and it writing about it is no trouble at all. You'll recall, or you can go back and read, that I listed four ways that theistic evolutionists (TEs) and old earth creationists (OECs) try to reconcile the Genesis account with evolutionary theory and/or an old earth, respectively. I dealt with the fourth that Genesis is and was always interpreted as an allegory rather than a historical narrative by quoting the Church Fathers on the subject. Now I want to deal briefly with the objection that there are two creation accounts in Genesis and they contradict one another. But first there's another interesting example of people trying to prove the Bible wrong by arguing two accounts of the same thing contradict each other.

Everyone knows there are four gospels accepted as Scripture, and atheists and opponents of Christianity have been arguing for centuries that these gospels often contradict each other. The irony is that at other points, arguments against their value are made by saying they copy each other, and thus are not independent sources. If, as these people say, they do present different and even contradictory information, then you pretty much have to admit that these are independent sources.  Why would the same source contradict itself, especially after copying itself at other points? Thus if contradictions do occur on relatively minor details, then it is evidence in favor of the major details, because it is evidence that multiple independent sources confirm the same basic story.

Probably the most obvious of these "contradictions" is the differing accounts of the manner in which Judas Iscariot died. At the beginning of Matthew 27, it says that Judas was sorry for what he had done, returned the thirty pieces of silver he had taken for betraying Jesus and hanged himself. Then the priests to whom he returned decided they could not take this blood money and instead bought a field with it to use as a burial place for strangers. In Acts 1, however, Luke says that Judas "fell headlong" and his body burst open. It also says that Judas bought the field, not the priests, though the name of the field was the same.

Well shoot, I guess the gospels are not the divinely inspired Word of God, Jesus did not resurrect from the dead, and all that stuff he said about being the Messiah is hogwash all because Matthew and Luke disagree on the manner in which Judas died. If you believe that, then we're done here. You can stop reading. Goodbye. For the rest of us who prefer not to be children, there are two other ways of approaching this.

The first way is clarifying what "divinely inspired" means. I don't know about you, but I don't hear voices in my head from the Holy Spirit. Some of the prophets clearly did, but much of Scripture is not written that way. Divine inspiration doesn't necessarily cover all the minute details, just the broad strokes. So we can chalk up these little detail issues to human error, but the point of the story and the major details that are agreed upon are true and divinely inspired. I don't particularly like this approach, but there are many theologians who take that road and do not reject either the divine inspiration of Scripture nor even its infallibility, saying that the doctrine of infallibility was never meant to be so absolute that it could be proven wrong by minor errors.

Another possible way to explain this is that there were two sources. Both Matthew and Luke were writing from sources at times. In fact one of the interesting things about the book of Acts is that Luke switches from the pronoun "they" to the pronoun "we" at one point during Paul's journeys, indicating that he joined the expedition at a certain point. It's quite possible to imagine that there was more than one story going around about how Judas died, and that these stories are not, in fact, contradictory at all but merely represent a different point of view. Suppose one source came upon the Potter's Field and saw Judas' body hanging from a tree by a rope. He would assume that Judas had hanged himself. Suppose another source came by much later and saw Judas' body lying on the ground with his innards spilled out. He might assume the dude had fallen so bad he couldn't get up. Both of them saw something real, but at different times. Suppose Judas did hang himself, but later the rope, or the branch, or his neck broke and his rotted corpse fell to the ground and burst open. Suppose one source heard that the priests bought the field because they couldn't use the blood money. Suppose another source heard that Judas bought the field himself, because the priests lied and spread a false story about the field to hide their involvement with Judas, just as they lied and spread a story that the disciples stole Jesus' body.

I prefer the latter explanation, but neither one would cause me to question that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead or that he was the Son of God, nor would it lead me to question that the gospels are an accurate history of what actually happened. In fact, as already mentioned, the two different accounts prove that Matthew and Luke had independent sources for the same event, strengthening its historicity, not weakening it. Likewise, minor disparities in detail between the two creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 would not make me question the story of creation, the Flood, the genealogies or any of the rest of it. Perhaps some minor details are wrong, but missing a billion years here and a billion years there is not some minor detail. And happily, there happens to be a much simpler explanation than even the one I just gave for Judas' death.

The first creation account goes from Genesis 1:1 - 2:3 and includes the famous six days of creation and the seventh on which God rested. It says that man was created on the sixth day, male and female, and prior to that the only observer of the events was God Himself. The only possible way we could know what happened before human beings existed is if God told someone directly. Keep that in mind.

The second creation account starts immediately after that and goes from there to the end of the second chapter, Genesis 2:4-25, and chapter three begins the story of the Fall. This version of the story begins with a more detailed story of the creation of man and woman. Here, man is created from the dust of the ground and woman from a rib taken out of the man, hence the name "woman". This version of the story provides the basis of the Biblical teaching on marriage, that man and woman are to become "one flesh", since they in fact were one flesh quite literally. It also relates that God planted the Garden of Eden, gives its location, says that the man and woman were put there to live, and that God told them not to eat from a certain tree.

So what's the problem? Are these two stories contradictory? The atheists and theistic evolutionists say they are, because in the first story plants are created on the third day, three days before the creation of man. The second story, however, seems to say there were no plants when man was created:

"Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."
~Genesis 2:5-9

It's important to note that evolutionists, either atheists or theists, are not arguing that plants were not around before man. They believe they were by a long shot. They are arguing that this is a contradiction in the story, and that consequently we should not believe it is true (atheists) or that it was written as an accurate history (theists). But it seems to me that the same exact argument ought to be and in fact has been used against the historical authenticity of the gospels. Atheists enthusiastically use the same argument against the gospels, arguing that they contradict each other at various points and therefore we shouldn't believe them. But theistic evolutionists are in a tough spot as they usually are, since they are required to sarcastically attack Genesis' supposed contradictions but defend the supposed contradictions in the gospels. Sometimes it gets uncomfortable riding the fence. I know I learned not to do that when I was a young boy. Some things are just better left unsaid.

But let's suppose we are not atheists, nor are we fans of using double standards when interpreting the Bible. You could at this point invoke the first kind of solution, that this is just a human error and the rest of the two versions are perfectly compatible and inspired. Or you could say that when God made plants on the third day, he made them as seeds. They just hadn't grown up in the three days between when God made them and man.

A better explanation is that the plants being referred to in Gen 2:5 are not all plants but rather refer only to cultivated plants, or plants that we would call "crops", that is, plants grown specifically for food. They are called here "shrubs of the field" and "plants of the field" and the further explanation is given that they aren't around yet because "there was no man to cultivate the ground". Also, why would the author feel the need to mention that even though there was no man to water the plants, the ground was watered anyway by a mist that rose from the earth? Why would the ground need to be watered if there were no plants at all? The passage goes on after the creation of man to say that God planted a special garden for him to live in. Well duh. He would have to eat starting the first day, and he didn't exactly have time to plant and grow crops. He would have needed something to eat right away, and God provided it for him in the garden. The focus of the Genesis 2 creation account is on man and his beginning situation. The author is merely reminding people that man did not have cultivated crops available in the world yet, and that is why God made the Garden of Eden for him. It makes perfect sense. It does not mean that there were no plants at all before the creation of man. Neither does it contradict the Genesis 1 creation story, since these plants were still created on the third day, they just weren't in a garden and easily accessible for a couple of hungry people until said people were created.

But why are there two stories? Well, why are there four gospels? Answering these questions does not mean we should therefore question the historical accuracy of these texts. That's a non sequitur. But if we think about it for a bit, there seem to be two obvious historical sources for a creation story: God Himself and Adam. After all, they were the only two observers present for most of it, and the story in Genesis 2 starts with the creation of Adam, so that's an obvious candidate for Adam's version of the story. Plus since Genesis 5 records that Adam lived to be 930 years old, we know that he was still alive when Noah's grandfather was born. He had a lot of time to tell it, and the problem of stories changing over time would not have been nearly as big as we might think since people lived so long back then. In real terms, even Abraham may have been only a few generations removed from someone who heard the story from Adam himself, and the Hebrews lived in Egypt for four hundred years after Joseph's generation, and Joseph himself lived to be 110. So it's entirely possible that as Moses went up on Mount Sinai to receive the Torah directly from God, he already had heard Adam's version of the creation story, passed down from generation to generation. Imagine his amazement as God begins the part of the story no man had heard before. Imagine his wonder at being the first human being to know what happened before God created man, and writing it down. But then he asks God whether he can write down the other version of the story, the one cherished by his people for generations. How could he leave that out, since it was such an important part of their tradition and had been preserved and taught so carefully? And God allows it, since there is nothing wrong with it. Perhaps he makes a few corrections, perhaps he lets Moses write it as is because it's not wrong. And there you have it.

At any rate, it's not the only time the Bible tells the same story in more than one way. I've already mentioned the four gospels. There's also Daniel's different visions, where the visions become successively more particular and detailed versions of the same time period, having started out as broad brush strokes. And no one who grew up being forced to read the Bible through once a year can fail to forget that much of 1 & 2 Chronicles is a re-run of 1 & 2 Kings. No such person can forget the tedium of Numbers 7, where the same exact thing is repeated twelve times in a row, just with a different ridiculous name at the end. Ugh. Why couldn't they repeat David and Goliath twelve times instead of this crap? *sigh* Repetition is quite common in the Bible. The prophets will often rephrase the same message over and over and over in different ways. Some poor twelve-year old kid might believe the purpose was to make it marginally less boring, but no such luck. Repeating something three times is often used in the prophetic books as a way of emphasizing it. "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty," and all of that. Yes, I get it. God is holy. Sheesh. Repetition, far from showing something to be less trustworthy or even false, is used to denote its extra importance. But of course, the people firing their shots at creationists don't really care about the Bible, so they never make the same argument against other passages. Only this one. Only Genesis 1 and, less often, 2 attracts this criticism and so-called "argument". Only the creation story gets this level of scrutiny. I think we all know why, and it has nothing to do with a faithful attempt to interpret the first chapters of Genesis.

Now that's whack.