---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 4 Sep 1997 21:23:55 -0700
Subject: September Biblical Chronology
Organization: Institute For Christian Economics
Subject: September Biblical Chronology
Vol. 9, No. 9
Copyright (c) James B. Jordan 1997
THE ANTHROPOMORPHIC DAYS OF C. JOHN COLLINS (II)
by James B. Jordan
Dr. Collins begins his essay with a brief statement of the
Day Age view and then a brief statement of the Six Day view,
focussing on the challenge to that view posed by modern "sci-
ence." He ends this discussion by writing: "Two crucial points
are at stake here: first, the principles of Bible interpretation;
and second, the validity of scientific method" (p. 111). With
this statement we can heartily agree.
Dr. Collins is not wrong to begin by mentioning modern
science. It is a fact that before the modern era nobody in the
history of the church ever questioned the chronology of the
Bible, and only a tiny handful ever questioned that the six days
of Genesis 1 were ordinary 24-hour-type days. The few who did
question the six days of Genesis 1 held that God created all
things instantaneously, not over some long period of time; and
this was, again, because they accepted the Biblical chronology
and calculated the age of the earth from it. It has only been
since the rise of modern science, including archaeology, that
anyone has questioned the Biblical chronology and the traditional
interpretation of Genesis 1. Science, thus, puts a challenge
Only one group of people has a problem with the Biblical
statements, and that group we may call "modern conservative
Christians." The liberal or unbelieving expositor of Genesis has
no problem with the text. It is obvious to him that Genesis 1
presents creation in 144 hours and that Genesis 5 & 11 provide a
chronology of the world from creation to Abraham. The modernist
and the unbeliever do not accept the Genesis account as histori-
cally true; for them it is a myth. But they perceive no problems
or ambiguities in the text, nothing that indicates "gaps" in the
chronology or some odd kind of "days" in Genesis 1.
Similarly, what we may call "traditional conservative
believers" also take the text in a simple and obvious way. For
them it is quite clear that God made the world around 4000 BC and
in the span of six ordinary days. This group includes conserva-
tive Lutherans, conservative Calvinists, fundamentalists, and
Thus, we have three groups that have always seen the text as
clearly and obviously teaching a recent six-day creation, chrono-
logically datable from the Bible: (1) the historic Church and
historic Judaism; (2) contemporary "traditional conservatives";
and (3) unbelievers. We are left with a small historical backwat-
er of evangelicals and other types of conservative Christians who
are committed to believing the Bible on the one hand, but who on
the other hand who are very impressed with the constructs of
modern science. For this small group there is a problem with
Genesis 1 and with Biblical chronology. Unlike the other three
groups we have mentioned, this group of people is motivated to
search out and find evidence in the text that can relieve them of
the burden of having to believe in a young earth and universe.
The challenge of modern science to the Bible motivates two
responses that are not mutually exclusive. One is to rework the
data and examine the premises of modern science, with a view to
bringing it into line with Biblical teaching. The other is to ask
whether traditional approaches to creation and chronology are
actually justified by the text of the Bible. Accordingly, Dr.
Collins begins by calling attention to the challenge of science.
"Science" causes us to look again at the text of the Bible to see
if we have interpreted it correctly.
Dr. Collins provides one paragraph on science and natural
revelation, and what he states there is problematic. Perhaps I
can be pardoned for observing that it appears to me that occa-
sionally he writes as a trained scientist who is so immersed in
science that he does not fully perceive the nature and limita-
tions of scientific inquiry. Our procedure will be to examine
critically what he states, and then provide some wider comments
on the subject.
Collins asks, "Does the creation speak truly?" We can reply
to this very general question with a very general answer: Of
course it does; but is the creation designed to speak by itself?
The answer to that second question is clearly no. The creation
does not "speak" at all, actually. Rocks, trees, birds, and stars
do not communicate linguistically. The information that is
contained in the creation must be put into words by human beings,
and since human beings cannot exist without language, human
beings are always interpreting the creation linguistically.
Human beings are living words and live in a linguistic
environment because they are images of God, who is Word and who
lives in an environment of eternal communication. Since God
created the universe, His linguistic interpretation of it is
absolutely correct; we think His thoughts after Him.
There are special event-revelations that are connected to
special word-revelations, and there is the general revelation
through nature that is connected to general language. The special
event-revelations (e.g., miracles) cannot be understood without
special word-revelation (e.g., the Bible). The Bible explains the
miracle, not vice versa. The miracle is context; the Bible is
explanation. Similarly, nature is context, while language is
Thus, the idea that either special or general events and
phenomena have "messages" that "speak" to us needs to be probed
very carefully. Psalm 19 is often referred to in this regard, and
Collins mentions it. Supposedly this psalm says that the creation
in general is somehow communicating information. If we look at
the text, however, and consider it as ancient people would have,
we come up with something quite different. The heavens are
declaring things because the constellations of the zodiac reveal
certain truths in symbols. What they reveal is the same thing as
the law of God reveals, as the parallel with the second half of
the psalm indicates. The former is for the gentiles, from the
Noahic covenant (the zodiac being a form of the rainbow); while
the latter is for the priestly people. Psalm 19 is, thus, not
speaking of some kind of general revelation through nature, but
rather alludes to a symbolic system that was put in place at some
point in history. (For a discussion of astral revelation and
imagery in the Bible, see my book *Through New Eyes: Developing a
Biblical View of the World,* and my monograph *Behind the Scenes:
Orientation in the Book of Revelation,* both available from
Biblical Horizons, Box 1096, Niceville, FL 32588.)
Romans 1:20 tells us that information about God is clearly
revealed in the creation, and this statement is more general than
Psalm 19. Even here, however, the text does not say that the
creation somehow "speaks" to man. The creation provides evidence
of God's presence, but apart from man's putting language onto the
evidence, the evidence is mute.
All of this is not to do away with the reality of "natural
revelation," but it is to say that the matter of natural or
general revelation involves subtleties that need to be consid-
ered. We cannot simply say, "The creation speaks truly," because
in fact is it man who speaks, and man is a willing slave of the
father of lies. Man seldoms speaks truly.
COLLINS ON SCIENCE
Turning then to Collins's own presentation: He refers to
Psalm 19:1-2 and Romans 1:18-20. He asks, "How could we be
`without excuse' unless the created realm speaks truly? How could
we justly be held accountable for not receiving a message that
was not sent? This implies that properly done science will not
mislead us (provided that the material world is rightly viewed in
the light of special revelation -- and taking account of our own
subjectivity)" (p. 112). With this statement we can have no
objection. We can ask, however, whether Collins has drawn out all
the implications of his statement.
Dr. Collins follows with this: "It also implies that the
`appearance of age' idea, being deceptive, would be unlikely to
commend itself to a Biblical author" (p. 112). This statement is
a gigantic red herring drawn across the reader's eyes and nose.
What is deceptive about the creation of something with an appear-
ance of age? It would be deceptive only if we think we can deduce
the age of something by looking at it -- and that is the whole
Consider the creation of the Primordial Atom at the time of
the Big Bang 25 billion years ago. If you had been there one
second later, could you tell how old it was? Looking at it, you
might think it was 25 billion years old, or infinitely old. You
see, as far as this question goes it does not matter when or how
God created the universe, because one second after He created it,
you could not tell how long it had been there.
Second, there is nothing in the least deceptive if God goes
to the trouble of telling you about the matter -- which in fact
He has done, in Genesis 1.
Collins expands on his comment in a footnote: "Perhaps it is
possible to argue that special revelation must override the
apparent evidence of our senses. Thus, we `know' that the uni-
verse is young because `the Bible tells us so.' However, (a) this
begs the question, does the Bible say so...; (b) this view
undermines the truthfulness of nature's testimony, which Paul
presupposes in Rom. 1:18-20" (p. 112, n. 17).
Yet, we must "override the apparent evidence of our senses"
all the time in life, especially in the world of modern science
and technology. My senses tell me that the earth is flat and
still and that the sun goes around the earth. My senses tell me
that a friendly-looking lion in the zoo wants me to pet him. My
senses tell me nothing about the way my computer works. Moreover,
anyone who has ever dealt with a court case involving many
witnesses knows that people's observations and senses can be very
incorrect; what people think they saw may not be what happened at
BACK TO "SCIENCE"
Now, this is virtually all Dr. Collins says about science in
his essay, and because of that, it may be unfair to impute to Dr.
Collins the errors in thinking that we shall now discuss. From
what he has written, however, it appears that Dr. Collins thinks
that natural revelation indicates an ancient universe and earth,
so that the constructs of cosmology that are current at the
present time are to be taken as facts to be reckoned with.
Regardless to what extent Dr. Collins may be caught up in it,
this entails a very common and serious error in thinking.
To begin with, we have to distinguish between "science" as
technique and "science" as construct. We can use electricity
without understanding it at all. A physicist may know more about
it, but does he understand it fully? Yet he can use it. Engineers
and inventors can do great things with the natural world.
We move into a completely different realm, however, when we
enter the world of science as construct, what is sometimes
(prejudicially) called "pure science" as opposed to "applied
science." A "scientist" can spin an elaborate theory about why
things work they way they do, but that is nothing more than a
theory. We know as Christians that one dimension of the way
things work is that God works them that way, and that another
dimension is that God's agents, the spirit angels, work them that
way. God and His angels are at work in the flow of electricity,
for example. Now, this fact does not exhaust what can be said
about electricity, and perhaps our present understanding of the
flow of electricity is quite correct and will not need adjustment
in the future. Then again, however, we may find that our present
theory does need revision.
This is, or should be, far more obvious when it comes to
things we have no direct experience of. We have only begun to
scratch the surface of an investigation of the first inch of the
foyer of the outer universe, for instance. Yet, modern "scien-
tists" with supreme confidence project theories about how the
universe works, as if they already had all the facts needed to
form a final theory. On the surface of it, this is ridiculous. I
am old enough to recall when the first quasars were discovered.
What else remains to be discovered?
Indeed, we only finished mapping the surface of the globe a
century or so ago. What is really under the ice of Antarctica?
And what things lie in the depths of the sea? We have little
knowledge of these things.
The amount of erroneous and prejudiced misinterpretation of
data is vast. A couple of thousand years ago a few refugees lived
in caves in France for a short time, and this fact has been
turned into the myth that human beings lived in caves for millen-
nia! Why should any thinking person accept such a notion? Because
of Carbon 14 dating? but C-14 dating is extremely subjective and
full of misleading.
We may ask: In a hundred years, will anyone still believe
that you cannot go faster than light? In a hundred years, will
anyone still believe that the red-shift in the spectra of stars
is caused by their rapid movement away from us in an "expanding
universe"? Why on earth should anyone, especially thinking
Christians, commit themselves to the temporary notions of "scien-
tific" theories, knowing that a century ago nobody believed such
things, and knowing that we have only begun to explore the outer
A scientific construct is just that: a construct. It may be
quite helpful. It may be the best we can do at present. It may be
a step along the way to a better understanding. But when it is
obvious that scientists are only dealing with a very few facts,
and that there is a great deal more to be learned, there is no
earthly reason to accept any such construct as the final word.
This, however, is what many evangelicals do. They assume
that today's constructs are the last word, and that the Bible
must be reinterpreted in the light of them. This is an utterly
Now, it is to Collins's credit that he does call attention
to this matter: "On the other hand, it is important to keep in
mind the limitations of science as a tool of knowledge. Confident
pronouncements are imprudent when we do not even know how much we
know!" (p. 123).
A good treatment of science as construct, by the way, is J.
P. Moreland, *Christianity and the Nature of Science* (Grand
Rapids: Baker, 1989).
SCIENCE AND DOMINION
There is more to be said about science, however. What human
beings look at with the eye, human beings have mental dominion
over; but information that comes through the ear, we don't have
dominion over. People can say things to us that we don't want to
hear, while we can close our eyes to any sight we don't want to
see. This fundamental distinction informs the Biblical hostility
to all iconic worship; a silent statue or picture can never
challenge or rebuke us.
Now, information once given through the ear enters the mind
and can be examined with the eye of the mind, and we can have
dominion over it. Thus, while the Word of God comes to us ini-
tially as challenge and rebuke, once we have heard it we can
meditate upon it -- and even abuse it or dismiss it. Science is
concerned with information that has come through the eye, or else
through the ear and that we can reflect upon.
What science cannot deal with is time, because God alone is
Lord of time. God is eternally active and infinite, and as a
result the future always brings new things into force as God does
new things, revealing new aspects and implications of His being
and plan. Thus, it is simply not possible to imagine the future
accurately. When men imagine the future, they imagine something
very much like their own present, only more so in some particular
way: more money, more steam, more sexual license, more computers,
etc. For this reason it is amusing to read the science fiction
written a century ago, or fifty years ago. For this reason, the
Biblical pictures of the future are always presented in symbols
that point to future realities that cannot presently be de-
scribed. Ezekiel, for instance, is shown a picture of the Resto-
ration in the form of a huge Temple and City (Ezekiel 40-48), but
these were not actually built; they rather pointed to the Spiri-
tual realities of the period after the Exile.
If the future cannot really be envisioned, then it cannot be
controlled, which means the believer lives a life of faith and
obedience, not of planning and dominion. Dominion is for the
lower world, the world of science; history must be accepted as
authored by God and lived by faith.
Because men cannot control the future, they deny it. Human
beings exist, after the Fall, in a war with time. They want to
escape time, to escape the unsettling changes of the future. The
works of Mircea Eliade explore this phenomenon in some depth. All
pagan religions seek to "eternalize time," and thereby escape
God's ordination of the future. They all look back to a golden
age, which they can understand, because if they were to look to
the future, they would have to bow before their Creator.
A "spatial" mode of thinking is very much present in Western
Civilization, especially since the so-called Enlightenment.
Science works; it brings good things, such as light bulbs and
velcro. Science can be understood. Science is under human domin-
ion. And, science is fundamentally timeless, and thus poses no
threat to human consciousness. Thus, the exploration of space and
place, and dominion over the creation, become the models for all
human inquiry, as the various works of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy
have pointed out.
This mode of thinking has greatly affected theology and
Christian religion. One effect has been to assist the widespread
belief that we are living at the end of history and that Christ
must come soon, a belief that has distorted the thinking of
Christians for several generations. The fact that this belief is
shown false decade after decade has not lessened its credibility,
because men like to believe that no significant changes are to
occur in the future; in fact, Christians will be "raptured" so as
not to have to go through any such changes -- yea, Biblical
prophecy is repeatedly reinterpreted in terms of contemporary
events, phenomena, and devices. Another legacy of this mode of
thinking is the notion we have already examined, that nothing new
remains to be discovered that will significantly alter current
Still another effect of this mode of thinking is the notion
that the way things are now is the way things have always been.
Virtually all historical fiction, for instance, projects modern
Western-type people back into historical times. The characters in
such fiction think and act like modern people. Few are the
authors who are able, or even willing, to try and think like
people in other cultures.
Yet, if the future is unpredictable and certain to be
different from our expectations, it follows that the past is
quite different from the present. There is absolutely no "scien-
tific" basis for the notion that the way things are now is how
they have always been, and that is true whether we are consider-
ing the character of human society, the psychology of human
beings, the behavior of animals, or the way the universe runs. It
may well be that the universe functioned somewhat differently
under the angelic administration of the Old Creation, before the
change in the world in ad 70, when that creation was fully
superseded by the humanly administered New Creation.
This is another way of saying that we have no reason to
believe that "natural revelation" is unchanging. In fact, we have
every reason to believe that it did change with the coming of the
New Creation. Under the Old Creation, the angels used animals and
stars to tutor humanity, for instance; but that is no longer the
case. If the "natural revelation" impelled men to sacrifice
animals under the Old Creation, it will impel men not to do so
under the New.
The only way we can know anything about the past is through
historical study, in the broad sense: the study of present relics
of the past. For instance, we may know that right now there is a
certain amount of Carbon-14 that lodges itself in plants, and
then deteriorates; but we cannot know if the identical same
conditions were in place in 1000 bc. We may know that right now
the solar system has a certain configuration, but are we certain
that it had the same configuration 4000 years ago? Do we know
that the earth turned on its axis at precisely the same rate 4000
years ago as today?
Now, it may be a good working hypothesis to assume such
continuities, though we cannot be certain of them. Indeed, we
should assume a general kind of continuity based on God's faith-
fulness to His covenant. If, however, we have good evidence from
the ancient world that things were different, we need to take
that into consideration. For instance, it seems that comets were
quite a bit more plentiful in ancient skies than today; the
ancients had them categorized into as many as thirty different
kinds. It is also conceivable that comets did indeed appear as
warnings of catastrophes in the ancient, angelically-governed
skies, which is what all the ancients believed. Are we certain
they were wrong?
Or again, both the Bible (in Job) and the apocrypha (the
Additions to Daniel) speak of dinosaurs. Indeed, dragons and
great lizards are found in stories all over the world. If all
these people just coincidentally made these things up, it is
curious that what they made up corresponds, at least generally,
with bones not discovered until the 19th century. But we moderns
assume that (a) ancient people were primitive and stupid, and so
did not know what they were talking about when they spoke of
great dragons; and (b) that our dating methods are sound. The
bones "say" that they are millions of years old, so we ignore the
testimony of the Bible and of other ancient literature.
The point of all this is that the past is not subject to the
kinds of controls and observation that science requires. Inter-
preting the past involves guesswork to a far greater degree than
observational science, and thus there is far more room for
presuppositions and assumptions to play a role.
Which brings us back to Genesis 1. Is there any real evi-
dence that the earth is older than the Bible seems to say it is?
Is there any real evidence against the traditional view of
Genesis 1? No. All there is against the idea of a recent creation
is a series of scientific constructs, all based on the examina-
tion of present states of affairs. When science tries to speak of
past or future things, it moves rapidly into constructs that are
very much open to challenge.
NATURE AND PARABLE
There is, however, a further matter that needs to be dis-
cussed, and that is the parabolic character of revelation. Jesus
states in Matthew 13 that He spoke in parables to enlighten the
righteous and to confuse the unrighteous. What is said of the
parables is true, in a wider way, of the entire Word of God.
Those who study the Bible apart from faith are invariably and
inescapably led to wrong conclusions, as the Jehovah's Witnesses
and the Higher Critics demonstrate. To take a pregnant example:
God revealed His power and nature to Pharaoh in a whole series of
extraordinary miracles, yet Pharaoh did not perceive the reality
of the situation at all.
If creational revelation is truly revelation, then it
partakes of this same parabolic character. We should not, and
must not, expect the creation (nature) to "speak clearly" to the
unbeliever. Like the written Word, the "natural Word" of God will
mislead the faithless. Ultimately, such distortions come about
because of the sinful heart-orientation of man, but it is impor-
tant to understand that the creation is designed in such a way
that it does not yield its character -- its secrets so to speak -
- to unbelief. The fact that unbelieving "science" does not per-
ceive the true nature of the universe is, thus, not surprising;
and when Christians operate on the same premises as unbelievers,
they will not perceive it aright either.
True science arose in Christian civilization for the reason
that only Christians can understand creation rightly. Not all do,
of course, but only Christians and those working in a Christian
framework are able to do so. The rejection of Christian worldview
in "modern science" naturally leads to radical misreadings of the
book of nature. No more than the Bible is creational revelation
Collins seems to start with the assumption that God will not
mislead any who look at the creation, but since God has said that
He will and does mislead people through His Word, Collins's
assumption needs refinement and/or alteration.
NATURAL REVELATION AND SIN
Finally, the point needs to be made that sinful man will
instinctively misinterpret the data of creation. Sinful man is
motivated at the root of his being to distort anything that
forces him to come face to face with God. If the creation took
place suddenly and recently, God cannot be avoided. The supposi-
tion of long evolutionary ages pushes into the shadows any god
there might be. Such a god does not speak, act directly, etc.; he
(it) just sets things in motion. The degree to which our modern
scientific contructs are the result of this overwhelming desire
to evade God is evident when we compare those constructs with the
testimony of the Bible.
Nor are such distortions always the relatively innocent
actions of an instinctual dread of God. The considerable amount
of sheer fakery that goes on in scientific research has finally
begun to receive attention. Such fakery results from the desire
to prove a theory, the need to "publish or perish," the lust for
fame; but it also results sometimes from a desire to squelch
anything that might give aid and comfort to the creationist
We have wandered rather far from Dr. Collins's modest
remarks about the challenge of science to Biblical interpreta-
tion. We have done so in the interest of showing, however briefly
and cursorily, that the challenge of science is nowhere near as
impressive as many evangelicals seem to think it is. Our studies
have repeatedly shown that Genesis 1 cannot rightly be interpret-
ed other than the traditional way, and such is the major concern
of our studies. These remarks on science have been by way of an