Genesis One and Natural Science

This timely article is a review of the book entitled, Is There a Conflict Between Genesis 1 and Natural Science? by Dr. N.H. Ridderbos of ti,e Netherlands. The reviewer presents “three strong arguments” against the “literary framework” theory in explanation of Genesis 1—a theory held also by Dr. Lever of the Free University. Those interested in the subject will not fail to read this lucid critique by Dr. Young, professor of Old Testament at Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia.

N.H. Ridderbos: Is There a Conflict Between Genesis 1 and Natural Science? Grand Rapids, 1957, Price $1.50. A Pathway Book.

The purpose of this attractive little volume is to discuss the question set forth in the title. The question is one of perennial interest and relevance, and any serious discussion of it is to be welcomed.

There are a number of excellent remarks made in the book. Dr. Ridderbos quotes Calvin with approval to the effect that we can read the book of nature only when our defective eyesight is aided by the spectacles of God’s special revelation. The interpretation of Scripture is not dependent upon the data of natural science in the same manner as are these latter upon Scripture. That observation is true, and it needs to be emphasized.

The interpretation which Dr. Rid­derbos presents of Genesis One is to the effect that the account of creation in six days is really a mode of presen­tation (p. 30), a schematic arrangement (p. 31) , a literary framework (pp. 31, 32). Certain considerations led him to adopt this particular in­terpretation. He seems to find diffi­culty in the thought that the writer of Genesis intended us to understand that light existed without the sun (p. 29). Day and night are mentioned before the lights are set in the firma­ment to separate the day from the night (p. 31). “Must we not then, on the basis of verses 14ff., believe that sun, moon, and stars were created after the earth?” (p. 43).


A second consideration is that the author of Genesis may be using an anthropomorphic mode of presenta­tion (p. 30). Dr. Ridderbos rightly points out that there are anthropo­morphic expressions in the early chap­ters of Genesis and he cites Genesis 2:2, 2:7 and 3:21 as examples. He questions whether we are to take literally the representation that God used a day for every great work of creation (p. 31).

The order in which the works of creation are related is also given as an argument for the framework the­ory. Attention is also called to the two parallel series of three days found in the first chapter of the Bible. The framework hypothesis is also said to fit in well with the literary form of Genesis 1, and appeal is made to cer­tain “artificial arrangements” found elsewhere in Scripture where a topical order takes precedence over a chron­ological one.

The framework hypothesis, as Dr. Ridderbos himself acknowledges, has been held from time to time in the Christian Church. It was maintained by some of the fathers, and has also been presented by certain recent Romanist writers. The reader will find a careful presentation of it in Moses and Myth by the Rev. J.O. Morgan (St. Louis and London, ‘33).

There is a certain attractiveness about the theory, but there are at least three strong arguments that should be raised against it, arguments which Dr. Ridderbos either ignores or which he does not seriously discuss.

1) In distinction from the second chapter Genesis One stresses chron­logy. Its Hebrew is very striking: day one, day two, day three, etc. With this emphasis upon chronology strik­ing one’s eyes at first glance, how can one escape the conviction that the author intended to present a chronological order? Yet Dr. Ridderbos does not mention this consideration.

2) The divine interpretation as giv­en in Exodus 20:8 really rules out the so-called framework theory of Genesis One. Dr. Ridderbos acknowledges this to be a weighty argument, but he does not seem to come to grips with it. The fourth commandment has to do with observance of the Sabbath day. There are six days in which man may do his work, but these are followed by a seventh in which he is to cease from work. It is a week of days, days following one after another—the length of the days is not germane to the argument—in which man may work, and the divine sanction is given to this arrangement. The argument may be paraphrased, “Just as God created the heaven and earth in six days, so you are to work in six days, and just as he rested on the seventh day, so you are to rest on the seventh day.” The very term “seventh day” implies that there have been six pre­ceding days, one following the other in chronological succession. If the week of man’s work and rest consists of seven days, one following the other, so also must the creative week have consisted of days one following the other. If this were not the case, the comparison would be pointless.

3) In the third place, and this is the most important of all, there is a ma­jestic progression or development in Genesis One from the waste and void earth of verse two to tile well-ordered universe which is ready to receive man, the crown of creation. This fact is noted by Dr. Ridderbos (p. 33), but apparently he is not impressed by its force.

Verse two describes the earth as desolation and waste. We must be very cautious in labeling it a chaos, for that word is likely to convey the impression that things were somehow out of God’s control. We must also repudiate most vigorously the erro­neous view of Karl Barth that this verse speaks of the world in that con­dition in which it is without the Word of God (p. 51). All was under God’s control, all was precisely as God desired it to be, for the blessed Spirit of God was brooding over the waters. The earth, however, at that time, was not in a condition in which man could dwell upon it. It was not then ready for man.

Step by step, however, in wondrous progression, Genesis One recounts how that earth was made ready for man. Light first comes and dispels the darkness, and both light and darkness are assigned their proper spheres. The primeval waters are then broken up, and the seas, the waters that cling to this earth, and the land are separated. The seas are said to be good, but only after a further creative work is the divine satisfaction with the earth stated. Attention is now directed primarily to the earth. The heavenly lights which are to serve the earth are now made.

Up to this point—the work of the fifth day—the things created have been either lifeless, such as the planets; or motionless, such as the plants. The earth is now ready to be the home of beings which both live and move. To describe the produc­tion of lifeless or motionless objects the verb ‘asah (to do, make) has been sufficient, but now that living and moving objects are to be produced the verb bara’ (to create) is employed. From this point on creation by word and creation by deed are described as going hand in hand. Upon these works there rests not only the divine complacency, as upon the works hitherto mentioned, but the divine blessing as well.

In the work of the sixth day the divine approbation rests upon the land animals, but in connection with the creation of man (the word bara’, not ‘asah, is used) there is also the divine blessing. This creation of man, the crown of God’s wondrous creating work, is introduced by divine deliber­ation. Furthermore, unlike the pre­vious blessings, that pronounced upon man is two-fold in nature (verse 28), and is also climactic. The divine com­placency is expressed in the summary statement of verse 31. All that God has made is “very good.” In line with this is the remarkable fact that in the identification of the sixth day, the definite article is employed with the numeral. It is the sixth day, the day upon which the crown of God’s Cre­ating activity is brought into being and God’s supreme satisfaction with his work is stated.

When this line of development in the first chapter of Genesis is thus examined, one is compelled to believe that the days were days—whatever their length may have been—that followed one another in chronolog­ical succession. We cannot therefore accept the interpretation of Genesis One which is offered in the volume under discussion.


There are two other points which also must be noted.

1. The author is too uncritical in his use of authors who represent a neo-orthodox Or “modern” viewpoint. Thus, he thinks that it “…was not Barth’s intention to deny that man was originally good and innocent, neither that Adam really fell” (p. 14). Such a statement is nothing short of astounding. Does Dr. Ridderbos seriously think that Barth believes in an historical Adam and an historical fall? It may be (cf. p. 31 and note 18, pp. 74, 75) difficult to tell what Barth does mean, but it is not too difficult to tell what he does not mean. And one need but read him to make the dis­covery that he does not believe that there was an historical Adam as is related in Genesis (Cf. Kirchliche Dogmatik, III. 1, p. 229, p. 84, p. 239, III. 2, p. 49).

One wonders also at the following quotation from Von Rad in speaking of the content of Genesis One, “It is doctrine which has been cautiously enriched in a process of very slow, century-long growth” (p. 30). What is the purpose of making such a quo­tation? (cf. also p. 17). Von Rad thinks that Genesis One is so-called P ( priestly) material which was “en­riched” through the long centuries of Israel’s history. Surely, Dr. Ridderbos does not hold to such an idea. It is one thing to say that the content of Genesis One was revealed by God to man and that it was handed down by word of mouth, or in written form, until Moses, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, wrote it down as Scripture. It is something quite dif­ferent to hold that the roots of Genesis One go back to early “Jahwe congre­gations,” and that additions were made to it until it received its present form! If Dr. Ridderbos accepts the first of these views, why the quotation from Von Rad?

2. The treatment of the relationship between Genesis One and Genesis Two is not satisfactory. Dr. Ridder­bos thinks that the two chapters were probably written by two different authors, or were derived from two different centers of transmission. “It is hard to believe,” he says, “that the same author should first write Genesis 1 and then Genesis 2” (p. 28). If it is so hard to believe, why did Moses put the two chapters together? Why did God the Holy Spirit, who is the ultimate Author, see to it that Genesis Two was placed after Genesis One?

We read this little book with sorrow of heart. For, even though the author may not wish it, it is a book that will tend to weaken on e’s confidence in the infallibility of Holy Scripture. There is much emphasis upon Barth, and it would also seem that the author is well read in authors who ac­cept the documentary hypothesis. On the other hand, there is no evidence that the author has ever studied the work of Oswald T. Allis or William Henry Green. The view that the “days” of Genesis One may be long periods of time does not even receive serious consideration (p. 55).

There are, of course, serious problems involved in the study of Genesis One, and we may thank the author for again calling attention to some of them. But if true progress in the study of Genesis is to be made, it must be on the part of those who love Genesis as God’s Holy Word, who see the dangerous nature of modern thought and who, like Hengstenberg, Green, Keil, and Wilson of a past day, will set the Christian faith in antithesis to the destructive “critical” thought of the day, will expose its anti-Christian basis, and will earnestly endeavor to defend and to expound those Scrip­tures which alone are able to make one wise unto salvation.