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Monday, August 28, 2006

How important is a doctrine of origins to Christians?

When I started thinking about this topic, the initial reaction was: "of some importance, but not primary importance." One reason I thought this is that there is little in the New Testament about origins, except as it relates to the person of Christ. (I'm thinking of John 1, for example. All Bible links are to the ESV) The Sermon on the Mount doesn't mention origins directly, and I'm not sure there are any indirect references. The discourse Jesus gave in John 14-17 doesn't, either. Neither does Peter's sermon at Pentecost. Paul's sermon on Mars' Hill does include this part of Acts 17:24: "The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth . . .," but there is little or nothing about origins in Paul's writings. (Peter does mention the subject.) There seems to be much more in the New Testament about, say, how to treat the poor, or how Christianity is not about following man-made rules, than about origins. So it must not be very important.

However, I decided to look at two of the historically important creeds. I had forgotten that both the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed begin by saying that the believer believes in a God who created*. The Nicene Creed begins like this: I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. So, in the sense that two of the historic Christian creeds begin with it, origins is fundamental.

That being the case, maybe the late Henry Morris really wasn't far off when he wrote about the most important verse in the Bible. (Genesis 1:1) Here's another article, saying much the same thing.

Why do Morris, and others, think like this? They think so because they see, correctly in my view, that the Bible teaches that God caused things to be the way they are. Things are not here by purposeless chance, or just because that's the way they had to be. If God did create, then God has authority (He's the author!) over His creation. There is a purpose for our existence, and there are purposes for our individual lives. Without this basic truth, Christianity, and almost all other religions, for that matter, make little or no sense.

I believe that most people would say that not only does Christianity (and some other religions) deny it, but common sense (whatever that is) rejects the idea of a purposeless universe, here solely by chance.

Well, if God's creation is an important doctrine, what about the age of the earth? Is a belief in a recent creation important? Some certainly think so. (See here for an example.)

Others, including Bible scholars who are vigorous in their defense of the integrity of scripture, believe that the Old Testament does not necessarily teach that the universe, the earth, and humans all originated only a few thousand years ago. This is not the place for a discussion of the various interpretations and conclusions, and, if it was, no doubt some readers would disagree with my discussion. Perhaps they would be right. But I note that neither the Nicene or Apostle's Creeds, nor Paul, in Acts 17, give any indication about the date of origins. Genesis 1 gives some indication, but the other scriptural texts referred to in this post (with the possible exception of 2 Peter 3) do not. A date must be inferred, based on other scriptures, and on assumptions as to how they are meant**. It is not given directly. The opening statement of the Bible directly says that God created. So do other Biblical texts.

I conclude, for what it's worth, that the most important doctrine for Christians is a proper view of the person and work of Jesus Christ. A belief that there is a purposeful God who created the universe, and did it in such a way that we have an earth, and human beings, including you and me, is almost as important. The two beliefs make full sense only in the light of each other. I don't see that belief in a recent creation is required by scripture, but I understand that others think it is.

*The Westminster Confession is a much longer document than either of the Creeds mentioned above. It has a section on Creation.
Both the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed speak as if God the Father was the Creator. John 1, Colossians 1:15-20, and other passages, make clear that God the Son was deeply involved, perhaps even the main agent of creation. No doubt God the Holy Spirit was involved, also (Perhaps Genesis 1:2 refers to the Holy Spirit).

**I changed these two sentences on August 30, 2006. I hope I made them clearer. I originally said that no scripture gives any indication of the date of origins. That is not true. I also added the link to 2 Peter 3.


elbogz said...

I feel the Bible is being lifted to the status of something to worship. The bible has become a Golden Calf. Instead of worshiping the Author, we worship the words. The argument goes that you can’t question one word in the bible or you have to doubt the entire bible. But what it really means is if you question “their” interpretation of the bible, then you’re not really a “Good Christian”. But that “one word” do you mean in the King James version, or perhaps the version that was translated into Chineese?

I think about times when Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees. They would hold up the scriptures and point down at Him from their place of authority. For example, in Luke 6:1, Jesus and his disciples picked up grain in the field to eat. The Pharisees said, what you are doing is not legal. Jesus responded (my interpretation), “Which is more important, the scrolls or the author of the scrolls?”

Numerous times Jesus went to heal on the Sabbath. He was always condemned for breaking the law.

Luke 6:9 Then Jesus said to them, "I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?"

In each time he was confronted, Jesus would respond (my interpretation) “what is really important is a man’s heart. To love the Lord God with all his heart, soul, strength and mind, and that he loves his neighbor’s as himself.

Then there is the discussion on the “right” version of the bible and the “heathen bastard” version of the bible. For those that pound the King James version on the pulpit stating it’s the one true interpretation, I ask, what about the bibles that were translated into Chinese? There isn’t really a word in Chinese for Agape Love, so, does that mean they all go to Hell for reading the wrong bible?

Elliot said...

A good post! So would you say the theological affirmation that God created purposefully is more important than the details of how He created?

BTW, last Sunday (or was it the Sunday before last?) we read the Psalm from which you draw your title. I suppose it had come up in the lectionary.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, elbogz. We need the Bible, and must handle it as God's word, but if the Bible is worshipped over God, that's bad.

As a smart person once said, "The Bible is inerrant. My interpretation of it isn't."

elliot, I couldn't have said it better. Probably should have posted your sentence, and let it go at that.

elbogz said...

After I hit publish on my comment I thought, gosh that might have come off kind of harsh. I'm glad you saw it that way. The one thing that strikes me about the bible is this. When I read the bible, it is as if God is speaking to only me. When someone else reads the bible, God is speaking to only them. Sometimes, God needs to tell me something different than the other person. So, when we sit and talk about the verse we just read we both have a different interpretation. I think, to some degree that is why Martin Luther saw the importance of a bible all could read.

Martin LaBar said...

No harm, elbogz.

If we were all exactly alike, God would, presumably, use the same method to communicate with all of us. But we aren't, and He doesn't.

DavidD said...

If the only possibility for being Christian were to believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, then I would think that what you write makes sense, but as James challenged those who say faith is a matter of words, I would challenge anyone who believes he or she is more Christian than I am to compare lives and see if that's true empirically. Does the Spirit live in you as the Spirit lives in me? There would be a few places that I think are more important than whether one sees the Bible as inerrant, especially since I see that it certainly is not. If I only argee with atheists on 10% of their criticisms of the Bible, that's enough.

I don't believe that God is perfectly powerful, knowledgeable, loving, and good, all at the same time, for the usual reasons. The world would look different if He were. So one can say that everything must have a purpose, and that God micromanages everything to that end, only that's not the picture that comes out of science.

So what is the best response to that? Is it to say that the world must be full of purpose because my Christianity demands that or is it that God is whoever and whatever God is, and my faith must start there instead of in traditions that have bred so much hypocrisy, pride and idolatries that seem much more about human nature to me than God? After rejecting tradition as a teenager, I came to God in my thirties, then to Jesus. I doubt that's the only way to do it, but I'm sure it's a faithful way to come to God, and people make a mistake if they exclude such a liberal faith from being a possibility to consider seriously.

Martin LaBar said...

I'm sorry if something here struck a nerve unnecessarily. I don't think I have ever said, in this blog, or anywhere else, that belief in the inerrancy of the Bible is necessary for salvation, and if I did, I didn't mean to. Besides, if I had said that, I should have defined "inerrancy," and maybe "belief."

I was quoting accurately what someone said. My point (and, I think, his) was that thinking my favorite interpretation of a particular passage is the only correct one is dangerous, because it is, at least sometimes, wrong, and we never really know which times it is wrong.

I take the Bible seriously, including what it says about origins.

Catez said...

Interesting post Martin. My thoughts off the top are that if we focus on the person of Jesus we include the creation because I think it's Hebrews that says, "Throught him the world was made" (from memory). So the direct attribution of Jesus creating the world is in the NT.

For me origins comes up when talking with people who hold theories which point to creating but exclude Jesus from it. So in the conext of those discussions I do bring in that aspect of the person of Jesus.

I think at least some of the NT mentions may be similar in the sense that they are sometimes made as responses to the thinking of the cutlutre they are addressed to.

As for the issue of the dates, I tend to agree with you.

Enjoyed reading this.

Martin LaBar said...

I agree with you, except that I think your quote is from John 1. (Hebrews 1:2 and Colossians 1 also say specifically that God the Son was deeply involved, in fact probably the main agent, in creation. I looked it up, though!)

That's the most important aspect of origins -- God, especially Christ's work. The New Testament doesn't say much else about origins, except for a few references to Adam and Noah.

I think you are right about the culture.

Thanks for reading, and commenting.