Genesis 1 Versus the Framework Hypothesis - Rev. Frank Walker
Last Updated: November 13, 2007
Commenting on various allegorical interpretations of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, John Calvin wrote that "we ought to have a deeper reverence for Scripture than to reckon ourselves at liberty to disguise its natural meaning" (in loc.). In the preface to his commentary on Romans, he made a similar remark concerning the doctrine of election. There he said,"We ought to have such respect for the Word of God that any difference of interpretation on our part should alter it as little as possible. It is therefore presumptuous and almost blasphemous to turn the meaning of Scripture around without due care, as though it were some game that we were playing."
These two remarks by one who is considered by many to be the father of modern exegesis echo the approach that I will take in this session. I will examine two competing ideas: what Genesis 1 actually says and what the Framework Hypothesis claims that it says. These two things are so different that, although the latter claims to be the true and only interpretation of the former, we are forced to conclude that it is nothing more than "playing games" with the sacred text.
The Framework Hypothesis
We will begin with the Framework Hypothesis. Professor Arie Noordzij of the University of Utrecht first used the Framework Hypothesis as an interpretive tool for Genesis in his 1924 article, "God's Word and the Witness of the Ages." Since then, his opinion has been championed by many scholars of almost every denomination.
The most basic feature of the Framework Hypothesis is that it applies a literary approach to Scripture. The fact that one recognizes literary genres (e.g., poetry, history and law) or literary forms (e.g., figures of speech and parallelism) is not problematic in itself. After all, the Bible is a book or, more correctly, a book of books. However, modern literary approaches go well beyond the conventions of literature in a deliberate attempt to impose a philosophy on that literature. The reader begins with a set of assumptions that he imports into the text from outside. Naturally, these assumptions are rather subjective, being the result of the reader's previous experiences. They, in turn, draw out a reader-specific response. The goal of the literary approach, therefore, is not to arrive at the author's intended meaning but to incorporate the literature into the reader's frame of reference. This implies that there is no fixed meaning, no truth, in the text because each reader's assumptions and, consequently his responses, are always changing. Interpretation becomes nothing more than an interaction between the reader (at whatever stage of development he finds himself) and the text.
Tremper Longman III, an accomplished Old Testament scholar, understands that this program tends to separate the Biblical narrative from actual history. After all, literature is a form of art. If the painting of an apple is not a real piece of fruit, how can we expect the story of Abraham to be about a real person? Longman writes, "To identify Genesis as a work of literature pure and simple is to move it out of the realm of history. This seems to be the tendency of some if not much of the literary approach to the study of the OT."(1) However, in spite of its pitfalls, Longman believes that the literary approach promises to unlock doors hitherto inaccessible.
We must ask, though, whether Longman or anyone else who applies the literary approach to Scripture ever succeeds in averting the perceptive criticism of C.S. Lewis, who wrote,
Whatever these men may be as Biblical critics, I distrust them as critics. They seem to me to lack literary judgement, to be imperceptive about the very quality of the texts they are reading. These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can't see an elephant ten yards away in broad daylight.(2)
My opinion is that the Framework Hypothesis inescapably employs principles of interpretation that are alien to Scripture and subversive to its message. It is a self-destructive theory.
Three scholarly articles are of particular importance for the Framework Theory. The first, written by Meredith G. Kline, appeared in 1958 under the title "Because It Had Not Rained."(3)
The title of this article comes from Genesis 2:5. Kline argues that there was no plant life of any kind anywhere during the period of time this verse discusses. He says, further, that there are two reasons given in Genesis 2 for this universal absence of vegetation: first, there was no water because the Lord had not yet sent rain; and second, there was no man to cultivate the ground. With no water and no cultivator, plant life was impossible. However, in verses 6 and 7 God satisfies these concerns by watering the ground with a mist and forming the first man. This passage is critical for Kline because, as he sees it, it proves that God's modus operandi during the creation week was ordinary providence. Except for the creative fiats (the calling of things out of nothing), the Lord governed his creation during the first six days in ways that would seem normal to us today. This assumption, which he no doubt regards as an exegetical conclusion, is then imported into the first chapter of Genesis and used as a grid for its interpretation.
Genesis 2:5, Kline argues, creates an unavoidable conflict for those who hold to the literal six-day view of creation. God's modus operandi during the period of creation was ordinary providence. The problem is that the literal six-day view does not allow enough time for ordinary providence to work. A literal reading of the first chapter of Genesis, for example, pictures God gathering the waters into seas, drying entire continents and causing vegetation to grow to maturity all within a single twenty-four-hour period called "the third day" (Gen. 1:9-13). By anyone's calculation, such stupendous feats require extraordinary or miraculous providence. Thus, Kline leaves the literal six-day view with a difficult dilemma: he must either accept the irreconcilable conflict between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, or he must abandon his six-day view and interpret the days of creation as a literary device, that is, in a non-consecutive, non-chronological way. Kline seems to believe that his arguments are so overwhelming that orthodox theologians will have to abandon the traditional view of Genesis 1. He writes, "It is a strange blindness that questions the orthodoxy of all who reject the traditional twenty-four-hour day theory when the truth is that endorsement of that theory is incompatible with belief in the self-consistency of the Scriptures."(4) Later he adds, "Once the figurative nature of the chronological pattern is appreciated, the literalness of the sequence is no more sacrosanct than the literalness of the duration of the days in this figurative week."(5)
At this point we must ask ourselves whether sound exegesis requires Kline's view of Genesis 2:5. It does not. The six-day believer can just as easily handle the conflict Kline proposes in another, less obtrusive way. He can simply deny that Kline is correct. Indeed, there are several unspoken assumptions in Kline's thinking that simply are not necessary. One assumption is that Genesis 2:5 describes the condition of the whole world -- there were no plants anywhere on the entire face of the planet. But is not the second chapter of Genesis describing the home God made for Adam? Is not the reference specifically to the Garden of Eden? If so, the plants that are absent in Genesis 2:5 are those that would eventually be placed in Paradise. The correct interpretation would be that this one particular part of the earth called Paradise was a barren and uninhabitable wasteland when everything else was finished, but God graciously transformed it into a comfortable place in which man would live.(6)
But this particular issue is not the focus of Kline's theory. Rather, his main point is that Genesis 2:5 shows unmistakably that God's mode of operation during the creation week was normal providence. This, he maintains, "is not affected whether the lack of vegetation mentioned be earthwide or local (the Eden area) and no matter to which 'day' the vegetationless situation pertains."(7) Yet, his insistence that Genesis 2:5 provides the interpretative guide for Genesis 1 raises a more serious problem: it assumes that the use of ordinary providence in one instance rules out the possibility of extraordinary providence in another. Without this assumption his theory falls apart. It hardly needs to be pointed out, though, that God did not supply the cultivator by ordinary means. Normal childbirth is "extraordinary" enough, but Adam's direct creation by the word of God is even more so. The Lord formed his body from the dust of the ground and then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Now, if God provided the cultivator in such a stupendous way, why should we deny that he could and, in fact, did dry up the continents in a single day?
More to the point, we must question Kline's assumption that God's modus operandi during the creation week was ordinary providence. It is doubtful that this can be established from Genesis 2:5. Genesis 2 deals specifically with the creation of man and his environment, enlarging upon the brief account given in chapter 1. As we study it, we have to keep in mind that man was unique among the rest of creation. He alone was formed in the image of God and, therefore, able to love God and walk with him. He alone was given a mandate to exercise dominion over all things. He alone had the responsibility to tend and keep the Garden of Eden. The fact that man was responsible for his environment as a vice-regent of God entails ordinary providence. Adam had to observe meteorological conventions and learn how to irrigate the Garden in dry spells. Note is taken of this in Genesis 2 because the creation of man brought about a radical change in the way God exercised his government of the world. During the first five days God ruled the world entirely by extraordinary providence. There is no evidence in Genesis 1 of anything else. But with the creation of man (to whom the Lord gave a fair amount of responsibility) ordinary providence was put into effect. Genesis 2:5 must be understood in relation to man's unique place and responsibility. Indeed, this seems to be the only acceptable possibility when we take into account the topical recapitulation of Genesis 2:4-7.(8)
To say the very least, these are serious problems with Kline's presentation. To overthrow the almost unanimous opinion of church history, these questions would have to be answered clearly and decisively in Kline's favor. I, for one, do not believe that this can be done.
Given the fact that Genesis 1 precedes Genesis 2, it is far more likely that the former should guide the interpretation of the latter, rather than the other way around. Given the fact that Genesis 1 clearly defines what it means by the word day, both by the use of ordinals (first, second, third, etc.) and the sixfold repetition of the phrase evening and morning, we are unavoidably confronted with God's interpretation of the kinds of days depicted in the creation account. The days of creation were solar days, not poetic devices.
The second article that I mentioned a moment ago was written by Mark D. Futato in 1997 and is titled "Because It Had Rained: A Study of Gen. 2:5-7 with Implication for Gen. 2:4-25 and Gen. 1:1-2:3."(9) The title alerts us to the fact that Futato has considered the issues raised against Kline's paper. Though he ends more or less in the same place, he prefers to get there another way. For Kline it was important that it had not rained. Futato's argument begins with the notion that it had rained.
A large part of Futato's paper is taken up with an identification of the kinds of plants mentioned in Genesis 2:5 and the meaning of the word mist in verse 6. He believes the plants are desert shrubs and cultivated grain. The wild shrubs of the desert did not grow because of a lack of rain. God remedied this by providing a mist, or, as Futato understands it, "rain clouds."(10) Similarly, the cultivated grain had no cultivator, so God raised up Adam to tend the Garden. The basic outline of Futato's case to this point is similar to Kline's, though there are some interesting variations in the details. He then proceeds to argue that Genesis 2:5-7 is part of the larger unit of Genesis 2:4-25, which exemplifies a specific Hebrew stylistic structure known as "synoptic/resumptive-expansion."(11) From there he draws inferences from his theory for Genesis 1-2:3. It is his opinion that the first two chapters of Genesis form a "highly integrated literary unit" (in contrast to the liberals who find two distinct accounts of creation in Genesis), are "topically arranged" (and not chronologically arranged, as the church has generally maintained), with a focus on "vegetation and humanity" -- two themes that recur often in his presentation.(12)
But the most disturbing part of Futato's paper comes in the last major section. There we see for the first time where he wants to go. Kline used his literary analysis of Genesis to argue for a sabbatical theology. Futato wants to demonstrate something quite different. He wants to show that the early chapters of Genesis constitute a polemic against Canaanite Baal worship. In Canaanite theology, Baal was god of the storm, controller of clouds and rain. Although Jehovah had provided for the Jews in Egypt and in the wilderness, their way of life would change drastically as they entered the promised land. They had been accustomed to farming methods that required irrigation from the Nile. In their recent experience God provided their water from a rock. But the question they faced as they prepared to enter the promised land was, Would God still provide for them in a land that depended on irregular rainfall? They constantly faced the temptation to consult their Canaanite neighbors for agricultural advice, which, no doubt, came with a mixture of pagan theology. This, says Futato, led to a long struggle between Jehovah and Baal that lasted until the impressive contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. Knowing this would become a problem, the Lord caused Moses to structure the Genesis account to proclaim that "Yhwh, the God of Israel, is the Lord of the rain, the resultant vegetation, and life."(13) This is demonstrated in the fact that it had rained in Genesis 2.
Futato's version of the Framework Hypothesis is extremely complicated, and my short précis does not do it justice. Nonetheless, I have given enough so that you can see the problems with his theory. First, Futato has adopted many of Kline's assumptions and has added several of his own. Our earlier criticisms need not be repeated. Second, there is neither an explicit mention nor an indirect reference to Baal anywhere in the early chapters of Genesis. Certainly, the creation account shows that Jehovah is the God of rain and vegetation. But it also shows that he is God of fish, birds, insects, oceans, stars and all the distant galaxies. This is true because he is the one who called all things into existence by the word of his power. In this sense, Genesis 1 is a polemic against all idolatry. But the notion that it is a polemic specifically against Baalism can only be brought into the text from outside. The mention of water in Genesis 1 and 2, though secondary to the creation of man, allows Futato to make connections that are tenuous at best. He is playing connect the dots, but the picture is not the one that was intended. Third, Futato's presentation does little more than adapt the criticisms of liberals, though he avoids using the documentary hypothesis. Compare his opinions to the very liberal comments of Harper Bible Commentary on Genesis 2:
Like P, the J creation account begins with a temporal clause, this time one that describes the precreation state as a waterless, lifeless desert. There may be echoes here of the Canaanite myth of Baal's struggle with a demonic adversary Mot (Death), as there are similar reminiscences of the combat myth of the creator-god Baal versus the Sea in 1:1-2 ( Baal). The Israelite adaptation and reuse of the Canaanite myths of Baal versus the Sea in Genesis 1 and of Baal versus Death in his desert domain in Genesis 2 recall Yahweh's victory over the sea (Exod. 14-15) and the desert (Exod. 16-17) in the creation of Israel.
And fourth, if the Genesis narrative was intended as a polemic against Baal worship, Futato himself admits that the Jews missed the point, since Baal worship was a recurring theme from the time of Moses to Elijah (a period of almost six hundred years). In fact, if Moses intended the early chapters of Genesis as a polemic against Baal worship, that fact has eluded everyone until modern scholars applied literary criticism to the Word of God.
Futato's argumentation is not only suspect, it is misleading, false and downright dangerous. It will do nothing but deceive those who are not well grounded in the sacred Scriptures.
Meredith G. Kline: "Space and Time"
The third article that we will consider briefly takes us back to Dr. Kline, whose "Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony" appeared in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith in 1996. Although this piece was actually written before Futato's article (and even suggested some of Futato's main points), I have chosen to deal with it last because of its even more radical theology.
In this article Kline argues for a two-tiered view of reality. He writes, "Central in biblical revelation is the relationship of God, whose dwelling place is heaven's glory (Ps. 115:16), to man on earth. A two-register cosmos is thus the scene of the biblical drama, which features constant interaction between the upper and lower registers." In a footnote to this paragraph he favorably compares his two-register cosmology to mythology, which he defines as "a portrayal of human affairs in terms of a dynamic interrelating of divine and human realms" (a definition that applies rather well to his own two-layer perspective). He boasts that his new insight has become his "main point" and the "umbrella" under which his previous arguments "are accorded an ancillary place." And from it he concludes that "as far as the time frame [of Genesis] is concerned, with respect to both the duration and sequence of events, the scientist is left free of biblical constraints in hypothesizing about cosmic origins." Accordingly, science has become in his thinking an autonomous endeavor.
Kline himself apparently does not object to the term mythology. The German words Geschichte and Heilsgeschichte may be too loaded for him, although perhaps somewhat descriptive of his position. In any case, his two-register theory has the effect of separating the actual historical events of this world from a supra-historical heavenly plan or decree. The creation of the world took place in six "days" in the upper register, but by the time it worked its way out on earth the days took on a topical nature. Again, he argues that the seventh day of creation is an upper level designation for eternity, while the Sabbath ordinance refers to a recurring period of rest here below. There is a correlation between the two registers, but the nature of that correlation is not disclosed.
As Kline applies his two-register theory to Scripture (especially the first chapter of Genesis), his assignment of the details to upper or lower register comes across as rather arbitrary. The creation of heaven, the brooding of the Spirit, the creative fiats and the Sabbath belong to the upper level. But since the brooding of the Spirit is specifically connected with the waters of the lower creation, we are left wondering why he classifies it as an upper level phenomenon. The Sabbath raises another question. If this is a description of the upper register behavior of God and if God's modus operandi during the creation week was ordinary providence and if the heavenly Sabbath is an eternal rest from the activity of the first week, are we to assume that God ceased to exercise ordinary providence after making heaven and earth? On the other hand, the creation of earth, the deep and the Sabbath ordinance apply to the lower level. Similar problems arise in connection with this classification. Even more basic is the question about Kline's sources: how does he know which events and occurrences belong to which register?
Kline leaves us with the impression that he, too, is playing games with the text of Scripture. While Futato connects the dots to make a brand new picture, Kline connects the same pattern of dots on two different pages and makes two different pictures. The troubling thing is that he thinks this is acceptable exegesis. To those of us who prefer to uncover the picture that is really hidden in the dots, Kline's approach sounds more like eisegesis.
Speaking more broadly, one wonders how far Kline will take his two-register cosmogony. Ultimately, if carried to its logical conclusion, it leads inevitably to total skepticism because all that can be known about God occurs within the upper register. The lower register may have parallel or coordinate occurrences, but these are necessarily limited by the nature of lower register knowledge. Even when God opens man's eyes to the upper register, what man sees is couched in terms familiar to him and, therefore, still of the lower register. Man has no access, either directly or indirectly, to the higher knowledge of the upper register. Kline seems to acknowledge this criticism with his frequent use of the word invisible in regard to the upper register. Indeed, he hints that it will be only in the consummation of history that "the visible-invisible differentiation of space comes to an end," "the boundary of heaven and earth disappears" and "all becomes one cosmic holy of holies."
As I mentioned earlier, Calvin wrote that "we ought to have a deeper reverence for Scripture than to reckon ourselves at liberty to disguise its natural meaning." The most natural interpretation of Genesis 1 is that God made all things "in the space of six days," as Calvin, Ussher and the Westminster divines insisted.(14)
Contrariwise, the Framework Hypothesis says that the "days" of Genesis 1 are not chronological periods of approximately twenty-four hours in duration. This opinion is based on an extremely doubtful interpretation of Genesis 2:5. Conclusions from the latter passage are then carried back into and made part of the former.
The arguments in favor of a literal understanding of the word day in Genesis 1 are unassailable. Here are the main ones:
First, the Hebrew word for day (yom) never signifies anything other than a normal day or at least the lighted part of a day. The plural form of the word means "several days" (cf. Gen. 5:4, 5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 23, 27, 31). Sometimes the number of days even adds up to many years, yet the word never loses its literal meaning. This is especially clear in the singular. Even Genesis 2:4 is not an exception. Moses wrote, These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens. Some scholars assume that the word "day" in this verse comprises all that took place during the "six days" days of creation, but is it not more likely a reference only to the first day, in which God not only created light but also formed the matter from which all other things were made (Gen. 1:1-2)? Nor does the fact that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years (2 Pet. 3:8) speak against this, since Peter's point is that God is not subject to time at all. He is no more limited by days than by years.
Second, Moses carefully separated the days of creation by numbering them sequentially. There is a first day, a second day, a third day, and so forth. If the days were topical, as Kline and Futato argue, such numbering would be deceptive and misleading.
Third, each of the days of creation consisted of evening and morning (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31). Kline says that this is nothing more than "a detail in the creation-week picture." It is, indeed, a detail, but even in poetry the details mean something. If the purpose of the creation narrative is merely to provide a foundation for the Jewish Sabbath(s) with the "six days" making up the work-week, the description of those days as consisting of evening and morning would be meaningless overkill. Rather, the Lord used this detail to confirm in yet another way that the days of creation were days of normal duration.
Fourth, the entire Bible treats the creation narrative as true in its details. Second Corinthians 4:6, for example, says that God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. This is clearly an allusion to the creation of light on the first day. Apparently, Paul understood the creation narrative as it was given. The same is true of Peter, who wrote that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water (2 Pet. 3:5). He was referring to the events of Days Two and Three.
Last, the fourth commandment requires that the days of creation be twenty-four hours in length. We are to work six days and rest one because this is the pattern that God himself followed when he made heaven and earth. Since it is obviously true that God has the right to command us to do something whether or not he gives us a pattern to follow, the fact that he gives us a pattern in this instance can only be attributed to his marvelous grace. He did not have to fabricate a story of six-day creation to gain our obedience. To say that the days of creation are analogous to our days, as adherents of the Framework Hypothesis must say, is inadequate because it turns the fourth commandment into a logical fallacy and nonsense: God worked six topics and rested one topic in the upper register; therefore, we must work six days and rest one day in the lower register.
The Framework Hypothesis holds that the days of creation are topical and not chronological. Why then did Moses go out of his way to emphasize chronology in the creation narrative? And what should we do with the other writers of Scripture who made a point to argue from the details of the creation account? The Biblical evidence is not only overwhelming; it is conclusive. God made the world in six days which were chronological periods of light and darkness as recorded in the book of Genesis.
More than four hundred years ago, Calvin warned against playing games with the Word of God. He said that such game-playing shows disrespect for the Scripture and is presumptuous and almost blasphemous. Sadly, the various literary approaches to the Bible, of which the Framework Hypothesis is one, are all too common. This is not to say that those who use literary approaches are necessarily outside the kingdom of God. We must let God judge the hearts of others. Yet, literary approaches themselves are antithetical to sound doctrine when they try to second-guess what God has plainly revealed. The danger is real.
Historically, it has seldom been true that unbelief strolls in the front door of the church announcing itself. It usually sneaks in a little at a time. First an obvious error is tolerated -- often for the sake of love or harmony. After all, the one who holds the error is a sincere Christian. In time that error becomes the majority opinion. Before long no one can tolerate the truth. At that point, nothing is left. The doctrine of creation in this sense is a key doctrine because it reveals our attitude to the whole of Scripture.
May God keep us faithful and true to his inspired and inerrant Word! Amen.
- 1. Tremper Longman III, "The Literary Approach To The Study Of The Old Testament: Promise And Pitfalls," JETS 28, no. 4 (Dec. 1985): 394.
- 2. C. S. Lewis, Fern-Seed and Elephants (Glasgow: Collins, 1975), 106, 111; cited in Longman, 396.
- 3. Meredith G. Kline, "Because It Had Not Rained," WTJ 20 (1958): 146-57.
- 4. Kline, 152.
- 5. Kline, 156-7.
- 6. This also takes care of another assumption Kline makes, namely, that Genesis 2:5 describes the third day of creation. Shortly after the appearance of Kline's article, E.J. Young argued that the situation could just as easily, and more probably, be Day Six. See Edward J. Young, Studies in Genesis One (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1964), 64.
- 7. Meredith G. Kline, "Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 48 :2-15, endnote 44 [article online]; available from http://asa.calvin.edu/ASA/PSCF/1996/PSCF3-96Kline.html; Internet; accessed 25 February 1998). The present writer believes that Kline fails to see the importance of these criticisms. For argumentation to this effect, see Joseph A. Pipa, "From Chaos to Cosmos: A Critique of the Framework Hypothesis" (unpublished) [article online]; available from http://capo.org/cpc/pipa.htm; Internet; accessed 22 September 1999.
- 8. Pipa.
- 9. Mark D. Futato, "Because It Had Rained: A Study Of Gen 2:5-7 with Implications for Gen 2:4-25 and Gen 1:1-2:3," WTJ 60, no. 1 (Spring 1998): 1-21.
- 10. Futato, 5ff.
- 11. Futato, 12.
- 12. Futato, 14, 15, 17.
- 13. Futato, 20.
- 14. See Calvin's commentary on Gen. 1:5; Art. 18 of the Irish Articles; Westminster Confession 4:1, Larger Catechism 15 and Shorter Catechism 9. In his commentary on the Westminster Confession, A.A. Hodge argues that the divines were simply using the language of Scripture. However, this argument comes across as disingenuous for two reasons: First, nowhere does the Bible use the phrase "in the space of six days" in reference to creation. Second, the phrase in question had already a decisive and clear meaning when the Westminster divines borrowed it. In both Calvin and Ussher, whose theology had a significant impact on the Westminster standards, the phrase meant six literal solar days in contrast to Augustine's non-literal understanding of the days. The present writer finds it incredible that anyone would still claim that the divines did not intend to limit creation to six literal days; yet, forms of Hodge's argument are still found among those who should know better (cf. "Westminster Theological Seminary and the Days of Creation: A Brief Statement" [article online]; available at http://www1.gospelcom.net/wts/news/creation.html; Internet; accessed 15 May 1999).