Archive for the ‘Old Testament’ Category

Craig Keener on Miracles

Dr. Craig Keener is unarguably one of the world’s top scholars on the topic of miracles, and he recently delivered a lecture series on the subject that is well worth hearing if you want to get a fraction of his argument from his massive Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. This will be of interest to cessationists, materialists, and those who are neither.

HT: Triablogue

Sabbath and Creation

Historian Darryl Hart has been digitizing back issues of the Nicotene Theological Journal that he co-edited with John Muether. He recently posted the April 2000 issue with an article in it written by William Hayward Wilson dealing with the Sabbath and the creation week. In it Wilson responds to Morton Smith’s take on John Murray’s view of the Sabbath from the latter’s Principles of Conduct. What I wanted to highlight was the OPC’s 1968 resolution on the creation days:

1. The one true and living God existed alone in eternity, and beside Him there was no matter, energy, space or time.

2. The one true and living God, according to His Sovereign decree, determined to create, or make of nothing, the world and all things therein, whether visible or invisible.

3. God performed His creative work in six days. (We recognize different interpretations of the word “day” and do not feel that one interpretation is to be insisted upon to the exclusion of others.)

4. That no part of the universe nor any creature in it came into being by chance or by any power other than that of the Sovereign God.

5. That God created man, male and female, after His own image, and as God’s image bearer man possesses an immortal soul. Thus man is distinct from all other earthly creatures even though his body is composed of the elements of his environment.

6. That when God created man, it was God’s inbreathing that constituted man a living creature, and thus God did not impress His image upon some pre-existing living creature.

7. That the entire human family has descended from the first human pair, and, with the one exception of Christ, this descent has been by ordinary generation.

8. That man, when created by God, was holy. Then God entered into a covenant of works with the one man Adam. In the covenant Adam represented his posterity, and thus when he violated the requirement, all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him and fell with him into an estate of sin.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Stop Trying To Tame The Bible

Steve Hays of the Triablogue has posted an excerpt from Barry Webb’s new commentary on the book of Judges. I thought it was apropos to mention given some of our current discussions. It is striking how he approaches the text, especially the parts that come across like finding a chunk of gristle in your lunch meats.

Webb concludes with this:

If we find Judges shocking, that may be no bad thing. It is not the task of the Christian scholar to tame the Bible, but to play his or her part in helping the church listen to it.

The whole section quoted by Hays is worth quoting in full:

Part of the challenge of being a Christian is to bring our thoughts and feelings under the discipline of scriptural teaching. A thing is not necessarily wrong because it is presented in an insensitive way, or because we experience a strong negative reaction to it. So, with reference to the book of Judges in particular, what are the relevant facts?

The opening chapters of the book tell us that after Joshua’s death the Israelites tried to occupy all the territories that had been assigned to them, but they did not succeed in doing so completely, or to Yahweh’s satisfaction (1:1-2:5). As a result they ended up immersed in Canaanite culture, with dire consequences. The rest of the book shows the progressive Canaanization of Israel…

Fundamental to this undertaking is the recognition that Judges is one of “those canonical books of the Old and New Testament whose authority was never in any doubt in the Church”…Among other things, this means that certain options are not available to us as Christian people.

First, we cannot simply view the wars of the judges period as an unfortunate episode in the history of religion, like the Crusades, from which we can draw various salutary lessons depending on how we view them. There may be similarities between the wars of Judges and the Crusades, but the former are part of the canon and the latter are not. Hence they are not subject to our judgment in the same way the Crusades are. On the contrary, we are bound as Christians to let them inform our doctrine and practice.

Second, the acceptance of the Old Testament as part of the church’s canon acknowledges that there is an organic relationship between Christianity and Judaism. The church has been grafted into Israel, not only by direct statement but by the way it is so densely referenced to the Old. As Paul it put, “Abraham is the father of us all” (Rom 4:16 NIV). So we cannot view the wars of Judges as a purely Jewish affair–something that Jews have to own as part of their story, as Christians have to own the Crusades as part of theirs. The acceptance of the Old Testament as canon means that the wars of the Judges are part of our history too.

Third, the church’s rejection of Marcionism means that it is committed to the view that the Old Testament does not present us with an alternative God from the New, or a fundamentally distorted view of the character and purposes of God. It acknowledges progressive revelation (and therefore difference between the Old Testament and the New), but affirms that it is the same God that is revealed in both.

Fourth…the acceptance of these particular texts as Scripture rules out the extension of the accommodation principle as a strategy for avoiding the moral and theological dilemmas they pose for us. Holy war is a case in point. The relevant Scriptures insist that the obligation to utterly destroy the Canaanites and their culture was not something the Israelites were naturally inclined to do. In fact, they did not do it in many cases, even though they were commanded to do so. This command was not a case of God accommodating himself to Israel’s worldview, but of overturning it. In short, acceptance of Judges as canonical rules out such strategies of avoidance. Positively it commits the Christian to listening respectfully to what the biblical text has to say about such war, with a view to learning from it.

First, it was to test (nissa) that next generation (2:22; 3:1,4). It is the same word that is used in Gen 22:1 for the “testing” of Abraham by requiring him to offer up Isaac. In other words, the task of the post-Joshua generation was given was difficult for them, and would therefore force them to confront the basic issue of whether or not they would choose obedience to Yahweh over following their own inclinations. As the whole book of Judges shows, they failed this test.

Second, it was to teach that next generation warfare (3:2). This is not explained, so we are left to draw inferences from common sense and the clues we are given elsewhere. The most obvious is that this generation needed to be “taught warfare” in order to prepare them for what lay ahead. The rest of the book shows how frequent military crises were; people who had no experience of war would not have survived in such circumstances.

The third reason is given less directly, by showing us the consequences of Israel’s failure to fully carry out the charge Joshua had given them: “They took their daughters [the daughters of the Canaanites] in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods” (3:6 NIV). This was the danger that the command to destroy the Canaanites and their way of life was intended to protect them from, as spelled out explicitly in Deut 7:1-6 and elsewhere. It was to stop Israel from simply merging into its pagan environment and ceasing to exist. In the context of the canon as a whole, the importance of this derives from the central place of Israel in God’s long-term purpose for the world–a biblical theme which arcs right across the canon from Abraham to Christ to world mission. These reasons may shock us, or at the very least leave us profoundly uneasy, but they are the ones that this part of the canon gives us.

First, it tells us that culture is not morally neutral; it is simply the manifestation of what we are, and is therefore no more exempt from moral judgment than individual people are…

Second, evil is something far too deep to be eliminated by the simple punishment of this or that particular act or person. It so corrupts the nature of men and women and their whole way of life that nothing and no one is exempt from it, and only wholesale destruction can remove it. In short, “evil is irremediable,” that is why radical root-and-branch judgment is necessary. Without hell there can be no heaven. The view of both the Old and New Testaments is that there were times in the past when such judgment was justified (e.g., the world of Noah’s day, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Canaan of Joshua’s day), and that the present world stands under the very real threat of similar destruction (e.g., Mt 24:37; Lk 17:26; 1 Pet 3:20).

Third, and closely related to this, is the biblical message that not all religion is good, and that religion does not guarantee protection from divine judgment. Everyone in Judges is religious, Canaanites and Israelites alike. Even at their most reprobate the Israelites are religious, but their religion does not secure God’s favor or make them proof against judgment…The Bible’s view is that religion, like everything else, is capable of being true or false, good or bad. The idea that all religions are equally valid, and therefore exempt from moral judgment, is contrary to the teaching of both the Old and New Testaments. The books of Joshua and Judges make this point in a particularly powerful way.

What About Honour?

Brett and Kate McKay have concluded a series of posts on the concept and practice of honour in Western civilization, from the Greeks until present day. It’s quite lengthy, and unless you have a whole afternoon or morning to spend, you probably won’t be able to read it in one sitting. But I think it’s worth giving the time, even if spread out.

Manly Honor: Part I — What Is Honor?
Manly Honor: Part II — The Decline of Traditonal Honor in the West, Ancient Greece to the Romantic Period
Manly Honor: Part III — The Victorian Era and the Development of the Stoic-Christian Code of Honor
Manly Honor: Part IV — The Gentlemen and the Roughs: The Collision of Two Honor Codes in the American North
Manly Honor: Part V — Honor in the American South
Manly Honor: Part VI — The Decline of Traditional Honor in the West in the 20th Century
Manly Honor: Part VII — How and Why to Revive Manly Honor in the Twenty-First Century

They begin with honour in the Greeks, noting that even that far back there were two versions of honour: an external performance-based idea, and an internal conscience-based one. These two views have co-existed and worked out in different ways through history. In their last post, they suggest that some social honour code, with correlative social shaming, is highly valuable, and suggest some ways individuals could try to restore this practice, which has largely been abandoned.

At the same time, they don’t present a totally rosy picture of honour. They note throughout their series that there were good and bad sides to the practice of honour, and I would agree with them on that point as well. If as individuals, as the church, or as a culture, we want to restore respect for honour, we need try to preserve the good in the idea without allowing the negatives to return. This may not be easy, but the arguments McKay makes in his last post are convincing enough to me that I think it is worth trying.

It’s also noteworthy that scripture assumes some recognition of honour and shame is right:

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)

“You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:32)

“He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honor.
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and on them he has set the world.” (1 Samuel 2:8)

“Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.” (1 Chronicles 29:12)

“Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:5)

“Honor the Lord with your wealth
and with the firstfruits of all your produce;” (Proverbs 3:9)

“Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty,
but humility comes before honor.” (Proverbs 18:12)

“It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife,
but every fool will be quarreling.” (Proverbs 20:3)

“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21)

“to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;” (Romans 2:7)

“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10)

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;” (1 Corinthians 1:27)

“I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers,” (1 Corinthians 6:5)

“Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.” (1 Corinthians 15:34)

“He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:15)

“and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.” (Titus 2:8)

“wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.” (Jude 1:13)

The Nature Of OT Laws

I just today found some thought provoking work done by my friend Brad Littlejohn a couple years back on the nature of some OT case laws. More specifically, he is, in various ways, fielding arguments from the perspective of Reconstructionists and theonomists (though also to some degree from people outside those camps, such as Christopher Wright and Umberto Cassuto) which suggest that many laws, especially several of an economic nature, were not enforced in Israel. They were considered as moral exhortations without legal force. Littlejohn argues ultimately that this is an anachronistic imposition of modern liberal legal perspectives onto the Torah.

Three posts on the subject: 1, 2, 3.

And his main essay: The Heart of Torah: Understanding Law, Justice, and Mercy in the Old Testament. [Since the direct link didn’t seem to work, to find the essay, go here and scroll to the very bottom of the page: Writings]

Monergism, Kingdom Through Covenant, and Consistency

I have been a fan of since it first appeared on the internet, and have found it to be a tremendous resource for Reformed theology. I am extremely thankful for the work that John Hendryx has done for Christ’s kingdom through this website, and I am sure that many, many Reformed Christians are too.

That said, I am perplexed by an email that a friend sent to me this morning that he received from Monergism Books, where it was explained that their book distribution wing will not be selling the recent publication Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical Theological Understanding of the Covenants by Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum. The reason for this is that the book espouses “New Covenant Theology,” is in “serious theological error,” and is not Reformed.

Gentry and Wellum, both Calvinistic Baptists, teach at Southern Seminary. They are also Canadians from the Toronto area and teach at my alma mater, Toronto Baptist Seminary. I have had both as professors and can personally attest to the quality of their scholarship, their excellent teaching methods, their godliness–and indeed, their Reformed theology. But this is not the point of this blog post.

Rather, I would like to call John Hendryx and Monergism to consistency. Of course, they are free to distribute whatever literature they choose, and if they believe that Kingdom Through Covenant is not up to their standards of orthodoxy, so be it. But to boycott this book yet leave other like books and links on their site is an error that needs to be remedied. If NCT is indeed “significantly erroneous,” (the email never explains why) then it would behoove Hendryx and Monergism to remove any semblance of this error from their distribution.

They may want to start with Don Carson’s work (books, links). For those who know anything of the debate over NCT, Carson is a key exegetical course for this position. Especially his view of the law understood in Matthew that is expressed in a number of his books. After they remove Carson’s work from their distribution and website, Monergism needs to then turn to John Piper, who also holds to a view akin to NCT. His books and links are everywhere on Monergism’s sites. The list of such theologians tainted with NCT—who must be erroneous according to Monergism’s standards—is long and includes John MacArthur (a dispensationalist); Fred Zaspel; the New Studies in Biblical Studies series edited by Carson that includes Dominion and Dynasty by Stephen Dempster, whose ideas form a large part of the Gentry/Wellum argument; Tom Schreiner (books), who holds a similar view to Gentry/Wellum, especially his Pauline theology and NT theology and commentaries; Douglas Moo (books) who, along with Carson, is another key source for NCT; and ironically works by Stephen Wellum (links) and Peter Gentry (links) themselves.

It may be argued that while Monergism carries these authors, they do not carry books directly dealing with the subject of NCT—which, if you check the links above, you’ll see isn’t the case—this argument isn’t helpful. The folk at Monergism would surely believe that theology is interconnected, and that anyone who advocates NCT (or some form relating to it) will have their overall theology impacted by it. A NCT ethic colours their understanding of the kingdom—and Monergism has links to Wellum on the kingdom and even one by Gentry called “Kingdom Through Covenant“! Wouldn’t Schreiner’s commentary on Romans or Galatians have anything to say about the law? Thus, any article they link to or book they sell by someone like Carson will necessarily be tainted by some reading of NCT–thus, Monergism is by implication disseminating erroneous, “unbiblical” theology.

I write this from a Reformed Baptist perspective; meaning I hold to the ongoing validity of the moral law and the Sabbath. I also use traditional covenant theology, albeit from a Baptist perspective (expressed by the 1689 Confession), in my understanding of redemptive history; the one caveat is that I prefer John Murray’s “Adamic administration” instead of covenant of works. I also write as one who serves in a church with a pastor who is openly NCT, and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. John is one of my best friends, and we’ll debate long into the night over the Sabbath, or covenant of grace, but I gladly sit under his preaching and teaching. I definitely do not consider him dangerous! I should also add that Peter Gentry’s course on the Old Testament at TBS actually served to confirm for me a number of points about covenant theology, in particular the covenant with Adam.

So, if Monergism is to be consistent, which they must be to be faithful to their aims of adhering to some narrow brand of Reformed theology, then they must deplete a significant part of their inventory. As we should all be aware, boycotts serve two purposes: They put those performing the boycott in a bad light; and they inevitably make the boycotted book or film more popular. While I do not wish the former on Monergism; I most definitely wish the latter on Kingdom Through Covenant.

***UPDATE*** You can read the email sent out by Monergism here.

Smith, Enns, Adam, and Paul

James K. A. Smith is professor of philosophy at Calvin College, and offers an excellent review of Peter Enns’ recent book The Evolution of Adam. Smith is also a senior fellow at The Colossian Forum, and the review appears on their website. There is so much good in what he writes that I am tempted to re-post the whole thing here. Instead I’ll leave you with its basic structure and a quote in the hopes that you’ll actually take the time to read the whole thing.

Before I do, I just want to make an unrelated observation. Smith references Robert Caro’s stunning biography of Lyndon B. Johnson, saying that Enns is right to say that the biblical writing is not a journalistic account of events, like said book by Caro. How cool would it be for an historian like Caro to have such cultural ubiquity attached to your work? Would he have ever have thought that a massive, multi-volume biography of an American President would become so cool? That’s the historian in me longing for something I’ll never have…but I digress.

Here’s the structure:

First, Smith deals with questions of authorship and the relationship between Genesis, Paul’s interpretation of it, and the divine Author. Second, he deals with the canonical role that Genesis plays in the church’s scripture—whose Genesis is it anyway? Third, Smith briefly tackles the age-old problem of the relationship between theology and history. He concludes by looking at what’s at stake in Enns’ approach to Scripture in terms of method, and more specifically human origins.

Here’s a quote that I found relevant to some of my own ways of thinking:

This sort of a-canonical approach also explains why Enns sees such a strange relationship between Genesis and the apostle Paul as a reader of Genesis.  “Paul’s reading of Genesis,” he comments, “is driven by factors external to Genesis.  Paul’s use of the Old Testament, here or elsewhere, does not determine how that passage functions in its original setting” (87, emphasis added).  Well, that might be true; and Enns is exactly right to offer a corrective to irresponsibile habits of Bible reading that are little more than baptized eisegesis, reading into the Scriptures what we want to find there.  But is the “original meaning” the determinative factor for the meaning of Genesis for us?  We receive a canon of Scripture that recontextualizes each book—situating every book in relation to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, which is why the “location” from which we read the Bible needs to be the practices of Christian worship.  Worship is the primary “home” of the Bible and it is in worship that we cultivate those habits and virtues we need to read Scripture holistically. That will certainly generate meanings of Old Testament books that could never have been intended by their human authors; but that doesn’t mean they were not intended as meanings to be unfolded “in front of the text” by the divine Author.

***UPDATE*** I see from Justin Taylor’s blog that Jack Collins also has a review of this. I haven’t read it yet, but thought I’d link it as Collins is typically a fair, balanced, and informative scholar; especially on the historicity of Adam (see his book on the subject). Here’s the review.

***ANOTHER UPDATE*** Bill Kinnon tipped me off in the comments section to a review of Smith’s review by J. Daniel Kirk. Smith interacts with Kirk in the comments section, and Wheaton’s Alan Jacobs also shares come critique of Kirk. Check it out here.

The Ethics of Obscene Speech in Early Christianity

Jeremy F. Hultin’s The Ethics of Obscene Speech in Early Christianity and Its Environment is definitely worthy of the adjective “interesting”, if nothing else. Rather than write a review proper, I want to point out a few noteworthy facts he brings to light, and engage a little bit with his interpretation of Ephesians and Colossians.

Some notes:

1. He notes that the Old Testament itself is basically silent on the ethics of obscene speech. This is not to say that it approved of it, but just that it makes no explicit comment about it. (113-4; 121)

2. At the same time, the OT on the whole is euphemistic. (114) If nothing else, this reflects that the Bible writers would, on the whole, think that obscene language was, well, obscene, and should be avoided.

3. But in addition, Hultin notes that the Talmud in several cases said that certain biblical words should be substituted with more polite terms. (115) In a parallel way, rabbinic literature in some cases suggested replacing statements that were inauspicious: so curses of Israel would be read instead as curses of the enemies of Israel. (116)

4. In keeping with this general sentiment, rabbinic literature often used euphemistic terms. (117)

5. There are, however, exceptions made. Some rabbis said that foul language could be employed towards idols (b. Megillah 25b; 117-118). Some rabbis also suggested that nasty expressions could be used against idolaters and persons of ill fame. (118) (more…)

John Calvin On Natural Law

Among many other important points, Stephen J. Grabill, in his well-needed book, Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics, makes clear Calvin’s support of the existence and knowability of natural law. One such text is from the Reformer’s commentary on that great Psalm ode to the law, Psalm 119:

[Psalm 119:]52.I called to mind thy judgments of old, O Jehovah! In this psalm, the judgments of God are generally taken for his statutes and decrees, that is, his righteousness. … In this place, in consequence of the qualifying phrase, of old, it is more probable that they refer to the examples by which God has made himself known as the righteous Judge of the world. Why does he say that the law of God has been from everlasting? This may to some extent be accounted for from the righteousness here mentioned not being of recent growth, but truly everlasting, because the written law is just an attestation of the law of nature, through means of which God recalls to our memory that which he has previously engraved on our hearts.  [Grabill, 73]

The last phrase, of course, alludes to Romans 2:15 as it has been commonly interpreted, as a reference to the knowledge of right and wrong that God has provided to all people.

This element of Calvin’s teaching is very relevant for the current church, at least in my opinion. It shows that one of the biggest sources of the Reformed tradition was in continuity with the natural law tradition, and that Karl Barth and the Barthians have radically departed from the Reformed tradition on this matter. It also, hopefully, will make it easier for many who have great love for the Reformer to begin to appreciate the expansive and foundational natural law tradition, with its careful analysis of the human person and all the variegated moral situations he can find himself in. Perhaps, through that, the Reformed church might once again be able to reclaim their part in that ongoing project, a project which has untold riches of wisdom on many important contemporary issues, if only we would look.

The Puritan Consensus

There are a number of posts from my old blog, RearViewMirror, that I would like to keep in circulation, so I will repost them here. This is the second in a series I did on the Reformed history of interpreting Genesis 1. It’s quite an eye-opening series.

Earlier I posted some quotes by the Victorian Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon about the age of the earth and related issues. I noted some surprise when I first read the quotes and asked a question about how it could be that Spurgeon, one well-versed in the Puritan and Reformed tradition, and one living in the midst of great scientific strides, would advocate for things like an old earth, animal death before the Fall, and a large amount of time between creation and Adam. It’s likely a safe assumption that most people would assume Spurgeon, a staunch defender against liberalism, to be a young earth creationist; I know that was my assumption.

So what are the reasons behind why he would hold the view he does? What sources did he read, theological or scientific, that led to the conclusions he drew? It could be that he held to the “Ruin-Reconstruction Theory” of creation, a view made popular by the Reformed theologian Thomas Chalmers. This view states that there is a gap of millions of years between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 that allowed for things like dinosaurs. While out of vogue today, it was something more common in Spurgeon’s. Ultimately, at least from the two quotes I posted, we can’t be sure. Another view at that time was the “Day Age” view, one that another noteworthy Reformed theologian, Charles Hodge, held. Was Spurgeon reading Chalmers or Hodge? There’s a good chance he was, but I haven’t done the research to find out. That’s not the point of this post. Rather, I want to answer the question, “Did Spurgeon break with his theological tradition by espousing these views?”

It is well-known that as a young boy Spurgeon stumbled upon his preacher-grandfather’s book collection in a shuttered attic. At an early age he devoured the works of the sixteenth-century Reformers, the seventeenth-century Puritans, and eighteenth-century Evangelicals. He was reading Calvin, Bunyan, Henry, Whitefield. Likely Spurgeon had a photographic memory, and read voluminously. There can be no doubt that he imbibed the best theology the Puritan and Reformed tradition had to offer. As a Baptist, he demonstrated his Calvinistic stripes by publishing an edition of the Second London Confession of Faith (1689). His wife, Susanna, was responsible for distributing Reformed literature to pastors as she lived a life mainly as a shut-in. Wouldn’t one think that for a man was firmly entrenched in this older, orthodox literature, that he would have felt behooved to adopt another, more conservative view on creation?

The answer to this question requires a foray into times past to first of all see what the Puritan and Reformed tradition said about creation and the ensuing doctrines. A helpful resource is a recent essay by Robert Letham in the Westminster Theological Journal [69 (1999):149-174] called “‘In the Space of Six Days’: The Days of Creation from Origen to the Westminster Assembly.” Letham is a well-known Reformed theologian who currently teaches at the Wales Evangelical School of Theology, and is the author of a number of important books, in particular The Work of Christ is a personal favourite. In his article Letham surveys major thinkers in church history from the patristic period, beginning with Origen of Alexandria, and concluding with the period just before the Westminster Assembly in the mid-seventeenth century. Some church fathers, like Basil of Caesarea, held to what we call the “6/24 hour” view, while others like Augustine posited an “instantaneous creation”; Augustine also argued for what may be called a “literary” reading of Genesis 1. In the Middle Ages, Augustine’s view dominated and thus it is seen in the writings of Robert Grossteste and Thomas Aquinas. During the Reformation, Letham notes that not one Reformed confession (i.e. French Confession, Scots Confession, Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, the Thirty-Nine Articles, etc.) has a statement about the creation days. Letham’s conclusion as to why the silence: “It was not a matter of definition since it was not a matter of controversy or even a point for discussion, despite the varying views in exegetical history” (p. 170). Great Reformed theologians like John Calvin and Heinrich Bullinger don’t mention the creation days in particular—which Letham thinks is telling—and Calvin seems primarily concerned with refuting the Augustinian “instantaneous creation” view in his commentary on Genesis, though there is some indication that he may take the 6/24 hour view on the days. While that may be the case, Letham points out that Calvin saw the language of Moses in Genesis 1 as “accommodated,” so that the reader might be able to understand. Peter Martyr Vermigli, another important Reformed theologian, read the opening of Genesis with hints of allegory, and did not mention the six days of creation. All of this, it is significant to remember, during the period noteworthy for the science of Copernicus and Galileo.

The first Reformed confession to actually speak of the days of creation and such things is James Ussher’s Irish Articles (1615); Ussher is of course notorious for dating the creation at 4004 BC. As for the Puritans, like the Reformers before them, there was no consensus on the creation days. Richard Greenham doesn’t mention them, and William Perkins gives them scant attention. While the latter takes the days chronologically, he says that the first three days are not “solar days” because of the lack of sun. William Ames is important for understanding the view of the Westminster Divines, because he, like Calvin, is concerned to refute the Augustinian reading of creation as instantaneous. He does so with the language of “in the space of six days,” that was picked up by the Assembly. Ames likely did not believe that the days were solar days.

That takes us up to the time of the Westminster Assembly, but what of the Westminster Divines themselves? Letham gives a short space to the question and says: “The single most astonishing and noteworthy feature of English Puritan theology before 1647, and the Westminster divines in particular, is the virtually complete absence of interest in creation” (p. 173). Yet this was the time of the founding of the Royal Society, that was largely made up of Protestants, and it was a time of great scientific advance. Letham says that in his research he hadn’t found a single Puritan work on creation up until the time of 1647. Letham further adds: “One obvious conclusion is that the days of creation were not a matter of contention, although divergent views existed” (p. 173).

William S. Barker, now Emeritus Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA), and a published expert on the Puritans, continued Letham’s project by examining the writings of the Westminster Divines on creation in more detail. He did so in an essay called “The Westminster Assembly on the Days of Creation” Westminster Theological Journal 62.1 (Spring 2000): 113-120 (the link requires a subscription, but I have a PDF if anyone wants it. Or, for the sum of the argument, see this statement by Westminster’s faculty here). Barker is concerned to show that the Westminster Confession of Faith’s language of “in the space of six days” not be construed to mean that only a 6/24 hour view of Scripture is confessionally sound (the PCA creation report as well as the OPC’s agree with him). Rather, following Calvin and Ames, the language directly refutes the Augustinian view of instantaneous creation. This view was taught at this time by the Anglican physician Sir Thomas Browne in 1643, the year when the Assembly first began to meet. The language of “in the space of” doesn’t describe what a day was at the time of creation—some held it to be longer than twenty-four hours like John Lightfoot—but rather that it took longer than an instant for God to create. Barker notes that some Divines merely spoke of “six days” but did not get into the nature of what those days were, namely, Stephen Marshall, John Wallis, Thomas Vincent, and John Ball, who don’t go beyond that statement.

When turning back to Spurgeon, who bled Puritan theology as much as he did “bibline,” it is not at all inconsistent for him to argue for long ages or a gap theory, and still rightfully claim a Reformed heritage. The Second London Confession that Spurgeon reprinted uses the same language as the WCF about “in the space of six days,” and so the argument that the WCF was written to refute Augustinian instantaneous creation is just as applicable. Just like a minister in a Presbyterian church wouldn’t have to make an exception at this point in his confessional commitments, neither would Spurgeon. Nor was Spurgeon out of step with the Reformed theology of his own day. As historian R. Scott Clark, who teaches at Westminster California, says in his recent book Recovering the Reformed Confession: “From the middle of the nineteenth century through the middle of the twentieth century, virtually none of the leading Reformed theologians held or taught that Scripture teaches that God created the world in six twenty-four-hour periods” (p. 49).

This may not answer the question of source material, which is something I’d really like to get into with Spurgeon, it does answer the question that he stands firmly in line with the Puritan and Reformed tradition—because there was no consensus on creation in this tradition, and to hold a different view on creation is not to break with it.