Why the Framework View of Genesis 1?

Here is a brief synopsis of why I think the Framework interpretation of Genesis 1 is superior to other varieties of old-earth creationism which read the days as temporally sequential:

1) Seeing the days as sequential leads to numerous textual difficulties. First, you have the age-old problem of the appearance of light in day 1 prior to the creation of the luminaries in day four, which is what led Augustine to posit his famous doctrine of instantaneous creation. In my opinion, attempts to relieve this difficulty by finding significance in the usage of haya rather than bara in 1:14 pay too much attention to the lexical evidence, and too little to the contextual, where meaning is always solidified and made definite. Throughout Genesis 1, “let there be …” in divine speech refers to God’s creative activity, not some sort of refashioning process. If the light came from God himself, as others respond, did God turn this light off “at night?” Did it also contain nutrients causing plants to grow through photosynthesis? Did God also supernaturally suspend gravitational forces so that the universe would not implode without stars, and then suddenly switch these forces back on during day 4? And why are days 1-3 called “days” at all, since it is the revolution of the earth around the (not yet created) sun which marks our 24 hour days in the first place?

In addition, if the days are sequential, how is it that after the seventh day the text can say that “no small plant in the land had yet sprung up” (2:5)? Some people view dischronologization as a terrible problem, but everyone must grant some dischronologization from chapter 1 to chapter 2. And finally, if the sun was not created until day four, was the earth simply suspended without orbit in outer space prior to day four, and then suddenly catapulted into orbit at the creation of the sun? The issue in all these things is not whether God could have supernaturally smoothed over all these points of awkwardness. Of course He could have. The issue is whether the text invites us to read it as though He did. Its not a question of supernaturalism or divine omnipotence but asking, “what did the author intend his original audience to understand from this text?

2) A sequential reading of the days, even when they represent long ages of time, does not square with modern geological and fossil evidence. For example, most scientists believe that reptiles preceded birds, and fish preceded seed-bearing plants. The days in Genesis 1 have birds (day 5) before reptiles (day 6) and plants (day 3) before fish (day 5). These kinds of problems could be multiplied.

3) People who push sequentiality often (though, to be fair, people from all sides do this) seem to me to be coming to the text with certain questions already in mind rather than approaching the text on its own terms. Our starting questions should not be, “what does Genesis 1 say about the age of the universe?” but rather, “what did the author intend to communicate in this text to his original audience (first or second generation Israelites about to enter the promised land)?” “What is the text’s genre, and how does that shape interpretation?” “What is the text’s theological purpose?” “How does it fit into its larger literary context, as part of Genesis, and then the Pentateuch, and then all of Scripture?” And so on.

Though very far from being irrelevant to questions of science, I think Genesis 1:1-2:3 is far more concerned with questions about post-Exodus, pre-Canaan Israel and her covenantal relationship with the Lord. The word “covenant” must be constantly kept only a short distance away to read Genesis 1 well. The main point is: “you know the One who just led you out of Egypt and gave you His law? He is no tribal deity! He is the Creator God of the whole world.” When the text is read on its own terms, within its own matrix of thought and in light of its own purposes, the sequential reading (especiallly the 24-hour day version) becomes much less obviously the “plain reading” of the text, and, in my opinion, a much more difficult, wooden way to read the text.

For these reasons and a few others, I see the “days” as ordered not sequentially, but topically, as part of a literary device (i.e., framework) which is devised to compare God’s creative work to a human work week. This reading does not mean that Genesis 1 is not “true” or “historical” or even “literal” (depending on how define that term), any more than believing in heliocentrism means you deny the truthfulness/historicity of Psalm 104:5: “He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved.” Rather, this reading seeks to honor the text by reading it as it was meant to be read. Whether it is right or wrong, it should not be dismissed as unhistorical or heretical.

Good resources for further reading on the framework view:

Henri Blocher, In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis (IVP, 1984).
Lee Irons with Meredith Kline, “The Framework View,” in The Genesis Debate, ed. by David G. Hagopian (Crux Press, 2001).

10 Comments

  1. Good work, Gavin! I read The Genesis Debate for a seminary class and was highly disappointed with the 6-day view and the day-age view. Neither presented their case with much force and both seemed to resort to name-calling which was a profound waste of time. Interestingly, my Hebrew professor, Dr. Miles Van Pelt, is squarely in the framework camp, and it seems that many biblical Hebrew professors are. However, there are some good questions that the framework guys have to answer too. Why would Moses, inspired by the Spirit, choose to present this massively important historical event in such a complex way with no clear indication that he is doing so? Does Moses employ this framework device anywhere else in all of his historical writings? Do we see this technique used anywhere else in ancient literature contemporary of Moses? Is there enough in the text itself to justify the position that Genesis 1 and 2 are of a distinct literary style than the rest of Genesis? I am sure that there are more questions that others have asked challenging the Framework View. I am left undecided on it because it seems unlikely that Moses would have used it, but the other options don't seem so great either. I used to be closer to day-age, but I think that Ken Ham (with many others)is right in pointing out that, from a biblical perspective, death could not have occurred before God killed an animal to provide Adam and Eve with covering. I agree with your critique of the 6-day view, but it still seems the simplest reading to me, even in the Hebrew. But then, I am no Hebrew scholar and perhaps it was meant to be read in the framework context. Thanks for your always thoughtful and thought-provoking posts! LYMI, brother!!!

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  2. Thanks for this post. Gavin, we should get together for coffee to talk more about this. I'd like to get a better understanding of all this!In Christ,Noah

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  3. Noah B, I just emailed you! Noah D, you ask some great questions. I hope that I have not given an overly complex or technical impression of the framework view. I actually its a relatively simple way to approach the text. And the word "framework" is not a technical term which the author would have understood – just a generic word intending to communicate that he is using a literary device, just as Scripture frequently uses literary devices (e.g., the cosmic upheaval in Psalm 18:7-16, or Deborah's poetic re-telling of her feats in Judges 5). I am not sure I can answer all your questions, but I will definitely think about them. I should also add that my main beef is not with young earth creationism per se, but when people advocate it as THE ONE TRUE Christian position on the subject. I think this is very damaging to evangelism and apologetics, to begin with.

    I appreciate your open-mindedness in thinking all this through with me! You are a good friend.

    GRO

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  4. Well, this is the sort of drivel I've come to expect from you, Gav! Just kidding, this is a superb post. Two quick thoughts: reading Gen 1-2 sequentially gives you an unavoidable contradiction between who was created first, man or animals (the order is opposite in Gen 1 and 2) – and, second, the Bible and ANE literature is quite more comfortable with presenting things out of chronological order for the sake of thematic reasons – Gen 10-11, 26-27, Isa 36-39, 1 Kings 20-22, etc., etc. Well done!

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  5. G-Dog, I am with you on THE ONE TRUE Christian view issue. At the same time, some things that seem trivial end up having enormous consequences for understanding the rest of Scripture, and we need to be and make people aware of such implications. I'm not sure how much of that applies here. As far as literary devices in the Bible, certainly there are many. I wonder if there is solid textual evidence that the framework view is the one Moses was using to recount the history of creation. I don't find it compelling to compare Genesis 1 and 2 with the poetry of Psalms or Judges, unless there is evidence that Moses was being a bit poetic. It may be there. Miles Van Pelt is convinced it is. As far as the unavoidable contradiction in Genesis 1 and 2 is concerned, I am not convinced. The Hebrew verb tense is known by context, and it seems to make sense to me to translate it like the ESV did as, "Now out of the ground the LORD God had made the animals…" This removes any contradiction and, in my opinion, is equally valid in the context. Some might argue that it is forced, but there are many spots in Genesis where the context requires that particular verb tense translation to avoid contextual contradiction. It is noteworthy that Jesus quotes from both chapters 1 and 2, which I think probably removes the notion of an uninspired interpolation later. I am not opposed to the framework view. Moses may have been presenting the history of creation thematically like he reported other historical events elsewhere, as well noted by Eric. I just want some more answers.

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  6. Noah, I'm with you on the importance of context for verb tenses, and on the ESV rendering of 2:19. What makes me think strict chronology is impossible from Genesis 1 to 2 is (1) the double account of the creation of Adam and Eve, and (2) Genesis 2:5.

    Its true that Genesis 1-2 is not poetry (though I think chapter 1 is not exactly prose either). But dischronology is all throughout Scripture, poetry and prose. As an example, consider that Matthew and Luke list the 2nd and 3rd temptations of Jesus in different order. I want to be comfortable with this if Scripture is comfortable with it, though I certainly respect your caution.

    Have you read David Snoke's A Biblical Case for an Old Earth? He doesn't hold the framework view, but he does address the issue of animal suffering well, something you mentioned above.

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  7. Interesting. As a lifelong young-earther who converted to an old-earth view under two years ago, I am still very much trying to piece things together. I would say, I think you make too much of the stars being mentioned during the Day 4 stanza. It seems quite reasonable to me that this refers to God’s making them visible on earth, as the atmosphere cleared up. Otherwise, it is equally easy to read this as a parenthetical declarative about something God had done earlier (as in, “He had also made the stars”). I have to assume that you have read Hugh Ross’s book, Navigating Genesis, to get his defense of a day-age reading (he addresses the sequence of plants and animals, etc., from scientific and linguistic angles). If not, it’s worth a look-see, at least so you can interact with his arguments. However, the framework view may have merit.

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