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Evangelical Literalism: A Day is a Day Except When It Isn’t

bible literalism

All young-earth creationists are literalists, that is except when they aren’t. Let me illustrate this for you.

Six times in Genesis 1 the Bible says the evening and morning were the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth day. Young-earth creationists are emphatic that these days were literal 24-hour days.

In Genesis 2:1, the Bible states that on the seventh day God ended his creative work. According to other verses in the Bible, God rested on the seventh day. So God only rested one literal 24-hour day? I don’t know of any young-earth creationist who believes this.

God gave Adam the following command in Genesis 2:15-17:

And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it, And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

Did Adam eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Did Eve? Of course they did. Did they die on the very day they ate the proverbial apple? Nope. According to Genesis 5:5:

. . . and all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died.

Do you see the point I am making? Young earth creationists are literalists until it contradicts their interpretation of the Bible, then all of a sudden Adam dying on the day he sinned is meant to be taken metaphorically, or the word “day” really means a period of time.

I will repeat what I have said countless times: no one, not even Ken Ham, takes every verse in the Bible literally. Whenever it suits them, or whenever it will bolster their arguments, Evangelicals are quite willing to abandon literalism.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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    While I now recognize the interpretation as a Pauline retcon of the story, as an evangelical (and young earth creationist for a time) I argued that God spoke truthfully – that Adam & Eve really did die that day.

    But I took that punishment to mean a spiritual death that only later on resulted in physical death. In that day, they and all of their future offspring became dead in trespasses and sins. (Eph 2:1). Obviously that idea would have been alien to ancient Jews who heard the story.

    I’m assuming you would have argued along similar lines in your days as a Christian preacher.

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    I was just at the Creation Museum and Ark (My in-laws bought tickets for the family, my wife and I felt bad saying no), and the Bible literalism was so frustrating to me. I really don’t understand how people can buy it, especially as Ken Ham’s team just constantly hand-waved away actual science, and would focus purely on outliers in science to prove that the Bible is right.

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      All writing is, by its very nature, nothing more than interpretation. How many times have we read words such as “the sunset was so stunningly beautiful that it cannot be put into words”. Yet it just was, using evocative language that causes the reader to create their own version of what is being described, inevitably different to that of the writer. Think of books you have read that have been dramatised into films. I used to be an avid reader as a child. I’d be so excited when one of the books I’d read was turned into a film or television series (The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Borrowers, Swallows and Amazons, and more), only to be disappointed because the result in no way matched the narrative, or the places, or the characters, or even the tone I’d formed in my mind.

      Okay, so I’m describing fiction, but the same constraints apply very much to matters that might be seen as non fiction. Think about how momentous world events that surely must always be right can alter with the passage of time. The Nuremberg Trials held after WW11 were initially dismissed as being justice of the victor, yet now are seen as one of the greatest examples of the application of legal justice the world has ever seen. Look at the esteem in which the Founding Fathers have been held since the Declaration of Independence, yet now we see this tempered by an understanding of their considerable shortcomings, especially as regards racism. Look at the most carefully drafted laws and see how they have to be interpreted according to circumstances and to time. Look at the horrible, awful, wording of the Second Amendment that makes no sense to anybody, so can be used to justify any position on gun ownership. Then imagine scholars of three thousand years ago, thinking they were inspired by the holy spirit (and actually I do think they were inspired, just not by God), trying to make sense of a world which, to them, made no sense. They scribbled a narrative as they tried to explain how a god might create the world and mankind, not realising the contradictions even in their own versions of the story, but very much reflecting the superstitious nature of the times and their belief at how gods interacted with the world. It’s extremely sad that anybody anywhere can still really believe that this mythology and cultural backdrop is literally true. It was never considered true even by the writers.

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        Not sure why this shows as a reply to Chris. It’s intended as a stand alone comment, but editing seems no longer available.

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    My former denomination (SDA) used to teach (may still?) that the Bible was revealed to us through progressive revelation. That is, that as history marched on, God revealed more and more which is why the New Testament has more love and less law (yes, yes, I’m being simplistic). It’s just another way of misrepresenting what the Bible is, a collection of works from various people who had wildly differing beliefs.

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    I remember being told a couple of things about Adam and Eve dying on the day they ate/disobeyed. One was that yes, their perfection died and they were on a decay process that would end in physical death. The second was that Adam and Eve were spiritually dead and needed salvation to restore their perfect nature spiritually. It’s all semantics with evangelicalism….

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    I have trouble understanding how the universe was created in six literal days when the sun, according to Genesis, wasn’t made until day four. When I mentioned stuff like that in school the usual reply was the Bible is without error, so stop thinking kid!

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    I will repeat what I have said countless times: no one, not even Ken Ham, takes every verse in the Bible literally. Whenever it suits them, or whenever it will bolster their arguments, Evangelicals are quite willing to abandon literalism.

    You can question Evangelicals about a point of logic once, or maybe twice. But ask again and they’ll drop you like a sack of dirt. To paraphrase Obi-wan Kenobi, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than the Evangelical church.”

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