Arguments for the framework view of Genesis – part 2

Summary: The nature of the language in Genesis 1 tells strongly against the view that it is a straightforward historical account. Quite simply, a straightforward historical account would not be written as Genesis 1 is written. The style and genre are not that of historical prose.

4. “Because it had not rained…”

EuphratesNext, the figurative nature of the creation week is implied in the reason given in Genesis 2:5 for why vegetation hadn’t appeared in the land: “before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown. For the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to till the ground.”

Probably this is not describing the entire planet, but specifically the land where Adam was about to be created – that is, the land marked by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Just prior to Adam’s formation, the text tells us that there were no plants or herbs in this land. But why are they absent? Not “because God hadn’t created them yet.” Rather “because it had not rained.” In other words, the reason given for the barrenness of the land is a natural reason: the absence of rain.

This implies that a natural cycle of dry and rainy seasons, and growth of vegetation consequent on the rain, was already established. When it rained, the dry earth would be naturally irrigated, and the vegetation would naturally grow. The vegetation was already lying dormant in the dry earth, but it needed the annual rain-cycle to trigger its appearance.

A second natural reason is given for the absence of vegetation: “there was no man to till the ground”. A man could have caused the vegetation to grow in the dry season by tilling the ground: watering it with human irrigation methods. But there was as yet no man in the land, so (once again) the vegetation didn’t grow in the dry season.

The point is made, then, that we are beyond the time when God originally created the vegetation. The reason for its non-appearance is not because it hasn’t been created yet, but because it hasn’t rained – we’re in the dry season – and (in the absence of rain) there’s no human irrigation of the dry soil owing to there being no man in the land.

Thus “no vegetation in the land because it had not rained” implies that the creation of vegetation happened a good while previously, and that we are now in the dry season waiting for the natural rain-cycle to make the soil green again. So then, all of this paints a picture of natural cycles of rain and growth having been fully established. This extends the time-span well beyond the three 24-hour days envisaged by the “literal” interpretation of the creation week (vegetation created on day 3, man on day 6). The creation “week” of Genesis 1, therefore, is once again best understood in a figurative sense.

5. “Now at last…”

Finally, the figurative nature of the Genesis week is indicated by Adam’s exclamation at the creation of Eve: “Now at last this is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh…” (Genesis 2:23).

The description of Adam’s life in Genesis 2 after his creation but before Eve’s creation seems to indicate a longer period than the daylight hours of a single day. Adam is created; he is placed in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it; he names all the animals, and concludes that there is no suitable companion among them; God’s verdict about it not being good for the man to be alone registers in Adam’s experience; God puts Adam to sleep and creates Eve from his side; when Adam recovers, he exclaims on seeing Eve, “Now at last, this is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” The phrase “now at last” (which is the best translation of the Hebrew) would indicate quite a long wait on Adam’s part.

The picture of the daylight experiences and activities of Adam in Genesis 2, then, points to a considerably longer period than a single working day. If it was all compressed into the daytime hours of one day, it raises serious questions of credibility.

(a) Modern animal population specialists estimate that there are roughly 9,500 bird species and 4,500 mammal species in existence today. Fossils indicate that bird and mammal species have suffered a high extinction rate since the dawn of humanity. There were very many more of them around in Adam’s time than now. Could he reasonably have examined and named them all in a few hours, without our having to speculate that he had supernatural powers of phenomenal speed (about which the text says nothing)?

god feeding animalsEven if Adam named only a portion of the birds and mammals, those that lived specifically in the Garden, the text still gives the impression of a very large number: “every beast of the field and every bird of the air… And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field” (Genesis 2:19-20). The language doesn’t suggest only a few species, but a considerable abundance. And so again, could Adam have examined and named such a large number in a few hours, without our having to impose on the text speculations that he had supernatural powers of speed ?

(b) What does Adam’s exclamation of “now at last” mean concerning Eve, if he had only felt his solitude for a few hours?

It seems reasonable to hold that the experiences and actions narrated in Genesis 2 lasted longer than the daylight hours of a single 24-hour day. If so, then the calendar-time or clock-time depicted in creation “day” six of Genesis 1 – describing the creation of both man and woman, Adam and Eve – was longer than 24 hours. The creation “week”, consequently, is once again best understood figuratively.

How does the Framework view relate to the 4th Commandment?

A Reformed Framework view of this question would be that the literal human week receives its divine sanction in the “revealed week” of Genesis 1. Just as God has revealed His creative activities in Genesis 1 in the framework of a week (six creative days plus a period of rest), so on the basis of that revelation He has conferred authoritative status and structure on the human week in the life of His people. Our natural week derives its ultimate legitimacy from God’s revealed week. Thus the “framework” of divine revelation in Genesis 1 has (in effect) created the shape and structure of literal human time for God’s covenant people.

There is no need to demand an absolute one-to-one correspondence in “real time” between the human week (seven 24-hour days) and the period of time described in Genesis 1. Such a demand would make nonsense of God’s seventh day, which is not a literal 24-hour day, but has no end. The divine sabbath does not sustain a one-to-one correspondence in “real time” with our human sabbath (unless we work for six days and then retire for the rest of our lives!).

Hence there are textual reasons for not demanding that the human week be a precise replication of an alleged divine week of seven real-time 24 hour days. All that needs to be replicated in the human week is the divine pattern described in Genesis of six working periods followed by a period of rest. This pattern of 6 + 1 is what the human week echoes and reflects.

Reapers, Noonday Rest 1865 by John Linnell 1792-1882

About James Penman

James is from an Anglican background; more broadly, he considers himself part of the Reformed tradition. He has a special interest in the history of ideas, including the interactions between faith and science. Augustine, Calvin, and B.B.Warfield figure among his spiritual and intellectual heroes.
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7 Responses to Arguments for the framework view of Genesis – part 2

  1. Jon Garvey says:

    Thanks again, Penman.

    One small additional point – your sentence about human irrigation of a dry land not only militates against a “general creation” theme for ch 2, but localizes the story to the very place indicated by the geographical pointers in the text. Irrigation is a big theme in Mesopotamian agriculture and literature, whereas it’s irrelevant to Israel.

    To me that suggests that, though even more “mythic” in genre than ch 1, the Adam story is speaking of a particular time and place (and therefore protagonist) in relatively recent post-neoloithic history. And the wrongdoing is a specific sin in relation to Yahweh. For that reason I’m less than happy with interpretations that are purely allegorical explanations of some kind of awareness of “selfishness” in man from deep and possibly evolutionary time.

    • Edward Robinson says:

      Hi, Jon. I have always found irksome interpretations which try to harmonize Darwin and the Bible by making “sin” our “animal nature” — as if our “animal” side is what leads us to to what is bad, whereas our “spiritual” side would lead us to do what is good. In fact, most of what animals do is neither good nor bad, but amoral, and on the other hand, the wickedest of deeds, we are told, have been done by fallen angels, who have no animal bodies, and can’t blame any evolutionary origins for their pride and rebelliousness and lust for power.

      “Sin” is primarily a human matter (though animals seem to be in some cases caught up in its penumbra, as, e.g., in Jonah), and it’s not caused by what is “animal” in us, but rather by elements that are specifically human, e.g., rebelliousness, envy, covetousness, things that are either not found in the animal world at all, or, if they are found there (some would say in the primates, e.g., cruel social behavior of chimps toward other chimps), are found in less conscious (some would say unconscious, purely instinctive) or forms. And as far as I know, the animal behavior which is analogous to what we might call “sinful” in a human being (say, the “pride” of a male gorilla who wants to see other male gorillas humiliated) is not accompanied in any animal by a sense of guilt, shame, unworthiness, etc. It seems to me that “sin” and all that goes with it (shame, repentance, desire to make amends, etc.) is connected with an interiority possessed by humans and not possessed by animals, and that is why the Biblical authors treat it as something between man and God (with the understanding that God is angry at offenses against his creatures as well as offenses directly against himself), not as a sort of subhuman biological pull toward a more animal existence.

      • Jon Garvey says:

        Hi Eddie

        I certainly agree with you on this. The link between the Genesis 2 account of sin as disobedience to God himself, and more general or “animal” concepts like selfishness would seem to be that, in rebelling against the will of God, we rebel against our own God-given nature, and so begin to act in ways that reflect some other nature.

        In some cases we even consiously imitate nature: “Lions are promiscuous infanticides, so why not us?” – or more widely, “Evolution favours the fittest, so we mustn’t buck the law of nature”.

        To be oneself is freedom – that’s why sin is viewed biblically as bondage more often than as the exercise of “free-will”.

  2. GD says:

    I find the notion of Genesis 1-2 written as a hymn particularly attractive; I will try to elaborate. A hymn is a song of praise – to perform this, a great deal is taken as given. If we were to praise God for a particular matter in a religious activity, it is natural to accept that the hymn writer believes there is a God, and she understands the reason for writing the hymn (and those singing it would also come with that framework). Take Gen2:4-7. Although I cannot state this in the original language, I am compelled to imagine music and a congregation when I read it. The English translation says, every plant and herb was created by God, implying at least that their growth would come after this (and there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground); this is magnificent, as if the writer wants to further emphasise the way God went about creating and causing growth. We all know what it means to rain, but watering the face of the earth by a gentle mist signifies a tenderness and care displayed by the Creator for His creation.

    My remarks are intended to show that a ‘figurative’ understanding of Genesis (as an artistic form that is recognizably derived from real things, and may also be metaphorical) is a reasonable reading of Gen 1-2, but this is still insufficient – a hymn intended to display the majesty of the Creator using magnificent language may be closer to the mark.

    • Jon Garvey says:


      At the very least we must remember that all literature was designed for reading aloud, usually to an audience, then. I believe even a few hundred years ago one usually studied books even personally by reading aloud. So there is an element of proclamation, and therefore praise, built in even at that level.

  3. James Penman says:

    Hi Jon
    You may be right about the Neolithic timeframe. The Framework view is flexible in its precise application. I probably see the Gen.2 creation account as a retelling of Gen.1 with a different focus and purpose. Both accounts are about “homo divinus”, but Gen.1 is broad and generic (the race), whereas Gen.2 focuses on the covenant-head of the race, Adam. When exactly God created homo divinus, and by what mechanism(s), and what exactly constitutes the “divinus” element, are issues I can’t be dogmatic about. There’s already too much dogmatism floating around without my adding to it….!

    • Jon Garvey says:

      Hi Penman.

      To be equally undogmatic, I’d see Gen 1 as a functional, rather than historic, account of the preparation of the world for mankind as a race, however the writer wished to view “mankind” – though meaning for his own time and ours “all men wherever we find them”.

      Gen 2 I’d see as the essentially historic self-revelation of God to what you call (in Reformed terms) the covenant-head, or in ANE terms, the archetypal Man. In both respects he’s a flesh and blood example of the race. Because I can conceive of man in Gen 1 terms existing prior to that specific revelation, I’m less convinced that they’re to be seen as alternative accounts of the same thing.

      The net results of each view not dissimilar (given that none of us was there) and, I think, conformable to the faith.

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