Creation, Catastrophe, Calvary: Why a Global Flood Is Vital to the Doctrine of Atonement

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Creation, Catastrophe, Calvary: Why a Global Flood Is Vital to the Doctrine of Atonement

I read the book Creation, Catastrophe, Calvary: Why a Global Flood is Vital to the Doctrine of Atonement a few years ago for a class. It landed on my desk at an ideal time, just as I was pondering a number of controversial Bible passages on creation and the flood. Reading it was a reassuring experiencenot because it explained everything or solved all the problems in Genesis, but because I found the research of the authors persuasive.

Additionally, the focus on the overarching theme of atonement helped me understand the significance of these topics in relation to the single most important aspect of Christianity and Adventism: our salvation, which comes through Christ and Christ alone. If Calvary is connected with the creation and the flood, then studying these passages more in-depth seemed to be a reasonable thing to do. Creation, Catastrophe, Calvary provides us with a great start in this direction.

 

The book is structured in nine chapters, each penned by a different author, most of whom are professors of theology or biblical studies at Andrews University or elsewhere.

 

In the introductory chapter, “Revelation 14:7: An Angel’s Worldview,” John Baldwin presents the findings of biblical scholars who noticed a linguistic connection between Revelation 14:7 and Exodus 20:11 in the usage of the expression “made heaven and earth, and sea,” both times in the context of a call to worship God. Thus, “a six-day creation cosmogony, or worldview, is inherent in the first angel’s message” (pg. 20). The general context of Revelation 14 indicates the particular relevance of this issue for end-time generations, as the three angels’ messages are closely linked with the second coming of Jesus. The God we are called to worship in Revelation 14 is the God Israel was called to worship in Exodus 11–the God of Creation.

 

Interestingly, Revelation 14 uses the expression “fountains of water” instead of the “and all that is in them,” which concludes the sentence in Exodus 20:11. The choice of words indicates an allusion to the phrase “the fountains of the deep” used in Genesis 7:11 in reference to the flood. Also relevant might be the fact that both passages (Revelation 14 and Genesis 7) occur in the general context of judgment, which further links them together. Thus, John’s allusion to the flood narrative is an implicit “warning of the immanence of a second global undoing of creation–this time, as indicated in Revelation 19:20-21…by fire” (pg. 28).

 

In chapter 2, “Genesis 2: A Second Creation Account?,” Randall Younker tackles issues related to Genesis 1 and 2 being regarded as competing, contradicting, or repetitive creation stories. The ending of Genesis 1 leaves the impression of a complete story. However, four things are listed in Genesis 2 that do not appear in Genesis 1: “shrub of the field,” “plant of the field,” “a man to work the ground,” and “rain to water the earth” (pg. 69). These did not exist at the beginning of Genesis 2, leaving the reader with the impression that the creation was incomplete. What is to be made of this apparent inconsistency?

 

Randall Younker helps clear up the confusion with a thorough textual analysis. The first evident aspect, suggests Younker (as he reminds us that the chapter and verse division does not belong to the biblical authors) is that the story of creation narrated in Genesis 1 actually continues in Genesis 2:1-3, while the new theme, which includes the four things not yet in existence, begins in Genesis 2:4. He then proceeds to analyze closely the four things not in existence after the creation.

 

First, he notes that in Hebrew, the words for “vegetation (deshe)seed-bearing plants (‘esev matsry’ tsr’), and fruit-bearing fruit trees (‘es pry asa pry) used in Genesis 1:11-12 are different than the words for “shrub of the field (siah ha-sadeh) and plant of the field (esev ha-sadeh)” in Genesis 2:5 (pg. 72). The word siah (shrub of the field) appears only two more times in Scripture, in Genesis 21:15 and Job 30:4, 7, both contexts indicating a “xerophyte, … a plant adapted to dry or desert environment” (pg. 72), most likely a thorny plant. The full expression esev ha-sadeh (plant of the field) appears only twice in the Bible: in Genesis 2:5, and Genesis 3:18, the latter passage indicating the food Adam and Eve would eat after the fall.

Thus, concludes Younker, the plant of the field is the edible vegetation that Adam would cultivate after sin through toil and sweat. The reference to bread in 3:19, suggests Younker, indicates that these plants of the field were likely grains, which required labor and working the land (an idea explicit in Genesis 3:19). Therefore, these two expressions used in Genesis 2:5 most likely refer to “that part of the plant kingdom that the cultivator is particularly concerned with–food crops and weeds” (pg. 74).

 

In a similar fashion, Younker analyzes the expression “no man to till the ground” and “rain,” which only appear in the text after the creation story. If the summary above has sparked enough interest, I trust that the reader will find the remaining textual analysis in this chapter as rewarding and reassuring as I have. Even from my brief exposition of some key points in this chapter, the conclusion of the author is readily evident: Genesis 2 is not another creation story; it is not a repetition of creation that contradicts the previous one, as historical-critical scholarship would have us think. If we look carefully at the text, we find indications that Genesis 2 is rather “a bridge between the perfect creation of chapter 1 and the introduction of sin into the world in chapter 3” (pg. 76), in which the biblical author introduces the four things which did not exist before sin: (1) thorns, (2) agriculture, (3) cultivation/irrigation, and (4) rain.

 

In one of the concluding chapters, entitled “The Role of Creation in Seventh-Day Adventist Theology,” Ed Zinke explores the implications of the doctrine of creation, not only in relation to atonement, but also in relation to other major doctrines of Adventism as well. From my perspective, the most intriguing aspect he touches on is the character of God. Through nine points, Zinke illustrates the effect theistic evolution has on the nature and character of God.

  1. While a literal creation can uphold the three main attributes of God widely acknowledged in Christianity since the first century–his “infinite love, intelligence and power … only some combination of two of the three properties can coincide with theistic evolution” (pg. 163).
  2. A God of theistic evolution is impersonal, for an evolutionary creation process implies a long period of becoming during which there was no relationship between God and us.
  3. In the theistic evolution model, there was no direct communication between God and creatures for millions of years.
  4. Theistic evolution diminishes the active role of God in history, and weakens the nature of his intervention.
  5. A God who does not intervene in history has particularly harmful implications for our understanding of the incarnation of Christ, and consequently our salvation.
  6. Once the miracle of creation is discarded as unlikely, other miracles in Scripture can easily be disposed of. Logical consistency makes room for an easy rejection of many pillar narratives of Scripture that involve some miraculous intervention, including the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus–which are crucial for our understanding of salvation—as well as the miracles surrounding the second coming and the creation of the New Earth.
  7. The theistic evolution model of creation is ambiguous about the relation between God and the laws of nature, leaving too much room for debate as to whether God is ultimately in control, or whether He Himself is bound by natural laws.
  8. An evolutionary view of creation is built upon empirical methods of observation rather than on the biblical text. The conclusions of this observation are then read into the Scripture, which is further harmonized with an evolutionary model. Theistic evolution does not derive knowledge from revelation, but from “natural means alone” (pg. 164).
  9. An evolutionary model weakens the distinction between God as Creator and humans as creatures. Its ambiguity leaves room for viewing God as being “caught in the flow of history” (pg. 164) just as the creatures are presumed to be. The temptation to “make ourselves God” (pg. 164) is all too readily available.

 

Zinke also discusses the implications of theistic evolution upon the great controversy, the law, Christ’s ministry, the nature and origin of the Bible, as well as the nature of humanity. While each section is brief, the chapter does a good job at showing the incompatibility between an evolutionary model of creation and several major themes of Scripture.

 

Other chapters of this book explore the concept of “days” in Genesis 1, the connections between the geologic column and the flood, biblical evidence of the universality of the flood, issues in the theory of evolution, and the complementary relationship between science and theology.

 

Although much has been written since the publication of this book in 2000, Creation, Catastrophe, Calvary remains a valuable resource for anyone who places serious interest in the Bible and its major themes. It covers the topic from a variety of perspectives, and captures well the intricate connection between the creation story and the flood story with necessary implications for the atonement and other major topics tightly interwoven into the metanarrative of Scripture.

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About the author

Adelina Alexe is a Ph.D. student in systematic theology at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. She loves God and enjoys nature, arts, and meaningful conversation. Her special research interests are narrative theology and hermeneutics.