28 An old-earth “gap theory” of biblical genealogies?

I was won over to Dr. Kline’s “Framework View” on the textual level, I should specify. I wrote in my notes, “This exegesis is correct, but the implications with respect to chronology do not necessarily hold.” What I meant by implications was that a reading of Genesis 1 as “poetry” could easily allow creation to have taken much longer than six literal days, and thus would allow the earth to be very old. But I still did not consider this possible, because I continued to believe that I should establish my understanding of the earth’s age by beginning with the Bible, and that the Bible still only allowed this to be about 6,000 years, however long the original creation might have required.

I based this continuing conviction, even given my new understanding of Genesis 1, on the genealogies in the Bible that began with Adam and ran down to datable historical figures, providing the age of each father at the time of the birth of each son. Using these genealogies, Bishop Ussher had made his famous calculations that put creation in the year 4004 B.C. I had not made all the calculations myself, but six thousand years felt about right.

Dr. Kline was well aware of these genealogies, but still did not believe in a recent creation. He accommodated the vast ages of geologic time postulated by natural scientists by appeal to the possibility of “gaps” in the biblical genealogies. And here I thought I detected a bit of inconsistency on the part of the “old professor” (as he liked to call himself).

In addition to promulgating his own “gap theory” of genealogies, he emulated those who read “day” to mean “age” in Genesis 1 by sometimes reading “son” as “descendant” in the genealogies, and by sometimes understanding “begat” to mean “was the ancestor of.” To defend such readings, he called our attention to Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus at the beginning of his gospel (Matt. 1:1-17). In verse 1, Jesus is called the “son” of Abraham and David, even though he is a more distant descendant of each of these figures. And in verse 8, Joram is said to have “begotten” Uzziah, who was really his great-great-grandson.

But the same objections Dr. Kline had raised to popular interpretations of Genesis 1 could be leveled against his reading of the first chapter of Matthew. Is not its first verse a “summary introduction,” and is it not therefore unfair to read it as if it were part of the genealogy proper? And does not Matthew omit the kings between Joram and Uzziah in order to maintain a 14-14-14 pattern, to portray Jesus as coming at the beginning of the seventh seven of generations after Abraham, the generation of sabbath or jubilee? In other words, is he not really writing “poetry,” more than “genealogy”?

As I would later discover, all of the biblical genealogies have strong poetical aims and characteristics, obviating the need to read them literally and to postulate a young earth on biblical authority. But Dr. Kline had not carried his analysis this far, and so had to live with some interpretive inconsistencies. One day while carpooling to seminary the conversation turned to Dr. Kline’s reading of the genealogies. I said I was unconvinced, and thought he had adopted this interpretation mostly to accommodate the vast ages of geologic time somewhere in his reading of the Bible. The driver said, gravely, “I think we need to do that.” I still didn’t.

My other seminary courses were just as challenging and exciting. The year I spent at Gordon-Conwell in 1981-82 was a wonderful time of stretching and growing. But I didn’t return the following year, as I was reluctant to borrow heavily for my education and I wanted to invest some quality time in my still-new marriage relationship. (I concluded, finding reassurance in an analogy, that the exemption of new husbands from military service found in Deuteronomy should apply to seminary students as well.) Some friends in Ottawa, Ontario connected us with a small church there and I became its pastor.

Reflecting on the Scripture passage I’d shortly be preaching from at my first church.

After a little over a year, I found that I needed even more of a break and resigned my pastorate, eventually finding work as a writer in the Canadian Department of Communications, where I worked for more than three years. The time I spent out of seminary and then out of the ministry proved to be an excellent opportunity for personal growth and for the consolidation of my thinking on a great many previously-closed questions that seminary had opened. This included the question of the Bible and human origins.

At one point I struck up a correspondence with a friend who wanted to know how I, as an educated person, could continue to believe in a recent creation in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence that the universe is ancient. As I recall our exchange of letters on the subject, I felt I was being encouraged to embrace an ateleological world view. I shrank back from what I felt the moral implications of this view would be: “survival of the fittest” as the rule of relationships between people, with might making right.

My friend explained that these were not necessarily the implications of an evolutionary paradigm if the lesson of evolution for us was that humans had survived and thrived through cooperation among themselves. This was the first time it had been demonstrated for me that I did not necessarily have to make a stark choice between a creationist paradigm (unscientific, but moral), in which people are accountable to God for how they treat others, and an evolutionary one (scientific, but amoral), in which life consists of a ruthless quest for domination. There were some options in between.

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