Enjoying a Laugh with Irenaeus of Lyons

In a few weeks I hope to participate in a discussion group on the Trinity. In preparation for that I began reading Irenaeus’ Against Heresies. I was debating internally about whether to start at the beginning or just jump to the part where Irenaeus begins his defense of orthodox doctrine. I am glad I started at the beginning.

In the first two books of Against Heresies Irenaeus goes into great detail about the history and beliefs of Gnosticism. In this portion he is addressing their belief concerning the creation of water.

 I feel somewhat inclined myself to contribute a few hints towards the development of their system. For when I perceive that waters are in part fresh, such as fountains, rivers, showers, and so on, and in part salt; such as those in the sea, I reflect with myself that all such waters cannot be derived from her tears, inasmuch as these are of a saline quality only. It is clear, therefore, that the waters which are salt are alone those which are derived from her tears. But it is probable that she, in her intense agony and perplexity, was covered with perspiration. And hence, following out their notion, we may conceive that fountains and rivers, and all the fresh water in the world, are due to this source. For it is difficult, since we know that all tears are of the same quality, to believe that waters both salt and fresh proceeded from them. The more plausible supposition is, that some are from her tears, and some from her perspiration. And since there are also in the world certain waters which are hot and acrid in their nature, thou must be left to guess their origin, how and whence. Such are some of the results of their hypothesis. (I.IV.4)

Such argumentation is just brilliant. Irenaeus enters into their system to seemingly improve on it: not all the water on earth could have come from the tears of Achamoth because there is fresh water and salt water. Some of the earth’s waters must have come from her sweat, other water from her tears. But what about earth’s hot and acrid water? Where would that come from? He leaves us to imagine.

Hilarious.

Christians do not need to fear heresy; we should have fun demonstrating its foolishness.

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Evolution, The End of the World, The Argument of History

In addressing the fact that the world will have an end, Herman Bavinck writes,

One may arbitrarily assume the passage of billions of years in the past or future of the world but cannot picture it concretely as being filled with history. If humanity were to last a billion years, a “textbook” on world history, which gave 10 pages to a century, would comprise no fewer than 200,000 volumes, each volume calculated at 500 pages; or 20,000 volumes if it devoted only one page  to every century; or still 500 volumes if no more than one line was given to each century. And that is how it would be with everything that forms the content of our culture. Humanity is finite, and therefore human civilization cannot be conceived as endless either. Both for the earth and for our race, an infinite period of time is an absurdity, even more palpably so than the foolishness of the millions of years known to us from pagan mythologies. (Reformed Dogmatics, IV, 646)

While Bavinck is looking ahead into the future, I would like to look the opposite direction. Is what we know about the history of our race agreeable with the theory of evolution? Beyond the content itself, is the amount of the content we know about the history of humanity agreeable with the theory of evolution.

Let us momentarily suspend judgment and think within the framework of evolutionary thought. However long “life” has been on this planet, it is obvious that life could not have always recorded its existence. Granting the teachings of evolution, we should not expect libraries of thousands of volumes of books because cells, amino acids, proteins, etc., have shown a lousy ability to keep track of their history. Lower primates have fared no better, and continue to show no inclination at recording their sojourn on this globe. But sometime or another, some hominid life form gained the capability of recording history. Someone, or some-ones, could finally ask and answer the questions “Who am I?” “Where did I come from?” “Where am I going?”

What are the historical answers to these questions? That is, in the earliest historical records and artifacts we have, how are the questions of origin answered? What do ancient civilizations, extinct and otherwise, say about the beginnings of the human race? What do the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, African, Chinese records say about man’s beginnings?

If evolution is true, why was it not put forth and accepted until some 6-8 thousand years after man’s ability to record his existence? Why didn’t the first neo-Neanderthal note that his parents were idiots and incapable of recorded language? What embarrassment would have prevented the first “people” capable of recording humanity’s history, that their ancestors were unable to do so? If evolution is so scientifically true, why is it so historically new?  Why, so many thousands of years after the fact, were we able to discover evolution when those who were “there” say nothing of it? Where are the historical accounts of large groups of man-like creatures who look like man, in some ways act like man, but yet are not quite man?

Those first people capable had nothing to fear from church or state. There was really nothing to prevent them from telling the truth. It would seem then that there would be plenty of historical support for evolution. Somewhere, someone, sometime, would have been able to say, “Wow, I came from a bunch of idiots incapable of recording thought and event.”

Where would I go to find that?

A.W. Tozer on Moses, Creation, and Men who Know Too Much

I have leafed through a book entitled Earth’s Earliest Ages. I will not say that I have actually read it because I quickly concluded that the author seems to believe he knows more about the antediluvian period [the period of earth’s history before the flood in Noah’s day] than Moses did. When I discover a man who claims to know more than Moses on a subject in which Moses is a specialist, I shy away from his book. (A. W. Tozer, Christ the Eternal Son, p. 18)

One thing I have enjoyed about reading through Herman Bavinck’s reformed Dogmatics is his understated way of completely eviscerating views he disagrees with. Such grace in dealing with opponents is rare. Tozer demonstrates the same quality here.

Many called Tozer a 20th century prophet: thankfully he never claimed the title for himself. Nevertheless, Tozer saw things as they really were and was long ago foretelling the demise of the evangelical church. Here again he demonstrates a clear vision of the core issues.

How did Moses know about the Creation, Flood, and world before Abraham? There is a chance that he received this information traditionally: handed down orally or in written form. Given that nearly every ancient culture has similar accounts of these events, this is possible. But given their variety, I find it unlikely. I am of the opinion that Moses received such information directly from the Spirit of the Lord. However Moses received the information, God set his seal upon it by making it Scripture. Whether the Spirit guided Moses is “selecting” the truth from the oral or written sources he had; or whether the Spirit revealed it to Moses directly; Genesis 1-11 is God’s Word given to God’s prophet.

When someone, anyone, challenges the veracity of Genesis 1-11 he makes bold claims. He claims that Moses got it wrong. And since Moses acted as God’s prophet, he claims God got it wrong. When a man makes such claims we are quite justified in ignoring him. He is a three year old claiming to be Superman.

Did Early Church Fathers Believe in a Literal Six Day Creation?

It is noted by some that the early church included nothing about the nature of the days of creation in any of her early creeds. This is interpreted to mean that there was no established teaching and that latitude was given to different interpretations. This attitude is based on a deficient recognition of the nature and genesis of the church’s creeds. The earliest creeds were meant as outlines of the faith and their specificity was directly tied to doctrines under attack. The Creed of Nicaea says little about the Father and the Spirit, but much about the Son. Why? Because heretics were attacking the truth about Jesus. The creeds do not mention the nature of the days of creation. Why? Because the issue was never under dispute.

This is not to say that there was necessarily absolute unanimity in the church about the time of creation. It is only to say that a lack of inclusion in creedal statements is more likely to indicate lack of dispute than license to believe multiple things.

Did the early church consider the 6 days of Genesis 1-2 literally or in some figurative/spiritual/allegorical way? Consider the following statements:

 The Sabbath is mentioned at the beginning of the creation [thus]: “And God made in six days the works of His hands, and made an end on the seventh day, and rested on it, and sanctified it.” Attend, my children, to the meaning of this expression, “He finished in six days.” This implies that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with Him a thousand years. And He Himself testifies, saying, “Behold, to-day will be as a thousand years” (Psa. 90:4; 2Pe. 3:8). Therefore, my children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, all things will be finished. “And He rested on the seventh day.” This means: when His Son, coming [again], shall destroy the time of the wicked man, and judge the ungodly, and change the sun, and the moon, and the stars, then shall He truly rest on the seventh day. (Epistle of Barnabas, II.15)

 For in as many days as this world was made, in so many thousand years shall it be concluded. And for this reason the Scripture says: “Thus the heaven and the earth were finished, and all their adornment. And God brought to a conclusion upon the sixth day the works that He had made; and God rested upon the seventh day from all His works” (Gen. 2:2). This is an account of the things formerly created, as also it is a prophecy of what is to come. For the day of the Lord is as a thousand years (2 Pe. 3:8); and in six days created things were completed: it is evident, therefore, that they will come to an end at the sixth thousand year. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V.28.3)

But that we may not leave our subject at this point undemonstrated, we are obliged to discuss the matter of the times, of which a man should not speak hastily, because they are a light to him. For as the times are noted from the foundation of the world, and reckoned from Adam, they set clearly before us the matter with which our inquiry deals. For the first appearance of our Lord in the flesh took place in Bethlehem, under Augustus, in the year 5500; and He suffered in the thirty-third year. And 6,000 years must be accomplished, in order that the Sabbath may come, the rest, the holy day “on which God rested from all His works.” For the Sabbath is the type and emblem of the future kingdom of the saints, when they “shall reign with Christ,” when He comes from heaven, as John says in his Apocalypse: for “a day with the Lord is as a thousand years” (Psa. 90:4). Since, then, in six days God made all things, it follows that 6,000 years must be fulfilled. And they are not yet fulfilled, as John says: “five are fallen; one is,” that is, the sixth; “the other is not yet come” (Rev. 17:10). (Hippolytus, Exegetical Fragments on Daniel, II.4)

 For since in six days God made the heaven and the earth, and finished the whole world, and rested on the seventh day from all His works which He had made, and blessed the seventh day and sanctified it (Gen. 2:1), so by a figure in the seventh month, when the fruits of the earth have been gathered in, we are commanded to keep the feast to the Lord, which signifies that, when this world shall be terminated at the seventh thousand years, when God shall have completed the world, He shall rejoice in us (Psa. 104:31). (Methodius, The Banquet of the Ten Virgins, IV.9)

 Therefore let the philosophers, who enumerate thousands of ages from the beginning of the world, know that the six thousandth year is not yet completed, and that when this number is completed the consummation must take place, and the condition of human affairs be remodeled for the better, the proof of which must first be related, that the matter itself may be plain. God completed the world and this admirable work of nature in the space of six days, as is contained in the secrets of Holy Scripture, and consecrated the seventh day, on which He had rested from His works. But this is the Sabbath-day, which in the language of the Hebrews received its name from the number, whence the seventh is the legitimate and complete number. For there are seven days, by the revolutions of which in order the circles of years are made up; and there are seven stars which do not set, and seven luminaries which are called planets,whose differing and unequal movements are believed to cause the varieties of circumstances and times. (Lactantius, Divine Institutes, VII.14)

 To me, as I meditate and consider in my mind concerning the creation of this world in which we are kept enclosed, even such is the rapidity of that creation; as is contained in the book of Moses, which he wrote about its creation, and which is called Genesis. God produced that entire mass for the adornment of His majesty in six days; on the seventh to which He consecrated it . . . with a blessing. For this reason, therefore, because in the septenary number of days both heavenly and earthly things are ordered, in place of the beginning I will consider of this seventh day after the principle of all matters pertaining to the number of seven; and as far as I shall be able, I will endeavor to portray the day of the divine power to that consummation. . . . And in Matthew we read, that it is written Isaiah also and the rest of his colleagues broke the Sabbath (Mat. 12:5) – that that true and just Sabbath should be observed in the seventh millenary of years. Wherefore to those seven days the Lord attributed to each a thousand years; for thus went the warning: “In Thine eyes, O Lord, a thousand years are as one day” (Psa. 90:4). Therefore in the eyes of the Lord each thousand of years is ordained, for I find that the Lord’s eyes are seven (Zec. 4:10). Wherefore, as I have narrated, that true Sabbath will be in the seventh millenary of years, when Christ with His elect shall reign. Moreover, the seven heavens agree with those days; for thus we are warned: “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the powers of them by the spirit of His mouth. (Victorinus, On the Creation of the World)

 Each of these men believed the world was created in six days. “Days” meaning what it means pretty much everywhere except, according to some, in Genesis chapters one and two: 24 hours. You say, “But wait a minute! All of those guys said the history of the world would be 6,000 years. What kind of exegesis is that!?!”

Indeed, I could provide quotations that do not use such disputable interpretive techniques. But the above quotations only strengthen the assertion that the church understood the days of Genesis 1-2 literally: as six, consecutive, 24-hour periods. Their interpretation was so literal that it carried over to their interpretation of Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8. In the minds of the fathers, Peter is not just waxing poetically on the long-suffering patience of God but is giving a literal time-table for the Lord’s return. The foundation for such an expectation was a literal interpretation of the creation days of Genesis 1-2.

Whether or not the fathers were right in their interpretation of 2 Peter 3:8, they were united in their understanding of Genesis 1-2. The first seven days were just like all those that followed them: 24 hours.

Herman Bavinck: The Earth is still at the center of the Universe

In his discussion on the six days of creation, Herman Bavinck concludes with wonderful devotional thoughts on the centrality of earth in the universe:

But we must state the matter sill stronger: even if, in an astronomic sense, the earth is no longer central to us, it is definitely still central in a religious and ethical sense, and thus it remains central to all people without distinction, and there is not a thing science can do to change that. Here the kingdom of God has been established; here the struggle between light and darkness is being waged; here, in the church, God is preparing for himself an eternal dwelling.

The self-loathing of atheistic scientists is perplexing to me. Biologists want us to believe that man is nothing more than monkey 2.0 and astronomers are eager to find intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Why? Because neither can allow the idea that man is unique. Neither can allow for the idea that this planet does have a purpose. Because if man and this planet have purpose, Someone must have granted it. Man cannot be special because the Bible cannot be true because God cannot exist. So we are evolved primates, hoping there are other evolved life forms out there somewhere.

How gloriously humbling is the teaching of Scripture! Man is the image of God and God is restoring that image in and through the kingdom of his dear Son. Until then, “the whole creation” groans. Even if this planet is not at the center of the universe, it is central to God’s design.

Did the Early Church believe in Evolution or Creation?

…listen to the words I am about to say to you. God, who dwells in the heavens and created out of nothing the things that are, and increased and multiplied them for the sake of his holy church… (The Shepherd of Hermas, I.1)

What would be remarkable if God made the world out of preexistent matter? Even a human artisan, when he obtains material from someone, makes whatever he wishes out of it. Bur the power of God is revealed by his making whatever he wishes out of the nonexistent, just as the ability to give life and motion belongs to no one but God alone. For a man makes an image but cannot give reason or breath or sensation to what he makes, while God has this power greater than his: the ability to make a being that is rational, breathing, and capable of sensation. As in all these instances God is more powerful than man, so he is in his making and having made the existent out of the non-existent’ he made whatever he wished in whatever way he wished. (Theophilus of Antioch, Ad Autolycum, II.4)

…God, according to His pleasure, in the exercise of His own will and power, formed all things (so that those things which now are should have an existence) out of what did not previously exist. . . They do not believe that God (being powerful, and rich in all resources) created matter itself, inasmuch as they know not how much a spiritual and divine essence can accomplish. . . . While men, indeed, cannot make anything out of nothing, but only out of matter already existing, yet God is in this point pre-eminently superior to men, that He Himself called into being the substance of His creation, when previously it had no existence. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, II, 10)

Now, with regard to this rule of faith – that we may from this point acknowledge what it is which we defend – it is, you must know, that which prescribes the belief that there is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word… (Tertullian, Prescription against Heretics, XIII)

I am fully aware that the contrarian might come along and dispute that these quotes only speak of the initial creation of matter and do not necessarily preclude God using an evolutionary process to guide the progress of creation. They focus on pixels only to ignore the picture.

Theistic evolutionists- whether they hold to the day-age theory, gap theory, literary framework view etc.- wish to impress us with scholarly credentials and argument; the need for cultural relevance; a desire to harmonize, reconcile, correlate science and Scripture. For all of this, they miss the big picture of Scripture:

Elohim is not presented in Genesis 1 as a cosmic sculptor who, in human fashion, with preexisting material, produces a work of art, but as One who merely by speaking, by uttering a word of power, calls all things into being. And with that view the whole of Scripture chimes in. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, II, p. 417)

You do not have to be a narrow-minded, literalistic, simpleton to read the Bible and come away with the impression that God instantaneously created all things out of nothing by his powerful word. In fact, you have to fight against the Scripture to come away with any other impression.

What do the earthquake and tsunami in Japan teach about God and his existence?

“How could God do this?” “What is God doing?” “Why would God let this happen?” There are all easily conceived questions that have certainly been asked by many in the wake of the earthquake, tsunami, and ongoing nuclear peril in Japan. In this post I am not going to endeavor to answer them, but wish to address what such questions reveal about man and the existence of God.

Context is everything. In the mouth of an atheist or agnostic the above questions are meant as indictments. They are not so much questions as they are accusations. How can you believe in all-powerful, all-good deity with things like this going on? Such belief is foolish. Certainly this demonstrates no such “God” exists. But in the mouth of a believer, such questions can be honest inquiry into the purpose of tragedy in the divine providence.

But the ragings of an atheist and the questions of the pious both point to something all men have in common: an innate belief that things are not the way they should be. Such unease is latent in all at all times. Hence, the quiet desperation with which the lives of men are lead. But it swells up and reveals itself in times such as these. Why should this be so?

We understand when we see survivors in Japan distraught. We are not surprised at their grief, their questions, or their doubt. But why should others around the world have a similar reaction? Why should I care so much about an event that will likely have a very negligible impact upon me personally? What has happened in Japan has done nothing to measurably impact my life nor the life of the vast majority of the other 6 billion plus people on the globe. But we all share a common response-though certainly not as deep as those immediately affected-of grief and questioning. Why is this so?

I believe Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck is correct in asserting, “…whether people favor a Christian or a humanistic, a positivistic or a historical-materialistic view of history, they always proceed from the belief that history is not a product of fate or chance but guided by a firm hand toward a definite goal.” And again, “…it is noteworthy that belief in guidance and purpose in history is inerdicably implanted in the human heart and an indispensable component in the philosophy of history.”

The very notion of “tragedy” is a demonstration that things in the earth are not as they should be. This notion implies that all have a concept of the way things should be. Everyone knows innately that such things should not happen. Where would such knowledge come from? Would such knowledge come from a big explosion and billions of years of accidents, mutations, and extinctions? A reasoned evolutionist or materialist should never feel such angst. These things happen. It’s just the law of the jungle.

Such dissonance in the soul is best explained by the very existence of the all-powerful, all-good God these events cause us to question. If there is no such Being, these kinds of events should really cause us no bother at all. If there is no such God, the sudden violent death of thousands of people should not bother me at all, it just means more resources for my consumption and survival.

But when our soul cries out in pain with those who suffer we witness to the truth of God’s revelation. We witness to the truth of Genesis 1-3: that this world is not what it is meant to be. We witness to the truth of Romans 8: that the entire creation groans under the burden of sin. We witness to the hope of Revelation 21: that one day all things will be made new.

The fact that mankind grieves at tragedies like the one Japan has suffered is best explained by belief in what Scripture reveals about God and his creation. That men question God demonstrates he exists. That we mourn tragedy demonstrates its foreignness in God’s plan. This is not what God intended. And man knows it.

Readings in Bavinck: Whose Word are You Going to Believe when it comes to Creation?

In continuing his discussion on revelation, Bavinck identifies the reason science does not have a voice of authority when it comes to the time or method of creation:

At this point these miracles [recorded Scripture] irrevocably belong to history, and in history a different method has to be applied than in natural sciences. In the latter, experimentation is in order. But in history we are dealing with the testimonies of witnesses. If, however, the experimental method has to be introduced and applied in history, there is not a single fact that can stand the test. In that case all historiography is done for. Let every science, therefore, remain in its own area and there investigate things according to their own nature. One cannot see a thing by means of the ear, or weigh them with a yardstick; neither can one test revelation by means of an experiment. (Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1, pp. 371-2)

In discussing creation, what can everyone agree upon? First, whether it happened 10 thousand or 10 billion years ago, it happened. Whatever opinion one has about creation, it is unquestionably a matter of history. That is agreed upon by all. Secondly, whether it happened by divine fiat or evolutionary development, no human being was there to see it. Whether man came along 6 days or 600 million years after the initiation of creation, he came along after the initiation of creation. Given these two unquestionable facts, one has to accept Bavinck’s statement that in discussing the time and method of creation we are dealing with “the testimonies of witnesses.” Since there were no men there to witness it, we are primarily dealing with the testimony of the one witness was there to see it: God.

If you accept the evolutionary account of creation you declare God to be an untrustworthy witness. God said he created the universe and everything in it, but if the evolutionary account of origins is true, God is a liar. Darwin is a more reliable witness. If you accept one of the Christian-evolutionary hybrid explanations of origins—day-age theory, gap theory, literary framework theory, theistic evolution, etc.—you declare that God is an incompetent witness. While Genesis, Exodus, Psalms, Isaiah, and Hebrews all seem to make it clear God created all things in an instantaneous manner and that he did it not that long ago, God did not know how to tell us how he really created all things.

As A.W. Tozer asserted, at the root of all of man’s problems is a misconception of God. Why do so many people believe so many things about creation? Because they do not believe the truth about God. Hear the word of the Lord from the prophet Isaiah:

Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing. (40:26)
Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: (42:5)
Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the LORD have created it. I made the earth and created man on it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host. For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): I am the LORD, and there is no other. (45:8, 12, 18)

Are these the words of a liar, a babbler, or the Lord?