Friday, November 29, 2013

Oliphint, Howe, and Lisle: YEC Debate at SES Apologetics Conference

Before I get started I must confess that I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Oliphint's direct and extremely strong approach to this conversation. Someone finally posted the video of the presuppositional apologetics/YEC discussion over at SES here in Charlotte between Jason Lisle, Scott Oliphint, and Richard Howe. I had a chance to watch the discussion yesterday between Thanksgiving football and turkey. I must confess that Scott Oliphint was disappointing in his view of Genesis 1-3. Oliphint argued that we cannot know if the days of Genesis 1 carry the same meaning as our use of the word day because, in his words, “the first five days were God’s days.” I appreciate the use of caution when we are interpreting difficult passages of Scripture. I am not a fan of undisciplined speculation. I also appreciate the humility that Oliphint brought. Even more refreshing was his conviction around the command for all Christians to do apologetics and that such an enterprise does not require a seminary degree. I applaud Oliphint’s direct remarks about philosophy and the relationship of apologetics and theology. It needed to be said, especially at that conference and in that seminary.

The one thing that really took the air out of my balloon was Oliphint’s unusual departure of what I think is an otherwise excellent hermeneutic, especially as it relates to Genesis 1. As I said above, Oliphint informed the audience that the “first five days of creation” were actual days, but they were “God’s days,” seemingly implying that we cannot be sure they were literal days. I am afraid that Oliphint’s approach, while giving the appearance of hermeneutic humility at first glance, abandons sound exegesis.

Jason Lisle gave us an excellent argument for why we could not view the six days of creation any differently than six literal days. He pointed us to Exodus 20 and did what I love to do on this subject. He used the Sabbath command to show that if we understand the language of Exodus 20, then we also understand the language in Genesis 1. In Exodus 20 God informs us that He created, or worked on creation for six days and on the seventh day He rested. Therefore, we are to work six days and on the seventh day we are to rest.

Is it tenable to claim that Exodus 20 is talking about six long periods of time? Is there a single solitary commentator that thinks Exodus 20 could or should be taken as a figure of speech? I know of no commentator that does not interpret Exodus 20 in the plain literal sense in which it is given. I suppose Oliphint could argue that our days and God’s days are not equivalent and therefore the writer is simply using a parallel. But I think there are at least two problems with Oliphint’s position.

The very first issue is the hermeneutic employed by Oliphint in order to arrive at his conclusion. When God communicates to humans, He speaks our language. When Moses penned these words in Genesis 1, God was communicating something to humanity. Indeed, that something was not insignificant. In fact, what God was communicating was one of the most significant events in redemptive history. When God communicates something this significant with human beings, why would He choose to do so in a way that ensures we will not understand what He means? Why would God use the term days in a very literal sense, within a historical narrative, but actually mean something entirely different from what the audience would have understood? From a hermeneutical standpoint, when reading historical narrative, the rule is to take the text in its plain sense unless doing so obviously results in nonsense. In this case, if we preclude all modern scientific advancements so-called, we have no interpretive reason to take the days in Genesis as anything other than literal days. An objector might say that you cannot get light without the sun and the moon. My response is that you cannot get something from nothing either, can you? There will be no sun in eternity future but there will be light. Why is that so hard to understand? Obviously the sun and moon serve as temporal substitutes to provide light until the culmination of God’s plan is realized.

The second problem with Oliphint’s view is less significant but something I must reject. Oliphint says those days were God’s days. How it is that God, who is eternal, without beginning or end, can have days? Man has days. Time has days. Jesus as God incarnate had days. I cannot see anywhere nor anyway from Scripture how God actually has days in the sense that we have days. I think this is simply a weak attempt on the part of Oliphint to find a middle path between the two sides of this debate. I do not think he finds much success.

The days in Genesis are our days, days we know as days. Moses wrote in human language using human terms that he and his audience understood. There is no need for accommodation in this text. The audience understands what day means. I have examined Genesis 1 to find any reason at all from an exegetical standpoint to take the text as anything other than literal and I cannot find one. Lisle’s point that something outside creeps in to influence and shape the figurative interpretation given to Genesis 1 is spot on. It is spot on because we cannot find anything from an exegetical or hermeneutical standpoint to take it as anything but literal. Whether it is science or philosophy or something else that results in this dreadful interpretation of Genesis 1, one thing is certain: it is not in keeping with sound exegesis. There simply is no reason to take the days in Genesis as anything other than the meaning humans would have naturally assigned to it.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am working through a series of posts related to Scott Oliphint’s book on Covenantal Apologetics. However, I will also sprinkle in some thoughts around the debate between Lisle, Oliphint, and Howe along the way.

You can watch the debate by clicking here.


  1. Just a quick comment, with regards to God's days, how do we humans can make an assumption that God's days is the same as our days ? It makes more sense to argue from the principle of relativity that because indeed God does not submit to time, therefore it may be very possible that time dilation occurred, as the speed and extent of universe expansion was more significant than the speed of light.
    Which standard for one second that we are suppose to use ? God's one second or our one second ?
    I see no problem in saying that because God worked His creation in His 6 days, therefore we do the same in our days.

    What do you think ?

  2. The issue comes down to a matter of hermeneutics. When we want to communication something to someone else, we do so using language they can understand. In theology we call this divine accommodation. When we read the Genesis account, there is nothing in the text to indicate that we should take the days as anything other than six literal days. Now, in Exodus we see a common reference point. Israel is commanded to do their work in six days and rest on the seventh because God's creative activity took place during six days and on the seventh, He ceased from His creative activity. Yet no one seems to recognize that this commandment loses its meaning unless we understand God to refer to six literal days. That would be my take without entering into any philosophical or scientific complexities.