Concerning the six-day creation

by Matthew C. Harrison

Creation is a mystery. Just as science will forever have a problem with Jesus being God and man, with His virgin birth, or with His resurrection, so science will forever scoff at or, at best, view the creation account in Genesis as mythology. Though I’m no scientist, I’ve had challenges myself believing that the creation accounts are history. When will a talking snake appear believable to reason? How, in the face of the dominant theory of evolution, will the special creation of Adam out of dust and in a flash appear reasonable? And what of Eve from a rib? How can I possibly hold to an actual creation of all things in six natural days?

The LCMS’s classic statement on creation was made a long time ago in the Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod (1932), and it still holds today:

We teach that God has created heaven and earth, and that in the manner and in the space of time recorded in the Holy Scriptures, especially Gen. 1 and 2, namely, by His almighty creative word, and in six days. We reject every doctrine which denies or limits the work of creation as taught in Scripture. In our days it is denied or limited by those who assert, ostensibly in deference to science, that the world came into existence through a process of evolution; that is, that it has, in immense periods of time, developed more or less of itself. Since no man was present when it pleased God to create the world, we must look for a reliable account of creation to God’s own record, found in God’s own book, the Bible. We accept God’s own record with full confidence and confess with Luther’s Catechism: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures.”

Over the centuries, there have been a plethora of attempts to alleviate the “scandal” of the creation accounts and to understand them in a way that is less offensive to human reason. Although it is true that the Synod has not defined as biblical doctrine a specific age of the earth, attempts to alleviate the scandal of the creation accounts by suggesting that the earth is somehow millions or billions of years old actually compound the scandal in my view. Can we somehow stretch the meaning of a “day” in Genesis 1 into an eon or long period of time? If so, then how is it that light is created prior to the sun? How is it that vegetation is created before the sun? How is it that God creates fish and birds prior to the other animals?

You simply cannot stretch the days of Genesis 1 into eons in order to somehow accommodate science or evolutionary theory (or even some version of Old Earth Creationism based on a non-literal understanding of a “day”) in any meaningful or coherent way. Either the account in Genesis 1–2 is myth, or it is history — albeit, history written in a profoundly simple way to express profound truths. There is no middle ground. And if humankind is the result of some evolutionary process, then death was built into creation from the beginning — a view that the Scriptures categorically reject. In the end, there can be no historical Adam and Eve in a mythical Garden of Eden. So-called “Old Earth Creationism” largely runs aground.

Why do I believe that the creation accounts are historical? I believe them because I believe in Jesus Christ as my Savior. And I hear in the words of Jesus that He himself believes the creation accounts are historical. (See MATT. 19:3–9.) I hear in the words of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, the voice of my Savior. And both He and the Scriptures bear witness to their absolute inerrancy and infallibility. With Luther, when I come to passages that are hard to believe, “I doff my hat to the Holy Spirit and figure that He is wiser than I am.” Or as Luther said elsewhere regarding Genesis 1: “We assert that Moses spoke in the literal sense, not allegorically or figuratively, i.e., that the world, with all its creatures, was created within six days, as the words read. If we do not comprehend the reason for this, let us remain pupils and leave the job of teacher to the Holy Spirit” (Luther’s Works, vol. 1, page 5).

What about our faithful scientists and others who struggle with these issues? There will always be a struggle between faith and reason. In matters of clear teaching of the Bible, I must hold to the Scriptures. However, there are many disciplines that operate under the category of reason, e.g., the scientific method, etc. And many Christian scientists have and will continue to make arguments based upon their best scientific inquiry to defend the historicity or the very reasonable possibility of the Bible’s accounts being true. That’s called apologetics. More power to them. As Lutherans, we are not anti-science. Nevertheless, the truths of Holy Scripture — and that includes God’s creation of everything ex nihilo (“out of nothing) — are most often well beyond human reason.

Despite scientism and evolutionary philosophy, the advances of science (far from disproving God) have only demonstrated a deeply complex and amazing universe. A recent study of the human genome concluded, by tracing markers on the male chromosome, that all human beings have one common male ancestor. That’s phenomenal to consider! Christians should not be against science, but only against philosophies which would eliminate God from creation, deny His existence or attack the veracity of His Word.

In the 1970s, some thought that if one only believed the Gospel, other issues taught by Scripture were up for grabs. In response, Synod adopted A Statement of Biblical and Confessional Principles (1973), which clarified Synod’s teaching on the Scriptures:

Since the saving work of Jesus Christ was accomplished through His personal entrance into our history and His genuinely historical life, death and resurrection, we acknowledge that the recognition of the soteriological purpose of Scripture in no sense permits us to call into question or deny the historicity or factuality of matters recorded in the Bible.

We therefore reject the following views …

That recognition of the primary purpose of Scripture makes it irrelevant whether such questions of fact as the following are answered in the affirmative: Were Adam and Eve real historical individuals? Did Israel cross the Red Sea on dry land? Did the brazen serpent miracle actually take place? Was Jesus really born of a virgin? Did Jesus perform all the miracles attributed to Him? Did Jesus’ resurrection actually involve the return to life of His dead body?

In short, I believe in the Gospel of free forgiveness, made incarnate in history — in the conception, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the God-man. Because I believe the Gospel, I recognize the words of my shepherd, Jesus, in Holy Scripture. If I reject what Scripture teaches as history about creation, why should I not then reject everything else (including the resurrection itself) that appears contrary to reason?

Even as we say “I believe; help my unbelief” (MARK 9:24), we should be very humble as we approach this mystery of creation, and humble and kind to those who struggle with the issue. It’s a cross that many of us will bear in this life, until we see Him “face to face” (1 COR. 13:12).

God help us.

– Pastor Harrison

The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison is president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

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36 Responses to Concerning the six-day creation

  1. Pr. Karl Weber January 4, 2018 at 7:25 am #

    Pastor Harrison, thank you for your faithful confession.

  2. January 4, 2018 at 8:01 am #

    Thank you Pres, brother Harrison. Your confession and our synods biblical beliefs are a treasure worth fighting for.

  3. Rev. Raymond A. Smith January 4, 2018 at 1:17 pm #

    Thank you Rev.. Harrison, for your faithful confession, and for explaining this in such a pastoral way.

  4. Rev. Alec Fisher January 4, 2018 at 2:06 pm #

    Thank you, President Harrison. Faculty members at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, are also doing a lot of great work delving into this topic in a way that is exegetically faithful, honest, and responsible. We are so incredibly blessed to have such scholars and teachers within our church!

    • The Rev. BT Ball January 4, 2018 at 5:12 pm #

      Rev. Fisher, you might want to compare the Summer 2017 Concordia Journal article by Professor Jurchen and see if the publication of the St. Louis Seminary matches up with President Harrison’s post.

      But maybe you wrote satire, and I just missed it!

      • Rev. Alec Fisher January 5, 2018 at 4:59 pm #

        Rev. Ball, thank you for your note. My comment wasn’t satire. The faculty members involved in this topic have done a great job. I read the journal when it came out, as well as the subsequent articles posted on Concordia Theology, and I look forward to reading future installments. It’s nice to see President Harrison’s input in the conversation as well.

  5. January 4, 2018 at 7:20 pm #

    Thank you, President Harrison!

  6. January 4, 2018 at 9:10 pm #

    Thank you President Harrison for your faithful leadership!

  7. Nancy Stepp January 5, 2018 at 8:54 am #

    Amen!

  8. Walter W Raffel January 5, 2018 at 11:56 am #

    A excellent confession of faith.

  9. Lee Turpen January 5, 2018 at 2:48 pm #

    Thank you for restating this position.

  10. Jack Klobnak January 5, 2018 at 2:52 pm #

    A God not confined by time can do many things we cannot understand today. Eve from a rib? Science can now make many things from DNA from much less than a rib. An infinite God must have access to all the knowledge of the future, not just the past and present.

  11. James January 5, 2018 at 5:00 pm #

    This unwillingness to engage with God’s creation or the beautiful intricacies of scripture beyond a simplistic reading is exactly why I’ve pulled back from the LCMS, the church of my childhood. Our reason is God’s gift to us, and rejecting its use under the guise of faith rejects is an affront to both.

  12. Pastor Jeffrey Gross January 5, 2018 at 6:26 pm #

    Thank you, brother Harrison. Well said.

    Whenever my “intellect and reason,” paltry though they may be, finds it hard to understand what God has done and promises to do, I find it best to assume my intellect, reason, and powers of observation and discernment are wrong or flawed. I am puzzled how so many otherwise highly intelligent believers when in the same situation conclude that God must be wrong. Better for corrupt human reason to do its best to serve God and His Word rather than try to overrule it and try to teach God.

  13. Alice Buck January 5, 2018 at 10:36 pm #

    What an encouragement!

  14. Randall Correll January 6, 2018 at 12:40 am #

    The old testament is not the Gospel. Judaism is not Christianity. Slavish devotion to Old Testament (Jewish Bible) literalism is bordering on idolatry. It is neither correct nor necessary. Luther taught us to interpret the scriptures plainly, not literally. Where Luther asserts that Moses wrote in a literal sense, this is true, for how else could Moses explain the creation? But where the old testament concepts and language conflict with the book of nature, that should be interpreted mythically. This does not diminish the Old Testament’s foreshadowing of the Gospel message. Luther translated the New Testament into German first, before translating the Old Testament. There’s a reason for that, and it’s important, for that’s where the Gospel resides. And the Gospel works through the Holy Spirit, not through scriptural literalism.

  15. Fred Priebe January 6, 2018 at 7:31 am #

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! With so many leaders in the “church at large “ succumbing to the pressures of the secular world it is very gratifying to know our church body is holding steadfast to the teachings of the Holy Scripture. May the Lord bless you and keep you!

  16. Jeanne Fox January 6, 2018 at 3:34 pm #

    Does the LCMS insist that the earth is 6,000 years old like some young earth creationsts insist?

    • Matt Harrison January 9, 2018 at 1:23 pm #

      The LCMS has not asserted a specific age of the earth.

  17. Stephen Schmidt January 6, 2018 at 4:38 pm #

    I would encourage all LCMS Lutherans to read the 2015 CTCR report “In Christ All Things Hold Together: The Intersection of Science and Christian Theology.”

    https://www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=3469

  18. Gary Locklair January 7, 2018 at 4:37 pm #

    Excellent. Thank you for posting this President Harrison.

  19. Dennis F. January 7, 2018 at 7:14 pm #

    It is refreshing to see Christian leaders take a stand like this!

    There seems to be a real lack of fortitude amongst the Christian leaders in general when defending the Bible’s authority and historicity. Instead of fighting valiantly much of our leaders cave to philosophies that are borne out of godless presuppositions, human pride, and would be autonomy.

    God bless the LCMS for taking a stand and not backing down!

  20. Jonathan January 7, 2018 at 10:29 pm #

    That’s one of greatest piece of History of our Faith, walk in his faith brother.

  21. January 8, 2018 at 2:02 pm #

    It’s worth considering why so many feel we MUST be able to explain everything in a manner that answers every question, especially since we now are so, um, advanced.

    I don’t know the speaker’s name, but his words are timeless. “A God who is small enough to understand is too small to worship.”

  22. Judy Finnessy January 9, 2018 at 7:34 pm #

    Thank you, President Harrison for your defense of God’s word!

  23. January 11, 2018 at 4:41 pm #

    The context of Exodus 20:8-11 makes it obvious that the author (Moses – also of Genesis 1-2) uses the word “day” to indicate a period of 24 hours. Otherwise we would be laboring for six indefinite eons and resting for one indefinite eon! – Silliness.
    Also, regarding death: if it’s a natural, built-in, necessary part of our existence (as in evolutionary theory), then we would need no Savior from it.

  24. Phil January 12, 2018 at 7:56 pm #

    Thank you President Harrison for your defense of the truth of our God’s word.

  25. Tina Burge January 13, 2018 at 8:42 am #

    Thank you, President Harrison! This topic must be taught and discussed in the congregations so that we can have meaningful conversations about topics of our time with people inside and outside of our church. Too many are stuck in the mentality of – A Statement of Biblical and Confessional Principles (1973). Meaningful to me is John 1 – The Word, Jesus, was present at creation and speaks with authority. Also, Acts 17 as Paul tells the people of Athens about the UNKNOWN GOD, beginning with creation and ending with the statement v. 31 “for He (God) has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed (Jesus). He (God) has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”!! The God who raises the dead to life.

  26. January 15, 2018 at 2:01 am #

    I’m an ELS Pastor, and I say, “Well said, Pastor Harrison! Thank you. “

  27. Robert Bjornstad January 16, 2018 at 9:38 am #

    I received my confirmation instruction from a Pastor who was faithful to teach from the Luther’s Small Catechism. And all my life I have worshiped in Lutheran congregations where we recite the creed (Apostles or Nicene) every Sunday. Nowhere do any of these speak of a doctrine of six day creation. I would guess that the church has generally seen a belief in God’s creation, of all that is, the primary truth of the Bible. And that a six day creation is not central to the advancement of God’s kingdom.

  28. Michael Kasting January 16, 2018 at 9:47 am #

    Dear brother, I appreciate your addressing this matter. Two reflections: a) your comment that the Genesis creation account is “either myth or history” is a false dichotomy. There are creation accounts in Psalm 104 and Proverbs 8 and Job 38 too. Are they “either myth or history”? I’m guessing you’d say, “No, those are poetry” (but not therefore “untrue” or even “unhistorical!). b) You cite Luther’s views approvingly. But you do not include the fact that Luther, like many others in his day, felt that helio-centrism (as Copernicus and Galileo taught) was also opposed to Scripture (Joshua 10, specifically). Franz Pieper said the same as recently as 1925! Yet today even conservative Christians accept helio-centrism without thinking it opposes Scripture. I daresay you are one of those, Pres. Harrison. That doesn’t mean you have let “reason” trump Scripture. In Scripture God addresses our reason too, and we endeavor to use it humbly and reverently to make sense of the revelation.

  29. Philip Korth January 16, 2018 at 6:28 pm #

    Thank you for the strong statement. I have been employed in the science and engineering field for 40 years and my belief in a literal creation has never hindered my work. I now am teaching an apologetics class in the Bible and Science at our church as I feel strongly that our church must stand firm on the truth of the Bible. Secular scientists cannot prove an evolutionary origin and Christians cannot prove Biblical creation but intelligent and reasonable Christians can evaluate scientific findings and be confident that the Bible is true.

  30. Noel January 17, 2018 at 7:00 pm #

    Hello! The Mystery of Creation has been a difficult topic for Philosophers and Theologians alike. I’m not a Pastor or minister to render an explication on how I feel Creation really took place thousands of years ago. All I can say is that if we all get together and pray to God for Wisdom we may one day see all the issues we may have concerning creation and the aftermath in a different angle. We should ask ourselves how would Martin Luther react to all this? Remember that thousands of years people wanted to punish Galileo for what he saw in the heavens. Now we see heaven quite different. I think we need to follow what The Bible says.

  31. Whitney Watts January 17, 2018 at 9:56 pm #

    I don’t understand the literal 6 day theory, and I was wondering if someone could help me to comprehend what exactly is being proposed here. First, God created days as we know them on the 4th day. “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night.” Genesis‬ ‭1:14‬ . He on this day also creates seasons and years, all part of “time”. So what would lead us to assert that days 1-3 were literally 24 hours when hours and days had not come into existence yet? Secondly, scripture states “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” ‭‭2 Peter‬ ‭3:8‬. Would that not lead us to imagine, that the first 3 “days” of creation could in fact be eons to our God?

    • Lannie January 18, 2018 at 1:06 pm #

      “And God said, ‘Let there be light, ‘ and there was light…. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day… and there was evening and there was morning, the second day.” In other words, a 24 hour day. The Hebrew word used for day, yom, means a literal 24-hour period in this case because it is qualified with the words evening, morning, first, second, etc. Also, everywhere else in the Scriptures where this is the case “yom/day” is always interpreted as a literal 24-hour period by everyone. Only Genesis 1 seems to be problematic to do so for some.
      God can easily be the source of light for the day and evening until the fourth day when He created the sun, moon, stars, etc. Revelation 21:23 states concerning the new heavens and new earth, “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” Could not God have been the source of light during the first 3 days of creation since He will be the light at the end of the age?
      Furthermore, the proper hermeneutic for interpreting the text of Genesis is that of historical narrative, including chapters 1-11. It is not poetry, apocalyptic, or any other type of literature. This also means the word “day” must be a 24-hour period.
      The verse you quoted from 2 Peter 3:8 you have taken out of context. It is talking about the second coming of Christ, not the creation days. Furthermore, the text says one day is as a thousand years, not is a thousand years. That is an important distinction. The word “as” used by Peter clarifies what he is trying to say and is also cleared up by Peter in the very next verse, verse 9 – “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
      Furthermore, Jesus stated, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female?” Jesus, who was in the beginning with God, made all things. Jesus is the eyewitness to the Creation event since he is the Creator. So was Jesus wrong when he stated that Adam and Eve were created in the beginning, not millions of years later after the beginning? For my money, Jesus’ eyewitness testimony about the creation is more powerful than any other type of argument that can be juxtaposed.

    • Quinten A. Buechner January 18, 2018 at 4:59 pm #

      On the first 3 days, Gen. 1: “and the evening and the morning was the First day” no eons noted. Simply days for all six days of creation

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