Was Christ a Creationist?
A sermon by Richard Peachey, preached in several Lower Mainland (British Columbia) locations. Bible quotations are from the New International Version.
New Testament reading: Matthew 19:1-12
Old Testament reading: Genesis 1:26-31; 2:15-25
I'd like us to think together about those passages of Scripture that were read, from Matthew chapter 19, and from Genesis 1 and 2. To begin with, you may want to have your Bible open at Matthew 19. But before we have a look at the teaching given in this text, let's give some thought to the Person who is presented to us as the Teacher.
This is the One whom Christians call the Lord Jesus Christ. On the night when he was betrayed, Jesus said to his disciples, "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am" (John 13:13).
Just a couple of days earlier, Jesus had addressed the crowds and his disciples, saying, ". . . you have only one Master and you are all brothers. . . . you have one Teacher, the Christ" (Matthew 23:8,10).
Later on, when the risen Lord Jesus spoke with the apostle Peter, Peter declared, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." In saying this, Peter acknowledged the risen Jesus as the all-knowing Lord of his life (John 21:17, compare 16:30).
Earlier, during his earthly ministry, Jesus had said: "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." And in light of that, Jesus extends the invitation: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me" (Matthew 11:27-29).
When Jesus gave his apostles the Great Commission at the end of Matthew's gospel, he authoritatively instructed them to "make disciples . . . baptizing them . . . and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19,20).
And in his letter to the Colossian believers, the apostle Paul declares that it is Christ "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3).
So then: if we say we are believers in Jesus Christ as Lord, if we acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, part of what that means is that we accept his teachings as divine, as authoritative, as precious, as from God.
Now when we inquire into Jesus' teachings about beginnings, about origins, about how everything got started, there's one other thing we need to keep in mind, and that is that the Son of God was present himself at creation — in fact, he himself was the Agent of creation! He did it all — he himself made the heavens and the earth and all that in them is!
Remember the opening statements of John's gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him [that is, by his agency] all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made" (John 1:1-3). A few verses later, "the Word" is clearly identified as God the Son, who became incarnate as Jesus Christ! — "The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
Other New Testament passages also speak of the Son of God as the Agent of creation, the One who himself accomplished the divine work of creating. Colossians 1:15 says "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created. . . ." And Hebrews 1:2 says "in these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe."
Now, with those background thoughts in our minds, what does Jesus — the divine Teacher, the one who knows all things, the one who was himself the Agent of creation — what does he have to say about this topic of beginnings? Let's go back to Matthew 19, and I'll read once again verses 4 to 6.
"Haven't you read," he replied, that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,'
and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'?
So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
From this passage, our first impression is going to be that in the debate between evolution and creation, the Lord Jesus appears to come down on the side of creation. And of course, that should be no surprise. Here we find Jesus speaking of God as "the Creator," and the creation of human beings. So, clearly, Jesus can be classified as a creationist of some sort.
But there are different ways of being a creationist. Within the last twenty years, a movement has arisen that is called the "Intelligent Design Movement," or "IDM." Adherents of this approach, such as Phillip Johnson and Michael Behe, have published some very strong scientific and philosophical arguments against Darwinian evolution. They also do an excellent job of illustrating how difficult an evolutionary "origin of life" would be, in terms of how chemistry really works. But in general, the IDM folks stay away from the Bible, and they mostly prefer not to specify exactly who the "Intelligent Designer" is. They call themselves "mere" creationists in the same way that C. S. Lewis claimed to present "mere" Christianity. They bring forth good evidence for design in nature, but without getting into any theological details — it's kind of a "lowest common denominator" approach. This is their strategy as they attempt to reach their colleagues in academia, and to an extent there might be some merit in what they're doing. To put it another way: what they're saying is largely OK, as far as it goes — although it really doesn't go very far!
But it's pretty clear that Jesus himself is not an "Intelligent Design Movement" sort of creationist. Not at all: he comes across as a robust Biblical creationist, taking his stand firmly on the truth of God's inscripturated word!
"Haven't you read?" he challenges the Pharisees. These religious leaders — these holy and dedicated men — these highly trained theologians, who ought to be thoroughly familiar with the origin of marriage as described in the Bible. These leaders of the community, who ought to be teaching the people foundational truths about the male-female relationship from the book of Genesis, not looking around for loopholes in order to facilitate easy divorces! "Haven't you read?"
Jesus seems to have had an extremely high view of the Bible's authority. He often challenged his opponents with phrases like "Have you never read in the scriptures . . ." or "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God" (Matthew 21:16,42; 22:29; Mark 2:25; 12:10,24).
In his high-priestly prayer on the night before he was crucified, Jesus prayed to the Father for his disciples, and he said, "Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth" (John 17:17).
Recall also that during his temptation by Satan as he was beginning his earthly ministry, Jesus repeatedly fended off the tempter by saying, "It is written." That's a phrase which in the original Greek is very forceful, and which could properly be translated, "It stands written." In Matthew 4:4, Jesus responded to Satan, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' "
Even when he was suffering and dying on the cross for our sins, Jesus quoted Scripture: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46; from Psalm 22:1).
And after he had conquered death, as the risen Lord, he continued to uphold the authority of the Bible. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus rebuked a pair of disciples: "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!" (Luke 24:25)
New Testament scholar Michael Green, formerly of Regent College (in Vancouver, British Columbia), wrote a book which was published in 2005, in which he critiqued Dan Brown's very popular novel and movie, The Da Vinci Code. The title of Green's critique is "The Books the Church Suppressed: Fiction and Truth in The Da Vinci Code." [2005. Monarch Books.] I recommend it: it's a good read, and it's a fine critique. Now, while discussing the issue of the authority of Scripture, Michael Green makes this comment: "Perhaps the crowning example of Jesus' attitude to the Old Testament comes in Matthew 19:4,5" (page 42). I would agree with Green's assessment. And it's interesting that this "crowning example" of Jesus' view of Scripture comes right at the point where he's considering this matter of creation!
Now a question may perhaps arise in the minds of some of us, and that is: Could our Lord have been merely accommodating himself to what his hearers believed? Some scholars would make the suggestion that really, Jesus knew better, but he went along with how the people of his day viewed the Bible, in order to get his message across. But he didn't actually believe in the absolute authority of the Bible himself — that's the position these scholars would take. But in my view, that idea fails for at least a couple of reasons.
First of all, Jesus upheld the Bible's authority not just when he was debating the scholarly Pharisees — as in our text, for example, in Matthew 19. He also upheld the Bible's authority when he was dealing with Satan, and even when he was dying on the cross, and afterward too, when he had risen from the dead. Jesus was entirely consistent in his acceptance of the truth of Scripture — he never deviated from that position, even in times of great trial.
Secondly, I submit to you that for Jesus to go along with what he didn't truly believe would not match what we know of his character. Jesus was not the sort of teacher who would slyly accommodate himself to anything he knew wasn't right. Remember how he repeatedly challenged the Pharisees regarding their adherence to human traditions that were not based solidly on biblical authority. He gave no evidence of being any kind of "accommodationist"!
To support my point here, let me give you a quote from a British New Testament scholar by the name of J. W. Wenham. When I studied New Testament Greek, Wenham was actually the author of the Greek language textbook that our class used. He has also authored a worthwhile little book titled "Christ and the Bible," which deals with a number of the issues we're touching on today.
Here's Wenham's statement on that question of whether Christ might have deliberately accommodated himself to popular belief:
"The notion that our Lord was fully aware that the view of Holy Scripture current in His day was erroneous, and that He deliberately accommodated His teaching to the beliefs of His hearers, will not square with the facts. His use of the Old Testament seems altogether too insistent, positive, and absolute. He unequivocally maintained that "the Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35); "Not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law . . ." (Matt. 5:18); "It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law" (Luke 16:17). . . . It was no mere debating point that made Him say to the Sadducees, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God" (Matt. 22:29). . . .
"The evidence is abundantly clear:
"To Christ the Old Testament was true, authoritative, inspired.
"To Him the God of the Old Testament was the one living God, and the teaching of the Old Testament was the teaching of this living God."
"To Him what Scripture said, God said."
[Cited from John W. Wenham, "Christ's View of Scripture." In Norman L. Geisler (ed.). 1979. Inerrancy. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. Pages 14, 15, 30. The wording given here is very close to that found in John W. Wenham. 1972. Christ and the Bible. London, UK: Tyndale Press. Pages 21, 22, 37.]
For Jesus, the Bible was clearly the authoritative guide for all kinds of moral and ethical issues. But more than that, he also upheld it reliability on matters of history as well: Jesus referred to Abel, Noah, Abraham, Jonah, and many others as historical figures, without any indication that he regarded these persons as merely symbolic or as mythological characters.
Furthermore, we can take note from our text in Matthew 19 that not only does Jesus go to the Bible, he goes to one of the most maligned sections of the Bible — the early chapters of the book of Genesis!
The great British Baptist preacher of the 1800s, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, comments at this point:
"Our Lord honours Holy Scripture by drawing his argument therefrom. He chose specially to set his seal upon a part of the story of creation—that story which modern critics speak of as if it were fable or myth."
[Charles Haddon Spurgeon. 1979. (Originally published in 1893.) Spurgeon's Popular Exposition of Matthew. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. Page 158.]
Indeed, many modern theologians do dismiss Genesis chapters 1 through 11 as myth, or allegory, or poetry, or as "an artistic literary creation." For several reasons, I take all of Genesis, including the early chapters, to be straightforward historical narrative. If you want to pursue that question, the question of the genre of Genesis, or the type of literature represented by the book of Genesis, you can find an article about this on our website, creationbc.org [Five Arguments for Genesis 1 and 2 as Straightforward Historical Narrative]. But in any case, the Lord Jesus Christ plainly accepted Genesis as authoritative, and so must we, if we would be his authentic disciples.
Now, not only does Jesus go to the Bible, and not only does he go to Genesis, he does something else that's very striking here. Jesus quotes from both the first chapter and the second chapter of Genesis. The phrase "made them male and female" is from Genesis One verse 27, and the statement "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" — that is from Genesis Two verse 24.
Remarkably, Jesus combines those two quotations into one saying; and by so doing, he presents those two chapters as complementary to one another. Perhaps even within a single breath, Jesus quotes first from chapter one, and then right away from chapter two. Plainly, Jesus would not have agreed with those modern critics who claim that these are two separate and conflicting creation stories, two distinct accounts that arose from different sources and as a result are at odds with each other.
The critics would attempt to point out that these two chapters each have a different sequence of creation: they would say, for example, that in the second chapter man is created before plants and animals, but in the first chapter he is created after plants and animals. But reconciling the two chapters is really not that difficult, if we keep two simple points in mind.
Point Number One: just be aware that the second chapter is focused specifically on the account of the creation of man, and the setting is local, whereas the first chapter is broader, taking into view the creation of the whole heavens and earth. In other words, chapter 2 takes one small (but important!) section of chapter 1, and enlarges on it, giving some additional detail. It is not a "second creation account." The purpose of chapter 2 is to expand on chapter 1, providing information that the reader will need to have, in order to be able to understand man's fall into sin, which is about to be explained in the following chapter, chapter 3. So chapter 2 should not be seen as contradictory to chapter 1, but as supplementary to chapter 1.
And Point Number Two: be aware that Hebrew verbs have essentially only one kind of past tense, which can quite properly be translated either as a simple past (such as "formed"), or as a perfect (like "has formed"), or as a pluperfect ("had formed"). So Bible translators have to make decisions. Within any particular passage, translators will have to ask: Which of the possible English past tense options best suits the context?
For instance, in Genesis 2:19, which comes after the detailed account of the creation of Adam, the New International Version has decided to use the pluperfect English verb: "Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air." That is, according to the NIV rendering, the LORD God actually had already made these beasts and birds prior to the creation of man. And that is one legitimate and possible understanding of the Hebrew verb which the King James Version has rendered as simply "formed."
[For a technical discussion of the issues raised here, see C. John Collins's article on the Hebrew pluperfect: <http://tyndalehouse.com/tynbul/library/TynBull_1995_46_1_08_Collins_WAYYIQTOL_Pluperfect.pdf>.]
So if we just keep these two points in mind, it's not that hard to propose reasonable ways to reconcile the apparent conflicts between these two chapters.
But in any case, Jesus himself must have regarded Genesis 1 and 2 as genuinely reconcilable, because he quoted both of them together, within one sentence!
To make just one further point: in a very interesting way here, Jesus shows his strong support of the concept that all of Scripture is "God-breathed," that the words of the Bible are the very words of God himself. Theologians call that the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. If you turn to Genesis 2, and inspect Genesis 2:24, you will note that that particular verse comes straight from the narrator; it's not presented as direct speech by God. The statement, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" — that verse is written as part of the narrative, not as a quotation from God or from anyone else.
But Jesus cites those very same words with the introduction, ". . . the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said. . . ." Jesus treats Genesis 2:24 as the very words of God, giving that verse the clearest kind of divine authority, and then he concludes: "Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate." So in Jesus' view, it is the Creator himself who authoritatively stands behind those words from Genesis 2:24, "the two will become one flesh." And based on that understanding, Jesus can reason, "Therefore what God has joined together. . . ."
[Here I am disagreeing with commentator Leon Morris, who writes regarding Matthew 19:5, "And he said refers to Jesus, not the Father, who is not said to have uttered the first words quoted" (Leon Morris. 1992. The Gospel according to Matthew. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. Page 481). Tasker makes a similar suggestion (R. V. G. Tasker. 1981. The Gospel According to St. Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. Pages 183, 184). But it seems to me that this view does not account adequately for Jesus' conclusion or inference in Matthew 19:6, "Therefore what God has joined together. . . ." New Testament scholar D. A. Carson understands Matthew 19:5 to be what "the Creator then said" (D. A. Carson. 1984. "Matthew." In Frank E. Gaebelein (ed.). The Expositor's Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Regency Reference Library [Zondervan]. Volume 8, page 412).]
Our Matthew passage, then, portrays Jesus as a thoroughgoing Biblical creationist, a believer in the historicity of Genesis, accepting that God himself is behind even those disputed early chapters of Genesis.
But we can go one step further than that, even.
It's also clear, here, that the Lord Jesus Christ is a young-earth creationist. Jesus said in Matthew 19:4, "Haven't you read that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female' . . . ."
The parallel account in Mark's gospel reads: "But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.' " (Mark 10:6)
Now think about this: if the standard evolutionary time-scale is correct, even approximately, then human beings arrived not anywhere near the beginning but almost at the end of the history of the universe. Here's one way to look at it:
The Lord Jesus Christ, then, the One whom you worship and serve, the One whom you say you believe in, if you call yourself a Christian — he is a creationist, a Biblical creationist, a Genesis literalist, even a young-earth creationist! I would challenge you today to take him at his word, to believe the Scriptures which he clearly endorses, even from the first chapter of Genesis.
Of course, many people would consider this teaching of Jesus to be simply wrong, just out of touch with modern scientific reality. But Christians cannot afford to take that attitude. The Lord Jesus himself stated categorically: "If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38).
Let us glory in Christ Jesus, putting no confidence in the flesh, keeping in mind that, as Jesus himself said, "What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight" (Luke 16:15).
For Further Reading
"Was Christ a Creationist?" (a one-page summary of the above sermon) <http://www.creationbc.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=92>
"If Jesus Was Wrong: The Implications" <http://www.creationbc.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=172>
"Five Arguments for Genesis 1 and 2 as Straightforward Historical Narrative" <http://www.creationbc.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=85>
"Christ's View of the Bible" <http://www.creationbc.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=138>
Regis Nicoll, "What Would Jesus Say to Darwin?" <http://www.breakpoint.org/features-columns/breakpoint-columns/bp-columns-archive/entry/2/14967>
Carl Wieland, "Jesus on the age of the earth." Creation 34(2):51–54, April 2012 <http://creation.com/jesus-age-earth>
Tim Chaffey and Roger Patterson, "Was Jesus Wrong? Peter Enns Says, 'Yes'." <http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2012/01/30/peter-enns-jesus-was-wrong>