Though I’ve been a Christian for nearly 30 years, it’s only within the last five or so that I’ve become a serious student of the Bible.
One thing I’ve learned (and love!) is how, when you begin bringing in new information, you also begin to see how things work—or don’t work—with other things you believe.
One of those new ideas I’ve recently come to embrace is the Divine Council Worldview (DCW), which has a few essential features that have implications for other areas of doctrine.
I’m in the very beginning of forming some thoughts around a possible connection between this view and the young age1 creationist position.
First, let’s define some terms, and then I’ll provide the lines of thought I’m beginning to consider.
Young age creationism (YAC) is the view that the earth and universe are relatively young, having been created around 6,000 years ago. This stands in significant contrast to an old age position, held by essentially all conventional scientists as well as many Christian scientists, philosophers, theologians, and laypersons.
That is not to say the young age position is indefensible nor hasn’t any defenders. There is a reason it has been the historic traditional position of the church and is defended today by plenty of competent biblical scholars and scientists. But today, at least in Christian academia, it is most likely the minority position.
The DCW entails a wide variety of commitments;2 relevant to my thoughts, though, are the following:
Yahweh has a council of spiritual beings with whom he regularly interacts in order to accomplish his purposes.
Certain of these council members are responsible (at least in part) for three inciting acts that introduced/worsened the proliferation of sin in the world.
Those acts include the initial divine rebellion (see Genesis 3), the descent of the Watchers and human interbreeding in Genesis 6:1-4, and the corruption of worship at the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 (cf. Deut. 32:8-9).
There are at least two thought trajectories that may, if further explored, lead to an integration of these ideas that more than just “works,” but is required. Much more study will be required to determine if this thinking is sound; for now, here are my thoughts, and yours are welcome in the comments below!
First, the Tower of Babel incident as the origin of pagan mythology.
For some time now, liberal scholars have been making a case that Genesis 1-11 boasts features that render it the product of borrowing from Mesopotamian and/or Egyptian mythology.
My understanding is that this is no longer the consensus view, and is certainly not defended by scholars who consider themselves to be evangelical. There are new, more nuanced versions of this position though. For example, one may claim that these stories were added later than the rest of the Pentateuch. Scholars find evidence for that position in precisely those themes which suggest Mesopotamian origin.
Of course, they don’t argue they were borrowed though. Rather, they would tend to think they were added as a part of God’s process of inspiration; they tell a true story, but the thematic connections are for primarily polemical purposes—taking jabs at these mythologies.
Other scholars take the polemical position but suggest Mosaic authorship just posterior to the Exodus.
Finally, others see the polemical theology within, but explain the lexical and thematic similarities the other way around. While even these scholars may admit that the some of the myths (The Epic of Gilgamesh, for example) were written prior to the biblical account, they may maintain that the stories were accurately preserved through oral tradition or may even maintain that there were written records prior to this time (e.g., P.J. Wiseman’s Tablet Theory).
For some time now, the question has been floating around in my mind, for those of us wanting to preserve ideas such as Mosaic authorship, the primacy of the biblical account, and the authority of Scripture, of whether we could simply say these later mythological stories such as we find in Ugaritic and Egyptian literature are mere bastardizations of the true flood story that were corrupted over time.
As the human population was dispersed from Babel, these stories were corrupted, told from different angles in order to make and/or preserve some sort of status among certain family groups, etc. One might say this is equally problematic for the Hebrews, but this is not so because they had divine revelation from God (to Abraham, Jacob, later Moses, etc) to ensure the stories were preserved accurately by the time they were written down.
This would explain why so many other ancient cultures have a flood story, but also why each differs a bit from the biblical account.
It seems to me that this notion is at the very least strengthened when consideration is given to the DCW. For, on the DCW, the cultures at Babel were not merely dispersed because of human sin; rather, the sin had intelligent evil influence, and so both were judged. God “allotted” the nations to these lesser gods (again, see Deut. 32:8-9) as a way of abandoning them and those humans for their rebellion.3
If my contention is correct, this would mean more than fallible humans messing with the true story either intentionally (say, for personal power/gain) or unintentionally; actually, it would give the “princes and principalities” (the lesser gods) spiritual motive to deceive these people groups in order to drive them further from belief in Yahweh, the Most High.
To be concise, then: I am thinking that Genesis 1-11 does not have Mesopotamian and Egyptian motifs throughout because it was written and/or edited later and ostensibly borrowed linguistic features from these cultures, but rather that such features are (at least largely) the product of bastardized versions of the story having proliferated in these other cultures, a contention that would seem to be strengthened if divine, intelligent evil was involved in the deception.
Second, the overall working out of God’s program renders 13.8 billion years of evolutionary time unnecessary at best and absurd at worst.
Allow me to speak with clarity at the outset: the DCW does not speak directly to the issue of whether the earth and universe are young or old. One could in principle hold to either position and affirm the DCW; indeed, it has convinced those on both sides of that debate.
Here’s something else that should be made absolutely clear: God can do what he wants.
If God wished to create 13.8 bya, then fine by me! I don’t really care, other than to say I believe the Bible fairly explicitly teaches that he didn’t do this. Nevertheless, even the most prominent popularizer of the DCW, Hebrew scholar Dr. Michael Heiser, is more persuaded of a regional flood position, and, by all accounts, an old age position on the earth and universe (though he seems careful not to explicitly state this).
But one seriously wonders how this data squares well with what we find the DCW to implicate. Here are some interesting things to note about the DCW:
There’s an emphasis on God wanting both a spiritual and human family.
In the OT, “sons of God” refers primarily to these divine beings (Yahweh’s council); in the NT, believers are called the sons of God.
From the very beginning, it would seem that God is working out a very intentional and specific plan to reclaim the nations for himself from the clutches of these lesser gods. How does this happen? Simple: Evangelism.
Guess what—the powers of darkness have already lost. Jesus took care of that at Calvary. But the task now is to reclaim the nations for Christ. To bring in new believers who pledge their allegiance to Yahweh through belief and confession of Christ’s atoning work.
But if Big Bang cosmology is true, the comparative amount of time over which God’s real program has played out seems incomprehensibly small.
Humans are good at a lot of things, but putting time in perspective is not one of them. It’s not our fault—the spans of time in human history, and even more so in natural history, are so vast compared to the span of our life and recent history that it’s almost impossible to get a handle on it. If the Earth formed at midnight and the present moment is the next midnight, 24 hours later, modern humans have been around since 11:59:59pm—1 second. And if human history itself spans 24 hours from one midnight to the next, 14 minutes represents the time since Christ.
Understand two things:
The above uses an old age for the earth as the referent, which, at only 4.5 billion years, pales in comparison to the age of the universe.
This illustration uses an evolutionary definition for the first arrival of humans; not a creationist one.
Further, as I’ve written on here, most Christian philosophers seem to agree that God, while timeless in the sense of his necessary existence until the point of creation, became in time himself upon creating the universe.
This requires you to believe that God waited around in time as we experience it for 13.799999 (roughly :]) billion years, throughout all chemical, cosmic, and biological evolutionary development, for us to arrive and his program to advance.
Now again, here one could likely come up with a variety of postulations: Perhaps God was enjoying life with some of his divine family for all of that time, etc. Again, such ideas may turn out to be theoretically possible, but it’s not clear to me that they are at all probable.
However, there is no real stretch at all to consider if you just take the text at face value, including the days of Genesis 1 (which have been defined for us in context) and the chronogenealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 (which seem to impose constraints on how far they could be stretched). The young age interpretation would seem to fit better with God’s overall program.
A further problem with this would mean that there just was no purpose for allowing the death of billions upon billions of creatures throughout evolutionary time waiting for humanity to arrive on the scene. Again, there are ways of dealing with this. Some philosophers argue that while higher-order mammals feel pain, they do not know they feel pain, and thus the “suffering” of these animals is not a forceable objection.
Others might say that, while we can’t know what, if any the purpose was, we also can’t know that there wasn’t a purpose; only God could know that. And again, there is some truth value to that, but I would simply ask you to consider logically what is the most parsimonious and intuitive-sounding state of affairs.
It seems to me that explicit statements in Genesis (and other places), taken together with this data, would provide very little theological justification for God’s 14 billion year thumb-twiddling exercise.
Again, God is God! He can do what he wants! If he truly wanted to create 13.8 bya and that is what he did, then all glory be to God. But I have my doubts, to say the least, and I think a deeper understanding of the claims and theological/philosophical implications of the DCW may lend implicit if not explicit justification for a young age interpretation of universal history.
- Sometimes called young earth.
- For a more in-depth summary of the view, refer to this blog post.
- I can’t go into it here for time considerations, but this is precisely why God’s next move is to create for himself a new nation, Israel, through Abraham—which, you’ll recall, was the product of God’s miraculous intervention since Sarai was old and barren.