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Science and the Bible: The Framework View

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July 31, 2012 Tags: Creation & Origins
Science and the Bible: The Framework View
Workshop of Lucas Cranach, from Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible (1534), showing “the greater light” and “the lesser light,” placed by God “in the firmament of heaven.” The wavy light green envelope above the stars in a geocentric cosmos represents the “waters above the firmament.”

Today's entry was written by Ted Davis. You can read more about what we believe here.

Originally published July 31, 2012; revised mainly on the basis of helpful comments from readers, September 30, 2013

Although the Framework View has existed longer than a century and I’ve been familiar with the main idea since the mid-1980s, I didn’t know it even had a name until just a few years ago. The circumstances in which I learned it add some real-world flavor to a discussion that might already seem a bit too abstract for some readers, so I’ll tell you about it. I was in Manhattan, Kansas, for a few days, lecturing at Kansas State University, when I received an invitation to walk literally across the street and visit a class at Manhattan Christian College—a combination of words that may seem somewhat humorous, given that there is no Wall Street or Broadway anywhere in town. The students had on their desks copies of this book: The G3N3S1S Debate: Three Views on the Days of Creation. According to the front cover, three views on origins were presented inside, with the final one being “The Framework View,” written by Lee Irons and the late Meredith Kline. Not recognizing the term, I asked if I could look at the book, whereupon I realized that something I’d been telling students about for many years actually had a name.

No Football Coaches

When I explain this position to students, I like to start with a little puzzle. Many years ago, after attending an academic conference in a major city, I was driving through the rural countryside some distance away, en route to an historic house that wasn’t well marked. As I got closer to where I thought I might start seeing some signs directing me to the house, I noticed a fair-sized hotel, restaurant, and bar off to one side of the road. What really caught my attention was a sign, prominently displayed at the start of the driveway, warning off a certain clientele: NO FOOTBALL COACHES, it said. Unfortunately I’d forgotten my camera, but this is pretty much what I saw.

When I show it in class, I ask the students to guess what this was all about: why such a sign outside of such a place? The stories they come up with are pretty good. My favorite involves two neighboring high schools, arch rivals, with the football coach at one having an affair with the wife of his opposite number, resulting in fist-fights in that bar every fall, when friends of one man or the other would go at each other in the bar, which was on the highway connecting the two school districts. After a few students have tried their luck to no avail, someone asks, where did this take place? Was it maybe in England, where football means soccer and coach means bus? Give that student an A, I say. It was England, on a highway running between York and Manchester. Now, who can fill in the blanks? Almost right away, a student will explain that soccer fans in England can be pretty rambunctious, and that a busload of them might not make the best impression on the rest of the clientele at a respectable country inn and pub. Thus, the manager would rather not have their business.

The take-away message, of course, is that there is always a context in which the meaning of a text is embedded. Unless you know something about the time and place in which a text is composed, you aren’t going understand what it actually says. The same is true for any part of the Bible, including the opening verses of Genesis. That’s the bottom line for the Framework View: if you don’t know anything about literature and culture in the Ancient Near East, you won’t understand what Genesis is really saying.

Core Tenets or Assumptions of the Framework View

(1) The “days” in Genesis have nothing to do with historical time; they are literary devices, employed by God in order to communicate the story of the creation in terms that we can understand.

This sounds like an example of the principle of accommodation, and it should. The activities of the six days of creation are arranged into a “framework” of two triads (days 1-3 and days 4-6), with parallel types of activities in each triad.

Thus, light is created on the first “day,” and on the fourth “day” God makes the Sun and Moon, the two great lights in the firmament that produce light and “rule over” the day and the night. The air and sea appear on the second “day,” and on the fifth “day” God fills them with birds and fish, etc. In other words, the order of events seems to be more logical than chronological. The key element is the fourth day: as we noted in our discussion of Concordism, the Sun was not made until the fourth day, yet it was expressly given the task of producing the day and the night and we’ve had “evening and morning” since the first day. What’s going on here? How can this be taken “literally”? Advocates of the Framework view see a solution in the parallel triads.

Another way to see this focuses on the second verse in the Bible, which reads (in the American Standard Version, a translation that follows the Hebrew closely), “And the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” God is confronted by darkness, a watery abyss, and a formless earth—each of these features posing a problem for God, who deals with them in the subsequent six “days.” First, on “days” 1 to 3, God prepares the heavens and the Earth to be a home for the great creatures to come, by separating light from darkness, separating waters above the firmament from waters below the firmament, and causing the dry land to “appear” and to “put forth” vegetation. Then, on “days” 4 to 6, God makes the creatures and puts them in the places God has prepared—the Sun and Moon in the “firmament of heaven (day 4), birds in the air and fish in the seas (day 5), and finally “the beasts of the earth” and “man” on the land (day 6).

We emphasize that the Framework View is simply about the Bible, not about science. The Earth and the universe can be as “young” or “old” as anyone wishes to claim, because the literary form of early Genesis leaves this an open question. The “days” were probably meant to be understood “literally” as ordinary days, but only in the context of a literary form that was not meant to be understood literally, when taken as a whole.

What about the seventh “day”? Because it lacks a “morning” and an “evening” in the text (have you ever noticed this?), some authors interpret the seventh “day” as a prophetic reference to God’s own eternal rest, which has not yet begun and which we will share with God in the eschatological future. An OEC book I discussed in my column on Concordism, Robert Newman’s Genesis One and the Origin of the Earth (1977), advocates this interpretation (see pp. 65-66), and so do some advocates of the Framework View.

(2) When seen against the cultural and literary context of the Ancient Near East (ANE), it is clear that Genesis was written to combat the polytheism and pantheism of other creation stories. It was not written to provide a scientifically accurate account of the creation.

This is why the Sun and Moon are not even named on the fourth day: they were worshipped as divine beings by many people in the ANE, and the Hebrew author(s) of Genesis intentionally omit their names as an act of defiance against worshippers of those two false gods. (Remember: for the ancient Egyptians, the Sun was the chief god.) Furthermore, the stars are mentioned simply as an afterthought, at the end of verse 16: “And God made the two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.” This was done deliberately, as a way of belittling the Babylonians and others who worshipped them. Indeed, the whole creation account stands in the face of polytheism, by affirming that the one true, invisible God has actually created all visible things, including the heavenly bodies. Nothing we see is divine: this is the essence of monotheism, stated bluntly and boldly.

(3) It is not possible to find a close match between what is proclaimed in Genesis—that God is the creator—and the details of natural history. We should not approach this text with inappropriate expectations.

For many readers, the crucial question awaits: according to the Framework View, is Genesis 1-3 historical in any meaningful sense? Here there is a division of the house, with authors falling into either of these two camps:

(1) Genesis 1-3 is an historical narrative (though not strictly chronological), not a creation myth. As Lee Irons and Meredith Kline emphasize in The G3N3S1S Debate, “The framework interpretation does not teach that creation was a nonhistorical event” (p. 220). The universe was actually created, Adam and Eve were the first humans, and the Fall was a real historical event. Some OECs like this approach, which can be seen as a looser type of Concordism than the day-age theory; Bernard Ramm’s “moderate concordism” might be understood as fitting into this category, even though he did not discuss the Framework View per se.

(2) Genesis 1-3 is not an historical narrative; it resembles some other, older ANE creation stories. Conrad Hyers advances this view in his book, The Meaning of Creation: Genesis and Modern Science; see below. Some aspects of the story reflect this: the days, the progression from chaos to order, and the creation of humans from mud or clay. These are common to other ANE stories, and they are present in Genesis because that’s what hearers in the ANE expected such stories to include. Other aspects of Genesis, however, are profoundly unlike other ANE stories: the transcendence of God and the de-deification of nature. These constitute the crucial, timeless, substantive message that God has revealed to us. Theistic evolutionists tend to like this non-historical approach, which is not usually seen as a kind of Concordism.

Historical Comments

Antecedents to the Framework View are not difficult to find. As Victor Hamilton notes, “The parallel between the first three days and the last three was noted at least as early as the church father Augustine (City of God 11.6), and many writers have since drawn attention to it” (The Book of Genesis, p. 55). As I explained in an earlier column, Augustine taught that God created all things at once and told us about it in the pattern of six days, in order that we could understand it. The days themselves, however, were “unknowable” and not meant as a “literal” description of the passage of time.

In the 19th century, the German scholar J. H. Kurtz put forth an interpretation that Ramm later called the “pictorial day” view, which he considered to be a type of “Moderate Concordism,” the overall position that Ramm himself favored. Kurtz described the creation story as “prophetico-historical tableaux, [in] which are represented before the eye of the mind, scenes from the creative activity of God, each one of which represents some grand division of the great drama, some prominent phase of the development” (The Bible and Astronomy, 1861 Philadelphia edition, p. 110). His Scottish contemporary Hugh Miller, one of the most prolific and influential evangelical writers of his day, endorsed Kurtz’ interpretation, holding that “the form and nature of the revelation” in Genesis was “conveyed by a succession of sublime visions” (The Testimony of the Rocks, 1857 Boston edition, p. 180). Neither Kurtz, Miller, nor Ramm actually taught the Framework View, but their overall attitude toward interpreting the six days as literary devices was not much different.

Scan of book page

The creation days in two parallel groups, from W. H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis: A Devotional Commentary (1909). A leading British advocate of dispensationalism, Griffith Thomas also had large following among American fundamentalists. Many fundamentalists today, however, follow the YECs and vigorously reject any interpretation that does not insist on consecutive solar days. (Source: archive.org.)

The Framework View as I’ve presented it, with the “days” explicitly arranged in parallel “triads” characterized by different types of creative activity, has been around since at least 1862, when G. Rorison spoke of “the preliminary triad” and “the complementary triad” (Replies to “Essays and Reviews”, p. 248). In 1909, the great English scholar Samuel Rolles Driver divided the six days “into two sections of three days each; and the third and sixth days have each two works assigned to them. The first three days, moreover, are days of preparation, the next three are days of accomplishment” (The Book of Genesis, citing the 15th edition of 1948, p. 2). At the same time, at least one prominent conservative scholar, W. H. Griffith Thomas, took the same approach. The Framework View has a sizeable following among evangelicals today, especially in Reformed communities, mainly owing to the influence of Kline and the French theologian Henri Blocher.

An Assignment: It’s Your Turn to Read and Write

I’ve done most of the heavy lifting in this series, but now it’s your turn. As a way of getting into all three of the views we’ve studied thus far (not simply the Framework View), I’d like everyone to read an article by Conrad Hyers, “Dinosaur Religion: On Interpreting and Misinterpreting the Creation Texts,” Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 36 (September 1984): 142-48. The questions below are intended as helpful suggestions; feel free to discuss other matters as well!

1. What does Hyers mean by “dinosaur religion”?

2. What is Hyers’ most basic objection to “creation science,” the YEC view?

3. What does Hyers believe to be the true message of Genesis One?

4. Overall, do you agree with what Hyers says? Why or why not? Whether or not you agree, do you have any critical comments?

NOTE: Hyers wrote a sequel, “The Narrative Form of Genesis 1: Cosmogonic, Yes; Scientific, No,” Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation 36 (December 1984): 208-15, in which he employs an interpretive scheme highly similar to the Framework View, although that term is not used. I encourage you to read this also, but our discussion will focus on the first article.

Looking Ahead

In our next column on August 14, we begin a lengthy discussion of Theistic Evolution. Although that is the view advocated (under an alternative name) by BioLogos, I will approach it no differently. After explaining its central tenets, we’ll examine them critically and outline its history. Between now and then, I’m keen to see your responses to the assigned reading. If you gotten this far, you’re more than just a casual reader. Tell us what you think of Hyers’ ideas.

Ted Davis is Fellow of the History of Science for the BioLogos Foundation and Professor of the History of Science at Messiah College. At Messiah, Davis teaches courses on historical and contemporary aspects of Christianity and science and directs the Central Pennsylvania Forum for Religion and Science.

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Merv - #71520

July 31st 2012

This is a ‘pre-homework assignment’ comment.

Anticipating the objection that has been offered up in these forums regarding the alleged reactionary nature of the Genesis creation account to the competing ANE accounts of the time:  i.e.  that some here today are not convinced Genesis is reactionary in any such way; I would just like to add that our Old Testament (perhaps our whole Bible) does read in a way that seems to affirm its reactionary posture.  E.g.  The O.T. prophets will often refer to false Gods like Bel or Baal in personal or mocking terms even though the same will later be referred to as being ‘without breath’ or as what we today would call ‘non-existent’.  So while the prophets knew that in a literal sense there is no real deity to these mere objects, they still see God taking the “opposing team” seriously enough to challenge such gods in contests before the people.  We see this over and over again among the prophets.  So it rings true to me to think that Genesis also is probably better understood in that competitive context.  

Thanks for your picturesque illustration of our need to take context into account, Ted.  I’m sure you don’t remember me, but I was at that K-State talk you gave, and I think I even spoke with you afterwards.   Hope this doesn’t launch into too much off-topic foray here.  Your assignment looks to be interesting.


Ted Davis - #71526

July 31st 2012


Thank you for reminding me that we met on that occasion, the only time I’ve visted Kansas. I know your comments on Hyers will be very thoughtful—indeed, your preliminary comment is exactly that—and I look forward to reading them soon.

NOTE to anyone else who teaches courses on science and religion: I rank the Hyers text nearly as high as I rank Galileo, in terms of its value for laying out crucial issues clearly. The questions I use with students (see above), who are required to answer them in writing before coming to the discussion, help them to see the “bottom line” issues in the whole debate about origins. Another way to put this: Galileo is *essential*, IMO, while Hyers is very important and highly recommended.

Jon Garvey - #71527

July 31st 2012

A quick pre-homework comment on your “footbal coaches” example on the difficulty of judging context and genre. Maybe people saw the film of Queen Elizabeth parachuting into the Olympic Stadium? It occurred to me what a different message that film would have conveyed if it had been made for a North Korean Olympics and featured Kim Jong-un.

It would even have had a different interpretation if you knew Her Majesty had not been in on the joke.

So the ANE context of Genesis can’t lightly be disregarded if one wants a deep understanding.

Eddie - #71536

July 31st 2012

Ted (I hope the informality is permissible here):

The view that you and others call “The Framework View” has actually existed for longer than you indicate.  The basic elements of the pattern of creation days are discussed in Skinner’s commentary on Genesis (1910), and Skinner indicates that the pattern was already a subject of ongoing discussion among Biblical scholars, including the great S. R. Driver in his 1909 commentary on Genesis.  It seems likely from the internal references in Skinner that the view was discussed in the late 1800s by German Biblical scholars, including Wellhausen, though I haven’t checked those references.  (Note:  Skinner does not actually provide a diagram showing the parallel triads, but the discussion indicates that the pattern was grasped.)

When I was in graduate school, we certainly discussed the day-pattern in Genesis, but no particular name was given to it; it was just one of the many remarkable literary features of the text of Genesis.  When I first heard the phrase “Framework Theory” in contrast with “Day-Age Theory” and “Gap Theory”—I can’t remember where, it might have been in Lamoureux—I was puzzled because I did not recognize the phrase.   I soon discovered that the phrase was found all through evangelical literature.  This is one of many cases where evangelical scholars have developed their own language that is not used in mainstream Biblical scholarship. 

It is interesting that in Skinner’s account, the word “framework” is used broadly, and that the day-pattern is for him only part of the “framework” of Genesis 1—and probably a later addition to the framework at that.  So the use of “framework” to refer narrowly to the day-pattern may well be a modification of Skinner’s language, introduced by evangelicals.

In any case, I would not be surprised if the basic six-day pattern was known and understood by medieval Jewish commentators, since the detection of this sort of pattern is something at which Jewish interpreters have always excelled.  I have not, however, done any historical research to find out where it first appears in Jewish literature; if I discover anything, I will let you know.

I note that you move from setting forth the pattern of days in Genesis 1 to questioning whether or not Genesis 1-3 overall is historical.  Yet the pattern of days applies only to Genesis 1, not to Genesis 2-3.  Most Biblical scholars, as you doubtless know, regard the story in Genesis 2-3 as originally from a different (and older) source than the story in Genesis 1, and treat it as having its own literary character.  Anything we might conclude on the basis of the day-pattern in Genesis 1 (e.g., that the story of Genesis 1 is not meant historically) would not apply to Genesis 2-3.  Of course, it might *also* be true that Genesis 2-3 is not meant historically; but that would require an argument based on the textual features of Genesis 2-3, not the day-pattern of Genesis 1.  I doubt that this qualification of mine matters much for your overall direction here, but I thought it was an important one to make, since some readers might infer, from your words, that accepting a non-literal reading of Genesis 1 leads straight to rejecting a historical Adam and Eve, which it needn’t do.

I continue to enjoy your series, Ted, and look forward to more.

Ted Davis - #71543

July 31st 2012


This information is (as you gathered) entirely new to me. I suspect it’s new to many others also, including experts on the Framework View (which I am not). I know less about this view than the others (as one might conclude from the relative brevity of this column, where the others ran to multiple parts). I hesitate to say whether your information is “not generally known,” given the level of my ignorance in this case, but I suspect nevertheless that it might not be generally known.

I never use wikipedia as the main source of information on anything I write about here, even though I often link to them (once I am convinced they are accurate), as a convenience for readers. I always use print sources and fully authoritative web sources (which does not mean wikipedia). However, since wikipedia is widely read, if this were widely known it would probably be mentioned there. It’s not:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Framework_interpretation_(Genesis). AIG puts a lot of work into their biblical information, and I don’t recall seeing anything about this there, either—but their site is apparently down at the moment. The print sources I consulted are all consistent with what I wrote about its history, also.

Your point about the two creation stories is also on target. I glossed over that, but (to be fair) the creation of the universe and of humans (“in the image of God”) are in the first story, though the Fall obviously is not.

Thank you very much indeed for the contributions.

Eddie - #71546

July 31st 2012

Thanks, Ted.  I want to stress that I wasn’t trying to “catch you out”—as if I thought that I was destroying your argument.  I was just trying to push your suggested date back further, while leaving the main point of your argument untouched.

The Skinner commentary on Genesis that I mentioned is read by every serious Genesis scholar writing in English, working anywhere in the world.  Along the commentaries of Westermann, Speiser, Von Rad, etc., it’s one of the biggies.  Anyone working on Ph.D. comprehensive exams on the Pentateuch at any serious secular university or major seminary will have consulted it.  So if the Wikipedia writers haven’t read it, shame on them.

One possibility is that, since “the framework view” or “the framework theory” is generally an evangelical rather than a mainstream term, the Wikipedia editors, following their reference trail, stopped where the trail of evangelical sources stopped.   As for AIG, well, they are not known for Biblical scholarship of a serious, objective kind.  You won’t find many of their people teaching Biblical Studies at Princeton, Cambridge, Tel Aviv, Paris, Heidelberg, Columbia, Chicago, Stanford, etc.  They live, eat, and breathe within the narrow confines of American conservative evangelicalism.  They are not the sort of people who are going to spend a great deal of time reading through Skinner, Gunkel, Wellhausen, etc.  

Yes, the creation of human beings—as a species, indeterminate in its original number—is in Genesis 1; but the creation of a single breeding pair—Adam and Eve—is specific to Genesis 2.  Thus, it is Genesis 2 rather than Genesis 1 which tends to pose the explicit problem regarding genetics and so on.


Craig Robinson - #71588

August 1st 2012

Ted and Eddie,

It is helpful to differentiate between the parallel days of creation structure and the “Framework View.” Many scholars have seen and acknowledge the parallelism between the first half week and the second half week without ascribing to a framework view of creation. The framework view is a view of creation that is dependent on the parallelism. According to Victor Hamilton, “The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17” p 55, the parallelism itself was observed as far back as Augustine (City of God 11.6).

Francis - #71540

July 31st 2012


“I have not, however, done any historical research to find out where it [basic six-day pattern] first appears in Jewish literature; if I discover anything, I will let you know.”

I might be able to save you some time. I think it first appears in a part of Jewish literature called “Genesis”.

Eddie - #71547

July 31st 2012


If we are using words precisely, Genesis is not Jewish literature.  It is Israelite literature.  Jewish literature, in the proper sense, did not exist until there were Jews.  The date of composition of the various stories in Genesis is always highly debated, but it is certainly possible that Genesis 1 was written in the period before the term “Jews” makes any historical sense.  And Genesis 2-3 is almost universally thought to be older still.

In any case, I was speaking of Jewish literature such as the Talmud, Bereshith Rabbah, etc.—literature which is not part of most Christians’ normal reading diet, but about which I have some knowledge.

Finally, your answer was apparently smart-alecky in intention, and the tone was not appreciated. 

Francis - #71541

July 31st 2012

So one of the core tenets or assumptions of the Framework View is that

“(1) The “days” in Genesis have nothing to do with historical time; they are literary devices, employed by God in order to communicate the story of the creation in terms that we can understand.”


Here’s a core tenet of the Francis View (much older than the Framework View):

(1) If the “days” in Genesis have nothing to do with historical time, but rather are literary devices, employed by God in order to cause confusion and controversy in future Christian generations, why would He do that? Why wouldn’t God exclude any specifics on time?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #71572

August 1st 2012


Interesting question, but one which we discussed in another thread.

There I put forth the view that the Priestly Editor organized the Creation into days to explain and to give a rationale for the Sabbath by having God rest on the last day of a seventh day week. 

This would make the framework more than just a simple literary device, but a theological device to make the Sabbath the Seal of Creation and to affirm its (and God’s) goodness.  From my understanding of Jewish theology and worship it remains so today for them.

On the other hand Jesus saw the Messiah and God’s salvation as the crown of Creation, differing with the Jewish theologians.  Jesus reinterpreted the Sabbath and criticized the Genesis narrative that said God rested after the sixth day.

One telling aspect which gives credance to this understanding of this view of Genesis 1 is that the version of the Decalogue found in Deuteronomy 5 differs from that in Exodus 20 in only one aspect and that is the rationale for the Sabbath is not the seventh day of Creation which would make it absolute, but on the historical, relational basis of God’s delioverance through the Exodus.    


Jon Garvey - #71574

August 1st 2012

Roger - an alternative is that Jesus was not contradicting Genesis but affirming it according to the understanding of “rest” I mention below, that is of God’s coming into the enjoyment of his reign within creation. Having subdued chaos he does not cease from his “work” of governing.

The sabbath was instituted partly to remind Israel that they too had come into God’s rest - that one day off work reminded them that they shared in God’s reign in the land of Israel (and also that God was the source of their prosperity, not just their labour). Their misunderstanding was to make the sabbath in itself a kind of servility, whereas Jesus was about God’s ongoing work of keeping “tohu and bohu” (chaos) in their place, in this case through healing.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #71606

August 2nd 2012


I am sure that we are in basic agreement, but expressing it differently.

The Jews of the time of Jesus made the Sabbath a legalistic absolute- Thos Shalt Not Work on the Sabbath.  Jesus saw it as a relational rule to guide believers as you and I do.

My biggest point is that Creationists are trying to make Genesis 1 absolute just like the Legalists in the time of Jesus did, but for a different reason.  The Legalists thought they are protecting the Sabbath and the Jewish faith.  Creationists think that are protecting Creation and the Christian faith.

Jon Garvey - #71609

August 2nd 2012


I’m actually less critical of Creationism, per se: there is a thing called  legalism, but there are also scruples, which are different. Paul condemned legalism, but was happy to make room for those who respect a day to honour God, and those who count all days equal to honour God (that’s me, because I believe Christ is the sabbath - not the place to expound that here).

So I respect the YEC (like Todd Wood, for example) who sees vital doctrine regarding death, sin and Scriptural reliability at stake in the matter - but consider that their scruples are unnecessary because their interpretation of Scripture is, as the OP points out, paradoxically coloured by the modernism they condemn.

bradley.minch - #71542

July 31st 2012

Hi Ted,


Thank you for your excellent series of posts.  I have enjoyed reading them very much.

In the historical notes section, you suggest that

The Framework View itself, with the “days” arranged in parallel triads, was first proposed in 1924 by the Dutch scholar Arie Noordzij and made more widely known by another Dutch scholar, N. H. Ridderbos. His book—Is There a Conflict Between Genesis 1 and Natural Science?—was translated into English in 1957.

However, the parallel triad arrangement of the first six days appears on pp. 20-21 of Genesis: A Devotional Commentary by W. H. Griffith Thomas, which was published in English in 1909.  A table showing the triads appears at the top of p. 21.  It can be viewed on line at


I am not sure if it is original with Griffith Thomas, but it does appear to predate Noordzij by several years.



Brad Minch.

Ted Davis - #71544

July 31st 2012

And thank you also, Bradley. More evidence that this column isn’t entirely right about the history.

GJDS - #71548

July 31st 2012


Thanks for another informative post. I cannot comment on scholarly work on this area, so I present an opinion. The gist of the matter I think is summarised in the following quotes from ref 1 you assigned:

“The narrative form itself does not indicate historicity or facticity. That can only be determined by a careful examination of the narrative and its context.

“When one surveys the history of science/ religion controversies, one finds linguistic confusion to be a major source of misunderstanding and conflict.”

“Why such technological and chronological and factual information.. be.. religious importance and spiritual significance is not at all apparent.”

With this in mind, I would make the following comments:

Genesis has a purpose, and Gen1-2 is to declare that God created the heavens and the earth. While I agree that monotheism is a radical concept during these times, and idolatry was the biggest problem facing the Hebrews and thus they would have sought ways to counter this, a central theme in the Bible is that Israel was “set apart” and one of the distinguishing marks was the Sabbath. Thus, while God cannot be limited by time, nor is He restricted to 24 hr days, the point is He wanted Israel to understand the importance of a regular six day work and a Sabbath day for spiritual reflection. This in itself, if my meagre historical knowledge is correct, is a huge departure from the ways of other religious communities. Thus I think the writer had days in mind in Genesis, but not in a way that would be taken to mean how God actually did things. The sequence is also very interesting (Jewish commentators would be authorative on this matter).

The notion of science vs religion has taken its current from I think mainly from controversies commencing from the days of Galileo and others, and the background for this has been discussed. I would ask that we consider insights into the way Hebrews wrote and discussed matters as these may be of greater significance for a deeper understanding of Genesis. The style and ‘way’ of telling the story strikes me as important; I am more struck by the account dealing with Abram who was renamed Abraham, but that is another matter. I also think it significant that the story is re-told; I am not sure about numerology, but I understand poetic styles and ways to ensure meaning and truth is imbedded in writing. From these inspired accounts we may draw spiritual understanding, as it was for Israel. Hyers in Ref 2 states it well:

“The issue, then, is not where the language (Hebrew) and certain words and phrases came from, but the uses to which they are put, and the ways in which they are put differently.”

Ted Davis - #71584

August 1st 2012

Your comments are good, GJDS. On the Sabbath, be sure to read the second part of Hyers’ essay, linked above. You won’t be disappointed, I expect.

Merv - #71549

July 31st 2012

Hyers has a rich couple of essays here.  I too want to see how other readers react to what he has to say.   For now I’ll just give one question of my own followed by a (now partially deflated!) joke.

In Hyers’ second essay he speaks of the apparently unique character of monotheism against the polytheistic  backdrop of the day, and makes much of this.  One criticism I have heard leveled against Christians who maintain prize lists of qualities that make Christianity (or in this case the Abrahamic religions) different from all others is that they are not entirely unique in this sense.  Zoroastrianism was also monotheistic (and perhaps the only other one—I don’t know; its the only other one I can name.)  Hyers doesn’t mention that, but given his interesting and entirely credible proposition that Genesis 1 cosmogeny opened the way for science by “de-deifying” creation, I now wonder if the Hindu peoples were similarly helped because of their monotheistic cosmogeny.  Perhaps it doesn’t have the entire monotheistic flavor because of the many “sub-creations” made by Mazda—angels, archangels, and other non-human beings.  But then again, Christianity also has this caste of angelic beings as part of our cosmogeny as well, and perhaps the Christian equivalent of keeping nature “deified” is to see angels and demons lurking everywhere.  All this notwithstanding, the point is still well-taken that Genesis could well be taken as a definitive step towards “nature” and therefore “science”.

Side note:  I thought I knew the distinction between “cosmogeny” and “cosmology”, but now I discover they are considered synonyms (according to dictionary.com)  Given the much needed distinction between various interpretive styles, it would be useful to have a term referring to the science of the cosmos (cosmology) and a separate one to refer to more ultimate philosphical or religious origins (what I thought was cosmogeny).  But following Hyers usage the only slight distinction I can see is that cosmology is a scientific study of the cosmos whereas cosmogeny is more specifically the origins of the cosmos (still scientific).  Given how all such studies today are blurred together in our continually forming cosmos, it is easy to see how those terms might be righly merged into one.

I have other comments but need to sign off for tonight.  I like to tell my math class this joke:  Jesus was speaking with his disciples one day and began to tell them:  “so when a variable is squared and then added to other constants or linear functions, you can plot these points on ...  “   Then Peter turns to John and whispers  “I hate it when Jesus starts talking in parabolas.”

Now that Hyers makes the connection between parables and “parabolic” stories (which totally makes sense)  it would seem this joke loses some of its zing.  Next we’ll be learning how hyperole in literature has some connection with hyperbolas.  I’d better sign off before a passing etymologist demystifies any more of my amusements.


Merv - #71550

July 31st 2012

sorry ... my “hyperole” above should have been “hyperbole”

Francis - #71552

July 31st 2012

“The Framework View itself, with the “days” arranged in parallel triads, was first proposed in 1924 by the Dutch scholar Arie Noordzij and …”

1924 A.D.

A “town” is established about 3,300 years ago, and has been getting along well ever since. Suddenly, a new kid (let’s call him F.V. or Frankie V.) moves in, and tells the town it should change, because the town has been “wrong” from the start.

F.V.  The new big man in town.


Ted Davis - #71585

August 1st 2012

So, what, Francis? Are we not supposed to reconsider our understanding of a particular text when we learn something new about either its context or its literary form or its history?

If not, then we need to discard most of the biblical commentaries that have ever been written—including those of the church fathers, who (e.g.) understood “the waters above the firmament” to mean, quite literally, that there was a large body of liquid water (or ice, as some later commentators have it) above the “firmament,” i.e., above the sphere of the “fixed stars” at the edge of the universe. See the image from Luther’s Bible at the start of this column for a much later instantiation of this same idea.

Francis - #71553

July 31st 2012

We’re talking about discerning the meaning of Scripture. Keeping that in mind, I read these verses today and was thinking they may be relevant, and connected.

“This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” [Mat 13:13]

“Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” [1 Cor 3:18-20]

wesseldawn - #71560

July 31st 2012


May I make a suggestion!

The first verse is what I like to call the “leading” one, meaning that all supporting verses  must “repeat” (in various ways) the first:

“This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” [Mat 13:13]

And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand. (Luke 8:10)

All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: (Matt. 13:34)

That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world. (Matt. 13:35)

Therefore, the parables are something which has been ‘kept secret’/a secret.

Then said I, Ah Lord GOD! they say of me, Doth he not speak parables? (Ezekiel 20:49)

I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp. (Psalm 49:4 & 78:2)

Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and showing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel (Dan. 5:12) 

parable, dark saying, hard sentences, knowledge, understanding, riddle, mystery, secret, etc. = synonymous


PNG - #71556

July 31st 2012

I had read Hyer’s essays some years ago, as well as Blochet’s book, and since first encountering the “Framework” view it has seemed obviously correct to me, although not the last thing that could be said about Genesis 1. That said, I was surprised to see in the program for the ASA meeting that just passed that Paul Seely presented a paper rejecting the Framework view. I’m wondering if Ted was there for Paul’s presentation, and if so, could he give us any indication of what Paul had to say. 

Ted Davis - #71586

August 1st 2012

Yes, I attended Paul Seely’s paper. Mainly, Paul thinks that the “days” are present in Genesis in order to underscore the Sabbath—which was already in practice. I don’t really see that as inconsistent with Hyers, myself, esp if you read the second of the two essays of his that I’ve “assigned.” I’ll make sure that Paul knows about your question and gets an invitation to say something here, if he wants to.

wesseldawn - #71557

July 31st 2012

The take-away message, of course, is that there is always a context in which the meaning of a text is embedded. Unless you know something about the time and place in which a text is composed, you aren’t going understand what it actually says. The same is true for any part of the Bible, including the opening verses of Genesis. That’s the bottom line for the Framework View: if you don’t know anything about literature and culture in the Ancient Near East, you won’t understand what Genesis is really saying.

First and foremost, the books of the Bible are not like any other. Rather the Bible has the distinction of being a divinely inspired book!

For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (2 Peter 1:21)

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16)

If written by God, it would not be exclusive to any tradition (Hebrew, Jewish, Christian, etc), rather it would be something that could speak to all people in all generations.

To put it in any other light is to take away its uniqueness.

wesseldawn - #71559

July 31st 2012

I mean “authored” by God, and not “written”...

We cannot discern scripture, obviously as we all discern in different ways, which creates confusion.

And God being all-powerful and knowing full-well that left to our own devices we were sure to confuse things, would have made a way to protect us from ourselves!



Jon Garvey - #71561

August 1st 2012


Everyone seems to have leapfrogged your questions, but maybe that’s because they’ve assumed the answers are obvious. I will too, for the sake of space.

From Eddie’s summary it looks as though the framework has filled out as knowldege of the context has increased. Originally, it seems to have been the bare recognition of a literary structure.

Hyers fills that out, adding the important idea of polemic, and in his excellent 2nd essay the hugely important insights on cosmogony. I note further developments since, as summarised particularly by John H Walton, in recognising the cosmic temple imagery that explains further the 7 day structure (ancient temples often being consecrated over 7 days), the 7th day being not a static rest, but the God who has created order coming to reign peacefully within that order (just as King David was given rest from his enemies).

Hyers has also emphasised less than Walton how this cosmic temple account (divided into three like the Jerusalem temple modelled on it/reflecting back on it) privileges man not only as the pinnacle of creation, but as the image representing God to it.

All this (and more) has its cultural feet firmly in the ANE setting, and yet transcends it brilliantly. I’d feel that the polemic element can be overplayed - partly the explanation is that a cosmogonic account is what a Hebrew writer would inevitably do, not so much to rival pagan versions but to replace them.

One might also add the significance of Gen 1 to the Torah: there’s much spiritual fruit to be gained from seeing how this universal account forms the foundation for Israel’s calling as God’s chosen nation, yet with a mission for the whole world (cf Gen 12.2-3).

In short, understanding Genesis 1 in this way provides a key to a better understanding of Genesis 203 (as Eddie rightly says) and actually of the theology of the whole Bible - an insight that “dinosaur” interpretations completely miss.

Ted Davis - #71587

August 1st 2012


Thank you for affirming the value of Hyers’ essays, which are actually excerpts from his book: http://www.amazon.com/The-Meaning-Creation-Genesis-Science/dp/0804201250.

Let me note also that, according to Hyers, “dinosaur religion” is not about interpreting the Bible improperly; it’s about what we now call the “new atheism.” Part of the brilliance of Hyers’ article is that he saw profound similarities between scientific atheism (on the one hand) and scientific creationism (on the other hand), when it comes to understanding Genesis One.

Jon Garvey - #71562

August 1st 2012


A few remarks on your last, if I may.

  1. I agree that the Bible is written for all time. Yet for no other passage do people deny the importance of historical context. Preachers illuminate the understanding of Jesus as shepherd by the information that middle-eastern shepherd led, rather than drove, their flocks. Archaeology reveals exactly who the “God-fearers” of Acts are, and why their conversion was so important. Egtc. To know what a passage first meant is the first step to applying it rightly to today’s situation. That’s basic hermeneutics, surely?
  2. The very fact that people disagree on many interpretations of Scripture proves that they are not miraculously preserved from all misunderstanding as part of their inspiration. Saying “my understanding is self-evidently right” is not a good answer, but a parochial conceit. It’s like those people who say “God would not allow any errors in Scriptural transmission” simply by asserting that the KJV is inspired and free of error, and all other variants are satanic. There are non-English speaking believers, actually. And Creationism is not proven true by being popular over there in the USA.
  3. Yet I believe the inspiration of the Scripture lies in this: that when read by someone with the Spirit of God, and a humble attitude to its truth, it will yield its core spiritual value despite the reader’s lack of background knowledge, misapprehensions about genre, etc. In my view a Patristic Platonist believer, a Young Earth Creationist or an ANE specialist would, if they were forbidden from discussing peripherals, substantially agree on the nature of God, of man, and of creation. The real disagreements come from devaluing the text as God’s revelation.
  4. But the more complete our understanding of the text, the closer we can approach its full meaning, the less likely we are to be led into heresy, and - in the Genesis case - the less likely we are to be fighting some other battle than the one we’ve been called to in Christ.
wesseldawn - #71576

August 1st 2012

Jon Garvey,

As my addition (#71559) to Francis’ post (#71557) shows, the Bible is clearly “a mystery spoken in parables” and unless one knows the “interpretation method” that God instituted for unlocking the mysteries, everything else is guess-work!

As an inspired book, the Bible is well-able to “explain itself” - this is God instructing us rather than that we instruct God!

I perceive though that people would rather hear themselves talk and debate in meaningless arguments.

Jon Garvey - #71579

August 1st 2012

No wesseldawn - Scripture speaks in parables only when it speaks in parables. Scripture is revealed not by a method, but by the Holy Spirit.

I have noticed in the last couple of weeks, though, that you have become one of the most frequently talking and debating people on BioLogos. I don’t know what that says about the meaning of your arguments, but 47 years of studying the Bible under the Spirit’s leading don’t seem to have led me to the same conclusions. Yet I’ve never found myself isolated amongst Christians who love the Bible.

Odd, that.

wesseldawn - #71597

August 1st 2012

Are insults all you have Jon Garvey?

He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything. (Mark 4:34)

All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: (Matt. 13:34)

47 years huh!! Then you must be able to explain the following! Were you even aware that the phrase ‘dark saying’ is in the Bible?

I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp. (Psalm 78:2 and Psalm 49:4)

And I didn’t know that I needed your permission to post!!


Roger A. Sawtelle - #71575

August 1st 2012

Going back to what I said above in case you missed it.

It is foolish to overlook the connection between the Sabbath and the 7 days of creation which is the basis of the Genesis 1 narration.  Since that is the case we have two alternatives,  

  1. Since God rested on the seventh day, humans must rest on the seventh day or

     2.  God created humans with the need to rest and worship and designated the seventh day of the week for this purpose. This was later changed to the first day of the week by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost both on the first day of the week. 

Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27 

Jesus said the second option is correct, while the Jewish leaders insisted on the first.

If the first option is correct, then Christians should rest and worship on the seventh day. 

Francis - #71589

August 1st 2012

My pick for BioLogos “Exchange of the Day”:

Wesseldawn: “I perceive though that people would rather hear themselves talk and debate in meaningless arguments.”

Jon Garvey: “I have noticed in the last couple of weeks, though, that you have become one of the most frequently talking and debating people on BioLogos. I don’t know what that says about the meaning of your arguments…Odd, that.”


wesseldawn - #71598

August 1st 2012

I should do this publicly as you did but it’s not my forum so I will refrain.

I thought the idea behind forums is for public debate - I have only proven that you don’t know the Bible at all…misquoting it time and again…must be hard on that old ego of yours to be wrong!

Francis - #71590

August 1st 2012

Ted Davis,

“So, what, Francis? Are we not supposed to reconsider our understanding of a particular text when we learn something new about either its context or its literary form or its history?”

Who determines whether the “something new” is legitimate? A consensus? A modern consensus? Which x years later is dethroned by a post-modern consensus? Who blesses off on whether you’ve learned anything of the truth?

Ted Davis - #71610

August 2nd 2012


What constitutes a consensus, in your mind, when it comes to interpreting the “days” of creation? I know you were with us for the 3-part column on Concordism, so you saw that the church fathers did not agree on how to understand the “days.” While many took a “literal” approach, a significant minority held that creation happened all at once, with the “days” basically literary devices employed by God to communicate mysteries to us. No one can say that the fathers were “modern,” let alone “post-modern.” I don’t think you’ve come to terms with this.

Francis - #71591

August 1st 2012

Ted Davis,

“… those of the church fathers, who (e.g.) understood “the waters above the firmament” to mean, quite literally, that there was a large body of liquid water (or ice, as some later commentators have it) above the “firmament,” i.e., above the sphere of the “fixed stars” at the edge of the universe.”

I never thought much about “the waters above the firmament.”

Who knows, maybe it was literally true. God sometimes does some “crazy” things.

I mean, where did all that water come from in Noah’s flood? Is our current biosphere even capable of producing 40 consecutive days of torrential rain world-wide?

Perhaps I’m assuming too much.

You do you believe in Noah’s flood, don’t you?


Mat 24:38-39, Luke 17:27, 2 Peter 2:5

Ted Davis - #71611

August 2nd 2012


THe view you allude to here is known as the “vapor canopy.” At one time it was a standard part of the YEC view—and (as you suggest here) closely related to flood geology. At this point, it’s mostly been given up, partly owing to severe criticism of it made by former YEC Glenn Morton many years ago. Creationists themselves say this: http://creationwiki.org/Canopy_theory (there is no mention of Morton there, perhaps b/c they don’t want to steer their readers toward him?).

The focus here is Genesis 1 and to a lesser extent Genesis 2 & 3. I’m not going to digress about the flood, apart from responding to your point about the waters above the firmament (which is part of the text we’re discussing).

The history of the canopy theory is fascinating, and mostly unpublished thus far. A conservative Presbyterian pastor I know has a lenghty study of it that I’ve never been able to persuade him to publish, but it shows in great detail how the idea originated with Isaac Newton Vail, a mystical Quaker (http://www.creationscience.com/onlinebook/FAQ39.html); how it was picked up by Vernon Kellogg (http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1985/JASA12-85Key.html) and passed on to Harry Rimmer (http://works.bepress.com/roger_schultz/1/) in California; and how Henry Morris got if from them.

Merv - #71595

August 1st 2012

I appreciated Hyers’ broadening our concept of academic “imperialism” which he might have titled “discipline imperialism” or “academic imperialism” in his first essay rather than “scientific imperialism” since, as he adeptly points out, each practitioner from each discipline wants to apprehend the universe in those terms that he/she have mastered.  We each have our hammer, and wouldn’t you know it—- everything looks like my kind of nail.  Science seems to be accused of this the most, and probably deserves that hot seat because of a few of its more outspoken and arrogant self-appointed representatives.  But Hyers reminds us that the sciences hold no monopoly on such conceit.

He also pointed out that the naturalist only extends his claim to have encompassed everything by first stepping outside that very domain he claimed was closed, so that he can even make such a judgment in the first place.  This itself is an iconic picture of what each of us in our respective disciplines tries to do to get at the big picture.  We each want to jump to the superset (our universal set) but we very badly want our own ways of thinking (or our academic or scientific methods) to be identical to that superset so that we can feel right at home making broad declarations.

Since, as Jon noted, we seem to have leap frogged Dr. Davis’ questions—and I was taking them more a guide for things to look out for in the essay; yet here are my answers now to the first 3.

1.  “Dinosaur religion” as coined by Hyers is the implicit religion that both secular naturalists and creation scientists have agreed upon (and done so from well outside the domain of anything remotely scientific).  This religion declares science to be the reliable arbiter on religious origins issues, and that things like time-scales and dinosaurs and the like are the only interesting or relevant things to discuss as regards origins issues.  And so they part ways, each claiming to drag “true” science along with him.  But what both of them actually have, fully intact, is “dinosaur religion”. 

2.  Hyers’ objection to YEC is that it is a “category mistake”.  It is forcing sacred texts into a modern mold that those texts were never written to fill.

3.  One of the main things Hyers sees in Genesis 1 is a total replacement of the common cosmogenies of the day.  The mainly polytheistic theatres with their dramatic sagas injecting divinity into every corner of nature are supplanted by what looks like a nearly atheistic drama in comparison.  All nature is just nature and all so-called gods do not even exist, except the one true one.   And so the pavement is smoothed for such things as scientific thinking (though this latter point is NOT what Genesis is about but only our own after thoughts applied).  Nature is nature.  God is God.  That’s what I see Hyers taking from Genesis 1.

4.  I think Hyers is spot on. 

...and I challenge anyone who thinks differently to answer his arguments.  (not that I think they are invulnerable—I just want to see evidence that opponents to such views can wrestle with it, and perhaps give us more to think about.)

I have my own (well, only one really) potential criticism, but it is so peripheral that I won’t bring it up yet since from where I sit, Hyers’ main points are so pertinent, perceptive, and cogently written.


Ted Davis - #71612

August 2nd 2012

Thank you for the contribution, Merv. I read Hyers almost as soon as the article arrived in my mailbox back in 1984. I’d never seen anything like it, but that shows only how much I did not know about biblical scholarship. I thought his views were highly original and even radical, but mainly he was conveying ideas that were pretty mainstream in his field (I’m not saying he wasn’t original, simply that he wasn’t presenting anything that revolutionized his field). One of the reasons his article is so good to use in classes (including this one) is, that so many people actually have not heard these ideas before, even lay people who’ve been studying the Bible seriously for decades. Reactions are mixed, in my experience, with probably a majority responding as you do with great appreciation, while others are very disturbed by what they see as an attack on the Bible.

Ironically, as far as I can tell, Hyers’ main message about monotheism and polytheism is not contested even by most YEC proponents; they agree that Genesis is (at least partly) about that, and that aspects of the narrative are written with that in mind. The disagreement comes in here: is that ALL that Genesis is saying? Why can’t it ALSO be giving us a blow-by-blow account of what God did to create the world?

For Hyers, of course, that’s really beside the point. For YECs and some OECs, it’s critical to have more than just monotheism here (as if monotheism were a minor message that didn’t need a text like this to proclaim it).

Jon Garvey - #71614

August 2nd 2012

Surely Ted, there is much more than bare monotheism - the story serves at least the same function as other ANE cosmogonies, which is to form the understanding of how the world is ordered as it is, and particularly how the people (in this case Israel, with a Universalist hint) stand in the cosmic order.

So the story stands as the first foundation of Israel (and therefore of God’s people of all times), not just a polemic against external paganism.

Even more is this so if the story contains cosmic temple and sabbath imagery - there is a close association of creation with the true worship of Yahweh. But I think the idea of a priestly writer reading the sabbath back into creation puts the cart before the horse in a myopic way - it’s establishing that both Israel’s temple worship and the sabbath system have their origin in the creation itself - as G K Beale reminds us, “the pattern shown you on the high mountain”.

Some of the constituent parts of the Universe’s functional order John H Walton points to are far beyond just belief in one God: the provison of time, of weather to sustain our lives, of land to sustain food supply, of the heavenly bodies to govern times and seasons - and therefore the fruitfulness of the earth, of the ecosystem which provides all our needs, of food for all the creatures and livestock for man, and man as a vice-regent rather than (as in paganism) a slave of the gods. All these are viewed in terms of God’s ordered provision for human life, not just as material entities for study.

In other words, Genesis 1 is the first expression of the covenant blessings (land, people, prosperity under God) partly lost by Adam, promised later to Abraham and finally (in Torah terms) given to the new nation of Israel in Canaan.

If the Creationists (or anyone else) want more, then they should note these are the same blessings given by Christ (new heavens/new earth, vast multitude, dwelling face to face with God). Why would anyone want to waste time on mere scientific interpretations when it teaches all that??

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