PMW 2020-072 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
In this article I am concluding a three-part study of a Reformed writer’s attempt to re-interpret the Westminster Confession of Faith’s statement on six day creation. The paper I am critiquing was written by Dr. Lee Irons.
Irons complains: “assuming that these men almost universally held to a young earth, logically we cannot conclude that the Confession itself affirms or requires the young earth position.” In response we should note:
(1) Irons’ choice of terms unfortunately tends to bias his readers against Hall’s work: once again he speaks of “assuming” something. Hall does not assume the young earth perspective of the divines: he provides what Irons himself calls “a catalogue of quotes”; that is, he documents their views.
(2) But theoretically the young earth viewpoint differs from the six-day position in an important respect in our Confessional debate: the Confession does assert God created “in the space of six days.” The Six-Day Creation view does not require that the Confession asserts a young earth; that position is conceptually distinct.
(3) Irons misses the point of Hall’s citing young earth evidence from the divines. He does not cite the young earth statements in order to demand a young earth perspective for creedal subscription. Rather he is demonstrating from the intellectual context of the divines that their creedal statement “in the space of six days” cannot be extrapolated out into multiple billions of years, as allowed in the Framework Interpretation and evolutionary theory. Whatever the age of the earth is, it did not come to that allegedly advanced age during the creation week, for the Confession directly informs us that that week only covered “the space of six days.”
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Irons attempts to undercut Hall’s research by commenting on the debate over the season of the year in which the original creation week occurred, whether it was “in the spring or the fall” (2). He notes that this issue was “not resolved” among Reformed theologians. Then he makes the self-destructive observation:
“Clearly, then, it was a question that could have been debated at the Westminster Assembly and the majority view could have been enshrined in the Confession itself. Yet we find no references to this question in the Confession. Is it not obvious that the Assembly did not consider this issue to be relevant to the Confession’s purpose and scope?”
This comment actually strengthens our argument against the Framework Interpretation:
(1) As a matter of fact, the divines did include a statement concerning the length of the creation week. Consequently, on Irons’ own method this is “relevant to the Confession’s purpose and scope.” What is more, the fact of original creation transpiring “in the space of six days” is so important that it not only appears in the Confession of Faith but also in both the Larger and Shorter Catechisms:
Larger Catechism Question 15: What is the work of creation? Answer: The work of creation is that wherein God did in the beginning, by the word of his power, make of nothing the world, and all things therein, for himself, within the space of six days, and all very good.
Shorter Catechism Question 9: What is the work of creation? Answer: The work of creation is, God’s making all things of nothing, by the word of his power, in the space of six days, and all very good.
(2) It exposes the horrendous danger inherent in Irons’ Confessional exegetical methodology. If Irons argues that the absence of a clear statement from the Confession is telling evidence against its significance, then we cannot argue that God created the entire universe! The Confession says nothing about the creation of the universe when it states:
It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good.
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After God had made all other creatures, He created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after His own image … (WCF 4:1-2a)
Notice that the Confession only mentions the creation of “the world” and the creatures in it (cp. also LC 15). Elsewhere it only alludes to “the beginning of the world” (LC 116; SC 59).
Returning again to his bias against historical exegesis, we may note that Irons writes: “Notice the fallacy of Hall’s argument. ‘The context of Westminster’s original intent’ as defined ‘in their other writings’ must interpret what the Confession itself actually says'” (3). In response I would comment:
(1) Where is the fallacy in this? Is this not common, scholarly historical exegesis? Again Irons’ complaint does not reflect the actual situation in Hall’s work.
(2) Does not Irons himself (1, 5) assert that the language “in the space of six days” is the divines’ response to Augustine’s conception? And how does he know that? On the basis of historical exegesis of the divines’ other writings! “Hall correctly argues that the Westminster divines specifically rejected the Augustinian view in its ‘in the space of six days’ language” (5).
(3) Furthermore, where does the Confession itself allow any other view than that creation transpired “in the space of six days”? The Confession and Catechisms consistently maintain that view. Indeed, the Standards assert that the seventh day sabbath prevailed “from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ” (WCF 21:7; LC 116; SC 59). Obviously the Sabbath is established after the creation process, yet it is deemed extant “from the beginning of the world.” Furthermore, in that man himself is a part of the original creation process “in the beginning,” how can the Framework Interpretation allow a multi-billion year old earth (see footnote 4 above) which places man late in the scheme of things far from “the beginning”? Do the Standards not demand the appearance of man upon the earth “from the beginning” (WCF 8:6; as does Scripture, Mt. 19:4; Mk. 10:6)?
Try as he might, as intelligent a student of theology as he is, Lee Irons fails in his re-interpretive effort regarding the Confession’s clear declaration. The Westminster divines sincerely believed and confessionally-affirmed that God accomplished the creation of the universe “in the space of six days.”
Tagged: six day creation