This past weekend, I spoke at the Valley Home Educators Convention in Modesto, California. It’s a mid-sized convention that is always well-run and a delight to attend. I gave a total of six talks: Why I believe in a Young Earth, Creation vs Evolution: Religion vs Science or Religion vs Religion, Homeschooling: The Solution to Our Education Problem, Why Homeschool through High School, What about K-6 Science?, and ‘Teaching’ the Jr High & High School Sciences at Home. They were all well attended, and I got several good questions. However, I did have one talk (I forget which one) after which no one asked a single question. I don’t recall that ever happening before.
I was a bit concerned about giving the first talk, because it tends to ruffle some feathers. In the talk, I make the (rather obvious to me) point that the young-earth interpretation of Scripture is not the only orthodox interpretation that submits to Scriptural authority. I demonstrate this several different ways, including by pointing out that some of the early church fathers (like Origen) interpreted the days in the creation account to be figurative and not literal. By the 1100’s a figurative interpretation of Genesis was widespread in the church. Other church fathers (like Clement of Alexandria, Athanasius of Alexandria, Augustine, and Hilary of Poitiers) believed that the days had nothing to do with the passage of time but instead were used as a means by which the things that were created could be ordered in terms of priority.
This, of course, goes against what some of my fellow young-earth creationists teach, so sometimes, the content of the talk is greeted with quite a bit of anger. At this convention, however, no one seemed to get angry. In fact, I didn’t get a single hostile question after the talk, which surprised me. Everyone who spoke to me about that talk later said they appreciated how I handled such a hot-button issue. I did get an interesting question related to the talk from someone who came to my publisher’s booth, and it’s the question I want to address in this post.
The homeschooling father who talked with me said that he has tried to argue that the details of the creation account were not very important to the early church. I am certainly not a historian, but I told him that my amateur interpretation of church history agrees with his on that matter. He said he likes to point out that the details of the creation account aren’t a part of any of the major creeds, such as the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed. Thus, it must not have been an important part of early Christian theology. I once again agreed with him.
However, he said that one person he was speaking with suggested that the details of the creation account can’t be found in the creeds because it wasn’t controversial. Everyone back then believed creation occurred in six 24-hour days; therefore, it wasn’t necessary to put it in the creeds. He asked me how I would address such a statement.
I told him first, I would point out that we know for a fact there were major figures in the early church (such as those listed above) who did not believe in creation occurring in six 24-hour days. Thus, the very premise of the statement is false. There was most certainly controversy in the early church about how to interpret the days of the creation account.
However, we can go a step further as well. What do both creeds say about creation? They both say that God made heaven and earth. Was that statement controversial in the early church? Of course not. Everyone in the early church believed it. Both creeds also say that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate. Was that a controversial statement in the early church? Of course not. They both mention that He rose from the dead. Once again, that wasn’t a controversial statement in the early church.
The idea that the creeds of the early church addressed controversial statements and left out the ones everyone agreed upon is simply nonsense. The creeds were developed so that all Christians who learned them knew the essentials of the Christian faith. If the details of the creation account were incredibly important parts of the Christian faith, they would have been put in the creeds. They weren’t. That should tell us all something.