THE REPORT OF THE (OPC) COMMITTEE TO STUDY THE FRAMEWORK HYPOTHESIS - Donald M. Poundstone (Chairman)
to the Presbytery of Southern California (OPC) at its Meeting on October 15-16,
At the Adjourned Second Stated Meeting on May 22-23, 1998, Presbytery elected A. R. Pontier, C. L. Irons, K. L. Gentry, W. J. Baldwin, M. R. Butler, D. J. Bulthuis, A. M. Laurie, D. M. Poundstone, and S. M. Baugh to this committee, established "for the purpose of evaluating the conformity of the Framework Hypothesis to the teaching of Scripture and the Westminster Confession and Catechisms," and to "bring information and recommendations to the Presbytery which will aid the Presbytery in evaluating the fitness of ministerial candidates who hold the Framework Hypothesis" (Minutes, p. 431).
At the committee's first meeting in July of 1998, Mr. Poundstone was elected chairman. A recommended reading list was also developed with input from all members of the committee.
Articles defending the framework interpretation:
Futato, Mark. "Because It Had Rained: A Study of Gen 2:5-7 with Implications for Gen 2:4-25 and Gen 1:1-2:3." Westminster Theological Journal 60 (1998) 1-21.
Irons, C. Lee. "The Framework Interpretation Explained and Defended." Feb. 4, 1998.
Kline, Meredith G. "Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony." Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 48 (March 1996) 2-15. Also available at http://mcgraytx.calvin.edu/ASA/PSCF3-96Kline.html. "Because It Had Not Rained." WTJ 20 (May 1958) 146-57.
A book defending the old earth creationist position was also recommended:
Stoner, Don. A New Look at an Old Earth. Harvest House, 1997.
Articles or books critical of the framework interpretation:
Gentry, Kenneth L. "Reformed Theology and Six-Day Creationism." Christianity and Society 5 (Oct. 1995) 25-30.
Hasel, Gerhard. "The 'Days' of Creation in Genesis 1: Literal 'Days' or Figurative 'Periods/Epochs' of Time?" Origins 21:1 (1994) 5-38.
Kelly, Douglas F. Creation and Change (especially chapter 6). Mentor, 1997.
Pipa, Joseph A., Jr. "From Chaos to Cosmos: A Critique of the Framework Hypothesis." In Did God Create in Six Days? Pipa and Hall, eds. Southern Presbyterian Press, 1999.
Weeks, Noel. "The Hermeneutical Problem of Genesis 1-11." Themelios 4 (Sept. 1978) 12-19.
Articles on the relationship between the framework interpretation and confessional subscription, plus one book on confessional subscription generally:
Chapell, Bryan. "Covenant Theological Seminary 1998-1999 President's Goals and Report." Available at http://www.reformed.org.
Hall, David W. "The Westminster View of Creation Days: A Choice Between Non-Ambiguity or Historical Revisionism." Available at http://capo.org/creation.html.
Hall, David W., ed. The Practice of Confessional Subscription. The Covenant Foundation, 1997.
After compiling the above reading list, the committee formulated a definition of the framework interpretation, which is contained in Section II below (note: proponents of the view prefer the name, the framework interpretation).
The real work of the committee was to engage in discussion concerning the conformity of the framework interpretation to Scripture and to the OPC's doctrinal standards. Thus, members of the committee prepared papers and responses on the meaning of "in the space of six days" and confessional subscription. Members also exchanged numerous written questions and answers on the exegesis of Genesis 1 and 2 and related passages. Both the confessional and exegetical exchanges formed the basis for extended discussion in our meetings.
When it became apparent that we could not write a unanimous report, the committee determined to prepare a consensus statement on the doctrine of creation and hermeneutics, summarizing essential views we could all agree on. Members of every persuasion contributed to the Statement, which eventually appeared to have gained general agreement. At a later point several members withdrew their support because, in their view, much in the Statement was either ambiguous or redundant in relation to our
Confession of Faith, and might both confuse the creation issue before Presbytery and undermine the Confession as a standard for our church. They were also concerned that approval of the Statement would give the appearance of finding the framework interpretation acceptable, which they did not want to do. The committee, however, has made significant use of the Statement in Section IV of this report, since the committee does not believe that it is ambiguous or confusing, or that it has any capacity in its present use to undermine the Confession with respect to its place in the Standards of the Church.
The committee formulated and approved the following definition of the framework interpretation: "The Framework Interpretation of Genesis 1:1 through 2:3 is the view which maintains that, while the six days of creation are normal solar days, the total picture of God's completing His creative work in a week of days is not to be taken literally, but functions as a literary framework for the creation narrative; and that the eight creative historical works of God have been arranged according to other than strictly sequential considerations, and that where there is sequential order it must be determined by factors other than the order of narration alone."
We do not intend here to present a full-fledged defense of the framework interpretation against all possible objections. Rather, we wish to demonstrate that the framework interpretation as defined above accords with the hermeneutic to which we in the OPC subscribe. This may prove a more important question than whether the interpretation subscribes to the exact understanding of "in the space of six days" held by the Divines. After all, it is one thing to disagree regarding the nuances of a single phrase, and quite another to deny the entire system of Biblical interpretation that our Standards propose.
Our Standards describe that hermeneutic as follows:
The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly (WCF I:9)
In other words, we use Scripture to interpret Scripture.
This hermeneutic has stood the test of time. In the last hundred years it has withstood the attack of the Dispensational hermeneutic which makes the (extra-Biblical) requirement that the Scriptures be interpreted "literally" wherever possible and figurative only when necessary. But no two exegetes can agree on where it is "possible" to interpret the Scripture literally. So the literalist hermeneutic - in addition to being found nowhere in Scripture - has had the practical effect of subjecting Scriptural interpretations to the subjective whim of the interpreter.
It is worth noting up front, then, that the Orthodox Presbyterian Church does not subscribe to a literal-where-possible-figurative-only-when-necessary hermeneutic. So if the framework interpretation fails to take the Scripture literally at a certain point, we will not be troubled by that. But if the interpretation takes one passage in a way that is undeniably contradicted by other passages, we will consider the interpretation to have failed. Otherwise, we must consider the interpretation to fall within the bounds of our Confession's hermeneutic.
With this in mind, let us consider five exegetical concerns that underpin the framework interpretation: (1) the evidence that the first three days are solar days; (2) the two triad structure of Gen. 1:1-2:3; (3) the eternal nature of the seventh day; (4) the clues that the passage must be taken anthropomorphically; and (5) the argument from Gen. 2:5.
The Evidence That the First Three Days Are Solar Days
On the first day, God created light and darkness. But he did more than simply create them; he named them. He named the light "Day" and the darkness "Night" (Gen. 1:5). In naming them, he established their essential character and significance. If the characters were to change, the names would need to change as well. We conclude this in general from the significance of names and name changes throughout Scripture; and we conclude this specifically from the incident of Adam naming the animals in Genesis 2.
Adam lacked a suitable helper so the Lord brought the animals to him "to see what he would call them" (Gen. 2:18ff). In other words, the Lord wanted to see whether Adam will name any of them "suitable helper for Adam." But he names them all and "for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him" (2:20). Their essential characters, expressed in their names, do not conform to what Adam needs.
Then the Lord creates the woman. Here at last is a creature whose essential character is to be comparable to Adam, so he names her accordingly. She is ishshah (woman) because she was taken out of ish (man).
Suppose for a moment that God had not created the woman out of Adam's rib. Suppose instead he had transformed a cat into a woman, a creature ideally suited to Adam. As surely as the cat's nature had changed, so surely would the cat's name need to change. The old name would no longer be suitable. (Indeed, the old name "rib" is entirely unsuitable to the woman that the rib has become.)
So it is with the "Day" and "Night" of Genesis 1. The "Day" must be an ordinary day, governed and lighted by the sun. The "Night" must be an ordinary night, governed and lighted by the moon and the stars. This is what those words mean. There is nothing in the text that suggests we are reading about an orderly alternation of light and darkness, supernaturally maintained in the absence of sun, moon, and stars. If that is what we are talking about, God would have given those alternating states different names to express their different character. By naming them "Day" and "Night" he tells us these are days and nights as we understand them.
This impression is buttressed by the refrain, "there was evening and there was morning." The picture is clearly that of the sun going down, the moon and stars coming out, and then the sun coming up again on the following day.
Much has been made of the "man on the street" hermeneutic in this debate, i.e., how would the average man on the street interpret this passage. That is not the hermeneutic of Scripture; but it is worth asking the question here in order to establish what our first impressions are. The man on the street would clearly see this as ordinary day and night, evening and morning, governed and illuminated by sun, moon, and stars. He would never guess from this language that what is being referred to is a sunless day and a moonless, starless night, a sunset-less evening, followed by a sunrise-less morning, all of this maintained supernaturally until those luminaries are created.
Yet that is exactly what the six-day interpretation requires. That interpretation cannot possibly derive this impression from the text of the first three days; it must inevitably read back into that text the information provided on Day 4. Let us note that there is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach. It is simply allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture in accordance with our Confessional hermeneutic. We bring it up only because the framework interpretation has at times been accused of using later Scripture to interpret earlier Scripture, as though this is unacceptable or suspect. Now it becomes clear, however, that the question is not whether to allow Day 4 to refine our interpretation of Days 1 through 3, but how.
The six-day interpretation uses Day 4 to say that these seemingly ordinary days described in Days 1 through 3 are anything but ordinary. They are in fact supernatural alternations of light and dark ungoverned by the luminaries to which they will later become attached. So these "days" - and note how the literal interpretation must refer to them in quotation marks - sustain a major change in their essential character on Day 4, and yet they retain the same name.
The framework interpretation suggests another interpretation that deals with these difficulties, allowing us to see Days 1 through 3 as ordinary days. Day 4, we say, is a recapitulation of Day 1. It is a description of the same event from a different angle, with added information. We find this explanation satisfying because the literary device of temporal recapitulation is used over and over in the Hebrew Bible (cf. O. T. Allis, The Old Testament: Its Claims and Critics [P&R, 1972], pp. 97-110).
We do not have to go very far to find a second instance. In Genesis 2:8, the Lord God puts the man in the garden. In Genesis 2:15, the Lord God puts the man in the garden. E. J. Young - one of the greatest defenders of orthodoxy against higher criticism - states that "it is obvious that a chronological order is not intended here" (Studies in Genesis One [P&R, 1964], p. 74).
But if this example is rejected, a host of others may be put forward to take its place. Indeed, a comparison of the first creation narrative Gen. 1:1-2:3 with the second, Gen. 2:4-25, reveals that the second narrative does not take place after the first but within the context of the first, zeroing in on the creation of the man and of the woman. A second example of temporal recapitulation is thus immediately adduced.
The Two Triad Structure of Genesis 1:1-2:4
So Day 4 lines up neatly with Day 1 and appears to speak of the same event. Confirming our suspicions, identical language is used to describe the events of Days 1 and 4. On Day 1 "God divided the light from the darkness" (1:4). On Day 4 He did … the exact same thing, with the added note that it was by means of the sun, moon, and stars that He arranged "to divide the light from the darkness" (1:18). As the English translation suggests, the Hebrew terminology is identical. We believe this is deliberate on the part of the inspired author and provides a second indication that Days 1 and 4 do not describe separate activities of God, separated by three days, but contemporaneous activities described from different perspectives.
Further confirming our hypothesis, Days 2 and 5 and Days 3 and 6 line up, indicating that they also fit the pattern of thematic parallelism. God creates the sky and seas on Day 2 and the creatures that fill the seas and sky on Day 5 (in a reverse parallelism quite typical of Hebrew narrative). He creates the dry land on Day 3 and the land animals on Day 6. And in a separate creative act, He makes vegetation on Day 3 and Man on Day 6. Thus it is hinted at up front that this narrative will concern itself with the relationship between Man and vegetation, specifically between Man and the one piece of vegetation over which he was not made the unquestioned ruler - the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The whole story of Creation, then, looks like this:
Day 1 Light
Day 4 Luminaries
Day 2 Sky Seas
Day 5 Sea creatures Winged creatures
Day 3a Dry land Day 3b Vegetation
Day 6a Land animals Day 6b Man
THE RULER OF ALL Day 7 Sabbath
The Scriptures in the original languages lack paragraphs, punctuation, chapter and section headings, and even a distinction between upper and lower case. Those who heard the Scriptures at the time they were first read knew how to discern the themes and beginnings and endings of sections by listening for organizational schemes such as the one represented above.
So the very structure of the story bears out our hypothesis that the fourth day is not temporally later than, but a recapitulation of the first. Thus we conclude that the week described in Gen. 1:1-2:3 is not a literal, temporal succession of days although it is described in those terms. To those who are familiar with the abundance of figurative language in Scripture, especially in describing the activity of God, this conclusion should be neither surprising nor troubling.
The Eternal Nature of the Seventh Day
Indeed, the day that ends the creation week is clearly not a literal 24-hour day, even though it also is referred to by the name "day." It has neither evening nor morning. It is eternal. It is God's heavenly rest into which Adam is invited but fails to enter through disobedience. It is this same rest into which Christ has entered on our behalf and which we, by faith, enter into in Him (Hebrews 4:1-3,11,14).
Jesus uses this argument to justify healing on the Sabbath: "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working" (John 5:17). He says, in effect, "My Father has been doing this kind of work on his Sabbath, and so have I." The "Sabbath" of the Father (and therefore of the Son who makes Himself equal with God in this statement) is defined as "until now." The Father's Sabbath, begun at the completion of Creation, continues without interruption to the present day. He did not get up on Monday and start creating again!
The opponents of framework who suggest that it violates the Sabbath mandate thus push the analogy too far. On their analogy we should work for 144 hours, rest for 24, and begin working for another 144 hours only if God worked for exactly 144 hours, rested for exactly 24, and then began working again!
The eternal nature of the seventh day denies this argument, suggesting that the relationship between man's work and God's, man's rest and God's, is a relationship of analogy rather than identity. The seventh day is clearly divine. And that suggests that the first six are divine as well. Thus they do not refer to lengths or sequences that are measured in human terms. Rather, the divine work of God is presented in human terms, but again the relationship is one of analogy rather than identity.
The Clues That the Passage Must Be Taken Anthropomorphically
We call this relationship of analogy "anthropomorphism." Anthropomorphism occurs when God, in revealing Himself to human minds, describes Himself in human terms. The concept is uncontroversial. Scripture speaks of the "hands" and the "feet" and the "eyes" and even the "eyelids" and the "wings" of God. But no one supposes that God, who is a Spirit, actually possesses these features as humans understand them. Similarly, when Scripture speaks of God "repenting" of an action (such as in the days before the flood when He repented of creating mankind), we do not suppose that God has literally changed His mind as a human might.
Likewise there are many indications in Gen. 1:1-2:3 that God's actions are being described by analogy rather than directly. In the beginning, the Spirit of God is pictured as "hovering" like a bird over the surface of the waters (Gen. 1:2). But no one supposes that the Spirit actually reined in His omnipresence and developed a locality for the purpose of creating. Obviously the Spirit is being described as though He has a local presence to emphasize that this locality is about to be the focus of His activity.
In the same way, God "said" things many times during the Creation week. Yet no one supposes He exerted pressure on a diaphragm, vibrated His larynx, and moved air out His mouth while manipulating His tongue and lips. Clearly God's speaking is analogous to rather than identical with our speaking. Again we are being condescended to, accommodated, by hearing of God's actions in human terms.
The same logic must be applied when we hear that God "saw" what He had made and declared it to be good.
More subtle, but more to the point, God's manner of working is anthropomorphic. He works during the day. He stops when it gets dark. When the sun rises He goes to work again. This is just as things are described in Psalm 104:21-23: "The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their food from God. When the sun rises, they gather together and lie down in their dens. Man goes out to his work and to his labor until the evening."
The picture in Genesis 1 is clear. God wakes up. He works until evening. He lies down for the night and repeats the process in the morning. The Spirit has gone out of His way to present the work of God on the analogy of the work of man.
The analogy carries through to the seventh day. God does not literally rest on that day. Not as humans rest. He is not tired; He does not need a respite from labor. Yet in this activity as well He condescends to speak in human terms, and yet in such a way that we realize a divine significance behind those terms.
So we conclude that the creation narrative - specifically the picture of God's completing His creative work in a week of days - have been presented in terms of an analogy to a human week of work. A "literal" interpretation will not do here, for it does not respect the distinction between the Creator and the creature. God neither "literally" worked, nor "literally" rested, nor exists "literally" in human time. Yet condescending to us, He tells us of His creation in those terms.
As noted, this overthrows the objection that the framework interpretation undermines the Sabbath command (a most serious objection if it could be proved). The argument suggests that man's "literal" work and rest cannot be patterned on God's "figurative" work and rest. But the above demonstrates that man's work and rest cannot be patterned on anything but an analogy of God's activity. The Creator-creature distinction demands this understanding.
Specifically let us look at the Sabbath mandate in Exodus 31:17: "[The Sabbath] is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed." God "refreshed" Himself on that seventh day. He was tired and out of energy; so He rested that He might be revitalized. That's what the word means. Did He do this "literally"? Of course not! God forbid! God is not a man that He should be tired and need to refresh Himself (Isa. 40:28).
Yet God's figurative self-refreshment becomes the rock solid basis for commanding Israel's literal self-refreshment. The figurative forms the basis for the literal. The divine forms the basis for the human.
So working backwards in that verse, did God literally rest? No, that was figurative as well. Yet it serves as the basis for Israel's literal rest. Was God's seventh day a literal seventh day? No, that was figurative as well. Yet it serves as the basis for Israel's literal seventh day. So far, this exegesis should be uncontroversial.
We hope it will seem reasonable therefore if we do not switch hermeneutics in mid-verse. Did God literally work for a literal six days? No, that was figurative as well. Yet God's work and days serve as the basis for Israel's literal work and literal days.
The Argument from Genesis 2:5
Further confirmation occurs immediately in the beginning of the next narrative. Genesis 2:4-25 goes back, as noted, to look in further detail at the creation of the man and of the woman. In so doing, the text introduces a principle in its second verse that must affect how we understand everything that has gone before.
We are told that God had not created any plant of the field or herb of the field because He had not yet caused it to rain and there was as yet no man to cultivate the ground. There is an enormous assumption behind that "because." Scripture tells us that God did not create the vegetation until He had created the rain that would sustain it. There is no question that God could have created vegetation before the rain, and that He could have sustained it supernaturally until a natural system of sustaining it was in place. But for the Biblical inerrantist there is also no question that God did not choose to create these things in this manner.
And Scripture assumes with that word "because" that this was not some special case in the plan of God, but a general principle concerning how He went about creating things. God did not create things until the ordinary means to sustain those things were also created.
This retrospectively illuminates the first creation narrative. We realize that God did not create the vegetation of Day 3 until He had also created the ordinary system of rain production - by which the vegetation would be maintained.
We realize as well, following this principle, that God did not create the light of Day 1 until He had also created the luminaries by which that light would ordinarily be sustained. Thus we have independent confirmation of our hypothesis - already suggested from a careful reading of Gen. 1:1-2:3 - that Day 4 is not temporally later than Day 1.
We must be careful to avoid confusion here. The framework interpretation does not say that God brought His creation into being through ordinary providence. Scripture and Scriptural orthodoxy deny that claim. Orthodox adherents of framework have no interest in seeing how their interpretation may be twisted and distorted to support the claim that God used ordinary providence to bring into being all things out of nothing by the word of His power.
Put succinctly: God's work of creation was supernatural, but once He had created, His method of sustaining that creation from the very beginning was ordinary providence. This is what Gen. 2:5 teaches us.
We should also note that, although Gen. 2:5 provides important evidence, it is not the sole exegetical basis of the framework interpretation. We have shown that it is possible to come to that interpretation even before we inspect this evidence. Genesis 2:5 may then be seen as independently confirming what the preceding text had already suggested.
We must also avoid a second error. None of the above evidence suggests that the creation events are non-historical. Rather, it suggests that the inspired Scripture is not concerned at this point to relate those historical events in terms of their unfolding in human time. For the purposes of the Holy Spirit, a thematic description, framed in terms of a week of solar days, proves a better vehicle for communicating the divine truth.
In other words, Scripture is not concerned to answer our scientific questions about what came first and how long it took. We must not allow our science to hold the Bible hostage, dictating what questions it must answer to satisfy our curiosity.
It is hoped that this provides sufficient evidence that the framework interpretation follows no other hermeneutic than that proposed in our Confession. Many may feel that the framework interpretation is the wrong exegetical result, but the above arguments should dismiss the charge that it employs an entirely different hermeneutic in arriving at that result. In every case an attempt has been made to compare Scripture with Scripture and to interpret, not according to the whims of men, but in submission to that Standard which alone is supreme and non-negotiable.
Can ministerial candidates of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church who hold the framework interpretation, as defended and expounded above, sincerely receive and adopt the Westminster Confession and Catechisms as containing the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture?
One possible approach to this question is to examine the writings of the Westminster divines and their Reformed contemporaries in an attempt to determine the original intent of the Standards when they affirm that God performed His creative work "in the space of six days" (WCF IV:1; WSC # 9) or "within the space of six days" (WLC # 15). This approach has been set forth by David Hall in his paper, "The Westminster View of Creation Days: A Choice between Non-Ambiguity or Historical Revisionism." After scrutinizing the writings of many Westminster theologians, he concludes that "the claim that Westminster … in some way supports ambiguity on this point, can only be sustained if the context of Westminster's original intent is studiously ignored. The divines … were not content merely to leave this point undefined; they defined it … consistently in their writings by both repudiating Augustine … and by invoking '24 houres' or 'ordinary day' in their other writings."
In view of the difficulties inherent in any attempt to unearth the original intent of specific statements and word choice in a creedal document of such magnitude and detail as the Westminster Confession, we may never be able to determine why the divines did not explicitly specify that the days were literal, natural days in the Confession itself. The original intent may very well have been, as Hall claims, to repudiate the figurative view of Augustine and other church fathers, and thus to endorse the literal interpretation defended by Calvin and many Reformed exegetes. This is certainly a plausible interpretation, and it could very well be the correct interpretation.
For the sake of the argument, let us suppose that Hall is correct in his analysis of the original intent of "in the space of six days." Where would that leave us? Would we have to conclude that no ministerial candidate of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church who holds the framework interpretation may sincerely receive and adopt the Westminster Confession and Catechisms as containing the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture? Not necessarily. To assume that original intent alone can answer this question is to disregard the hermeneutical implications of the act of adopting the Confession by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, as well as the American Presbyterian tradition of confessional subscription that provides the broader context of the vow.
Conclusion. Since the discussion of original intent still continues, and since the ultimate question of the fitness of OPC ministerial candidates would remain undecided even if we had decisive answers concerning original intent, our investigation must now turn to an examination of the second ordination vow itself. This approach, we believe, will prove to be more fruitful.
The Historic Meaning of the Second Ordination Vow
When ministerial candidates take the second vow at their ordination service, they "sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures" (OPC Form of Government XXIII:8). In taking this vow, ministers do not subscribe to every proposition contained in the Confession and Catechisms, much less to every word, but to the Calvinistic and Reformed system of doctrine set forth therein. There are some in the OPC today who hold that the system of doctrine is nothing less than the totality of all propositions or doctrines affirmed in the Confession and Catechisms, but this understanding is new and represents a departure from the historic American Presbyterian tradition. Let us then examine the historic meaning of the vow by tracing the language of the OPC Form of Government to its earliest roots.
The first presbytery in America was formed by Francis Makemie in 1705 or 1706, and as the church grew, largely as a result of waves of Scotch-Irish immigrants, the presbytery later became the Synod of Philadelphia. In 1727 the Rev. John Thomson, a Scotch-Irishman of the New Castle Presbytery, overtured the Synod proposing the adoption of the Westminster Standards by the Synod, and requiring ex animo subscription by every candidate for the ministry. Thomson's concerns were largely motivated by the dangerous doctrinal declension that had been developing at this time not only in his native Presbyterian Church of Ireland, but in the English and Scottish Reformed churches generally. In his overture, Thomson claims that "we are surrounded by so many pernicious and dangerous corruptions in doctrine," and expresses the fear that "Arminianism, Socinianism [i.e., Arianism], Deism, Free-thinking, etc., do like a deluge overflow even the reformed churches." Thomson believed that subscription would provide a safeguard against the encroachment of such errors into the American Presbyterian church.
Opposition to Thomson's overture arose from the Presbyterians who had come from England and Wales or who were descendants of the original New England Puritans who had never required subscription. The disagreement over subscription seemed to divide the Synod along ethnic lines: "All the Scotch are on one side, and all the English and Welsh on the other," wrote one contemporary observer.
The anti-subscriptionists rejected all man-made creeds as impositions on men's consciences tending to replace the sole authority of Scripture. The Rev. Jonathan Dickinson wrote vigorously against Thomson's overture, and argued that the Scripture alone was a sufficient bond of union. Any other practice would impose unscriptural terms of ministerial communion, and thus cause unnecessary divisions in the church. Besides Scripture does not require ministers to subscribe to any creeds written by men. There is absolutely no evidence that the anti-subscriptionist party was less orthodox than their Scotch-Irish brethren, or that they secretly wanted to allow room for the Arminian, Arian, and Deistic errors flowing from the British Isles.
As the two sides wrestled over the issue, they realized that they had more in common than they had thought. In the end, a compromise was struck, which basically granted the subscriptionist party their wish, but which provided a system by which men could subscribe even though they had scruples about certain statements not essential to the system of doctrine. On September 19, 1729, after much debate, the Synod agreed to require subscription according to the following procedure:
All the ministers of this Synod, or that shall hereafter be admitted into this Synod, shall declare their agreement in, and approbation of, the Confession of Faith, with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, as being in all the essential and necessary articles, good forms of sound words and systems of Christian doctrine, and do also adopt the said Confession and Catechisms as the confession of our faith. And we do also agree, that all the Presbyteries within our bounds shall always take care not to admit any candidate of the ministry into the exercise of the sacred function but what declares his agreement in opinion with all the essential and necessary articles of said Confession … And in case any minister of this Synod, or any candidate for the ministry, shall have any scruple with respect to any article or articles of said Confession or Catechisms, he shall at the time of his making said declaration declare his sentiments to the Presbytery or Synod, who shall, notwithstanding, admit him to the exercise of the ministry within our bounds, and to ministerial communion, if the Synod or Presbytery shall judge his scruple or mistake to be only about articles not essential and necessary in doctrine, worship, or government. But if the Synod or Presbytery shall judge such ministers or candidates erroneous in essential and necessary articles of faith, the Synod or Presbytery shall declare them uncapable of communion with them. And the Synod do solemnly agree, that none of us will traduce or use any opprobrious terms of those that differ from us in these extra-essential and not necessary points of doctrine, but treat them with the same friendship, kindness, and brotherly love, as if they had not differed from us in such sentiments (Records of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America 1706-1788 [New York: Arno Press, 1969], p. 94, emphasis ours).
This statement, frequently referred to as the Adopting Act, clearly sets forth the basic premise that the Westminster Standards contain a system of doctrine, and that not all propositions and words in the Standards are essential to that system. Those who subscribe to the Standards, then, are declaring "their agreement in, and approbation of" the Westminster Standards "as being in all the essential and necessary articles, good forms of sound words and systems of Christian doctrine." They are not necessarily declaring their complete agreement with every phrase, or even every single doctrinal affirmation, of the Standards.
In addition, it is important to note that the Adopting Act never defines which articles are essential to the system of doctrine, and which are extra-essential. Instead, the Act sets forth a procedure that allows the presbytery or synod to judge in each case as it arises. A man must honestly set forth his scruples (note: the language of "exceptions" is not used) with the Standards, and then let the presbytery or synod determine whether his views are consistent with, or do in fact contradict, the system of doctrine. If the presbytery or synod determines that the man's scruples or mistakes are out of accord with the system of doctrine, then he must be refused ministerial communion. If, on the other hand, "the Synod or Presbytery shall judge his scruple or mistake to be only about articles not essential and necessary in doctrine, worship, or government," then he shall be admitted to the exercise of the ministry, and his fellow ministers shall "treat [him] with the same friendship, kindness, and brotherly love, as if [he] had not differed from [them] in such sentiments." It should be noted that there was no requirement that men who had such scruples were prohibited from preaching or teaching what they believed to be the doctrine of Scripture on these matters.
In view of the distinctions and qualifications of the Adopting Act, which stands near the very beginning of the American Presbyterian tradition, it is clear that the qualifying phrase of our vow, "as containing the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture," is to be understood, in its historical context, as distinguishing between the doctrines which comprise the Reformed system of doctrine, and the "extra-essential and not necessary points" contained in the Standards.
This "system subscription" language was carried over in the statement adopted on May 22, 1758 at the reunion of the Old and New Side presbyteries (they had divided in 1741 over issues arising from the Great Awakening):
Both Synods having always approved and received the Westminster Confession of Faith, and Larger and Shorter Catechisms, as an orthodox and excellent system of Christian doctrine, founded on the word of God, we do still receive the same as the confession of our faith (Records, p. 286, emphasis ours).
It is clear that the united Presbyterian church of 1758 viewed herself as being in fundamental continuity with the Adopting Act in adopting the Westminster Standards as containing the system of doctrine taught in Scripture.
In 1788-89 the church organized into a General Assembly, and formally adopted the Westminster Standards, a new Form of Government and Discipline, and a new Directory for the Worship of God, which together comprised the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. The second ordination vow of the Form of Government bound ministers to "sincerely receive and adopt the confession of faith of this church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures" (Form of Government XV:12).
Thus, the language of the second ordination vow can be traced in an unbroken line of continuity back to the 1729 Adopting Act. Charles Hodge argued that the 1729 Adopting Act "has never been either repealed or altered. It has on several occasions been interpreted and reaffirmed, but it has never been abrogated, except so far as it was merged in the readoption the Confession and Catechisms at the formation of our present Constitution, in the year 1788" ("Adoption of the Confession of Faith," in Discussions in Church Polity [Charles Scribner's Sons, 1878], p. 322). It was Hodge's belief that the procedure for subscribing to the Standards laid down in 1729 was "merged" into the Constitution of the PCUSA via her readoption of the Standards in 1788.
In the above cited essay, Hodge goes on to argue that there are three interpretations of the formula of subscription contained in the second ordination vow. The first interpretation, put forth by those of the New School, and rejected by Hodge, is that in adopting the Standards as containing the system of doctrine, the candidate is merely receiving the Standards "for substance of doctrine." Hodge rejects this view on several grounds: it is contrary to the historic meaning of the second ordination vow; the phrase "substance of doctrine" has no definite meaning; and it has led in practice to serious abuse, with men hostile to the Reformed faith entering the ministry.
The second interpretation, also rejected by Hodge, is that in taking the second ordination vow the candidate professes to receive and adopt every proposition contained in the Standards as an expression of his own faith. But this restrictive understanding is contrary not only to the letter, but the historic meaning and use of the vow. Had the authors of the Form of Government intended to require "every proposition" subscription, why did they include the qualifying phrase, "as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures"? Hodge argued, further, that this interpretation of the vow is contrary to "the uniform action of our Church courts." Hodge claimed that it was perfectly well-known that "there are hundreds of ministers in our Church, and that there always have been such ministers, who do not receive all the propositions contained in the Confession of Faith and Catechisms" (ibid., p. 330). Besides, the "every proposition" form of subscription runs the danger of raising the secondary Standards to the status of a rule of faith and practice, thus effectively replacing Scripture.
The third interpretation of the formula of subscription is, in Hodge's mind, "the true via media" (ibid., p. 332). Only this view, popularly known as "system subscription," is faithful to the express words of the formula of subscription of the second vow, in that it requires the candidate to receive and adopt the Confession and Catechisms for the system of doctrine that they contain. When asked what this system of doctrine is, Hodge replies that it is the doctrinal system known as Reformed theology, as opposed to Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, or Arminian theology. Hodge argues that the Standards contain three classes of doctrines: (1) those common to all Christians, and which are summed up in the ancient ecumenical creeds; (2) those doctrines which are common to all Protestants and hence distinguish them from Romanists; and (3) those which are peculiar to the Reformed Churches, and which distinguish them from Lutherans, Arminians, and other sects. The "substance of doctrine" position, which Hodge vehemently rejected, is not only vague, but liable to reduce the Westminster Standards to the lowest common denominator of Christianity, whether to the second or even the first class of doctrines. The "system of doctrine" position, on the other hand, requires men to hold to the fundamental doctrines, not just of the gospel, but of the Reformed faith as a historically defined system of theology.
If we are not satisfied with this, we shall soon split into insignificant sects, each contending for some minor point, and all allowing "the system of doctrine" to go to destruction. If there is any dependence to be placed on the teachings of history, the men who begin with making the tithing of anise and cummin of equal importance with justice and mercy, are sure in the end to cling to the anise, and let the mercy go (ibid., p. 335).
B. B. Warfield, who had a great influence upon J. Gresham Machen, followed Hodge in his understanding of the history of confessional subscription in the American Presbyterian tradition.
There is, so far as we know, no difference of opinion as to the import of the ordination vow in our Churches: it is everywhere understood and administered as binding those taking it merely to the system and not to the detailed manner of stating that system; but as binding them strictly to the system in its integrity and its entirety … Under this combined strictness and liberty every genuine form of Calvinism has an equal right of existence under the Confession ("The Proposed Union With the Cumberland Presbyterians," The Princeton Theological Review 2 [April, 1904], p. 315).
Although John Murray did not fully agree with every detail of Hodge's interpretation of the historical evidence, he did believe that Hodge's view was both reasonable and the historic manner of subscription for many generations:
The position argued by Dr. Charles Hodge in the article frequently referred to … has, no doubt, been the understanding upon which many of those subscribing to the formula have proceeded for generations (Presbyterian Guardian 38 [June, 1969], p. 85).
Murray also agreed with Hodge that
to demand acceptance of every proposition in so extensive a series of documents would be incompatible with the avowal made in answer to the first question in the formula of subscription and comes dangerously close to the error of placing human documents on a par with holy Scripture. Furthermore, the commitment of oneself to every proposition as the condition of exercising office in the Church is hardly consistent with the liberty of judgment on certain points of doctrine which has been characteristic of the Reformed Churches ("Creed Subscription in the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A.," in The Practice of Confessional Subscription, ed. by David W. Hall [Oak Ridge, TN: The Covenant Foundation, 1997], p. 259).
Having traced the history of the formula of subscription, from 1729 to the time of Hodge and Warfield, we now turn to the OPC itself. Our thesis is that the OPC intentionally determined to uphold and continue the historic "system subscription" methodology as understood by Hodge and Warfield. If we are in any doubt that the OPC intentionally incorporated the second ordination vow in the historic form inherited from the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., we need only quote the Adopting Act of the First General Assembly of the OPC (June 11, 1936):
In order to continue what we believe to be the true spiritual succession of the Prebyterian Church in the U. S. A., which we hold to have been abandoned by the present organization of that body, and to make clear to all the world that we have no connection with the organization bearing that name, we, a company of ministers and ruling elders … do hereby associate ourselves together with all Christian people who do and will adhere to us, in a body to be known and styled as the Presbyterian Church of America. … We do solemnly declare (1) that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice, (2) that the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms contain the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures, and (3) that we subscribe to and maintain the principles of Presbyterian church government as being founded upon and agreeable to the Word of God (Minutes of the First General Assembly, p. 3, emphasis ours).
Soon after the First General Assembly, on August 3, 1936, the Presbyterian Guardian republished the article by Charles Hodge referred to above, under the title, "What is the 'System of Doctrine'?" The editor (presumably Machen) wrote a brief introductory paragraph in which he stated,
Since The Presbyterian Church of America claims to continue "the true spiritual succession" of the old body, all that Dr. Hodge writes is applicable and pertinent to the understanding of the sense the words ["the system of doctrine"] should bear in the new organization (PG 2 [Aug. 3, 1936], p. 192).
In 1969, as the OPC was contemplating organic union with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, the differences between the two churches on confessional subscription were discussed at length in the pages of the Presbyterian Guardian. In this context, Professor Paul Woolley appealed to the fact that the OPC claimed to be the "spiritual succession" of the old church:
I believe that the Hodge approach was held by the great majority of office-bearers throughout the period from the formation of the General Assembly after the American Revolution to the time when the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was formed. If that Church is to continue in truth to be what it was founded to be, "the spiritual succession of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A.," it may not depart from that point of view. Otherwise it becomes a "new sect." … Machen is in line with Hodge. We ought to be in line with both (letter to the editor, PG 38 [April, 1969], pp. 47-48).
Not only do we have the evidence of the express intent of the First General Assembly that the OPC was established to be "the true spiritual succession" of the old church, but many of the key intellectual leaders of the OPC, such as Machen and Woolley, expressed their view that this "spiritual succession" included the methodology of subscription handed down to them from Hodge and Warfield, and which they in turn had inherited from the American Presbyterian tradition dating back to the Adopting Act.
The Animus Imponentis in Presbyterian Polity
The second ordination vow commits the candidate to receive and adopt the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, as containing the system of doctrine taught in Scripture. The obvious question is, What does this qualifying phrase "as containing the system of doctrine taught in Scripture" mean with respect to the issue of the days of creation? Is the system of doctrine to be determined by studying the original intent of the Westminster divines? Or, since ministers must receive and adopt the Confession and Catechisms of this Church (i.e., the OPC), is the meaning of the system of doctrine determined by the OPC? With regard to the vast majority of propositions in the Confession, the difference between the original intent of the original authors and that of the OPC is negligible. But in the case of "in the space of six days," the distinction is vital, for the OPC does not understand that language in a sense that would rule out all views other than the literal, 24-hour interpretation.
In attempting to explain what he believed had always been the accepted method of confessional subscription in the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., Hodge spoke of the animus imponentis (the intention of the imposing body) as the primary determinant of the meaning of the "system of doctrine" mentioned in the second ordination vow:
The two principles which, by the common consent of all honest men, determine the interpretation of oaths and professions of faith, are, first, the plain, historical meaning of the words; and secondly, the animus imponentis, that is, the intention of the party imposing the oath or requiring the profession. The words, therefore, "system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures," are to be taken in their plain, historical sense. … Again, by the animus imponentis in the case contemplated, is to be understood not the mind or intention of the ordaining bishop in the Episcopal Church, or of the ordaining presbytery in the Presbyterian Church. It is the mind or intention of the Church, of which the bishop or the presbytery is the organ or agent. … The Confession must be adopted in the sense of the Church, into the service of which the minister, in virtue of that adoption, is received ("Adoption of the Confession of Faith," pp. 318-19).
In other words, Hodge argues, the essential elements that comprise the "system of doctrine" are determined by the Church that administers the vow of subscription to her doctrinal standards. As a result, then, "the Confession must be adopted in the sense of the Church into the service of which the minister, in virtue of that adoption, is received."
Thus, the original intent of the Westminster divines is not the ultimate factor in determining the meaning of the second ordination vow, but the intent of the OPC. We will develop the historical evidence that the OPC has historically understood the second ordination vow as allowing both literal and figurative views of the days of Genesis shortly. But before we do so, the validity of the animus imponentis principle needs demonstration, both theologically and historically.
Theologically, the Church has the right to place her own sense upon the language of her subordinate standards (her creed), even if that sense does not correspond precisely to the intent of the original authors of the creed. This right flows from the basic principles, enunciated in the Confession itself, that
The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined … and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture (WCF I:10),
All synods or councils, since the Apostles' times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both (WCF XXXI:3).
The Church is not subordinate to her secondary standards. Rather, she is subordinate to Scripture alone, and her creed is adopted and subscribed to as her testimony to her understanding of Scripture.
It is clear from the way in which the OPC adopted the Westminster Standards that our forefathers were adopting these standards because they expressed the system of doctrine adhered to by this church, the OPC. The mandate given to the original Committee of Constitution in 1936 was to recommend the particular form of the Confession and Catechisms which the OPC would adopt as her confession as a continuing Presbyterian body of churches. The Committee of Constitution fulfilled that mandate and suggested retaining and deleting changes which had previously been made to the Standards in 1903. The Committee of Constitution's report was eventually approved and these Standards (with changes) were adopted as the OPC's confession of faith (Minutes of the Second General Assembly, pp. 13-14, 18). Hence, the Westminster Standards were adopted because they were a faithful summary of the teaching of Scripture, not because the original intent and meaning of the Westminster divines was somehow considered authoritative.
This understanding of the Church's relation to her secondary standards provides the answer to a common objection. Those who insist on making the original intent of the Westminster divines authoritative for the Church's understanding ask, "Do you apply this kind of hermeneutic to Scripture? Would you argue that the original intent of the divine Author of Scripture is irrelevant in arriving at the true meaning of Scripture?" The answer of course is No to both questions. The meaning of Scripture is not malleable. Its meaning is fixed by the intent of its Author.
There is no inconsistency in treating the Standards differently than we treat Scripture, since the Standards are, by definition, the Church's corporate confession as to how she understands and interprets Scripture. That understanding may change over time, and yet, for whatever reason, the Church may feel that it is inexpedient to amend or revise the Standards outright. The Church, therefore, has the right to define her relationship to the Standards in such a manner that she is not understood as binding every officer's conscience to the propositions in question. She does so by means of her formula of subscription, which does not require that candidates subscribe to every proposition but to the system of doctrine as she defines it.
Recall the Adopting Act which we discussed earlier. As we pointed out, the Act distinguishes between the essential system of doctrine contained in the Confession and Catechisms, and other articles deemed to be about non-essential points of doctrine. But the Synod never defined what articles were essential and what were non-essential. It was left to the presbytery or synod to judge in each case whether a man's views were in harmony or out of accord with the system of doctrine. Thus, the foundational document of American Presbyterian subscriptionism places the Church above her creed, and gives her the right and responsibility of interpreting and applying it through her courts.
In addition to the theological considerations, the following historical precedent demonstrates not only that the Church has the Scriptural right to interpret the Standards in the sense in which she understands them, even if that sense differs from the original intent of the Westminster divines, but that the Church has in fact actually exercised that right. We will focus our attention here on the OPC debate over premillennialism in 1936, but the reader is directed to the Supplemental Note at the end of this section, for examples in Presbyterian history prior to the founding of the OPC.
In the first year of the OPC's history, a debate raged between the premillennialist group and those whom we shall refer to as the non-premillennialists. The controversy did not specifically concern the exegetical difficulties of interpreting the millennium referred to in Rev. 20, but whether non-dispensational (or historic) premillennialists would be allowed in the new church without prejudice. Thus the issue was ultimately one of Confessional subscription. Would the church so interpret the Westminster Standards (the Larger Catechism in particular) as ruling out the premillennial scheme of Christ's return, or would she argue that ministers holding any one of the major eschatological positions would be granted liberty to hold and teach their views, so long as the fundamentals of the system of Reformed doctrine contained in the Confession were upheld?
This debate raged in the pages of Machen's Presbyterian Guardian and Carl McIntire's Christian Beacon during the months between the first two General Assemblies which were both held in 1936 (June 11 and November 12-14). Before the Second General Assembly, Machen declared his position on the matter in no uncertain terms: "We think that both Premillennialists and those who are opposed to the Premillennial view may subscribe" to the Westminster Standards (PG 3:2 [Oct. 24, 1936], p. 21).
Particularly relevant to our overall argument is Machen's acknowledgment that Larger Catechism questions 87 and 88 specifically oppose the premillennial view. But, Machen argued, when a man takes the second ordination vow, he is subscribing "not to every word in those Standards, but to the system of doctrine which the Standards contain" (ibid.). Thus he concluded,
We think that a man who holds that the return of Christ and the final judgment take place not in one act, as the Westminster Standards contemplate them as doing, but in two acts with a thousand-year reign of Christ upon the earth in between, yet may honestly say that he holds the system of doctrine that the Standards contain. It is no new thing to take this position regarding creedal subscription. It is the position which has long been taken by orthodox Calvinistic theologians (ibid.).
At the Second General Assembly, the issue of premillennialism occupied a major portion of the debate. Machen wanted to keep the two sides together, so he "orchestrated" the election of J. Oliver Buswell, a leading premillennialist, as moderator (D. G. Hart and John Muether, Fighting the Good Fight, p. 47). Numerous overtures were received expressing the desire for "eschatological liberty." In view of this turmoil and discussion, it was moved and seconded to consider a resolution which stated that premillennialism is "not to be regarded as a test whether a man does or does not adhere to the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms" (Minutes of the Second General Assembly, pp. 18-19).
An amendment was then offered as a substitute for part of the proposed resolution. Unlike the original resolution, the amendment stated explicitly that the Standards themselves do not teach premillennialism, but, in the spirit of the original resolution, it went on to declare that premillennialism would be regarded in the new church "as within the area of permitted liberty" (ibid., pp. 19-20).
Both the resolution and the amendment were laid on the table, and no decision was made until the following day. In the end, the movers of both the resolution and the amendment stated that they would withdraw their motions "provided the Assembly would forgo the adoption of any resolution at all in the matter." So the Assembly moved and carried that both the resolution and the amendment be laid on the table indefinitely, thus dispensing with the issue once for all. In the following Presbyterian Guardian (3:4 [Nov. 28, 1936], pp. 69-71), Machen hailed the refusal of the Assembly to "tinker" with the constitution of the church as "a great victory for the Reformed faith." He argued that the desired eschatological liberty already existed and that the adoption of an explicit resolution would not only have been unnecessary but potentially divisive.
Here again we see that the mind of the church is determinative of the meaning of the second ordination vow. This case is particularly relevant to the debate over the days of creation, since the church declared her mind, even while knowingly differing from the original intent of the Standards. Furthermore, the OPC declared her mind - the sense in which she understood and received the Standards - without either revising the Standards or adopting a declaratory statement. She simply arrived at a common understanding that the system of doctrine would be regarded as permitting non-dispensational premillennialism, and expected reasonable men to abide by that understanding. In the editorial commenting on the debate over premillennialism, Machen exhorted his brothers on both sides of the question: "We must have confidence in our brethren. Unless we have that mutual confidence, it would have been better that we should not have attempted to form a church at all" (PG 3:3 [Nov. 14, 1936] p. 43; cf. also, John Muether, "Confidence in Our Brethren: Creedal Subscription in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church," in The Practice of Confessional Subscription, pp. 301-10).
Conclusion. The second ordination vow binds the subscriber of the Westminster Standards, not to the original intent of the Westminster divines, but to the sense in which the church that is imposing the vow understands them. Most often the original intent of the divines and the animus imponentis of the church coincide (i.e., with respect to the core system of Reformed theology contained in the Confession and Catechisms). But the example cited above shows that the church has the prerogative to depart from the original intent at certain points and to place her own interpretation upon specific words or propositions of the Confession without revising it. Short of outright revision, this can be done (and has historically been done) by two methods: (1) by adopting a declaratory statement in which the church states the sense in which she understands the debated portion(s) of the Confession, or (2) by reaching a consensus that she will grant liberty to various positions (as the OPC did with respect to eschatology). With regard to the issue of the Confession's "in the space of six days" language, we would argue that the second method is the one that was adopted by the American Presbyterian tradition in the 19th century, and which was carried over into the OPC from her inception. No official declaratory statement has ever been issued stating that both figurative and literal interpretations of the days of Genesis can rightly coexist under the Confession's language, but a general consensus that liberty should be granted on this point has existed for well over a hundred years. We will now attempt to demonstrate the existence of this consensus.
The Animus Imponentis of the OPC Regarding the Days of Creation
It is well known that Machen himself was influenced by his Old Princeton heritage on the whole set of questions surrounding the relationship between Genesis and modern geological and biological theories. Machen held the day-age interpretation of Genesis one:
It is certainly not necessary to think that the six days spoken of in that first chapter of the Bible are intended to be six days of twenty four hours each. We may think of them rather as very long periods of time (The Christian View of Man, 1947, p. 131).
Not only Machen, but many of his early associates who played instrumental roles in the founding of the OPC, were convinced proponents of the day-age view. Prior to the formation of the Bible Presbyterian Church in 1937, two early OPC leaders, one of whom was also a faculty member of Westminster Theological Seminary, and the other the moderator of the Second General Assembly, held to the day-age view: Allan A. MacRae and J. Oliver Buswell (Buswell's position is stated in his Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, vol. 1, pp. 144-45).
Thus we know of at least three early leaders of the OPC who were personally committed to the day-age view. These men were never required to take an exception to the Westminster Standards, nor was the issue ever even raised, as far as we can tell from the record. All three men appear to have regarded themselves as being able ex animo to subscribe to the Westminster Standards as containing the system of doctrine taught in Scripture, without mental reservation.
Other scholars who played an early leadership role the OPC/WTS movement, while not holding specifically to the day-age view, believed that dogmatism concerning the length of the creation days was unwarranted. O. T. Allis wrote:
The word "day" is used in various senses in Scripture. Exodus xx.8-11 suggests days of twenty-four hours; but Psalm xc.4 and 2 Peter iii.8 declare such an inference to be unnecessary. We cannot be sure, and must not be dogmatic … We may well hesitate to assert that the days of Genesis i must be taken literally as days of twenty-four hours. But we should not hesitate to assert that infinite time and endless process are no adequate substitute for or explanation of that fiat creation by an omnipotent God of which this sublime chapter speaks so clearly and emphatically. It is equally true that "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years" and that "a thousand years are as one day" (God Spake By Moses: An Exposition of the Pentateuch, pp. 11, 159).
Allis' student, Edward J. Young, gave repeated voice to a similar "no-dogmatism" position, clearly echoing the sentiments of his professor:
We must now ask the question, What does the Bible mean when it speaks of "day"? How long a period of time is meant? This is a question concerning which Christian scholars have widely differed. At least five views have been held in the Christian Church … Which one of these five views, then, is the student to hold? We answer that we cannot dogmatically say that any one view is the only correct one. Let the student consider each one carefully and prayerfully, and let him choose that which seems to him to be the one most in accord with Scripture teaching. But let him remember that we simply cannot say definitely and dogmatically just what the word "day" here does mean. The author is inclined to believe that the word should be taken in the first sense, that is, a day of twenty-four hours (Study Your Bible: A Self Study Course for Bible Believing Christians [Eerdmans, 1934], pp. 16-17).
Later, Young seemed to take a position akin to the day-age view. While he did not explicitly affirm the day-age view, he seemed to think that the days of creation may have been longer than the days we now experience:
But then there arises the question as to the length of the days. That is a question which is difficult to answer. Indications are not lacking that they may have been longer than the days we now know, but the Scripture itself does not speak as clearly as one might like (Encyclopedia of Christianity, vol. 3, ed. P. E. Hughes [Wilmington, DE, 1972], p. 242).
One matter that Christians like to talk about is the length of these days. It is not too profitable to do so, for the simple reason that God has not revealed sufficient for us to say very much about it. The Hebrew word yom is much like our English word day, and it is capable of a great number of connotations. In itself the use of the word does not prove anything. But several matters are noteworthy. The first three days are not solar days such as we now know. The sun, moon, and stars were not in existence, at least in the form in which they are now present. That I think we are compelled to acknowledge. And the work of the third day seems to suggest that there was some process, and that what took place occurred in a period longer than twenty-four hours (In the Beginning: Genesis Chapters 1 to 3 and the Authority of Scripture [Banner of Truth Trust, 1976], p. 43).
Thus, in addition to those who were actually committed to the day-age view proper, there were those like Allis and Young, who backed away from taking a dogmatic position on the length of the days. In taking this position, these men implicitly affirmed that not only their own view, but other non-literal views, were within the bounds of liberty permitted by the second ordination vow. And although Young himself wrote a critique of the framework interpretation (chapter 3 of Studies in Genesis One), there is no evidence that he regarded those who held the framework interpretation as being unable to sincerely receive and adopt the Westminster Standards as containing the system of doctrine taught in Scripture. In fact, Young recognized the parallelisms between the first three days and the last three days of the creation period. This in no way committed him to the framework interpretation per se, but he did acknowledge some degree of thematic correspondence between the two triads (Young, An Introduction To the Old Testament, 1953 ed., pp. 53-54).
As for the other leading lights of the OPC/WTS movement in its early years (e.g., Edmund Clowney, R. B. Kuiper, John Murray, Ned B. Stonehouse, Cornelius Van Til, Robert Dick Wilson, and Paul Woolley), we can find no evidence that they rejected the common understanding of their colleagues that "in the space of six days" may be subject to more than one interpretation.
Conclusion. The OPC's historic consensus has been to regard differing views of the days of creation as within the area of liberty permitted by the system of doctrine of the Westminster Standards.
The Animus Imponentis of 19th Century Old School Presbyterianism
Regarding the Days of Creation
We turn now to survey the issue as it was dealt with by Old School Presbyterians in the previous century. This survey of 19th century thinking on the matter will enable us to answer the question, Why did the OPC never explicitly debate the issue of the days of creation in order to arrive at a consensus to allow liberty of interpretation - as was done with regard to the question of the millennium? It appears that the OPC simply inherited the common assumption of her 19th century Old School predecessors that the Confession's "in the space of six days" should be understood as simply repeating the language of Scripture, and that any interpretation which could rightly be applied to Scripture, could be applied to the Confession. Whether or not this 19th century assumption is in fact justified, it is not our purpose at this point to determine. We simply note that this was the common understanding of the previous century, and this common understanding seems to have been inherited as an unargued assumption by the founding fathers of the OPC.
A. A. Hodge may be taken as representative of the Old Princeton position. Hodge believed that "in the space of six days" was simply taken from Exodus 20:11, and did not require any particular interpretation thereof.
This section [WCF IV:1], using the precise words of Scripture, Ex. xx.11, declares that God performed the work of creation, in the sense of the formation and adjustment of the universe in its present order, "in the space of six days" (The Confession of Faith, p. 82, emphasis ours).
Even if we now feel that Hodge overstated his case - especially in view of the fact that "in the space of" is clearly going beyond the ipsissima verba of Scripture - yet we cannot overlook the fact that this viewpoint was a commonplace among the Reformed theologians of Hodge's day, and as such it appears to have continued down until the founding of the OPC with few voices raised in protest.
Scottish church historian and expert on the Westminster Assembly, Alexander F. Mitchell (1822-1899), took Hodge's statement one step further, when he argued that the divines left the nature of the days undecided:
The charges I have still to mention are of minor importance. The first of them is the assertion, so often and confidently propounded of late, that the Confession represents the creation of the world as having taken place in six "natural or literal days," which almost all orthodox divines now grant that it did not. But the whole ground for the assertion is furnished by the words "natural or literal" which the objectors themselves insert or assume. The authors of the Confession, as Dr. A. A. Hodge has well observed (Commentary on the Confession of Faith, p. 82), simply repeat the statements of Scripture in almost identical terms, and any interpretation that is fairly applicable to such passages as Gen. ii.3 and Exodus xx.11, is equally applicable to the words of the Confession (The Westminster Assembly: Its History and Standards, Being the Baird Lecture for 1882, pp. 394-95).
Again, we do not actually find ourselves convinced of Mitchell's argument that the divines were intentionally ambiguous in order to leave room for figurative views like Philo's and Augustine's. At this point we are simply adducing this quote from Mitchell in order to demonstrate that Reformed theologians of the 19th century held these views, and to suggest that these views were simply inherited by Machen and his associates without much reflection or debate.
In a similar manner, William G. T. Shedd (1820-1894), Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary (which was overseen by the General Assembly of the PCUSA for most of Shedd's 28-year career at Union), believed that the language of the Confession, as it stood, could be subscribed by proponents of both the literal and day-age views:
Revision [of the Westminster Confession] is inexpedient, because it may abridge the liberty of interpretation now afforded by the Confession. As an example of the variety of explanation admitted by the creed as it now stands, take the statement that "God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in the beginning, created or made from nothing the world, and all things therein, in the space of six days". He who holds the patristic view that the days of Genesis were periods, and he who holds the modern opinion that the days were solar, can subscribe to the Westminster statement. But if revised in the interest of either view, the subscriber is shut up to it alone (Calvinism: Pure and Mixed [1893; reprinted by Banner of Truth Trust, 1986], p. 5).
Shedd made this argument in a book in which he took up the Old School position of defending the Westminster Standards against criticisms commonly lodged against them in his day, and in which he argued strenuously against their revision. Although Union was founded as a New School seminary, Shedd himself was definitely Old School in his theological sympathies.
Southern Presbyterian theologian Francis Beattie (1848-1906) believed that "there is little doubt that the framers of the Standards meant a literal day of twenty-four hours." However, like the scholars quoted above, he went on to argue that the caution of the teaching on this point in simply reproducing Scripture is worthy of all praise. The door is open in the Standards for either interpretation, and the utmost care should be taken not to shut that door at the bidding of a scientific theory against either view (Presbyterian Standards [Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1896], pp. 80-81).
Thus, 19th Reformed theology's openness to alternative interpretations of the Confession's "in the space of six days" language was inherited by Machen and his associates who founded the OPC. As a result the mind of the OPC on this point has historically been just as open as the mind of the 19th century church.
Conclusion. The animus of the OPC regarding the days of creation can be inferred from the historical facts presented above: that many of the early leaders of the OPC/WTS movement held to various positions other than the literal view of six-day creationism; and that they appear to have inherited the views of their 19th century Old School predecessors on the meaning of the Confession's language. We may conclude, then, that the animus imponentis of the OPC has historically been that both the man who holds to the literal interpretation of the days of Genesis, and the man who holds a non-literal view, may take the second ordination vow in all honesty and good faith.
NOTE: Additional Examples of the Animus Imponentis
1. The Church of Scotland
On August 27, 1647, when the Church of Scotland adopted the Westminster Standards, the General Assembly meeting in Edinburgh wanted to make clear that they did not approve of the latent Erastianism implicit in the original (1646) Confession's granting power to the civil magistrate to call ecclesiastical synods ("magistrates may lawfully call a synod of ministers and other fit persons, to consult and advise with about matters of religion," WCF XXXI:2). Thus, in the General Assembly's "Act of Approving the Confession of Faith," we find the following explanatory statement:
But, lest our intention and meaning be in some particulars misunderstood, it is hereby expressly declared and provided, That the not mentioning in this Confession the several sorts of ecclesiastical officers and assemblies, shall be no prejudice to the truth of Christ in these particulars, to be expressed fully in the Directory of Government. It is further declared, That the Assembly understandeth some parts of the second article of the thirty-one chapter only of kirks not settled, or constituted in point of government (Westminster Confession of Faith [Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications], p. 15).
The Church of Scotland thus adopted the Confession in a manner involving a slight deviation from the original intent of the Westminster divines. Although the Church of Scotland did not begin to require subscription until 1690, the animus imponentis would have dictated at that point that Scottish ministers were bound, not by the original intent of the English divines, but by the Church of Scotland's understanding of the Confession ("our intention and meaning").
2. The Synod of Philadelphia
As we have seen, the Synod of Philadelphia adopted the Westminster Standards on September 19, 1729 and required confessional subscription of all her ministers and ministerial candidates. After passing the Adopting Act (quoted above), the ministers present subscribed in the following terms:
All the ministers of this Synod now present, except one that declared himself not prepared … after proposing all the scruples that any of them had to make against any articles and expressions in the Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, have unanimously agreed in the solution of those scruples, and in declaring the said Confession and Catechisms to be the confession of their faith, excepting only some clauses in the twentieth and twenty-third chapters, concerning which clauses the Synod do unanimously declare, that they do not receive those articles in any such sense as to suppose the civil magistrate hath a controlling power over Synods with respect to the exercise of their ministerial authority; or power to persecute any for their religion, or in any sense contrary to the Protestant succession to the throne of Great Britain (Records, pp. 94-95, emphasis ours).
Whether the Confession may properly be interpreted as granting the civil authorities such powers may be debated, but the animus or mind of the Synod is here made clear beyond all doubt, and it is this interpretation which binds all future generations of ministerial candidates, unless that animus is changed by an official act of Synod. The Synod does "not receive those articles [of the Confession] in any such sense" that would be contrary to their views on church-state relations, irrespective of what the Westminster divines may have originally intended on these points. The point is that the Church has the authority to declare how she understands the Standards (that is, to declare her "mind"), and hence to establish what her relationship to those Standards shall be in light of her understanding of Scripture.
3. The American Presbyterian Debate Over Psalm-Singing
The issue of Psalm-singing had long been debated in colonial American Presbyterianism, and the way in which this question was handled is instructive. The Confession states that "singing of Psalms with grace in the heart" is part of the ordinary religious worship of God (WCF XXI:5). (Our modern editions do not capitalize "Psalms," but the version printed by Philip Schaff does.) Traditionally, the American Presbyterians had used Rouse's versification of the Psalter. But over time many churches began to grow accustomed to Isaac Watts's "imitation," so-called because, while it purported to be a Psalter, was clearly a rather free rendition that did not hesitate to include references to Christ and new covenant realities (e.g., "Jesus shall reign where'er the sun" is Watts's version of Psalm 72). In time, the traditionalists who used Rouse alone and those that employed Watts became embroiled in a controversy over psalmody.
The Minutes of the Synod of New York and Philadelphia contain many references to this controversy. One minute, dated May 26, 1787, states that "the Synod have allowed the use of the imitation of the Psalms of David for many years, to such congregations as choose them, and still allow of the same." Rouse's version would continue to be permitted as well, and the differing parties are exhorted to charity and peacableness (Records, p. 537). The interesting fact is that no mention is made of the Confession's statement in XXI:5. The Synod simply assumed that it had the right to rule on this matter, and thus to interpret the Confession in a broader sense than the original intent.
When the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. adopted the revised version of the Westminster Standards at its first General Assembly in 1788-89, the Church did not revise the WCF XXI:5 to allow for both canonical psalms and non-inspired hymns, although a new Directory for the Worship of God was adopted, which stated that "it is the duty of Christians to praise God, by singing psalms, or hymns, publicly in the church, as also privately in the family" (Directory for Worship IV:1).
The Assembly further clarified the sense in which the Confession was to be understood and applied, when it heard the query of an exclusive psalmodist minister from the Transylvania Presbytery (now Kentucky and Tennessee), named Adam Rankin. It was his conviction that by allowing Watts' imitation, the Church had "fallen into a great and pernicious error in the public worship of God." Mr. Rankin was given the opportunity to address the Assembly with his concern as long as he chose to speak. A committee was appointed to draft a response to Rankin's overture, which was then presented and adopted the following day (May 26, 1789). In it, the General Assembly exhorted Rankin to exercise "Christian charity towards those who differ from him in their views of this matter, which is exercised towards himself; and that he be carefully guarded against disturbing the peace of the church" (Paradigms in Polity, ed. by David W. Hall and Joseph H. Hall [Eerdmans, 1994], pp. 417-18).
All future ministerial candidates taking the second ordination vow, received and adopted the Westminster Confession and Catechisms of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. (not of the divines meeting at Westminster Abbey). And thus if they believed that hymns of human composition were a legitimate mode by which the element of song in public worship could be fulfilled, they were not expected or required to take exception to WCF XXI:5, for the church that imposes the ordination vow had already declared her mind or animus on this point. Given that the practice of the English Puritans, as well as the continental Reformed tradition, was pretty uniform in singing only the inspired, canonical Psalms, and very few, if any, hymns of merely human composition, it would be a stretch to argue that by the "singing of Psalms" the divines intended to allow for both Psalms and non-inspired hymns like those composed by Watts. It seems, then, that the PCUSA understood the word "Psalms" in her Confession as including non-inspired hymns of human composition, irrespective of what the intent of the Confession's original authors may have been.
In this Section, the committee offers its evaluation of the soundness of the framework interpretation with respect to its doctrine of creation and its hermeneutic, in order to show that it is consistent with the Reformed system of doctrine of the Westminster Standards. The committee examined the framework interpretation, as defined at the beginning of Section II and as defended by its advocates in their writings, in the light of the committee's "Statement on Creation and Hermeneutics" (the origin and subsequent history of which are chronicled in the Introduction above). When this is done, the framework interpretation is found to be within the parameters of that Statement, thus supporting the claim for its theological soundness. In this respect it is noteworthy that the Statement itself is quite comprehensive and detailed at points, and that it was patently devised to address concerns critics have voiced regarding the framework interpretation, making it especially useful for evaluating the soundness of that interpretation.
After each affirmation-denial pair of the Statement, the text of which is printed in bold type, we have added our commentary. The first paragraph of each commentary section cites the relevant portions of the Westminster Standards on which the affirmations and denials are based. The bulk of the affirmations and denials of the Statement are either restatements or logical implications of the teaching of the Westminster Standards on creation and hermeneutics. The only exception is the affirmations and denials dealing with evolution, an issue which the Westminster Standards do not explicitly address. In the remainder of each commentary section we attempt to show that the framework interpretation is in perfect agreement with each of the key theological affirmations concerning the doctrine of creation and the hermeneutical relationship between general and special revelation. Since the Statement is a faithful summary of the system of doctrine of the Westminster Standards - and in the area of evolution is even more restrictive than the Standards - it follows that the framework interpretation of the days of Genesis, which stands in perfect agreement with the Statement as a whole, is in conformity with the system of doctrine. (The affirmations and denials regarding the doctrine of creation are designated A&D A-1, A&D A-2, etc. and those regarding natural revelation and hermeneutics are designated A&D B-1, A&D B-2, etc.)
STATEMENT ON CREATION AND HERMENEUTICS
Regarding the doctrine of creation
We affirm that the one true and living God, the triune God of Scripture, existed alone in eternity (Ps. 90:2; John 1:1-3), and beside Him nothing else whatsoever existed; and that according to His sovereign decree, God created, or made of nothing (ex nihilo), the heavens and the earth, things visible and invisible, by the word of His power (Gen. 1:1; Col. 1:16; Heb. 11:3).
We deny that the universe has always existed (Ps. 90:2; 148:1-5; Isa. 45:12; Eph. 3:9; Rev. 10:6), or came into being by chance (Ps. 104:24; Prov. 8:22-31; Isa. 40:26; John 1:1-3), or was created by any power other than that of the sovereign God (Ps. 33:6-11; Rev. 4:11). We deny that the initial creation event was an organizing and shaping of preexisting material (Rom. 4:17; Heb. 11:3).
This affirmation and denial merely summarizes and reinforces the teaching of WCF IV:1; WLC # 12, 14-15; and WSC # 7-9.
The framework interpretation affirms that God existed before all else, and that He created from nothing all things "by the word of His power," and denies that the universe always existed or came into being by chance or that it was created by any power other than God's or that God used preexisting matter in His initial act of creation.
Kline argues that the traditional phrase, "ex nihilo creation," is not sufficiently clear in expressing the truth this phrase seeks to capture. Instead he proposes that we speak of "in nihilum creation" (creation into nothing) to refer to the initial creative act of Gen. 1:1. Kline explains the advantages of this formula:
According to Genesis 1, the divine act of absolute beginning - or creation in nihilum - was followed by a succession of divine acts of origination … In nihilum serves to distinguish the initial creative act as alone having had no setting of prior created reality ("Because It Had Not Rained," pp. 146-47 - hereafter cited as "Kline 1958").
In other words, the framework interpretation denies that "the initial creation event was an organizing and shaping of preexisting material," since there was no preexisting created reality prior to that event.
Although this truth is taught elsewhere in Scripture, it is significant that the framework interpretation expressly regards Gen. 1:1 as teaching ex nihilo (or in nihilum) creation. The framework interpretation does not hold to the common view that Gen. 1:1 is merely a summary statement in which "the heavens and the earth" refers to the completed work of creation at the end of the six day period. Nor does it hold to the liberal interpretation that Gen. 1:1 is a dependent clause to be translated, "In the beginning when God created …" (cf. NRSV). Although the first interpretation has been held by many orthodox exegetes, both of these interpretations obscure the meaning of the text as an announcement of the original, absolute creation at the very beginning. The exegetical case for taking Gen. 1:1 in this stronger sense need not be summarized here, since it is available elsewhere, but it is sufficient at this point to note that the framework interpretation defends the traditional understanding of Gen. 1:1 as affirming ex nihilo creation. Kline, a well-recognized, long-standing champion of the framework interpretation, concludes his exegesis of Gen. 1:1 as follows:
Gen. 1:1, therefore, states - and how eminently fitting is this affirmation for the opening of the canonical Scriptures - that God in the beginning made the whole world, both its upper and lower spatial registers, both its invisible and visible dimensions, heaven and earth, all ("Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony," p. 5 - hereafter cited as "Kline 1996").
With regard to the denial that the universe "came into being by chance … or was created by any power other than that of the sovereign God," the framework interpretation accents the sovereign display of divine wisdom and purpose in creation when it calls attention to the eschatological significance and goal of creation as signalized by the Sabbatical structure of the creation narrative.
Thus, the framework interpretation clearly satisfies the theological concerns dealt with in the first affirmation and denial.
We affirm that supernatural acts of divine creation both initiated and punctuated the creation period, which was a finite, closed era completed with the creation of man, after which God's work of creation ceased (Gen. 2:1-2; Exod. 20:11; 31:17).
We deny that after the initial creation event, the divine operations during the creation period were solely non-supernatural and thus limited to the divine employment of secondary causes; or that the acts of divine creation, which both initiated and punctuated the creation period, were accomplished by means of secondary causes; or that the creation activity of God continues to the present time.
This affirmation and denial is based upon the same passages of the Standards cited in the previous A&D pair. In addition, the distinction observed in the Standards between creation and providence suggests the validity and importance of making the above denials (WCF V:1; WLC # 14-18; WSC # 8-11).
The framework interpretation strongly affirms that "supernatural acts of creation both initiated and punctuated the creation period." In fact, this language is nearly identical to that of Kline himself, who emphatically states that "acts of supernatural origination did initiate and punctuate the creation process" (Kline 1996, p. 13). Again, he states, "During the creation era, punctuated though it was with acts of supernatural origination, the preservation of life was by natural means" ("Genesis," in The New Bible Commentary, ed. by D. Guthrie, third ed. [Eerdmans, 1970], p. 83 - hereafter cited as "Genesis").
The framework interpretation also teaches that God's work of creation had a beginning, as stated in Gen. 1:1, and that this work of creation ended with the creation of man, as stated in Gen. 2:1-3. That this is Kline's position is made clear in the following quotes:
Among [the Genesis prologue's] normative disclosures are those of the divine act of absolute creation ex nihilo and of a specific, terminated creation era within which appeared all the significant variety of earth's hosts ("Genesis," p. 81).
The present world with the fulness thereof is the net result of this succession of discrete creation acts of God completed within the era of the "six days" (Gen. 2:1-3) (Kline 1958, pp. 146-47).
Moreover, the framework interpretation does not limit the creation activity after the initial creation event to "the divine employment of secondary causes." Although its adherents believe that Gen. 2:5 teaches that ordinary providence was operative during the creation period they have never claimed that only ordinary providence was operative. This misunderstanding, attributed to E. J. Young, among others, is addressed by Lee Irons in his paper "The Framework Interpretation Explained and Defended," p. 63:
Young is guilty of a serious misunderstanding of Kline's view when he writes: "It cannot be held that the present modus operandi of divine providence prevailed on the third day, nor does the appeal to Genesis 2:5 prove such a thing" [Studies in Genesis One, p. 65, emphasis his]. This statement totally misrepresents Kline's argument when it refers to ordinary providence prevailing during the creation week. Kline clearly states that the "six days" of creation comprise a "closed era" within which God completed His work of creation. One must make a "distinction between the unique, closed era of the 'six days,' marked by the series of supernatural acts of origination, and the post-creation era," which is primarily (though not exclusively) marked by ordinary providence. As a result, far from being the time when ordinary providence prevailed, the creation week "was characteristically the era of creation." [Kline quotes found in Kingdom Prologue, p. 18, and Kline 1958, p. 147, emphasis added]
If the framework interpretation taught that ordinary providence alone prevailed during the creation period, permitting supernatural divine activity only in the initial ex nihilo creative act, serious theological objections could be raised against it. The subsequent creative activity of the six days would, in this hypothetical scenario, be limited to the employment of secondary causes. One would have to ask how the work of the six days could be characterized as the work of "creation," since it would appear to be no different than the ordinary providential operations of God after the sixth day in ruling, sustaining, and governing all His creatures and all their actions. But since the framework interpretation rejects Young's mischaracterization, this theological objection is inapplicable to the view rightly understood.
The first affirmation and denial deals with the initial creative event. The second affirmation and denial deals with the subsequent work of divine shaping and populating the heavens and the earth during the six days. As with the first aspect of creation, the framework interpretation asserts that the second part of the work of creation was also the sovereign activity of God operative above and beyond the divine employment of secondary causation.
We affirm that during the creation period God formed each of the basic "kinds" of flora (Gen. 1:11-12) and fauna (Gen. 1:20-21, 24-25), by supernatural acts of direct creation, unmediated by processes of biological change, noting that the Hebrew word "kind" (min) has a broader scope than the scientific category "species."
We deny that God produced the original kinds of flora and fauna by means of gradual biological change from ancestral forms, even though we recognize that biological change and differentiation within the basic kinds occurs under God's providential control.
A&D A-3 and A-4 address the issue of biological evolution, which is not specifically addressed in the Westminster Standards.
Biological evolution is logically a separate issue from the narrow exegetical question of whether the total picture of God's completing His work of creation in six days is to be taken literally. In setting forth exegetical evidence that a negative answer is to be given to that question, the framework interpretation does not address and therefore does not challenge any of the affirmations and denials presented in support of divine creation, rather than natural selection, as the mechanism by which each of the basic "kinds" of flora and fauna originated.
However, in view of the current concerns over evolution, it is valuable to note that the primary defenders of the framework interpretation, do not accept macroevolution. Kline writes:
This is not to raise the question of whether Genesis 1 leaves the door open for some sort of evolutionary reconstruction. On the contrary, it is assumed here that Genesis 1 contradicts the idea that an undifferentiated world-stuff evolved into the present variegated universe by dint of intrinsic potentialities whether divinely "triggered" or otherwise (Kline 1958, p. 146).
Notice that in rejecting macroevolution, Kline not only rejects the dominant naturalistic interpretation of evolution of our modern culture, but also any interpretation of it that would see the processes as being divinely "triggered" (e.g., various forms of theistic evolution).
In addition, Kline also teaches that the "kinds" were created during the six days, with no new "kinds" arising after the close of the creation period. Thus, Kline also rejects the notion that all living creatures are in a constant state of macroevolutionary change and development.
There have been acts of creation since the creation of man which terminated the era of the "six days"; cf., e.g., the origin of souls and such miracles as the multiplying of loaves and fishes. None of these, however, has added to the "kinds" originated within the "six days" (Kline 1958, p. 147 footnote 3).
The Statement wisely adds, however, "the Hebrew word 'kind' (min) has a broader scope than the scientific category 'species' … [and] that biological change and differentiation within the basic kinds occurs under God's providential control," thus allowing for microevolutionary processes of differentiation within the basic "kinds" both during and after the creation period.
With reference to the concern that the framework interpretation may make room for the acceptance of macroevolution, it should be recognized that it does not do so any more than other non-literal views, such as the day-age view held by Charles Hodge and other old earth creationists who reject macroevolution. It should also be noted with respect to this concern that all proponents of the framework interpretation on the committee have approved this set of affirmations and denials in their endorsement of the Statement under discussion (an obvious but not to be dismissed observation).
We affirm that at the close of the creation period, after God had made all other creatures, He created man, male and female, with rational and immortal souls, after His own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the other creatures (Gen. 1:26-28; Ps. 8:6-8). Thus man is distinct from all other earthly creatures even though his body is composed of the same material elements. We affirm that the same act of divine inbreathing that directly and immediately constituted man in his specific identity as the image of God, also constituted him a complete and mature living creature (Gen. 2:7). We affirm that after man's creation the woman was fashioned directly and immediately by a separate and distinct act of creation out of Adam's rib (Gen. 2:21-23; 1 Cor. 11:8; 1 Tim. 2:13).
We deny that God impressed the divine image upon a preexisting living creature; or that Adam's body was fashioned by the divine employment of evolutionary processes; or that human sexual differentiation developed in parallel fashion gradually over time.
Although the Westminster Standards do not specifically address the question of biological ancestry for man, the first, second, and fourth statements of the above affirmation are drawn from WCF IV:2; WLC # 17; and WSC # 10.
This section of the Statement continues to set forth the doctrine of creation, distinguishing it from any form of macroevolution, with a shift of emphasis from the lower forms of life to man, male and female. Here again, reference to the definition of the framework interpretation shows that it is completely silent with respect to this topic. This being the case, the inclusion of this section (and A&D A-3 as well) may seem curious, but, as already mentioned, the Statement was formulated in light of concerns regarding the framework interpretation, with those concerns not confined to what is stated in the interpretation but extrapolated to what is possibly implied.
In regard to what may be implied by the framework interpretation, it is instructive to consider what Kline, says about the creation of man:
Culminating the series of earthly replicas of the Creator-King is the final creature of day six, man, the image of God and his holy angels (Gen. l:26). In this earthling, made like unto the Glory-Spirit with respect to the threefold glory of royal dominion, moral excellence, and (in eschatological prospect) visual luminosity, creaturely reproduction of the heavenly King of kings is perfected (Kline 1996, p. 6).
Whatever one may think about his two-register creation model, it is difficult to see in Kline's words any actual or potential acceptance of evolution as the explanation of the origin of man. To the contrary, he presents a very Creator-centered perspective, doxological in tone.
Even more pointedly, Irons states that "John Murray's exegesis of Gen. 2:7 stands to this day as a compelling argument against non-human biological ancestry for man" (p. 72). And in a significant footnote at the very end of his 1996 article (p. 15, footnote 47) Kline likewise affirms his commitment to "Adam as an historical individual, the covenantal head and ancestral fount of the rest of mankind," and, echoing Murray's exegesis, he goes on to affirm that "it was the one and same divine act that constituted [Adam] the first man … that also imparted to him life (Gen. 2:7)," thus ruling out the notion that God impressed the divine image upon a preexisting living creature which had been formed by evolutionary processes.
We affirm that Adam and Eve were historical individuals, the first human pair from whom the entire human race has descended (Acts 17:26; 1 Cor. 15:45); and that when God created man, He entered into a covenant of works with the first man, Adam (Hos. 6:7), wherein Adam represented his posterity as mankind's federal head, and that when he violated the requirement, all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him and fell with him into an estate of sin, the guilt of Adam's first sin having been imputed (Rom. 5:12-19); and that this resulted in spiritual and physical death among men (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:19; Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:1-3) and divine curse upon the animate and inanimate world (Gen. 3:17-18; Rom. 8:20).
We deny that the story of Adam and Eve is a mere parable or a poetic expression of religious truth; or that Adam and Eve are non-historical symbolic figures standing for mankind in general; or that the fall of man did not involve a real transition in history from the state of original righteousness to the state of sin and misery.
A&D A-5 is in accord with WCF VII:2-3; IX:1-3; WLC # 20-29; and WSC # 12-19.
The affirmations and denials here presented focus on the historicity of the accounts of the creation of man, God's covenant of works made with Adam, the violation of that covenant by Adam as federal head of the human race, and the resulting fall and curse upon himself, all his posterity, and the "animate and inanimate world" - an article of the faith upon which there is widespread agreement and which falls outside the purview of the framework interpretation as herein defined. The explanation for its inclusion in the Statement is the same as that already given above, under A&D A-4.
Kline clearly rejects the liberal mythological interpretation of the significance of Adam and Eve, and strenuously asserts the historicity of the fall:
To take our stand humbly with those whose eyes God has opened to recognize the perfect truthfulness of the Word He has spoken, does not mean that we are committed to all the woodenly literalistic interpretation that has been imposed on the Old Testament. But great caution is necessary at this point lest warning against one error, a far worse error be encouraged. The "worse error" we refer to is found in the dominant theological movement of our day, Barthianism, which denies the real, literal historicity of the key events recorded in Scripture. Take in particular their treatment of the history in Genesis. … The purpose of such stories, it is said, is not to portray specific past events of history on this earth, such as the Fall of a real Adam and Eve in an actual garden in Eden, but only to point to some suprahistorical aspect of the experience of Everyman. The practical consequence is that the reins of Barthian interpretation are let loose and it runs amuck over the sacred records, dissolving Biblical history in the acid of theological allegorization - allegorization as unwarranted and undisciplined as its older, less sophisticated cousins ("Is the History of the Old Testament Accurate?" in Can I Trust the Bible?, ed. by Howard F. Vos [Moody, 1968], pp. 137-38).
Similarly, Irons writes (p. 11):
The New Testament also places tremendous weight upon Adam as a historical individual whose primal apostasy had significant ramifications for the subsequent unfolding of God's redemptive plan (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:21-22). Adam's historic representative headship over all his descendants is foundational for the Biblical doctrine of the federal headship of Christ, the Last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45). To undermine the historicity of the first Adam by viewing him as a mythic symbol representing "everyman" is to undermine the reality of the redemption accomplished by the Last Adam on behalf of his people. Such passages as these, scattered throughout the New Testament, demonstrate that serious doctrinal repercussions would result if the historicity of the opening chapters of Genesis were called into question.
Any claim that the framework interpretation undermines the historicity of Adam and Eve, or of the fall, involves a refusal to take the statements of its adherents at face value.
Having established that the framework interpretation is theologically sound in its doctrine of creation, we now turn to the questions of natural revelation and hermeneutics to show that here too the view is grounded in sound Biblical and theological principles.
Regarding natural revelation and hermeneutics
We affirm that general or natural revelation and special revelation in Scripture must always be in harmony, since God is the author of both (Ps. 19:1-4; Acts 14:15-17; Rom. 1:18-20; 2 Tim. 3:16). Any apparent conflict or contradiction between natural revelation and Scripture is the result of a misinterpretation of either natural revelation or of Scripture.
We deny that special revelation is valid only in the religious realm, or is irrelevant to matters within the physical world.
The affirmations of B-1 are not specifically stated in the Westminster Standards, but they do flow by good and necessary consequence from the teaching concerning the harmony of "the light of nature" and special revelation (WCF I:1; XXI:1; WLC # 2-3). The denial flows from the Confession's affirmation that Scripture contains "the whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life" (WCF I:6), that is, not just that which is necessary for man's salvation.
The framework interpretation not only falls within the parameters of the Statement at this point; its very existence stems from taking these affirmations and denials seriously. It is the conviction that natural (general) and special revelation "must always be in harmony" that causes one, having examined both revelations and finding apparent disharmony, to seek a legitimate interpretation of scripture that will erase that contradiction.
It is impossible for one to engage in this enterprise believing that special revelation is "valid only in the religious world" or "irrelevant to matters within the physical world" where it addresses these matters. In this regard, Kline wrote that "the Genesis prologue presents those historical truths which are the necessary presuppositions for the valid pursuit of human knowledge" ("Genesis," p. 81), thus clearly treating special revelation in Scripture as not only relevant but essential to the proper understanding of matters within the physical world.
We affirm that the content of revelation and the interpretation of revelation must be distinguished: science is the human interpretation of God's revelation in nature; exegesis, the human interpretation of God's revelation in Scripture. Therefore, both the scientific and exegetical enterprises of men must always be open to correction by Scripture, which is our ultimate authority.
We deny that either the scientific or the exegetical enterprise may overlook the noetic effects of sin which distort man's perception and darken his understanding.
The Westminster Standards do not explicitly make the distinctions contained in the above affirmation, but they do state very clearly that the ultimate authority or "supreme judge" by which all secondary sources of authority are to be tested is the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture (WCF I:10). The reality of the noetic effects of sin is affirmed in WCF VI:2; WLC # 25, 28; and WSC # 18.
The framework interpretation readily accommodates the understanding offered here of the relationship between the content and interpretation of revelation, science being "the human interpretation of God's revelation in nature" and exegesis being "the human interpretation of God's revelation in Scripture." Since both science and exegesis are human enterprises, they are subject to the distorting influence of sin, and in those cases where this influence produces apparent conflict, any attempted solution must be in accord with proper exegesis of Scripture, our ultimate authority.
We affirm that the revelation of God in Scripture has presuppositional priority over the revelation of God in nature; and that the only legitimate role of natural revelation or science in the exegesis of Scripture is to alert us to the possibility that our exegesis may need to be reexamined.
We deny that it is proper to regard natural revelation or science as a normative authority in the exegetical task; or that interpretations which achieve harmony with natural revelation or science, but are not based on valid exegetical grounds internal to the text and which do not conform to the analogy of Scripture, may rightly be adopted by those committed to God's authoritative self-revelation in Scripture.
The Confession states that "the infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself" (WCF I:9). The Confession does not deny the validity of other sources of information or secondary authorities. But when "when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture … it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly" (WCF I:9). The silence of the Confession concerning the need to compare Scripture with any other source of knowledge or authority in determining the meaning of any text is suggestive. Furthermore, the fact that the analogy of Scripture principle is regarded as "the infallible rule of interpretation" argues for its sole prerogative over other methods.
Here we find a restatement and reinforcing by way of clarification of the truth just discussed: "that the revelation of God in Scripture has presuppositional priority over the revelation of God in nature," together with a definition of the legitimate role of science in exegesis, namely "to alert us to the possibility that our exegesis may need to be reexamined."
Henri Blocher, another notable exponent of the framework interpretation, endorses this last point in his analysis of the role of science in the exegetical task:
In the case of the opening chapters of Genesis, it is not plausible that the human author knew what we are taught by astronomers, geologists and other scientists. Therefore we must curb the desire to make the scientific view play a part in the actual interpretation; the interpretation must cling solely to the text and its context. The inescapable comparison with the sciences of cosmic, biological and human origins will not come until after; this will no doubt have repercussions on the work of interpretation which is never completed, but they will be of a merely external nature … We conclude that the place of the sciences in the reading of the Bible is this: they have neither authority, nor even a substantial ministerial role within the actual interpretation; they act as warnings and confirmations at a later stage (In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis [InterVarsity, 1984], pp. 26-27).
This understanding of the role of science is quite significant in our discussion, since science alerts us to the possibility that traditional exegesis may need correction but it is not employed in the ensuing exegetical work itself. This process is well illustrated in the exegetical section of this report, done in the light of such alerting observations as those contained in Irons' paper:
Days one and four not only deal with the same topics (light /darkness and day /night) but they employ identical language ("to separate the light from the darkness"). We have already noted these facts. However, there is more. The fact that the sun was the source of daylight is not a recent discovery of modern science. Ancient Hebrews were aware of this obvious relationship through simple observation. Yet the Mosaic account of creation, if read sequentially, envisions the presence of daylight, along with the day-night rhythm apart from the sun for the first three days of the creation week. Is the text indicating that our common-sense understanding of the relationship between the sun and daylight must be modified? On the other hand, is it our initial sequential reading which must be corrected? (p. 31).
Although appeal is made to natural revelation, what functions as the normative authority in the exegesis of the framework interpretation is not science but the analogy of Scripture, affirmed here as essential in sound exegesis. In this regard it is important to note that in the exegetical section of this report the framework interpretation is defended upon the basis of exegesis alone, without appeal to science.
Some critics of the framework interpretation claim that the framework interpretation is in fact governed, not by sound exegetical methodology according to the analogy of Scripture, but by the need or desire to accommodate the findings of modern science. This charge is based on a frequent misquotation of Kline's 1996 article, "Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony." The third sentence in that article reads: "The conclusion is that as far as the time frame is concerned, with respect to both the duration and sequence of events, the scientist is left free of biblical constraints in hypothesizing about cosmic origins."
But notice the all-important qualifying phrase at the beginning of the sentence: "… as far as the time frame is concerned, with respect to both the duration and sequence of events …." With these words Kline has specifically restricted the sphere of the scientist's freedom in hypothesizing about cosmic origins to "the time frame," specifically "the duration and the sequence of events." Thus, according to Kline, a Bible-believing Christian engaged in the scientific study of cosmic origins is not required, on the authority of Scripture, to adopt only those scientific theories which posit a creation period of exactly 144 hours (duration), or an order of creation events that corresponds at every point to the narrative order of Genesis 1 (sequence).
Claiming that the Christian scientist has liberty in the areas of duration and sequence in no ways grants him carte blanche autonomy to engage in any conceivable speculation apart from the authority of Scripture. It simply means that on these two points God has chosen not to give any revelation in Scripture, thus allowing the scientist to seek answers to these questions via the study of general revelation. While the critics of the framework interpretation obviously disagree with Kline's conclusion that Scripture is silent on the duration and sequence of the creation events, they should nevertheless be able to see the validity of his overall point: we must speak where Scripture speaks, and be silent where Scripture is silent.
It is not scientific accommodation, then, that impels Kline to adopt the framework interpretation, but exegesis itself. And if exegesis shows that the traditional six-day creationist interpretation in fact places imaginary constraints upon the collective conscience of God's people, then the church has no Scriptural warrant to stop its ears against the unmistakable voice of natural revelation regarding the duration and sequence of the creation events. This is what Kline means when he says that "the scientist is left free of biblical constraints in hypothesizing about cosmic origins." The constraints proclaimed by six-day creationists are, in his opinion, not founded in proper exegesis of the Bible, and therefore there are no truly Biblical constraints upon scientists dictating that they may only adopt theories of cosmic origins that entail a duration for the creation period of specified brevity, or an order for the creation events that corresponds at every point to the order of the Genesis narrative.
We affirm that due to the genius of divine revelation in Scripture, historical narratives may employ various non-literal figures and may be structured by certain literary devices, while at the same time disclosing real, historical events. We affirm that Gen. 1-2 is an historical account of God's work of creation, narrating objective, observable events that actually occurred in space-time history.
We deny that it is proper to identify Gen. 1-2 as a mythological account of the world providing a merely symbolic explanation of reality; or that it is a merely poetic or literary account bearing no necessary relation to the actual creation of the external world and the establishment of historical reality.
These affirmations and denials flow from the teaching of the Confession concerning the "entire perfection," "infallible truth and divine authority" of Holy Scripture, "given by inspiration of God" (WCF I:1-10). Since Scripture is the infallible Word of God, it follows that the historical narratives contained in Scripture must be entirely factual and inerrant accounts of what actually occurred.
It is hardly worth contending that the framework interpretation is within the parameters of the Statement at this point, where it is affirming that historical narratives (in Scripture) may employ "non-literal figures" and be structured by "literary devices." The acceptance and use of this understanding are indispensable to the framework interpretation.
The framework interpretation of necessity presupposes "that Gen. 1-2 is an historical account of God's work of creation," since, by definition, it deals with the time frame and sequence of the creation events, accepting their historical reality as a given. And in view of the affirmation that the creation account narrates "objective, observable events that actually occurred in space-time history," Kline makes his agreement at this point beyond doubt:
I wish to state emphatically that I regard the creation prologue of Genesis as the record of events that actually transpired (with the angels of God as "eyewitnesses" of most of them). I posit no fundamental contrast between Gen. 1 and Gen. 2ff. They are alike historical records (Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 48 [Sept. 1996] 210).
Kline writes, of the book of Genesis as a whole, that he regards all of it as historical, including the controversial first eleven chapters, which many liberal theologians identify as ahistorical myth:
Decisively in favour of the judgment that Gn. 1-11 is not mythological but a genuine record of history is the testimony of the rest of the Bible. The material in these chapters is unquestionably interpreted by inspired writers elsewhere in Scripture as historical in the same sense that they understand Gn. 12-50 or Kings or the Gospels to be historical. … Gen. 1-50 is history throughout, and when the writing of history is informed by divine inspiration the resultant product is a fully trustworthy historical record, however remote in time the human historian may have been from the events recorded ("Genesis," pp. 79-80).
And with regard to Gen. 1:1-2:3 in particular, Kline makes clear that, while he regards this passage as semi-poetic or epic in literary style, he remains convinced of the genuinely historical and inerrant character of the creation account:
Having made such an observation concerning the literary genre of the creation record, it is imperative (especially in the present theological scene) that one convinced of the genuinely historical nature of Genesis promptly add that the disregard for historical truth associated with the usual epic is not imported along with the formal literary aspects of the epic style into the divine revelation. … Though Genesis 1 be epic in literary style, its contents are not legendary or mythical in either a Liberal or Barthian sense. The semi-poetic style, however, should lead the exegete to anticipate the figurative strand in this genuinely historical record of the origins of the universe (Kline 1958, pp. 155-56).
Irons also affirms that the literary aspects of the Genesis account, to which the framework interpretation appeals, are in perfect harmony with the historical and factual nature of the account:
Framework interpreters do not believe that the historicity of Gen. 1-3 is diminished on account of the Spirit's inspired use of literary devices - including dischronologized narrative, temporal recapitulation, and schematic arrangement … Advocates of the framework interpretation presuppose that both literary artifice and true, historical reporting can coexist in Biblical history. It is possible for a straightforward, factual, and inerrant historical narrative to be presented in an order dictated by topical rather than purely chronological concerns (pp. 12-13).
Thus, the framework interpretation is in complete agreement with the fourth affirmation and denial in recognizing that "due to the genius of divine revelation in Scripture, historical narratives may employ various non-literal figures and may be structured by certain literary devices, while at the same time disclosing real, historical events."
We affirm that determinations as to what is figurative and what is literal in any given text can only be made by interpreting the meanings of the inspired words in their syntactical relations within propositions, in light of both the local and the canonical contexts. We affirm that a text's true meaning is determined by the analogy of Scripture, of which literary structure is only one part.
We deny that literary structure alone can dictate whether any given element of the text must be interpreted figuratively; or that structural considerations may nullify or suppress the historicity and factuality of historical narrative.
The final affirmation and denial pair is based on the Confession's endorsement of the analogy of Scripture principle as the infallible rule of Scriptural interpretation (WCF I:9).
That the framework interpretation is within the parameters of this last set of affirmations and denials is most easily and clearly demonstrated by reference to the exegetical section of this report, where "determinations of what is figurative and what is literal" are essential in framing the arguments offered. Your committee believes that the exegetical work presented there interprets the meaning of words in the manner commended, not relying on literary structure alone but affording it its proper place in the use of the analogy of Scripture as the primary interpretive tool. In other words, the mere presence of thematic parallels or literary structure in any given Scriptural narrative purporting to be historical, is not appealed to as automatic proof that the text is non-sequential or that the chronological data are to be interpreted in a figurative manner. While the presence of literary structure is one element of the total exegetical process, determinations of what is figurative or literal in any given text are made "by interpreting the meanings of the inspired words in their syntactical relations within propositions, in light of both the local and the canonical contexts," that is, in light of the analogy of Scripture.
In keeping with these standard Reformed hermeneutical principles, Kline argues that in distinguishing simple description and poetic figure from what is definitively conceptual the only ultimate guide, here as always, is comparison with the rest of Scripture ("Genesis," p. 82).
Further, Kline recognizes that the appeal to the semi-poetic nature of the Genesis 1 account cannot alone justify the specific exegetical conclusion of the framework interpretation, namely, that the picture of God's performing His creative work in a week of days is to be taken figuratively rather than literally. To argue in such a simplistic fashion would be to treat the text as a mere allegory, which it clearly is not.
It also needs considerable emphasis, even among orthodox exegetes, that specific evidence is required for identifying particular elements in the early chapters of Genesis as literary figures. The semi-poetic form of Genesis 1 does not make it an exception. Exegesis which disregards this degenerates into allegorizing and these chapters are not allegories (Kline 1958, p. 156).
Kline then goes on to set forth the "specific evidence" that leads him to conclude that the chronological structure of the days, and their mornings and evenings, is a figurative framework (viz., the existence of three days prior to the creation of the luminaries; the evidence for temporal recapitulation at day four, which includes the argument from Gen. 2:5-6; and the eternality of the seventh day). Thus, the framework interpretation is in wholehearted agreement with the denial that "literary structure alone can dictate whether any given element of the text must be interpreted figuratively."
Finally, the concern "that structural considerations may nullify or suppress the historicity and factuality of historical narrative" is found to be unwarranted with respect to the framework interpretation if one remembers that the structural considerations in the interpretation, as well as the interpretation as a whole, merely raise the questions of duration and sequence, not historicity which is presupposed. (See our comments and quotations under A&D B-4 above).
With regard to the second section of the Statement, then, the committee judges that the framework interpretation is theologically sound and orthodox in its understanding of the proper role of natural revelation in exegesis, of the ultimate and presuppositional authority of Scripture, and its employment of a proper hermeneutic in exegesis.
Your committee has conducted a careful examination of the framework interpretation of Gen. 1:1-2:3 in order to determine its conformity to Scripture and to the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms.
In Section II of this report, we examined the soundness of the framework interpretation in relation to Scripture. The committee concluded that the view is grounded in sound exegetical principles, since it bases its conclusion that the six days of creation are a figurative framework on textual evidence internal to the text. It does not base its conclusion on the mere assumption that the days may be taken figuratively, or on the ground that this interpretation, though inherently unlikely, is the only way of reconciling Gen. 1 with modern science. On the contrary, the textual evidence appealed to is considered by those who hold to the view to be compelling proof that the intent of the divine Author was to employ the figure of the week of days as a literary framework. One implication of this section of the report, and which anticipated issues raised in the fourth section, is that the framework interpretation employs a proper hermeneutic in arriving at its conclusions, that is, it employs the analogy of Scripture principle that Scripture is its own interpreter.
In Section III of the report, the committee surveyed the history of the second ordination vow, and concluded that a man who holds the framework interpretation may "sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures." The original intent of the divines in speaking of creation "in the space of six days" has not been decisively decided, but even if the original intent was to exclude all but literal six-day creationism, the real issue as far as confessional subscription goes is not the original intent of the Westminster divines but the historic meaning of the second ordination vow in the American Presbyterian context.
The committee traced the historical background of the language of the second ordination vow back to the Adopting Act of 1729. In that foundational document, the American Presbyterian Church distinguished between those articles in the Standards essential to the system of doctrine, and those which are regarded as extra-essential and non-necessary. The committee believes that the historic method of subscription to the Standards - beginning in 1729, continuing into the PCUSA in 1788, and on into the OPC, the "true spiritual succession" of the PCUSA - is not that of subscribing to every word or proposition of the Standards, but of system of doctrine subscription. When asked what are the articles that are essential to the "system of doctrine," the answer must be that the Church that imposes the formula of subscription in her ordination vows was given the right of defining which are the essential articles by the Adopting Act. Furthermore, the committee is convinced that this right is necessary if our historic claim that Scripture alone is the supreme authority in matters of doctrine is to be anything but a hollow one.
This right of the Church to set forth the sense in which she requires her ministers to receive and adopt her creed is known as the animus imponentis. That is, the meaning of the "system of doctrine" referred to in the second ordination vow is determined by the mind of the Church that imposes the vow. Since the OPC has historically considered both literal and non-literal views of the days of Genesis to be within the parameters of the system of doctrine contained in the Standards, the mind of the Church is that men may hold to either view and be able to sincerely receive and adopt the Standards thus understood.
Finally, in Section IV, your committee examined the soundness of the framework in relation to the doctrine of creation, in relation to the proper relationship between natural and special revelation, and in relation to the hermeneutical role of literary devices in interpreting historical narrative. The soundness of the framework interpretation in these areas was established by showing that the framework interpretation falls within the parameters of each of the ten affirmation and denials of the "Statement on Creation and Hermeneutics," which is itself a summary of the teaching of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms on those points.
First of all, with regard to its doctrine of creation, the framework interpretation affirms the fundamental doctrine of ex nihilo creation, and supports the classic exegesis of Gen. 1:1 as teaching that truth. The framework interpretation, while permitting longer periods of time between each creative act, argues that the several acts of creature-production subsequent to the initial creative act of Gen. 1:1 were supernatural acts of divine origination, which punctuated the creation period. It does not teach, as some have alleged, that God employed ordinary providence to accomplish these acts. Although macroevolution is a separate issue logically unrelated to the question of whether the days are literal or figurative, the committee endorses the affirmations and denials in the Statement rejecting the macroevolutionary theory of origins, both in the human and non-human orders.
Second, with regard to its understanding of the relationship between natural and special revelation, and the proper role of the former in the exegesis of the latter, the framework interpretation strongly agrees that the revelation of God in nature and in Scripture can in no way contradict one another, for both have God as their Author and must therefore be in perfect harmony. It further affirms the Biblical viewpoint that presuppositional priority is to be given to special revelation, and that the only legitimate role of natural revelation in the interpretation of Scripture is to serve as a warning flag that our exegesis may need to be reexamined. The committee is convinced that this formulation of the relationship between natural and special revelation provides an adequate safeguard against the error common among the day-age theorists of Old Princeton, that "the Bible must be interpreted by science" (Charles Hodge).
Third, with regard to its hermeneutic, the framework interpretation endorses the strongly worded affirmation of the Statement that the literary aspects of the text cannot rightly be appealed to in order to nullify or suppress the historicity and factuality of the creation narrative. The committee believes that the framework interpretation handles the literary dimensions of the text in a manner that is in accordance with the strictest adherence to the absolute trustworthiness and historicity of divine revelation.
Since the framework interpretation is in perfect accord with each of the ten points of the "Statement on Creation and Hermeneutics," and since that Statement is an accurate summary of the teaching of the Westminster Standards relative to the issues under discussion, the committee believes that the framework interpretation is consistent with the system of doctrine, historically defined.
In order to show that the framework interpretation might somehow fall outside the historic animus of the OPC with regard to the confessional status of non-literal interpretations of the days of Genesis, and that therefore a candidate who holds a non-literal view cannot honestly take the second ordination vow, it would be necessary to show that the framework interpretation involves, as an integral part of its position, a defective or unorthodox doctrine of creation, or a defective or unorthodox construction of the relationship between natural and special revelation, or a defective or unorthodox hermeneutic. In other words, it would be necessary to show that the framework interpretation is out of accord with the system of doctrine of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. It is not sufficient to argue that the framework interpretation violates the express letter of the Standards ("in the space of six days"), since the historic method of creedal subscription in the American Presbyterian context has never required the adoption of every word or proposition in those Standards. Nor is it sufficient to argue that the exegesis itself is incorrect or flawed, since men are not qualified for the ministry on the basis that they hold to the correct exegesis of every text of Scripture, but on the ground that their theological position accords with the Reformed system of doctrine summarized in the Standards.
Since the framework interpretation, as formulated in this report, accords with the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures and summarized in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this Church, ministerial candidates who adhere to the framework interpretation need not take an exception to the statement that God created all things "in the space of six days" (WCF IV:1; WSC # 9; WLC # 15), provided they do not incorporate within their view positions in conflict with the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms.
The committee therefore recommends:
1. That the Presbytery of Southern California adopt the above "Conclusion" as reflecting the mind of the Presbytery with regard to the question of the conformity of the framework interpretation to Scripture and the Westminster Standards.
2. That the Presbytery of Southern California receive the Report of the Committee to Study the Framework Hypothesis, as containing information which will aid the Presbytery in evaluating the doctrinal fitness of ministerial candidates who adhere to the framework interpretation.
3. That the Committee to Study the Framework Hypothesis be dissolved.
Donald M. Poundstone, Chairman