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Ask An Evangelical: What do you believe about dinosaurs?

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What do you want to know about Evangelicalism? Pastor Rob Bryceson, of The Gathering House Church, and Elizabeth Backstrom, a member of The Gathering House, co-author this column. Submit your question here.

By Rob Bryceson

What do Evangelicals believe about dinosaurs?

This question is probably best answered by discussing how the creation accounts in Genesis chapter 1 and 2 are interpreted. Believe it or not, there are actually a lot of differences of opinion within Evangelical circles. How a person interprets the Genesis account determines their view of where to put dinosaurs.

For the record, Genesis 1 simplified says God created the world in basically this order:

Day one – Light and darkness
Day Two – Sky (heavens) separates the waters above from the waters below
Day Three – Water on the ground is separated creating dry ground and vegetation
Day Four – Lights in the sky, sun, moon, and stars
Day Five – Water creatures and birds
Day Six – Animals and mankind (male and female)
Day 7 – Rest

Genesis 2 then goes into detail about the creation account of humans. At a glance there are some discrepancies to resolve. First off, most Evangelicals don’t view these two chapters as two totally different accounts written centuries apart and the later put together in a mashup passed down to us. We tend to hold the view that Moses wrote all of Genesis using a combination of oral tradition passed down the ages and direct Revelation of God.

Hebrew literature often used inversion. This means they would tell the whole story of days one through seven and then go back and highlight day six in chapter two. You will notice in chapter two the creation order is Adam, vegetation, animals, woman. So is vegetation made on day three like Genesis 1 says or day six like Genesis 2 says?  It helps to know there are different Hebrew words used for vegetation.  Day six in Genesis 2 means specifically cultivated plants. Chapter two – God is referred to as Elohim (a plural name but used with singular verbs). It means the All Powerful Mighty One.  In chapter two God is called Yahweh (personal name) showing a more intimate and personal relationship. This is the name Moses received from God at the burning bush which basically means – “I Am”, the Continually Existent One.  For Evangelicals these aren’t two accounts because of the different names, its one author emphasizing different characteristic s of God according to the content of the chapter. Chapter one emphasizes God’s mighty power creating the world. Chapter two emphasizes his intimate and personal relationship with his creation of mankind.

By the way the 4,000 BC date is not in the Bible it’s a view postulated by a lone bishop who counted all the generations mentioned in the Bible and counted backwards. It’s pretty much universally agreed he got it wrong because Hebrews didn’t count generations like we do. They will skip some or go from most famous to most famous.

Here are six views held by different Evangelicals on how to interpret the Genesis creation accounts with their pros and cons.

  1. The Gap Theory – (AKA The Restitution Theory)

In Genesis 1:1 heavens and earth were created around 4.5 billion years ago. There is then a gap between 1:1 and 1:2, during which dinosaurs reigned and the fall of Satan happened. 1:2 is then translated – The earth BECAME formless and void. The death of dinosaurs goes here. The prophet Jeremiah uses the exact phrase “formless and void” in 4:23 meaning judgement, giving some credence to this position. 1:3 is then a recreation of the world. It gets remade and mankind is inserted here.

  • Pros – Nicely reconciles science and the creation story, explains the dinosaurs, and the snake in Eden
  • Con’s – Unnatural translation of the Hebrew
  1. The Day/Age Theory (AKA Concordism)

Genesis 1:1-2 is the original creation and 1:3 and following are the eras of geological history. So each day isn’t a 24 hour period but roughly a geologic “age.” Mankind evolves but at some point in evolution God “inserts” his image making Adam and Eve human and not animal. This comes down to how to interpret the word “day.” For instance 2 Peter 3:8 says “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” There are also other passages in the Bible where a day is not a 24 hour period, like when the phrase “Day of the Lord” occurs.

  • Pros – Explains the old age of earth and the reconciles evolution with the biblical account
  • Cons – The sun is revealed on day four but vegetation was created on day three. How can this be accurate for a geological age? Nothing would live. What are the evening and mornings mentioned then? In Hebrew Scriptures when a number is used with the word “day” yom it means 24 hour period.
  1. Apparent Age Theory (AKA Mature Creation)

In six literal 24 hour periods, God created a young world that looked old. In this view creation is either a strict 4,000 BC creation date or a date somewhere between 10 -50,000 years ago.

  • Pros – How old did Adam look the day he was created? Or Eve? They weren’t babies but looked like full-grown adults even though they were only a day old. It explains the geologic dating and dinosaur bones, all of which appear old but really aren’t. It reconciles the evening and the morning statements in the texts.
  • Cons – The dinosaur bones would all be fakes, put in the earth to make it look fully grown and mature. This makes God seem like a bit of con-man, faking creatures that never really existed. Why would he bother?
  1. Literal Six Day Creation (Young Earth Catastrophism)

In six literal 24 hour periods, God created the world. Creation is either a strict 4,000 BC creation date, or a date somewhere between 10 -50,000 years ago.  In this view mankind and dinosaurs lived concurrently. It postulates that our modern dating methods of science are inaccurate guesses. Often those who hold this view also postulate that the world was radically altered at Noah’s Flood so all bets are off dating because the entire earth including the atmosphere totally changed.

  • Pros – It’s the most straightforward reading of Genesis. There are scientists who hold this view and are still doing research which the scientific community likes to bury and keep from the public. There is way too much to go into here but if you want to look, there’s a lot of literature out there in support of this theory and its arguments.
  • Cons – Most all of our modern scientists totally disagree. You WILL be aggressively shamed if you hold this view.
  1. Revelatory Day Theory (aka Pictorial Day Theory)

This one is trickier to explain. It says that each day is not a day describing creation but it’s describing the six days in which God told or showed Moses what He did to create the world and Moses wrote it down. So it goes more like; “on day one God told me he made the heavens and the earth. The next day he told me . . . .”  You get the idea.

  • Pros – Genesis 1 and 2 isn’t an account of creation at all, it’s an explanation of Moses’ experience with God talking to him. There is no need to reconcile science and the creation or deal with dates and ages – they’re independent topics
  • Cons – There is no way to read the text and get this idea. You would have to insert that understanding over the top of the scriptures – a dangerous habit when trying to use God’s Word to guide your life. Also this is a very LATE view in interpreting Genesis. Nobody in church or Jewish history ever suggested such a thing it’s a modern idea by Bernard Ramm which he superimposed on the text because of science not theology or textual criticism.
  1. Polemic Theory 

In this view the creation account is not and never was meant to tell how God created or how long it took – it’s a propositional attack against the pagan cultures of Moses’ time which all taught the world was created through some warfare of the gods. So Moses only wrote this to poetically explain that One God is master and Lord of heavens, water, earth, animals, birds, reptiles, insects, and mankind – ONE GOD  is therefore ruler of it ALL!

  1. Pros – Eliminates the need to harmonize the Bible with the science. It turns the discussion of Genesis away from geology, biology, and chemistry and back to theology where it belongs.
  2. Cons – Genesis obviously does say what God created if not how and it does say how long it took. This view simply ignores whatever the evening and mornings are meant to mean and washes its hands of all the difficulties of interpretation and understanding.

What we Evangelicals say God wants us to know regardless of your interpretive view

  1. There is ONLY ONE totally sovereign God – all other faiths at the time had some kind of warfare between powers or gods establishing creation.
  2. God created with a design and purpose – Nature is not God! He is above it and creator of it.
  3. God created it out of nothing (ex-nihilo) by the power of his word and the material world isn’t evil or bad as many faiths postulate.
  4. Mankind is special and unique – made in his image – Mankind’s role was to rule and be caretaker of earth.
  5. The Sabbath rest is intentional
  6. God’s creation was perfect (pronounced good) because God is perfect and could create nothing else
  7. Something must have happened to change God’s creation. That’s the rest of the story in the Bible.

Rob Bryceson

About Rob Bryceson

Rob Bryceson is the Pastor of The Gathering House Covenant Church and café in the Garland District, formerly First Covenant Church on 2nd and Division. The church site is actually a neighborhood coffee shop six days a week. It serves as a job training institute for people coming out of addiction, poverty, or prison. Bryceson has served as the chairman of the Spokane Homeless coalition for two terms. He holds a Master’s of Divinity from Western Seminary and a Graduate Certificate from Multnomah School of the Bible. His undergrad is in History with English and Government minors from Eastern Washington University. He likes performing classic rock on his guitar. He has four grown daughters who inspire and amaze him and a son who makes him laugh and fills him with joy. Bryceson's wife, Tonia, runs the coffee shop as the director of Street Wise and he will tell you that she is the most amazing person he knows!

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