Martin Luther on Creation (III)

69FC4E73-769C-4A4B-AC5E-5005F505F527Continuing our journey through Volume One of Luther’s Works, we come to another point that we have addressed here previously, and that is the claim that “young earth six-day creationism” is a relative newcomer on the theological scene, and specifically the product of American “fundamentalism.” 

Once again, even a cursory study of historical theology disproves these claims, and a study of Martin Luther’s teaching makes it clear. 

“We know from Moses,” Luther writes already in the third paragraph of his first lecture, “that the world was not in existence before 6,000 years ago. Of this is it altogether impossible to convince a philosopher, because, according to Aristotle, no first man or last man can be conceded.” 

My point here is not to argue that the world can be no more than 6,000 years old. That’s not a hill I’m willing to die on, although theologians that I respect do argue for a strict Biblical chronology, basing themselves on the genealogical record included in Scripture to estimate that about 6,000 years have passed since the creation week. My point is, first of all, that “young earth creationism” is no novel idea; far from being the product of an American fundamentalist response to evolutionism, this has been the default view throughout the history of the church. Luther knew nothing of the developments that would arise in the 19th Century, when evolutionary geology would open the doors to the development of evolutionary biology and the idea that the universe is billions, and not thousands, of years old. But his conclusions, developed in the context of debates with non-Christian philosophers, were that the earth is, in relative terms, “young.” 

As for a “literal” six days of creation, this understanding of Scripture’s teaching also has a lengthy pedigree – as do competing viewpoints which deny that creation occurred during one week of regular days. Luther turns his attention to this topic in his discussion of the creation of human beings on the sixth day, and declares his opposition to “Hilary and others, who maintained that God created everything at the same time”:

“Here our opinion is supported: that the six days were truly six natural days, because here Moses says that Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day. One may not use sophistries with reference to this text. But concerning the order of creation of man he will state in the following chapter that Eve was made sometime after Adam, not like Adam, from a clod of earth, but from his rib, which God took out of the side of Adam as he slept. These are all works of time, that is, works that require time. They were not performed in one moment; neither were these acts: that God brings to Adam every animal and that there was not found one like him, etc. These are acts requiring time, and they were performed on the sixth day.”

Today, “six-day creationism” is opposed to the evolutionary idea that the world as we know it is the product of billions of years of development, whether guided by God, in the case of theistic evolution or progressive creationism, or not guided or directed by anything at all. In Luther’s day, and before, this understanding stood in opposition to instantaneous creation (which Augustine and Hilary held to), and the philosophical idea of the eternity of matter. But regardless of the nature of opposing viewpoints, the Biblical argument remains the same.

And that Biblical argument, far from being peripheral or a minor point on which we can simply “agree to disagree,” is in fact a foundational one. God has spoken. His Word is perfect, and is our ultimate authority. With Luther, we must strongly maintain that “one may not use sophistries with reference to this text.” What is sophistry? According to the definition I found, sophistry is “the use of fallacious arguments, especially with the intention of deceiving.” We have received the Word of Truth, and we need to do our utmost to “rightly handle” that Word (2 Timothy 2:15). The issue of our origins is intimately linked to the issue of our fall, and that of our redemption. All must be rightly handled. May God help us to do just that.