An Exhaustive Exegetical Extravaganza

In the Beginning: Listening to Genesis 1 and 2, Cornelis Van Dam.  Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2021.  Hardcover, 371 pages.

Dr. C. Van Dam begins his latest book by explicitly laying out his presuppositions.  He’s upfront about his non-negotiable assumptions and biases.  As I review his book, it’s appropriate that I share mine too.  I share his presuppositions about Scripture as the trustworthy Word of God, but I also bring a personal bias to the table.  Back in the day, Van Dam was my Old Testament professor at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary.  I had an affectionate nickname for him in view of his ability to put the smack-down on unbelieving or shoddy scholarship:  “Wham-Bam-Van-Dam.”  This was always said with the greatest admiration for Dr. Van Dam.  As a seminary professor he was nothing if not thorough and careful.

This new book exhibits that same kind of comprehensive and precise approach to the two opening chapters of Scripture.  Van Dam leaves no stone unturned.  In the Beginning is an exhaustive treatment not only of the meaning of these two chapters, but also the various challenges that have been raised in Old Testament scholarship regarding them.  What you’re looking at here is not just a commentary on Genesis 1-2, but far more.

Over the last decade or so John Walton has become well-known for his views on the early chapters of Genesis.  Walton argues that we often misunderstand Genesis 1-2 because we don’t take into account the ancient Near Eastern context of these chapters.  Once we do that, says Walton, then we can see that Genesis 1-2 was never meant to be taken literally as history.  The history can then be filled in with what science teaches us, including what science says about human origins.  In chapter 2 of In the Beginning, Van Dam discusses Walton’s views at length and explains how and where they fail to do justice to the character of Scripture as the Word of God.  In my view this is the most important chapter of the book. 

To whet your appetite further, let me share a selection of questions that Dr. Van Dam answers elsewhere in the book:

  • Can new scientific data be regarded as general revelation given by God?
  • What is the relationship of Scripture to science?  Is Scripture a scientific textbook?
  • Can geology give us a history of creation?
  • Was Herman Dooyeweerd faithful to Scripture in his view of origins?
  • How are we to evaluate Meredith Kline’s Framework Hypothesis?
  • Did the ancient Israelites believe that heaven was a solid vault above us?
  • Why is there no mention of evening and morning with the seventh day in Genesis 1?
  • What does Scripture mean when it says that God created through his Son?
  • Can the breath of life in Genesis 2:7 be equated with the Holy Spirit?
  • Was there animal death before the fall into sin?
  • Why did God create everything with an appearance of age?  Was he being deceptive in so doing?

Those are just a few of the questions answered.  There are far more.  What I appreciate about Van Dam’s answers is that he bases them on what Scripture says.  He doesn’t want to go beyond Scripture and so he’ll sometimes say, “Scripture doesn’t say more than this – this is as far as we can go.”

If I would venture some respectful disagreement, it would be in the final chapter where the author briefly discusses whether there’s a need for new confessional formulations to address the challenges of evolution.  In 2014-15, I was involved with an effort to add some clarification to article 14 of the Belgic Confession in the Canadian Reformed Church.  That effort was ultimately unsuccessful.  I don’t regret having made the effort, nor do I think it unnecessary to this day. 

Van Dam argues that Scripture is clear and our “confessions faithfully reflect that testimony” (p.300).  However, that fails to account for those who have argued that the Three Forms of Unity provide the latitude needed to hold to forms of theistic macro-evolution.  Their arguments have persuaded some.  This wiggle-room ought to be addressed, especially if there is openness to theistic macro-evolution in your churches.

Van Dam also posits that “A difficulty with preparing a new formulation asserting the historicity of Genesis 1 and 2 is the temptation to go beyond what Scripture says, in other words, to provide specifics about that which Scripture gives no additional detail” (pp.300-301).  The proposal to add clarification to BC 14 was to state what Scripture states:  that Adam was created from dust (Gen.2:7) and Eve from Adam’s side (Gen. 2:21-22).  As a consequence:  “They were created as the first two humans and the biological ancestors of all other humans.  There were no pre-Adamites, whether human or hominid.”  If one thinks that this infringes upon the freedom of exegesis, then one is willing to grant the latitude for theistic evolutionary accounts of human (and other) origins.    

That criticism notwithstanding, In the Beginning was a delight to read – personally it brought me back to many of the OT lectures I enjoyed from Dr. Van Dam in my seminary years.  While I found it enjoyable, there may be others who will find it tough-going at times.  It’s not highly technical, but in places Van Dam does go academic.  It’s not a book you’d necessarily be giving out as gifts to those doing profession of faith.  It would, however, be a great gift for someone doing post-secondary studies, whether in the sciences or in the humanities.  And it’s definitely a recommended read for those who’ve completed such studies. 

Free film: Is Genesis History?

100 min / 2017
RATING: 8/10

This is a guest post by Marty Van Driel

We live and breathe and move in an atmosphere that is full of assumptions. We assume that what we see is how things have always been. And our friends and colleagues at work assume that scientists have disproved the Bible. And even if we know better, we hear so often that the earth is the product of millions and billions of years of slow erosion and evolution, those assumptions can impact us too – we can begin to wonder, “Is it crazy to believe that this planet is only 6,000 years old, that God made all of this in just six days?”

Is Genesis History? is a film that can help to quell those voices of doubt, the voices that ask, “Did God really say?”  Like thoughtful Christian apologetics, this movie can give us confidence that it is logical and entirely defensible for a modern person to fully believe that God’s Word describes historical events and real people.

Narrator Del Tackett opens the documentary showing a series of beautiful rock formations and deep canyons, and wonders aloud how many years these magnificent sites took to develop. We might assume thousands or even millions. But no – he reveals that the landscape around him was formed in just a few months, after the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980! This is a powerful illustration of just how our observations are colored by our preconceptions.

Throughout the film, Tackett speaks with various PhD-holding scientists about their areas of expertise, and often in the midst of beautiful scenery. These passionate and articulate scholars contrast two major competing views of history: the conventional view that all we see around us developed over billions of years, and the Biblical view that points to a young earth in which God acted directly and with incredible power to create and form the world.

Many of these experts point to the great Flood that covered the whole earth as an explanation for the geological formations we can observe in the Grand Canyon for example, and for the way that fossils appear intact and often in groups and herds. The massive power of the waters below, bursting forth, and the windows of heaven opening, caused enormous changes to the earth, killing most life. The flood was universal and catastrophic and awesome in its destructive power, and its effects can be seen all over the world still today – if you have eyes to see it!

The format of Is Genesis History? consisting of questions and answers filmed in interesting locations, with helpful illustrations, makes it easy to understand and engaging. It probably won’t keep the attention of younger children, but middle school students on up to senior citizens will enjoy and benefit from this film. I can see this movie being beneficial for our young people’s societies, and the producers have made available free study and discussion material at their website This is a great film that encourages us to view the Bible as accurate history, and is a timely reminder that God’s Word is true yesterday, today and tomorrow.

And right now you can watch it for free on YouTube below:

Further discussion

Other reviews

Tim Challies
Douglas Wilson
WORLD magazine

Paul Nelson controversy

One of the interviewees in the film, Paul Nelson, while a 6-day creationist, is also a major figure in the Intelligent Design movement. He didn’t like how he came out in the film, and explains why here. Del Tackett, film narrator and producer, responds here. Todd Wood, another interviewee, also has some thoughts here.

Biologos and response

Biologos is a group that seeks to promote an evolutionary worldview in Christian circles. They didn’t like the film, and posted a critique here. Creation Ministries responded here.

This review first appeared in the Sept/Oct 2017 issue of Reformed Perspective.

Extraordinary days = support for theistic evolution?

Quote 1:

As I have pointed out some years ago, there is a striking difference on the interpretation of Genesis 1 between these North-American Reformed theologians and their Dutch colleagues – such as Kuyper, Bavinck, Honig, Aalders, Schilder . . . Are we in danger of forgetting our own Reformed tradition in favour of the American one – both in the interpretation of Genesis 1 and in the inerrancy issue?

Quote 2:

Theistic evolution is not outside the bounds of the Three Forms of Unity.

Comment on quotes 1 & 2: Anyone reading the first quotation on a website that includes the second quotation can be forgiven for thinking (incorrectly) that the theologians here named supported some version of theistic evolution. Arguing towards the thesis of quote two in fact provides the raison d’être for the Reformed Academic blog, from where these quotes are drawn.

Quote 3:

This [the global flood] is a major argument in supporting its [creation science’s] belief that the earth is quite young — some 6,000 to 10,000 years in age, rather than the billions of years acknowledged by most scientists. According to creation-science most of the geological features of the entire earth have been shaped by a global Noahic flood which took place some 5,000 years ago.

Quote 4:

With respect to the results of modern science regarding so-called “origins” questions, we do acknowledge that there are multiple converging lines of evidence in favour of an ancient cosmos and even for the common ancestry of all living things. Now, especially in the latter case we do not consider this evidence to be incontrovertible proof, and we certainly believe God did something special in creating humankind.

Quote 5:

This includes especially the field of paleontology (studying the fossil record, including the use of radioactivity and geology) as well as astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology (these deal with stars and galaxies whose light often takes many years to reach us). These are the disciplines, after all, which have been marshalling the evidence that life has been around for about ¾ of the earth’s 4.54-billion-year history, and that the universe itself is about 13.75 billion years old. And these ages are supposed to contradict a “plain sense” or “traditional” reading of Scripture.

Comment on quotes 3, 4, and 5: Two choices are placed before the reader: either 6,000 to 10,000 years of age for the earth [and universe, I might add], or 13.75 billion years for the universe, 4.54 billion for the earth, and about 3 point something billion years for life on earth. Note: to make the contrast clear, I added the italics to these quotations from the Reformed Academic website.

My concern: For several years, as part of their argument that Reformed Christians need to make room for theistic evolution, Reformed Academic has been appealing to some key continental Reformed theologians—as listed above, Kuyper, Bavinck, Honig, Aalders, and Schilder—and their views on the length of the creation days in Genesis 1. Of course none of the authors at Reformed Academic have argued that these theologians supported theistic evolution as such. In one place, they even correctly state the opposite. Nevertheless, my concern is that by way of repeated rhetorical appeal to the latitude of these men regarding “Genesis 1”—and by using “Genesis 1” as shorthand for their views on the length of the days in Genesis 1—Reformed Academic leaves the impression that they can claim the support of these earlier theologians. I assert that these men neither supported theistic evolution, nor tolerated the deep time required for the supposed evolutionary process—the millions, let alone billions of years of the universe and the earth. Nor should we.

We can all point to a number of theologians who argued that some or all of the days of Genesis 1 were “extraordinary” in length, or that they were “God’s working days,” and “creation days.” Both Max Rogland (2001) and Frederika Oosterhoff (2003) have proved the case for this, and shown that Bavinck, Schilder, and others used primarily exegetical points from Genesis 1 to argue against being bound to the 24-hour view. But the fuller picture requires a more robust affirmation of their adherence to the literal, historical, common-sense reading of Genesis 1. I will explore only two of these figures, Bavinck and Schilder, and I shall follow them up with a quotation from one of the former professors of the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary on the same point.

Herman Bavinck (1854–1921)Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 1.17.35 AM

Bavinck dealt at some length with evolution in his Reformed Dogmatics, in an essay on Evolution, and in another essay on Creation or Development and in his Our Reasonable Faith.[1] All of these are available in English. In none of them does he endorse theistic evolution, though he certainly appreciates the way in which God made creatures with the ability to adapt. On the idea that humans have biological ancestry with animals, Bavinck writes,

The descendance theory of Darwin may be an indispensable link in the doctrine of development; it finds no support in facts. Man always has and still does form a distinct species in the world of creatures. For this reason there is still room in science for the wondrously beautiful narrative which the opening chapters of the Bible contain concerning the origin of things . . .

And thus the Scripture states it. In an ascending series, covering a period of six days, by the word of his power the Almighty brings all things to appear from the unseen world of thought . . . What an insight into the origin of things! What an exalted simplicity! Here is poetry and truth and religion all in one. This is both natural science and philosophy (859–60).

After offering extensive critique of evolution for usurping the term development, Bavinck points out that the evolutionary worldview has no purpose of the individual person, for humanity as a whole, or for the earth. In this context he adds a point about the “millions of years,” calling it “child’s play,”

Endless duration together with an endless progress is inconceivable for the earth as well as for man. An end must come. To reckon with millions of years, in the past or in the present, is child’s play and unworthy of mature minds, and is at best of no greater value than the gigantic numbers of Indian mythology. All physicists teach that after some millions of years the earth shall come to an end. However rich in provisions, the earth is not inexhaustible.[2]

James Visscher, in a study on Bavinck on creation, includes part of this quote also, and adds in a note, “[Bavinck] considered the figures coming from geologists to be far-fetched. He had little use for Darwin’s ‘incalculable number of years.’ He stated, ‘As a matter of fact, there are other reasons as well why the human race cannot have existed many thousands of years before Christ.”[3]

Benjamin Warfield, in a review of Bavinck’s essay, spoke with great admiration,

[Bavinck] uncovers with great skill the inconsistencies of the evolutionary philosophy and exposes its vast assumptions; and sets over against it the creationism or supernaturalism of the Biblical world-conception. The address divides itself into three parts, in which are contrasted the two views of the world successively with reference to the questions of the origin, nature, and end of things, the result being to show that the evolutionary scheme stands helplessly before each of the three problems. It is a very thorough and very telling exposure of the essential atheism of evolutionism, considered as a philosophy of being.[4]

Perhaps Warfield was more open to the millions of years hypothesis than was Bavinck, for he doesn’t mention that as part of Bavinck’s critique of evolution as a philosophy of being, he also called its appeal to millions—let alone billions!—of years, “child’s play.”

Klaas Schilder (1890–1952)Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 1.17.00 AM

We needn’t comment extensively on Schilder’s views, as Frederika Oosterhoff has already done this work and I haven’t time to pursue this research deeply. However, the comments of Jacob Kamphuis are helpful, in his study on Schilder on heaven. He writes,

Without compromise Schilder makes his starting point the faith in Scripture, specifically in the historical trustworthiness of the history related in Genesis 2 and 3, dealing with the original state of righteousness and the fall into sin. In this book Schilder does not refer even once to the decisions of the Synod of Assen of 1926 [though he had earlier written much about it] regarding the historical trustworthiness of the narrative in Genesis 2 and 3. Nevertheless, Berkhouwer’s words are strikingly applicable to What is Heaven? “I know of no theologian within the circle of Refomred theology for whom the decision of Assen was of more material significance than it was for Schilder.” Schilder reminds us repeatedly of his position, “With resepect to the beginning of the world we must accept the historicity of the narrative of Genesis 1–3.” This is the starting point.[5]

Jack DeJong (1949–)

One of the professors of the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary, now retired and sadly incapable of entering this debate, commented in Clarion some years ago on the length of the creation days. Like Schilder, whom he studied for his dissertation, DeJong argued that we should not be bound to an exact length of 24 hours for our view of the creation days. Not everyone appreciated his position. However, that he in no way intended to make room for millions of years or for theistic evolution is clear from a brief comment he made in a published work for instruction in pre-confession classes, where he wrote,

The world was created in six days, according to the following pattern . . . [he lists the six days]. The theory of evolution says that all present things evolved from original cells through a process spanning millions of years. Although we cannot deny the process of limited change and micro-evolution, we must rule out the possibility of a change from one species to another (macro-evolution). While we cannot accurately determine the age of the earth, an evolutionary process of billions of years does not accord with the testimony of Genesis 1–3 and its relation to the rest of Scripture.[6]


Let’s not be misled to think that the Reformed theologians here mentioned intended to make room within the Reformed faith for millions or even billions of years of prior existence of the universe, earth, and life. All of them did argue that the days of Genesis 1 (the first three days, or even all six of them) should be called “extraordinary days,” “God’s working days,” and “creation days,” because they thought that these days were not necessarily identical in time with our 24-hour days. But they never suggested that their views allowed room for the deep time advocated by evolutionists.[7]

[1] All of these are easily found, but one: Herman Bavinck, “Creation or Development,” The Methodist Review (1901), transl. Hendrik De Vries, 849–74. See Accessed November 9, 2015.

[2] I thank Anthon Souman for drawing this quotation to my attention. I have since noticed that Herman Van Barneveld has also raised it in dialogue with Reformed Academic.

[3] James Visscher, “Bavinck on Creation,” Living Waters from Ancient Springs , ed. Jason Van Vliet (Wipf&Stock, 2011), 145, n. 44.

[4] From the Presbyterian and Reformed Review 12 (1901), 507, as quoted in Eric D. Bristley, Guide to the Writings of Herman Bavinck (RHB, 2008), 75. Checking the original source, I note that Warfield was reviewing the Dutch original, not the translation.

[5] Jacob Kamphuis, “Schilder on Heaven,” Always Obedient, ed. J. Geertsema (P&R, 1995), 102.

[6] Jack DeJong, Credo (Premier Publishing, 1997, etc.), 28–29.

[7] Finally, as a bit of an aside, readers of Reformed Academic’s blogs also repeatedly encounter one or two quotations from John Calvin to the effect that we are to learn astronomy and other disciplines from the scientific experts and not from the Bible. Creation Ministries International replied to this trope some time ago, with a much more wholesome account of Calvin’s views.

ANSWERING OBJECTIONS: There wasn’t enough time on the sixth day

QUESTION: In Genesis 1:27 it says God made Eve on the same day as Adam (“… male and female He created them”) but in the next chapter in Genesis 2:18-22 it says that God created Eve only after Adam first named all the wild animals and bird (don’t fish need names too?). So, are we really supposed to imagine that in just one ordinary day God created Adam, had all the animals pass by him, Adam named them, realized he was lonely, and then he had a women created from his rib? How could all of this happen in just 24 hours?

group of dogs in front of white background

ANSWER: It is sometimes argued that we shouldn’t believe the creation days were literal days, because there wasn’t enough time on the sixth day to get everything done in just a 24-hour period. But if we take a close look at the events, we’ll find there was more than enough time.

Consider first that God brings the animals to Adam to highlight that Adam has no match to be found in the animal kingdom. In other words, Adam’s loneliness isn’t the separate event some make it out to be – his loneliness is brought to his attention by the very act of seeing all the animals.

Second, he wasn’t required to name the insects, or the sea animals – as these could never have been companions to Man, Adam doesn’t need to see (or name) them at this point. This eliminates more than 98% of all the living species out there.

Third, whereas we have many a dog type now, there would likely have been far fewer then, and Adam might have handled the whole kit and ca”poodle” by calling the whole grouping “dog.” You can work through a lot of animals quickly if the naming involves only the overall kinds.

So… there was lots of time to name animals, lots of time to notice how none of them was a good match for Adam, and then lots of time for God (who needs no time at all to get things done) to make a suitable better half for Adam. This objection is one that has been made many a time, and by some big names (Dr. Norman Geisler would be one of the biggest), but it has also been answered many times. There is no reason to think that all the events described as taking place on day 6 couldn’t have taken place in a normal day.

Dr. C. Van Dam: What did the days of the “creation week” consist of?

diagdIt’s common to hear Christians argue that God’s creative work should not be thought of in terms of six normal days.  Instead, we’re told that we should open to the possibility that these days were much longer periods of time, perhaps even billions of years.  These arguments have been around for a while.  In today’s featured article (which first appeared in 1989), Dr. C. Van Dam addresses these arguments and demonstrates how Scripture can and must be taken at face value on this matter.  You can find the article here.

Readers interested in a more detailed treatment of this topic should check out Rev. Paulin Bédard’s book In Six Days God Created.  The book can be purchased at this link and a review of it can be found here.  Highly recommended!