Comments on Collins, et al

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Meredith G. Kline, Comments on Collins, et al PSCF 48 (September 1996): 209-210.

My primary concern here is to correct a misunderstanding of my view of Gen. 1 contained in the letter of Jack Collins (PSCF 48:2, June 1996, 140-42), commenting on my article, “Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony” (PSCF 48:1, March 1996, 2-15).

Collins and I are in fundamental agreement on the basic issues, but in my essay I contested his view of the fourth “day” and in responding to that he alleged some methodological problems in my article. Pending the appearance of the results of his on-going study of the interpretative process, his criticisms are, as he acknowledges, only unargued assertions. As such, they are too tentative to warrant extended assessment at this time. I would simply say that the “top-down” kind of procedure Collins attributes to me does not accurately characterize my handling of the hermeneutical circle. As a matter of fact, on the point of disagreement over the exegesis of the fourth “day,” it is actually Collins’ method that is “top-down” in that his linguistic analysis assumptions compel him to give the terminology of the text a different meaning (viz., human perception) than a “bottom-up” approach shows it has throughout the rest of the creation narrative (viz., divine production).1

Further as to methodology, I would only express the hope that Collins’ abstruse remarks about hermeneutical theory will not discourage those in the Christian scientific community who are not biblical specialists, sapping their sense of competence and responsibility to understand what God is saying to us in the Bible. Biblical exegesis is not so esoteric a business but what the PSCF readers can readily judge for themselves whether my exegetical arguments against the rigid literalism of the young earth creationists ring true.

To deal with Collins’ erroneous statements about my interpretation of Gen. 1 (the chief purpose of this response), we must examine the key term “concordist.” In the context of ASA dialoguing, “concordist” apparently denotes the view of a biblical narrative which sees it as a record of actual events, recognizably described. This allows for the presence of figurative elements, especially but not only in more poetic passages. For example, to recognize as figurative the statement in Exod. 15:8 that God parted the waters by the blast of his nostrils is consistent with taking Exod. 15 (like the Exod. 14 version of the event) in concordist fashion as an account of the Lord’s actual creation of a path for the Israelites’ crossing through the sea. Now, the concordist classification would not apply to a narrative which as a whole was figurative; that would be an allegory. But even in the case of so strongly a figurative view as that which interprets Gen. 4:16-21 as employing stereotypical pictographs reflecting Neolithic and later culture to portray the less advanced culture of prediluvian times,2 ASA usage would presumably deem this as at least low-degree concordist — the people and episodes in the context being historical, not mythical or allegorical symbols.

Collins’ use of “concordist” fits in with this ASA usage, for he speaks of different degrees of concordism, as in his reference to his own view of Gen. 1 as “mildly concordist.” And my complaint is that given this definition of “concordist,” Collins radically misrepresents my position when he writes: “Kline’s view is explicitly non- (or even anti-) concordist, at least for Gen. 1,” and in contrast to that identifies my position on Gen. 2-3 as “more concordist.” Contrary to Collins, my view of Gen. 1 is precisely the same as my view of Gen. 2-3 (and of Gen. 4-50 and all the rest of the Bible’s historical narratives). It is essentially concordist, absolutely opposed to interpretations of Gen. 1 as myth or saga or existential allegory. My position is not that Gen. 1 as a whole is figurative; it is rather that the chronological framework of the creation narrative is figurative but the persons and episodes mentioned there are historical in a concordist sense. My view of Gen. 1 differs only in the degree of figurativeness from Collins’ own “mildly concordist” view.

What has happened, I surmise, is that Collins has fallen in with an inconsistency in the (unofficial) ASA usage of the term “concordist.” In the treatment of Gen. 1, concordism has come to be identified in an exclusive way with acceptance of a chronologically sequential order of the narrative (whatever the length of the “days”). While taking the duration aspect of the chronology figuratively is classified as concordist, interpreting the narrative order of Gen. 1 figuratively (by taking it as not chronologically sequential) is quite arbitrarily equated with taking the account as a whole as figurative and hence gets classified as non-concordist.3

In this connection it should be noted that non-sequential order is not uncommon in historical narratives. Non-sequential arrangement with chronological recapitulation is indeed a prominent structural feature throughout the Book of Genesis. Note, for example, the account of Adam’s creation in Gen. 5:1 after the narrative in Gen. 4 has carried the history far down towards the flood event.

Whatever the explanation of Collins’ misleading comments, I wish then 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, embellished with figurative features in varying degrees.

On this view of the early chapters of Genesis, they confront us with data that function as a control in the scientific enterprise. With respect to Gen. 1, my interpretation certainly facilitates the concordist process by removing the false chronological constraints imposed by the more traditional types of exegesis. That was the modest goal of my article. Synchronizing the history of Gen. 2-8 with the data provided by current anthropological, geological, and archaeological investigations presents a tremendous challenge. The proper solution will inevitably be found. Meanwhile, our sense of urgency in this fascinating quest must be tempered by the patience of faith.


1 Since Collins and I subscribe to the same confessional standards, I have assumed that his “topdown” description of my method does not refer to my pre-commitment to the analogy of Scripture principle as an implication of the nature of Scripture as inerrant Word of God.

2 I do not adopt this view of Gen. 4:16-21, although from a literary perspective my view of the Gen. 1 chronology is similar to it.

3 Even on this explanation of Collins’ classification of my view as “non-concordist,” his alternative label, “anti-concordist,” seems strangely inappropriate.