Museums & Genealogies

Museums are cool! My all time favorite is the Field Museum in Chicago. Many of its artifacts and specimens were originally collected for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Today it houses the man-eating lions of Tsavo and other interesting things. Who doesn’t love man-eating lions? It made for a cool movie (The Ghost in the Darkness). So, it was with boyhood enthusiasm that I drove to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY. When people find out that I visited the Creation Museum, one of the first questions I get is, “What did you think of it?

There’s a saying that I grew up with, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” So, let’s start with “nice.” The first thing that I noticed about the museum was its commitment to telling people about Jesus. I love that! The displays are set up to walk you through the Big Story, beginning with creation and ending at the cross. I also enjoyed the australopithecus exhibit with its casting of “Lucy’s” bones. Lucy was discovered in 1974 and its ability to walk upright has earned her a place in the family photo album of Darwinian Evolution.

Despite these commendations, it’s hard for me to give the museum a high-five. Their founding ministry, Answers in Genesis, uses “1:1” as its logo. If this ministry is committed to anything, it is committed to reading beginning (the Hebrew word reshit) as a point in time followed by 24 hour days of one earth week. If you disagree with them, you’re following “Man’s Word” instead of “God’s Word.” This “either/or” mentality drives an unnecessary wedge between Young Earth and Old Earth Christians. One could wish that their commitment to God’s Word would extend to a better interpretation of reshit.

In the last post we looked at the word beginning in Genesis 1:1. I argued that you CANNOT determine the age of the earth from this verse. You CAN determine that God made everything. You CAN determine that the universe is not eternal. You CAN determine that if the universe had a beginning it will also have an end, but you can’t determine whether or not the earth is young or old. If you want to calculate the age of the earth, you have to look elsewhere.

One possible approach to calculating the age of the earth is to add up the genealogies listed in the Bible. This approach was popularized by 17th Century Irish Bishop James Ussher. Bishop Ussher reached the conclusion that Adam was created in 4004 B.C. relying on Biblical genealogies and extra-biblical evidence. At the risk of oversimplification, can we really take out a calculator and come up with an approximate age of the earth?

I don’t think so. In the same way that the history recorded in the Bible is “theological history” (real people and real events told from a God-centered point of view), the genealogies of Scripture are “theological genealogy”. By “theological genealogy” I mean that God is telling us something through the names and structure of the list. They use artistic structure and do more than provide us with a list of “who’s who.” For instance, Adam’s genealogy lists ten people, but indicates that he had “other sons and daughters (Gen. 5:4). Why limit the list the ten? Well, in the Bible, ten often communicates “completeness”. Moses wanted to show us an unbroken familial line from Adam to Noah; he is not interested in listing each and every person in the line. But the list is saying even more. Many Bible teachers think the refrain “and he had other sons and daughters” is used to highlight God’s mercy on the line of Seth in a chapter where death seems to reign (note the sad repetition of “and he died). The repetition “other sons and daughters” tells us that God’s grace is greater than death (Gen. 5: 4, 10, 13, 16, 19, 22, 26, 30). Amen!

The New Testament genealogies display similar artistry and messaging. Luke’s genealogy of Jesus takes us from His step-dad Joseph all the way back to Adam, totaling 77 ancestors (Lk. 3:23-37). Once again, this is “theological genealogy” (a list of real, related people with a God-centered message). What’s the message? Luke places Jesus’ genealogy in between God’s declaration of Jesus’ divine Sonship and His testing. He wants us to know that Jesus is the right age for ministry (David also began his reign at the age of 30) and has the right messianic lineage. More than that, by linking Jesus back to Adam, this Gospel writer is telling us the tale of two sons: Adam was the disobedient son of God and ruined humanity, Jesus is the Obedient Son of God and the hope of humanity (Lk. 3:22, 37).

My point here is that we’re missing the message if we take out a calculator and add up the years. Moses and Luke do not seem very interested in calculating the age of the earth, they’ve got more important things to tell us about God’s grace! The genealogies of Scripture show selectivity in order to achieve theological ends. They are lists of real, related people with a God-centered message. Do we have ears to hear what they have to say?

Next Week: My position on the Young Earth verses Old Earth Creation debate.