This article can be found in the July 2010 Biblical Research Institute’s newsletter Reflections.
By Gerhard Pfandl
At the Annual Council in 2001 the General Conference Executive Committee organized a series of conferences on faith and science during the years 2002-2004. The first conference in 2002 was an international conference in Ogden, Utah. More than 80 scientists, theologians and church administrators from different parts of the world began discussing the interrelationship between faith and science. Topics ranged from the hominid fossil record to Ellen Whiteâ€™s view of science. The conference revealed the seriousness and breadth of differences concerning questions of origin that are present in the SDA community today.
During 2003 and the first half of 2004 seven divisions held similar faith and science conferences in their territories. The formal discussions culminated in August 2004 with the second international conference on the subject in Denver, Colorado. At this conference papers were read summarizing the findings of the discussions during the previous two years.
The new element in this conference was a discussion on the ethics of dissent dealing with the ethical responsibility of those who differ in significant ways from the biblical position of the church on the topic of creation. The discussion was open, candid, and highly professional. It was obvious that a small number of individuals â€“ scientists and theologians â€“ did not support or felt uncomfortable with the biblical doctrine of creation in six literal, consecutive days as clearly revealed in Genesis 1.1
There was no attempt on the part of church leaders to modify or change our fundamental belief on creation. This was clearly stated by Elder Jan Paulsen before the discussions were initiated. However, such discussions cannot be avoided because the theory of evolution and the Adventist doctrine of creation represent two antagonistic and fundamentally diverse world views. Unfortunately, theistic evolution is one view that is being held and taught by some Seventh-day Adventists today.
Secondly, it is important for the church to be aware of the fact that neither evolutionists nor creationists have all the answers in the debate. These conferences provided a proper environment to discuss these questions while at the same time holding to our faith commitment.
An Affirmation of Creation
A report entitled â€œAn Affirmation of Creationâ€ was presented on September 10, 2004 to the Executive Committee of the General Conference by the International Faith and Science Conference Organizing Committee.2 This report noted â€œa high level of concurrence on basic understandingsâ€ and â€œwidespread affirmation of the churchâ€™s understanding of life on earth.â€ How- ever, the document also observed that â€œsome among us interpret the biblical record in ways that lead to sharply different conclusions.â€ Specifically, â€œalternative interpretations of Genesis 1, including the idea of theistic evolution,â€ were rejected as lack- ing theological coherence and inconsistent with Adventist beliefs, including the biblical doctrine of creation. It also noted concern about the alleged ambiguity of the phrase â€œin six daysâ€ found in Fundamental Belief #6, resulting in â€œuncertainty about what the church actually believes.â€ In this same connection, the following observation is also significant:
We recognize that there are different theological interpretations among us regarding Genesis 1-11. In view of the various interpretations we sensed a high degree of concern that those involved in the Seventh-day Adventist teaching ministry conduct their work ethically and with integrityâ€”by standards of their profession, the teachings of Scripture, and the basic understanding held by the body of believers.
The report also included the following statements of affirmations and recommendations:
1. We affirm the primacy of Scripture in the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of origins.
2. We affirm the historic Seventh-day Adventist understanding of Genesis 1 that life on earth was created in six literal days and is of recent origin.
3. We affirm the biblical account of the Fall result- ing in death and evil.
4. We affirm the biblical account of a catastrophic Flood, an act of Godâ€™s judgment that affected the whole planet, as an important key to understanding earth history.
5. We affirm that our limited understanding of origins calls for humility and that further exploration into these questions brings us closer to deep and wonderful mysteries.
6. We affirm the interlocking nature of the doctrine of creation with other Seventh-day Adventist doctrines.
7. We affirm that in spite of its fallenness nature is a witness to the Creator.
8. We affirm Seventh-day Adventist scientists in their endeavors to understand the Creatorâ€™s handiwork through the methodologies of their disciplines.
9. We affirm Seventh-day Adventist theologians in their efforts to explore and articulate the content of revelation.
10. We affirm Seventh-day Adventist educators in their pivotal ministry to the children and youth of the church.
11. We affirm that the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church identified in Revelation 14:6, 7 includes a call to worship God as Creator of all.
The Organizing Committee for the International Faith and Science Conferences recommends that:
1. In order to address what some interpret as a lack of clarity in Fundamental Belief #6 the historic Seventh-day Adventist understanding of the Genesis narrative be affirmed more explicitly.
2. Church leaders at all levels be encouraged to assess and monitor the effectiveness with which denominational systems and programs succeed in preparing young people, including those at- tending non-Adventist schools, with a biblical understanding of origins and an awareness of the challenges they may face in respect to this understanding.
3. Increased opportunity be provided for interdisciplinary dialog and research, in a safe environ- ment, among Seventh-day Adventist scholars from around the world.3
The 2004 Annual Council, after careful discus- sion of this report, produced a response in which the members of the Council strongly endorsed the Churchâ€™s historic, biblical position of belief in a literal, recent, six-day creation.
Response to â€œAn Affirmation of Creationâ€
Whereas belief in a literal, six-day creation is indissolubly linked with the authority of Scripture, and;
Whereas such belief interlocks with other doctrines of Scripture, including the Sabbath and the Atonement, and;
Whereas Seventh-day Adventists understand our mission, as specified in Revelation 14:6, 7, to include a call to the world to worship God as Creator,
We, the members of the General Conference Executive Committee at the 2004 Annual Council, state the following as our response to the document, An Affirmation of Creation, submitted by the International Faith & Science Conferences:
1. We strongly endorse the documentâ€™s affirmation of our historic, biblical position of belief in a literal, recent, six-day Creation.
2. We urge that the document, accompanied by this response, be disseminated widely throughout the world Seventh-day Adventist Church, using all available communication channels and in the major languages of world membership.
3. We reaffirm the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of the historicity of Genesis 1-11: that the seven days of the Creation account were literal 24-hour days forming a week identical in time to what we now experience as a week; and that the Flood was global in nature.
4. We call on all boards and educators at Seventh-day Adventist institutions at all levels to continue upholding and advocating the churchâ€™s position on origins. We, along with Seventh-day Adventist parents, expect students to receive a thorough, balanced, and scientifically rigorous exposure to and affirmation of our historic belief in a literal, recent six-day creation, even as they are educated to understand and assess competing philosophies of origins that dominate scientific discussion in the contemporary world.
5. We urge church leaders throughout the world to seek ways to educate members, especially young people at- tending non-Seventh-day Adventist schools, in the issues involved in the doctrine of creation.
6. We call on all members of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist family to proclaim and teach the churchâ€™s understanding of the biblical doctrine of Creation, living in its light, rejoicing in our status as sons and daughters of God, and praising our Lord Jesus Christâ€”our Creator and Redeemer.4
It is significant that this response of the 2004 Annual Council called on all school boards and teachers at our schools to uphold and advocate the Churchâ€™s position on origins. Unfortunately, this recommendation has not been sufficiently followed up. Therefore, at the recent General Conference session in Atlanta, it was voted â€œto reaffirm and endorseâ€ the 2004 Annual Councilâ€™s response to the Affirmation of Creation statement. It also voted, in accordance with the 2005 General Conference session protocol for amending a fundamental belief, to request that the General Conference administration initiate a process to integrate Fundamental Belief #6 with this response.5 It is hoped that this action of the world church will encourage the boards and teachers of our schools and universities to ensure that teaching on origins supports and affirms the churchâ€™s Fundamental Belief #6.
The last few years have shown that theistic evolution has gained entrance into our church. Should it become more and more accepted, we will be in danger of losing the biblical foundation for the Sabbath and our understanding of salvation. Without the creation week, the Sabbath becomes a Jewish institution; and if death existed long before the appearance of man, then there was no Fall in Eden and therefore really no need for salvation. And if there was no Fall, then Paul was in error when he wrote:
Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned. (Rom. 5:12).
Gerhard Pfandl is an associate director of the Biblical Research Institute
1 Ãngel M. RodrÃguez, â€œSecond International Faith and Science Conference: A Report,â€ Reflections 9 (Jan. 2005): 2. 2 â€œAn Affirmation of Creation,â€ Report of the International Faith and Science Conference Organizing Committee; online: http:// adventist.org/beliefs/statements/main-stat54.html; accessed July 8, 2010.
4 This response to â€œAn Affirmation of Creationâ€ was voted by the Annual Council in Silver Spring, Maryland, October 13, 2004; online: http://adventist.org/beliefs/statements/main-stat55.html; accessed July 8, 2010.
5 Adventist Review, July 2, 2010, p. 30.
In order to facilitate discussion that is relevant to the thread, key terms are provided to act as categorical guidelines for comments: theistic evolution, influence of theistic evolution on church doctrine, church doctrine on creation, International Faith and Science Conferences.
22 thoughts on “Creation Debate in the Seventh-day Adventist Church”
“Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned. (Rom. 5:12).”
Rom 5:12 is as much a problem as Genesis 1 and 2 for theistic evolutionists. Thank you for posting this and re-pointing this out for everyone. Paul couldn’t have been more clear.
I wonder what Paul really meant when he said “man” “sin” “death” and “all?” Perhaps this is an allegory to something that happened over millions of years?
Or perhaps Paul didn’t have the benefit of reading “Origins of the Species” by a genius like Darwin.
I am so glad to be living in a time when we have the benefit of so much knowledge (or ignorance).
Roger Seheult(Quote)View Comment
I do not appreciate the hypocrisy of the Seventh-Day Adventist Council. They pretend that they support the truth of scripture, and that it be shared among the rest of mankind. Do not be fooled by such outward show of piousness.
Well before the Council meeting in Atlanta (June 2010), I contacted every Adventist church in the city with a website, and used the contact info for the Council listed on their website. Not a single one of them responded.
The Michigan Chapter made a big â€œhooplaâ€ about La Sierra University teaching evolution, and pushing Biblical Creation aside. I also wrote to Michigan, conveying to them that my presentation called â€œthe Observations of Mosesâ€ would clear up all confusion between what is written in Genesis, and what science has discovered. It is a 62 minute PowerPoint presentation that reveals the truth of Genesis.
I had written the president of the Michigan Chapter, and his secretary, offering to come to the church of his choosing to show the presentation, so that he could recommend that it be presented at the Council in Atlanta. The president refused to accept my offer. Suddenly, it wasnâ€™t so important to them.
Now this article is published, in an attempt to show that the Adventist clan is sincere about embracing the truth of scripture. I consider that a lie. They choose to continue with their ignorance, and not seek the truth. Such an organization cannot be trusted to convey the truth of Godâ€™s Holy Word.
Herman Cummings(Quote)View Comment
I appreciate your frustration, Herman. None the less, the church can not consider every “Tom, Dick and Harry’s” views and publish those views for all to consider.
Simply submit your paper and/or views and “be about your Father’s business.” God will always give credibility to any view He deems is necessary in the time frame that advances His kingdom best. And that is not always by way of any given organization.
John the Baptist needed no recognition nor credibility by the religious leaders of his day. Nor Elijah, Jeremiah, or any other spokes person of God’s choosing.
So, if you have something viable, God will vindicate it when it best suits His purpose. In the mean time. Keep the faith.
Bill Sorensen(Quote)View Comment
Great post Roger. Liberals seem to have no trouble explaining away just about anything in the Bible that is “clear.” How? Well, we fundamentalists have just been to, well, fundamental and “literal” in its translation! Yeh, Jesus, Paul and the other biblical writers didn’t really mean “one man” they meant “Mankind.” Millions of apes, pre-humanoids, etc.
A “day” didn’t really mean an actual 24-hour day. God just thought we were too stupid to really understand the “real story.” Now that mankind is so much smarter, he’s revealed the “truth” through secular philosophers and scientists. Those ancient guys certainly didn’t have the post-modern knowledge and wisdom that the scholars do today, thanks to Darwin, Steven Gould, Richard Dawkins, etc.
Ron Stone M.D.(Quote)View Comment
Re Ron’s Quote
A â€œdayâ€ didnâ€™t really mean an actual 24-hour day.
And thus 2300 days didn’t really mean 2300 days. See the double standard here when it comes to literal interpretation, Ron?
Herman, I generally agree with Bill Sorensen. Getting anything done in the church is very difficult, as I’ve experienced myself. However, IF your work is truthful to God’s Word, I believe it will get “publicized” but probably not in the way YOU anticipated.
Over the years, I’ve submitted dozens of ideas, most of which were shot down royally by the powers that be. Did or does that stop me? No! Many were accepted eventually, but sometimes it took several years. It is frustrating however, as you have stated.
You may actually have someone come to you to ask for your help. It has happened to me. God does work in very strange ways sometimes.
Ron Stone M.D.(Quote)View Comment
So, Ken are you saying the “evening and the morning” day in Genesis is NOT a literal day? What is your reasoning for it not being so? The Ten Commandment “days” are not literal earth days? The Sabbath a not a real earth day?
NO? Then please inform us how, why, and where we “fundamentalists” are wrong in assuming these ideas to be true.
Ron Stone M.D.(Quote)View Comment
Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t I ask you about 2300 days?
Treat me as a poor, perplexed agnostic who wonders why sometimes days mean days and sometimes they mean years to fine folks who interpret the Bible literally.
Frankly I have no reasoning why a literal interpretation of the Bible would interpret days differently. For consistency purposes I’d be quite happy to interpret every reference to a day in the bible as the same period of time. You?
“Frankly I have no reasoning why a literal interpretation of the Bible would interpret days differently. For consistency purposes Iâ€™d be quite happy to interpret every reference to a day in the bible as the same period of time. You?”
Ken, you are looking for reasons to not believe. Try reversing this procedure.
The fact is, how to interpret and define what is “literal” and what is “spiritual” in the bible has been the underlying cause of confusion from the beginning. And those who find the best and clearest flowing understanding of the two, are the best bible scholars and come closest to grasping the bibles intent.
Jesus came first to establish His spiritual kingdom. The people, including His disciples, thought He came to establish a physical kingdom.
Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man, you have no life in you.”
Many could not see, or didn’t want to see, He was making a spiritual application to a physical analogy.
The Holy Spirit brings judgment to us day by day in our human experience. This does not negate a real literal physical judgment that began in 1844.
Some equate the coming of the Holy Spirit in the new birth experience as the “second coming of Jesus”. While they have a close afinity, neither one negates the other.
And so it goes. The more clearly we discern what is spiritual vs. literal and preceive both the parallel and contrast, the more clearly we discern the biblical message.
Don’t look for reasons not to believe just because it doesn’t always seem to flow clearly. Rather, look for reasons to believe and you will soon begin to see how the bible is a perfect consistent system of truth.
Remember the woman at the well. She said to Jesus “Our fathers believe we should worship in this temple on Mt. Moriah, and the Jews think we should worship in the temple in Jerusalem.”
And what did Jesus say…..”The time is coming when you will neither worship in this temple up here, nor the one in Jerusalem…….”
What did Jesus mean? Simply He would soon make an atonement and ascend up to heaven and all true believers would follow Him into the temple in heaven. So, “Christ has not entered into the holy places made with hands, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.”
So, the clearer we see parallel and contrast in the bible, the more we see its perfect flowing continuity.
The day equals a year only applies in prophetic scenarios. No need for confusion on this point. At least not completely.
The final point is this, the devil wants to “spiritualize away” the objective givens of the bible and replace it with ambiguous non-definable concepts that have no discernable meaning and application. Finally he can replace the objective ten commandments with some “spirit ethic” that has a close affinity to Catholicism.
With the final goal of Universalism where everyone will eventually be in heaven. Such a doctrine destroyes the moral motivation of man to learn the will of God and do it as a requirement for salvation.
To undermine God as the creator is a sure method to accomplish this goal.
Bill Sorensen(Quote)View Comment
There is general agreement among Christians that the 70 weeks of Dan 9 are in fact 490 years not 490 literal days.
Adventists “remain consistent” with that model applying the same rule to Daniel 7 and 8.
But notice in that in Dan 9 the first reference is to Jeremiah’s 70 year prophecy. None of those groups attempts to bend the rule we find in Daniel and make it apply to Jeremiah – even when Daniel is speaking to Jeremiah’s prophecy in Dan 9 – the very chapter where he is going to continue to use his day for year model with the 490 years that every Christian on the planet (generally speaking) agrees with.
In Dan 8 the 2300 days spans a point in time from the dominate years of the Persian empire to a time past the fall of Greece – its division into 4 separate kingdoms and the rise out of one of those kingdoms of another world empire.
Thus it is incredibly obvious in Dan 8 that the same day for year model as we see in Dan 9 — is consitently being used.
Well all of this is just so much “harmonizing of the text” if one is looking at it from an “I would prefer that the Bible be thought of as wrong” POV.
I asked you whether you had a problem with the days in Genesis as being actual days. Do you? I don’t. Please explain to us why you might or would have a problem.
BTW, I do not believe in the straw-man “literal” argument made by liberals, or agnostics such as yourself, regarding interpretation. The difference between “literal” and plain reading is described very well by Sam Pipim in his book, “Receiving the Word” p. 167. Please read this, if you have access, and it will explain the difference between these two concepts.
Ron Stone M.D.(Quote)View Comment
To Bob and Bill, ,Thanks for your help! But Ken, being an “agnostic” is not likely to believe anything the Bible says, since it just might be some fairy tales made up by guys pretending to speak as God, IF God really exists. Right, Ken?
Besides, his main goal is to show how inconsistent “literal” reading of the Bible is, which is what many of our SDA liberals also try. I say “try” because the straw-man argument Ken states, everything in the Bible is not actually “literal” so NONE of it must be “literal” and we “fundamentalists” are a bunch of idiots to believe such, is itself pure nonsense.
Numerous SDA and other biblical scholars have explained this much better than I ever could.
Ron Stone M.D.(Quote)View Comment
For once, Ron Stone M.D., you are the master of the obvious . . .
Dear Bill, Ron, and Bob
Thank you for your comments gentleman.
Ron, I sincerely hope I have not called anyone derogatory names or said the Bible is fairy tale. If I have inadvertently done that I do apologize.
In fairness I think my main goal was to ask questions on interpretation of the Bible and point out that it is not a simple matter. If it was I don’t think there would be disagreement between biblical scholars or schools of thought, as there appears to be.
Bill, I appreciate your comments and suggestions. However, in my humble opinion, the best way to seek the truth is to look at all belief systems objectively, without bias. That is the intent of science, that it should operate as a rational mechanism of human inquiry, independent of faith or non faith.
So Ron, my inquiries are not an indictment of faith or non faith, but an attempt to see the world objectively. I mean no disrespect by this. If you find offense with my inquiries then it is best I turn my other agnostic cheek.
@Ron Stone M.D.:
Agreed. I was not trying to promote belief in the bible for agnostics in my reference to Daniel 7, 8 and 9, just that there was an incredible amount of “consistency” in using the SAME model for interpreting days for all 3 chapters – as the SDA church does – vs picking one of them (Dan 9) and using a day-for-year there but nowhere else and not having much of an argument for using it one place and not another.
At least in the SDA model we have the consistency of “application” in that all of the national predictions made by Daniel in those chapters are using the same day for year model.
The part that should be impressive to an agnostic – is that the Dan 2, Dan 7 and Dan 8 predictions are made centuries before the events themselves take place.
Bob, Don’t unbelievers have a term to dismiss and marginalize all that prediction and prophecy stuff? Vaticinium Ex Eventu?
Ron Stone M.D.(Quote)View Comment
Correct Biblical interpretation starts with assuming God meant things literally unless internal evidence suggests otherwise. It’s easy to get this reversed though, if you don’t want to believe God. For example, did Jesus really mean, “turn the other cheek”? Now that would allow an evil person to take advantage of you! So “I think that is merely symbolic”. Next, I run across the Genesis account, and it doesn’t agree with my preconceptions, so “I think that is symbolic”. But when it comes to prophecy, I don’t believe God could predict the future, so “I think those prophetic days are literal days” helps me to believe that God was merely observing trends and taking a good guess.
Ken, I’m not saying that you are doing this, merely that it is easy to make that mistake. To be safe in Biblical interpretation, I must assume it is speaking literally unless symbols are defined otherwise. (For example, Daniel and Revelation define many symbols, e.g. Daniel 8:20: Ram=Media/Persia, Daniel 8:21: Goat=Greece, Revelation 17:9,10: Heads=mountains,king(doms), Revelation 17:15: Water=multitudes of people. The context must be used (surrounding verses, chapter, book, entire Bible) and the Bible must not be made to contradict itself.
The Bible’s accurate outline of history in Daniel 2,7 and 8 (as Ron mentioned) is clear evidence of it’s Divine origin.
Now, for the specific case you mention, the 2300 days have several good reasons (internally) that they are symbolic:
* Daniel 8 describes aggression against God’s sanctuary system, starting in the time of Persia and Greece (vs. 1-12,20). But verse 17 puts it in the context of the time of the end. Thus, the vision must extend for more than a period of literal days in order to span from Daniel’s time to “the time of the end”.
* Daniel 9:21 refers to “the vision at the beginning” (that is, in Daniel 8:16,17). The Hebrew word for vision here is “hazon”. But Daniel 9:24 says “Understand the vision” (mareh), a different Hebrew word previously used in Daniel 8:26 and 8:16 to refer specifically to the discussion of 2300 days in 8:13-14. In other words, Daniel 8 and 9 are linguistically linked by the word “mareh”. When Gabriel explains the 70 weeks in Daniel 9, he is also explaining the rest of the Daniel 8 vision (specifically, the beginning of the time period).
Daniel 9 clearly points to the coming of Messiah the Prince (Jesus) and is one of the clearest evidences of Divine authorship of the Bible. Nobody can argue that Daniel was authored a mere literal 69 weeks prior to Jesus baptism (“anointing”). But Jesus did come, on time, 483 symbolic days (literal years) after the command to restore and build Jerusalem in 457 BC.
Likewise, the 2300 days must begin at that time as the 70 weeks were “hatak” (cut off, divided) from them. And just as Jesus was anointed at His baptism on time, he began his ministry in the Most Holy Place on time, cleansing the sanctuary, preparing His people for His soon return. Just as the Levitical priesthood yearly cleansed the sanctuary of the already forgiven sins (as well as those of the rebellious) and banished them to the wilderness, Jesus in his heavenly ministry is removing the responsibility for sin from God and banishing it to the wilderness (rebutting satan’s claims).
In the case of the 2300 days, we have to accept what is going on in Heaven by faith, but we have good evidence based on what has already happened regarding the 490 days (Jesus first coming on time).
This is a very brief summary of a very detailed topic. Further discussion should probably be in a separate thread.
Warren, Ken knows there is no “double standard.” He persists in trying to use the straw-man argument, used by many liberal SDA’s, that since everything in the bible may not be “literal” then NOTHING is literal.
As an “agnostic” Ken wouldn’t really believe anything in the bible anyway, since God is not actually “proven” to exist. If I didn’t believe someone even existed, why would I want to believe anything He supposedly “spoke” either directly or indirectly?
Ron Stone M.D.(Quote)View Comment
Actually – Ken is being very consistent in that regard — from the agnostic POV.
And we should not expect that an Agnostic would be highly informed or practiced on the subject of objective Bible exegesis – so I would not fault him on that point.
And as for the fact that his solution is also that of our Lib SDA – “Seventh-day Darwinists”? – Well Ken has the defense “I am an agnostic” but what excuse do the seventh-day darwinists have?
@Ron Stone M.D.:
Yes they appeal to the postdiction idea in the case of Daniel – but to do so they have to prove that Daniel was not a 6th century B.C author. In fact since he predicts the fall of the Roman empire and the rise of an even greater European empire to follow – Daniel would have to have been written in about the 6th century A.D so that all he predicted could reasonably be set back to postdiction.
They have a truly impossible task in that regard.
As I like to say when they try so many ways to squirm out of the historic accuracy of scripture – Nunquam visi caseum in tatis modis diversis paratum.
What excuse? Well, I’ve heard them say that they have a more recent “Present Truth.” Much more recent than that ancient backwater Ellen White!
Ron Stone M.D.(Quote)View Comment
Re Bob’s Quote
“And we should not expect that an Agnostic would be highly informed or practiced on the subject of objective Bible exegesis â€“ so I would not fault him on that point.”
That is correct and charitable.