Posted by: BibleScienceGuy | October 25, 2017

Genesis and the Reformation

(5 Minute Read)

Portrayal of Martin Luther Nailing
95 Theses to Church Door

Next Tuesday October 31, 2017, is the 500th anniversary of the day Martin Luther “tweeted” his 95 theses by nailing them to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany.

This event marks the beginning of the Reformation in which men like Martin Luther (1483–1546), John Calvin (1509–1564), and Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531) led the church back to a Biblical understanding of forgiveness of sins and salvation.

The Reformation challenged the authority of the Pope and called Christians back to the authority of the Bible. The Reformation upheld the authority of the Bible as the Word of God over the authority of man.

Today we need a new reformation, a new return to the authority of the Word of God over the word of man. As we swim in today’s ocean of evolutionism, we need to return to the authority of God’s Word in Genesis.

The men who started the Reformation believed in a literal Genesis beginning a literal Bible:

  • They believed the book of Genesis was a book of actual history.
  • They believed Yahweh created everything in six regular days only a few thousand years ago.
  • They believed Adam and Eve were real people, the parents of the entire human race.
  • They believed Adam’s sin brought death and a curse on all of creation.
  • They believed a global Flood in Noah’s day destroyed the world and all life except for those in the Ark.
Martin Luther Believed in a Literal Genesis

Martin Luther wrote A Critical and Devotional Commentary on Genesis (CDCG). Here are excerpts that reflect his beliefs in a literal, historical Genesis.

“Equally useless is it to consider Moses in the beginning of his history as speaking mystically or allegorically. For as he is not instructing us concerning allegorical creatures and an allegorical world, but concerning essential creatures and a world visible and apprehensive by the senses, he calls, as we say in our trite proverb, ‘a post, a post;’ that is, when he says morning or day or evening, his meaning is the same as ours when we use those terms, without any allegory whatever. . . . But if we cannot fully comprehend the days here mentioned nor understand why God chose to use these intervals of time, let us rather confess our ignorance in the matter than wrest the words of Moses from the circumstances which he is recording to a meaning, which has nothing to do with those circumstances.” (Luther, CDCG, p. 41)

“We conclude that Moses spoke literally and plainly and neither allegorically nor figuratively; that is he means that the world with all creatures was created in six days as he himself expresses it.” (Luther, CDCG, p. 41)

Luther dated Creation at 3961 BC which he calculated based on embracing a literal Genesis. He wrote,
“We know from Moses that the world was not in existence before 6,000 years ago.”
(Luther, Lectures on Genesis, Concordia Publishing House, Vol. 1, p. 3.)

Luther saw man as a special creation distinct from the animal kingdom and through whom death and destruction entered:
“Moses however here sets before us the striking difference between man and all the animals mentioned; when he affirms that man was created by the peculiar counsel and providence of God; whereby he signifies that man is a creature far excelling all other animals, which live a corporeal life; which excellence was more especially prominent while nature was as yet unfallen and uncorrupted. The opinion of Epicurus was that man was created only to eat and to drink. This was not separating man from beasts: for beasts have also their pleasures, and they pursue them with delight. Whereas the sacred text before us forcibly expresses the distinction and separation of man from beast, when it affirms that God took deep thought and certain counsel in forming man; which counsel was taken, not only to form man, but to form him ‘in the image and after the likeness of God.’ This image of God is a far different thing from the care of the belly and the indulgence of the appetite; for these things beasts well understand and eagerly crave.” (Luther, CDCG, pp. 107-108)

“For it was on his [Adam’s] own account that the field was cursed. Whereas before he sinned no part of the earth was either barren or corrupt, but all places in it were marvelously fertile and productive; but now, the contrary, not only is it in many parts entirely barren, but even those parts, which are otherwise fruitful, are deformed and defiled with tares, weeds, briers and thorns. And this calamity is indeed great, and might well drive Adam himself and us all to choose strangling rather than life.” (Luther, CDCG, p. 315)

Luther also believed in a worldwide Noah’s Flood:
“When therefore in the time of Noah the whole earth had been deluged by the Flood and every living creature except a few souls, had been utterly destroyed, the age which immediately succeeded that of Noah lived without doubt in the fear of God.” (Luther, CDCG, p. 317)

Portrait of John Calvin by Titian

John Calvin Believed in a Literal Genesis

John Calvin wrote Commentary on Genesis (CG). Here are excerpts that reflect his beliefs in a literal, historical Genesis.

“Since the infinite wisdom of God is displayed in the admirable structure of heaven and earth, it is absolutely impossible to unfold The History of the Creation of the World in terms equal to its dignity…. The intention of Moses in beginning his Book with the creation of the world is, to render God, as it were, visible to us in his works. . . . For he [Moses] does not here put forward divinations of his own, but is the instrument of the Holy Spirit for the publication of those things which it was of importance for all men to know. . . . For he does not transmit to memory things before unheard of, but for the first time consigns to writing facts which the fathers had delivered as from hand to hand, through a long succession of years, to their children. Can we conceive that man was so placed in the earth as to be ignorant of his own origin, and of the origin of those things which he enjoyed? No sane person doubts that Adam was well-instructed respecting them all.” (Calvin, CG, pp. 23-24)

Calvin believed that Genesis means what it says. He wrote,
“Little more than five thousand years have passed since the creation of the universe.”
(John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 2, p. 925, edited by John T. McNeill, Westminster Press, 1960.)

Thus Martin Luther and John Calvin, both renowned scholars and leading giants of the Reformation, each believed the earth is only a few thousand years old. Their opinion deserves careful consideration.

Calvin accepted the Genesis record that Eve was made out of Adam’s rib:
“Although to profane persons this method of forming woman may seem ridiculous, and some of these may say that Moses is dealing in fables, yet to us the wonderful providence of God here shines forth; for, to the end that the conjunction of the human race might be the more sacred he purposed that both males and females should spring from one and the same origin. Therefore He created human nature in the person of Adam, and thence formed Eve, that the woman should be only a portion of the whole human race. This is the import of the words of Moses which we have had before, (Genesis 1:28,) “God created man… he made them male and female.” In this manner Adam was taught to recognize himself in his wife, as in a mirror; and Eve, in her turn, to submit herself willingly to her husband, as being taken out of him.” (Calvin, CG, p. 82)

“Afterwards followed the fall of Adam, whereby he alienated himself from God; whence it came to pass that he was deprived of all rectitude. Thus Moses represents man as devoid of all good, blinded in understanding, perverse in heart, vitiated in every part, and under sentence of eternal death; but he soon adds the history of his restorations where Christ shines forth with the benefit of redemption.” (Calvin, CG, p. 28)

And the flood was forty days, etc. Moses copiously insists upon this fact, in order to show that the whole world was immersed in the waters. Moreover, it is to be regarded as the special design of this narrations that we should not ascribe to fortune, the flood by which the world perished; how ever customary it may be for men to cast some veil over the works of God, which may obscure either his goodness or his judgments manifested in them. But seeing it is plainly declared, that whatever was flourishing on the earth was destroyed, we hence infer, that it was an indisputable and signal judgment of God; especially since Noah alone remained secure, because he had embraced, by faith, the word in which salvation was contained.” (Calvin, CG, p. 194)

The men of the Reformation were men of the Word who believed in a literal Genesis, a literal six-day creation several thousand years ago, a literal Adam, literal sin, a literal Flood, and a literal salvation through faith in the Great Creator, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

Questions to Ponder

1. How can you make October 31 (Halloween) a fun and uplifting observance of “Reformation Day”?
2. Since many churches honor these Reformation leaders, why do they reject Luther’s and Calvin’s scholarly convictions about the authority and historicity of Genesis?

Share your thoughts on these questions in the comments below. It could encourage or help another reader.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
“for the defense of the gospel”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:5; Phil 1:16)
Wednesday October 25, 2017 A.D.

It is Yahweh who made the earth by His power, who established the world by His wisdom. By His understanding He stretched out the heavens. (Jeremiah 10:12 NASB)


Responses

  1. Bill,
    I have been enjoying learning church history the past couple of years. Articles, videos, and books about the Reformation period are prominent currently because of Luther’s 500th. Most church history I have been reading is about the heroes of this period. To my surprise, reading church history has been captivating — it creates in you a hunger for more. Aside from learning history and truth, there is drama and intrigue in the stories of the heroes like Luther, Calvin, Wycliff, Tyndall, and others. These men were courageous; they were inspirational role models. Reformation history reveals both God’s sovereignty and man’s wickedness through the development of Christ’s church, the reclamation of gospel truth, and the liberation of the Bible into the hands of the masses. It is clear that Luther’s life was an inflection point in history: his actions changed life dramatically for all of us. Your article was excellent — I was unaware of facts you shared of Luther and Calvin’s understanding of Genesis. I am pleased to have learned that these great fathers of the Reformation held and defended these literal views from Genesis.
    Thank you.

    Like

    • Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful and inspiring comment, John. Reformation history deserves much greater attention than today’s churches give it.

      Like


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