Is the creation account of Genesis a poem as Rob Bell claims?

The most recent in Rob Bell’s Nooma series has caused quite a stir. In the video (which I have seen), he refers to the “creation poem” and then starts explaining the Genesis 1 creation account.

Nathan Neighbor, an outspoken defender of all things emerging and a pupil of Erwin McManus, writes (you can see his entire statement here):

Lastly, anyone who has done any type of study on Genesis would know that it is written in ancient poetry form, closely resembling the literary style of early writings and oral tradition. If this statement negates the validity of the scriptures, then calling Psalms a song collection, or Ecclesiastes a framed wisdom autobiography would do the same. It is a far leap in logic to say that becasue Rob Bell bleives [sic] Genesis is written in poetry form, he denies the literal account of creation.

I probably have not done “any type of study on Genesis.” I do not want to get into issues of oral tradition and the authorship of the Pentateuch. However, I believe that with some basic guiding principles, a simple reading of the Genesis 1 creation account will reveal that in fact it is not of the poetic genre.


Before we start, allow me to make two disclaimers.

1. I recongize that poetry is a biblical genre and is used to convey divine truth.

2. I believe that genre identification is one of the most important steps in any hermeneutical process. If we don’t properly identify the genre of a piece of literature, we will not be able to properly understand the truth claim of the text. For example, the truth claim in a parable is not bound up in whether there really ever was a prodigal son, etc. (for more information see The Art of Biblical History by V. Phillips Long).

Principles for Identifying the Poetic Genre 

In his book How to Read the Psalms, Dr. Tremper Longman III, gives two basic guidelines for identifying the poetic genre. It should be noted that while the elements explained below are present in prose, they occur in higher concentration in poetry.

1. Parallelism  

As opposed to western poetry that is driven by rythm, Hebrew poetry is dominated by parallelsim. Parallelism can appear in many forms. Consider the three following examples from Longman (although there are many more):

a. Synonymous – when the corresponding lines say essentially the same thing, but using different words. Consider Psalm 2:

Why do the nations conspire

and the peoples plot in vain?

The kings of the earth take their stand

and the rulers gather together

against the Lord

and against his Anointed One.

b. Repetitive or Climactic – where the lines still say essentially the same thing, but they build to a climax

Psalm 29:

Ascribe to the Lord O mighty ones

Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name

Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.

c. Chiasm – this common literary device can be seen in a pair of lines or in the larger structure of an entire book (like Judges).

It should be noted here as well that Hebrew poetry is full of ellipsis. Longman gives the following example (Psalm 107:32):

Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people

and praise him in the council of the elders (107:32)

He explains:

Frequently…the second phrase will omit a part of of the first clause with the understanding that the omitted part of the first clause is to be read into the second clause. Usually it is the verb which is omitted.

2. Imagery

This includes metaphor, simile, personification, anthropomorphisms, etc.

Again, the presence of one or more of these characteristics is not enough to conclusively call a piece of literature poetry, as these are often used historical narrative or prose. There must be a high concentration of these elements in order to positively render literature a piece of poetry.

Is the Genesis creation account poetry?

I have a very basic understanding of the Hebrew language. I attempted to read through the creation account using my A Reader’s Hebrew Bible. Surprisingly, it was not that difficult for me. Why is that? Because the ellipsis and imagery, elements that are necessary in order to classify literature as poetry, were virtually non-existent. Consequently, from my simple study, I am assured that the Genesis account is not poetic in its genre.

But don’t just take my word for it…

On the 5th page of his book, The Art of Biblical Poetry, Robert Alter states that the first line of poetry in the Bible is Genesis 2:23:

Then the man said,

   “This at last is bone of my bones
   and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
   because she was taken out of Man.”

What’s the big deal you may ask?

Robert Alter is a professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at arguably the most liberal institution in America…the University of California Berkeley.

Need I say more?

  1. #1 by Chris L on March 6, 2008 - 10:57 am

    You might check this site out, which notes the way Genesis One poetry is laid out.

    Also, for more background on the use of “chaos” and “the abyss” (from the previous conversation), you can check 1 Enoch, the Book of Jubilees (both works of which are referenced by Peter and Jude) and Genesis Rabba (along with both the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmudim).

    Also, a note on dating writings in either Talmud – the dating of a teaching in the Talmud is tied to when the sage/rabbi taught what is written there, not when it was written down… (i.e. When they write “Rabbi Benjamin Shua observed…”, it is not just a way of giving credit where it is due, but also to date when it was said. So, when Hillel the Elder is quoted, because he taught from 30 BC – 10 AD, this would be the date of the teaching – not a couple centuries later when it was written down). For more on the subject of reading/interpreting Hebrew works contemporary and prior to Christ, I would suggest Brad Young’s “Meet the Rabbis”…

  2. #2 by Nicole on March 7, 2008 - 5:07 am

    thanks for sharing Clearly!!!!

  3. #3 by clearly on March 7, 2008 - 5:59 am


    The bottom lines for me are these:

    1. I will not consult extra-biblical sources when the internal structure of the text doesn’t even hint that it may be poetry. Sure, the different days of creation may contain some aspects of parallelism. However, this alone does not justify calling the chapter poetry.

    2. Longman’s criteria for determining poetry is much more detailed and systematic than that which was used by the source you provided. His work with the OT, and Hebrew poetry specifically, are un-paralleled.

    I have provided information from Longman and information from a UCAL-Berkeley professor.

    3. As far as the Petrine quotation of the extra-biblical sources goes, I would just remind you that Paul quoted from the Athenian philosophers and the Cretian prophet (Acts 17, Titus 1); he tells us he is quoting them too (which I don’t think Peter or Jude do).

    Even if Peter and Jude were really quoting from these works, this evidence alone does not give these writings authority, nor does it put an apostolic stamp of approval upon them. The content of my writing would overlap with John Grisham’s at some point — I have written about murder and so has John. Peter and Jude have written about the “blackest darkness” (or hell in my view) and so has the Apostle John. I may be simple minded, but when we are talking about religious writings — the topic of eternal judgement (even described as being “dark”) tends to come up on a regular basis.

  4. #4 by Sam Andress on March 8, 2008 - 3:37 am

    The Genesis 1 text follows ancient near eastern and hebrew numerology in its ordering of words and phrase construction. It is quite certainly poetry. Consult Walter Brueggemann’s commentary in the Interpretation series and look at Waltke O’Connor’s sytax.

  5. #5 by Justin on March 8, 2008 - 8:48 am

    I would agree with Sam that Gen. 1 is def. poetic in nature. I looked at the source Chris points out, and although i have never heard of that person, that doesn’t mean their scholarship is to be discredited.

    I would argue that when you say, “Longman’s criteria for determining poetry is much more detailed and systematic than that which was used by the source you provided. His work with the OT, and Hebrew poetry specifically, are un-paralleled.” that that is def. up for debate.

    Even if Longman is known for his understanding of Hebrew poetry, Brugemann is “un-paralleled” in his understanding of the OT as a whole. His Interp. commentary is a fantastic one! Also see Celia Brewer-Marshall, Harold Wayne Ballard and Karen Armstrong, Although Brugemann is far more renowned in the field of OT studies.

    Why does it matter if it’s poetry or not? What does that change for you? I know what it has changed for me, but it doesn’t unnecessarily have to change anything if you don’t want it to. I think that you seem to want to always put down “extra-biblical” sources, but we miss so much of the Bible’s heritage, culture, structure and form…. we miss what the Bible has to offer in all of it’s beauty and meaning for our lives when we refuse to consult those sources to better understand that which we cannot get from sola scriptura. I find it amusing, as well as confusing that you discredit the use of extra-biblical sources when you disagree with the outcome yet this whole post is you using extra-biblical sources to “prove” your argument, which I don’t believe you have accomplished.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine to disagree with someone, I respect whatever it is that you believe about Gen. 1. I also respect if you don’t see it as poetic…and honestly, to see it as poetry you do need to broach authorship and date of that text (which may or may not be the same as the book as a whole). However, who knows how much more rich and meaningful (hard to imagine when the text is already so meaningful…but still I think there is more there than a strict literal reading, or a reading that doesn’t consult the possibilities brought forth by the extra-biblical sources)to our understanding the text could be when viewed from a stance of better understanding of the background that can ONLY be found in these extra-biblical sources.

    As an addendum to that, the study notes in your bible, the cross references, the introductions to the books, the maps, etc… those come from extra-biblical sources, they just happen to be in your bible.
    I have done an “in depth bible study” on Gen. A couple of exegetical papers actually for both my BA Religion degree and my MDIV, and I came upon this understanding of the creation story (as poetry) back in the 90’s. This isn’t something new made up by Bell. Actually, there are many Jewish teachings (by rabbis) that accept this view too!

    There is parallelism in the STRUCTURE of the whole account, not line by line. It looks like an hour glass. There also is the pattern of repetition in the creation account. The set up: and on the ____ day god Created _____, as well as the ending of each “Phrase”: “And saw that it was good”.

    Good luck with all of this.
    I write this with respect, and to say, you don’t HAVE to believe what someone else says, and you don’t have to fight it just because you see it differently. I respect your views, and the studies that you’ve done to get to the understanding you have. I wish you could find it somewhere to give the same respect to others who may have studied (I’m not going to say “more than you” because that’s not fair, and so I def. don’t want you to read that into this) DIFFERENTLY than your own studies. I’m not saying I have the “Correct” answer on how to read this passage, but I at least acknowledge and respect the alternatives as well as my humble human nature in respect to the vastness and mystery of God.

    Just wanted to “ditto” what Sam and Chris had said.

    I keep trying to post this and it won’t show up. Please delete any extra copies!

  6. #6 by Justin on March 8, 2008 - 8:50 am

    sorry…please delete all but one copy of that response as not to untidy your comments section. Apologies!

  7. #7 by Preston Mayes on March 8, 2008 - 9:55 am

    Hi Dave!

    You might want to look at Victor Hamilton, Handbook on the Pentateuch, p. 19ff. I am pretty sure he discusses chapter 1, and he also has a good bibliography of articles on the topic. Make sure you check the second edition, not the first, since the bibliography is much more recent.

  8. #8 by clearly on March 8, 2008 - 10:15 am


    You wrote: “Why does it matter if it’s poetry or not? What does that change for you?”

    I am on vacation right now — yeah Spring break! I was hoping someone would address this question. I am not putting you off. However, after vacation, I plan to make a follow-up post on this issue. To me, it matters for a number of reasons.

    As far as the hour-glass structure of Genesis 1 goes, would you not have to conclude that all OT chiasm is then poetic? Is the book of Judges poetic then as well? It seems that parallelism dominates Hebrew writing as a whole, but that in poetic liturature it is line by line, occuring with ellipsis and imagery in high concentration.

    Mr. Mayes,

    I will definitely take a look at Hamilton when I can get to a library! Thanks…

  9. #9 by Justin on March 8, 2008 - 10:41 am

    “As far as the hour-glass structure of Genesis 1 goes, would you not have to conclude that all OT chiasm is then poetic? Is the book of Judges poetic then as well? It seems that parallelism dominates Hebrew writing as a whole, but that in poetic literature it is line by line, occurring with ellipsis and imagery in high concentration.”

    I don’t think anyone who states that gen. 1 is of a more poetic nature goes off of just ONE of the Hebrew poetic characteristics. It was merely an example, as was the repetition in the structure. Follow the sources mentioned by everyone and I think you will find more exhaustive displays of characteristics of my 2 examples. As you mention, having only one characteristic does not it a poem make. I agree with you totally on that. But I think that these people who have studied this will point out far more reasons as to why it can be considered poetic in nature. I didn’t think you wanted my whole exegetical paper on your comments…I didn’t mean to show my suggestions as anywhere near exhaustive on the matter. I’m sorry if my context and comment were unclear on that.

    look forward to your “answer” on the “why does it matter”. But please, let it wait until you are no longer vacationing! If I were on vacation (as I will be in 3 weeks, I wouldn’t even allow myself computer access…you are far more dedicated to your blog than me:) I hope you enjoy the rest of your vacation!


  10. #10 by Nicole on March 10, 2008 - 4:11 am

    I had a few other concerns with the video – where do we talk about those Dave?

  11. #11 by clearly on March 10, 2008 - 4:19 am

    Here is fine. I think the other discussion is done until I post another part on why I think it matters. I had concerns too, but haven’t said anything up to this point. I’d be interested to hear yours…

  12. #12 by Nicole on March 10, 2008 - 8:36 am

    Here goes then…. 🙂

    1. Even trying to include us in the creation process seems weird to me. I have been taught that only God can Create – all we can do is ReCreate – we certainly cannot make something from nothing. To refer to the world as incomplete, just because trees REproduce is odd. That, and it reduces God to man’s level – if He has given us the ability to do what He does.

    2. The concept of there being ANY risk at all when God created the world is to mishandle His sovereignty. Christ was “slain from the foundation of the world.” There are numerous references to things that happened at or before the foundation of the world. There was no risk – God is GREATLY glorified by the suffering of Christ on the cross – which was planned at the beginning/before the foundation of the world. The crucifixion of Jesus is not God’s best attempt at patching up His creation that went wrong…
    I know Bell has, in part, borrowed this from N.T. Wright, whom he relies on for his understanding of the Bible’s inerrancy as well.

    3. Bell’s understanding of the purpose of prayer is disappointing. He spent more time discussing the “divine energy” that flows between us, than about our relationship with God, and the purposes of prayer as laid out in the Bible. “Tapping into the divine energy” sounds new age-y to me. “Prayer makes us better people” is an unfortunate summary of its usefulness and power.

    4. I wish Bell could tell people more than “I don’t know” when they ask him why some lose family members, and suffer in life more than others. I have a friend that lost her mom last week – and I can confidently tell her not “I don’t know” but “For His glory.” And “to draw you into closer fellowship with Him.” He delights in using the difficulties in our lives to bring us into better worship of Him. For His glory. Not, I don’t know….

    5. And, obviously, the “creation poem”.

  13. #13 by Phil Miller on March 10, 2008 - 9:23 am

    I wish Bell could tell people more than “I don’t know” when they ask him why some lose family members, and suffer in life more than others. I have a friend that lost her mom last week – and I can confidently tell her not “I don’t know” but “For His glory.” And “to draw you into closer fellowship with Him.” He delights in using the difficulties in our lives to bring us into better worship of Him. For His glory. Not, I don’t know….

    This isn’t the God I serve. There are some things we just have to say, “I don’t know” to. I don’t believe God delights in using difficulties to bring us to Him. If a parent delighted in punishing his childre, we’d call that parent abusive.

    The fact that God is sovereign means that He had the ability to create the universe however He wanted. It seems to me that He did take a risk in creating people with the ability to choose. I see a God who decreed everything from the very beginning to be a lot less powerful than one who is actively working to bring everything into His will.

  14. #14 by Nicole on March 10, 2008 - 9:24 am

    Romans 9.

  15. #15 by Nicole on March 10, 2008 - 9:35 am

    But the difficulties in our lives aren’t punishment.
    Firstly – anything better than an eternity in hell from the day we are born is grace.
    And secondly – “God works all things together for the good of those who love Him.” – He is not punishing us when bad things happen in our lives. As Job said “the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” – it was God who ultimately took away his family – and yet it was for Job’s good, and is for ours.
    God is not in the business of merely damage control. He is more sovereign than that.

    He is still actively working to bring everything into His will, as He decreed it…

  16. #16 by Phil Miller on March 10, 2008 - 10:07 am

    I’m well aware of the standard Calvinist talking points, and I don’t buy them. Just because God works all things together for the good, doesn’t mean He intends all things to happen the way they do. That is what’s amazing to me about His redemptive love. He takes the broken pieces, and is able to put them back together. He is creating something beautiful. I wouldn’t say God is in damage control business, either. He’s in the restoration and salvage business.

    Also, I believe in your previous comment when you mentioned N.T. Wright, that that is a mis-characterization of his position. Wright has never said (nor Bell to my knowledge) that the cross was “God’s best attempt at patching up His creation that went wrong”. Wright would say that the cross was part of God plan from the get-go. It was His answer to evil, and that it was the way in which Satan’s defeat and Christ’s victory was sealed. It was God way of setting Creation right.

  17. #17 by Nicole on March 10, 2008 - 3:38 pm

    What sorts of things do you believe happen, that God did not intend? Sins? Deaths? Natural disasters? What happens apart from His sovereign decree? I’m not being rhetorical – trying to understand.

    Let me clarify – I realise my post was vague – Wright has not said that the cross was God’s best attempt at patching up creation. I was referring to the concept of risk in creation as being a Wright thought, and apologise for the confusion. Although….
    Some of the things Wright does say in Evil and the justice of God include:
    “the story has been about the messy way in which God has had to work to bring the world out of the mess. Somehow, in a way we are inclined to find offensive, God has to get his boots muddy, and, it seems, to get his hands bloody, to put the world back to rights.”

    “I presented a reading of the Old Testament in which I argued that the entire canon…. is all about what God (the Creator God, please note) is doing about evil. God has undertaken a plan: it is a daring and risky plan, involving God in so much ambiguity – one might almost say subterfuge – that he begins to look like a double agent, becoming compromised at many points in oder to pull off the solution. This solution involves drawing evil to a point in order to deal with it there.”

    “The Gosples are also the story of how God’s long-term plan from Abraham through to the time of Jesus, the apparently ambiguous and risky plan which we explored in chapter two, finally came to fruition.”

    “JESUS CAME TO BELIEVE, in that kind of vocation at which one can only stand amazed and awed, that the great “time of testing”… was about to burst upon the world like a great tidal wave, and he had to take its full force upon himself so that everyone else could be spared… the great, dark, horrible power of evil was bearing down on him, and Jesus had long realised that as Isreal’s respresentative he, and he alone, had the task to do what, according to the same scriptures, Isreal’s God had said he and he alone could do.”

  18. #18 by Phil Miller on March 10, 2008 - 5:51 pm

    I don’t think God ordained sin or death. They weren’t part of His original Creation, and I don’t think it’s what He intended. I don’t think these things took Him off-guard or anything, but that doesn’t mean it was part of His original intent. I believe His original plan was to create the Earth and mankind to be a place where His people could live and enjoy His presence for eternity. He didn’t want to force humans to do this, though. For love to truly be love, it must be freely given. He created man with capacity to choose give this love to God, or to reject Him. I believe He knew this was a risk when He created man, and I believe that the incarnation was part of the plan from the start.

    I think that God did take real risks when Jesus was on earth. I believe He went to great lengths to show His love to mankind. It seems to me that just the act of Jesus being born to a woman was a risk. I do grant that the concept of God truly taking a risk is hard to wrap my mind around. I just think that throughout Scripture, God has plans for one thing, people rebel, and He moves in another way. He is infinitely resourceful and powerful. It just seems to me that the way He has chosen to reveal Himself is through weakness rather than strength. The Kingdom isn’t plain for all to see. It is only seen by humble seekers.

  19. #19 by Nicole on March 10, 2008 - 6:18 pm

    But there is true love within the Trinity, without the need for free will. I think the logic of love only being lovely if it is freely given does not fit in with the example we have of the Trinity – of the love of the Father towards the Son and Spirit and so on. Obviously, they are in perfect love, without experiencing sin or free will.

    Wright talks about the anxiety God experienced when He saw that Adam might eat the fruit. And the anxiety He has when man plots folly. And His loneliness looking for His partners, Adam and Eve in the garden… To suppose God needs man, or can possibly be thwarted by man or evil is arrogant. It’s like “Oh no! Adam ate the apple! What will I do now?? How can I fix this? I’m so lonely without him!” Seriously? Anxiety and loneliness? This is to anthropromophisize our great and awesome God. To think a single thing happens that He has not ordained is grievous…

    The phrase “it shall come to pass” occurs 145 times in the KJV – God knows, and decrees it all. He is not resourceful, He is sovereign. He is not surprised by any of it.

    Again, what Do you think are the monkey-wrenches in God’s plan? The sins in our lives? Or the suffering? Or anything bad? Where is that line?

  20. #20 by Justin on March 10, 2008 - 8:25 pm

    I know that this sounds like a smart-you-know approach. But This is a very “old” argument. I honestly think that the answer is YES…and NO. BOTH…and NEITHER. Again we come to the mystery of God. I think that what you are conversing about is the mystery of God.

    Yes he is sovereign. Yes he is loving. No, I don’t believe that everything that happens he planned out. That doesn’t make him less sovereign or loving. Instead he perhaps sees the things before they happen and works THROUGH them. Telling someone, “IDK,” to the question of suffering is at least an honest answer. I’ve had to do funerals of all sorts of bad and unthinkable situations. Having to give birth to a still-born, If I would have told them some “churchy” response to the whys they would have not accepted them. Honestly, I can’t see why a beautiful child would die “for God’s glory.” doesn’t make sense. But saying “IDK”, is at least a REAL answer. We honestly don’t know. (we seem to be coming back to the discussion of “Knowing” and “not being able to know” all about God and his ways… I suggest Wittgenstein’s “On Certainty”).

    Saying IDK, is respectful, and allows them to realize that God isn’t punishing them, they aren’t to blame, there are just some things that can’t be understood in the here and now. No amount of Bible verse reading is going to give respect to their REAL suffering or the Bible itself. It actually CAN devalue their feelings and the Bible by using it as an “answer book” when they have tough questions. Both God and the Bible are sooo much more than that!

    Perhaps God created sin, perhaps we did (meaning we took part in creation???) we are created as creative beings…made in his image. Isn’t being creative part of being in his image? we are also destroying! Either way, human nature/sin, is real. It may not be a “monkey-wrench in God’s plan”… but at the same time it’s hard to imagine that God would create us with the intention of making us sin, just so he could go through this very complex way of saving us, esp. when he could have just made us without sin in the first place, or without the nature to sin. Then we’d still be chillin in the garden with God? This elaborate “plan” to make us then conspire to our fall, then come to earth to save us again…well.. That, to me seems like a stretch… A very over dramatic God.

    However, there can be a plan… and free will is a def. concept in the Bible… so is Calvinist views. I love how we pick one over another and then defend our positions. They are both present, so either the people who wrote those things in the Bible put their human/limited theology in there…. theology that contradicts itself when the Bible is read as a whole… OR, God is both, and neither. He can’t fit neatly into those boxes, but there are def. aspects of each in God. Thus, the Both/And scenario.
    Of course there is a third option… another both/and: They DID put their own human theologies into their writings, yes they do contradict, but in some magnificent way it helps us to catch 2 different GLIMPSES (and they are nothing more than “glimpses of the overall God that can’t be fully known by any living human) of a God that will help us live our lives in this world for him. I’m not endorsing that, just saying there is always more than 2 options!

    I always hated this argument in undergrad and rad school, because 1) it never gets resolved, 2) God is bigger than theology, and 3) it tends to draw lines and separate rather than unify. I will say that I am Def. not a calvinist (perhaps a no-point calvinist), but at the same time I am taking up for that position and those thoughts. To me, God is bigger than both “theories” (and that’s all they are is theories if we are real with ourselves). But I think that there is evidence (both biblically and historically…through general and spicific revelation) that both of these theories have some validity in who God is. That doesn’t mean the Calvinist View of God IS GOD, nor does it mean the non-Calvinist view IS GOD. (I won’t say Armenian because I know there are more approaches than these 2 classical arguments). They are ASPECTS of God… and they may seem paradoxical to us that 2 opposing points seem present in God, but I think that keeps us in line in saying we “know” God is this or that. It reminds us that there are just some things we will never understand about God. Enter faith, exit me!

    as always,
    a pleasure

  21. #21 by Joe Martino on March 11, 2008 - 5:16 am

    It’s interesting that Job was never given a reason as far as we can tell from the text on why all those things happened to him.

  22. #22 by Phil Miller on March 11, 2008 - 7:27 am

    I don’t exactly understand what you mean by God not having free will, other than maybe you’re saying that God can’t do something that is against His essential nature. This in and of itelf is an interesting philosophical debate that goes back a long time.

    I think the thing that gets me about Calvinism is that it has a supposed answer for everything. When I read the Bible, though, God isn’t interested in giving us an answer for everything. A lot of times, He turns the question back on us. It comes down to trusting and walking with Him. I don’t believe God is glorified through sin, which is what a Calvinists ends up saying whether he wants to or not. I believe God is strong enough to work through and around sin, but I don’t think He intended it. I guess my question isn’t what God’s whole original plan was as much as what can I do further His plan. Am I working for it or against it?

    I also think that Calvin leaned to heavily on Augustine when he was formulating his theology. Augustine believed that God was completely impassable and experienced no emotion because to experience emotion meant that God changed. In order to say this, it seems you have to completely ignore a lot of Scripture that is pretty explicit in talking of God’s emotional state.

    In the end, I would agree with what Justin to a large extent, although, I am pretty anti-Calvinist because from my perspective, it breeds pride and complacency more than anything else. When I hear men like John Piper and John MacArthur talk and compare it to Greg Boyd and Rob Bell, it’s no contest for me. It seems to me that the way we view God will shape us to a large extent, and I like what I see when see the fruit of the more Arminian pastors, generally.

  23. #23 by Justin on March 11, 2008 - 10:29 am

    Phil said:
    “I think the thing that gets me about Calvinism is that it has a supposed answer for everything.”

    This is my experience too, but to be fair, I’ve seen this “absolute Certainty” from free-willers too! I have never accepted Calvinism, and at one time thought it was the dumbest theology out there. I now see some value in it (although I am FAR from Calvinist in my beliefs… I ask the question what if (and it is a hypothetical WHAT IF)… there is NO plan, just God with us (that’s Biblical) and we come upon situations and God says make a choice, you and I will explore that path together. This is not talking about “right” and “wrong” actions, rather paths in our lives. For instance: Is there ONLY one person for me to marry that God has planned from the beginning, OR, is there more than one person that may come upon in my life that I am more compatible with than others. My wife and I both adhere to the latter rather than the former.
    Or, What career should I take in life? Perhaps that’s not all planned out either, but together with God we are supposed to make those tough choices, reassured that God is there with us THROUGH this journey. NOT saying I completely adhere to this theology (and as crazy as it sounds, this is real theology out there, not something I came up with), but it is a viable question to ask.

    PHIL ALSO SAID: “In the end, I would agree with what Justin to a large extent, although, I am pretty anti-Calvinist because from my perspective, it breeds pride and complacency more than anything else.”

    I will agree that many Calvinists that I know are the most arrogant people I’ve ever met. Conversations ALWAYS seem to turn into debates, and more division comes. However, again to be fair, I think your statement is true in a much broader sense. Why do you think that Calvinism “breeds pride and complacency”? Prob. because it goes back to the, “my way is right/only way, and all others are wrong” mindset. I think THIS mindset is prevalent throughout all of Christianity, ESP. in the evangelical (be it Calvinist or Free-will)community. This is what truly irritates me. It’s not the difference of belief itself, but it’s being so certain (and no one can be truly be certain of anything, ergo it is simply arrogance)that everyone else’s beliefs are wrong that the person will resort to calling names (heretic, non-Christian, false prophet) instead of allowing them to follow the path that they are on with God.

    It really bothers me that these type of people don’t believe (as shown by their practical theology) that the Holy Spirit’s power is strong enough to convict “wrong beliefs” without their help! Thus we spend our time calling out publicly ALL of those that we don’t agree with. Why? To me that’s the question. I have some guesses from my own experience, but I’ll leave that one alone as to not seem arrogant or intolerant myself. But its true. How many blogs do I come across that call people like tony Jones, Rob Bell, Doug Paggitt, and Shane Claiborne names and then announce why the author is absolutely correct and everyone else is wrong. Such a small God they believe in!

    But let’s be fair! How many blogs do I stumble across that do the EXACT same thing to Piper, MacArthur, and others of the sort. To the people that do that, I say the same thing….What a small God you believe in. I think there is a God who is present in each of their beliefs. I truly believe that, for instance, although I HIGHLY disagree with MacArthur, he has SOMETHING of value for God to teach me through him. If he could just stop attacking and defending, I think we will be amazed at what God teaches through him. However, when we engage in “holy words war” with people we don’t agree with, I don’t think God’s present in that. I think He has much better things to do than to pick sides. It’s just not that simple. I think he asks, why are you arguing about WHO I am, when you really can’t absolutely know, and when there is sooo much work to be done in my name (good work, not this petty crap you call “Defending your faith”). So instead of adding to that, I end with a pluck from Phil’s words:

    “I guess my question isn’t what God’s whole original plan was as much as what can I do further His plan. Am I working for it or against it?”

    I think that this is a far more productive question than who’s right and who’s wrong!!!! I think it is the start of us working together to bring glory to the God we all worship!

    sorry to rant
    please read with grace and mercy

  24. #24 by Nicole on March 11, 2008 - 11:43 am

    ack. I wish I had time to even read this this afternoon… and I don’t. Tomorrow morning I’ll throw in my next two cents.

    Who said anything about Calvinism? I didn’t. I don’t like labels any more than the next guy…. 🙂

  25. #25 by Nicole on March 12, 2008 - 4:16 am

    To Phil –

    As far as God not having free will – I merely meant that in the sense that most refer to free will – not that God is not free to make His own choices – but the sense that we talk about us having to be able to choose between God and some alternative in order for our love for God to not be forced/contrived by Him. And, obviously, God can not sin – the Holy Spirit does not need to pick between sin and loving Christ for there to be perfect unity and love between them… does that make sense?

    What fruits in Bell’s church do you see that you prefer over fruits in Piper’s church? Piper’s over-arching premise is “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.” I can not imagine that producing anything but beautiful results, if lived out…

    I ended up doing a study on what the heart feels throughout the Bible. There were over 75 emotions that were tied directly to the heart. ie “my heart rejoices.” or “terror filled his heart.” I would agree on the importance of emotions. As would Piper, incidentally. Another big concept of his is “the duty of delight.” The command to joyfully pursue our relationship with the Lord. Joyful obedience, etc…

    To Justin –

    But, we are called to contend for our faith. And to beware of false prophets. Just because You don’t feel Spirit led to warn others of the dangers of someone’s teachings, does not mean others are not being led by the Spirit. There is a right, and a wrong spirit to do that in. I am on Clearly’s blog often, because I feel he presents his point of view in a truth-in-love spirit. And, I think that the discussions that have been on here have never turned to name-calling. Just because someone else abuses a format, does not make the format wrong, persay.

    I stand with Luther. He insisted that he would back down on his stance, if someone could show him in Scripture where he was wrong. So, show me where I err. I am not stubbornly adhering to my opinions, but stubbornly adhering to the Word. I don’t think I have all the answers. I know I don’t. But, I see a God who plans things.

    ie. Acts 4:27,28 “for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,
    to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”


    Dave, where are you??

  26. #26 by clearly on March 12, 2008 - 5:53 am

    Okay, I’m back as of this morning. Well kind of. For a couple hours.

    I absolutely abhor language that makes it sound like a part of the Godhead excercises faith or takes risks. I believe that, definitionally, both fall outside God’s character. Statements like that make it sound like God has somehow lost control of his creation, or that somehow he has needs. In my opinion, it’s the gospel in reverse, and consequently a foundation for a false gospel. God’s using humans is an act of grace — if we were silent, I’m fairly sure He would replace us with rocks. For those who weren’t here at the time, we have been round and around on this issue on this blog before (this summer when Joe Martino, his wife, one other guy, and I discussed it for about a week).

    In brief, I see free-will in the text; I see complete sovereignty and control in the text. Interestingly, the Scripture attributes sin, wickedness, etc. only to people, while attributing that which is truly good ultimately wholly to God. In other words, if someone is a sinner and therefore condemned, it is his/her fault, not God’s. If someone is a believer and in Christ, it’s all of Christ and his grace.

    I’m comfortable with God allowing sin in the world because he is and has always been completely in control; sin is not a threat to his existence or to his strength. He destroyed the power of sin at the cross — He allowed sin because in eternity past, He decreed that there would be a lamb slain before the foundation of the world — that it would be necessary that Christ would suffer, etc.

    I am not comfortable with God decreeing sin in the world, because it directly condradicts how I read “God is not the author of sin.”

    This goes back to above statements, in the Scripture, sin is attributed to man. Good is ultimately attributed to God.

    When we say God is responsible for sin or that God is somehow not control, in both cases, we have completely bought into the corresponding system and forced the various texts into our system.

  27. #27 by Nicole on March 12, 2008 - 8:42 am

    Nice summary.

    I don’t believe God is responsible for sin. Sorry if it sounded like I do…

    I find it really hard to articulate what I feel on this sometimes, you know? I know that God is holy, fully without sin, and that while He is sovereign, He is not responsible for my actions. I don’t sit around waiting for the Lord to do something in my life either, as though His being sovereign somehow negates my responsibility….. that makes sense,right?

  28. #28 by clearly on March 15, 2008 - 6:27 am


  29. #29 by Ken Silva on March 15, 2008 - 10:06 am

    Dave and Nicole,

    Phil Miller believes in the heresy of open theism. He’s coming from that warped perspective. So he’s quite right, he doesn’t serve the God of the Bible.

  30. #30 by Rick Frueh on March 16, 2008 - 8:50 am

    Dave – I read your comment on Pagitt’s blog, a good one. To deny the exclusivity of Christ is to deny Christ and preach another Jesus. I am still looking for a recording of Pagitt’s talk at last years weeds, I mean seeds, conference.

  31. #31 by Phil Miller on March 16, 2008 - 3:19 pm

    Wow, zinged by Mr. Silva himself. Hey, Ken, why don’t you try doing some real research once in a while? [warning from blog owner to keep comments civil, thanks] I challenge you to point to one historic creed of the Church that lists one’s view of divine foreknowledge as one of the criteria for orthodoxy.

    The fact is that free-will theism is in many ways more prevalent in church history than a view that points specific sovereignty, meaning God planned everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen. This didn’t come about until Augustine, and later Calvin expanded on it.

    The fact is that, are choices and actions matter. We can and do impact the future. That is both a freeing and scary thought. It is much easier to blame everything on determinism.

  32. #32 by Justin on March 16, 2008 - 8:14 pm

    ….and we have the name-calling and labeling. I agree with Phil on the historical precedence. I’m afraid that to many, the “god” that Ken displays is not the God of the Bible. But I will not go as far as to say that. As much as I disagree with Mr. Silva, I respect his right to have his personal beliefs. I’m sorry Phil that instead of engaging you in gentlemanly conversation/debate (as has been the precedence thus far in this comments section) you get a quick pot-shot from Mr. Silva. IMHO, I feel that Mr. Silva should be banned from commenting on blogs until he allows comments on his own blog. I know that people would have both positive and negative thoughts to convey on his posts, but would also have some good ideas that they could share… also, it adds accountability, questions, and dialog.

    Phil, Nicole, clearly, Rick, I enjoyed the conversation. Thanks for your thoughts.

  33. #33 by clearly on March 17, 2008 - 5:16 am

    Justin, there is a whole site dedicated to commenting on the work of Ken Silva… some people actually spend hours upon hours every day researching his research. it’s called

  34. #34 by Phil Miller on March 17, 2008 - 5:35 am

    …some people actually spend hours upon hours every day researching his research.

    Hardly. An informed person really doesn’t need spend much time at all doing “research” to see that Ken’s attacks are more fiction than reality. I don’t even think Ken has read most of the books he regularly pans on his site. The fact that he associates himself with Walter Martin, who actually did do a lot of good, is shameful.

  35. #35 by Justin on March 17, 2008 - 6:45 am

    I’ll check it out, although I doubt I’ll waste my time on there. There are better conversations to be had with more kind people. But thanks for the info!

  36. #36 by Ken Silva on March 18, 2008 - 6:32 am

    Ah, my research is to be so disrespected. 😦

    Well then, here’s some research from my good friend Dr. Gary Gilley. From Part One of his four part expose on the heresy of Open Theism:

    “Open theism (also known as free-will theism, open theology and openness of God) was, until recently, a little-known stirring on the fringes of the evangelical camp… Traditional or classical theism has dominated not only most of church history but Jewish history as well.”

  37. #37 by Phil Miller on March 18, 2008 - 12:45 pm

    Traditional or classical theism has dominated not only most of church history but Jewish history as well.

    Actually, this isn’t true. A typical Jewish understanding of God was not really like the Greek understanding that Plato introduced. Plato surmised that God was impassable and could not experience any type of change such as emotions. Scriptures present God as experiencing emotions, and describe Him as being living and active.

    There was some debate among Jewish scholars as to what was predestined and foreordained also. When it came down to it, Jewish theologians tended to lean more to free-will theism, and were content to live with the tension that foreknowledge and free will created. Most would be very wary of doing anything that diminished human responsibility.

  38. #38 by Ken Silva on March 19, 2008 - 6:43 am


    Well, so says you. But if it’s all the same to you, I’ll go with the research of men like Dr. Gilley and Dr. John Frame in “No Other God”, his excellent refutation of the non-existant god of open theism. 🙂

  39. #39 by Phil Miller on March 19, 2008 - 9:17 am

    Whatever, Ken. Boyd and Sanders have already debunked those critiques quite handily, but that’s really beside the point. The thing is this. When I read Boyd’s and Sander’s work, they are quite content saying that what they’re presenting is a model or a theory, and that not everyone has to agree with them. They are very upfront that it’s not an issue of primary importance to one’s salvation.

    When I see men like Ware respond, they treat it as if when someone doesn’t agree with them, that person is headed to Hell. That’s just foolishness. There are arguments to be made on both side, and in the end it comes down to which ones a particular person finds most convincing. Personally, I do lean toward the open view, because I find it fits in with the whole of Scripture better. I don’t say that those who disagree with me are heretics, though.

  40. #40 by Michael Dise on June 15, 2010 - 7:51 pm

    Here is a great start at seeing the poetry and parallelism in Genesis 1:

  41. #41 by Ushka Ver on October 12, 2010 - 1:14 pm

    Your study seems to have a presupposed destination. You wanted to believe Genesis 1 is not poetry and you found sources to prove that. You have determined your ground and you are making your stand.

    But I would challenge you. Because it may or may not have been written in a poetic form does not discount its truth. It is our culture which approaches everything scientifically that diminishes truth to only those things which can be deduced by reason and for reason. Many, like yourself have taken this approach to both scripture and theological studies.

    Is a symphony true, only because you can break it down to sound waves? Is there not also truth in the whole of it taken collectively?

    Consider the people Genesis 1 was written for. They were uneducated slaves. They did not understand one iota of science and they were barely civil. They needed laws to keep them from immediately creating and adopting their own little golden calves to worship in superstition. At least a musical people (Moses and Miriam writing songs) they would have been able to recount the story of creation were it somewhat poetic and even set to music.

    I personally can see the poetry of Genesis 1. There is beauty and symmetry in it. It is not a science text book. It says nothing of molecules, atoms, phot0synthesis or any laws of physics. But Christianity does not lose to science because of this. Science does not win.
    This makes it neither more or less truth-full.

    My questions for you:

    1.) You seem angry. Are you angry? Why?

    2.) What is at stake? What do you lose if it is written in the form of poetry? Does that make it untrue for you? Does that discredit God for you?

    3.) What do you win if it isn’t poetry? What does that prove for you?

    I would encourage you to approach the question again, but wrestle with the question rather than move to the safest conclusion to confirm what you need to believe.

    Somehow, the scientific processes that are the foundation of our current world were created by God in Genesis 1. Somehow they got left out of this specific… narrative… poetry… technical manual… whatever genre you want to call the account of Genesis 1. The infallibility of scripture is no less credible because of this. Have faith.

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