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Educate Truth? (Part One)

Under the somewhat pretentious title, “Educate Truth,” a movement seeking to reign in academic freedom in Adventist higher ed is gaining momentum on the Internet. Many proponents of the “Educate Truth” movement have added their name to a petition addressed to Adventist church leaders. Along with their cyber-signatures, some petitioners have added comments. The following are typical remarks:

    I hope that we can take the Bible for what it says. If we cannot trust what the Bible tells us concerning creation, how would this affect our stance on other issues. We must uphold the truths in the Bible. -Burney Culpepper
    I believe God says what He means and means what He says, beginning with Genesis Chapter 1. -Michael Calcagno
    Can we not see the slippery foot prints of the serpent here. I raise my voice in concern. -Elder Tom Rudnik
    Dear Pastors, Please teach the truth and the truth only. -Douglas Schappert
    Let us be sure that we are never misleading anyone in what God has clearly told us in His word. -Mirtha E. Duthil
    Please let me hear that we are going back to the foundational Biblical truths. –Michael Wilson

Slippery serpent footprints aside, the consensus among these concerned Adventists and many others is that Adventist institutions should be teaching Bible truth. The question that none of them answers satisfactorily, or even addresses adequately, is this: “Which truth?”
The impression that the comments give is that Scripture speaks with a singular voice, and with perfect agreement throughout. The truth is that, starting with creation, Scripture is far more nuanced and complex than a perfunctory reading would suggest. The truth about creation is that there are two concurrent accounts whose narratives are remarkably dissimilar.
In Genesis 1, God (’Elohim) is the cosmic creator of the heavens and earth. The Genesis 1 backdrop is the cosmos, and in this account, God is a voice calling creation into being and a spirit hovering above the waters. In this version of the story, God gives every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it to the humans for food. The highly structured six-day creation in Genesis 1 ends when God creates the humans on the sixth day, after the plants have already covered the dry land. In this account, God creates the birds and beasts by speaking. In Genesis 1, humanity is tasked with dominion over the fish of the seas and the birds of the air—over all of creation. In Genesis 1, God creates both male and female together.
In the Genesis 2 & 3 account, the Lord God (YHWH Elohim) is the terrestrial ruler of Eden. The Genesis 2 & 3 backdrop is a garden, and in this account the Lord God is a humanoid deity who walks around, forms things with his hands, fashions clothing from animal skin, and comes as close to playing hide-and-seek as does any deity in history. In this version of the story, God allows the human to eat from any tree within the confines of the garden–except one. The loosely structured creation narrative unfolds seemingly unaware of time, perhaps within a single day. In this account, the human appears before plants have appeared on the earth. In this account, God forms the birds and beasts out of the ground like the human. In the Genesis 2 & 3 narrative, the human is tasked with care of the garden. In Genesis 2, the male human is alone, and in need of a mate.
Faced with such consequential departures, many who have noticed the dissimilarities attempt some sort of amalgamation of the two accounts–a mashup of biblical proportions. But attempting to fuse the two stories into one overlooks the clear ideological and linguistic differences between them. There simply are two different creation stories in Genesis, and they frequently diverge.
This is nothing new for Adventist scholars, of course. In volume one of Introducing the Bible, published in 1997, Walla Walla College (now University) professor Alden Thompson addresses the discrepancies between the two accounts, but concludes that the main point is that God creates.
Angel M. Rodriguez, director of the Biblical Research Institute, acknowledges the recognition among Adventists of two divergent narratives in his reflection on the creation-evolution discussion on the BRI website.
Writing in the Adventist Review, Robert H. Brown, former director of the SDA Geoscience Research Institute, raises questions of authorship of the two apparently different creation accounts in Genesis.
Loma Linda University professor emeritus Dalton D. Baldwin discusses the variances in creation chronology between the two accounts in Understanding Genesis: Contemporary Adventist Perspectives (45-46).
In a 1985 presentation during the Conference on Geology and the Biblical Record, hosted by the Association of Adventist Forums, Frederick E. J. Harder contrasted the creation sequences in Genesis 1 and 2, noting key differences. His paper was published in the 2000 tome, Creation Reconsidered: Scientific, Biblical and Theological Perspectives, as a chapter entitled “Literary Sctucture of Genesis 1:1-2:3: An Overview.”
Clearly, Adventists are aware of–even at home with–the plurality of understandings of creation present in Scripture. However, among those clamoring for the teaching of Bible truth, the failure to address the two widely differing versions of Bible truth in creation is a massive omission.
Genesis is unsure what to call God. It is not certain if God is cosmic creator or terrestrial craftsperson. Genesis can’t say for certain whether it took six days or one. Genesis hedges on whether they are voice-activated animals or hand-crafted creatures. Genesis doesn’t know whether God gives humans every plant on earth for food or imposes a strict diet of garden fruits only. Genesis cannot decide if the human is ruler over the whole earth or the caretaker of the garden. Genesis is ambivalent about whether the human came before the plants or after them. Genesis doesn’t know whether the male and female are together when God creates or if the male is alone in need of a mate.
Some people will try to insist that the discrepancies are dismissible, but the text itself disagrees. And so for the sake of fairness to those whose jobs we seek for “not teaching Bible truth,” we should at the very least be honest about the diversity of Bible truths that fellow believers find true.

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