Book Write-Up: The Battle for the Beginning, by John MacArthur

John MacArthur. The Battle for the Beginning: Creation, Evolution, and the Bible. Nelson, 2012. See here to buy the book.

Not surprisingly, this book holds to a young earth creationist, literal-historical interpretation of Genesis 1-3.

Here are some thoughts and observations about the book:

A. An argument that John MacArthur revisits more than once is that the six days of creation must be literal days because, if they were long eras, implausibility would ensue in the account. For example, God created plants on Day 3 and insects on Day 6. Plants depend on insects for pollination, so it is implausible to believe that plants existed for millions of years before insects came along and pollinated them. For MacArthur, it is more plausible to believe that Day 3 and Day 6 were literal 24-hour days, for, in that case, the plants would not have to wait a long time to be pollinated. They only waited a few days.

B. MacArthur argues that Genesis 1-3 cannot be reconciled with macroevolution. One argument that he makes for this is that Genesis 2:1-3 affirms that God finished God’s work of creation on the sixth day, then rested. If Genesis 1-3 were affirming macroevolution, MacArthur argues, creation would not have been completed on Day 6 but would have continued afterwards, as animals became more complex and evolved into new species. This argument makes a degree of sense. Genesis 1 seems to be trying to explain how the natural world that the Israelites knew came to be, and this world included aspects of their everyday life, such as cattle. Genesis 1 may very well be saying that God made the creation complete from the outset. Where MacArthur’s argument makes less sense is that, even in his scenario, change and development occurred after creation, for MacArthur acknowledges the existence of microevolution.

C. Overall, though, MacArthur seems to believe that God made all of the species that exist today in Genesis 1. He talks about different animals, with interesting and strange characteristics, and he maintains that they reflect an intelligent and creative designer rather than evolution. For MacArthur, that design had to have occurred in Genesis 1. But there are problems with this approach. Even Ken Ham does not believe that God created every single specie in Genesis 1, but rather that God created kinds, and different species then evolved from those kinds. Could every single specie fit on Noah’s Ark?

D. MacArthur argues that Genesis 1-3 should be taken as history, because why would we accept the stories about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as historical, but not the creation accounts? This is a good question. One response could be that Genesis 1 is poetic, whereas the stories about the patriarchs are narratives, but another idea was swimming in my mind. Perhaps Genesis 1 originally was part of a temple liturgy, as John Walton has implied, and it later came to be deemed to be historical, which was why it was attached to historical narratives. Originally, it may not have been deemed historical, but it came to be.

E. MacArthur observes that God in Genesis 1 created light before making the sun, moon, and stars. The point, he seemed to suggest, is that the world was cold and dark before God created the light. I thought about an argument I heard that Genesis 1 is highlighting that God is the source of the light in order to deny that the heavenly bodies were initially the source of it, as a polemic against pagan worship of the heavenly bodies. MacArthur does not entertain this argument, but what he was saying reminded me of it. The problem with such an argument, in terms of MacArthur’s literal-historical approach, is that it implies that the biblical author made something up to respond to paganism as opposed to relaying what happened. I guess you could say, though, that God at creation foresaw that pagans would worship heavenly bodies and decided to polemicize against that by creating the light before the heavenly bodies. On one issue, MacArthur believes that Genesis 1 is polemicizing against paganism: Genesis 1:21 states that God created seamonsters, who were deemed to be agents of chaos; Genesis 1:21, in that case, is saying that the seamonsters were under God’s control.

F. At times, MacArthur tries to show that Genesis 1-3 is scientifically plausible. He examines different scientific ideas about the origins of the moon and contends that, on a scientific level, they make little sense. He argues that God creating the woman from man anticipates genetics, for male chromosomes (XY) contains the potential for the child to be male or female, whereas female chromosomes (XX) only allow the child to be male. He contends that the cosmos had to have a beginning, and thus an originator, because otherwise it would have run out of energy by now. He doubts that a beautiful order could have statistically arisen from randomness over millions of years. He attempts to reconcile young-earth creationism with the apparent old age of the earth by saying that God created things in an already mature state, rather than young at the outset. He asserts that catastrophism, such as that of the biblical Flood, could have created the geologic strata and fossils, for catastrophic events (i.e., Mount St. Helens) do that sort of thing. MacArthur draws from young earth creation scientists, with whatever strengths and weaknesses their analysis yields. Some of what MacArthur says may be plausible, but scientists who accept evolution will undoubtedly look at what he says and find it to be incomplete in accounting for data and inconsistent with the evidence.

G. As was stated in (C.), MacArthur describes a variety of interesting animals. Essentially, he doubts that they could have originated as a result of evolution. They are too complex, but they also seem to betray a sense of humor on the part of a creator. They evoke wonder. Theoretically, perhaps, such animals could have originated as a result of evolution, for a lot of unusual characteristics can result from species’ attempts to survive. Still, it is tempting to see them as the product of a creator, who has an ironic creativity.

H. MacArthur attempts to harmonize Jesus’s justification for working on the Sabbath—-that the Father works and Jesus works (John 5:17)—-with God resting on the Sabbath in Genesis 2:2-3. Essentially, MacArthur argues that God specifically rested from creation on the seventh day, but that does not mean that God rested from other kinds of work (i.e., providence, sustaining the cosmos, etc.). That could be, but then the question would be why God forbids the Israelites to do any manner of work on the Sabbath.

I. MacArthur states that the fall of Lucifer had to occur sometime between Genesis 1 and Genesis 3, rather than before Genesis 1. His reason is that God in Genesis 1:31 sees that creation is very good, and MacArthur doubts that would have been the case if the evil Satan were around at that point. Satan, for MacArthur, had to originate after God pronounced the creation to be very good. Perhaps, but I think that MacArthur may be overly nit-picky here. God could have regarded his work of creation as good, even if Satan had fallen before God undertook the task of creation.

J. MacArthur engages the question of why Eve was not surprised that the serpent could talk. He says Eve was exploring creation at that point, and it was all new to her, anyway, so she was not surprised to find an animal that could talk.

Like other MacArthur books, this one was a pleasure to read. MacArthur knows how to write in an engaging manner, to explain Scripture, and to draw homiletical lessons from the biblical text. He also engages other thinkers, such as old earth creationist and scientist Hugh Ross. This book did not have as much depth as other MacArthur books I have read—-explaining Scriptural details, addressing questions—-but it did have some of that.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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