Vonk on Genesis 1 (1)

Cornelis Vonk (1904-93) was a pastor in the Reformed churches in the Netherlands who initiated a multi-volume commentary on both the Bible and the Reformed confessions entitled De Voorzeide Leer (The Aforesaid  Doctrine). What follows is taken from Volume 1a (pp.98-102) which deals with introductory matters and Genesis-Exodus. It usefully illustrates how Dutch Reformed pastors and theologians commonly approached questions of science and Scripture without resorting either to liberalism or fundamentalism. The following translation is courtesy of Dr. Al Wolters, one of my beloved professors from Redeemer University College, and was first published in Calvinist Contact (January 18, 1991: pp 12-13).

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The author of Genesis may have expected his readers to have little difficulty in understanding him, but subsequent readers of the first page of the Bible have had difficulties aplenty. This was already the case in a time and in a country that were not even so very far removed from the time and the country of the apostles.

The author and first readers of Genesis 1 were undoubtedly people of ordinary intelligence and therefore must have realized that the light which they enjoyed every day really came from the sun, which was not created until the fourth day; yet they had no problem with the fact that the creation of light is already mentioned on the first day.

Similarly, Christ and his apostles never issued any warnings against the first page of “Moses and the Prophets” because it contained something that didn’t quite fit. Nevertheless, as early as the Syriac church fathers there were those who had difficulty with Genesis 1 because they could not understand how there could have been evening and morning before there was a sun that rose and set. Consequently, they devised a number of different solutions to the problem.

However, in subsequent ages the problems have become more acute as a result of reflections on the age of the universe, especially that of the earth. As astronomers investigated the universe with its immense masses and volumes, distances, temperatures, numbers, its concentration here and its emptiness there, they became acquainted with such awesome dimensions, both of space and time, that their greatest astronomical yardstick, the so-called cosmic year (the time it takes for the sun to circle the centre of gravity of our galaxy) was hardly sufficient to measure these dimensions. As for geologists, especially the paleontologists among them, who did research on the earliest time of the earth’s existence, they could come to no other conclusions than that the length of time which had elapsed between the first life on earth and the arrival of the human race must have been by far greater than just a few days.

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