The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Why Dispensationalists Can’t Argue for a Young Earth and a Global Flood

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Michael Ruse, Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University, devotes a chapter to the subject of eschatology in his book The Evolution-Creation Struggle.[1] He believes that the interpretive methodology of dispensational premillennialism is inexorably linked to the way its advocates defend their position on creation. Ruse isn’t the first to point this out. I’ve been making the same claim for years. It’s about to catch up with young-earth/global flood creationsists.

Consider the following comments on Matthew 24:34 from Henry M. Morris, a dispensationalist and a founding father of the modern-day creationist movement. The following comments on “this generation” come from his creationist themed Defender’s Study Bible which was first published in 1995: “ The word ‘this’ is the demonstrative adjective and could better be translated ‘that generation.’ That is, the generation which sees all these signs (probably starting with World War I) shall not have completely passed away until all these things have taken place” (1045). Morris describes the use of “this” as a “demonstrative adjective,” but it is better designated as a “near demonstrative” adjective identifying what generation will see the signs. In Greek and English, the near demonstrative (this) is contrasted with the distant demonstrative (that). Greek language specialists make this very point:

Greek grammars and lexicons recognize two demonstratives: near and distant. The near demonstrative, as the name denotes, points to someone or something “near,” in close proximity. They appear as the singular word “this” and its plural “these.” The distant demonstratives, as their name suggests, appear as “that” (singular), or “those” (plural).[2]

The near demonstrative “this” always refers to something contemporary, as the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature makes clear: “[T]his, referring to something comparatively near at hand, just as ekeinos [that] refers to something comparatively farther away.”[3] Prior to his comments in his Defender’s Study Bible, Morris wrote the following extended comments on Matthew 24:34 in his Creation and the Second Coming :

In this striking prophecy, the words “this generation” has the emphasis of “that generation.” That is, that generation—the one that sees the specific signs of His coming—will not completely pass away until He has returned to reign as King.[4] Now if the first sign was, as we have surmised, the first World War, then followed by all His other signs, His coming must indeed by very near[5]—even at the doors! There are only a few people still living from that[6] generation. I myself was born just a month before the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. Those who were old enough really to know about that first World War—“the beginning of sorrows”—would be at least in their eighties now. Thus, we cannot be dogmatic, we could very well now be living in the very last days before the return of the Lord.”[7]

Matthew 24:33 tells us what audience Jesus had in view: “so, you too, when YOU see all THESE things, recognize that He is near, right at the door.” It is obvious, and without any need for debate, that the first “you” refers to those who asked the questions that led to Jesus’ extended remarks (Matt. 24:2–4). Jesus identifies those who will “see all these things” by once again using “you.” If Jesus had a future generation in mind, He could have eliminated all confusion by saying, “even so THEY too, when THEY see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. Truly I say to you, THAT generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” Instead, Henry Morris and others have to massage the text to support a future tribulation period.[8]

Then there is the problem of the way Morris understands the meaning of “last days” in the notes found in his Defender’s Study Bible. He states that “this ‘last days’ prophecy of Joel was fulfilled at Pentecost only in a precursive sense” (1179). Even though Peter says that the events at Pentecost are a fulfillment of what Joel predicted (Joel 2:28–32)—“this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel” Acts 2:17)—Morris argues that “its complete fulfillment must await the time of the end. . . . Thus Peter’s statement: ‘This is that’ (Acts 2:16) should be understood in the sense of ‘This is like that’” (1179).[9] What implications does this have for the young earth-global flood interpretive methodology that is defended by dispensationalists as the most literal interpretation of the Bible?

Ruse demonstrates that evolutionists are beginning to pay attention to the hermeneutical model used by young earth-global flood creationists and how inconsistent they are in their interpretive methodology. How will we ever convince skeptics of the truthfulness of the Bible when it is distorted to defend interpretations where “this” means “that,” and “this is that” actually means “this is like that”? An evolutionist like Ruse may rightly argue that if Morris can make “this generation,” with its obvious first-century meaning, “have the emphasis” of “that generation” (distant future), then why can’t the time element of Genesis 1 (the use of yom= a 24-hour day) “have the emphasis” of long ages of time? Maybe the days of Genesis 1 are just like 24-hour days, given dispensational hermeneutics. If time indicators in the NT are not interpreted literally, then why must they be interpreted literally in the OT? The dispensationalists have a big problem on their hands, and so do the creationist ministries that tolerate their eschatological hermeneutic.

Footnotes:
[1]
. Michael Ruse, The Evolution-Creation Struggle (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005). In the Acknowledgments, Ruse writes: “At a more personal level, I have gained much from the friendship, insights, writings, and criticisms of Ronald Numbers [author of The Creationists] and David Livingstone [co-editor of Evolution, Science, and Scripture]. They showed me that my story would be radically incomplete without sensitivity to the significance of millennial thinking” (319).
[2]. Cullen I K Story and J. Lyle Story, Greek To Me: Learning New Testament Greek Through Memory Visualization (New York: Harper, 1979), 74. “Sometimes it is desired to call attention with special emphasis to a designated object, whether in the physical vicinity or the speaker or the literary context of the writer. For this purpose the demonstrative construction is used. . . . For that which is relatively near in actuality or thought the immediate demonstrative [houtos] is used. . . . For that which is relatively distant in actuality or thought the remote demonstrative [ekeinos] is used.” (H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament [New York; Macmillan, 1957], 127–128, sec. 136).
[3]. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 4 th ed. (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1952), 600.
[4]
. There is nothing in Matthew 24 that says Jesus is going to return to earth to reign as king.
[5]
. Why does “near” mean “even at the doors” for Morris in the twentieth century, but it did not mean “near” in the first century?
[6]. Notice how Morris uses the far demonstrative “that” to refer to a generation in the past. How would he have described the generation in which he was living? Obviously with the near demonstrative “this” to distinguish it from “that” past generation.
[7]
. Henry Morris, Creation and the Second Coming (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1991), 183. Morris died on February 25, 2006 at the age of 87.
[8]. The latest example is found in Tim Demy and Gary Stewart, 101 Most Puzzling Bible Verses: Insight into Frequently Misunderstood Scriptures (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2007), 105–106. There is no mention of the audience reference in Matthew 24:33, just that “The phrases ‘this generation’ and ‘these things’ are linked together by context and grammar in such a way that Jesus must be speaking of a future generation.” This tells us nothing without an actually discussion of the grammar and the audience reference.
[9]
. Thomas Ice argues in a similar way: “But this is [like] that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.” He tries to explain the addition of “like” by claiming that “The unique statement of Peter (‘this is that’) is in the language of comparison and similarity, not fulfillment.” (Thomas Ice, “Acts,” in Tim LaHaye, ed. Prophecy Study Bible [Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000], 1187).
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