Essay. Genesis 2:5 and the Framework Hypothesis

Advocates of the Framework Hypothesis recognize that considerations of the literary structure of Genesis 1 is not in itself sufficient to establish their conclusion that the narration of the six days of creation in Genesis 1 is topical and figurative rather than chronological and literal. They, therefore, have put forth a supplementary argument based on considerations from Genesis 2:5. Meredith Kline is the originator of the argument, but many others have picked up on it. Mark Futato summarizes it thus:

The [“Because It Had Not Rained”] article demonstrated that according to Gen 2:5 ordinary providence was God’s mode of operation during the days of creation. Since God’s mode of operation was ordinary providence, and since, for example, light (Day 1) without luminaries (Day 4) is not ordinary providence, the arrangement of the six days of creation in Genesis 1 must be topical not chronological.

Kline and Futato contend that Genesis 2:5 provides an important insight into how we are to understand the creation week. Since, on this interpretation, God used ordinary providence (rain) to maintain earth’s vegetation, we should infer from this that ordinary providence was the modus operandi of the creation week. That is, God’s ordinary way of maintaining his creation obtained during the period of his creation of the heavens and earth and was only punctuated at certain intervals by his creative fiats. This being the case, it is obvious, for example, that the creation of light on one day and light bearers on another is a violation of ordinary providence. And so we are not to read Genesis 1 as a chronology of God’s creative works, but as a “semi-poetic” topical arrangement of how God fashioned the world in its present form.

Apart from the literary structure argument itself, this is the most frequently appealed to argument in the Framework Hypothesis literature and is considered by some advocates to be decisive. Indeed, one proponent boldly maintains, “this proof has not been refuted.”

But is this really the correct gloss of the passage? Does Genesis 2:5 teach that ordinary providence was operative during the creative week? That it is not is seen by fact that this interpretation is out of accord with the rest of Genesis 1-3. In Genesis 1:1-2:3 the account of God’s creative works is given, culminating in the creation of man his image bearer. With the creation narrative in the background, Genesis 2:4a introduces a new section that focuses on man and his probation in the garden. Genesis 2:4b begins with the expression, “in the day that” which is a Hebraic idiom for “when.” Thus 2:4b reads: “When Jehovah God made the earth and the heavens…” The author is assuming the creation of the earth and heavens has been completed. With the finished creation in the background the author begins to tell the story of man and the fall.

Rather than plunging right into the story, further detail is given. The first thing we are told about the finished creation is that there were no “plant of the field” or “herb of the field” (ASV). These expressions mean literally wild desert shrubs and cultivated grain respectively. Thus two specific types of vegetation are said to have been absent after God finished his creative work. Framework advocates, however, understand these two specific types of vegetation to stand for all vegetation and from this infer that God’s ordinary providence was the means by which he caused plant life to be sustained. But notice that there is no contextual reason for taking these expressions to refer to all vegetation. Not only are these expressions used together to denote all vegetation, but such a reading conflicts with v. 4b which places the time frame of this text after the finished work creation. And a part of the finished creation was the vegetation that was given as food for man and animals (day 4).

Framework proponents reason that if there was no rain there could have been no vegetation. For it is not just desert shrubs that need water, but trees and plants as well. So context leads us, they maintain, to conclude that all vegetation is being referred to.

Reading on to the next verse shows the problem with this interpretation. There we are told that a spring watered the ground. In other words, there was water, but not water from rain. At the time God finished his creative work and before man had fallen, there was a spring that came out of the ground that watered the surface of the earth. So while there was no rain, there was an abundant supply of water.

Two question are raised at this point. Why were there no wild shrubs of the field if there was a plenteous supply of water? And why was there no cultivated grain? The answer to the former is given in the description of the garden of Eden. Eden was a place of teaming vegetation. Not only would the appearance of wild desert shrubs be out of place in a land that drank deeply from the plenteous water, but desert shrubs are not what is expected in a lavish environment of lush vegetation that is described in Genesis 1:11-12. The reason that there is no cultivated grain partially given in v. 7. There the author tells us that man was created from the dust of the ground. Simply put, there was no cultivated grain because there was no man to cultivate it.

So far, then, the text describes a completed creation. There is a spring coming out of the ground that waters the seed-bearing plants and the fruit-bearing trees and there is a complete absence of desert-type vegetation. With everything in place, the text, in greater detail than Genesis 1, describes the creation man. With Eden prepared, man is placed in this glorious creation that he is to have dominion over.

But why, then, does the text bother to mention the fact there was no shrubs and that there was no cultivated grains? The remark that there were no wild shrubs seems to be a mere piece of trivia while the assertion that there was no cultivated grain seems to be completely superfluous – if there was no man, obviously there was no cultivated plants. That no answer is immediately forthcoming causes the reader to anticipate some sort of explanation. And as we read on we find the man being placed in a garden that filled with beautiful fruit trees overloaded with delicious fruit. Man is given the task of taking care of the garden and is told by Jehovah God that the fruit is for his nourishment and enjoyment, even the fruit of the tree of life. He is forbidden, however, to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and if he does eat of it he will die.

Dramatic tension is thus introduced into the narrative. Everything is good, but there is a potential for disaster. Paradise may be lost. Light is now shed on the previous statement about the absence of cultivated grains. Man is given the task of tending to the mature garden full of fruit trees. Since he has an abundant supply of food there is no need to cultivate grain crops. But what if man ate the forbidden fruit? Would he still enjoy the lush surroundings of Eden and partake of its choice fruit?

The rest of the story is well known. After Jehovah God made women, she was deceived by the serpent and ate the forbidden fruit. When the man and woman hid in shame, Jehovah God asks, in perhaps the most heartbreaking three words in Scripture, “where are you?” In response to man’s disobedience, God curses the serpent, curses the woman and finally pronounces curses upon man. No longer will man enjoy the fruit of the edenic trees. Now he must toil over the recalcitrant soil in order to grow grains that he will make into bread (3:17-19). What was anticipated in 2:5-6 and portended in 2:17 has now come to pass. Whereas in the beginning there was no desert shrubs (thorns and thistles), there now will be. Whereas there was no cultivated grains, man will now have to engage in the backbreaking labor of plowing, sowing, irrigating and harvesting food for his sustenance.

But what happened to the spring? The answer is implied by the cursing of the ground. Many commentators suggest that man will now have to contend with the thorns and thistles as though they were weeds choking out his crops. But this is not quite the point. Rather the land will not be watered as it was before and will thus become arid. From this time forward, the sporadic rain and man-made irrigation will be its only source of water. Only desert shrubs are fit to grow in such an environment. Thus we may infer that Jehovah God has dried up the spring.

The final curse that God pronounces is that man will die. Notice how this is described. “For dust you are and to dust you will return.” (3:19) This takes us again back to the opening section of the narrative where Jehovah God created man from the dust of the ground (2:7). The literary structure is clear. What is anticipated in 2:5-7 comes to pass in 3:17-19. The wild desert shrubs and cultivated grains were not present at the beginning because there was no curse upon the earth. With the fall, the edenic situation no longer prevailed and man is forced to cultivate the cursed ground in toilsome labor.

Advocates of the Framework Hypothesis, thus, miss the point of Genesis 2:5. The verse does not tell us that God used ordinary providence to support vegetation on the earth. It tells us rather that there was a time when man’s labor was not the wearisome task we now know it to be. Consequently, it cannot be inferred from the text that ordinary providence was the modus operandi of the creation week. And this being the case, the strongest argument for the Framework Hypothesis is undermined.

MRB co-authored, Yea Hath God Said: The Framework Hypothesis/Six-Day Creation Debate, with Kenneth L. Gentry

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