Saturday, November 25, 2006

The framework hypothesis

Recently, the issue of the framework hypothesis as an alternative to a YEC reading of the text came up in the combox. On the one hand, Vern Poythress is not a YEC. On the other hand, he studied under Kline. Here’s how he evaluates the framework hypothesis in his recent book.



The framework view argues that the arrangement into six days shows a correlation between the first set of three days and the last set of three days. On the first three days God creates the various regions of the world, and on the last three days he creates “rulers” over those regions. Thus the sun and moon (day 4) rule over day and night (day 1). The birds and the water creatures (day 5) rule over the air and the water, respectively, both of which derive from day 2. The land creatures (day 6) rule over the dry land, which was created on day 3.

This correlation is indeed suggestive. But it stretches its pattern at a few points. The division on day 2 creates waters above the expanse, called “Heaven,” while on day 5 the birds “fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens” (the sky), but do not seem to be conceived of as “ruling” over the heaven. If the creatures from the last three days are conceived of not primarily as ruling over the regions but as filling the regions, then the plants on day 3 might be reckoned, along with the land animals, as filling the dry land. I think that the correlation between the days is real. But it does not seem to be perfect or so emphatically obvious as to control everything else.

More important, the existence of a structural correlation is still compatible with an underlying chronological progression. The correlation between regions and rulers may build on top of chronological progression rather than repudiating all chronology. In fact, the creatures created on days 5 and 6 require for their well-being the previous existence of the regions that are created on days 2 and 3. Hence, the structural pattern seems to confirm that days 5 and 6 follow days 2 and 3.


The framework view usually appeals to Genesis 2:5-6:

“When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground” (Gen. 2:5).

According to the framework view, the remark about the absence of rain and man implies that there was a fairly long period between the creation of plants (day 3) and the creation of man (day 6) (for why otherwise would one be concerned about whether there was any rain or man?). And it implies that, once plants were created by supernatural action, God would sustain their existence through normal means, including rain and human cultivation.

These observations with respect to plants are then extended in order to conclude that after initially creating any of the various particular creatures, God used ordinary means to sustain them. If God used ordinary means to sustain the oscillation of day and night (day 1), those ordinary means would include the movement of the sun and its shining to provide light. Therefore the events of day 1 must be basically simultaneous with the creation of the sun on day 4. Day 1 and day 4 describe overlapping events from two points of view.

These arguments are suggestive; but I personally am not persuaded. For one thing, there are some difficulties in understanding the picture in Genesis 2:5-6 in detail. The word for “mist” in 2:6 is uncommon, and may possibly denote a spring or a source of water from underground. Irons and Kline argue that it is a “rain-cloud.”2 Whatever may be the meaning, it appears, as Kidner argues, that there is already a lot of water even before the rain.3 Hence, the problem, if there is one, may involve not the absence of water for nourishing plants but an abundance, perhaps even an overabundance. Kidner suggests that in 2:5-6 the narrative is returning to the situation of overabundant water that occurred in Genesis 1:2. The narrative takes away the later developments in order now to tell some parts of the story from the standpoint of God’s purposes as they relate to the creation of man. Hence, the taking away of man and of rain is not really a statement about the presence of ordinary providence during the days of creation, but an invitation to go back again in time to the situation before there was either post-creation providence or a highly ordered creation.

Still another alternative presents itself. The language in 2:5b about rain and man may not be so much a comment on what principles God used in sustaining plants during days 4 and 5, but a comment looking forward to the rest of Genesis 2, where man and the garden will be prepared and an ordinary providential order for sustaining the garden will be in place. In fact, it is quite possible that Genesis 2:5-6 is not talking about the situation in the whole expanse of the earth but is focusing on the situation in the area where the garden of Eden will later be planted.4 Plants had not yet sprung up within this limited area. God is planning a transition to a time when ordinary providence will have its role, and in that context we find a natural mention of rain and man.

Kidner’s view or the focus-on-Eden view may or may not be right. Though some parts of verses 5 and 6 are reasonably clear, its overall thrust is debatable. This very debatability suggests that we exercise caution, rather than putting too much weight on it in the crucial debate about the overall structure of the days of Genesis, which after all belong to Genesis 1:1–2:3 rather than the account in Genesis 2:4–4:26.


Finally, even if the framework view is right in its interpretation of Genesis 2:5-6, those two verses talk about the growth of plants. They say nothing about animals or the sun. The principle in those verses does not necessarily generalize to include all other kinds of providential sustenance for all other creatures. It is still possible that God created light on the first day, and that the light came in some way other than through the shining of the sun. Accordingly, when God creates the sun and moon and stars on the fourth day, these heavenly lights do not produce the initial separation of light from darkness (which occurred already in Gen 1:4) but function as rulers to control and maintain that separation in a regular way. The impression of chronological succession in Genesis 1 has suggested this possibility to a number of interpreters, both ancient and modern.


We must also consider the significance of “two-register cosmology,” as expounded in Meredith Kline’s article, “Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony.” The Old Testament shows us scenes in which God sits enthroned in the midst of angelic servants (1 Kings 22:19-22; Job 1:6-12; Ezek. 1; Dan. 7:9-10; etc.). In Kline’s terminology, such scenes show us the “upper register,” whereas events on earth belong to the lower register.

The idea of God’s heavenly dwelling is indeed taught in Scripture, and was undoubtedly part of the mental furniture of pious Israelites. Moreover, the pictorial comparison between God as king and human kingship belongs together with many analogical comparisons between God and man. The analogical day theory, as well as the framework view, would acknowledge this much.

But in addition Kline says that the days of creation are upper-register days. Does such an appeal to a heavenly register offer a satisfying explanation of time? Here there are difficulties.

First, the existence of an invisible spatial realm in the form of a heavenly scene with angels does not imply the existence of a distinct time dimension with little or no relation to our own. In Job 1:6-12 and 1 Kings 22:19-22, the events within the two spatial realms seem to mesh seamlessly within one time continuum. God makes decisions in heaven, and these are then executed on earth. There is doubtless much mystery here, and the mystery ultimately goes back to God’s incomprehensibility and his eternity. But the depiction in Scripture does not suggest that we need to postulate two distinct created time dimensions, each linked to a distinct created spatial realm. Rather, the power of the depiction depends on our seeing that a tight correlation exists between God’s commands in the heavenlies and their execution on earth. This correlation is depicted as being temporal. God issues a command, at an earlier time, and then it is executed by an angelic being on earth, at a later time.

Second, though Kline finds hints of theophany and an angelic council in Genesis 1:2 and 1:26 (“us”), their significance is debatable. (The heavenly cherubim also appear in Genesis 3:24.) The throne room picture does not play a prominent explicit role in Genesis 1, though it has a bigger role (by way of allusions) in Psalm 104:1-4. We must accordingly be cautious about overplaying its role exegetically in Genesis 1.

Redeeming Science Crossway Books 206), 341-45.


  1. Interesting critique of the framework theory. I personally go back and forth on this issue. I think at the very least we can conclude that the creation account has the chiastic construction of
    A-B-C-A-B-C. i.e. Day 1&4 Day 2&5 and Day 3&6 parallel. But as to whether those days are one and the same I'm not biblically sure of as yet.

    I would also conclude that 7th day is unique being everlasting for God (note: omission of an "evening and morning") but from Adam perspective it was a literal 24 hour day that was to serve as the covenant Sabbath.

    Finally I agree that the upper-register idea is taken too far with Kline with the days being viewed through the upper cosmogony.


  2. :::SNIZ!!!!:::

  3. All things are known, and there will be a judgement.

  4. I've emailed Lee Irons to see if I can get him involved in this post.