Theologizing Pre-History: Implications for Mission
by Ralph D. Winter
Compiled by Beth Snodderly from Winter's numerous articles addressing this topic
Importance to Mission of Pre-History
At first glance, the pre-history of our planet may seem to have nothing to do with mission. However, I assure the reader that, if validated, this interpretation has an urgent and perfectly huge new perspective to add to traditional mission vision. If it didn’t, I would not be the least interested. Why is all this so important? There are two good reasons.
1. One is the fact that most traditional interpretations of Genesis cast doubt on the creation sequence and content of the first chapter of Genesis. The perspective explained here is an honest and exciting new attempt to recognize Genesis 1 as a literal, eye-witness account. It tries to answer questions that have often arisen about the sequence of events in chapter one. Our problem is that most of the world today assumes that both our planet and the universe are much older than 6,000 years and people have pretty much concluded that Genesis is just so much poetry and that it has nothing to do with reality. The grim result, then, is that to all such people the Bible appears dead wrong, when in fact it may be a very accurate description of things, using terms that were understood in that day.
This paper attempts to defend the trustworthiness of the Bible in the eyes of the average well-educated secular person. According to my analysis here we can believe in both an old earth (before Genesis 1:1) and a young “recreated” earth (Genesis 1:1). Neither interpretation implies a rejection of the Bible’s inerrancy. Belief in inerrancy does not mean inerrancy of interpretation. If we insist the Bible says something it was not intended to say—as did Luther and Calvin regarding the earth moving around the sun—we may unintentionally tear down confidence in the Bible. We do not do well to close our minds to the possibility that we have often simply misunderstood the Bible and in the process given it a bad reputation.
2. Another value, that expands our mission vision, is the significance of recognizing the distortion of nature by an intelligent counterforce. Tony Campolo, professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern College, gives us an eloquent case for satanic distortion of creation:
Since Satan’s fall, he and his followers have been at work perverting and polluting all that God created. Before Adam and Eve were ever created, Satan worked to create havoc throughout creation (Campolo 1992, 38).
This distortion includes the continuous assault by the microbiological world on both animal and human life. In my theology, satanic disruption, distortion, and destruction of God’s good creation is so extensive and pervasive that it even extends to what are often called “genetic defects.” I have a strong suspicion that these defects are often actually intelligently evil distortions by Satan, not just things that went wrong accidentally. Why? Because, simply, some of these are so cleverly destructive. The same goes for destructive viruses, bacteria, and especially parasites. These represent incredibly ingenious evil. They represent, I am thinking, the involvement of intelligence. They are not just unguided evolution or, much less, errors in creation. It would seem that God sometimes makes use of such things as forms of punishment but that the evil distortions themselves are not of His direct initiative.
This belated insight would seem to be essential to any truly serious mobilization of believers to fight back against the origins of disease. This, in turn, then defines an appreciably larger concept of mission. Until that recognition of a larger concept of mission is more widespread, the common understanding of the Christian life sees no war going on. In fact, something here is very ominous to me. Today, I see many books and articles about the origin of evil, or about “Where is God When Things Go Wrong?” or “When God Doesn’t Make Sense.” But I can scarcely find any of them attributing all or even some of this disorder and evil to the intentions of a created, evil, counter-being that turned against God.
The perspective explained here refocuses our understanding of Christian mission today, expanding it from an effort to rescue and redeem humanity into a full-blown biblical effort to restore glory to God by destroying the works of the devil. “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). In this war, God is expecting our help. My principal concern in all of this is the distortion we can see in many people’s ideas of God. Pause and consider A.W. Tozer’s statement that “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
The Story: Introduction
If we are really setting out to glorify God, who is constantly blamed for evil, our current concepts of Christian mission work are good but incomplete, and, in fact, are much too narrow. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have purposely designed a parasitic wasp with the express intention that it would feed within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that the cat should play with mice. It would appear to me that Satan is the one who began distorting all of nature—from the Cambrian period on. He stalks the land to this day, his works casting blame on “the God of Creation.”
Opening the 1611 King James Bible we read, “In the beginning God created ... .” During the following 400 years an interpretation has been cemented in the minds of millions of people that conveys the idea that the Bible begins by describing the beginning of the entire universe, not merely the new beginning of the human story. However, not even in 1611 was the universe well understood. It was likely far less clear to the “holy men of God” (2 Peter 1:21, KJV) writing in the days of Genesis. As these holy men of God were moved by the Spirit, they wrote what was intelligible to themselves and to their hearers. In fact, the “known world” of Moses would not have even included the idea of a planet, of a sphere hanging in space. In other words, the common evangelical interpretation of Genesis today—that the universe began 6,000 years ago—may simply be the result of reading later understanding into an earlier text. Such errors are called anachronisms. The error is understandable. However, the very serious result is to force the Bible (unfairly?) to say that the world is only 6,000 years old, and thereby to create the greatest stumbling block to modern man’s trust in the Bible.
Curiously, as long ago as 1958 Dr. Merrill Unger, the chair of the Old Testament Department at Dallas Theological Seminary, taught that “the geologic ages” preceded Genesis 1:1 and that the events of Genesis 1 portray not THE beginning but “a relative beginning” (Unger 1967). His was not a new idea even then, but today it is uncommon. Thus, Unger’s insight is what undergirds the tentative perspective of this paper, namely, that “the geologic ages” took place long before Genesis 1:1.
This “story” is not so much to be believed as it is presented as a matter for hypothesis and speculation. What is attempted here is intended merely to test out the interpretive potential of a basic perspective. It lays out the predominant secular interpretation of the history of the universe, and more specifically the earth and life on earth. In so doing, whenever the phrase “many scientists believe” is employed, I am not affirming but simply describing. It does not give any credence to Darwinian evolution at all. But it does note that there is no necessary conflict with Genesis caused by the secular sequence and time spans, if, that is, Genesis 1:1 does not describe the origin of the universe but rather a new creation in an era of humans in the image of God.
God Is Enlisting Us in a War
This story also attempts to paint an overall picture of the record of life on this planet from God’s viewpoint—and thereby to clarify, to the extent possible, the nature of God’s mandate to man. This will explain my belief that God has sought not merely to list us in a Book of Life, but to enlist us in a struggle, a war, against the works of an intelligent, evil being. There would seem to be very little awareness among Christians today that the Christian life is that of a soldier in a war—a war to conquer evil and destroy the works of the evil one. It would appear that deliberate attempts to glorify God are actions of war, and will likely involve conflict, deception, struggle, injury, and premature death. This story, in effect, presents a rationale for the extensive battle into which we are recruited. We are in a war!
The Story in Four Acts
A Brief Overview of Pre-history and History
1. Matter, about 14 billion BCE
2. Non-predatory Life, 3.5 billion BCE
3. Predatory life, 500 million BCE (the Cambrian era)
4. Dinosaurs, 240-60 million BCE
5. Human life, 10, 000 BCE
a. A new beginning: Non-predatory Life reappears, in Eden (Gen. 1:29, 30)
b. Edenic life reverts to predatory life, mixing with external already-distorted life.
6. Archaic civilizations, 8,000 BCE
7. A new beginning with Noah, 5,000 BCE
8. A new beginning with Abraham, 2,000 BCE
9. A new beginning with Jesus, 30 CE
10. Non-predatory life in the future (Isaiah 11:6— the wolf will lie down with the lamb)
Act I: The Creation of the Universe
Matter, 14 Billion BCE
About 14 billion years ago, many scientists believe, a “Big Bang” occurred, producing the entire universe. When the planet Earth came into existence, all there was at that time, so far as we know, was what is called “the inorganic” world, that is, no life forms. Inorganic matter is itself an amazing world of complexity, consisting of an array of more than a hundred different and internally complex “atoms” and combinations thereof (molecules), plus electromagnetic radiation of many sorts (radio waves, infrared rays, visible light, cosmic rays), as well as mysterious forces such as gravitation and magnetism.
If anything cries out for a Creator, especially in view of the Big Bang theory, the universe does. Consider the swirling disk-like shape of our galaxy, the incredible speed of light, the far faster early expansion of the universe as is now suggested, the planetary realities maintained by gravitation, the delicate balance we are told of, which if gravitation were slightly more or less would reduce all stars to red dwarfs or blow them up into blue giants. It is totally strange and totally mysterious. For various reasons mentioned below, such a creation event does not seem to be what Genesis 1:1 is describing.
Non-predatory Life, 3.5 billion BCE
However, to this already highly complex reality something new was added: life—that is, the “organic” world. Most paleontologists believe that the first tiny life forms began to appear on this planet about three or four billion years ago. For the next 3.5 billion years life forms were still very small.
We can speculate that this astounding slowness of the formation of progressively more complex forms of life may imply that God has for millions of years been doing that work through intelligent, but finite, intermediate beings with free will (angels) who have been following his guidance over a lengthy learning curve. By comparison, it took a century of work with thousands of intelligent engineers to “evolve” the Model T Ford into a Lincoln Continental. It did not happen without intelligent guidance at every point. God may have instructed the angelic intermediate beings over time in the incredibly complex matters of DNA and what we call microbiology. For over three billion years the story of increasing size and complexity of life forms displayed neither predatory life forms nor defensive life forms.
All angels were good at this time.
Act II: The Fall of Satan
The Cambrian Explosion
Then, relatively suddenly, a little over 500 million years ago, the so-called “Cambrian Explosion” took place when, puzzlingly, a vast profusion of new forms of life appeared. Even more strangely and distressingly, paleontologists widely believe, life-destroying forms of life (predators) appeared for the first time as well as forms displaying defensive mechanisms such as spikes and hard shells (Fortey 1998). Prior to this time life forms were not dangerous to each other—in the Ediacaran period just before the Cambrian explosion of life.
Here is a theological question: at this point seven-eighths of the way along in the development of life, when predatory forms of life first appeared, did some of the intermediate beings rebel and begin to distort the good creation God intended? Are these events evidence of what might be meant by Satan “falling”?
This story speculates that this period of rebellion continues to this day and explains why redeemed humans have a mission that is much larger than just redeeming humans, but requires the identification of all evil with Satan, not with God’s “mysterious ways.”
Many Bible expositors are either unaware of, or do not go along with, the fairly recent search for impact craters on the Earth’s surface. This search began in earnest only in 1970 after the first Moon landing unexpectedly revealed that the hundreds of pockmarks on the Moon were not, as had been assumed, volcanic craters but were impact craters (Alverez 1997).
Starting about 600 million years ago, many scientists believe, many asteroidal collisions blotted out life in various parts of the globe, as if in judgmen—my thinking—of the prevailing violence and destructive nature of gruesomely distorted life forms, such as the dinosaurs. Forty-five of the resulting craters that have been found are 15 miles across or larger. The largest, in the Antarctic, is 300 miles in diameter. It is believed to have occurred 275 million years ago, and is estimated to have extinguished 97 percent of all life on Earth. Another large crater, at the north end of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, is believed to have occurred 65 million years ago, and is 100 miles across. It is the one understood to have ended the 100-million-year period of the characteristically violent dinosaurs. Many of these forty-five larger asteroids are understood to have been solid rock, miles in diameter, moving at the speed of a rifle bullet at the moment of impact (Becker 2002, 76-83).
See chart of asteroidal collisions adapted from a March 2002 Scientific American article, "Repeated Blows," on page 170 of IJFM 21:4.
Mammals and Pre-Humans
Following the extinction of the dinosaurs, many scientists believe, mammals came into their own, growing in size to tons of weight, existing virtually unchallenged until intelligent pre-humans began to drive them into extinction. Beginning in 1812, hundreds of thousands of fossil bones of violent animals have been dug up which belong to thousands of now-extinct forms of life. Since these animals cannot be the ones described in Genesis 1, where both animals and man are clearly described as non-carnivorous (Genesis 1:29-30), they must have either come before Genesis or we must assume they were distorted into their violent and carnivorous nature after the Fall of man. The latter possibility would force enormous complexity into the last 6,000 years, including many extinctions. Bones have been discovered for a thousand times as many animal species as survive today.
Specialists in prehistoric fossils have talked for years about pre-human “hominids” reaching back to a million or more years. Cave drawings and arrowheads tell us a great deal about the impressive intelligence of forms of life earlier than humans. We are well acquainted, for example, with the capabilities of the Neanderthals, who are nevertheless no longer considered ancestors of humans due to recent DNA testing. However, although various pre-human forms of life—the hominids and even the Neanderthals—had the opportunity to selectively breed plants and animals, that intelligence did not appear. This may peg the appearance of humans into very recent times, the Genesis events even more recently.
The Appearance of Human Life, 10,000 BC
Nothing that was accomplished by earlier forms of life is as impressive as evidences beginning about 10,000 years ago of the activity of deliberate, determined, patient, intelligent selective breeding of both plants and animals (Zeder and Hesse 2000). Some scholars are now thinking that the appearance of this kind of radically superior intelligence is more significant than the study of fossil bones in determining the time of the first appearance of true humans.
However, despite this early evidence of sudden, unprecedented intelligence, all fossils of human life that far back clearly reflect cannibalism and violence (White 2001, 58), in other words, durable evidence of intentional, evil distortion. The species, Homo Sapiens, has destroyed more living species than any other form of life. Furthermore, no other form of animal life has been as dangerous to itself. Humans are their own worst enemy. The most ancient fossil remains give evidence of both homicide and cannibalism. Humans in the image of God await the Edenic experiment.
Act III: The Edenic Experiment: New Beginnings, and the Fall of Man
Re-creation of a Local Area Left Destroyed and Desolate by an Asteroidal Collision?
To me it would be perfectly logical to understand the Edenic experiment described in Genesis 1 as an accurate description of what happened fairly recently following a large impact whose extinctions were mainly regional. What if Genesis 1:1 does not refer to the origin of the universe but instead refers to the beginning of God’s restoration of a large portion of the earth, such as the Fertile Crescent—the “known world”— following an asteroidal impact? Logically, one of the things God was then counting on is for human beings, created at that moment, to be of help in replenishing the earth. Grammatically and exegetically the opening phrase of the Bible could just as well mean “when God began to (re)create … .” The first chapter of Genesis then does not report “magical” or “mythical” events of which humans did not know, but rather the actual sequence of things following a major but local event.
The immediate result of a major asteroidal collision would have been darkness (due to the immense dust clouds hurled into the air from the impact). Gradually the dust would settle and it would eventually be possible to tell the day from the night but not to see the sun itself. Finally the dust canopy would thin to the point that the sun, moon, and later, the stars, would appear as visible bodies (Becker 2002, 76-83). These verses surely seem to be a restoration sequence rather than a creation sequence. If they are viewed as a creation series of events, many have wondered how the dim light of day would have been created before the sun appeared (Genesis 1:3, 14-18).
Obviously those humans wiped out in this regional impact would not have been able to report this sequence. On the other hand, surviving humans scattered elsewhere could certainly have been actual eye witnesses of the darkness and the gradual reappearance of light, the sun, etc. For example, Egyptian scholars could have retained a record of such observations so as to be a source of information God guided Moses to use in writing the first verses of the Pentateuch—five books intended to help the Israelites understand their identity as God’s chosen people (Snodderly 20141, 68).
Thus, Genesis events may thus describe a new “young earth” period following an immensely long “old earth” period. In any case, the vast majority of all scientists today, if we continue to tell them that the Bible teaches that all forms of life are no more than 6,000 years old, will continue to feel forced to believe that the Bible cannot be trusted.
Undistorted Life Appears in Eden
Genesis 1 then presents the creation of non-carnivorous and non-violent types of life, which we will see again at the end of time, as in Isaiah 11:6 (the wolf lying down with a lamb). Most significant of all would be the new creation for the first time of a special area called Eden, and there a form of life not only with the unprecedented intelligence of Homo Sapiens, but with features undistorted by Satan.
This radically different way of looking at things allows us to understand the appearance of a new, unfallen human being, in the image of God, for the specific purpose of aiding in the restoration of what had already been created and distorted. Are humans intended by God to be soldiers, allied with God and the good angels in the battle against the adversary and his demonic angels? This would be for the purpose of advancing God’s Kingdom, His will on earth, on an enemy-occupied planet.
In any case, the clear implication is that the rampant, destructive violence observable all throughout nature was and is a perversion of God’s original intent and design.
Appearance of Evil in Eden
But no sooner did this Eden experiment begin than the non-human evil being appeared on the scene. Having a 500-million-year “crime record” behind him, ever since his own rebellion, he seduced this new human couple, thus reintroducing violence into the picture. The result has been a human race that is seriously hampered in, and diverted from, its potential role as an ally against that adversary.
Once Adam and Eve were seduced by Satan and turned out of Eden, the “sons of God” (the new type of humans created in Eden in the image of God?) married the “daughters of men” (previously distorted and depraved humans that began 10,000 years ago?). Further, it would seem reasonable that the Edenic type of non-carnivorous animal life, by interbreeding with the distorted, carnivorous life outside of Eden, would gradually revert to the life-destroying carnivorous behavior and genetically distorted gene pools of the pre-Edenic, pre-Genesis 1:1, distorted life.
The new creation thus joined the already corrupted creation which had begun much earlier—at the time of the fall of Satan himself. This would enable us to understand why being “born again” does not change all our inborn wayward traits even though it allies us with our Father in Heaven against hardwired genetic evil within which we still must fight—the sort of conflict we read about in Romans 7. And now the whole creation groans and suffers awaiting the redemption of the sons of God (Romans 8:19, 22). Note that the redemption of all creation somehow depends on the redemption of man.
Other New Beginnings
It is not easy to imagine all of the particular aspects of distortion of the human race resulting from this additional invasion of evil. Eventually, the Bible says, man “was only doing evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). In order to preserve a godly remnant of humans from being swallowed up by the evil around them, God permitted another “natural” disaster as judgment—a flood. Larger forms of life would have been killed by the flood, but a few were preserved by Noah, and then gradually replenished that entire (local) section of the earth.
Out of all this coldness and chaos, this darkness and hopeless evil, one man was selected and commissioned in a fight-back plan which was intended to expand the beachhead of those who are a special part of the family of the good Supreme Being. In Genesis 12 a “covenant” is introduced which becomes the theme of the entire remainder of the Bible. Understanding all this allows us to recognize in the early pages of the Bible (apparently as “The Subject” of the Bible) the full spectrum of the ingredients of the Great Commission in the call of Abraham and the foretold involvement of his spiritual lineage in the redemption of all the peoples of the world. This is parallel to the earlier mandate to Adam to “replenish” the earth, not to continue to destroy all other forms of life. Since Abraham, the gradually increasing insight of humans into the nature of nature has enabled the incrementally accelerated re-conquest of evil which the Abrahamic Covenant set in motion.
Epilogue—Act IV: Wartime: The Kingdom Mission of Followers of Christ
This story has described a great length of time in which Satan has been at work distorting God’s creation, producing the incredible vastness of his corrupting work of which we are mostly unaware. The crucial facts would thus be that 1) we underestimate what Satan has done and is doing, 2) we do not consider it our mission to fight it, and for that reason 3) we very often attribute the works of Satan to God. A Harvard professor quite logically remarked that “If the God of the Intelligent Design proponents exists He must be a divine ‘sadist’ who creates parasites that blind millions of people.” I cannot forget that damaging statement, even though it is alarmingly misinformed. Why can’t the Intelligent Design people admit that some of what they see in nature is evil design, not to be blamed on a good supreme being?)
If Satan exists and opposes God in every way possible, it seems logical that he would have been twisting bacteria into dangerous germs, creating destructive viruses, and inventing extremely clever and deadly parasites like malaria. I don’t think it is God’s angelic work force that is developing new deadly viruses that pull down and destroy the life they had helped develop earlier out of the building blocks of matter that God created. I think we are dealing with demonic angelic forces.
I also think it is important to go one step further and ask the question “What would Jesus have said to his hearers if they had known what we know about germs?” Would He have warned them against perversions of their DNA by Satan? Would He have encouraged them to fight back and not to assume that destructive forms of life were made that way in the original creation by God? Would He have encouraged His hearers to master enough microbiology to be able to restore distorted forms of life to their original state? Would not Jesus have urged His hearers to go all out to discover what Satan has done to produce cancer and to seek to conquer this dread disease that will invade half of all males in this country before they die?
Note that right now Evangelical theology says virtually nothing about all this. Our evangelism may be drastically and unnecessarily enfeebled in so far as it does not portray our God as opposing such things, as well as enlisting redeemed human beings specifically to fight against them. My speculation is that our Gospel would carry far greater conviction if we allied our God on the side of planned opposition to these deadly pathogens, rather than letting this be the exclusive domain of the new gods, “the scientists.”
A larger interpretation of mission goes like this: we have been recruiting people all over the world into God’s eternal family, which is an activity as basic and as significant as you can get. But while our new “recruits” are now all dressed up in their new-life-in-Christ uniforms they do not realize these are military uniforms. Personal righteousness, both “attributed” and actual, would seem to be very thin if it does not turn around and fight evil. Worse still—far worse—is the fact that if we just let the world fight disease, corruption, and violence, God is generally blamed for “allowing” such evils. We are forced to puzzle over evil if we think God is “behind” all evil—instead of “in front”—working good out of evil. This then sets the stage for a radically expanded concept of Christian mission. Disassociating God from the works of the devil becomes then both the means and the end of winning souls to Christ.
Basically, the incredible violence we must fight against in the name of Christ constitutes an all-out war. Thus, all true believers, not just “full time workers,” must be willing to organize against evil, to be creative, and to measure every vocation not by its pay scale, but by its contribution to that war. The scope of the Christian mission that then devolves on every follower of Christ is to seek constantly what is the maximum contribution he or she can make to glorifying God and fighting evil.
It seems very clear that we must recruit people for this war as well as for heaven. If we can’t do both we will ultimately fail at both. This is why the Christian mission is far more complex and demanding than we thought. In this war, God is expecting our help. The recognition of a wartime situation and thus the mobilization of redeemed people in the identification and destruction of deadly diseases as well as deadly delusions. This is a mission to restore glory to God! This is the original “Good News”—the reconquering of evil in all the earth, the restoration of God’s glory, and His glorification by all peoples
Alvarez, Walter. 1997. T. Rex & the Crater of Doom. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Becker, Luann. 2002. “Repeated Blows.” Scientific American 286, no. 3 (March): 76-83.
Campolo, Tony. 1992. How to Rescue the Earth Without Worshipping Nature: A Christian’s Call to Save Creation. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Fortey, Richard. 1998. Life: A Natural History of the 1st 4 billion Years of Life on Earth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Snodderly, Beth. 2014. Chaos Is Not God’s Will. Pasadena: WCIU Press.
Unger, Merrill F. 1967. Unger’s Bible Handbook. Chicago: Moody Press.
White, Tim D. 2001. “Once Were Cannibals.” Scientific American 285, no. 2 (August 1): 58.
Zeder, Melinda A. and Brian Hesse. 2000. “The Initial Domestication of Goats (Capra Hircus) in the Zagros Mountains 10,000 Years Ago.” Science 287, no. 5461 (March 24): 2254-57.