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In my conversations with Young Earth Creationists (YECs), I have on occasion heard the argument that I must interpret Genesis literally, otherwise the entire gospel, culminating at salvation, crumbles.

This has always sounded to me like the "slippery slope" argument--if I take the creation account as metaphor, why wouldn't I also take the resurrection as metaphor, for instance?

In this sense, I reject the slippery slope as a logical fallacy.

So beyond the slippery slope argument, what are a YEC's reason for believing that a metaphorical interpretation of the Genesis creation account logically and necessarily leads to a failure of the gospel account?

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Is this a duplicate of Why do Young-Earth Creationists make such a big deal about the YEC view? It's a good question, and was starting on an answer, but I ran across my old answer to this question, and they were close to identical... It doesn't look like an exact dupe in the question, but I'd apply the same answer. I'm not going to VTC as a dupe because I'm too close to it, and it's not clear-cut enough for me. (And I think this is a good question.) –  David Stratton Jul 18 '14 at 22:46
@DavidStratton: It's related, thanks for linking to that question--I hadn't seen it before. But I don't think it's a duplicate. The accepted answer doesn't talk about salvation at all, and your answer only touches on the topic, when it talks about Jesus' treatment of the creation account. –  Flimzy Jul 18 '14 at 22:55
I have found the only appropriate metaphors to apply to the Word of God to render an interpretation of it should be established in the Word of God itself. In this manner, the reader is able to claim that they are taking holy writ in a literal manner insomuch as they are only applying metaphors that the Bible provides for itself. –  Jason L Wharton Jul 23 '14 at 21:18
@JasonLWharton: That seems like a pretty extreme, and unfounded position to me. There are many metaphors used in the Bible that aren't otherwise established in the Bible. –  Flimzy Jul 24 '14 at 21:31
@Flimzy My point is if the Bible actually gives you the metaphor to use then you are able to claim a literal reading of the text because it is completely self-interpreting. Scripture says it is not given to private interpretation so I discourage people from bringing in their own notions that have no basis elsewhere in holy writ. –  Jason L Wharton Jul 27 '14 at 13:47

2 Answers 2

An extremely simple argument for this sense is to consider the following two questions:

Q1. Does the epistle of Romans assume and rely on an essentially literal* interpretation of the fall of man (cf. Genesis 1-3)?

Q2. How foundational is the epistle of Romans to a Christian understanding of the gospel?

It may be possible to argue these points to a certain degree from a non-evangelical perspective, but for the vast majority of YEC's the answers are evidently (and respectively):

A1. Unambiguously yes.

A2. It is critically important - our understanding of the gospel would be seriously undermined without it.

Conclusion: An essentially literal* interpreation of the fall of man (as seen in Genesis 1-3) is critically important to our understanding of the Gospel.

edit: Another issue that occurred to me regarding this: if you do not link (the initiaing of) physical death with the (inital) instance of sin, it significantly undermines what sense came be made of the Atonement in particular** - how can Christ's physical death have any impact on sin and it's consequences if the consequences of sin do not produce physical death (but are just the result of natural processes)?

*by this I mean that the 'essentials' of the story (no death before the fall, death comes as a consequence of the sin of the progenitors of the entire human race) are literal, overly literalistic obsession on minor details is not necessary.

**also (OT) atonement more generally - why should we have "without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins"?

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So this assumes that "death" in Genesis and Romans, means physical death, right? (A view that non-YECs obviously don't agree with) –  Flimzy Jul 19 '14 at 20:18
@Flimzy Almost - it assumes that prior to the fall there was no death of any kind (physical or otherwise) that death (of any kind) came as a result of the fall (in my own reading of things, spiritual death necessarily preceded physical death, which was a later manifestation of the spiritual reality upon the fall). –  bruised reed Jul 19 '14 at 20:24
Thanks. Why that is essential in YEC theology might be worthy of a separate question. –  Flimzy Jul 19 '14 at 20:26
tldr> If Genesis 1-3 is a metaphor, then the Fall is a metaphor, and ergo original sin becomes untenable. Without that understanding of sin, for YECers at least, salvation falls apart. –  Affable Geek Jul 21 '14 at 3:32
Begin a YEC myself, yes, this passage in Romans is the crux. If it isn't true that one literal man sinned, then the argument that "as by one man's sin death entered the world" falls apart. It is also apparent to me that when Jesus refers to God making "male and female" from the beginning and referring to the Genesis passage on marriage that He was affirming the literal creation of a single man and woman. If Jesus was wrong about that we're in trouble. –  davidethell Jul 24 '14 at 18:52

The Issue is the Authority of Scripture and How We Should Read It

Not all YEC think alike, but some of the most compelling arguments I've heard regarding this have to do with why it's desirable to someone to make the account metaphorical. If one is just trying to make the Biblical account harmonize with the latest naturalistic theories concerning the age of the universe (or any other contemporary hot-button issue), then your interpretation (of any portion of scripture) is likely to suffer from a failure to listen (to God). It is seen as placing restrictions on what the passage must mean before you listen to what it's saying. It seems kind of backwards to have a naturalist/materialist tell you how you should interpret the Bible based on conclusions that depend on his invalid assumptions (the non-existence/non-importance of the supernatural).

Though you have dismissed it, the argument goes that if the creation account isn't meant to be taken literally, then there is not a clear place to draw the line as to which parts of the Bible are metaphorical and which are literal. The Genesis account has the style of a historical narrative. Adopting such a exegetical strategy is considered to erode the authority of the Bible because it weakens any defined standard for how to honestly and accurately interpret the text. I don't know about the gospel and salvation crumbling directly from a metaphorical creation account, but the usefulness of the text to the reader suffers if it cannot be assumed that the parts that sound like (literal) historical narrative need not be understood literally.

This is only an observation, not an argument, but in the case of Genesis 1-2, what most metaphorical interpretations I've heard don't do very well is tell you what it actually means. They usually just find a way to work in long spans of time into the account. They don't offer much in the way of explanation for the amount and kind of detail that is recorded. I've seen a lot of exegetical acrobatics employed to explain why it can't be literal, but I haven't heard more than a superficial explanation as to what its metaphorical meaning was to the original audience or to modern readers. It doesn't seem like a very satisfying alternative to read the Genesis account that way. It deprives all but the abstract thinker the ability to understand what's written, and an implicit assumption by a number of literalists is that the God's wishes (and, consequently, the Bible) can be understood by everyone.

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Thanks for answering. I comment, not to start a discussion/argument, but to make sure that your answer is as sharp as it can be. I see what seem (to me) to be blaring weaknesses in your answer. Your answer may address the crux of the issue, but it hinges on a lot of unsupported opinion. Specifically there is not a clear place to draw the line as to which parts of the Bible are metaphorical & The Genesis account has the style of a literal narrative Naturally I disagree with both of these points, and believe I can make strong cases against both of them (as could probably any studied non-YEC) –  Flimzy Jul 19 '14 at 16:36
Your last paragraph also seems to be an argument out of ignorance... "I haven't heard a compelling argument" isn't the same as "There isn't a compelling argument," and is even farther from "My argument is rock-solid." –  Flimzy Jul 19 '14 at 16:37
I offer this link, again, not for the purpose of soliciting debate, but to point out that there are good answers to the "where does one draw a line between metaphor and literal?" and moreover to address your last paragraph--that there is a well-reasoned "why" answer to the creation account. bible.org/article/… –  Flimzy Jul 19 '14 at 16:38
@Flimzy, I've added some links so that my opinions are now "supported," although I don't know if you'll find my support credible. These documents at least provide some means for testing the hypothesis that the text is historical (literal) rather than poetic/metaphorical. Naturally, this is not universally agreed upon, but it is a reasonable conclusion held by a number of YEC's (and perhaps others). Whether or not you can make a strong case against this assertion does not render it unsupported opinion. –  mojo Jul 23 '14 at 5:19
@Flimzy - are you looking for an answer that's personally convincing to you? Or one that is an established YEC view as supported by a group like Answers in Genesis or another similar group? –  David Stratton Jul 23 '14 at 5:28

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