We received the following question from George van Popta on 15 April.
I have a question about Jitse's CC interview. [Here George refers to Bick (2009) in our 'collected papers'; direct link here.] If I understand it well, Jitse is reported as having suggested that man and chimpanzees may have had a common ancestor. My question is: How does that square with Article 14 of the Belgic Confession where we say, 'We believe that God created man of dust from the ground'?
Here is my response:
Article 14 of the Belgic Confession reads: “We believe that God created man of dust from the ground and He made and formed him after His own image and likeness, etc.” Commentaries reveal that the meaning of ‘dust’ ranges from dust to earth, to clay. As a minimum the meaning for the original audience as well as for us includes (1) and (2):
(1) Plants, animals and man are made of the same stuff because all of them are said to have been created from the ‘dust’ or from the ‘earth.’
Gen. 1:11: “Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees”
Gen. 1:24: “Let the earth bring forth living creatures”
Gen. 2:7: “then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life”
Gen. 3:19: “So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air”
To be sure, one cannot appeal to the fact that plants, animals and people were made from the same stuff in support of any form of biological evolution. That would be a clear distortion of the meaning of the text and, therefore, out of line with the intent of the Author not to give scientific information.
(2) Plants, animals and man are not divine as surrounding pagan creation stories had it.
Comparison with creation stories from the surrounding pagan cultures reveals the polemical intent of the creation story in Genesis. Whereas in pagan stories man is made from something divine, in the biblical story man is made of dust from the ground, meaning that man is not divine. That is, in Genesis 1 and 2 the fundamental distinction between Creator and creature is revealed.
I am not sure why you think there is something to square between Article 14 and the idea of a common ancestor for chimpanzees and humans, but let me make a guess. Some have taken Gen. 2:7 to mean that God acted like a potter. If you take that literally you might see a contradiction with the idea that chimpanzees and humans have a common ancestor. But other biblical scholars reject the literal ‘potter’ interpretation because they see this as coming close to disrespect: Did God fashion the liver, the lungs of clay? My conclusion is that the text neither justifies nor excludes the possibility that humans and chimpanzees had a common ancestor for the obvious reason that it is not a scientific text. Therefore, there is no need to square it with Article 14 of the Belgic Confession.