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Wine Before its Time (Snoke and Mirrors, part 1)

February 19, 2007

Early on the morning following the wedding, you take the item and wrap it carefully in your cloak. Your journey will take you many miles from the town of Cana, but you are very fortunate that the brother in law of your best friend’s cousin is the most renown expert in the art of winemaking this side of Jerusalem, and he is a mere two hours’ ride by donkey. He will surely get to the bottom of this mystery.

Arriving at his home, you introduce yourself and explain the purpose of your journey. Bemused he is that one would travel so far with such fervor just to have his opinion on a little bit of wine, but he is always happy to hold forth on his favorite subject, and yes he would gladly provide you with the benefit of his opinion.

You produce a small flask, and he is at once struck by the deep regal color. Removing the stopper, he is charmed by the heady aroma which fills the room. Pouring a small amount into a glass, he swirls it, observing the subtle interplay of iridescent hues in the fruity vortex. Gently wafting the glass before him he inhales the fragrance, and then ventures a taste. His eyes betray a wonder, no, an awe, at what his palate is savoring. Another sip, and he is lost in admiration, pondering the wonder that this unexpected visitor has carried with him this forenoon.

“You ask me to judge, perhaps to identify this wine. I confess, I cannot, and to this moment I thought myself intimately acquainted with every wine known in this half of the empire. It is I who must beg of you to tell me the origin of this heavenly liquid, for I have tasted nothing so exquisite in these two and forty years in my art. It has a boldness that is yet in harmony with gentleness and a certain insouciance. Hints I detect of pomegranate and frankincense, with a suggestion of lilly of the valley.”

The morning moves into midday and early afternoon, and still the old man muses over the content of his cup, lovingly savoring it drop by drop. He invites you, his new very dear friend, to dine with him, and over his simple but tasteful fare, he elocutes regarding vintages he has known, the culture of grapes, favorable seasons for the production of sugar and its early fermentation. “If I had to venture a guess,” he dares at last, “I would say its excellence most closely recalls a 23 from the slopes of Carmel, or perhaps a 27, but this wine has clearly aged beautifully, and a twenty-seven would not allow for this.”

“You say the wine has definitely been aged?”

“Oh, unquestionably, young man. Without the slightest doubt it could not be less than seven years of age. Its complexity–a certain maturity, I might say profundity–are unmistakable signs. Yes, of this you can be sure. I’d stake my reputation on it.”

“Why, sir, what would you say if I were to tell you that this wine never existed prior to yesterday evening?”

His face darkening, a storm cloud passing over it, he replies, “I would say, young man, that it is an unseemly thing to mock an old man–and one’s host.”

Your assurances of sincerity, your fervent assurance that you are in earnest, your most enthusiastic retelling of the wonder you witnessed only the night before can do nothing to persuade the expert. You, a servant in attendance at the wedding in Cana, you saw the man from Capernaum transform water into–this wine–yesterday. Yet, nothing in art nor science will give credence to your ridiculous claim. It is scientifically impossible.

The preceding is my parabolic way of of introducing a discussion stimulated by A Biblical Case for an Old Earth by David Snoke, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Pittsburgh and an elder at City Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA). He takes a “day-age” approach to the Genesis creation account, which allows for what he finds to be convincing scientific evidence that our world is millions of years old. He chiefly takes issue with certain voices within the “young-earth” creationism movement.

Intriguing as his argument is, I do not think that his conclusion comprises the best solution to the problem. While I do not find myself within the school of thought that makes up his primary conceptual opponents, I do favor a more traditional six-day creation. There is much that ought to be said, however, in reaction to his work, and God willing, I will offer my thoughts in a series of posts.

My somewhat anachronistic illustration of the water-become-wine is intended to pinpoint what I believe to be the central error in Professor Snokes’ reasoning. We are not told much about Jesus’ wine except that it was the best of the wedding feast (John 2:10), though I have imagined it as celestial. Whatever its qualities, it came to be in an instant, though surely nothing in science, no spectroscopy , no chemical analysis, no electron microscope could have confirmed its true age.

The previous chapter in John recalls one of Jesus’ earlier works, the universe. To what extent the cosmos was also fashioned pret a porter we are not informed in detail, though Snoke does recognize that in Adam we are presented with an adult male in the prime of life, who moments before had been a pile of dust. It was the chicken, accordingly, that came first, not the egg. In fact if I understand Snoke correctly, he would agree that every species of living thing in its initial creation appeared by fiat in full maturity, old-seeming, though eons of time separate such divine acts.

Snoke makes room for this concept, a bit late in his conceptual game in my opinion. He refers to it as an “appearance of age,” a idea which he considers to have intellectual respectability, though he takes a different view. In fact his treatment of the word “appearance” remains somewhat dismissive throughout his book, yet he never truly deals with the idea, except to make a few disobliging comparisons.

In fact though nodding to the notion, he fails to recognize its true import. It remains, however, the fly in his concordantist ointment. Why I assert that this is so I will develop, D.V., in my next post.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    February 21, 2007 8:13 am


    My copy has been shamelessly hi-jacked for several months by my other St. Marks buddy, so I’m going by feeble public school memory, but, as I recall, Snoke says a six-day appearance of age view is the only other viable possibility, in his estimation. So, I wouldn’t characterize that view as dismissive; he simply does not elaborate on it much, as he doesn’t so many other things- it’s a short overview view book designed to make, as I understand it, two points: scripture (which he happily confesses is supreme) allows, maybe even suggests a long creation; ORDINARY science demands it. Putting it all together, a long creation understanding makes the most sense.

    Jesus turned the water into wine instantly, and who, you ask, could see the prints for how He did it? Perhaps nobody, but the same is not the case for the creation of the universe. Does it mean anything that Moses recorded creation over six days, instead of instantaneously? Augustine rejected six days for the very reason that God did not need six days, He would/could have done it like wine. Or, He could have done it over lots of years. In other words, since it wasn’t instantly, and since the foot prints of creation are readily observable and strongly suggest something else, I think you should admit the limitations of the water into wine comparison.

    If his view is correct, it would actually honor God, and His Word, more than an erroneous view. I look forward to reading, if not having the time or expertise to capably respond, to your future posts.


  2. February 21, 2007 2:02 pm

    I think his attitude in the use of the term suggests he thinks it is finally unworthy of serious consideration, even if it is possibility. Perhaps I misread him. I do not think that Scripture in any way SUGGESTS a long creation. “Ordinary” science demands it? I agree, if by “ordinary” science you mean naturalistic. Snoke (I almost typed Skopes, how’s that for a Freudian slip!) calls for “concordantist” science, however, not “ordinary” science…You fix on “instantly” and contrast this with six days. Actually I don’t know whether Jesus’ wine didn’t bubble and squeak for several minutes…and so not be technically “instantaneous.” However, individual elements within the six days seem to be instantanous. (indeed even individual elements within Snoke’s age-days are instantaneous). The point is that it was old-looking young wine. But read my second post for my elaboration of this point.

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