Genesis creation account
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Different interpretations of the Genesis creation account have been proposed. The views considered in this article are those which deal specifically with the text of Genesis 1 and 2. It is not the main aim of this article to handle concerns dealing with scientific issues.
Almost all views of the opening of Genesis consider the natural division of the text to come to an end at 2:3 or 2:4a; for this reason, when referring to the creation account of Genesis 1, the discussion in fact has in view the entire passage of Genesis 1:1-2:3 or 4a.
Monotheism of the account
“The Genesis account differs markedly from the other cosmogonies in its assumption of monotheism. There is a single Creator, and no other gods are involved in the creative acts, either as helpers or as opponents. There is no primeval goddess, so the model of procreation for the creative process has no place in the account. It is also notable that there is no theogony as a preface to cosmology. The existence of the Creator is assumed, and there is no attempt to explain it. There are no lesser gods whose coming into being needs explaining. Some scholars think that the plural in Genesis 1:26 (“Let us make “¦”) is a remnant of an earlier polytheistic account. However, they agree that this is not the significance of the plural in the account as it stands. Most take it as either an address to the heavenly council (Wenham) or as a plural of self-deliberation (Westermann).” (T. Desmond Alexander, David Weston Baker, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, p. 135)
General approaches to the text
Scientifically accurate theological text
“Throughout the narrative, the God-revealed and real cosmogony (as opposed to merely literary, analogous, anthropomorphic, or didactic cosmogony) is the vehicle by which Moses wages war against the heathen worldviews of the day while buttressing the convictions of the Hebrew people. If we analyze the text fairly, we cannot ignore or relegate to a secondary status the cosmogony it contains. Cosmogony is central in every way.”^^ Within this view there are two major positions concerning the issue of the meaning of “day”.
Actual 24-hour day view
“The 24-hour view holds that God created the universe and all life in six sequential natural days marked by evenings and mornings. According to this view, God created the universe and all life in approximately 144 hours and in the sequence presented in Genesis 1.”^^
In addition to arguing from the internal evidence of scripture, proponents of this view point to church history. J. Ligon Duncan and David Hall write,
“While one may find in the record of historical theology a small smattering of orthodox theologians who approached the days of Genesis as something other than normal days, he will not find detailed debate over this matter until the sixteenth century and will seldom find debates between orthodox divines arguing for and against the days as long ages until the nineteenth century.”^^
“The day-age view… agrees with the 24-hour view that the events recorded in Genesis 1 are sequential. The day-age view, however, parts company with the 24-hour view regarding the length of the creation days. According to the day-age view, God did not create the universe and all life in six 24-hour days, but in six sequential ages of unspecified, though finite, duration.”^^
Hugh Ross and Gleason L. Archer argue that “a sinless Adam could not finish his sixth-day duties” in a mere 24-hour period^^, and that part of God's Sabbath rest is ceasing to introduce new kinds of life forms.^^
On the Church Fathers, they write,
“Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Lactantius, Victorinus of Pettau, and Methodius of Olympus all explicitly endorse six consecutive thousand-year periods for the Genesis creation days… Though uncertain about the duration of the creation week, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Augustine explicitly rejected the 144-hour notion.”^^
Non-scientific figurative theological text
This view, also called the “framework view”,
“holds that the days of Genesis form a figurative framework in which the divine works of creation are narrated in a topical, rather than sequential, order. This view holds that the picture of God completing His work of creation in six days and resting on the seventh was not intended to reveal the sequence or duration of creation, but to proclaim an eschatological theology of creation.”^^ The view takes the authorial intent of Genesis 1 to be theological rather than scientific and his organization of the material to be thematic rather than chronological. In this view, scientifically inaccurate views on cosmology did not find expression in the text. The interests of the author of Genesis lie not with providing an ordered account of the creation so much as the drawing out of themes and the development of theology. This view agrees that many of the parts of the text are “literal”, but it takes the complete account as figurative^^ or symbolic.
The main evidence given for this view is a two-triad view of the six days of creation, the relationship between day 1 and day 4, the figurative nature of the divine Sabbath day which lasts forever, and the heavy use of anthropomorphic language.
Some evangelicals of this view focus on a cosmic temple creationism motif (see section below). G. K. Beale writes,
“[S]ome evangelicals believe that the Old Testament borrows mythological beliefs about the cosmos that are clearly incompatible with modern scientific knowledge… [T]hese cosmic portrayals that some believe to represent ancient mythology and ancient naÃ¯ve scientific views are, in reality, better understood as symbolic depictions of the cosmos as a massive temple where God dwells. Such a perspective does not intend to convey ancient or modern scientific views or mythological views of the world but rather a theological conception about the heavens and earth as God”™s dwelling place.”^^
God communicated theology (i.e. about giving function and order to cosmos) through culture's scientifically naive worldview, and this worldview found expression in the text in a way that does not compromise the message. John Walton writes,
“If we think about the example of creation texts, we realize that if God were to reveal his work of creation in our modern culture, he would have to explain how it related to the Big Bang theory or to evolution. His revelation would focus on the origins of the physical structure of the universe because that is what is important in our cultural perspective. In the ancient world, though, physical structure was relatively insignificant. People at that time were much more interested in the aspect of bringing order out of chaos and the divine exercise of jurisdiction demonstrated in giving everything a role and a purpose. In this context, any account of origins would of necessity have to be presented with these ancient ideas in mind. “The biblical text, in other words, formulated its discussion in relation to the thinking found in the ancient literature. It should be no surprise, then, if areas of similarity are found. This is far different from the contention that Israelite literature is simply derivative mythology. There is a great distance between borrowing from a particular piece of literature (as has been claimed in critical circles) and resonating with the larger culture that has itself been influenced by its literatures. When Americans speak of the philosophy of 'eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,' they are resonating with an idea that has penetrated society rather than borrowing from the writings of Epicurus.”^^
Old Testament view of the cosmos
Describing ANE portrayals in the “recent escalation and profusion of ancient Near Eastern studies”, G. K. Beale writes,
“Accordingly, Old Testament writers”™ minds were shaped by the typical language and conceptions of the world that were a part of the overall way of thinking in their ancient culture. The universe was commonly understood as a composition of three tiers: the heavens, the earth, and the netherworld. The significant features of each of these parts include the following: (1) the earth was composed of only one continent that had mountains at its perimeters to hold up the sky; (2) the sky was a solid mass, a tent or dome, which separated the earthly seas from the heavenly sea that was just above the dome; (3) deities dwelt in the heaven above the earth; (4) the heavens were a composition of three or more levels with pavements of different kinds of stone; and (5) the earth was understood either to float on or be surrounded by cosmic waters or to be supported by pillars.”^^
Solid dome or atmospheric expanse?
G. K. Beale explains,
“Some believe that the [raqiya] was rock-solid and formed a dome over the earth, reflecting the ANE mythological viewpoint without any qualification or critique… For example, P. H. Seely argues for such a view in an article published in the Westminster Theological Journal. He contends that the [raqiya'] in Genesis 1:6, 14, 17, 20 and in Ezekiel must be considered solid since this was the common ANE view, both from the mythological perspective and from the viewpoint of the ancient common person.”^^ G. K. Beale, opposing this view, writes, “[W]e just do not know that all ancients believed the sky was a solid dome or that there was anything near unanimity on this point.”^^ Hugh Ross also takes exception to this view of the expanse.^^
Other textual issues
The Hebrew word yom for “day” in the creation account, can mean many different things depending on the context that it is used, just like any word in any language.
- It can mean a 24-hour period of time
- the bright part of it (as in “day and night”)
- an extended period of time (Gen 2:4)
This principle is true even in the English language, as in “In my father's day (period of time) it took three days (24 hour-days) to drive across the state during the day (bright part of a 24-hr.day)”.
The creation account defines a “day” as morning and evening, as in v. 8: “…and there was evening and there was morning, a second day.” Outside the book of Genesis, whenever “day” is accompanied by a number or by the terms “evening” or “morning”, it always refers to a 24-hour day. Additionally, the fourth commandment of the Decalogue (Exodus 20:8-11) makes reference to the Genesis creation account and instructs the Israelites to imitate God's pattern of work and rest:
“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; … For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.” They were commanded to work “six days” (that is, six 24-hour days) because God made the heavens and the earth in “six days”. Prima facie, six-day creationists hold, it is natural to interpret Genesis 1:1-2:3 as teaching that God created everything in six, 24-hour days. The biggest obstruction to this argument is that Hebrews 4 suggests that the seventh day is not in fact a simple 24-hour day, but rather began after God's six days of creating and continues unto the consummation (Meredith Kline, Kingdom Prologue). Additionally, critics say, the genre of the creation account has bearing on how it and its component parts should be understood.^^
Gap implied between verses one and two?
The gap theory maintains that an indefinite span of time exists between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. This time span is usually considered to be quite large (millions of years) and is also supposed to encompass the so-called “geologic ages.” Proponents of the gap theory also suggest that a cataclysmic judgment came upon the earth during this gap period resulting from the fall of Lucifer (Satan). Therefore, they would say, the ensuing verses of Genesis chapter 1 describe a re-creation or reforming of the earth from a chaotic state and not an initial creative effort on the part of God.
Soli Deo Gloria
- “‘ J. Ligon Duncan III & David W. Hall in The Genesis Debate, p. 26
- “‘ David G. Hagopian in The Genesis Debate, p. 16
- “‘ J. Ligon Duncan III & David W. Hall in The Genesis Debate, p. 22
- “‘ David G. Hagopian in The Genesis Debate, p. 16.
- “‘ Hugh Ross and Gleason L. Archer in The Genesis Debate, p. 74.
- “‘ Ibid., p. 75
- “‘ Hugh Ross and Gleason L. Archer in The Genesis Debate, p. 69.
- “‘ David G. Hagopian in The Genesis Debate, p. 16.
- “‘ For example, the parable of the sower is made of literal elements, but the story as a whole means something other than simply what is pictured.
- “‘ G. K. Beale, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority, p. 219. Crossway, 2008.
- “‘ John H Walton, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Old Testament) Volume 1: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), viii.
- “‘ G. K. Beale, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority, p. 162. Crossway, 2008. Attached footnote reads, “This summary of ANE portrayals of the cosmos is dependent on John Walton”™s recent summary of these parallels, who cites the main primary and especially secondary sources discussing the parallels in Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 165″”78.”
- “‘ G. K. Beale, The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority, pp. 197-198. Crossway, 2008.
- “‘ Beale, p. 198. For his larger argument, see pp. 198-205.
- “‘ See episode from the 6/15/2004 “Reasons To Believe” radio show: What about the Eastern idea of a “metallic dome” at creation?”; “Was the biblical creation account taken from earlier (e.g. Sumerian) accounts?”; and “Is the 'dome' model repeated through the Bible?” (Real Audio)
- “‘ Also important, John Walton writes, is understanding how genres operated in ancient times: “Some genres will operate differently in the ancient world than they do in our own culture, so we must become familiar with the mechanics of the genres represented in the ancient Near East.” (John H Walton,Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Old Testament) Volume 1: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), viii
- Peter C. Bouteneff, Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives. Baker Academic, 2008. ISBN 9780801032332
- J. Ligon Duncan III, David W. Hall, Hugh Ross, Gleason L. Archer, Lee Irons, and Meredith G. Kline. The Genesis Debate: Three Views on the “Days” of Creation, edited by David G. Hagopian. Global Publishing Services, 2000. ISBN 9780970224507