November 22, 2017

Another Look: My View of Genesis 1

Another Look at a Post…
By Chaplain Mike
From March 27, 2010

My interest in the first chapters of Genesis began to blossom when I was in seminary, studying under Dr. John Sailhamer. Over the years, I have come back to it again and again. My understanding has grown and been refined each time I’ve taken it up.

It saddens me that Genesis 1 has been so often co-opted for use in contemporary battles with science, particularly with regard to the age of the earth and the scientific model of evolution.

This has made it extremely difficult to simply teach Genesis. For while Christians need to stay informed and be able to interact with the findings of science (see, “Bruce Waltke on Staying in the Discussion“), such concerns were certainly not those of the Torah’s original audience, nor are they essential to studying what the Bible teaches.

Jesus said that the Bible’s central message is all about: (1) God’s Messiah and his redemptive work, and (2) God’s Mission of taking the Good News of forgiveness to all the world (Luke 24:45-47). The groundwork for that message is laid right here in Genesis 1.

Today, I would like to share with you the way I view this foundational passage from the Bible.

Let me begin with a warning. For many of you, my interpretation is probably quite different from what you have been taught.

If you asked me to categorize my view, I would say it has been influenced most by three OT scholars: John Sailhamer, Bruce Waltke, and John Walton, along with my own further study. (I hasten to add that these fine men should not be blamed for any of my errors.)

  • Sailhamer showed me that Genesis 1 should be read first as the introduction to the Torah, which Moses gave to the generation of Israelites preparing to enter the Promised Land. Its themes reverberate through the rest of the Torah, and are summarized in Moses’ final message to Israel in Deuteronomy 29-30. Most people skip this step and read Gen 1 as the introduction to the entire Bible. It is that too, but failing to put it in its original context first causes us to miss much of its message.
  • Waltke helped me grasp the genre of this material. Genesis 1 is a literary composition, not journalistic reporting as though someone were witnessing specific events. In exalted prose, the literary artist-author points toward the One to whom all creation owes its existence and loyalty.
  • Walton pointed out that Ancient Near Eastern parallels, along with Biblical descriptions of the Garden of Eden, the tabernacle, and the temple show that in Genesis 1 God is portrayed as a King constructing a cosmic temple from which he will rule and extend his blessing to all creatures.

TWO STORIES
I am convinced that Genesis 1 contains two stories, not just one.

  • Genesis 1:1 explains the origin of the Universe.
  • Genesis 1:2-2:3 explains the origin of the Promised Land.

THE ORIGIN OF THE UNIVERSE (Gen 1:1)
The best translation of Genesis 1:1 is the traditional one: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Read this way, Genesis 1:1 states the most basic truth of all: There is one true and living God who created everything that exists.

What did God create in the beginning? “The heavens and the earth,” is the usual reading, but a translation like “the skies and the land” more accurately represents what the author would have been saying as a pre-scientific observer of the world around him. Don’t picture a globe in outer space amidst all the other heavenly spheres. That is not the perspective of the ancient observer. Rather, our author is standing with the reader and looking out on a landscape, motioning with his hands across the whole sweep of the view and saying, “God created all of this.”

This phrase is a merism, a figure of speech that uses two contrasting concepts to present a single idea. For example, in Psalm 139, David says, “You know when I sit down and when I rise up.” In other words, God knows every movement of his day. “The skies and the land” is likewise a way of saying, “Everything that is.” Genesis 1.1 thus affirms that there is one true and living God who created the universe, all that exists.

When did God do this? “In the beginning.” Beyond these words, the author does not specify when this occurred. He simply thinks back as far as possibly can be imagined, to a time when there was no sky, no land, no world as we know it. At that time God created the terrestrial world and the skies that surround it.

THE ORIGIN OF THE PROMISED LAND (Gen 1:2-2:3)
Grammatically, Genesis 1:1 stands alone. In Hebrew, it is clear that a new subject is introduced in Gen 1:2 — “Now the land…” The author’s attention moves away from the cosmic scene and focuses on a “land,” a specific land in the world that God created back in the beginning.

English versions obscure this by translating the Hebrew word eretz as “earth” rather than “land,” which is its more common meaning. For modern readers, the word “earth” conjures up pictures of a globe that we know as the Earth, our planet as it exists in outer space among the other heavenly bodies. However, this is not nor could it be the viewpoint of the author of Genesis. As in Genesis 1.1, the author’s perspective is that of a person standing on the ground, looking out across a landscape. And the landscape across which he is gazing is the Promised Land.

After making the bold declaration that it was God and God alone who created this universe we know and observe — the land surrounded by skies — into existence, Gen 1:2 begins to tell how the God of creation at some later time provided a good land where his creatures might live in his blessing.

The preparation of this land is what the seven days of “creation” are about.

For the sake of length, I can only give an outline of the seven days in this post. The seven days are divided into four sections:

  1. There is a prelude describing the land before God prepared it (Gen 1:2)
  2. The first three days describe how God formed the conditions suitable for life in the land.
  3. The second three days describe how God filled the land with essential elements and living creatures.
  4. The seventh day describes how God completed his work, hallowed the seventh day, and rested.

Prelude: The Uninhabitable Land (Gen 1:2)
This verse describes the land before God readied it for his creatures. It was “without form and empty,” a Biblical phrase that describes an uninhabitable wilderness. It was not yet “good” like God would make it. The problem was that it was covered by darkness and water. However, God’s Spirit hovered over the waters, ready to exert his creative power.

Days One through Three (Gen 1:3-13)
On the first three days, God forms the land, creating the environment in which his creatures might dwell.

  • Day One: God overcomes the darkness and assigns functions to light and darkness so his creatures may live within the framework of regular days and nights.
  • Day Two: God assigns places to the waters, so that his creatures may live within the framework of a regulated environment.
  • Day Three: God parts the waters from the land and causes the land to bring forth food, so that his creatures may live within a framework of a home and regular provision.

Days Four through Six (Gen 1:14-31)
On the second three days, God fills the land he formed with essential elements and living creatures.

  • Day Four: God fills the sky by hanging “lamps” to shine on the land, to regulate days and nights, and to prompt people to worship him in his designated seasons.
  • Day Five: God fills the skies and seas with living creatures, giving them his blessing.
  • Day Six: God fills the land with living creatures. Then, God makes human beings in his image, blesses them, and gives them responsibility for the land and its creatures, promising them his provision.

Day Seven (Gen 2:1-3)

  • God completes his work and takes his place of rest (the throne of his temple)

SUMMARY
So then, the story of creation explains that there is one true and living God who created the universe back in the beginning. It also tells us that God prepared a special place in the world, a land, to be his temple. Like a King and master workman, he first constructed the outward form of this land so that it would be good for the creatures he planned to make. He then filled it with essential elements for life and worship, formed living creatures to inhabit it, and blessed them. He made humans in his image, blessed them, and made them his representatives to care for the land and its creatures. The blessing he gave to humans, to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth,” shows that he intended his blessing to be extended throughout the whole world. At the completion of his work, God took his place of rest, sitting down on the throne in his temple to rule and receive the praise of his creatures.

The land of Genesis 1, its preparation artfully described by use of the seven-day literary scheme, was made as God’s temple in the world, and people were placed there to live in his blessing and to extend that blessing throughout the rest of the world.

WHY THESE TWO EMPHASES?
Why does the author of the Torah begin his story with these two emphases: (1) that God is the one true and living God who created the universe, and, (2) that this God prepared a special land in the world to be his temple, from which his glory might extend over all the earth?

Because this was God’s message for the people of Israel who were about to enter their own land.

The one true and living God chose Israel to represent him in the world, just like those first humans. Like them, he prepared a good land for them to inhabit. That good land was rich and abundant and filled with his blessing. The tabernacle, and the temple that they would later build, housed the Ark of the Covenant, which represented God’s throne dwelling in the midst of his people, ultimately in Jerusalem.

The Promised Land was not simply God’s gift to Israel for their own sake. Their life in the land was meant to be a light to the nations. From them and through them, the knowledge of the one living and true God and his blessing was to extend to all people throughout the world.

And that is the story Genesis 1 introduces.

Comments

  1. That’s the point that gets forgotten in the tussle between Scientism and Creationism.

    Genesis is not “This is how you work out the age of the earth”, Genesis is “This is how the bond between God and Man came to be broken and why God has made a covenant with us.”

  2. Wonderful thoughts. I’ll ponder for weeks.

  3. I don’t have a problem with this reading at all. I’ve been influenced by Sailhammer (in fact I’m currently rereading his “Pentateuch as Narrative”); and was taught by one of his colleagues (Dr Ray Lubeck). I think his canonical criticism is very interesting and offers many good literary and theological points. And I am equally bothered by creationists and evolutionists trying to coopt Gen. 1–11 for their own purposes, I have a post on this here: http://recreatedinchrist.wordpress.com/2010/06/27/the-empirical-facts-of-genesis-1-11-responding-to-the-biologos-internetmonk-and-pyromaniacs-hub-bub/; so in this regard I’m in agreement with you, Mike.

    But what I don’t understand is why you want to give BioLogos such a voice. There are serious problems with neo-Darwianism, and you don’t have to be a scientist to see that (in fact the problems with neo-Darwinianism is that its grounded in a worldview totally at odds with Christian theism — i.e. naturalism, which gives us “scientism”). I just could not, nor do I, promote such an organization — even if their motives are good (that’s not enough).

    Anyway, you’re confusing me. I think the theological point of Genesis is well taken (and I actually believe it describes reality as it is/was at “Creation”); but how do you want to relate this point to what BioLogos is trying to communicate about the integration of modern science with biblical exegesis (it seems like you want to relate these two somehow, but then you don’t)?

    • Bobby, good questions. If it were up to me, I’d never deal with the issues of science vs. the Bible, but strong voices on all sides have made this a war over the last generation.

      My reason for appreciating BioLogos has to do with conversation vs. culture war. I don’t necessarily agree with positions they take—you will hear me say repeatedly that science is not my bag. Nevertheless, I think it is crucial for Christians to understand that there are views out there besides than the ones that get screamed by those fighting the fruitless, damaging political battles in America. I also think we must come to a point and have a forum where scientists and Biblical scholars can present their views and have discussions without fear of being branded heretical because they are in process of understanding and further study. I’m not saying we should have no convictions in these areas, but that we should hold our convictions with humility and a commitment to further study and dialogue. BioLogos may not ultimately be the forum where these things happen, but the fact that someone is out there publicly with a different view and presenting serious studies other than YEC, ID, or materialistic naturalism is a good thing, IMO.

      • Mike,

        I see what you’re saying. One of my favorite theologians, T. F. Torrance, was most likely an advocate of “evoloution” (albiet theistic in origin); and I don’t let this reality detur me from learning many many fruitful things from him. I think my problem with BioLogos types is that they aren’t very careful in their approach. I think Waltke’s recent “coming-out” is illustrative; here is an OT scholar saying that he believes in evolution, and that he believes all Christians should. Okay, that’s his opinion; but it’s just not careful. There are many Christians out there, not scholars, but thinkers, who are swayed by such opinions. What I would like to see is a critical “giving” of the rational and structural logic that led Waltke to his conclusions about evolution — I think this would help folks be more careful in thinking this throuogh for themselves. I don’t think it’s helpful to just say that these thoughtful group of Christian scholars have concluded this or that; and thus their beliefs are ipso facto justified simply because they are scholars. This is the trouble I have with the BioLogos forum, in general; and thus I don’t think they are really accomplishing their mission statement (insofar that appeal is made to the weight of “who” they are vs. “what” they are advocating).

        I hear you on the culture wars, fundamentalism, and what have you; of course I would like to avoid a new Fundyism, which I think BioLogos actually probably contributes to. Anyway . . . back to Genesis, then, eh.

      • Kenny Johnson says:

        I think I’m in the same place as Mike. I don’t agree with everything Biologos teaches, but I appreciate their existence. One thing I don’t like about Biologos is their uncharitable attitude towards ID/ID proponents. I believe Ayala (who has written for Biologos) has even called ID heresy. And in general, ID has been excluded from the conversation because it’s labeled as unscientific. I think that both ID-Christians and TE-Christians have made a mistake here. ID proponents can be just as uncharitable…

        It’d actually be nice if the Hugh Ross/ID/Biologos could have a place where they can all present their ideas and respond to each other in respectful ways. Ok… maybe they can even let in the YECs. 🙂

        I read Giberson’s “Saving Darwin” and found it’s criticism of creationists and IDers to be too harsh. His tone really turned me off. And I think he never really made his argument, “How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution” because he was too busy distancing himself from atheists, creationists, and IDers.

        • C. Mike,

          Thanks.

          Kenny,

          Are you ID?

          I am totally persuaded by ID, it is unfortunate that it has been “labeled” as a front for “Creationism.” It has real scientists, and plenty, working on actual scientific models.

      • “I’m not saying we should have no convictions in these areas, but that we should hold our convictions with humility and a commitment to further study and dialogue.”

        Great point!! Hold our convictions with humility – if this was the mindset and reality among all christian denominations would it not be easier for the Holy Spirit to break through the barriers that divide us and unfold His Truth to our minds?? Not just in the area of creation and science but, in all those areas that cause division in the body of Christ.

  4. Damaris says:

    Excellent, Chaplain Mike. This is carefully reasoned and explained. It fits what I understand of the Bible, that it is a story told in layer upon layer, all making the same point but making it more and more richly. God made the land, God made the promised land, God (through Solomon) made the temple, and God will make the new Jerusalem. In the same way the theme of redemption weaves through the exodus, the prophetic renewals, the return after the captivity, and the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus. Reading the Bible is like listening to Bach working out a theme and continuing to embellish it until he has all the instruments playing complex, beautiful harmonies.

  5. And G. K. Beale in THE TEMPLE AND THE CHURCH’S MISSION: A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God, shows how the Tabernacle and the Temple point forward to the eschaton. So perhaps the Tabernacle/Temple is a linchpin between both Genesis and Revelation.

    • I was going to recommend Beale’s book too. I taught an adult Sunday school using that book as my main text for over a month. I found it to be immensely helpful.

  6. “In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth.”

    Simple –

    • How about “the sky and the land”?

      • Same deal-

        Ex Nihilo!

        • Actually, creation ex nihilo is not taught per the Hebrew, according to Richard Elliott Friedman in his Commentary on the Torah (text and translation). I’m not sure the rabbis taught it; creation ex nihilo may have more to do with Greek thought and influence than Hebrew thought, but I haven’t studied it extensively.

  7. I have always taken Genesis 1-3 to answer the question “Who” , not the question “How”. I don’t know how, I only know who. The how I will find out (maybe) in eternity. Otherwise, it is up for debate.

  8. Chaplain Mike, I have no problem at all with your reading of Genesis. It’s nearly the same as mine and for the same reasons. I grew in a household that loved science. My sister in particular encouraged me to learn as much as possible by reading the literature and watching the various science shows on TV, even including Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series on PBS. I guess we were able to enjoy and appreciate the science part of what he, and others, were teaching without accepting the materialistic worldview that they held. For instance, Richard Dawkins is a brilliant scientist and I recommend him highly if you want to learn more about biology. But of course he’s far outside his field of expertise when he enters into metaphysical issues. I’ll take an Alister McGrath over a Richard Dawkins any day of the week. As to the Genesis question again, this is almost completely an American evangelical/fundamentalist issue. Outside of that subculture this is pretty much a non issue.

    • Unfortunately that subculture has proved pretty influential – it’s a growing problem in the UK church culture as well.

  9. Thanks Chaplain Mike. I’ve never heard this interpretation before (at least the part about it being focused on the promised land). I also appreciate the insight about the timing of the writing — i.e. just as the people were getting ready to go into the promised land.

    Also, your description of verse 1, with the author waving his hand saying “God made all this” — the heavens (sky) and the earth (land) … that rings true to me.

    For a while now I’ve seen chapter 1 as more of a literary composition as you suggest, but I have to admit I still don’t really understand where the composition ends and the historical narrative begins. For example, the story of Adam & Eve and the fall certainly don’t strike me as “journalistic” (to borrow your term). I think I understand what it means, practically, for God’s people then & now … and that’s what REALLY matters here … but that doesn’t necessarily take away my curiosity about the science/history questions.

  10. Interesting that doubt regarding ex-nihilo came up. If not ex-nihilo, then eternally-existing matter? Sounds like classic gnostic dualism, where matter is too evil for God to be directly and actively involved.

    With moralistic, therapeutic deism being promoted as the new American civil religion, it seems like theistic (deistic?) evolution is a perfect fit; it allows for a god to be at our beckon call but in a cloockwork universe with no direct, personal involvement.

    • I think there is a risk of TE becoming deism, I don’t believe it has to. There are a wide # of views.

    • Lukas db says:

      Well, deism does have a long and storied history in America.

  11. One of the primary messages I see in the first creation story in Genesis is that when God speaks His purposes, the universe falls in line. Where many Christians and modern science butt heads can be found in how this story has traditionally been framed in the imaginations of Christian readers. Specifically, many Christians imagine God speaking, and then “abra cadabra” there it is — much like crew members of the starship Enterprise calling up objects and environments on the holadeck. Maybe God speaking creation into being can be more accurately compared to the promises He spoke to Abraham later in Genesis. This too was a case of God speaking and the universe obeying and, in my opinion, also an act of creation — but instead of “poof” there it is, the manifestation of this kind of creation unfolded gradually (and is still unfolding) over the course of history. This kind of creation involves trillions upon trillions of seemingly random factors — wars, migrations, political struggles, family problems, personal decisions, weather, environmental changes, and, if Einstein was right about relativity, every single bit of matter and energy in the universe — all coming together over time to form the pattern of God’s purposes. And this kind of creation is basically undetectable by science because that level of complexity and universal interaction simply can’t be processed or framed by either the human mind or the supercomputers we use expand our thinking capacity.
    In His infintie wisdom, God chose to give us the story of the creation and formation of planet earth in the form of a poem — a poem written in such a way that even children living in the Bronze Age could easily understand its message. The target audience was not the modern scientific community, nor was it those trying to reconcile science and their religious beliefs. Like the gospel of Christ, the primary target audience of the creation story was children — or those willing to become like children in how they see the world around them.
    In my opinion, trying to reconcile matters of science and matters of faith is a hopeless endeavor. If you believe that God has established faith as the exclusive doorway or access point between Himself and mankind (and I do believe that), then it rationally follows that God designed His universe in such a way that He can’t be accessed in any other way or through any other means. Human science, imagination, and even theology will always fall infinitely short of the reality and totality of God and all that He has created. And, if we can agree on that, then maybe we can relax and stop taking our opinions about how the world or organic life or the universe came into being so darn seriously.

  12. I have heard that Gen 1:1 is more accurately translated as, “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth. I wonder if this has implications for creation Ex Nihilo.

    • textjunkie says:

      Not so much the ex nihilo as the timing of it–the reading that opens “When God created the heavens and the earth…” doesn’t claim that it was the beginning. It was whenever God wanted to do it, and “beginning” doesn’t have much meaning in that context.

    • Some modern versions and commentators translate it this way. Some ancient Jewish scholars did as well.

      In the post, I express my preference for the traditional translation. The main reason I do so is because verse 2 begins with what is usually a disjunctive in Hebrew. “NOW the land was…”

      John Sailhamer discusses these issues extensively in a footnote in his Genesis commentary (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 2)

  13. 1. “In the beginning of God’s creation of the skies and the land, with the land being unformed and empty,….”

    2. To say that Genesis 1 may not be teaching or asserting creation ex nihilo is not to cast doubt on the concept but to simply say that Gen. 1 does not speak in those terms and in fact says nothing one way or the other re: WHAT God used or didn’t use to make/create the skies and the land. If you thought my purpose was to inject a gnostic understanding by casting doubt on creation ex nihilo, you misunderstood my point for stating what I did.

  14. Chaplain Mike,

    This is an excellent interpretation of Genesis 1, and doesn’t give the contradiction with Genesis 2 that the YEC people make of it. Too many people don’t realize that Genesis is a covenant book which tells of God’s gracious dealings with a corrupt people. It is “Who,” not How. I wish more would see the theological emphasis and quit reading it like it was a treatise on science.

    It was the problmem that the YEC’s have of giving a Manichean rather than a Hebrew or Christian way of approaching the issue.

    It asks the right questions. Why did Moses write Genesis as the first book of the Torah? What was the purpose? What was it countering? Darwinism? It didn’t exist. Atheism? Get real. The problem in that age wasn’t of people worshipping nothing, they worshipped EVERYTHING! They worshipped gods of chaos and order, of darknesss and light. They worshipped the sun, moon and stars, all kinds of beasts, birds and creeping things, and they worshipped man.

    The point is not to satisfy our curiousity on how the universe began, but to teach what they worshipped were not gods at all. Worship the Creator, not the creature. The Creation has significance because God made it, and we are to worship and honor Him.

  15. BTW, this is an excellent thought-provoking and mind-stretching/reframing post. Bobby Grow’s link to what he wrote is good to read, too. So, Genesis 1 is about the tabernacle/temple, the people of Israel and their land, and the God that these things are all about. Where/how do the particulars of Jesus and the incarnation come into play – or is the groundwork for that not really laid until Genesis 2?

  16. Chaplain Mike, who did the painting? (I’m a little burned out from the creation wars and taking a break, but still solid on Genesis1:1.) Right-clicking shows a link to torahart, but the site is down. And I couldn’t find the painting among Chagall’s work at Olga’s Gallery.

  17. Well said, Chaplin Mike.This approach helps bring the YEC and OEC because it doesn’t require to specify how old the earth because we don’t need to stand on the age of the earth. The length of day seems to be the most venomous point.

    From a completely practical standpoint, I have a problem with the literal interpretation of yom (day) that most YEC insist on. Are we imposing a scientific western understanding on day by insisting that it means 24 hours? In that day, while I’m sure they knew there was a consistent period of time, but did they not see a day as the time from sunset to sunset? If so, that is a subtle but huge difference. For example, in Joshua 10, where God makes the sun stands still, verse 13-14 says that there was not a day like it with the Sun out for a typical day, but it was still a day. Besides, when looking at our own language. we don’t mean 24 hour period every time we say day (see daylight saving time or taking trips cross time zones) so did the Jewish reader as well?If that was the case, what is the problem with the days being either being longer or shorter than 24 hours? This is a good mediating view.

    I often say if we tell a new believer that day always means 24 hours, they will be confused when we tell them Jesus was in the grave for three days but not 72 hours. I know I can argue for a part of a day equals a whole view of time but does this undercut another central doctrine in a new believer’s mind by confusing details of a secondary nature? Am I wrong in seeing this?

    • Genesis1:5 says, ‘God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.’

      In the same verse, the word “yom” is used for the daylight period (12 hours more or less, depending on season) and for the full night/day cycle (24 hours, plus or minus a minute or so as the days lengthen or shorten).

      If the Bible itself doesn’t take a literal, 24-hour-to-the minute/second view of the word “yom”, how can we?

      Good point too about the “three days” in the grave, Danimal. It’s Greek, not Hebrew, but same kind of interpretation at work.

      And to answer your last question, no, you are not wrong in seeing this. Too many others don’t see it. That’s the problem.

      • Yeah, I knew it was greek use of the dative to talk about time but I’ve heard people link it back to Jonah’s trip in the fish so I was trying to expand it past a simple “that’s greek corruption”. I did not mean to say it was what it was not.

        Another wrinkle in this is what Basil of Caesarea writes in the The Hexaemeron 2:8

        Meaning, if day meant 24 hours always, then does the Day of the Lord have an end?

        Plus Basil is where we get the first reference to a 24 hour day but read carefully what he says

        Basil seems to say a day is defined by the cycle of the sun and moon which happens to be twenty-four hours in length.

      • Oops messed up the quotes

        First quote: It was, in reality, fit and natural to call “one” the day whose character is to be one wholly separated and isolated from all the others. If Scripture speaks to us of many ages, saying everywhere, “age of age, and ages of ages,” we do not see it enumerate them as first, second, and third. It follows that we are hereby shown not so much limits, ends and succession of ages, as distinctions between various states and modes of action. “The day of the Lord,” Scripture says, “is great and very terrible,” and elsewhere “Woe unto you that desire the day of the Lord: to what end is it for you? The day of the Lord is darkness and not light.” A day of darkness for those who are worthy of darkness. No; this day without evening, without succession and without end is not unknown to Scripture, and it is the day that the Psalmist calls the eighth day, because it is outside this time of weeks. Thus whether you call it day, or whether you call it eternity, you express the same idea. Give this state the name of day; there are not several, but only one

        Second Quote: If it therefore says “one day,” it is from a wish to determine the measure of day and night, and to combine the time that they contain. Now twenty-four hours fill up the space of one day—we mean of a day and of a night; and if, at the time of the solstices, they have not both an equal length, the time marked by Scripture does not the less circumscribe their duration. It is as though it said: twenty-four hours measure the space of a day, or that, in reality a day is the time that the heavens starting from one point take to return there. Thus, every time that, in the revolution of the sun, evening and morning occupy the world, their periodical succession never exceeds the space of one day.

    • Thanks for bringing up the timeline for Jesus’ stay in the grave. I have always been puzzled at the numerous Christians and pastors talking about Jesus being in the grave three nights and three days. Do the math, folks. He went in some time on Good Friday, and came out on Sunday morning. That means one full day and parts of two others. And two nights, not three.

      • JoanieD says:

        Yes, Peggy, it always kind of puzzled me that Matthew 12:40 says, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” I can understand the three days if we say any part of a day because we can count Friday, Saturday, Sunday. But, how could we come up with THREE nights at all? We only have Jesus entombed on Friday and Saturday nights. I did check a number of translations of the Bible online and they all say “three nights.”

        • But, how could we come up with THREE nights at all?

          Daylight Savings Time?

          • JoanieD says:

            I actually have a reply to myself, but it contains three links so I think it is up for moderation and we will have to wait to see it. But it talks about articles on the internet that say Jesus was killed on Wednesday and rose on Saturday. The other one says he was killed Thursday and rose Sunday. The third article refutes them both.

          • From what I’ve read, He was most likely crucified and died on a Friday before sunset and rose from the dead before sunrise Sunday. “Three days and three nights” was somewhat subject to idiomatic understanding and did not require meaning a 72-hour period. The same with “40 days,” I believe.

          • JoanieD says:

            Eric, I agree that Jesus didn’t have to be in the tomb for 72 hours, but I still get hung up on that third night thing. A third night is a third night. It’s not a deal-breaker in terms of my believing in Jesus, of course, but I would like it better resolved.

      • I had always been taught (by my father, a PhD in New Testament) that Jewish timekeeping was inclusive so that part of Friday day, Friday night, Saturday day, Saturday night, Sunday day, and part of Sunday night would be counted as three days and three nights.

        Although I have heard of a tradition that says that Jesus was crucified on the Wednesday before Easter, though I don’t know much about the details.

        • JoanieD says:

          But Cipher, we traditionally say that Jesus rose Sunday morning. So there was no Sunday night or third night that Jesus was entombed.

          • Lukas db says:

            We traditionally say that, yes. But is there any direct reason to believe that Jesus actually did, for certain, rise on Sunday? I think the reason we celebrate His resurrection that day is not to indicate that that is the day of the week He rose, but rather to indicate that, when He rose, it was the first day of the New Creation. It is a reflection on how, in Genesis, God began the creation on Sunday.

  18. Bonhoeffer’s _Creation and Fall_ is one of the best books I’ve ever read when it comes to “orthodoxing” Genesis 1-3.

    I think what you’ve done here, Chaplain Mike, is a great job of twining an understanding of Hebrew poetics with the story.

    I’d go on at length about Ancient Near Eastern fertility cults and the Hebrew mockery of them, but I’d be gilding a perfectly stunning lily.

    I disagree on some basic points (I’ve never been fond of lilies): but that has to do with our different views of scripture, and I’m content to admire the beauty you’ve found within your own understanding of it.

    Posts like this make iMonk myMonk for monkeying around.

  19. OK so if I understand you (Chaplin Mike) correctly you are willing to believe in an old earth and that Genesis 1 & 2 are not conclusive for telling the creation story but should be seen as the intro for the Pentateuch.

    I hate to make a cut and paste argument but <strong? how do Old earth/ Theistic evolutionist handle NT scriptures that refer back to Genesis as fact? (This web page lists probably every instance for quick reference http://creation.com/new-testament-creation) When NT guys (Jesus, Paul, Peter) are referring to OT people as fact it kind of makes it harder to argue that it’s an allegory.

    I’ve got Capon’s Genesis:The Movie on my bookshelf at home but I haven’t gotten to it yet. I’ve taken a couple of apologetics classes at Luther Rice on Genesis/Evolution. I’m trying to be open minded here but other than a lot of people talking smack about YEC I’m not hearing/reading much data why I should trust some men’s opinions over what seems to be a simple reading of scripture.

    • Just want to step in here and say that the category of “fact” which you attribute to the New Testament writers is a relatively recent construction. That’s not to say that they didn’t have some notion of what might be true “by the testimony of two or three witnesses” as opposed to the lie (or misstatement) of one person; but that category differed from having an “authoritative” speaker.

      The texts of Genesis are never argued to be factual, only authoritative and “true,” which is not at all the same thing as “factual” as you and I construct that term in a post Enlightenment world where “what a video camera would have seen” is the slam dunk on questions of truth.

      Where story and poem are the genres of value (as opposed to, say, the ideal of unbiased journalism or the six o’clock news), you have to readjust what you mean by factual.”

      Don’t presume Paul or Jesus thought quite like you do about these things.

      • Lukas db says:

        I think reading Thomas Mann’s ‘Joseph and his Brothers’ is an excellent way to begin to understand the different mindset ancient peoples had about this sort of thing.

    • The Catholic church has somewhat embraced the teachings of evolution:

      “For Catholics, human evolution is not a matter of religious teaching, and must stand or fall on its own scientific merits. Evolution and the Roman Catholic Church are not in conflict. The Catechism of the Catholic Church comments positively on the theory of evolution, which is neither precluded nor required by the sources of faith . . .”

      Except that they built in an escape clause:

      “. . . scientific knowledge does not extend beyond the physical, and scientific truth and religious truth cannot be in conflict.”

      I prefer to read the Bible as it was taught to me as a child. I didn’t question, as a child, how the Creation story related to science. I just take it at its word. If the rest of the Bible doesn’t cause question, why should I? And I agree—“scientific truth and religious truth cannot be in conflict.”

  20. Good post, Mike, though I still find some lingering problems with it. If vv. 2ff. are focused only on the promised land, why would God create heavenly bodies like the sun, moon, and stars on day 4? Wouldn’t they have already been created?

    Furthermore, I think the real battleground over creation is more about the theology behind it than one’s interpretation of Genesis 1. Young earth creationists have a very powerful theological argument, namely, that sin and death are the result of sin. Creation now groans under the curse (Romans 8), not because God made it that way, but because of Adam’s sin. If nature has always been “red in tooth and claw” going all the way back millions of years, then it becomes difficult to account for the Bible’s theological teaching on the significance of sin and the discontinuity between the earth as originally created and as it exists now under the curse. We moderns find it hard to believe in a world where animals we now know as predators might not have been predators and where natural disasters might not have occurred. But if Heaven is going to be that way (and I assume it is), why couldn’t the earth have been that way at the beginning?

    Interestingly enough, old earth advocate William Dembski has sensed this tension in Christian theology. On the one hand, he wants to affirm that the universe is billions of years old and that death has been standard in the animal kingdom from the beginning. On the other hand, he recognizes that orthodox Christianity requires a historic Fall into sin that has consequences of massive significance for the condition of the earth. So his solution has been to say that the curse had retroactive effects. I find that to be completely bizarre and totally without any basis in Scripture, as well as a bit self-contradictory at points. But I do resonate with Dembski’s perceived tension between old earth science and the Christian faith. There is a tension there, and no amount of Michael Spencer mocking Ken Hamm is going to make that go away. I have never in my life heard a good answer to that theological dilemma from the old earth side.

    I do appreciate your sensitivity to the text and how it would have impacted its original audience. I think you are right to emphasize those points. Genesis was written to be understood by pre-scientific people, with phenomenological language. My own view of the early chapters of Genesis is somewhat similar, though I would say Genesis 1 is all about creation in a global sense and Genesis 2 is primarily about the creation of the Lord’s temple in the Garden of Eden (the original “promised land”). But at the end of the day, neither view really matters all that much in the debate over creation so long as the theological divide about the curse following sin still remains.

    • Ooops. Obviously, I did not mean to say that “sin and death” are the result of sin. I meant to say that death is the result of sin. (Though, I guess, in one sense sin certainly is the result of sin. We sin now because Adam sinned then.)

    • “So his solution has been to say that the curse had retroactive effects. I find that to be completely bizarre and totally without any basis in Scripture” – do you believe that Jesus salvation was “retroactive” – covering the sins of Moses, David, or Abraham???? I believe Jesus salvation is offered beyond space & time ( of course I can’t explain it). but I believe the fall could have been retroactive as well. peace

      • Yes, I believe Jesus’ salvation has some retroactive effects. But here we are talking about something different. If the Fall had retroactive effects, then we must assume one of the following:

        (1) Paradise never existed because from the dawn of time the curse has been bound up with creation. That means Adam and Eve never experienced a creation that was “very good” to begin with.

        (2) Paradise did exist, but within some kind of bubble that sealed it off from the rest of the fallen creation.

        Either view leads to some conclusions that seem to be more difficult to accept than the widely accepted Christian belief that the Old Testament saints have been redeemed by the work of Christ on the cross.

        • textjunkie says:

          You said it more succinctly than I would, but that’s definitely the nub of it.

    • textjunkie says:

      This. Exactly the problem I have with the allegorical readings of the creation stories in Genesis.

      • Lukas db says:

        The problem of death plagues both those who read Genesis literally and allegorically. For those who read it literally, the problem is that imagining a world at all like our own in which no death exists is exceedingly strange, almost impossible. The problem with those who read it allegorically is that, if death existed before sin, that seems to imply a cruel God.

  21. On the other hand, he recognizes that orthodox Christianity requires a historic Fall into sin that has consequences of massive significance for the condition of the earth. So his solution has been to say that the curse had retroactive effects. I find that to be completely bizarre and totally without any basis in Scripture, as well as a bit self-contradictory at points.

    Maybe Adam’s sin collapsed the quantum wave function or did some such thing. Like Schrodinger’s Cat, the world was in a potential state of being fallen or not being fallen, and when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, the wave function collapsed and the world settled in a fallen state, past, present and future. 🙂

    • I had a a great comment typed up and lost it. Essentially, I think this sounds very plausible. Don’t have the training in physics to really explain it, but I’m told space and time are “coessential” and only separate in the way we conceptualize them. It doesn’t seem like too wild a jump to say moral choices have a moral consequence(or “curse” consequence) on the past, not just the future.

      Totally unexamined thoughts. But I like it, and I’m going with it for now.

      Nate

      • Lukas db says:

        Well, just try figuring out eternity once. I mean, other than saying it’s just time going on endlessly. After that little exercise, very little seems bizarre anymore. God is, perhaps, a little more wild and eccentric with His creations than we are strictly comfortable with.

  22. Ekstasis says:

    Can anyone shed some light on why there was a tree of the knowledge of good and evil before original sin occured? Presumably either because the potentiality of evil existed from the beginning, or because evil was created when Satan fell?

    • Just curious: Where in the Scriptures do we explicitly see or read of Satan falling from heaven until we get to Luke 19:18 or Revelation 12:9? I.e., is there any explicit mention that Satan fell from heaven in the primordial past? (The oft-quoted passages in Ezekiel and Isaiah do not say “Satan.”)

      • That should be Luke 10:18.

      • Let me offer my thoughts on both questions:

        (1) We should not confuse the existence of the tree of knowledge of good and evil with the existence of evil itself. There is no indication in Scripture that the tree itself was evil, only that the autonomous pursuit of the knowledge of good and evil on the part of humanity (represented by taking from the forbidden fruit) was evil. Knowing good and evil is a good thing, if Adam and Eve had received such knowledge through revelation instead of autonomously reaching beyond their bounds. The tree was created by God, and thus it was good. But it was off-limits because God wanted to keep it for himself as he taught Adam and Eve moral discernment through revelation.

        (2) The fall of Satan is a mysterious event, and it seems to be more presupposed than explicitly taught. But I do think the teaching of Scripture requires it, and it seems to be hinted at in such passages as Jude 6 (if Jude is not specifically referring to the fall of Satan, he is at least referring to an angelic fall that would presuppose that Satan had already fallen). Furthermore, there does seem to be a distinction made in Ezekiel 28 between the prince of Tyre (the human ruler) in vv. 1-10 and the king of Tyre (an angelic power behind the human kingdom, as in the book of Daniel) in vv. 11-19.

        • Isn’t Jude 6 referring to Genesis 6 (Jude quotes from 1 Enoch, which dealt at length with this passage, IIRC)?

          • Jude may be referring to Genesis 6. But my point was not that he was necessarily referring directly to Satan’s fall but was showing (1) that angels can and do fall, and (2) that Satan, who is mentioned in Jude 9, is spoken of as an authority over Michael, who is an angel, which presupposes that Satan too is an angel. That leads me to the conclusion that Satan is a fallen angel.

            The fall of the angels in Genesis 6 (if that is what Jude is referring to) suggests strongly that Satan has already fallen, and these angels are following in his footsteps.

          • But what does it mean for an angel to be “fallen”? Is that referring to a spiritual quality or a geographic location (whether on a spiritual or a material plane), or both? Man “fell” but he remained on earth. Satan appears to remain in heaven until the Revelation 12:7-9 throwdown.

          • I take “fallen” to refer to a moral condition, resulting in banishment from the favor of God. But that does not mean Satan cannot appear before God, for he still does so as our accuser (see Job). The point of Revelation 12 is to show that Satan has been defeated and is no longer able to accuse us.

          • Enoch has great long detailed passages about the war in heaven and the casting down of the rebellious angels. I can’t remember if Satan is named though. It also names a great number of angels, more than the 2.5 we have in the Bible (Michael, Gabriel and Satan as the .5)

      • Eric, Satan as “fallen angel” is not from an explicit portion of scripture. It’s rooted in some exegesis by (if memory serves) Tertullian, which connected the dots between “Lucifer” and “Satan” and “The King of Tyre” and “The King of Babylon,” and the oracles delivered against them in the prophets.

        In my view that early church exegesis improperly used the Luke passage as a hermeneutical key to Satan’s “prehistory.”

    • Ekstasis, I think that the whole story is an allegorical, symbolic, and typological look at humanity. The name “Adam” after all means “Humanity,” and he is referred to simply as “the man” (Hebrew /ish/) throughout most of Genesis 3.

      So you’ve got a sort of Humankind / Man running around in The Garden of Delight, naked and unashamed with a woman (/Ishshah/), forbidden to…?

      Access the knowledge of good and evil, that is, experience and direct knowledge of what is good to do and wrong to do. As we all know, you gain the knowledge of Good and Evil by experience, not by ingesting fruit.

      But they are tempted by the Serpent (originally a symbol of wisdom, fertility, and immortality in the ancient world, not the Devil).

      And they do what all of us do: they risk delight and trade it in for knowledge and the shame that comes with it.

  23. Yeah, well…
    1. Yes, Gen 1 is an introduction to the Torah, and then to the Bible as a whole. Got that.
    2. Yes, it is literary, nor journalism. Yes, exalted prose. Yes, it is the self-statement of the One to whom creation owes its existence and its loyalty. Got that. See number one. This says the same thing.
    3. Yes, it is a construction text. Cosmic temple, fine.

    But none of this means that we don’t correctly read the text’s overt chronological statements at face value. And I think the “land” vs. “earth” treatment, a la your second story, being specifically about the Promised Land, just simply does not work exegetically. It is a compelling idea, a worthy entry for my coveted “Better Than True” award.

    As it happens, I blogged on the subject today just before reading yours. Feel free to drop by.

    • Marv, it’s hard for me to interpret your response to Chaplain Mike. Why doesn’t “land” work, exactly?

      I’m having trouble understanding your post and blog any way except, “…but it’s literal because I want it to be.”

      When you write on your blog “Genesis means what it says,” I doubt anybody would disagree with you. All good poetry means what it says. The Song of Hannah means what it says when it claims “there is no rock like our god,” but we’d be a little peculiar if we asked whether God was sedimentary, igneous, or metamorphic.

      • Genesis 1 is not poetry.

        Here is a bit of explanation on that.

        • Marv:

          Thanks for the link. I’ve just started reading your articles on this. My mind/thoughts are kind of tohu vabohu re: my understanding of Genesis 1.

          We should do lunch again, though I think you’ll leave me a bit in the dust re: some of these things; my Hebrew very rudimentary.

        • Genesis 1 IS poetic, however.

    • Marv, the reason the literary view is called the “framework” position is that the author used the literary device of a seven-day week as an anthropomorphism to describe God’s work. The work week is organized like a construction project: prepare the location, erect the shell, fill it and appoint servants to oversee its operation. It is not organized according to how creation would have come about chronologically, a fact clearly seen in the fact that light and the division of day and night come before the “hanging of the lights” (sun and moon) in the sky.

      As for the land, for further evidence you can read http://genesismike.blogspot.com/2008/07/land-of-blessing.html

      • Mike, it is NOT “clearly seen” by the fact that the division of day and night come before the hanging of the lights. The celestial luminaries are lamps and they are clocks. You seem to think it strange for God to create light before creating lamps and time before creating clocks. I say what possible use can a lamp be if there is no such thing as light. What possible use would a clock be if there were no time.

        Or perhaps we think that light only exists because there are lamps and time only exists because there are clocks. No, God’s self-relevation shows He is the Creator of these things. Light is the first of His self expressions, a perfect symbol of His righteousness. And the work week exists because God inaugurated it for man–by setting the example. We are directly told this in Ex. 20, and also the Sabbath was made for man.

        This is one reason I say Framework is a non-solution to a non-problem.

        Supposing–and frankly stating as such without textual basis–that the seven day structure of the text is a trope–so that the week is worked backward into the creation account, just seems to me to be–well, backward as an approach.

        It might solve some problems for you, but that doesn’t make it a good reading of the text, doesn’t make it the best reading of the text. A straightforward reading is perfectly easy to understand, a perfectly satisfying interpretation of the textual data, and without (true) objection. And the real beauty is you don’t need to construct any elaborate Rube Goldberg devices to make it work.

        And if it doesn’t fit with the visible cosmos, WHY doesn’t it fit. Do you know what such a cosmos OUGHT to look like? You can’t know this, because the details of HOW God created are beyond our knowledge. We only know what He tells us. And if you can’t know what a 6-day cosmos would look like, you cannot say that it does not in fact look like it should. You can’t slap science on it because you don’t have the requisite reference value. We can only pretend we do.

        I contend that the best reading of the text in this case happens to be the one that is shockingly simple and right under your nose.

        And what that looks like as a cosmos is, naturally, just what it DOES look like.

        • Marv, I’ve been reading and studying Genesis for over 30 years. St. Augustine found it so “simple” that he ended up writing 5 books about it.

          The problem with the YEC “simple” reading is that it carries all kinds of modern assumptions with it. You and I both agree that Genesis 1 is describing historical facts—that God created the universe and filled the world with his creatures. However, the YEC position demands that God must have written those historical facts IN A CERTAIN WAY. It must be read as completely “literal” (in our modern, Enlightenment-influenced sense). They do not allow that God could have communicated “hard” historical facts through stories, metaphors, or anthropological language. They do not allow that the first readers were from an entirely different culture, who knew nothing about modern science, who knew nothing about the “just the facts” kind of historical writing that modern scientific minds expect.

          One reason these arguments are so silly and unproductive is that you and I both agree on the basic doctrine: I believe in God the Father, Maker of heaven and earth. What we disagree on is whether or not ancient literature should be read like the Wall Street Journal.

  24. In my experience, most Christian who believe in a “literal” or YEC’s understanding of the 1st 11 chapters of Genesis almost never read those chapters. They have no reason to, they already know the “facts” & since they know the “facts” reading the 1st 11 chapters is needless. But Christians who believe in an “allegorical” understanding of the 1st 11 chapters can read them always & see the beauty in the literature of God’s beginning with us.
    -we see ourselves in Adam’s sin – not just a historical mistake
    -we see pain of murder & death – not just a historical crime of Abel & Cain
    -we see a beautiful poem of Noah’s Ark – where in the middle of the inverted parrellism it tells us that “God remembered Noah”
    -we see the separation of humanity when we set off on our own w/o God in the story of Babel
    I read the 1st 11 Chapters to see how my relationship should be with God & what can go wrong w/o him. I don’t read them for “facts”, diet tips, farming techniques, or “science”. I read them to increase my Faith & know that God will always remember me. peace

    • I think if you’ll think it through a bit, your experience cannot tell you what “most Christians” who believe in a literal creation account do or not do, read or not read. You would simply have no access to such knowledge. At least you’d have to extrapolate from a very small sample, just a few you have run into.

      Then you set up a perfectly fallacious dichotomy between people who take details of a text as intended to be factual and those who take those details as intended to be non-factual, and somehow find the latter more in touch with beauty and theological depth. I hope you can see how that is perfectly preposterous. If I write a biography of someone, do I tell myself I’d better make sure I fictionalize it so it will be beautiful and profound?

      • do you believe Job & Jonah are historical people?? do you believe in the idea of a “true Myth” a myth that teaches us more than “facts” ever could??
        just some questions. peace

  25. Anyone who mentions John Walton is good enough for me. I loved that TV show from the 1970s. “Good night, John-Boy.” An excellent pondering. Walton’s work (mentioned and published at BioLogos — http://biologos.org/) is a great primer on the “intent” of the Torah and the intent of Bereishit. It is LITERATURE first. And it does not have to be literally true to be true nonetheless (he writes, waiting for Ken Ham and the pitchfork-wielding mob to descend).

  26. ok, here is where I am; along with current science, I think the evidence points to a very old universe and earth–I’m ok with both, from the standpoint of a believer. What I have trouble with theologically is the creation of man and woman. Is it fair, exegetically ,to read the creation account as poetry but then read the account of Adam and Eve a bit more literal?

    I find myself stuck between the two extremes–died hard YEC who insist on reading Gen 1 as is, and old earth theistic evolutionists who don’t believe there really was an Adam.

    • Your instinct for a historical Adam and Eve is not only correct, but theologically imperative. If there was no first couple who plunged the human race into sin, then we must conclude that sin is part of the fabric of creation. In addition, the parallel between Adam and Christ in Romans 5:12-21 explains the history of humanity in terms of these two men. If Adam is merely a symbol for humanity, then what happens to Christ in that parallel? Not to mention the fact that the argument of the passage completely crumbles if Adam is not one man but is representative of humanity in general. Then you would have Paul saying,

      “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man (by which, of course, I mean to say sin entered the world through humanity in general)….”

      The argument depends on a historical Adam. The Bible depends on a historical Adam. The Christian faith depends on a historical Adam.

      Mike, you might profit from reading Henri Blocher’s book “In the Beginning.” Blocher is too welcoming of evolutionary thought for my taste, and I disagree with much of what he argues in that book. But he does recognize the theological importance of a historical Adam and Eve. I think a line has to be drawn at that point.

      • “The Christian faith depends on a historical Adam. ”

        Why? My Christianity doesn’t depend on the Bible. If the Bible were never written, that would not mean that Christ did not exist. God would simply have found a different way to communicate.

        I’m a Christian. I don’t believe in a historical Adam. Does that mean I am not a Christian to you? Do you judge my faith based on your theology? Can we do the same to you, using my theology?

        When your entire view of Christianity rests on a particular reading of the Bible, that is shaky ground IMHO. Best to have the simple faith of Abraham.

        • JoanieD says:

          “When your entire view of Christianity rests on a particular reading of the Bible, that is shaky ground IMHO. ”

          I agree with you, Fish.

        • Fish,

          If your Christianity does not rest on the teachings of Scripture, then it is not historic Christianity.

          The Christian faith is, whether we like it or not, a unified, coherent system. One of the foundations of that system is the inherent goodness of creation and its subsequent corruption due to a historical event when humanity rebelled against God. That rebellion is a universal condition precisely because every single human being who has ever lived has a covenantal connection to the head of the human race, Adam.

          Redemption involves being drawn into a covenantal relationship with the head of a new human race, Jesus Christ. If we can fudge on historicity of the first Adam, then the whole story has to be redone. No longer are we talking about an originally good creation that was corrupted through a historical event. We would be talking about a world that was made the way it is, evil and all. Sin would become part of the fabric of creation itself. Then we are not looking for redemption any more. We are looking, instead, for some kind of evolutionary process into something better. If the doctrine of original sin goes out the door (and it does if there is no historical Adam who fell into sin), then there is no longer any need for redemption. And if you rewrite the story of redemption, you write Christ right out of it. What kind of redeemer can you have if you reinvent the whole concept of redemption?

          The Christian faith depends on the Bible, for it is the holy Word of God. We must take the same view of the Bible that Jesus himself took, and when you read Jesus’ statements about the Bible, you see that they are the first-century equivalent of what fundamentalists say about the Bible today.

          The simple faith of Abraham is faith in the Word of God, and that is what I am advocating here. I’m not advocating a faith that accommodates itself to the prevailing views of modern science. I am talking about believing what God says, even if it seems laughable by the world’s standards. That is the kind of faith Abraham had when he believed God’s promise to him: a multitude of descendants from his own body and that of his gray-haired wife (Gen. 15:6). Abraham had to look past the normal expectations of biology and take hold of what God said. I submit that the same is true for us with regard to both biology and geology.

          • To be candid, it was logic such as yours that kept me apart from God for decades. A logic that says that when the Bible and science are apparently in conflict, the Bible is always right.

            I would not check my brain at the door of the church and simply chose not to enter.

            In matters of science, such as evolution or DNA research, I follow science. Science reveals God’s creation to us just as surely as the Bible. Science is a gift from God.

            I follow Christ because Christ came into my life in a powerful way, not because I sat down with the Bible and worked out a perfectly cohesive framework and logic that proves He exists. I am searching for the living Word of God, who became flesh, and that Word will not fit into a book.

          • Fish, I want to recommend a book for you, because the issues you raised are very important ones and really deserve a good book-length treatment from a high class mind. Would you be willing to read Vern Poythress’s book entitled “Redeeming Science”?

            I don’t recommend the book because Poythress is a young earth creationist (he apparently is not). But he does the best job of anyone I have ever seen at explaining the relationship of the Christian faith to science.

            I think reading that book would show you that when you say something like, “In matters of science…I follow science,” what you fail to recognize is that “science” is not a neutral field of study. There are different approaches to scientific questions based on the presuppositions that the one asking them brings to the table. I would argue just as strongly that I follow science as well, but the framework I use for interpreting science is not autonomous human reason but the Word of God.

            Study the words of Jesus on the nature of the Bible and ask yourself if your view of the Bible measures up to his: Matthew 5:17-20; John 10:35; Matthew 22:43 (Jesus attributes the words of David to the Holy Spirit); Matthew 4:4; Luke 16:17. If you claim to follow the living Word of God, then you should follow him in his reverence for the written word of God.

            No one has suggested that the way you must come to faith is by sitting down with a Bible and working out a perfectly cohesive framework and logic that proves God exists. However you might have come to faith (which is not important for this discussion), the point is that the content of the Christian faith is a set of beliefs that hang together. Of course, saving faith involves more than just giving mental assent to those beliefs, but it certainly does not involve less.

            Nor has anyone suggested that Christ can be reduced to a book. He cannot be reduced to a book anymore than a living person can be reduced to the words of that living person. But one thing you cannot say is that a person’s words are, more or less, expendable when entering into a relationship with that person. Don’t pit God/Jesus against Scripture. That is a well-worn path that leads to all kinds of error.

            Anyway, I think you would profit from Poythress’s book and from studying those verses I referred to. Do what you want with that, but I hope you’ll take my suggestions.

    • Mike, it is fair to read poetry as poetry. It is less justifiable, to say the least, to read prose as poetry. Wouldn’t you agree? And Gen 1, is in no way, shape, or form poetry. It just isn’t. Hebrew poetry is not that hard to spot. And it has none of the characteristics.

      You may still choose to read it as metaphor. But why?

      That is an important question. Why? The answer to that question will tell you a lot.

      • No one said Genesis 1 is poetry.

        I read it as I do because I think this reading best reflects the text itself, the Ancient Near East background and culture out of which the text grew, and the context of the Torah, which the text introduces.

        In over 30 years of studying Genesis, I have come to appreciate the insights of several wonderful OT scholars whose writings have influenced and in some cases convinced me: John Sailhamer, Bruce Waltke, and John Walton, to name a few.

        Why do think I must have ulterior motives?

        • I recall reading somewhere that Genesis 1 can be read as doxology. I found that intriguing and read it through as praise to God, not seeking meaning, simply to praise. It does bring another dimension to the reading, whether this was intended when written or not.

        • Chaplain Mike,
          Actually, yes, someone did say Genesis was poetry. Look up the comment stream. A guy named Mike did. I assumed this was a different Mike than you. People say this frequently. I ran across that comment two or three times in the last couple of days, in fact.

          I don’t think “ulterior motives” is what I am talking about. But I’ve studied it for a long time too, and I see a lot of energy expended to avoid what is either (a) obvious or (b) only apparent. What I mean is understanding the sentences to mean what they say in a straightforward way. Literal, if you will. But that seems to be such a charged word.

          Anyway, to read that God created the world in six days, and to understand from that that God created the world in six days. (1) I say is undoubtably what a reader would conclude under normal circumstances, and (2) without any (real) objection for us to understand it that way. And yet the ink flows. There are so many ways proposed that God did NOT create the world in six days, that it starts to look like the real goal to which everyone is aspiring. And I just don’t know why.

          If I thought people really discounted the “Day-day” account of Genesis because the considered after reading the text that it was just an improbable reading based on the text itself, then I’d be more comfortable with these. But in my experience with them, scratch and you find the real motivation, they are trying to fold in what they believe to be true in the scientific realm. And I think that distorts exegesis. Listen long enough and you get the big selling point: “And so this way there is no conflict between the Bible and science.”

          If that is the WHY, and I think it ALMOST ALWAYS is, then I think that’s tainted. People end up buying weaker arguments over the stronger, less probable reading over the more probable, other things being equal. And that’s a strong indication to me that they are on the wrong track.

  27. I posted a bit more on this here.

    • Marv, I read your post. And it made me sad. To think that someone would publicly declare that he could understand a stranger’s motives and judge them as lacking takes a whole heap of presumption. What do you know about me? What do you know about where those “tells” that you quote came from, from whence they originated, what the motives behind them are?

      You imply that I am misconstruing the text so that I can believe it because I want intellectual credibility or some kind of standing in a certain community. Is it possible to believe that someone might simply come to some conclusions based on 30 years of study and exposure to some gifted teachers? Is it possible to believe that the “tells” you point out might be opinions that represent implications I have seen as the RESULT of my studies rather than being the APRIORI BASIS of my approach and conclusions?

      What you fail to realize as well is that my studies and the conclusions I have come to have contributed not to any gain for me, but rather to the loss of ministry and standing in communities with which I was associated. I can’t think of a thing I have gained for myself by pursuing this, other than the simple personal satisfaction of coming to know God better through his Word.

      • As I said, CM, I may be wrong about what I say. And I cannot get in anyone’s mind, but what I hear is indications that there is something other than just dealing with the text going on.

        From what you say you are not seeking personally any kind of credibility. And I admit that way of putting things may be overly strong, but the quest to understand what the author meant and the quest to accord the Bible with science are two different quests. I say do the first first and then if you feel like it work on the second. What i see happening in maybe 90%of cases is the reverse order.

        I appreciate that you have received benefit from the scholars you mention, but at some point their various exegetical schemes appear to me to have in the mix the motivation to free the exegetical world from the 6-day creation. I think so not because I am reading minds because they tell you, sooner or later. At any rate it comes out. Hence the reference to tells.

        And this makes ME sad.

      • So what I am saying is that if this is not descriptive of you directly, the process is still happening indirectly through you. But these exegetical views are attractive to people, I think, because it solves a problem. Maybe it isn’t fair to describe it as seeking cred. Maybe a better way of putting it is that a person does not think they can honestly accept a reading that conflicts with their view of what is true from nonscriptural sources. But the end result is the same. I’m planning on checking out Walton’s book tomorrow at the library. Maybe he’ll provide a more satisfying approach than Kline or Sailhamer et al have to my experience so far.

  28. John B. Lankford says:

    Folks:
    Let me suggest Conrad Hyers book “The Meaning of Creation” as an excellent work. And thanks for all of your interesting comments given in a civil way!!!