Genesis 1–2:3. The Beginning of the Works of God. Creation.
Key Notes: Perspective of creation. Perspectives of the beginning and ending of history. Let Us make man. The problem of time. What we are told; what we are not told.
Genesis, the Book of Origins, is the subject of a huge literature. Practically every aspect of human knowledge is touched on in Genesis: history, anthropology, linguistics, archaeology, geology, astronomy, biology, politics, psychology, and religion. With developments in geology, geophysics and planetary history, we are continuing to gain further insights into its meaning. As other ancient manuscripts are studied, our knowledge of the meaning of words and expressions increases, and we can expect a clearer understanding of ancient history.
Since Genesis intends to establish who we are in relation to the earth and to God, it is an invaluable spiritual resource and we would expect it to be the object of controversy, attacked and defended from all sides. Beginning about 1700, Genesis was systematically shredded and reconstructed by the critics, based on ideas and presuppositions about the evolution of religious thought over the ages. (See the article on Genesis in International Stand.Bibl.Encyclo. G.W. Bromiley, et al, Edit.; Eerdmans,’82; Vol.II, p.431–442 for elaboration.)
Genesis is also very old, with memories of the most ancient times. Revelation, at the other end of the Bible, is also a difficult book to read and interpret, dealing with the future. So at both ends of time, the beginning (Genesis 1–11), and the ending (Revelation), we have more difficulty understanding than when we come within the four millennia of historical time.
Genesis is divided into two parts which are quite different:
1–11 Primordial history. The narrative of origins.
12–50 Patriarchal history. The story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph beginning about 2000BC.
Day 1. Gen.1:1 "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." By such a profound statement, the Bible disposes of
•atheism (God does not exist),
•polytheism (there are multiple gods),
•dualism (there are two eternal opposing powers in the universe),
•monism / pantheism (God is the world),
•materialism (matter is eternal, self-existent).
*tribalism (He is God of only my country, my tribe)
The account of creation is written from the perspective of a person standing on the earth, and without any special knowledge of science. The Bible uses pre-scientific language throughout, enabling anyone to understand its basic truths at any time in history. We still use such language. So the sun rises, the clouds shower down rain, the lightning flashes and thunder roars, people are born and die.
Gen.1:2 The earth was not started out as the smooth round ball that we see today. It was a dark and wet desert, created before God made visible light. He made everything that was made, but the creation of the earth is not described. The Spirit of God (the literal words are "an awesome wind") was brooding over the waters. (Gen.1:3–5). And God said "Light!" and there was light. He was pleased with it, and separated day from night. From this we surmise that the earth was now rotating on its axis.
Day 2. Gen.1:6–8 God divided clouds from earth-water and called the space between "heaven". Now the surface of the earth could be seen separate from the blanket of moisture that moved up and away from it. The word "heaven" may mean the atmosphere as well as the abode of God, which is sometimes called "the heaven of heavens". God does not live in the atmosphere or the stratosphere, but God’s abode is above us. More than that we cannot say.
Day 3. Gen.1:9–13 God separated the water from the land and named them "seas" and "earth". He called the earth to bring forth vegetation, plants and trees.
Day 4. Gen.1:14–19 God put lights in the heavens for the day and moon and stars for the night. Since we have had light from Day One, we understand that the celestial bodies have now become visible.
Day 5. Gen.1:20–23 God called for the waters to swarm with living creatures, including great sea monsters, and for birds to fly in the air.
Day 6. Gen.1:24–25. God called for the earth to bring forth its animal life.
Gen.1:26–31 Then He created mankind. The language is different from other parts of the chapter, because He said "Let Us make man after Our Likeness and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping that creeps upon the earth." God created humans, male and female, blessed them and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over the earth. They were given the plants for food and given dominion over the earth.
Day 7. Gen.2:1 On the seventh day God finished His work and rested and blessed the seventh day.
The text says that God created everything we see. He fixed the conditions first--creating matter and planets, separating day from night, clouds from seas and then seas from land. He brought out the celestial bodies before the plants and the plants before the animals. He made His creations deliberately and slowly, in an order, going from plants to animals, from the simple animals to the complex with humans as the final and highly honored finale. He made us in His Image. He enjoyed the work and approved of the result. Then He stopped, and rested. Later He will invite us to do the same—to create and to rest. In addition, He ordered man to be the master and care-taker of the earth, a serious responsibility.
Each of the six creation days starts with "and God said". We note that "God said" 10x.
"He saw" (7x)
"He called" (3x)
"He created" (5x)
"He made" (3x)
"He blessed" (3x).
It is as if the work of creation is done by speaking, not by hand-work, except for the creation of man. He did other things which appear disarmingly simple. He saw that the biological creations were good (4x) and the creation of man was "very good." (1:31).
God is living and active. He is the initiator of everything we see and know.
When God says "let Us make man" we understand a conversation between two or three. This is probably not the literary device called "the plural of majesty" since God does not usually speak of Himself in these terms (Gen.11:7). Our God is a complex unity, one in essence, with three centers of person-hood, The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. The "awesome wind" of Gen.1:2, is reminiscent of the Holy Spirit "like the rush of a mighty wind" that announced the beginning of he Church. Acts 2:2
Questions and puzzles.
- The formation of the earth itself is not described. It is simply stated as being there. In Christ, "everything was made that was made" (Jn.1:1), so we understand that the earth is part of the original creation. But why is it not described?
- After the earth is present, light appears. That contradicts the Big Bang" theory which would have radiation become matter, but it need not if we understand that visible light rather than high intensity radiation is intended.
- "The evening and the morning were one day." That is an unusual way of talking about the passage of time. (For another exception: Dan.8:26)
- Light appears before the visible sun, moon and stars. Is that because they could not been seen through the dense wet atmosphere? Were they present when the earth was already in existence? That must be true because there were day / night cycles from Day One, suggesting that the earth was already rotating on an axis and exposed to a light source.
- Seed-bearing plants are described from the first, although the geological record suggests that there were many more primitive plants early on and Genesis 2 has domestic crop-plants added later.
- The word "after their kinds" is repeated three times. Does "kinds" refer to phylum, class, order, family, genus or species? We presume species but genus may be more correct. The fixity of species is fascinating: sparrows do not breed with blue-birds and chimps do not become gorillas.
- "Were there dinosaurs in Eden?" someone asked. Their appearances are separated by millions of years.
- What is the "image of God"? Is it found in other primates? Col.1:15 tells us that Christ is the image of God. The image of God in man is Christ-likeness; it is a spiritual, not a physical resemblance.
- Is God still resting? Jesus said God is now working even on Sabbath! (Jn.5:17). He is active in upholding the universe and providing the needs of every living thing. Col.1:13
Other Bible references give us additional insight into creation.
Heb.11:3 reminds us that affirming God (through Christ) as Creator is an act of faith and that what is seen comes from the invisible, even the non-existent ("creation ex nihilo").
Jn.1:1–3 tells us that Christ was the active agent in creation.
Col.1:15–16 confirms John’s statement that Christ is the primary agent in creation and "in Him all things hold together".
Rev.4:11 tells us that glory and honor and power are due to God because He created by His will.
These, together with the presence of the Spirit of God in Gen.1:2 brooding over the water, lead us to conclude that all three Persons of the Trinity were involved in creation.
Why did God create? Genesis does not tell us and the Bible does not make a point of it, although it seems terribly important to us. But Eph.1:4 says that "He chose us (human beings) in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him."
These truths should be the source of satisfaction and rejoicing to us, but we are not pleased, and ask endless questions about HOW! and WHEN? (The other questions--who, what, where, and perhaps "why" have some Biblical answers.) The method and time period of the beginning of the world occupies a lot of scientific thinking. There is in fact a mortal battle between materialistic science and super-naturalistic Christianity, so reconciling truth from both sides is not idle sport. We must try to reconcile science and Scripture.
The traditional view is that Genesis 1 days are literal 24 hour days, dating creation back to 4004 BC. This estimate is based on a mathematical summing of the biblical life-spans of the first men. The estimate assumes that there are no gaps in the record, an assumption proven wrong by other genealogies in Scripture. For example, Matthew tabulates fourteen generations ( a generation is usually 40 years) from Abraham to David (a span of a thousand years), fourteen generations from David to the Exile (about 415 years) and fourteen generations from the Exile to Christ (roughly 500 years). Therefore we should not use Biblical genealogies to estimate time. The earth has been considered very old since ancient times (Augustine, 400AD).The modern estimate of the age of the earth is 4.5 billion years, the universe being 8 billion years old. Efforts to reconcile geologic time with Biblical time have come down to three theories.
*Flood Geology accepts the traditional view of a young earth and accounts for the fossils as part of the universal flood and the burial of debris and dead animals under mountains of soil. Evidence to support this view have not been persuasive.
*The Gap Theory says that between Gen.1:1 and 1:2 there is an enormous time lapse in which the first creation with the fossil animals, dinosaurs and hominids was destroyed, and "the earth became without form and void". That is a guess because it has little or no Biblical support.
*The Long Day theory takes the word "Day" (Heb.yom) for a long period of time. The word "yom" is used for the "day of the Lord", for example. "The Day of the Lord" includes Israel’s destruction from 606 to 586BC as well as future destruction of the world. But in Gen.1 the expressions "there was evening and there was morning one day" does not easily allow for an extended period. However, "There was evening and morning, one day" is an unusual way of speaking about time. We normally think of morning and evening, one day. Conjecture about some special meaning in that expression has not led to general agreement.
There is rough correspondence between geologic ages and creation days, a truly amazing observation from a naturalistic perspective.
Day 1=Cosmic Era
Day 2=Azoic Era
Day 3=Archeozoic Era (continental shields)
Day 4=Proterozoic Era (primitive plants)
Day 5=Paleozoic Era: Cambrian; Devonian; Carboniferous (insects, invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians)
Day 6=Cenozoic Era (mammals, true birds, and man)
It has been noted in Relativity Theory that time is flexible, and depends on the position of the observer. But to think that 168 hours can be equivalent to 4.5 billion years is ridiculous. "For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night." (Psa.90:4) but Genesis 1 is written from our perspective and must be understandable to us.
God talked to Job about creation. Job38–41
"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know!" (Job.38:4–5)
If he were there, Job could not have figured it out.
Paul, speaking of Israel's salvation says that if we should be there, we would not figure that out either.
"How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out. For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor." (Rom.11:33, KJV).
The growth of the embryo is in God’s hands. (Psa.139). We can describe embryonic development but we cannot figure it out biophysically. The separation between the natural and the supernatural is artificial. The hand of God is involved in everythingwe see. Nevertheless, scientific reductionism is a valuable premise for doing biological research.
So we are faced with a dilemma. On one hand we believe that the universe is rational, even reducible to mathematical equations such as F = MA. We believe that the universe was made by a rational Being because we can understand it. We do not believe that God created instant fossils in the ground. We believe that He did not start the earth with the radioactive elements half-decayed. We believe that what happens and what has happened can be understood, at least in part. On the other hand, when it comes to creation as well as biblical miracles, we simply trust God for things we do not understand and are not explained.
"The secret things belong to the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this Law" (Deut.29:29)
Archaeology, including standard works:
The Bible and Archaeology. J.A.Thompson; Eerdmans,’72.
Biblical Archaeology in Focus. K.N.Schoville; Baker,’78.
The Stones and the Scriptures. E.Yamauchi; Lippencott,’72.
The Archaeology of Palestine. Penguin,’60.
Ancient Orient and Old Testament. K.A. Kitchen; IVP,’66.
History of Science
The Death of Adam. J.C.Green. Mentor Books,’59. This book tells the story of the loss of faith of Christian / religious scientists and biologists in the hundred years after Darwin.
Chance and Necessity J.Monod. Vintage Books,’70. Monod advocates a universe that is meaningless and without cause.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. T.S. Kuhn. U.Chi.Press,’70. This is the first of several editions by this sociologist of science. He explains the way scientists think and the subjectivity that is involved in discovery. In astronomy there have been at least five models (paradigms) of the cosmos. [We have had so far only one model for biology and it is unlikely to be the last.]
Evolution, A theory in Crisis. M.Denton; Adler and Adler,’86. This critique by a non-Christian writer explores the many flaws in evolutionary observation and theory.
Recent works in astronomy and astrophysics, with emphasis on the Big Bang.
The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. J.D. Barrow, F.J. Tipler. Oxford,’88. These scholars outline the argument for design very well, and give much data from biology and astrophysics about the improbability of the earth we have. They do not come to a biblical conclusion.
God and the Astronomers. J.Jastrow; Norton,’78. This widely quoted book finds an astronomer thinking seriously about the Big Bang and the origin of the universe.
Three popular books by Paul Davies:
Other Worlds. Simon and Schuster,’80
The Accidental Universe. Cambridge,’82
God and the New Physics. Simon and Schuster,’83
Post-script. The Big Bang" theory of the origin of the universe has not been embraced by Christian theologians, justifiably wary of scientific novelty and a false association with biological evolution. The theory is derived from good evidence that the universe is expanding outward and cooling during the past two centuries of measurement. If the curves for movements of the galaxies in space and the dissipation of heat are extrapolated back in time, we come to a convergence at time zero, 4.5 billion years ago. Calculations of the forces of explosion and gravitation at the instant of the Big Bang indicate that the probability of the universe coming into its present state rather than collapsing in on itself or instantly exploding into oblivion are mathematically off the charts. The further probability of one little blue planet having the right conditions to sustain life is equally unlikely mathematically. So the idea that randomness is the basis for life is equally absurd, making evolution an outmoded hypothesis.