Reflections on Genesis 1 – Background

I recently realized that our men’s class hadn’t studied a single Old Testament book in depth in at least five years. So last night we started a class on Genesis and from time to time I want to share some reflections that come out of preparing to teach that class.

Beginnings:
First there is the title. Our title “Genesis” comes from the Greek Old Testament (aka Septuagint) and means “origins.” The Hebrews were far more innovative in creating titles for their books than that. They just took the first word in Genesis and made it the title. That word means “In the beginning.” Genesis is a book of origins. It explains the origin of people, the world, sin and redemption, the Hebrew nation (not to be confused with Gator nation) and last how God’s people ended up in Egypt. There is one origin that is left out and that is the origin of God. Unlink the other ancient religions the God of the Hebrews had no beginning or end.

Time:
Then there is the issue of time. Genesis presupposes that God is without beginning or end. Time doesn’t even appear to be an issue until the fourth day when God made the sun, moon and stars to designate set periods of time. The issue of seven days doesn’t seem to be so much an explanation of how long creation took more so that there was order to it and that it grew out of God’s creative speech in a certain order. The first 12 chapters spans thousands (or millions of years depending on your point of view) but the last 39 chapters is really about one family spanning a few hundred years at best.

Authorship:
Genesis never tells us who wrote it. It is anonymous. The Pentateuch is referred to as the “Law of Moses” in several places in the OT including Joshua 1:7-8 and 2 Chronicles 25:4. Jesus refers to Moses being the author (Mtt 19:7, Mark 7:10). So we assume that Moses was the primary author of Genesis-Deuteronomy. However, we know there are certain passage that did not come from Moses (see Numbers 12:3 & Deut 34). That is not earth shattering and should not be a stumbling flock to our faith. It is also not an issue when it comes to acceptance as inspired scripture. Genesis through Deuteronomy are still useful for building and informing our faith regardless of the process in which it was completed in the form we have today.

Competing Stories:
People have wondered where the world came from since the beginning of time. Many have attempted to answer that question by telling stories of their own to give explanation to what they see around them in the world. Many of the cultures surrounding God’s people in the ancient world had their stories. One of the most prominent creation stories was the Babylonian creation story Enuma Elish. Without getting into too many details their story says that matter was pre-existent. The gods were created and created more gods. They got disgruntled and battled it out. The result was Marduk, one of the elder gods, was killed and his body split in two. One half was made into the heavens and the other half made the earth. Mankind was created out of dust and demon blood (really a great beginning to our story…right?). What you end up with are “gods” that look and act a whole lot like people.

Our Story:
One thing I love about our story as Christians is that it is so unlike any other competing story about the super natural or eternal life out there. Yes there are some similarities in teaching with other religions but when you look at the broad theology of both testaments there is nothing else out there quite like it. So the Genesis creation story becomes that much fuller when you hold it up alongside the competing stories of their day and so does the rest of scripture. God is sovereign. He is not vying for power or in competition with anyone else for authority. God speaks and it happens. But He is also willing to set aside his immortality, take on flesh, and show us how to live. He confronted sin and death in a gruelling death match that lasts less than 48 hours (late Friday through early Sunday) and paved the way for us to live life as it was intended to be lived, eternal.

About mattdabbs
I am a minister, husband, and father. My wife and I live and minister in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My primary ministry responsibilities include: small groups, 20s and 30s, involvement, and adult education.

37 Responses to Reflections on Genesis 1 – Background

  1. Kevin M. says:

    Not to open a can of worms (I promise), but the Earth being created in six days (as the Bible indicates) is not hard to believe (given that we believe God is sovereign) and it is always better to err on the side of taking the Word at face value rather than to interject human reasoning to say it could have taken longer. Not to mention, God lets us know explicitly in Exodus 20:11 and after each day of creation (evening and morning). Millions of years is unnecessary and if we are to compromise, let us not compromise the Word but rather on believing atheistic scientists whose vain goal is to escape accountability and judgment. Can of worms closed😉

    • mattdabbs says:

      How do you not interject human reasoning into any of this? All interpretation takes human reasoning and God knew that when he inspired and revealed these things to us through Moses. God knew that when he appeared to the Hebrews on Sinai that they would experience and process that revelation through their own, weak, human reasoning. So you can’t cancel out human reasoning. You would have to use reasoning to even try to cancel it out, right?

      Now to your point about how many days it took. The word for day in Hebrew is Yom (like Yom Kippur = Day of Atonement). That word sometimes means a 24 hour day. Other times it just means a period of time. At even other times it means an event (Day of the Lord). Which one is it here because all are valid interpretations of that word in the Hebrew Old Testament. Obviously context plays a role here in how you interpret it in this instance.

      Last, even atheists will tell you millions and billions of years are not enough to account for life as we see it today. So the whole argument that we can’t go with literal days because it will take us on the slippery slope to evolution or the big bang theory isn’t really fair. You cannot reject an interpretation just because it might somehow seem to open the door to an opponent’s argument.

      • Kevin M. says:

        Whoa, brother, hold on. First, I should have clarified: “human reasoning” meaning the fallen man that looks around and says, “Yep, there is no way a god created all of this in six days.” I.e. the “human wisdom” spoken of in I Cor. 1:20. NOT the clear, rational thought brought about by and coupled with the study of the Word of God.

        Also, you did not even address my point about the commandment in Exodus (what’s the context there? It’s talking about how long we should work.) or the fact that it says “evening or morning” after each day. I’m not trying to start a debate, I just don’t think it wise to ignore the plain way the Bible lays it out and say it may not have been that way.

        In Hebrews 11 it makes plain that it is by “faith” that we understand the worlds were created by the Word of God and “that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” Therefore, if we believe that God made the world by the Word of His mouth, and He outlines clearly the procedure He used to bring it about, why say it may not have occured that way? Why lend creedence to athiests and naysayers whose whole purpose is to discredit Scripture. Science is not the standard by which Scripture is tested, Scripture is the standard by which science is tested. If Scripture says different, then the conclusions that the “origins scientists” come to are fallacious. The whole reason that evolutionary study came about is because of a presupposition that there is no God. “The fool says in his heart ‘There is no God’.”

    • mattdabbs says:

      Kevin, If you read my post I never said it was impossible for the world to be created in six days. I just asked whether or not that was the point the text was trying to make or whether the text was laying out the order of creation itself, whether that took six days or six million days. So I am not ruling out the possibility of a literal six days. I just think we get way more caught up on that than the text does.

      In Exodus 20:11 Moses is certainly drawing off and quoting from the creation story as the rationale for why we rest. I am not certain that means that God was limited to six 24 hour periods in Genesis 1. Moses is certainly paralleling the two and we are certainly living in 24 hour days. I see where you are going with that and I am fine with that. I am just not going to get all caught up in a discussion that I don’t really think is the emphasis of the text. The emphasis is on God, not how long the days were or if it was 6 periods of 24 hours, etc. Also, notice Gen 1:14. It is not until the fourth day that the sun and moon and said, “let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years.” It sounds like you at least have to leave open the door of possibility that days weren’t even figured as 24 hour periods until this point.

      Thanks for your thoughts. It is good to have to think through this and is very interesting.

      • Kevin M. says:

        I know you never said “impossible” and I’m certainly not implying that you are aligning yourself with people who do. Hence the phrase “the fallen man” and “why say it *may* not have occured that way?”. I was just trying to say that that’s the reasoning that starts down the discreditor’s path. I have not intentionally directed anything toward you.

        I completely agree with you that time is not the issue but the fact that God spoke it into existence. But God could have said used any unit of measurement He wanted and he chose the day with morning and evening as a frame of reference. There is nothing to point specifically to the possibility of it taking longer and therefore the speculation that it could have is artificially interjected into the reading of that text. It’s so much safer to take the Word at face value, that’s all I’m saying.

      • Kevin M. says:

        This is an addendum to my post (I don’t know if the blog software is going to put it above or below my previous reply).

        First, just because 1:14 says that they serve as “markers” doesn’t mean that God had not yet created time. In actuality, He had, “In the beginning”.

        Second, He specifically uses “days” as frames of reference that we could relate to, whether or not the sun rose yet or not… ergo, I did this in this 24 hour period.

        Third, if the time periods were irrelevant, they would have been excluded from the text. The “there was evening and morning one, second, third, etc. day,” takes up a significant portion of the text and has relevance. It’s relevance is to do away with speculation. In other words, “You don’t have to wonder how long it took Me, I’ll tell you.”

        I am not “limiting God”, I am believing God that this was the way He chose so this was the way He described. He could have done it any way He desired but He chose this method.

  2. Ken Sublett says:

    Think about this: After Israel fell back into their old Egyptian musical idolatry, God gave the The Book of The Law which trumped The Book of the Covenant of Grace: the Abrahamic Covenandt as the only spiritual covenant Paul reconnects in Galatians 3.

    7:43 Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Remphan, figures which ye made to worship them: and I will carry you away beyond Babylon.

    That’s where the masses of Hebrews originated as robbers of Caravans.
    Because they were abandoned to Sabazianism, Moses wrote an inverted version of what we can read on Clay tablets some long before Moses was born. The Mesopotamian “gods” got tired and created mankind as a “labor savings device” so they could rest. Of course, it was the presumed “agents” of the gods who operated the ziggurats (as in Jerusalem) where the pople worked on the superstitious sevent day and tithed: both sabbath as worship as opposed to rest and the tithe originated in Babylon.

    The Levi tribe–Jacob warned against in Gen 49–did hard bondage while the godly people attended qahal, synagogue or church of christ in the wilderness to Rest, Read and Rehearse the Word of God (only)

    You are forced to accept that or admit that Moses just lifted the Babylonian “bible” and gave them a people-focused tilt. Jesus said that truth had been hidden from the consumers from the foundation of the world.

    The modern mega churches are forced to restore “Babylonianism” (2 Chron 29; Rev 17-18) when the cash ceases to flow, including Sabbath worship.

  3. guy says:

    Matt,

    i’m just curious–do you know if *prior* to Darwin’s work, there was any academic/theological debate to the length of a “day” in Genesis 1? i don’t doubt that some even prior to the formulation of the theory of evolution by natural selection still may have considered it a myth, but i wonder if the character of that debate was fairly different from the textual-analysis debate that has taken place post-Origin-of-a-Species.

    Also, just hypothetically, suppose God did mean to communicate to us that the earth was created in a six 24-hour-days. In such an event, how would Genesis 1 read differently than it does?

    –guy

    • mattdabbs says:

      I just did a little digging around but can’t find the answer to your question. To answer your second question I don’t think it would read any different than it does. It seems to me we are far more interested in the time component here than the author. He is more interested than who than he is when or how long.

    • wjcsydney says:

      Guy, I can recommend John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One.

  4. Ken Sublett says:

    P.S. don’t try that in church :–)

  5. Wendy says:

    Kevin, the ” the plain way the Bible lays it out” is not plain for us at all. Genesis was written in Hebrew for another culture millenia ago. What might seem a “plain” reading to you need not have been the “plain” way it was intended for it’s original audience – a peoples whose truth was communicated in story, not in factual post-Enlightenment “plain” language. Their plain is not necessarily our plain.

    • Kevin M. says:

      How many other ways can you understand “God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.” Maybe when God said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children,” He meant something else? No, my wife can testify that that’s what He meant. That was plain enough for her.

      I can give philisophical arguments all day long but that doesn’t help me understand the text. If I believe God is a perfect communicator and that He is omniscient (i.e. He knew that His Word would be read by many- times more people than Israel), then why would He say “one day” and not mean it? Like I already said, it is much safer to take the Word at face value.

      When we start down the path of speculation, we lose sight of truth.

      • mattdabbs says:

        The point people who are pushing for non-literal 24 hour “days” (remember the word Yom that can mean a variety of things as mentioned above) will make is that they believe this material is poetry and meant to be read as such. In poetry how many ways can you describe the smell of a rose or a sunset? It gives some flex to the exact meaning of words like “day” especially when you pair that up with all the lexical possibilities of the Hebrew. Again, let me say it a million more times (not literally of course…that would be a ton of typing ;)…I am not saying “no way” to 6 24 hour days. So you really don’t have to try to change my mind on this. As you (and maybe Bob too) said, the simplest interpretation is often the correct one. We often get in our own way when it comes to interpretation and make things way too complicated.

        I appreciate your thoughts on this and really appreciate your zeal for the truth and for God’s Word. It is inspiring!

      • mattdabbs says:

        Let me throw one more out there just to show you how the word “day” can be used and this example is in context of creation.

        Gen 2:4 literally reads, “These are the generations (account) of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the DAY the Lord God made the earth and heavens.”

        Here “Yom” is used to talk about the time in which the whole creation was created and yet it was created in 6 yoms. That word has some flexibility in how even Moses used it within this same context much less in the whole Hebrew OT. Just want to point out that it may not be as straight forward as you think. I am not saying 6 days is impossible or that I am questioning God’s power. I am certainly open to that interpretation. When I read Genesis 1 I am reading more about God than I am about days so I am really not caught up in the debate about time in that chapter. I am open to discuss it but I don’t get all hung up over that.

  6. Bob Bliss says:

    Matt, here is a link to answer guys’ question.

    http://www.catholic.com/library/Creation_and_Genesis.asp

    There was some variation in thinking on what the days represent in the early church.

  7. Bob Bliss says:

    Even though there is considerable discussion about whether or not the days in Genesis 1 are figurative or not we must remember that our job in hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) is to figure out what the author meant. Since we can’t quiz the author directly we must quiz his text (exegesis). I do not see how anyone can read the text of Genesis 1 and claim that the author (Moses – at least that is my belief) meant anything other than a normal 24 hour day. He was writing for the Israelites as they traveled to the promised land in order to give them a written account of how they came to be as a nation. It doesn’t matter whether or not we find out that the earth is billions of years old and that it wasn’t created in six days. What matters is what the text says. When we interject science into the text for interpretation we weaken the Bible’s authority. I know that this doesn’t answer all the questions folks may have about the text or does it say that I won’t fellowship anyone who disagrees with me. What I do believe is that the author’s intention is what is important.

    • wjcsydney says:

      Bob, read Walton. I have never read Genesis One as literal 24 hour days and many Catholics don’t either. The literal 24 hour day interpretation seems to me to be a product of an evangelical/fundamentalism focus on a concrete interpretation that postdates the Enlightenment. Premodernists did not focus on such a “factual” interpretation as far as I understand it (from my limited reading).

  8. Bob Bliss says:

    Wendy, why do you think Genesis One is not literal?

    • wjcsydney says:

      It’s not written as a concrete account. The language, imagery, significance of the numbers, poetry, symbolism.. so many factors point to it NOT being a concrete account. I prefer not to use the word “literal”. Literal means “as it is written” and I believe it wasn’t written as a concrete factual account.

      • guy says:

        Wendy,

        At what point does Genesis change from poetry/myth to concrete history, and how can you tell?

        –guy

  9. wjcsydney says:

    Guy, I don’t think ANY of Genesis is history in the way that we define history. Our definition of history has parameters that were just not considered important in the ancient world. However, I do think there is a shift in Genesis 12 to a more narrative genre (as opposed to Gen 1-11 which is more of the genre epic myth or a pre-history). How can I tell? There are substantial differences in the type of language used in each “half” of Genesis. Chs 1-11 are full of poetic symbolism. The story of Abraham begins a much more narrative/prosaic account.

    • mattdabbs says:

      Wendy, it seems to me that “literal history” is not a modern construct at all. There have been historians throughout the ages who intended to write down events as they happened. Today we get all caught up in perspective and how nothing is free of bias but that doesn’t make it impossible to write down an event with some detail and accuracy. I am sure Josephus or Herodotus or any of a number of other ancient historians were intending to write down history as accurately as possible. So do we go and call that poetry? Do we say it doesn’t really mean what it says or can only be read as another genre?

      People will say the Gospels were not meant to be read as historical accounts or even biographies. But how did the Gospel writers intend for their works to be read? Luke gives us an insight as to what he was thinking at the beginning of his gospel,

      “1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[a] among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. ” (Luke 1:1-4)

      Sounds like he was really trying to record things as historically accurate as possible, orderly and with great certainty. So do we read his Gospel as history as he basically states that it is or as something else?

      So what was Moses’ intent in writing Genesis 1? How do we answer that question? We definitely don’t want to make up our minds first and then make the text fit our preconceived ideas. I am not saying you are doing that but that certainly happens on both sides of the debate and it is to be avoided.

      I think this is an important discussion and I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on what can be a controversial topic.

      • wjcsydney says:

        Matt, with all due respect there is a BIG difference between what Josephus or Herodotus recorded and how they recorded it (or what Luke recorded in Acts to use a Biblical example) and Genesis 1-11!

        The gospels are not historical accounts in the sense we write historical accounts nowadays. There are a number of differences, the main one as I see it being that the purpose of the gospels were to attest to theological truths about Jesus (using eyewitness accounts and oral history as sources certainly). But were the gospels written to narrate details of Jesus’ life or to attest to the fact that he is indeed the Messiah and to communicate why the gospel writers held that belief to the realy church?

        As for Genesis 1, I do not believe Moses wrote it. But I believe the purpose of Genesis 1 is to communicate theological truths about who God is and why he created, now how or when he created.

        Wendy
        Jude 2

    • mattdabbs says:

      So the Gospels aren’t exactly how we write history today. That’s fine. But they are meant to be read as the record of true events. Of course they are written through a particular perspective and personality via inspiration but they are still meant to be the record of actual events. How should my faith be built through myth? There is only one way I can think of that I can accept my faith being built up through myth and that would be making the creation analogous to the descriptions of heaven in Revelation…God did something so amazing that there is really no way to describe it other than in language we are familiar with and is small enough for us to partially wrap our minds around to make the point that God is amazing and we should put our faith in Him and no one else. Aside from that possibility I am more inclined to say that if God wants to build my faith he is going to base it on actual happenings that have been recorded and passed on to us today. I am certainly not saying you believe the Gospel events didn’t happen or anything like that.

      I am saying that just because we have a different perspective on history at some level than the ancients did does not mean they are that incapable of recording actual events. We can’t make them moderns or post-moderns. I think they thought in much more simple terms than that.

      • wjcsydney says:

        Matt, if epic myth can better illuminate the questions of WHO GOD IS and WHY GOD CREATED THE UNIVERSE (which I believe are the questions we should be focussing on in Genesis 1-11 not WHEN and HOW) than a factual account can, then faith IS built through myth.

        I don’t believe any language possible COULD begin to describe the hows of creation. The only way we can begin to comprehend it is through myth. God is just too big and beyond our puny brains for a concrete expalanation of the creation to be given to/for us. We could not comprehend it.

        I do believe that ancients recorded actual events. However I don’t believe that Genesis 1-11 is a factual account of the creation and the story of events up until Abraham.

    • mattdabbs says:

      I get what you are saying I just have some reservations. For instance, how do you draw a line between chapters 11 and 12? What would keep you from saying that Jesus didn’t really raise the dead but embodied the spirit of life so fully that it was like he was raising the dead? How do you separate myth from the rest of the account with any kind of pinpoint precision? I am not a big fan of slippery slope arguments because I think they are often used to roadblock legitimate discussions. So I am trying hard not to do that here and hope it doesn’t come across that way.

      One last point. Let’s take one example from Gen 1-2 and see how it would work out from seeing this all as mythological poetry. Let’s take the creation/formation of man. From a mythological point of view the point is that God made man and made him special. He may have made him a zillion different ways and didn’t necessarily make him from dust but God made him in some amazing way and that is all we need to know. Would that be fair? If so, do we lose anything in that interpretation?

      • guy says:

        Matt,

        Couldn’t agree more with your objection. What are the distinctive features of a narrative that are had by parts of Genesis and not others? Gen 1-11 has names, genealogies, places, timeline references, non-poetic dialogue between specifically named characters, events recorded about specific people in a genealogy (the first to have two wives, the first to make musical instruments), recording of births and deaths, etc. None of these can be used to distinguish the literary character of bits of Genesis because all of it includes these characteristics. And if these aren’t distinguishing features of historical narrative (as opposed to a myth), then i have no idea what would be.

        i don’t think it’s a cliche slippery slope argument at all. If we don’t have some definitive criteria to distinguish historical narrative from myth, then, no, you’re right, on what non-arbitrary basis do we get to claim that Christ’s resurrection was a historical, space-time event, but deny such status to Babel or Noah?

        –guy

      • wjcsydney says:

        Matt, I guess Abraham is the line drawn.. he is the first Biblical character who is a “rounded” person, and not an archetype. The nature of the text changes – much less symbolism, more prosaic narrative. There are mythological paralels in ANE literature for much os what is in Gen 1-11 but not for Abraham and after. Ch 1-11 is a universal “history” of the human race – Ch 12 onwards is specific to the Jewish race.

        I don’t believe we can pinpoint the separation of myth from the rest of the account with pinpoint precision but I don’t believe it is necessary that we do. This is not mathematics. Truth does not depend of solving equations.

        I am not sure what your point is in your last paragraph. The important thing we need to know about the creation (apart from the fat that God created all) is that God made man spiritual beings. We resemble the triune God not physically but spiritually. The important point about dust is not that it’s the physical source from which God created us (in a concrete interpretation) but the spiritual application of that truth. What does dust signify? How do we link the dust from which we are created to the temporality of our earthly existence? The important part is not how or when God created us but WHO created us and WHY…

    • mattdabbs says:

      The point the literalist would make is that this is a counter story to the stories of the cultures and religions that surround them. It is like Moses is saying via inspiration…those stories got it wrong. Here is what really happened. So what are we left with if Moses got it wrong too? I am sure you would say Moses very much got it right and that seeing it as wrong is viewing it through modern history, because the events were not the point.

      My point in the example of the creation of mankind was the last line – would we lose anything interpreting it as myth? I think if we view the entire thing as myth there is something that is lost there. At least to me it distances God from his creation. The account in Genesis 1-2 shows a God who is intimately involved in “forming” man. The account is beautiful. It is descriptive. It reflects the presence of God in our lives in a very real and profound way. It is formative (pun intended) but once you say, “Well, it didn’t really go down like that at all.” It seems to me you lose something there.

  10. Bob Bliss says:

    Wendy, it’s interesting that you impose modern day genre categories (epic myth, etc.) on an ancient text and thus declare that it isn’t a concrete account. How does that follow? Psalm 19 is full of poetic symbolism (it’s actually poetry where as Genesis 1-11 isn’t) and yet it is a concrete view of how creation and the word declare the glory of God even though it uses a lot of symbolism and images. Poetry (at least in my view) is sometimes more concrete than prose just because it uses images to get its point across.

    Genesis 1-11 must be something of a concrete account because God tells Israel that they are to rest on the seventh day just as he did in Genesis 1-2 after creating (working) for six days (Ex.20:11). Paul claimed that the relationship between men and women in the church is based on the order of creation for humans (1Cor.11:8-9; 1Tim.2:13), the man created first. Jesus told the Pharisees that their view on divorce was mistaken (Matt.19:3-9) because of the creation account (Gen.1:27; 2:24). Paul claimed that Adam brought sin and death into the world (Rom.5:12-14) from Genesis 3. Paul also said that even though Adam was responsible Eve was the one who actually sinned first (1Tim.2:14) again quoting Genesis 3. This is not to forget the recounting of the flood of Noah (Matt.24:37-39) by Jesus and using the details of that account (Genesis 6-8) to make a point about the coming judgment on Jerusalem. Seems to me that Bible writers and prophets think that Genesis 1-11 is a lot more concrete than some modern day thinkers. We can impose all the modern genres we want but that doesn’t discount that inspired Bible writers believed that it was concrete enough to make theological doctrines.

    • mattdabbs says:

      There is no doubt that Jesus and the apostles and I would say the early Hebrews in general regarded the creation story as literal history. There really isn’t any reason to doubt that and it is the strongest piece of evidence in favor of a literal interpretation. The more distant our worldview and culture gets from theirs the easier it is to open up the door to mythologized poetry.

      One is example is Richard Beck’s post from yesterday where he says he does not believe the creation story is literal – http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2011/06/adam-eve-t-rex-test-and-christian.html

      Here is what he wrote,
      “I don’t spend a lot of time writing about these issues. Mainly, because I just don’t think there is a debate here. I think the data–cosmological, geological, paleontological, archeological, and biological–pretty clearly point to 3.5 billion year old earth and the evolutionary Tree of Life. I tend to assume this is obvious. Which is why I don’t write a lot about evolution as I see commonly done on blogs I frequent (see Jesus Creed and Exploring Our Matrix). I don’t want to spend a lot of time trying to convince people of something I think is pretty clear.

      Consider something I’ll call the T-Rex test. Take someone to a natural history museum, point to the T-Rex, and ask them the following: How do you get that on Noah’s ark?”

      God does expect us to use our brains. God doesn’t want us to abandon all reason and rationality when it comes to assessing these things. But we also must humbly admit that there is still much we don’t know or understand so we must be humble about the conclusions we reach on these matters. One rule of thumb I generally like to follow is that they probably knew their history and the way things unfolded better than we do for three reasons: 1) We are talking about inspired scripture here so what God wants us to learn from this is coming through, even through the recording by human hands, 2) they were closer to these events than we are and 3) their worldview and culture was less removed from those who recorded these events than our own.

      Last, I don’t think this was meant to be read as science but I do think it was meant to be read as history.

      • wjcsydney says:

        Matt, “Literal history” is a modern construct. They (Jesus and the apostles) regarded it as their ‘story” which it is, their story and our story. Making it into a concrete factual history is not how it was written (LOOK at the language!) , there is no evidence which can verify it as concrete factual history and our current scientific understanding contradicts a 6 24 hour day creation of a young earth.

        Bob, there is no doubt that poetry can describe concrete things. That was not my point.

        Bob, the fact that Genesis uses an analogy of resting on the seventh day drawn from the creation account (indeed the whole point of the use of the 7 day analogy is to point to the fact that God was creating his temple on earth) does not force a concrete 7 day creation onto Gen 1-3.

        That the NT writers quote Gen 1-11 does not necessarily make them historical characters. It means they are quoting the story of their origins and their Scriptures, a story that might be more epic myth than concrete history.

        I’m not imposing modern day genre, but trying to understand and interpret the Bible as I think it was written (in MANY different genres). Perhaps you are imposing a modernist understanding of history!

  11. guy says:

    i hate to sound too much like a post-modern, but i wonder with great suspicion why science somehow retains a position of unquestioned-meta-narrative in much of contemporary culture. And there seems to be no appreciation for the blurring of science as pure inquiry and science as a social institution. Even my 9-year-old son comes home from school sometimes with phrases like “It’s been scientifically proven…” as though that’s the be-all and end-all of any talk about factuality in the world.

    For instance, just suppose 100 or 200 years from now, the scientific community at large comes to believe that we were completely off about the the development of the world, and instead the vast majority of academics, researchers, and think-tank types all believe that the earth more or less developed in a matter of seconds. And they consider nearly laughable or quaint that anyone could bring themselves to believe anything other than that the earth came to be nearly in an instant (say through a natural catastrophe in space). Fill in the story as robustly as you like–there’s papers published, lecture circuits, airport-terminal-quality books, experiments reproduced in classrooms, etc. etc. –all of which appear to buttress this new paradigm that the earth more or less ‘popped’ into existence.

    How should the future religious community respond? How would the future creation-account debates be affected? Should Christians of that hypothetical era feel obligated or pressured or influenced to start arguing that “day” in Genesis 1 refers to one second? Or just generally that Genesis 1 represents a very, very, very short amount of time? –much shorter than the “fundamentalist” view?

    If you feel at all like answering in the positive, why? Why this kowtowing to a social institution as though it’s magically pure and free of all possible interest or value or agenda and is somehow impervious to mistaken presuppositions or paradigms? i don’t even have nearly that much faith in the purity of the church. And yet, when guys in white coats en masse hold a beaker in their hand and make a proclamation, the masses respond, “what fool would question it?” It just sounds like either the height of hubris or naivete to me.

    Perhaps i’m too cynical, but what that cynicism amounts to for me is that i don’t even know why i’d care what a scientist thinks about what the Bible can or can’t mean. i want to know how the original recipients were meant to understand what they read, and i want to believe what God intended them to believe–whether science likes it or not.

    –guy

  12. mattdabbs says:

    Scientific opinion and what is considered fact or at least very plausible theory changes over time and the standards by which things are accepted as fact have changed over time as well. As solid as it seems it still takes some level of faith to believe even what science has to offer. Yet God’s Word speaks through all of that to us and is trying to teach us something about God to grow our faith.

    The main question is are we willing to listen and have our faith grown or is it purely an intellectual exercise that results in nothing more than just throwing opinions around with no faith sprouting out of the discussion at all. We can be completely right on the day issue but if our faith isn’t grown then what does it matter?

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