Genesis 1

By Bruce Gerig

Chapter 1: The Hebrew Text and the First Creation Account
Chapter 2: The Evolutionary View and Genesis 1
Chapter 3: Five Approaches to Reconciling Science and Genesis 1
Footnotes, References and Translations


Time magazine not long ago (11/13/06) carried a summary of a debate held between Richard Dawkins, a professor for the public understanding of science at Oxford University and a chief defender of evolution, and Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute, who headed a 2,400-member scientific team that co-mapped a blueprint of all 3 billion human genetic biochemical letters, and who believes in Creation.1 Dawkins in his book The God Delusion (2006) attacks Christianity and calls for everyone to embrace atheism,2 while Collins in The Language of God (2006) tells how he came to a deep personal faith in God as well as being a scientist.3 As books continue to appear from both atheist and Christian scholars, what is the Christian supposed to make of all this? For one who believes that the Bible and science are both pathways to truth, it will not do simply to dismiss every scientific statement that disagrees with traditional Biblical teaching or to accept everything that science says, either, which is often (dis)colored by atheist presuppositions. Two ideas are helpful: (1) to seek out the thinking of Christian scientists who have a sound technical understanding as well as an interest to seek to combine Biblical revelation and scientific evidence, and (2) to revisit the Bible in the face of scientific contradiction to see how well key texts have been interpreted in the past and also whether they might be open to other readings.

Astronomers now hold that a Big Bang occurred some 13.7 billion years ago (bya). Then 400,000 years later, the young universe went black, ushering in a cosmic Dark Ages. During this 200 million year period, beginning after the last flash of light from the Big Bang faded, new chemicals were formed out of the primordial hydrogen and helium; huge stars and vast galaxies began to appear; and then over many millions of years the sky expanded into the spectacular universe we know today, which displays billions of magnificent galaxies, shimmering gas clouds, fiery stars, tiny planets, and mammoth black holes.4 Recently, Japan’s Subaru telescope captured light from six galaxies that began its journey to earth only a billion years after the Big Bang.5 Meanwhile, geologists calculate the earth (and our planetary system) to be some 4.6 billion years old, based on radioactive dating of certain lead and argon isotopes (forms of those chemicals) found in meteorites and lunar rocks.6 Biologists say that life (single-cell organisms) first appeared in the sea around 3.8 bya; and life forms dramatically increased in the sea especially during the “Cambrian explosion” 543-490 million years ago (mya), when all (or most) of the major animal forms living today appeared. Many plant and animal groups seem to have developed side by side. It is believed that plant life first appeared on land around 420 mya.7 Anthropologists believe that the Homo genus (apes who increasingly displayed humanlike skills and traits) first appeared about 2 mya.8

So, what about the calculations of James Ussher (1581-1656), the Irish archbishop of Armagh who determined the date of Creation to be 4004 B.C., and of John Lightfoot (1602-75), the Cambridge don who also viewed the creative ‘days’ in Gen 1 as 24-hour days and who decided that Creation took place, more precisely, during the week of October 18-24, 4004 B.C., with Adam created on Oct. 23 at 9:00 a.m., forty-fifth meridian time? E.T. Brewster would later remark sarcastically that: “Closer than this, as a cautious scholar, [Lightfoot,] the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University did not venture to commit himself.”9 The year 4004 B.C. for the Creation was then taken over and popularized in various editions of the Scofield Reference Bible (1909 on).10 As scientific evidence accumulated in multiple disciplines, debate increasingly swirled between those conservative Christian scholars who believed that Gen 1 represented a “young earth” (created around 4000 B.C. or so), who generally are theologians, and other Christian scholars who hold to an “old earth” (accepting the scientific dating), who now include most scientists.11 Without denying that theological input is important here, one still cannot forget the sad case of Galileo (1564-1642), who was tried for heresy by the Church in 1633 for announcing his observation that the sun is the center of our planetary world and that the earth moves around it, not the other way around – which the Inquisitors simply declared was “contrary to the Holy Scripture” and so sentenced him to a life of imprisonment and penance.12 In fact, Greg Moore, one Christian scholar, recently wrote: “The evidence for an old earth is overwhelming and incontrovertible. Multitudes of dating methods – both radiometric and non-radiometric – present a consistent picture…”13 (Certain chemical forms are radioactive [but not dangerous] and they decay at a certain rate over long periods of time; therefore, by measuring the proportion of these to other stable forms of the same chemical present in a sample, scientists can calculate the estimated age of that sample.14) Some earlier Christians believed that fossils were creations of the devil, made to destroy people’s faith, while many current one-week Creationists hold that they are relics from the Flood. Yet, a substantial number of conservative Christian scholars now accept that the earth and the universe are around 4 billion years old.15 Accepting this later assessment as correct, this article then seeks to discover if and how this might be related to and reconciled with Genesis 1.

Genesis begins with the dramatic declaration: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (1:1, NIV). However, the earth is then described as a barren, dark, ocean-covered place (1:2). Then, over a series of ‘days,’ God refashions the earth. On day 1, he separates day from night, described from a viewpoint on earth (1:3-5). On day 2, he separates waters above from waters below (1:6-8). On day 3, he causes dry land to rise from the ocean and then for plant life to appear (1:9-13). On day 4, he makes heavenly lights visible in the sky to mark the seasons, days and years (1:14-19). On day 5, he creates large and small creatures to fill the oceans, and birds to fly in the sky (1:20-23). On day 6, he makes animals to live on land, and then the first humans, “created … in his image” (1:24-31). Then, on day 7 God “rested,” and he especially blessed this day (2:1-4a).16 Now, some interpreters consider this Creation account to be simply a myth, because it contains supernatural elements (and/or for other reasons)17 – although Christ accepted both creation accounts (Gen 1:1–2:4a and 2:4b-25) as historical,18 telling the Jewish leaders when they questioned him about divorce: “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female [cf. Gen 1:27].’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife…’ [cf. Gen 2:24].” (Mark 10:6-7, NRSV; par. Matt 19:4-5). Paul also viewed the beginning of Genesis as referring to real events and actual people; and he contrasted the first Adam (bringing with him original sin and human death) with Jesus, the new life-giving ‘Adam’ (1 Cor 15:45, Rom 5:12-14). Other interpreters claim that Gen 1 was derived from the Enuma Elish (“When on High”), the Babylonian creation epic19 – although the Biblical tradition claims to be a Divine product (cf. Gk. theopneustos, NRSV: “inspired,” Green [lit.]: “God-breathed,” 2 Tim 3:16).20 It is difficult to believe that Gen 1 was built on pagan mythology, especially since it denigrates the heavenly lights, which the pagans worshipped as divinities; and the majesty of the Biblical account stands in stark contrast to the silly convolutions of the Babylonian account, in which e.g. the lord Marduk splits up the dead body of the evil goddess Tiamat, like a shellfish, and lifts up one half of her corpse to become sky, while the rest remained below as dry land.21 Instead, the Bible begins, in Gen 1:1, with a single God, who is a self-sufficient and self-existing intelligent Being, transcendent outside of nature and sovereign in space and time.22 Yet, can Gen 1 be reconciled with modern scientific thinking about the age and development of the earth and of life on earth? To explore this, we need first to take a new and careful look at the Biblical text of Gen 1:1–2:4a.

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© 2007 Bruce Gerig

The Tadpole Galaxy / Hubble Telescope

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