Discussions on Genesis 1

As always, there is a large amount of discussion going on in the biblioblogosphere about one thing or another. This week, it seems to be Genesis, on some level. First, go here and here, then here and maybe here as well.

We don’t have to be afraid, you know, of being wrong. It is a shame when one has to twist and turn to avoid being wrong, in their mind, and thus, in their mind, prove the bible wrong.

Henry Neufield wrote today,

I don’t understand why so many Christians are afraid to admit that they are interpreting and then they are following their interpretations.  It sounds so pious to claim that one is following just the word of God without any human involvement.

Worldviews are important, and I defer to N.T. Wright:


(HT for the videos)

My point in Genesis 1, is that it is deeper than a literal creation story, and should be seen as such. I believe that it is a deeply theological text, and should first be seen as such. As I have stated numerous times, I believe that Genesis 1 is literal….in context. While we may apply our context to Scripture, and sometimes come up with what is right, we should endeavor first to examine Scripture in the context in which it was first written.

When we state such things, we are often accused of trying to tie the bible to scientific fact – you know, because we create creation institutes and manufacture stories of God placing the dinosaur bones to confuse us all. In reality, we can look at civilizations much older than the biblical time frame, such as the Egyptians (Calvin was a theologian), the Chinese, even those in Mesopotamia and know that it has been our human understanding which is wrong, not the Scriptures. We find that the many early Fathers thought that the world was 6000 years old at the time of their writing (or nearing such), but by the time of Augustine, the notion to allow science as fact and not witchcraft had become something viable.  While digging into such people as Theophilus, they see only their view, but not the view of the author:

On the fourth day the luminaries came into existence. Since God has foreknowledge, he understood the nonsense of the foolish philosophers who were going to say that the things produced on earth came from the stars, so that they might set God aside. In order therefore that the truth might be demonstrated, plants and seeds came into existence before the stars. For what comes into existence later cannot cause what is prior to it.

They jump at the notion of the fourth day, and yet, as a theological pretext of Genesis 1, I find Theophilus as an ally. He explains why God did what He did. I find it funny as well, that those who would use the Church Fathers to their defense here, deny them in other areas, and more often deny that they would be bewildered that the earth is now 8000 years old by their reckoning. As we note, that the idea of the 6000 year old earth was important to the early Fathers for one reason – they took a certain passage too literal:

For the day of the Lord is as a thousand years; and in six days created things were completed: it is evident, therefore, that they will come to an end at the sixth thousand year. (Irenaeus: Agaist Heresies V, 557)

I laugh as well when they quote Clement of Alexandria, who had a distinctive motif for the ‘six-days’

For the creation of the world was concluded in six days. For the motion of the sun from solstice to solstice is completed in six months–in the course of which, at one time the leaves fall, and at another plants bud and seeds come to maturity. And they say that the embryo is perfected exactly in the sixth month, that is, in one hundred and eighty days in addition to the two and a half, as Polybus the physician relates in his book On the Eighth Month, and Aristotle the philosopher in his book On Nature. Hence the Pythagoreans, as I think, reckon six the perfect number, from the creation of the world, according to the prophet, and call it Meseuthys and Marriage, from its being the middle of the even numbers, that is, of ten and two. For it is manifestly at an equal distance from both. (Clement of Alexandria, The Strommata: 512-513)

Why? Because he connected it to other ‘sixes’ in pagan literature. Of course, Clement might disagree with himself as well, noting that since those six days actually constitute time, and yet…

“How could creation take place in time, seeing time was born along with things that exist.” Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.210

It wasn’t until the fourth day that God created time, and yet? You see the problem, right?

Should we even bring up Augustine?

Oh, and Origen, again, might would disagree in part with the scientific literalists:

“This is also part of the church’s teaching: that the world was made and took its beginning at a certain time and that it is to be destroyed on account of its wickedness. But there is no clear statement in the teaching of the church regarding what existed before this world or what will exist after it … insofar as the credibility of Scripture is concerned, the declarations on this matter are easy to prove. Even the heretics (although having widely differing opinions on many other things) appear to be of one mind on this, yielding to the authority of Scripture. Concerning the creation of the world, what portion of Scripture can give us more information regarding it than the account that Moses has transmitted about its origin? It contains matters of profounder significance than the mere historical narrative appears to indicate. Furthermore, it contains very many things that are to be spiritually understood. When discussing profound and mystical subjects, it uses literal language as a type of veil. Nevertheless the language of the narrator reveals that all things were created as a certain time.” Origen (c. 225 AD, E), 4.340 -341

I don’t discount Origen here, and indeed, would agree with him.

Further, there is the notion of the other creation accounts:

You, O God, are my king from ages past, bringing salvation to the earth.
You split the sea by your strength and smashed the heads of the sea monsters.
You crushed the heads of Leviathan and let the desert animals eat him.
You caused the springs and streams to gush forth, and you dried up rivers that never run dry.
Both day and night belong to you; you made the starlight and the sun.
You set the boundaries of the earth, and you made both summer and winter. (Psa 74:12-17 NLT)


Give thanks to him who placed the earth among the waters. His faithful love endures forever. (Psa 136:6 NLT)

The central theme here is that God created order from Chaos.

Don’t let anyone say that unless you take Genesis 1 as literal scientific fact then you are attempting to measure the bible by philosophies (science, because you know, science is a speculative where as faith, religion and theology is the operative method). Instead, we take the bible as it rightly should be, and not the idol that many make it out to be.

Does this have anything to do with Inerrancy? No, not really. If you allow that Genesis 1 is scientific fact, and you push yourself into a corner by saying that either it is true or the bible is false, then it becomes a matter of faith, among other issues. The bible is true, and I don’t need a scientific or historical validation of one passage or another to make it so. I have to ask – where is your faith if you believe that unless Genesis 1 is scientifically accurate, then the bible is not true? Is it in Christ or man’s opinions?

I find it odd that for the first few centuries of Christianity, the focus was on the Gospel, and now? Now we must have this or that to be a Christian. We must believe this interpretation or that interpretation to be a Christian. Odd, ain’t it? And now, a literal interpretation of Genesis is required. Umm…adding to the Gospel much?

In case anyone is wondering, I believe that Creation happened just like the Scriptures say, how they were first written and understood.

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37 Replies to “Discussions on Genesis 1”

  1. The belief that the world would last 7,000 years appears to have been almost universally accepted by the early church. The early church writers based their teaching on the days of Genesis 1, Psalm 90:4, II Peter 3:8 and the biblical genealogies. They reasoned that as God created in six days and a day is as a thousand years, therefore the earth would last for 6,000 years. After this would come a thousand years of rest, equivalent to the seventh day. The same idea is found in Jewish literature. The Babylonian Talmud refers to a chronological scheme by which history is divided into three ages of 2,000 years each: an age of chaos; the age of the Law, and the age of the Messiah. A thousand years of rest would follow. Because the origin of this teaching cannot be dated accurately, we cannot say with certainty if the belief was widespread within Judaism or at what time it originated.

    The early church fathers did not believe that the creation had taken place over six thousand years, but that the totality of human history would occupy six thousand years, a millennium of history for each of the six days of creation. The widespread acceptance of the creation week pattern for earth history implies the acceptance by many of the church fathers of two important points:

    1) The earth is young (less than 6,000 years old).
    2) The Biblical genealogies provide an accurate chronology.

    The early church fathers did not believe that the creation had taken place over six thousand years, but that the totality of human history would occupy six thousand years, a millennium of history for each of the six days of creation.

    I am unable to find any credible reference to a theologian prior to the 19th century who specifically suggested that the Genesis day was longer than 24 hours, or that the creation week was longer than seven days. It wasn’t until Darwinism started to take hold that this phenomenon occurred.

    See more at http://theologica.ning.com/forum/topics/young-and-old-earth-creation

    1. All true, Rory, I think, however, those same early church fathers thought that they were nearing the 6000 year mark. Further, I note that nothing in the bible requires either that belief or a strictly literal understanding of Genesis 1.

      And you are correct about theologians as well, except that theologians such as Calvin and Augustine did allow for science to ‘aid’ and ‘enhance’ biblical cosmology.

  2. Hi Joel, you’re right in the sense the Bible was not intended to be a science textbook, and if God told us all the science behind the Creation we would probably get distracted and not even understand it.

    From my perspective, Biblical authority is the real issue of importance here, so that we don’t ‘allegorize or spiritualize away’ any part of the Scriptures without Scriptural justification for doing so.

    I have taken a good look at Augustine’s writings in this regard, and you have stated the case well. He ‘allowed’ for science to aid and enhance but was not dogmatic about conclusions based thereon as some OEC’s claim…. See More

    You may find my thread and discussion over at that link interesting, and thanks I may write a post about it …

  3. As I have stated numerous times, I believe that Genesis 1 is literal….in context.

    Although I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “literal . . . in context” (maybe you mean not literal?), another question to clarify what you think of Biblical history.

    Leaving aside Genesis 1, do you believe the genealogies in Genesis (where Adam lives 930 years, and Seth has Enosh, etc.) are literally true? And if so, how do we reconcile the Biblical genealogy-based time frame back to Adam and the Flood and whatnot with these ancient civilizations you speak of?

    By the way, I honored that you’d consider my article worth linking to. Had I known you’d be sending people my way, I might have proofread it a little more carefully.


    1. What’s ‘proofread’? 🙂

      By literal in context, I mean literal as it was intended and first understood. Getting to that point is a different story.

      I haven’t thought much about the genealogies. By adding them up, of course one comes to a nearly 6,000 year old earth, and yet…we have civilizations older. Not sure.

      But, since you asked, and I danced, what say ye?

  4. Per genealogies, my approach so far has been to view them as literally. What this means is that I therefore view the conclusion that some civilizations are older than 6,000 years old as false. Of course, this could be viewed as an anti-rational method, but I’ve yet to come across any explanation of ancient civilization ages that is definitely incompatible with a 6,000-year-old history of mankind. Of course, I could be wrong there, and depending on our view of the Old Testament’s textual history, I think it’s possible to add about another 1,000 years or so if we accept some dates from the Septuagint or Josephus that are a little bit different from our Masoretic text, and/or if we suppose the book of Judges to contain sizeable gaps due to the non-exhaustive nature of its limited chronological data.

    Of course, I suppose this could mean I’m just hiding from the historical evidence, but I’ve yet to be convinced of that. Plus, I remain ambiguous towad what is called the “gap theory” of Genesis 1 as taught by Watchman Nee et al, which marshals a number of fairly plausible-looking Scriptures to come to the theologically awkward position of saying there was an entire world that existed before the destruction and recreation of about 6,000 years ago. This view also has the advantage of not being susceptible to quibbles about the age of the universe while still maintaining that the entire Old Testament’s historical-looking contents are actually historical in the modern sense of the word.

    Gary Simmons makes what looks like the kernel of a pretty compelling case http://fontwords.com/?p=796#comments that the genealogies of Genesis be treated as skillful literary devices that convey meanings in more-or-less encoded form. But because of the NT use of names from those genealogies in establishing the pedigree of Jesus, I’m inclined to reject the idea that they don’t describe real people.

    1. For me, and this is tentative, the genealogies matter because of reasons like Gary said. (I’ve actually got that comment linked to another post coming next week, I think). If we understand that Adam was pure, then his children would have been so, partially, etc… and since we were originally made to be immortal, there is not doubt in my mind that our bodies survived longer the further back you go. Sin does that to you, destroy, destruction, wasting.

      I don’t think that civilizations go back much further than, what, 8, maybe 9 thousands years ago.

      For me, the gap theory….dunno yet.

  5. Oh. I dunno about the gap theory either. It’s very convenient to throw at someone who thinks that a 6,000-year history of mankind can’t fit with an apparently old universe. And for all the awkwardness of the gap theory, I’m not sure it’s any more awkward than finding evolution in Genesis 1.

    It looks like we might only be a very small amount of time apart on the starting of civilizations. Maybe I’ll take of the task of investigating O.T. chronology again to see if my literalist position is compatible with 7,8,9,000 year old civilizations.

    1. Mitchell, the point of my discussions here is to say that we shouldn’t have to constantly try to prove the bible by anything, especially our interpretations. For me, the greater purpose of Genesis 1 is the theological.

  6. I sent people your way too so you better be careful young man.

    Joel and proofreading don’t go together very well but he seems to be improving.

    Remember at one point in Genesis God said he would shorten people’s lives because he’s tired of dealing with them for so long. Thank God. I couldn’t live that long with all the conditions I have.

    1. And thank you as well, Jeff. It’s been great fun all the discussion that your approaching Genesis 1 wound up leading into. I will try to be live up to the high proofreading standards you expect of me.

      Now, for the fun of playing skeptic with interpretations of Genesis, here’s the passage from Genesis 6:3 (a traditional rendering) — “And Jehovah said, My Spirit will not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh; yet his days shall be a hundred and twenty years.”

      Ignoring the small disagreement over whether “for that he also is flesh” should really be translated “in their erring they [are] flesh,” there’s several theories as to just what God is talking about. Some people think it refers to human life being shortened to 120 years. Others think it speaks of the refers to God anouncing that there were 120 years left until the flood, as in Wes King’s song, “I believe Noah / built an ark of wood / A hundred and twenty years / no one understood.” And still others, such as E. W. Bullinger, think it refers to Adam. He would have the verse translated, “will not always strive with Adam.”


  7. I’m not usually one to get into minutiae but this is a discussion I’d be very interested in because as I mentioned, I assumed this meant that God reduced the lifespan of people from about 900 years to about 120.

    I’ve read people say there’s no way people could have lived 900 years, it just isn’t normative. We it says it in the Bible. But there may or may not be something underneath. I thought reducing it to 120 kind of rectified that.

  8. Poly, You really believe people could have lived as long as recorded in the Bible? You have no physical evidence of some super humans living in the past. And we have dug up plenty of gravesites and examined bones, including graves dating as far back as the “days of Abraham” if he lived. And they show that people died fairly young on average. So, isn't your blind acceptance of primeval history stories in the Bible about as nonsensical as the ancient father's denial of civilizations older than Adam and Eve?

    The church fathers believed in a firm raqia and denied that ancient Egypt and Babylon ever really existed, because the Adam and Eve story was true in their opinion. The church fathers also lived in an age when ancient languages of Egypt and Mesopotamia were already dead and many writings remained buried. Much has been discovered since the mid-1800s, and that information has gone a long way toward changing the minds of even Evangelical scholars who study such information like John Walton.

    Also, please read my essay, “The Cosmology of the Bible” in the new book, The Christian Delusion.

  9. Not sure, really, Edward. While the human body might, if we take the literal reading, had to deal with the increasing effects of sin which brought about a shorter life span, I am not sure i like inventing answers to face the tough questions.

    And you still accuse me of things that others do. Stop projecting.

    I like Walton's approach. Not saying I completely agree, but I like it.

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