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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Biblical Creation: Six 24-Hour Days?

A friend of mine sparked this post by sending me a flyer which advertises educational material published by an organization called Answers in Genesis. They offer seminars, DVDs, books, and have built a Creation Museum. My evangelical friends and I will never agree on the amount of time God spent in creating our beautiful and breathtaking earth, but one thing we have in common is that God’s hand was in all of it. For many reasons, I cannot accept a literal six-day creation. Here is just a few of them. (I tried hard to keep it as short as possible.)

When Genesis 1 and 2 were written down, probably in the tenth century (although we really don’t know when), Hebrew was already a newish language, emerging from Canaanite, Eblaite, and Sumerian, and the Israelites were emerging as a coherent people and state unto themselves. Genesis 2 describes an era in history that was not only pre-Hebrew, it was pre-Sumer. It was pre-historic, pre-writing, pre-walled cities. Adam and Eve wouldn’t have spoken Hebrew. If indeed they were real historical characters, they weren’t Jewish. There was no Jewish.

Nor were they cave people or hunter-gatherers. They lived in the Age of Copper (c. 4000 BCE), when smelting, pottery, animal husbandry, irrigation, and agriculture were still relatively new and exciting innovations. Although serpents and dragons are sometimes depicted on the pottery that has survived since early times, there are no T-Rexes or brontosaurs. There is a vivid carving of a man being killed by a lion, but not one of a child being eaten by a raptor. There are hundreds of species of dinosaurs all over the globe. There are no human or mammal bones in the same fossil layers, nor cave drawings of a stegosaurus.

But there were cave people and hunter-gatherers before there was animal husbandry and agriculture. And Cain, banished from his own family unit, was afraid of being killed by a different and primitive ethnic group that would not recognize who he was.

Now let’s look at the 3 major creation stories in the Bible and compare/contrast them. I’m going to say something shocking here, but bear with me until I can explain. Everyone says, “But Genesis 1 is God’s holy word. How can you deny the authority of God?” Here’s the thing. Genesis 1, isolated from all other Bible Scripture is not God’s word. My finger is not me. A broken egg, some flour and sugar is not a muffin. God’s mind is revealed in all of the Bible taken together, and understood within the historical context out of which it all came.

A skill in understanding the languages of the Bible doesn’t hurt. The thing that is so miraculous about this debate is that so many are so expert about so much that they know so little about.

First let’s look at Genesis 1 versus Genesis 2. I first studied Hebrew at the kitchen table of a dear Rabbi in Lexington, Kentucky. After a year, Rabbi Schwab challenged me to start reading and translating from Genesis 1:1 and see how far I could get. He sat and listened as I read to chapter 4 or 5. But as I read, something dawned on me. The names of God changed from chapter to chapter. I had always argued emphatically that the scholars who claimed that there were several different documents in the early chapters of Genesis were irresponsible evil-doers who didn’t care if they destroyed people’s faith.

At one point, I quit reading and said aloud, “The scholars were right. There are three documents here.” Now I realize that the real evil, or rather tragedy, is the lack of diligent study among evangelicals conjoined with a vociferous certainty that the Bible is easy to understand and it’s the scholars and scientists who don’t get it.

So, in Genesis 1:1 to 2:3, God’s name is always Elohim. The phrase “heaven and earth” are always in that order. Genesis 2:4 is a bridge verse between what came before and what came next. In 4a the name is still Elohim, and heaven still comes before earth, but the concept of “the generations of” is introduced. In 4b, the name changes to Yahweh Elohim, and earth is placed before heavens. Although there are significant differences between the two passages, the author is tying them together without trying to reconcile all the statements. That is because each passage has a theological point to make, and each is considered sacred in its own right.

Genesis 1 is very exalted in tone, very organized, and poetic. Genesis 2 is more of a narrative that is almost casual about the order of creation.

In Genesis 1, the land, sea, sun, stars, trees, etc. were all in place when Elohim created man and woman. In Genesis 2, God created mankind first, because there was no need for herbs, rain, or plants if there was no one to till the soil. So mankind was created to be a tiller of the soil. The harbinger of his creation was a mist rising out of the ground to water it. God was making the ground tillable for the planter-to-be. The time-frame is difficult to picture because the progression of what really came first or second in this passage or how long it took isn’t that important. What is important is that after God made the man, he planted a garden with no reference as to how long it took to do so. He didn’t “create” the garden or “form” it, he “planted” it. That could take some time.

In Genesis 1, the man and the woman were “created” on the same afternoon. All of the land species, including dinosaurs I presume, all of the insects, the ecosystems that work together and are dependent on each other, were all swept into existence out of nothing. In Genesis 2, the man is “formed” from the mud of the newly watered and viable earth. He is alone long enough to study the behavior of animals and realize that he is unique in being one of a kind. He is alone long enough for God to declare that he needs a mate.

In Genesis 2 Adam is put into the Garden twice. In v. 8 God “puts” the man whom he had formed into the Garden. In v. 15 he “settles” the man in the Garden to till it and keep it. In between, the entire Tigris-Euphrates Valley with the two rivers and mineral resources has been described. Adam has to learn about all the flora and fauna of his environment. This could take some time. Finally Eve is “formed” (not created) from his rib.

The third part of the creation story is in Psalm 104. This psalm has a different agenda, but is clearly tied to Genesis 1. Unlike Genesis 1, however, mankind, beasts, and created environment are all rolled together, mutually supportive and all acknowledging the sustaining power of the Creator.

And that is the important message of these three inspired creation narratives. Psalm 104 ties it all together with God’s benevolent care over all creatures being the central theme. God dwells IN his creation, he sees it all, he made it all to work together. If we come away with that message, we will do well. If we carp over inerrant portions of this or that, we actually dilute the whole point and drag the Judeo-Christian reputation into a slough of scientific absurdities.