IS GENESIS 1-11 LITERAL?
The first eleven chapters of Genesis record Creation, the Fall, the Flood, and the early history of man until the call of Abraham.
They read factually, going straight into a description of the real world. There is no suggestion that they are recounting events belonging to another world or level of reality. They contain sixty-four geographical terms, eighty-eight personal names, forty-eight generic names, and at least twenty-one identifiable cultural items (such as gold, bdellium, onyx, brass, iron, gopher wood, bitumen, mortar, brick, stone, harp, pipe, cities, towers). Every one of these items presents us with the possibility of establishing the reliability of the account. The list contrasts, for example, with the paucity of such references in the Koran. The tenth chapter alone has five times more geographical data of importance than the whole of that book.
The account is in narrative prose, frequently using the Hebrew 'waw' consecutive with the verb, the direct object sign, and the relative pronoun. It stresses definitions, and spreads events in sequential order.
The phrase 'these are the generations of' implies straightforward history. It is used not only of Aaron and Moses,1 Terah,2 Jacob,3 Noah,4 but also for the heaven and the Earth.5
All the New Testament books refer to these eleven chapters, and each chapter is specifically referred to. Jesus referred to each of the first seven chapters.
IS THE SIX-DAY CREATION HISTORICAL?
The first two chapters of Genesis describe the original six-day creation.
The days fall into two cycles of three, followed by a Sabbath, as shown on Table 1.
THE FIRST CYCLE
THE SECOND CYCLE
Day 1: Earth and light
Day 4: Sun, moon, and stars
Day 2: Sea and air
Day 5: Sea and air creatures
Day 3: Land vegetation
Day 6: Creatures of the earth
Day 7: Climax and end, Sabbath rest
The account reads as straightforward history and is treated as fact throughout Scripture.
There are a number of reasons which demand that it be factual. Other Scriptures depend its historicity for validating their message. Psalm 104 uses it to demonstrate God's creative power and majesty. Our Lord answers a question about divorce by citing God as its author.6 Peter and James both refer to it as factual.7 Paul, in Romans 5, rests his entire argument on Adam being a literal person. Only if one man is the source of universal sin can one man be the source of universal salvation.8 He also cites the story of Adam and Eve as the basis for instruction on behaviour in churches.9 Sequences of events clearly inspired by Genesis 1 occur in a prophetic context in Revelation 8 and 9 and in an apocalytic context in Revelation 16. Since the last two are factual rather than figurative, they carry the implication that the first must also be (see Appendix).
The apparent conflict between the creation story and the findings of evolutionary science has led to attempted harmonizations. Five main theories have been proposed: the Gap Theory, the Age-Day Theory, the Pictorial-Day Theory, the Literary Theory, and Theistic Evolution.
THE GAP THEORY
The Gap Theory has also been called the Restitution Theory and the Ruin-Reconstruction Theory.
It states that the Earth originally created in Genesis 1:1 was populated with plants, animals, and pre-Adamic men, but because of the fall of Lucifer (that is, Satan) it was destroyed by God in a universal cataclysmic flood. It was simultaneously plunged into darkness and thus became 'without form and void'.10 This first destruction is thought to account for the vast geological ages including the fossils. The Earth's present landscape is seen as a relic of this pre-Adamic destruction. The six literal days of Genesis 1:3-31 are therefore a re-creation to provide a home for man.
The theory justifies this view by reading the first three verses of Genesis in such a way that a. reshith (literally 'beginning' or 'first' used as a noun) here means 'When God began to...' rather than 'In the beginning', implying that there could have been an earlier creation, b. bara (literally 'create') here means that God 'made' the heavens and the Earth out of pre-existing matter rather than 'creating' it ex nihilo, and c. hayeth (literally either 'was' or 'became') here means that the Earth 'became' rather than 'was' without form and void. The effect of these variant translations would clearly be to favour the idea of a pre-Adamic creation.
But can the Hebrew words bear this interpretation? The answer is almost certainly no.
Reshith is always used as a noun and never translated 'began' in the Old Testament, and so there is no support for this reading. Bara, the word used here, is the usual word for 'create' and is never used for 'make'. Asah is the usual word for 'make' but can sometimes be used for create. Bara and asah can sometimes be used synonymously as in Genesis 1:26 and 27 where both are used of the creation of man. But there is no justification for translating bara as 'made' in the first three verses, particularly when New Testament references such as Hebrews 11:3 support the idea of creation ex nihilo. Regarding hayeth, Hebrews makes no distinction between 'became' and 'was' and so there might be a case for translating it 'became' in verse 2. However the word is almost invariably translated simply as 'was', and so the preponderance of evidence is against this translation.
There are also a number of obvious practical objections to this theory:
2. If carnivorous creatures were living and dying not only before Adam but even before the fall of Lucifer, death cannot have been due to his fall. Yet Scripture ascribes the Earth's 'groaning and travailing in pain' to this cause.12
4. If all original plants and animals were destroyed they would probably have no genetic relationship to existing types. Most living things in the world today, however, are clearly descended from those found in the fossil record. If pre-Adamic men existed, there can have been no provision for their spiritual needs. Such a possibility is irreconcilable with the rest of Scripture.
5. If the geological record is explainable by a pre-Adamic flood, it leaves nothing for explanation by Noah's Flood. Geology reveals no chaotic period between human times and the preceding Tertiary age.
6. Finally, it seems incredible that the majesty and sublime simplicity of the Creation account which forms the basis of so much else in Scripture, can merely relate to a secondary event, while the earlier and more important origins receive only a passing reference.
This is also called the 'Divine-Day Theory' or 'Concords'.
It affirms that the days of Genesis are to be interpreted metaphorically as long periods of time. It is based on the idea that the word yom can mean other things than a literal twenty-four-hour day. For instance, yom means 'daylight' in Genesis 1:5, 'daylight' in contrast to 'night' in verse 14, and 'the entire period of creation' in 2:4. The expression 'evening and morning' is considered to be figurative, either referring to consecutive periods of rest and creation or to a 'cosmic' day of great length. The statement in 2 Peter 3:8 that 'one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day' is seen as supporting this figurative interpretation.
The advantage claimed for this theory is that it allows time for a uniformitarian explanation of the geological column by means of a series of long stages. But this view cannot bear detailed examination, for the following reasons:
2. The reference to 'evenings' and 'mornings' of each day indicates that they were literal twenty-four-hour days.
3. The Sabbath commandment contains a direct statement that it commemorates a six-day creation. Since the Sabbath is itself a literal day, this only makes sense if the preceding six days were also literal. The tables of stone on which the commandment was written are central to Old Testament worship and unique in being written by the finger of God Himself. Any figurative interpretation of the creation story thus brings into question the whole basis of Old Testament religion. The ten-commandment law is also basic to the New Testament and continues in the post-millenial Earth.13 John sees the heavenly counterpart of the ark of the covenant, which by assumption included the ten-commandment law.14 Thus the religion of both Old and New Testaments, including their eschatology, is inseparably linked to a six-day creation.
4. The Age-Day Theory cannot explain the conventional scientific view of evolution. If each day represents an aeon, how could the vegetation survive through the long third day until the sun appeared? Even this would not be enough. In order to pollinate, it would have to survive through the whole fourth day into the fifth before insects were available. This would be impossible. Also, the order of Genesis 1 does not accord with the fossil record. The palaeontological sequence is approximately: bottom dwelling sea mollusks fish vegetation reptiles birds mammals. In Genesis the highest forms of vegetation precede the lowliest sea creatures, and the most complex bird precedes the lowliest reptile.
THE PICTORIAL-DAY THEORY
This is also known as 'Moderate Concordism'. It follows the Gap Theory in believing in a prior creation as described in Genesis 1:1, but adheres to literal days by teaching that the process was revealed to Adam in this time. It is based on the claim that the Hebrew words bara (create) and asah (make or do) which are used throughout Genesis 1 can have the sense of 'reveal'.
Similar objections, however, apply.
2. The theory does not give due weight to the assumption throughout Scripture that the events of the first week are straight historical narrative. It makes a sublime statement of the creation into a device for explaining something completely different.
3. The wording of the Sabbath commandment is also stongly indicative. The word 'asah' is used three times in Exodus 20:9-11:
This is the theory that the best way to understand the six-day creation story is as a 'tract for the times' designed by a Hebrew author to counter the paganism and idolatry that surrounded his people at the time of the Exodus and settlement of Canaan. It was to underline the warning of Deuteronomy 4:19:
'And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the Lord thy God hath divided unto all the nations under the whole heaven.'
This tract, it is claimed, was aimed to answer four questions:
2. What is the nature of man? The creation account emphasizes that every man and woman is made in God's image and has the potential for direct relations with Him. It counters the prevalent pagan view than man was a mere plaything of the gods.
3. Is the universe rational? The creation account teaches that God is a God of order, not of chaos. It does this in part by the frequent use of numbers with great significance to ancient man: 3, 7 and 10. For example, the creation was in two cycles of three days ending with a seventh. The statements 'it was good' and 'it was so' each occur seven times. 'God said', 'to make', and 'after their kind' each occur ten times.
4. Who is God? The creation account emphasizes the absolute sovereignty of the one true God, while at the same time indicating His plurality.16 This was intended to counter surrounding paganism which had a multiplicity of gods often in conflict with each other.
While the points above are incontestable, they cannot be the whole story. The chapter must also be historical. A clear reason for this is its inseparable associations with central biblical doctrines: the Sabbath and marriage. The Sabbath involves the six-day creation in the Decalogue. Marriage is inseparable from the whole New Testament message. The intertwined relations of husband and wife, Christ and the church, bridegroom and bride are strongly dependent on the Genesis account of Creation. The relation between Adam and Eve is quoted in the New Testament as a model of theological truths, especially concerning the Trinity and the Church.17 This model would lose its central meaning if the Creation story was not factual.
Theistic Evolution is perhaps the most widespread of all views on evolution today. It accepts the spiritual message of the Bible but believes that the early chapters should not be taken literally but interpreted in the light of their overall function. It contends that God controlled the Earth's origins through an evolutionary process. It believes that the Bible speaks of the origin of the universe and its make-up, not to present a scientific treatise but in order to state the correct relationships of man with God and with the universe. It employs the terms of the cosmology in use at the time of the writers to explain that God created the world not as the seat of the gods, as was taught by other cosmogomes and cosmologies, but for the service of man and the glory of God. It does not deal in detail with the origin and make-up of the universe because its aim is not to teach how the heavens were made but how one goes to heaven. It therefore views the Bible and science as different but complementary sources of knowledge.
Therefore, theistic evolution has the advantage of denying neither science nor the Bible. It accords with the assumption, originating with Thomas Aquinas, that natural science and theology can be separated and their mutual interdependence disregarded in arriving at truth. Its popularity today is less due to its intrinsic merit than to the wide publicity it has enjoyed. It tacitly underlies most standard scientific texts and popular presentations of scientific facts.
But it cannot be sustained. It shelves the central debate between Genesis and science by implicitly subjecting the former to the judgement of the latter. The Creation and Flood stories are so interwoven with the whole of the rest of Scripture that they cannot be dissociated from it. Its truth stands or falls by theirs. The Bible differs irreconcilably not with science, but with current scientific views of the origins and age of the Earth, life, and humanity. Until these questions are resolved, there can be no agreement between the two sources of knowledge.
Creative Evolution, also called the 'Life-Force', was conceived to fill the ethical vacuum left by the theory's removal of a purposeful and creative force in the universe. It is not so much a theory to harmonize evolution with the Scriptures as a dynamic mechanism to explain its upward progress. The originator was Henri Bergson, a French philosopher, who taught that a creative urge or 'elan vital', rather than natural selection, was at the heart of evolution. His vision was poetical rather than philosophical, working by analogy and suggestion rather than by rigorous argument. He had a great influence on biology and psychology, and on such writers as George Bernard Shaw and Marcel Proust.
A similar view was advocated by the French cleric and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. He attempted to combine evolution and the Catholic faith. Like Aquinas, he started from the belief that humans, by their reason and apart from Scripture, may rightly view the world in which they live but that they need revelation for faith and religion. He taught that human life was impelled by the Life Force towards greater complexity and greater consciousness. He called this the 'Law of Complexity Consciousness', now sometimes referred to as 'Teilhard's law'. It goes something like this. Human consciousness of matter has evolved in parallel with its advancing complexity. The Earth is mantled by a number of 'spheres': the barysphere (molten interior), the lithosphere (hard crust), the hydrosphere (water in sea and air), and the atmosphere. The biosphere (zone of living creatures) has evolved from these. The final layer, called the 'noosphere', or 'mind layer' represents the next stage of evolution, the arrival of thinking humanity. This transforms the Earth's previous state. In the future, Christ's intervention will raise consciousness, gathering and transforming everything until an 'Omega point' when God will be all in all. This is the final synthesis of evolution and Christian faith.18
When the Scriptures use figurative language, as in describing visions, dreams, and parables, it is made clear they are doing so. They do not speak of either the Creation or the Flood in this way, but treat them as quite historical.
The lack of agreement between these accounts and the apparent findings of science has led to a number of attempts at harmonization. These have been made by Christians who respect the Bible but who also to some extent support current evolutionary theory. They seek to interpret the Scriptures in the light of its teachings. They vary, however, in the degree of historicity which they accord to the Genesis account of origins.
The Gap Theory and the Age-Day Theory accept the six-day creation as literal but attempt to interpret the wording in a way which would allow room for an evolutionary explanation. The Pictorial-Day Theory and the Literary Theory see the account as essentially poetic and figurative, but to contain historical truths which they seek to elaborate in harmony with evolution. Theistic Evolution and Creative Evolution regard the account as purely figurative and make little attempt to harmonize it with evolution. Although they hold Christian beliefs, they seek to portray evolution as the key to understanding God's working in nature and history.
None of these theories can satisfactorily bridge the gap. All accord ultimate priority to evolutionary theory. This forces them to depart from the literal and obvious meanings of some Hebrew words and to neglect Scriptures related to them.
*This material is taken from Chapter 13 of The Case for Creationism by Dr. Colin Mitchell
2 Genesis 11:27.
3 Genesis 37:2.
4 Genesis 6:9.
5 Genesis 2:4; Young, D. A. (1977).Creation and the Flood: An Alternative to Flood Geology and Theistic Evolution, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan..
6 Matthew 19:4, 5.
72 Peter 3:5; James 3:9.
9Timothy 2:13, 14.
11 Genesis 1:26.
16 Genesis 1:26.
17Ephesians 5:22, 23; I Corinthians 11:7-12.
18Teilhard de Chardin, P. (1959). The Phenomenon of Man, Collins, London., pages 257-299; Brown, C. (1969). Philosophy and the Christian Faith, Tyndale Press, London., pages 240-242.