Some write as if one could simply erase the story of creation from Genesis and be done with the Biblical claim to divine creation. On the other hand, no emphasis is more embedded in and inextricably interwoven with the entire Bible than this very truth. If the Genesis account of creation is myth, how can the same ideas be non-myth in the New Testament?
If one cuts off the first page of the Bible, he must, if logical, cut away many of the subsequent books of the Bible -- for instance, Exodus, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, Matthew, John, Romans, Colossians, Hebrews, and Revelation. All of these teach divine creation.
Three Traits of the Bible Story
The Biblical story of creation is one of masterly (1) simplicity and (2) succinctness. Dana gave a story to one of his re-write men with instructions to compress the story into one column. After long efforts the writer returned to Dana and remarked that the story could not be compressed into that small a space. Dana replied, "Young man, go and read the first chapter of Genesis." But there is fullness amidst succinctness.
At every stage of the story, there is (3) development or progress toward a goal. Through six days the story develops to the point of the creation of man as the climax or crown or summit of God's creative activity. Matter, then plant life, then animal life, then man — each of the three forms of life being after its kind. The creation of man climaxes the general story of creation (1:1-2:3); then the story is retold with added details about the creation of man as an introduction to the sad story of the fall (2:4 ff.).
Creation was not the result of a single act. If one grants to God the prerogative of creation, then He could have done it all instantly. With God's omniscience and omnipotence granted, one sees no insuperable labor for God in a short or a longer time. God's intelligent supervision of all, climaxing His creation with man, brings in a definitive purpose.
The ascending series of acts culminated in man. God's outlook did have an anthropocentric concern. Even evolutionists generally take man to be the "highest product of nature, the terminal point of organic development." "In the long series of organic beings, man is the last; the cosmic process, having once evolved this masterpiece, could thenceforth do nothing better than perfect him."1 Yet Ernest Haeckel found in man as a center or climax an objection to Genesis. 2
Development in the story argues for the theological view that mind or intelligence presided over the whole. This opinion is directly contrary to the materialistic and mechanical explanation. The chief difference between the Biblical and the naturalistic approach lies in assigning this creative movement to an intelligent divine Being or to purely materialistic forces. Genesis 1:1 represents the origin of matter as originating in a free act of God's will and power.
The Stage of the Earth as Created
The most obvious meaning of Genesis 1:2 is simply this -- "and the earth (in the condition in which it was at the moment of creation) was without form and void." The conjunction "and," unjustifiably omitted by the RSV, clinches this view.
Several have tried to popularize this translation of 1:1-2; "In the beginning of God's creating the heavens and the earth, while the earth was without form and void, the darkness," etc. (d. RSV). Such a rendering is textually and structurally weak and untenable. Some read into this assumed translation that no mention is here made of the origin of matter. On the contrary, to tell the origin of matter and to indicate its state of being at creation are the central ideas and purposes in 1:1-2a.
"Without form" simply indicates that the terrestrial ball had then no apparent design; God brought matter into being and then proceeded to fashion it after the design in His mind, made evident in the unfolding story of creation. Children at play pick up a handful of clay and then fashion it after their fancy. When they picked it up, no design of what they planned was evident.
"Void" means naturally without any inhabitants -- including plant life, animal life, and human life. Isaiah 45:18 has been often cited to prove a cataclysm between verses 1 and 2 -- "He created it not in vain; He formed it to be inhabited." In line with the forms and the use of Hebrew parallelism, the second clause explicates the first. "Not in vain" is a negative utterance; "to be inhabited" is the positive counterpart. This is the more natural and the contextual interpretation.
At the point of creation the "mud ball" of the earth was covered with water. It used to be objected that there is not enough water to cover the whole earth. Now that we know better the extreme depths of the oceans and the comparative size of land bodies and the waters, one wonders how any ever made such blunders. If the earth were a perfect sphere, the water around the earth would be not less than between two to three miles deep. Vast expanses of water today cover about seven-tenths of the surface of the globe.3
G. S. Duncan's effort to see here a reflection of the inundation caused by the overflow of the Tigris and the Euphrates is to give to a forceful and general statement an unwarranted local color. He seeks to throw this statement into conflict with 2:4 ff., in which he unjustifiably sees the Arabian desert.4
The Meaning of "Firmament"
Note how clearly the "firmament" is identified in Genesis 1. Its location — it was "in the midst of the waters" (1:6). Its function — it divided the waters above from the waters below (1:6 f.). Its name — "heaven" and "the firmament of the heaven" (1:8-9). The sun, moon, and stars were set "in the firmament of the heaven" (1:17). The fowls were to fly "in the open firmament of heaven" (1:20). That alone shows that the firmament was not a solid, "material structure." Fowls cannot fly in a material structure. The word "open" clinches this. "The fowl of the air" is a parallel expression to the "the fowl of the firmament of heaven" (1:26, 28; 2:20; cf. 1:30 and 2:19).
Our English word "firmament" is the Anglicized form of the Latin firmamentum. The Latin translates the Greek stereoma, both of which mean something "firm or solid." The Greek is an undoubted mistranslation of the Hebrew and simply reflects the false Greek astronomy of the third century B. C. that held that the sky was a solid crystalline sphere. Not one iota of this idea inheres in the Hebrew rakia. It simply means "something stretched out" or "extended" and is admirably translated by our "expanse," the area where the atmosphere is.5 The AV margin has "expansion," which is ahead of the RSV on this point.
In spite of these clear facts, John Skinner sees in the word firmament "the dome of heaven, which to the ancients was no optical illusion, but a material structure. . . ."6 He then traces the idea to the Babylonian myth. Rather, the Babylonian story has corrupted the original story. There is no evidence in Genesis that the writer fell into the crude ideas current in the ancient world about a solid dome of heaven.
The Monotheism of Genesis
A fuller discussion of monotheism will come later, but this question needs facing now — Does Genesis reflect evidences of monotheizing? Have originally polytheistic or henotheistic records been purged of these ideas but without clearing away all the traces of a lower view? Beginning with the assumption of the dependence of Genesis on Babylonian myths, several of the Higher Critics answer affirmatively. Starting with a false assumption, they reach an unsound conclusion.
As has been pointed out by a group of writers, Genesis 1:1 answers atheism by affirming, as a postulate for faith, the existence of God; refutes agnosticism by declaring that we can know how things began; teaches the eternity of God since He was before all created things; answers pantheism by distinguishing God from matter; and answers polytheism by setting forth only one God.
God, or "Elohim," is a plural noun; but its prevailing use with a singular verb and the lofty ideas about God in the Old Testament show that it is not a vestige of polytheism. It holds open the door for the New Testament doctrine of the Trinity, but can hardly be said to reflect such a well-developed idea.
Exegesis is at bottom grammar, and Hebrew grammar provides the most satisfactory explanation. The Hebrew "plural of majesty" here speaks of the richness, fullness, and manifoldness of our great God.
The Spirituality of God
God is not material. He created matter (1:1). There is in the Bible no tendency to confuse God with what He created. The Spirit of God (1:2) speaks of the immateriality and the spiritual nature of God. Such does not exhaust this reference, but certainly this much is clearly taught.
The "Image" of God does not refer to any physical form of God, any more than Enoch's walking with God means that God took physical human steps.
That the "Image" of God and other similar expressions do not give to God bodily form and substance,7 four clear facts may be summarized — (1) the separateness of God from His creation, (2) the analogy of Enoch's walking with God, (3) the contrast with Babylonian deities, and (4) the rich purpose and the practical values of anthropomorphic and anthropopathlc statements of the Scriptures.
The anthropomorphism of the Bible Is not crude but Is richly significant. Had the ideas of God been abstractly expressed, they could only with great difficulty and loss be translated into the language and life of men universally. The bold anthropomorphisms very graciously bring God down to the level of human experience in a concrete way without lowering the high concept of God as spiritual and transcendent. God talks to men In the language of men in such concrete terms as to make God real in everyday life. Thus anthropomorphisms have three values — (l) they make" God more realistic, (2) more understandable, and (3) statements about Him more translatable.
In contrast to the part-God and part-man deities of the other records, the God of Genesis is a spiritual God. In the Babylonian and most other pantheons, sex plays a large part — there are numerous gods and goddesses. No trace of sex appears in the Biblical teachings about God. God as Father Is a rich metaphor of God's care of His own and His intimate relation with them through Jesus Christ. Christ as Son is a rich metaphor of communion of nature, fellowship, and activity with the Father. That God as Father is not to be taken naturally and literally is seen in Christ's being called "the everlasting Father" (Isaiah 9:6; cf. Heb. 2:13).
The Origin and the Nature of Man
The origin and the nature of man are inseparably connected. If you lower man's origin from the Bible picture. his nature and dignity are thereby lowered. Likewise, his sense of moral duty is lowered; practical proof of this is too abundant in the lowered moral conduct in American schools since evolutionary and materialistic philosophies became widespread.
No stronger illustration of the inseparable connection of the two ideas of the origin and the nature of man is needed than the strong and strange words of Haeckel:Our own human nature, which exalted itself into an image of God in its anthropistic illusion, sinks to the level of an placental mammal, which has no more value for the universe at large than the ant, the fly of a summer's day, the microscopic infusorium, or the smallest bacillus. Humanity is but a transitory phase of the evolution of an eternal substance, a particular phenomenal form of matter and energy, the true proportion of which we soon perceive when we set it on the background of infinite space and eternal time. 8 Genesis pictures the twofold nature of man — (l) the material part of him from the dust of the ground and (2) the immaterial part of him breathed into him from God. The Mighty One (Elohim, Hebrew for "God") spoke, and it was done — that is the explanation.
In Genesis 2:7, Jehovah God formed (or "molded," as the word is specifically used of the work of the potter in Jeremiah 18:2 ff.) man out of the dust of the ground. Yet "no crude material notions of God need to be associated with this verb."9 The material God employed was' 'the dust of the ground." Science accepts this view of man's body.
"A damp mass of the finest earth" is indicated by the terms used and lends no favor to the irreverent skeptical reference to "mud." Two practical lessons are to be learned: (1) man's fitness as an earthdweller and (2) the lowliness of origin that forbids haughtiness.
"Breathed" and "breath" refer to the vital and vitalizing energy of God. Man's breath is a token of his life, God's breath of His vital activity. "Dust of the ground" was not enough. The words naturally call for no lapse of time but suggest that "this creative work may well have been the matter of a moment."10 Still less do the words fit into an evolutionary pattern that would separate by long eras the making of the body from the dust of the ground and the energizing of that body by the vitalizing divine Breath. To read in here a long era between man as an animal and man with a conscience does violence to the normal and natural sense of the statement. A theory that can separate by long etas the "molding" from the "breathing" can likewise (and just as logically) separate the "becoming" from the "breathing." Prefer a natural and faithful exegesis of the text to philosophical concessions to the evolutionary hypothesis.
After Its Kind
A close study of the modern uses of the word "species" will clear up the matter greatly. Two specific uses are current-First, "species" in the Genesis-sense of "after its kind." Such was Darwin's use as cited below. Second, "species" used of varieties within species. The daily press recently spoke of about 300 different species of oak trees, nine species of woodpeckers, seventy different species of maple trees, at least nine species of wild geese, and nearly 500 species of hummingbird. One must discriminate if he regards facts.
The recurring phrase "after its kind" is the counterpart and complement of the idea of development or progress toward a goal. It suggests two distinct ideas:
1. The phrase sets limits on this development; the idea of separation or differentiation is the complement of development. There is variation, but such has its limits. The variance within the species may be wide, but the expression allows no transfer from one species to another.In each organism there is a limit beyond which variation cannot be pushed. In the case of the pigeon, e.g., there is a limit of size, in the number of tail feathers, etc. This puts a barrier in the way of conversion of varieties into "species."11 This variance within the species may be development or degeneration, but in either case the species classification or differentiation remains unvarying. It may be a scrubby or a registered calf, but still a calf.
2. The phrase allows for cross-breeding and cross-pollination for improvement's sake; but the hybrids of different species, as the mule, cannot go on interbreeding. The horse has sixty chromosomes but the ass sixty-six. The best definition yet suggested to what constitutes a species is the breeding principle.
Sterility of hybrids from different species is a serious block in the way of accepting Charles Darwin's theory. Take two of his statements:If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.12
Natural selection can act only by taking advantage of slight successive variations; she can never take a leap, but must advance by short and slow stages.13 To see Darwin against Darwin, note three admissions:
I had not formerly sufficiently considered the existence of many structures which appear to be, so far as we can judge, neither beneficial nor injurious; and this I believe to be one of the greatest oversights as yet detected in my work.14
He acknowledged the presence in man, as well as in every other animal, of structures which "cannot be accounted for by any form of selection, or by the inherited effects of the use and disuse of parts."15 Darwin and his son, who was his biographer, admit, "We cannot prove that a single species has changed."16 Conclusions are unnecessary for him who will stop a minute to think.
This sterility of hybrids from different species and not "by selective breeding from common stock" kept Professor T. H. Huxley from ever giving his unqualified assent to the evolution of one species into another:It is our clear conviction that, as the evidence stands, it is not absolutely proven that a group of animals, having all the characters exhibited by species in nature have ever been originated by selection, whether natural or artificial.17 The Unity of the Two Accounts of Creation
Both the first section (1:1-2:3) and the second section (2:4-4:26) of Genesis tell the story of the creation of man. Certain critics have loudly proclaimed that the two stories contain irreconcilable contradictions. One writer succinctly points up the problem by saying, "These differ in subject matter, diction, style and theology."18 This is a strong and succinct assertion but is based altogether on a subjective appraisal of unessential differences.
Two strong books have dealt with this matter and should be in every preacher's library in the land — William Henry Green, The Unity of the Book of Genesis (1895), and Oswald T. Allis, The Five Books of Moses (1943).
1. Purpose. Genesis 1:1-2:3 stands as introductory to the whole book of Genesis, for the created universe becomes the theater of the actions of mankind detailed in the ten succeeding divisions of the book. Each one of these sections is introduced by the word "generation," meaning offspring, outcome. A general word is spoken about man's dwelling place before the detailed story is recorded.
Those who point out conflicts seem not to note that 2:4-25 is not a unit in itself. It is merely the preparatory section of which it is the first of three parts. A simple outline will suffice to demonstrate this; 2:4-4:26 ("the generations of the heavens and the earth") falls into three parts — (l) man's primeval position (2:4-25), (2) man's fateful fall (ch. 3), and (3) sin's baneful results (ch. 4). Note how each of these parts ends — (1) the pair unashamed, (2) the couple driven from the garden with re-entry barred, and (3) Seth's son calling upon Jehovah.
Chapter two (that is, vv. 4-25) looks both ways, especially forward. This first part of section two (2:4-4:26) stresses three pictures to show how serious the fall was -- (l) man as fresh from God's creative hand (2:7), (2) the glory of the garden environment (2:8-17), and (3) the superiority of man over all the other creatures (2:18-25).
How differently a simple analysis of the author's purpose sounds from this explanation of a destructive critic:The reason why we have two creation stories in Genesis is probably because the author of Genesis found two differing accounts, and so places them side by side in order that everyone could read both records and see agreements and differences. For the same reason there are other doublets in the Old Testament as the two accounts of the flood.19 Such a theory could never arise from the record itself if one notes the evident purpose and arrangement of the story. That means that the writer deliberately gave chapter two as a sequel to chapter one and, more specifically, as the introduction to chapter three. He finished with designing one part of his story and then calmly passed to another part of the story. If one "exegetes" carefully all the so-called "doublets" in both Testaments, the purpose of the repetition will be meaningful. Historicocritical exegesis has always been the effective and factual tool for answering subjective criticism.
2. Emphasis. To accomplish this purpose, Genesis one places man in tne general scheme of created things and places him on a universal scale; Genesis two tells what befell and came to man in particular. One is general, and the other particularistic. The second telling of the story supplements (not corrects) the first and adds details. One is "generic" and deals with species or classes; the other is "individual" and treats of man in particular.
3. Nature. Genesis one is by design systematic and chronological; Genesis two is topical and logical. This point accounts for the differences in diction and style much more fairly than the theory of two divergent accounts. The changes in subject matter answer to this shift in design. Thus the assertion of disunity arises from a hasty study of the purpose, the emphasis, and the nature of the materials.
4. The Divine Name. Unbelief struck its earlier blow on the variance in the divine name in the two sections. Once this was effectively answered, then the attack shifted mainly to reputed differences in style and diction. At the first, this was played by the divisive critics for all they could make out of it.
"God" (Hebrew Elohim) is the only name for God in 1:1-2:3. It simply states that the world had a divine Creator, for Elohim pictures God as the Powerful One, the Mighty One working in nature and the world at large. Recent scholarly opinion has strengthened the idea that power is the etymological significance of Elohim. "Jehovah," which is added in the second section (2:4-4:26), pictures God as the God of the covenant, the God of redemption, and the God of the Messiah.
The AV and the RSV used "LORD" to indicate what the AV in a few instances and the ASV universally rendered by "Jehovah." The name Jehovah denotes three ideas-self. existence, immutability, and eternity. It likewise connotates a trinity of ideas — covenant, redemption, and Messiah.
Jehovah is distinctively the God of revelation and of redemption; hence in this section, where God's grace to man is the prominent thought, his care and favor bestowed upon him in his original estate, the primal promise of mercy after the fall, and the goodness mingled with severity which marked the whole ordering of his condition subsequently, that salutary course of discipline which was instituted with a view to gracious ends, Jehovah is appropriately used. At the same time, to make it plain that Jehovah is not a different or inferior deity, but that the God of grace is one with God the Creator, Jehovah Elohim are here combined. In the interview of Eve with the serpent (iii. 1-5), however, Elohim is used, as is customary when aliens speak or are spoken to. This shows that these names are used discriminatingly, and that the employment of one or the other is regulated not by the mere habit of different writers, but by their suitableness to the subject- matter.20
Narrative or Fiction?
The survey of the preceding points leads to an investigation of the literary quality of the Genesis stories. Are they narrative or fiction or myth? They make sense when taken as simple narration of facts; other characterizations of them create more problems than they solve.
Genesis and Evolution not Reconcilable
Two distinct senses for the word "evolution" persist among us. In a broad sense the words "development" and "evolution" may be exchanged, but there is danger of confusing the common man by such talk. The specific sense of "evolution" as a progression from one species to another is the more commonly-understood connotation of the term. Neither Genesis nor science knows anything of this stricter sense of the evolution of one species from another. Both the Bible and science know much of development along orderly lines. Man was created on the sixth day as the climax of God's creative energy after each creative act, and each formative act looked toward such. God created matter, then fashioned various things or entities out of this matter. All things produce "after their kind," not by moving from one kind or species to another. Thus it is best that one be careful to discriminate between the words "development" and "evolution."21
Note the details in the Genesis story which show that "development" was present: (1) Light followed darkness (1:3 f.). The watery masses were separated before the waters on earth were gathered into one place, (2) so that dry land could appear. The atmosphere and the dry land (3) preceded plant life (1:11). The appearance of the sun and moon to (4) divide the day from night came before animal and human life. Plant life, (5) the support of animal and human life, came first (1:29 f.). (6) The fowl could not fly in the air (or the firmament) before it was made. Thus all looked toward the comfort of man as the climax of God's creative energy. But there is no confusion of this purposive development and organic evolution, nor should there be in our terminology.
On various points the theory of evolution and Bible creation are so different as not to be reconciled positively. Some mix up these views and hold to some evolutionary opinions and to some Bible teachings. The following listing is not infallible but serves to draw the issues clearly:
1. Origin of matter — divine vs. natural.
2. Origin of plant life — divine vs. natural.
3. Origin of animal life — divine vs. natural.
4. Origin of human life — divine creation vs. a development from animals.
5. Transmutation of species — "after their kind" vs. development from one species into another.
6. Birth of conscience — at beginning vs. realization after many eras.
7. Birth of intelligence or mind — able to name animals at creation vs. homo sapiens a late development.
8. Origin of language — able to speak when created vs. learned it after long eras.
9. Origin of religion — man religious from first vs. religion a late growth.
10. Origin of marriage — God instituted it in Eden vs. a very late custom.
11. Beginning of civilization — man made great strides in civilization at the beginning and then went into barbarism vs. civilization the result of many millenniums of progress.
1 John Fiske, Through Nature to God, p. 154, quoted by James Orr, God's Image in Man (New York: A. C. Armstrong, 1907), p. 41.
2 Ernest Haeckel, History of Creation, vol. I, pp. 37-38; Off, p. 289.
3 Alfred M. Rehwinkel, The Flood in the Light of the Bible, Geology and Archeology (St. Louis: Corcordia, 1951), p. 2.
4 George Stewart Duncan, Introduction to Biblical Archaeology (New York: Fleming Revell, 1928), pp. 40-41.
5 Joseph P. Free, Archaeology and Bible History (Wheaton, II: Van Kampen Press, 1950), p. 24.
6 John Skinner, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Genesis, The International Critical Commentary. vol. 1 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1917), p. 21.
7 Cf. Orr, pp. 54.56.
8 Ernest Haeckel, The Riddle of the Universe at the Close Nineteenth Century, p. 87, quoted in Orr, p. 34.
9 H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1942), 1:115.
10 Ibid. p. 116.
11 Orr, p. 100.
12 Charles Darwin, Origin of the Species, 3rd ed., p. 208, quoted in Orr, pp. 93-94.
13 Orr, p. 93.
14 Charles Darwin, Descent of Man, vol. 1, p. 152, quoted in Orr, p. 104.
15 Charles Darwin, Descent of Man, vol. 2, p. 387, quoted in Orr, pp. 104-105.
16 Francis Darwin, Life and Letters, vol. 3, p. 25, quoted in Orr, p.107.
17 T. H. Huxley, Lay Sermons, p. 322, quoted in Orr, p. 107.
18 Duncan, Introduction to Biblical Archaeology, p. 38.
19 Ibid, p.39.
20 William Henry Green, The Unity of the Book of Genesis (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1895), p. 31.
21 0n the matter of clear definition see L. S. Keyser, The Problem of Origins, pp. 14-17. ========
Mid-America Theological Journal, Volume 7, No. 2, Winter, 1983, pp. 1-16.
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