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Creation, Science, and Genesis?1







Creation, Science, and Genesis?

"Does Genesis 1.1 affirm the existence of the earth before God began His creative work described in the opening verse of Genesis?” Since there is no doubt that such an affirmation is both possible and plausible, grammatically and syntactically, the creation described in Genesis 1 need not be a description of the beginning of the world “from nothing,” but it may be understood as the act of transforming a formless and void earth into a universe of order, structure, and beauty.



By Charles David Isbell
Louisiana State University
December 2010

The past few years have seen an increase in the demands from conservative Christian groups that the teaching of the theory of evolution be banned in public schools.2 Failing to garner enough support for an outright ban, these groups have turned to the alternative of demanding that at the least “the” biblical view of creation should be taught alongside the theory of evolution.

Those who oppose the teaching of evolution in the science classroom are divided broadly into two groups, each with its own specific points of emphasis. One nonprofit organization, “Intelligent Design Network, Inc.,” affirms that it seeks “institutional objectivity in origins science” and defines objectivity as “the use of the scientific method without philosophic or religious assumption.”3 But an alternate position, represented by a group calling itself “Creation Science Evangelism” was begun in 1989, “from a desire to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the science of God’s creation.”4 Disdaining any pretension of “objectivity,” this latter position is presented around the world by “Creation Ministries International.”5

In my own state of Louisiana, currently headed by a former Rhodes-scholar governor, holder of an Ivy League biology degree from Brown University who smugly appeals to conservative voters by claiming not to believe in evolution, this issue has arisen in numerous sessions of the state legislature over the past several years. In 1998, one legislative bill banning the teaching of “evolution” was voted into state law only to be overturned by the Louisiana Supreme Court. Several other more recent proposals to ban the teaching of evolution have come close, but they failed to win enough votes to be enacted into law, and the current status of the attack on public school science education is now being displayed at the Louisiana Coalition for Science website (www://lasciencecoalition.org). Other states, notably Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas, Georgia, and Kansas, have attempted similar forays into the science classroom.6

Common to virtually all attacks on evolution has been the simplistic “either/or” proposition which presumes that if a scientist believes in evolution, his or her disloyalty to the Bible has been demonstrated. Conversely, if one believes the Bible, then science must be false. In other words, the issue has been framed as an all or nothing debate between godless science and believers in the Bible, and no quarter has been given by either side.7 In this article, I want to illustrate the fact that the idea of a single biblical view of creation (“the” biblical viewpoint) rests on the false presumption that there is only one way to read Genesis. An analysis of grammar and syntax, a survey of the contextual meaning of words for “create,” and a fresh examination of the moral and theological aims of the Genesis narratives all indicate that the assumption of only one acceptable translation of Genesis 1.1 has established an unnecessary barrier between science and the Bible, two very disparate disciplines with different but equally valid goals and methods of inquiry.

A False Assumption

Basic to the debate is the assumption that both evolution and Genesis are addressing the same question: When did the world begin? Physical science assumes that its inquiry has been pushed by geological and fossil evidence to posit an ever earlier point in time for the origins of the universe, while ultra-conservative religious believers have held doggedly to the view that Genesis itself speaks radically differently about this point of origin. In the minds of the most conservative, the biblical evidence yields only ca. 6,000 years to the age of the earth. It was Archbishop James Ussher who originally articulated this view in the 17th century by simply counting all the genealogical numbers found in Scripture to arrive at the year 4004 BCE.8 In fact, Ussher boldly chose October 23 of that year as the first “day” of creation. It is probable that his view was colored by a belief that the potential duration of the earth was a mere 6,000 years (4000 before Christianity and 2000 after), based on a literal reading of 2 Peter 3.8: “with the Lord, one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day.” Ussher thus interpreted the six days of Genesis 1 both literally to describe the length of time God spent in creating the world and figuratively to prefigure the length of time that creation would endure.9

It is this second or figurative use of the word “day” that has been seized by other opponents of evolution, believing that such a figurative interpretation allows leeway for “eras” instead of days (see below). For this second group, the possibility of an earlier beginning for the earth is accepted but still viewed as conforming to the picture of creation offered in Genesis. To date, no one has asked whether “the beginning” is the proper focus of Genesis.10

A cursory review of the debate reminds us that one ultra conservative argument, unable to ignore the physical evidence of apparent great antiquity, blithely announces that God must have created the world to look older than it actually is. But surely the idea that God planted misleading evidence in His creation is unworthy of consideration, and supporters of such a view should be required to explain why the God of Genesis would have created humans with intelligence and then planted evidence in the physical structure of the world that would nullify their intelligence. If such a divine act were necessary to test the faith of humanity in the revealed divine word of the Bible, God has created two things that work in direct opposition to each other. A person may be intelligent OR believing, but apparently not both. Such a view falls of its own weight, much in the way that the inimitable Dizzy Dean once described a pitch that “dropped from a want of speed.”

Still, following the second, figurative, aspect of the view posited by Ussher, other supporters of Genesis have interpreted the Hebrew word yom (“day”) not as a period of twenty-four hours, but as a geological age or era. Accordingly, the word “yom” in Genesis 1 allows for a period of creation longer than a mere six “days” as days are commonly understood. At first blush, the facile appropriation of “era” or “geological age” for the simple biblical word yom appears better than the idea that God misleads intelligent people on purpose, but it too creates more problems than it solves. 2 Peter 3.8 (paraphrasing Psalm 90.4) is essentially a theological affirmation that God exists outside of and is not bound by the human invention of “time,” not an attempt to define the word “day.” But even if the theological affirmation be taken literally, 6,000 years allowed for creation does not satisfy the scientific evidence of the earth’s antiquity; it merely begs the question in the face of physical evidence that now speaks in terms of millions or even billions of years. But larger questions also arise. Why in Genesis 1 is a simple word used in such a confusing fashion? Why, for example, is the confusion confounded in Genesis with the straightforward statement that each of the six “days” of creation consisted of an evening and a morning? Why is the twenty-four hour day of creation clearly referenced in the establishment of the weekly observance of Shabbat in Exodus 20.8-11? Further, what length should be assigned to the evening or morning of a geological era? Was God being misleading on purpose again? Biblical Hebrew has a word [tequfah] that conveys the idea of an era, or the passage of an unspecified period of time. If the six “days” of creation were in fact not twenty-four hour periods but eras, why was the correct word not used?

A question of a different sort is raised by the concept of requiring Genesis to be taught in a science class. Physical science and theology are two distinct and separate disciplines. Each uses its own categories and methods of treating evidence, and it is risky business for a person trained in one discipline to venture into the other without appropriate training and experience. What academic qualifications does the scientist possess that enable him or her to interpret a Hebrew narrative or to make an informed textual critical decision between the Massoretic Text and various ancient versions? How would a scientist who cannot read Genesis in its original language address the meaning of a Hebrew narrative with the hope of grasping the significance of even a simple word like yom? The argument runs equally in the other direction when we remember that Luther (in 1539!) scoffed at the Copernican theory of a solar-centered universe by citing Joshua 10.12-13 to prove that the sun normally moved rather than the earth.11

One example may clarify the problems of having the Bible taught in a science class. Suppose that two people are selected: the most righteous person in town and the most unrighteous one. If they are both brought into the science laboratory and instructed to conduct the same experiment under the same controlled conditions, they would achieve the same results. The interpretation of the meaning of their results might be argued, but using the methods of science in the performance of identical experiments, the laws of the physical universe would produce the same raw data. This rule is basic to the methodology of science. The results of the unrighteous person would not be disallowed because he was a sinner nor the results of the righteous person accepted because she was a righteous believer. And that is the case because the physical laws of the universe do not allow for the making of moral or theological judgments.

And yet the core affirmations of the stories of creation in Genesis are profoundly theological. The Genesis views stand in direct opposition to the ideas of creation taught elsewhere in the ancient world, whether in the Egyptian “Hymn to PTAH” or the Babylonian “Enuma Elish.” Specifically, Genesis transforms the idea of multiple gods creating the world by committee into the picture of a single deity acting alone in sovereign power, and the entire opening literary unit of Genesis (chapters 1-11) underscores the distinctive character of the God introduced in the creation narratives. A few examples will suffice.

First, the God of Genesis is one, majestic, and all-powerful. The ziggurat of Genesis 11 does not celebrate the victory of Marduk over Tiamat but attests merely the human desire to disobey the One who alone is sovereign. Those whom God had commanded to “be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 1.28), decided that they would “make a name for themselves,” apparently in the belief that if they climbed high enough they could avoid being scattered so as to fill the earth (11.4). The God of Genesis simply reversed their plans and brought their project to naught. Physical science includes no category for evaluating a theological affirmation of this nature.

Second, the God of Genesis does not relate to human beings via raw human emotions like jealousy or irritation. In particular, we may compare the way in which the survivors of the flood stories from Babylonia and Genesis are set in sharp moral contrast to each other. In the Atrahasis, a Babylonian version of the flood broadly parallel to the better known Gilgamesh Epic, the gods decided to destroy humans because they were disturbing divine sleep. In Genesis, “YHWH saw how great human wickedness was on the earth,” regretted His decision to create them, and determined to start over afresh with a single righteous family (Genesis 6.5). In the Atrahasis, Babylonian Utnapishtim escaped because the god Ea leaked the plan of Enlil to destroy humans via a great flood and advised him to build a boat that would keep him from drowning along with all other humans! No moral justification is cited for the decision of Ea. In similar fashion, the flood in the Gilgamesh Epic is portrayed as a capricious act of the gods.12 But biblical Noah was singled out as the result of a moral judgment by God. Observing that the humans He had created were guilty of great “wickedness” (Genesis 6.5), God regretted His creation of them (6.6), but decided to spare Noah for a wholly moral reason: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time, and Noah walked with God” (6.9).

Third, humans in Genesis are not divided into winners and losers. Both Babylonia and Egypt teach the idea of a human created in the image of the divine; the idea is not new to Genesis. But there is a clear difference. In Babylonia, only a king can be described as “the image of Bel.”13 It is only “the king, Lord of the lands,” who is “the image of Shamash” [the sun god] or Marduk [chief god of the Babylonian pantheon]. In Egypt, the familiar name Tutankhamon means “the living image of [the god] Amon.” Likewise, the Deir el Bahri inscription describes Thutmoses IV as “the likeness of Ra.” Using the sharpest contrast imaginable, Genesis 1 asserts that it is not just kings, but the mother and father of us all who are created “in the image of God.”14 The rabbis took this to imply that no individual could flaunt himself over any other person because we are all members of the same human family.15

Fourth, the serpent/snake of Genesis 3 is not a minor deity, he does not steal the plant of immortality16 from hapless humans (as does the snake in the Gilgamesh Epic), and he cannot act independently. He too is a created being, and the power of the one God to curse him for his perfidy is shown in the narrative.

Clearly these early chapters of Genesis are about moral choices, made both by God and by humans. So it is appropriate to turn to Genesis seeking information that science does not have and does not seek. To do that, we must look carefully at the way in which Genesis introduces the first story of creation.

Grammar and Syntax: The Translation of Genesis 1.1

Traditional: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Alternative: “When God began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was unformed and void, …”

Since at least the time of the King James Version of the Bible (1611 CE), Genesis 1.1 has been cited as a complete sentence (the “traditional” version noted above). But one thousand years ago, the great Jewish exegete Rashi disputed such a translation, arguing that Genesis 1.1 should be translated as a dependant clause (the “alternative” version which depends upon verse two for its completion). Among other factors, it should be noted that this same grammatical construction is attested twice to begin the second Genesis creation story, lending contextual support to the choice of Rashi’s suggestion for 1.1. Hebrew behiba’ram yields “when they [heaven and earth] were created” (2.4a), while beyom ‘asot YHWH ’elohîm ’eretz veshamayim translates into English as “When the LORD God began to make earth and heaven (2.4b).” Like Genesis 1.1, it is not a complete sentence, but it depends upon the following verses.17 Numerous modern translations of the Bible have accepted the construction suggested by Rashi,18 as have individual Hebrew scholars too numerous to list. The conservative Catholic New Jerusalem Bible retains the traditional wording in the body of its translation but cites the alternative reading in a footnote, adding, “Both translations are grammatically possible.”19

Because both renderings are grammatically acceptable, modern scholars have turned to considerations of theology or the presumed wider context of Genesis 1 for help in translating the first verse of the Bible.20 The excellent Hebraist and conservative scholar Victor Hamilton has framed the issue as follows: “Does Gen. 1:1 teach an absolute beginning of creation as a direct act of God? Or does it affirm the existence of matter before creation of the heavens and earth?”21 Hamilton is fully aware of the grammatical possibilities and bases his own choice of the traditional translation on philosophical/theological concerns. But I believe these questions by Hamilton miss two important points. First, following the traditional rendering of 1.1, assuming that the earth was not already in existence when God began to create, it is fair to ask why God initially brought into existence an earth that was “formless and void.” If that is what God did, the development from formlessness to the ordered and beautiful world portrayed in Genesis would seem to indicate some kind of development that is remarkably like that posited by godless scientists. Second, and more importantly, despite Hamilton’s apparent assumption,22 the Hebrew word bara’ (“create”) does not always refer to creation from nothing. Here are three biblical examples of “creation” involving the transformation of something old into something new and different.

First, in Psalm 51.12, the repentant psalmist asks God to create (bara’) a pure heart for him. Although he clearly already possessed a physical heart, the sinfulness of that heart as the center of his humanity required the creative and transforming touch of the divine to purify it of its (moral) sin. It is important to note that the poetic parallel to bara’ in the first half of the verse is matched with the word chaddesh (“renew”) in the second half. Obviously, “renewal” also points to the refashioning of something already in existence, itself quite a creative act (see further below).

Second, Isaiah 41.18-19 describes the creative activity of God as follows: “I will open up streams on bare hills, fountains amidst valleys. I will transform the desert into ponds, arid land into springs of water. I will plant cedars, acacias, myrtles, and oleasters in the wilderness. I will set cypresses, box trees, and elms in the desert.” This is a picture of God acting on the natural world that is already in existence, but changing it dramatically. All of this transforming activity involving a world that is already in existence is described as “creating” (using a form of bara’) in verse 41.20.

Third, as Isaiah 41 describes the transformation of nature, Isaiah 65.13-14 describes a similar transformation of the political and social world, also already in existence at the time of his message, in which the circumstances of the enemies of Israel (“those who forsake the LORD”) and the people of God are to be exchanged. “My servants shall eat, and you shall be hungry. My servants shall drink, and you shall be thirsty. My servants shall rejoice, and you shall be shamed. My servants shall shout for joy, and you shall cry in anguish, howling in heartbreak.” This transformation of evil to good for the followers of YHWH and of good to evil to those who oppose Him is nothing less than the “creation” (again a form of bara’) of “a new heaven and a new earth” (65.17).23

I would suggest that Hamilton’s second question should be rephrased to read, “Does Genesis 1.1 affirm the existence of the earth before God began His creative work described in the opening verse of Genesis?” Since there is no doubt that such an affirmation is both possible and plausible, grammatically and syntactically, the creation described in Genesis 1 need not be a description of the beginning of the world “from nothing,” but it may be understood as the act of transforming a formless and void earth into a universe of order, structure, and beauty.

The English word “creative” is itself also capable of multiple levels of meaning and is not limited to creatio ex nihilo. Certainly it is proper to speak of a great sculptor as creative. Yet Michelangelo created his memorable statue of David, not by bringing it from nothingness into existence, but by his ability to see in a simple piece of stone what no one else could imagine. Similar examples may be drawn from the world of literature, architecture, music, painting, or even systems of philosophy and theology. To affirm the activity of “God” in the creative structuring of the physical universe is a statement of faith that does not need to dispute the view of the physical world established by physical science.

Biblical Words for “Create”

Thus far, we have examined only the Hebrew word bara’, noting that it does not always signify creatio ex nihilo. But even within the dual creation narratives of Genesis 1 and 2, bara’ is not the only verb that describes the action of God in “creation.” Genesis 1.26 introduces a second word for creation as follows: “So God said, ‘Let us make Adam in our own image,’” using the Hebrew word ‘asah. That ‘asah is semantically parallel here to bara’ is shown by the opening statement of 1.27: “So God created [a form of bara’] Adam in His own image,” the creative step following His having “made” (a form of ‘asah)24 “Adam” initially. The Hebrew ’adam here is not a proper name, but merely an “earthling” who is constituted both male and female at the end of verse 27.25

A third verb in the context of the early chapters of Genesis is yatzar, “form,” i.e., as a potter26 shapes a formless lump of clay into a vessel of beauty and utility. This is exactly the word picture of the divine process of creating beasts and birds in Genesis 2.19. They were not created from nothing but formed into various species from an existing substance. That is why it is interesting that the explanation by the translators of the Jerusalem Bible (cited above) of the choice for a traditional translation of Genesis 1.1 does not refer to the grammatical construction found in Genesis 2.4 or the equally telling construction found in 2.5 and finally completed two verses later: “When the LORD God made (a form of ‘asah) earth and heaven … there was no human … so the LORD God shaped (a form of yatzar) a human from the dust of the ground” (2.7). Here it is obvious that a brilliantly creative act involved not the bringing of something into existence from nothing, but the transforming of an existing substance (“dust”) into a human being.27

A Theology of Creation

Clearly here we have reached the second crucial element in the difficulties that science presents to those who choose to read Genesis literally.28 Although the alternate translation of Genesis 1.1 offered above can resolve the tension about the age of the earth, the idea that “man came from monkey” cannot be squared with the view that “man” was formed from the dust of the ground. At this junction, it may seem inevitable that we are faced with an “either/or” choice, with no middle ground.

A possible path out of the difficulty may lie in the biblical conception of “dust” and “earth” and the meaning of the divine act of “breathing” life into dust to produce a human being. While Genesis 2.7 appears to affirm the creation of the first human directly from “dust” with no preceding development, a fascinating passage in the Book of Proverbs bears directly on our interpretation of the creation passage. The lengthy speech attributed to “Lady Wisdom” in Proverbs 8 and 9 has excited a lively debate among scholars about the proper function and identification of Hokhmah (“wisdom”).

At the outset, three important questions arise: What is wisdom, where is it to be found, and when did wisdom originate? Several later biblical books (Proverbs, Psalms, Job, Ecclesiastes), non-biblical books (Ben Sira [Ecclesiasticus], The Wisdom of Solomon), and numerous early rabbinic texts include attempts to characterize and analyze wisdom. Basic to these discussions is the question of the origin and source of wisdom. A few biblical passages imply that wisdom is a human possession, an integral component of human existence. For example, David counsels his son Solomon about how to deal with the troublesome Joab by advising him, “Act according to your wisdom” (1 Kings 2.6), and then reminding him that “You are a man of wisdom” (2.9). Likewise, Proverbs 1.2 introduces the entire book with the assumption that wisdom can be acquired or learned by anyone who applies himself in a disciplined manner.29

But other passages seek to locate wisdom in God alone. After a series of statements underscoring the preciousness of wisdom and asserting that it is not discoverable via human searching either on land or sea, Job 28.23 states flatly that only “God knows the way to it.” In post-biblical thought this idea becomes the dominant feature of discussions about wisdom. Wisdom comes from God, and the acquisition of it even through disciplined study is no less than a divine gift.

The seminal passage on which this post-biblical stance is grounded is found in Proverbs 8 and 9 where the argument is made that wisdom is virtually co-equal with God. That is, true wisdom has existed almost as long as God has existed, i.e., forever. And yet, wisdom herself makes an astonishing statement: “The LORD created me at the beginning of His course” (8.22),30 noting specifically in the following verses that she (“wisdom”) had existed before the natural world had included water (8.23-24), mountains and hills (8.25), “the first lumps of clay” that were constituted into earth and fields (8.26), even before the heavens had been set in place (8.27) or the foundations of the world fixed (8.29).

One thing is missing from this hymn in praise of Lady Wisdom. Nowhere, here or elsewhere, is “wisdom” the possession of any part of divine creation except human beings. It is only with humans that wisdom “finds delight” (8.31), never with any other creature. And since wisdom claims to have been a “confidant”31 of God who was “with Him at all times” during the process of creation (8.30), it becomes apparent that the “breath of life” breathed into the dust at the time of the creation of the first human in Genesis 2.7 was nothing less than the capacity for wisdom which all other creatures lack. The difference between all other creatures and the former dust that had become human via reception of the breath of God is starkly underscored by the fact that an examination of every created animal that lacked the divine breath failed to produce an appropriate partner for the one creature who had been so in-spirited (Genesis 2.20).

Of course this does not alter the fact that Genesis gives no hint of a long process of development from simple organisms to more complex ones, from the lower primates, thence ultimately to humans as they exist today. To expect the narratives of Genesis to understand such a concept long before the physical laws of the universe had become known would be asking too much. What Genesis seeks to affirm is that the uniqueness of “the earth creature” [Hebrew: ’adam] (male and female!) derives directly from the infusion of the very breath of God. If science discovers that the laws of the physical universe dictate a long process of development through various stages from simple to complex, this affirmation of Genesis still stands. If only wisdom, which is part and parcel of God, constitutes the difference between a human and all other creatures, then Genesis is describing that difference in its own simple theological terminology.

Conclusion

What if science is correct and the earth came into being over a period of millions or even billions of years? Read literally, the scheme of six twenty-four hour periods allowed for creation, the lack of awareness of the laws of photosynthesis,32 and the Genesis picture of the structure of the universe (a dome with waters above it, etc.) all are incompatible with what modern science has now discovered about the physical world. That being said, the core affirmations of Genesis stand in unrivaled beauty and timeless theological value: the belief that the created world is fundamentally “good,” the affirmation that human beings enjoy a special status which brings a sobering challenge of responsibility, and the conviction that a unique divine deity acted alone. In His own time and for His own purpose, the creative hand of God brought beauty, order, structure, and purpose to what had been merely a formless void before He began to act. For reasons that are not explained, God also chose to “create” human life from the lowly dust of the ground. This is a clear case of the movement of a substance from one stage to another, higher plane. And as the citations of the Psalmist and Isaiah show, the creative power of God remains at work long after Genesis, transforming the human heart, recasting the structure of nature, and overturning an evil social and political order for good.

In other words, if we adopt an alternate interpretation of Genesis 1.1, one permissible grammatically, syntactically, theologically, and morally, God is no less praiseworthy or sovereign. The Genesis narratives may then be read as affirmations that no one but the divine Sovereign of the universe could have produced the world as we know it. Only God could have “formed” humanity from the dust because only God can infuse a lump of clay with the spirit of “wisdom” that makes one human. Only God has the power to create and recreate nature and society. This is not faith in search of evidentiary proof, but faith that welcomes and rejoices with every new discovery, secure in the knowledge that faith and science use two different methods of inquiry, and that they can neither prove nor disprove the other.

As our knowledge of the physical universe grows, the time has come for all parties to be reminded that the biblical accounts are not concerned at all with physical science. Science and theology are two separate disciplines, each with its own independent integrity, and dragging either one into the classroom of the other is academically disingenuous. Science neither proves nor disproves the Bible, and the Bible tells us nothing about science. Period.

Genesis is affirming that the world as the authors knew it was “good,” that it provides everything we need for existence, and that human existence must be enriched through spiritual and societal growth defined as obedience to the biblical perception of the God of the universe. No one guessed the true age of the earth 3,000 years or so ago, no one yet had a clue about photosynthesis, and no biblical author grasped the significance of fundamental building blocks like atoms, genes, chromosomes, or DNA. Clearly such concepts could not be expected to figure into biblical literature. In fact, if the authors of Genesis had expressed “creation” in twenty-first century jargon, no one would have understood or believed them, and their writings would never have been transmitted through the generations. That being granted, we should be asking whether their childlike (not childish!) view of the necessity of connecting human life with morality that emanates from “God” still has meaning in the world of today. I believe that such a connection is eternally valid regardless of what we now know or may yet learn about the physical world, which is only one component of human existence. 

Whatever scientists discover, the scientific enterprise does not address the basic theological affirmations of Genesis.33 And those of us who consider the Bible to be the source of our faith need have no fear that science has disproved Genesis. Sure, science may tell us, the earth was a long time evolving into its present state and humans were a long time in developing. But “when God began to create,” that which had been only “a formless void” was transformed into a universe of beauty, structure, and purpose. What is more, even when humanity distorts the original beauty of divine creation, God is still at work, still capable of transforming human evil into good.


Notes



1 My friends and colleagues Stuart Irvine and James Houk read an early draft of this article and furnished several useful references (see especially notes 8, 12, 15, 18, and 30) and other helpful stylistic suggestions. I offer them my thanks and gratitude.

2 Although the 1925 trial of the Tennessee high school biology teacher John Scopes, the [in]famous “Scopes Monkey Trial,” reminds us that the issue is not new.

3 See their website at www.intelligentdesign.org.

4 Quotation from their website: http://www.drdino.com/

5 See http://creation.com/. The major premise of this organization is trumpeted by the book The Greatest Hoax on Earth, presumably a refutation of the scientific method and all evidence pointing to an ancient, slowly developing universe.

6 The most recent trial occurred in Pennsylvania (Kitzmiller at al vs. Dover Area School District). The judge in this 2005 trial allowed the “Discovery Institute” six weeks to produce “scientific criticisms” of evolution before ruling that no such evidence had been presented by the pseudo “expert” witnesses called by the creationists.

7 This either/or mentality is expressed in a catching folk song: “Now man came from monkey, some folks say. But the good book, brother, don’t tell it that way.” The verse ends tellingly: “If you believe that monkey tale like some folks do, I’d rather be that monkey than you.” It is interesting that ca. 850 years ago, a troubled student wrote to Maimonides of his own dilemma which he believed presented a comparable either/or choice. Either he could accept the philosophical tenets of Aristotle and thus abandon faith in the traditions of Judaism, or he could reject Aristotle and thus become unfaithful to his own intelligence. Maimonides answered the troubled student with his famous derekh nebukhim (Guide for the Confused)!

8 The chronology of Ussher was incorporated into the notes of the King James Version of the Bible, apparently the source through which ultra-conservative Protestants came to know 4004 as the date of creation.

9 Those of us living ten years after the drop dead date of Ussher may be grateful that he was in error. For an evaluation of Ussher’s methodology, see J. Patrick Miller, The Old Testament and the Historian (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), pp. 71-72.

10 See below on the definition and function of the word bara’.

11 See Richard J. Blackwell, Galileo, Bellarmine, and the Bible (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991), p. 23 for references.

12 Ea does question the legitimacy of Enlil’s decision (line 180), noting that only sinners should be destroyed, but there is no description of Utnapishtim as a righteous man comparable to Noah.

13 Babylonian tzalam bel is the exact semantic equivalent of Hebrew tzelem ’elohim.

14 Although the ancestors of Israel are singled out for a special covenantal relationship with God later in Genesis 17-18, the creation stories are not about the ancestors of Israel, but about the entire human race. See the following note.

15 Note the startling assertion in Tanna d’ Eliyahu (207, 284): “I call heaven and earth to witness that on every person, whether Jew or non-Jew, male or female, or servant, the divine spirit rests.”

16 Or at least “rejuvenation,” as pointed out by E. A. Speiser in his translation of the Gilgamesh Epic. See Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, Third Edition with Supplement (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), p. 96, note 227.

17 See further below.

18 Including the New English Bible, New American Bible, Revised Standard Version, Jewish Publication Tanakh, and the Anchor Bible.

19 The JB translators also note that the traditional version is followed by “all the ancient versions.” This is a surprising claim in light of the LXX, which has the anarthrous construction en arche. To support the traditional translation of Genesis 1.1 from Hebrew, one would expect the articular en te arche.

20 The true reason given by the JB translators for choosing the traditional version is that it is “more coherent.” This simply begs the question and does not address the grammatical concerns raised by the alternate version first proposed by Rashi and followed by so many eminent Hebraists during the past one-thousand years. Surprisingly, the JB translators make no comment about the grammatical parallels offered in Genesis 2.4. Since both 1.1 and 2.4 serve to introduce a creation narrative, some notice of their similar function would seem to be in order.

21 The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), p. 105.

22 Which is shared uncritically by all who proclaim their loyalty to the biblical view of creation in opposition to evolution.

23 It should be noted that bara’ appears two additional times in the following verse.

24 The two words appear together in the same verse in Genesis 2.3.

25 Note the statement, “[God] created them [plural!] in His image.”

26 In fact, the Hebrew word for “potter” is yotzer, derived from the same root.

27 Yet a fourth word appears in Genesis 2.22, a fascinating reference to the action of God in taking a rib from “Adam” and “building” it (a form of the word bana) into a female partner for him.

28 Except, of course, when necessity demands, as in the case of “yom.”

29 I have excluded from the discussion of wisdom Genesis 3.6, which suggests that humanity acquired wisdom by partaking of the “tree of knowledge of good and evil.” The merismus “good and evil” implies knowledge of everything, which is possible only for God. In fact, the text itself (3.5) cites the serpent as tempting Eve by noting that she and Adam would become “divine” by eating the fruit of the forbidden tree.

30 Note also the statement of wisdom in 8.25b: “I was born,” apparently before the divine activity of creation began.

31 Or perhaps “an architect” or “master workman” (cf. BDB), in which case, Lady Wisdom would then serve as the assistant of God in creation.

32 Note that vegetation is created on day three (Genesis 1.11), while the sun is created only one day later (1.16).

33 Here we might recall that the astronauts, among the most highly trained scientists in the world, read the story of creation from Genesis 1 before beginning their historic trip to the moon. This is a beautiful example of the fact that acceptance of the evidence discovered by physical science says nothing about the theological majesty of Genesis.


Comments (7)


Your article ties in well with the one by John Walton that appeared here last March:

http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/genesis1357910.shtml
#1 - Doug Ward - 12/23/2010 - 12:46



Would it be fair to put it to you that you make the important point and then slightly shrink from it?
The important point is that science isn't poetry and poetry isn't science. On that showing, there's little point in trying to analyse the grammar of a poem from an unscientific time so that its unscientific character is a bit less obvious. The alternative translation 'When God began to create' doesn't help, as far as I can see. When God began the great work, through the Big Bang or whatever, there was no earth at all, not even a blob, for unimaginable tracts of time, whereas the poet thought that something correctly called the earth was always involved. He had no idea at all that the animal forms he knew had not been there 'from the beginning'.
But none of the poetic force of the text depends on what the poet thought about cosmology or biology. We may have evolved from squeaky monkeys but we, like them, are indeed derived from the dust of the ground - ie the most common elements of matter - and we have had the breath of life bestowed upon us. These aren't scientific statements but they're still true and still worth thinking about. The philology of the scriptures is an important subject in its own right but there's no point in trying to interpret the grammar so as to disguise or weaken the fact that the poet came from, and indeed represents, a time when science was in its infancy. But even in that time God could speak to us, perhaps, of very important things.
#2 - Martin Hughes - 12/26/2010 - 22:16



What is the underlying moral that the author of this article wants to present to the world?
Denial of existance of God
Or Denial of Christianity........
#3 - Bharathi - 01/05/2011 - 04:05



Like Robert Cargill's popular BibleInterp article against the Flood (which I refuted thoroughly), your article overflows with logical fallacies. I'll give 2 brief examples:

1) "Physical science assumes that its inquiry has been pushed..." Fallacy of reification. "Science" is a synonym for "knowledge". People can assume & inquire, but not Science. [Macro-]Evolution "believers have held" just as "doggedly" to their assumptions, & inquired with just as much "religious" fervor as any "ultra-conservative". Your use of these phrases counts as another fallacy known as an Emotional Appeal (I threw in this example for free since it's from the same sentence).

2) "No one guessed the true age of the earth 3,000 years or so ago..." You're begging the question. Nobody knows the "true" age of the Earth. Evolutionists can explain why they interpret the evidence to support their beliefs, & creationists (with graduate degrees from secular universities) can do likewise.

Furthermore, you stumbled over the "the lack of awareness of the laws of photosynthesis".

First, Photosynthesis is a process, not a law.

Second, you're obviously assuming that the message of Genesis 1 did not come from the Creator, but was rather the product of a human imagination; therefore you belittled it because you obviously don't believe God created our universe in 6 otherwise-ordinary days, in the given sequence. However, various plants can endure varying amounts of time without sunlight before they wither. Most could easily have survived between the 3rd & 4th days of Genesis 1; but even if you were to disagree with that scientifically demonstrable argument, surely God's special light created on Day #1 would've been sufficient to sustain the plants for
#4 - G.M. Grena - 01/22/2011 - 23:38



I see that my comment from last night was apparently truncated due to
length. Here\'s the rest:

...surely God\'s special light created on Day #1 would\'ve been
sufficient to sustain the plants for 24 hours till God formed our sun.

Now I have a question for you (& for the BibleInterp editors responsible for
publishing this piece): Your first sentence contains an accusation, for
which its accompanying footnote #2 provides no support. Can you name 2
\"conservative Christian groups [that have demanded in the past few years
that the teaching of the theory of evolution be banned in public
schools\"?

Assuming that you are able to name 2 & provide links documenting their
demands (& I don\'t doubt that you\'ll be able to find some obscure
ones), do you agree that it would\'ve been fair to state in a footnote the
position of a couple of major conservative Christian organizations, along
with some scientific polls of what Americans believe regarding the teaching
of creationism alongside the theory of evolution in public schools (that
they as taxpayers are funding)?
#5 - G.M. Grena - 01/24/2011 - 20:45



I advise reading the book (The Story Of Creation As I Seen In Genesis) where there are many answers , logical, scientific and language for many questions of the subject - the story of creation as stated in Genesis
#6 - Sayed Fakhry - 06/04/2011 - 21:04



This is one of the most sober and informative aticles I have read on the subject: it ADDRESSES the issues. It is most helpful for someone like myself, a parish pastor.
#7 - I. A. Saliba - 10/27/2013 - 18:54






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