How Should We Read Genesis 1-3? (Part 2)
Christianity and Science: Part 7 of 12
The following is a handout given to those present at the class:
Major Sections of Genesis
I. Prologue: The Creation Week, 1:1-2:3
II. The Generations of the Heavens and the Earth, 2:4-4:26
- 2:4: “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth.”
III. The Generations of Adam, 5:1-6:8
- 5:1: “This is the book of the generations of Adam.”
IV. The Generations of Noah, 6:9-9:29
- 6:9: “These are the generations of Noah.”
V. The Generations of the Sons of Noah, 10:1-11:9
- 10:1: “These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.”
VI. The Generations of Shem, 11:10-26
- 11:10: “These are the generations of Shem.”
VII. The Generations of Terah, 11:27-25:11
- 11:27: “Now these are the generations of Terah.”
VIII. The Generations of Ishmael, 25:12-18
- 25:12: “These are the generations of Ishamel, Abraham’s son…”
IX. The Generations of Isaac, 25:19-35:29
- 25:19: “These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son…”
X. The Generations of Esau, 36:1-37:1
- 36:1: “These are the generations of Esau (that is, Edom).”
XI. The Generations of Jacob, 37:2-50:26
- 37:2: “These are the generations of Jacob.”
Aaron's Manuscript is found below:
- Last time: laid out three approaches to science/Scripture:
(1) Young Earth Creationism
(2) Old Earth Creationism
(3) Evolutionary Creationism
- I argued that 1 and 2 are closer to each other than either is to 3.
- Today: Look at the text of Genesis 1-3 (1:1-2:3: creation; 2:4-25: creation of man and woman; 3: fall); ask three questions:
I. WHAT KIND OF LITERATURE IS GENESIS 1-3?
Are These Chapters Historical?
- Two big sections of Genesis: (1) chapters 1-11 (2) chapters 12-50; latter is clearly history.
- Are there indications of change in kind of literature from one section to other? No.
- Major divisions:
(1) 2:4: “These are the generations of the heaven and the earth…”
(2) 5:1: “This is the book of the generations of Adam.”
(3) 6:9: “These are the generations of Noah.”
(4) 10:1: “These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.”
(5) 11:10: “These are the generations of Shem.”
(6) 11:27: “Now these are the generations of Terah.”
(7) 25:12: “These are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son…”
(8) 25:19: “These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son…”
(9) 36:1: “These are the generations of Esau (that is, Edom).”
(10) 37:2: “These are the generations of Jacob.”
- The pattern indicates that 2:4-4:26 is the same kind of literature as all that follows: historical.
- Moses wrote for the Israelites to know where they came from and what their significance is.
- But what about 1:1-2:3? Different, but not pure “poetry”; best described as “exalted prose.”
- Conclusion: we are dealing with historical accounts; 1:1-2:3 is unique, but not “mythological.”
Are These Chapters Scientific?
- When I say “scientific” I don’t mean “true” as opposed to “false.”
- I am asking: are they written in scientific language or in ordinary language?
- It is ordinary language, and that is good: God intended to be understood in all cultures.
- Example: 1:7: Waters above the expanse:
(1) Scientific reading: pre-flood water canopy that surrounded the earth (but see Psalm 148:4).
(2) Ordinary language reading: we see water falling from the sky, conclude it must be up there.
- Example: 1:16: two great lights + stars
- Scientifically, the moon is not a “light,” and the sun is no “greater” a light than the stars.
- But from the perspective of human observation, we know exactly what that means.
- Conclusion: Genesis 1-3 is written in ordinary language and is not a scientific account.
II. WHAT DOES GENESIS 1:1 MEAN?
- Two options:
(1) God brought the universe into being in an unformed state, then ordered it over six days.
(2) The existence of the disordered universe is never explained/Genesis 1:1 summarizes six days.
- First option is better:
(1) Grammatically, it is the better reading. See parallel structure in Daniel 1:1ff.
(2) Mention of “the earth” in v. 2 recalls “earth” of v. 1, showing narrowing focus.
(3) Theologically, fits better with creatio ex nihilo; John 1:1; Heb. 11:3
- Implication: Bible doesn’t tell us how long universe existed before it was ordered.
III. WHAT ARE DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO GENESIS 1:1-2:3?
Young Earth Reading
(1) The 24-Hour Day Theory
- Days of creation are normal days.
- Strengths: straightforward reading; “evening and morning” formula fits well; Exodus 20:11
- Weakness: Hard to conceptualize a normal “day” prior to creation of heavenly bodies.
Old Earth Readings
(1) The Gap Theory (Scofield Bible notes)
- Posits billions of years between 1:1 and 1:2; some event caused disorder.
- 1:2-2:3 is about the six days of recreation.
- Strength: Clearly reads 1:1 as the first act of creation, not summary.
- Weaknesses: 1:2 does not mean “became” but rather “was”; overall, an unnatural reading.
(2) The Day-Age Theory (Wayne Grudem?)
- Argues that each “day” is actually an age of time, perhaps millions of years.
- Strength: recognizes that “day” can be used to refer to longer period (see 2:4).
- Weaknesses: No other example where “day” means “age”; number sequence and “evening and morning” formula seems to render that meaning unlikely.
(3) The Local Creation Theory (John Sailhamer)
- 1:1 is about creation of universe and earth; 1:2ff. about the “land” (Eden/Canaan).
- Strength: There is indeed a movement in Genesis from whole earth to focus on the “land.”
- Weakness: That movement doesn’t seem to happen in 1:1-2:3, which sounds global.
(4) The Literary Framework Theory (Meredith Kline)
- Days of creation are not a chronological sequence but literary/topical.
- Day 1 Day 4; Day 2 Day 5; Day 3 Day 6
- Strength: Recognizes literary artistry, order of the account.
- Weakness: Minimizes the importance of sequence, which lies behind Exodus 20:11.
(5) The Analogical Day Theory (Vern Poythress)
- The word “day” means “day,” but the concept is used analogically, not literally.
- Strengths: Sabbath day is ongoing (Heb 4); “evening and morning” is a pause in work.
- Weakness: If absence of “evening/morning” means non-literal day, does presence of it in days 1-6 indicate literal days?
- My goal: Not to settle every question, but to show that others have thought about this.