It was over a year ago that a friend of mine asked me about my thoughts on creation, prompting this blog post. It has come to my attention that I had intended to write a follow-up to it, but never did, and now recent conversation has made such an article more pressing to present. So here goes: why I do not accept the dueling extremes of six-day creationism and wholesale evolution, and how I would strive to present the creation narratives of Genesis instead.
The problem with “24-hour six day creationism”
We begin with literary form and genre. The book of Genesis is the first of the five books of Moses, known collectively as the Torah, or Law. So the primary purpose of those books is to put forth the Old Covenant Law, which is the foundation for ancient Israelite civil and religious practice, paves the way for the poetry and wisdom literature, sets the stage for the historical books, and the fodder for the prophets of Israel and Judah. Within the Torah, the book of Genesis functions as the introduction. ‘Genesis’ means ‘generation’ or ‘origin’ or ‘creation.’ It’s like a giant prequel, giving the background information for God’s people leading up to the giving of the Law.
This purpose of the book of Genesis is evidenced within the book itself by means of a series of “origin stories.” (When I say story, I am not implying they’re untrue.) Just as the Law is often summarized by the Ten Commandments, so too is the book of Genesis broken up into ten origin stories. When rendered in English, these ten divisions are not always clear, but in the Greek and Hebrew texts it’s more straightforward to notice. Ten times the book of Genesis reads “This is the genesis of ___.” In English we often read “genealogy” for genesis, but sometimes it’s different. Here’s a list of the ten origin stories (or Genesis statements) that comprise the book of Genesis:
- The Genesis of creation (starting at 2:4)
- The Genesis of Adam (starting at 5:1)
- The Genesis of Noah (starting at 6:1)
- The Genesis of Shem & Ham & Japheth (starting at 10:1)
- The Genesis of Shem (starting at 11:10)
- The Genesis of Terah (starting at 11:27)
- The Genesis of Ishmael (starting at 25:12)
- The Genesis of Isaac (starting at 25:19)
- The Genesis of Esau (starting at 36:1)
- The Genesis of Jacob (starting at 37:1)
For the most part these are simply the genealogies of the patriarchs, so translating ‘genesis’ as ‘genealogy’ or ‘generation’ makes sense. Except for the very first one – the genesis of creation. That’s not a genealogy, but it is an ‘origin story’ alongside the other nine. This is the account of creation that we can (and should) read with the same historical integrity with which we read the other nine following. And the creation account here is quite simple:
These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.
No time-frame is given, just the simple “God did it.”
So what about all that stuff in Genesis 1:1-2:3? That’s an introduction. In writing it, Moses did not present the seven-day sequence as the ‘historical’ creation account, but as a set of images that inform us as to the nature of the universe (that it is God’s, that it is good, etc.) in preparation to reading its early history (in the rest of the book) and most importantly the Law (in the rest of the Torah). So what’s the best understanding of how to deal with that first chapter? Many options have been offered throughout the course of Jewish and Christian history; among the most reasonable and historically-agreeable views is the Framework Hypothesis which I already described previously.
The problem with “deistic evolution”
Thus far, it sounds like I’ve been paving the way to accepting evolution wholesale. But in fact, I cannot in good conscience fully accept that theory either. It, too, raises a number of issues that do not jive with a reasonable reading of Scripture. Unlike the six-day creationists, though, I do not appeal to the seven-day sequence of Genesis 1, but to the brief creation story of Genesis 2.
In particular, verse 7 says: “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” This makes it very difficult to see Adam as the product of evolution.
[All the rest of creation is fair game as far as evolution is concerned, though there are some unresolved issues within the scientific community, but that’s just a matter of time for people to work it out and refine it. That’s what theories are, afterall – a reasonable and tested conclusion that is understood well enough to talk about, but not well enough to fully explain yet.]
If humanity evolved from the primates’ line, at what point could we say that God formed the first man, “Adam,” and filled him with his spirit? Taking the human from the dust and infusing it with the Holy Spirit and the image of God is a set of images that makes a naturally-occurring process like evolution rather difficult to apply.
But that’s as much as I can say. I’m not a scientist, I’m not up with the latest studies in genetics, nor even the elementaries of genetics. Perhaps those in the know can better argue the connection between God-ordained natural process and the divine intervention of imputing the imago Dei to the human race. In the meantime, I remain skeptical of the “deistic evolution” explanation as is.
By way of a concluding positive statement…
To make a long answer short, I believe that the way the Torah and the book of Genesis present themselves makes it inappropriate for the seven days of Genesis 1 to be understood as historically descriptive in any way. That privilege belongs to the accounts beginning at Genesis 2:4, which gives us hardly any information about the how‘s of creation. Genesis 1:1-2:3, then, give us the why‘s and what for‘s of creation: God is the creator, God is the King of creation, creation reflects its creator, and is therefore “very good.”
And I think that last bit is crucial for understanding the rest of the book, the Law, and indeed the entire Bible and Gospel of Christ. If creation was not “very good” in God’s eyes, then none of this redemption from sin stuff would be worth it. But because creation is a reflection of God which belongs to him and is fundamentally good, it is worth God’s every effort to redeem and restore it through his eternal Word and Son, Jesus our Lord.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen!