An Analysis of Genesis 1:1-2:3


(Jay Nelsestuen) #1

EDIT: I pulled the article. For an updated “position paper” that I’ve written since I posted this, see here.

Hi folks. I’m new here, and I wanted second opinions on this article I wrote for my blog. Any and all feedback is welcome.

I’ve recently become convinced that Genesis 1:1-2:3 is not meant by the Spirit to be taken as literal history of the cosmos. As for the rest of Genesis 1-11…I haven’t gotten that far yet. I remain open to evolution but am still unsure of its viability as a scientific theory; I am not a scientist, so it is hard for me to judge the accuracy of anything scientific unless it involves the most rudimentary of facts. My background is Reformed, and my church promotes ministries like ICR and AiG. The church even attempted to host a viewing of the live-stream of the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye; that is, until the internet crashed after Ken’s opening statement and we all had to go home.

But I first became jolted out of my happy state as a young earth creationist when my apologetics teacher during my senior year of high school, at a conservative Christian school, introduced the class to the concept of theistic evolution (or, as I’m sure some of you prefer, evolutionary creation). He argued at length that the geological evidence clearly pointed to an earth older than 6,000 years, and that Genesis 1 was meant more as a polemic against other near eastern creation myths of that time period; the one aspect that really opened my eyes was when he showed us that Genesis 1 reflected an ancient cosmology, namely, a hard, dome-like firmament with the sun, moon, and stars placed literally inside of it (Gen 1:6-8, 14-18). All of a sudden, I realized that if one interpreted Genesis 1 using the grammatical historical method of exegesis, one was left with an ancient cosmology and two conflicting creation accounts (chapters 1 and 2). So what else am I supposed to do except reevaluate my position on these topics?

Looking through the various articles and videos on BioLogos has been fascinating. With my background, I should be looking at it all and saying, “What a bunch of liberal bunk,” but instead, I am trying hard to remain open minded and go against my previous convictions to get to the truth.

Thank you all for your time.

Blessings,
Jay


(George Brooks) #2

@AdCaelumEo

Jay, I have to think that this chunk of text from your article is the very CORE of your position:

"Another point to mention is that the order of events here recounted for us by the author is the opposite of the order of events in Genesis 2. In Genesis 2 we read, “Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground. Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:5-7 NASB). Whereas in chapter one we saw man created after plants and animals, in chapter two he is shown being formed by God from the dust before any plants had sprung up on the earth. Only after man’s creation does God plant a garden in the east in Eden, and places the man there, causing plants of every kind to spring forth from the ground. In verse 19, God then creates both land and sky animals from the ground as potential helpers for the man, only after the man had been formed, again seeming to go against the narrative of chapter one. Eve is then created after the animals.

If you’re going to take Genesis 1:1-2:3 as a consecutive sequence of events describing creation, then be prepared to deal with this apparent contradiction. "

While I truly loved the details you provide before and after … they aren’t quite as compelling this central portion … where you show that the sequence of creation in one story is different from the other.

I wonder if you shouldn’t make an ADDITIONAL article where you expand on this central point, addressed specifically to the Evangelical audience, loaded with Evangelical-sourced terminology…


(Jay Nelsestuen) #3

That could be interesting. I agree, this was a major sticking point for me. I had always heard that Genesis 1 gave a general overview of creation, while Genesis 2 zoomed in on day 6 and provided greater detail. After actually looking at the text, however, I now see how that doesn’t exactly work. In fact, it is rather clear that the toledot in 2:4 is intended to introduce the new story. That, coupled with the fact that the covenant name for God is found all throughout chapter two, but is nowhere found in chapter one, points to the two accounts having been composed independently of each other.

Yes…this could be interesting…

Blessings,
Jay


(Christy Hemphill) #4

Great to have you on the forum, Jay, welcome. :wave:

I first heard about theistic evolution in biology class at a conservative Evangelical college twenty years ago. I didn’t think much about it for a number of years, but when I had kids and I didn’t know what to tell them if I wasn’t going to tell them the AIG/ICR stuff I learned as a kid, so I started reading up on what Christians in the sciences were saying. I found everything quite fascinating and hard to dismiss. I still love Jesus and the Bible, so the slope is not nearly as slippery as it was rumored to be. You don’t have to figure out everything all at once. And some tough questions stay open. I’m still not that thrilled with any interpretive option for Adam, original sin, and the problem of evil. You can get up in the morning and do something for the Kingdom even if your theological ducks aren’t in a row at the moment.


(Jay Nelsestuen) #5

Thank you for the welcome. :slight_smile:

Thank you also for saying that. I’ve gotten the slippery slope comment more than once since making my position on Genesis 1 known. But I suppose that many things will largely remain mysteries if I ever do decide to accept evolution, so the encouragement is certainly helpful. My parents and I have been having some pretty interesting discussions as of late…we’ll see what happens and what doesn’t…

If anything does happen to me, I’m sure I’ll have all of this thoroughly purged out of my system when I attend the Master’s College this fall. Dispensationalists are not fond of our kind. :wink:

Blessings,
Jay


(Phil) #6

If you stay away from slippery slopes, you’ll never ski. I was thinking the other day how the slippery slope excuse is used to warn people away from some subjects, and was struck by how it really is poor advice, in that it is saying avoid truth, for you don’t know where it might take you. Certainly, we protect the children from dangerous situations, but when they mature, a good parenT lets them explore and grow. If they are not allowed to grow and mature, it is tragic. Same with our Christian life.


(Jay Nelsestuen) #7

That’s an interesting way of looking at it. I had not considered that before.

Blessings,
Jay


(Jamie) #8

I believe that Genesis 1 alone can be easily harmonized with evolution by considering it is a vision shown to the prophet from the viewpoint that is mentioned in the second verse: “the surface of the waters”. This pretty much solves every problem. For example the sun being created on the fourth day after the plants have already been created make sense because the Earth was permanently overcast like Venus until plants removed excess CO2 from the atmosphere. All of the kinds of animals are in the right order as they appear with the possible exception of bugs, although I think it is sufficient to say the bugs were not a primary concern and we’re lumped in with the fish. The key word here is kind. Plant kind comes first. Then invertebrates and fish which began in the sea. Then dinosaurs which we know today as Birds first dominated the land. Next what we think of as “animals” which are all mammals. And finally man. So that’s chapter 1. I don’t believe that you need a PhD in ancient Hebrew to understand the Bible and this focus on analysis of ancient culture is somewhat based on the presumption that the text has no divine inspiration. That is not to dismiss it or anything but merely that that is not the only or necessarily the best way to understand what Genesis means. If the Bible is the Living Word of God, to me that means that it doesn’t necessarily have the same message for us today as it had for the ancients because they had very different concerns, needs and ideas about the world. Constraining Genesis to that sort of interpretation is no less short sighted than the Evangelical insistence on a word for word literal interpretation.

As for Genesis 2 I think it is a very different message. I think the point of Genesis 2 is to show that man was the end goal of creation. Adam is Created from dust. Well what would you call abiogenesis and evolution? It is nothing less than man coming from dust. Personally I’m still working through what to make of Adam and Eve but at the moment I’m leaning towards an allegorical rather than historical interpretation. It seems to me that the fall is personal. We have all sinned and we are condemned by our own sins not by inherited Original Sin. Perhaps the Exile from the garden is our loss of Innocence. It’s not that the animals we’re all herbivores but rather than a young child doesn’t have the knowledge to be afraid. Why is it that Jesus says we are to be like a child and have faith? I was taught it was because children believe everything you tell them. But I don’t think that is the point. Children love unconditionally and without reservation because they have not yet learned to be suspicious or manipulative or feel shame etc… things which make it difficult for us to have a relationship with God or anyone else for that matter. At any rate the focus and Genesis 2 is on humans and The Human Experience while the focus of Genesis 1 is on the natural world.


(Jim Lock) #9

Jay, If you’re willing to go down a rabbit hole away from Genesis…there is a lesson to be found, I think, in Isaiah 34:14. (I should note that I have only a surface understanding of this particular text, verse, and translation). The word that is sometimes translated ‘screech-owl’ and sometimes’night monster,’ best translates as the specifically named Lilith. If you get a little curious as to who Lilith was, you discover that in Jewish oral tradition she was Adam’s first wife before Eve. Lilith committed the unpardonable sin of insisting that she be treated equal to Adam as she was created alongside Adam. (Note: the Jewish tradition that Genesis 1 and 2 were SEPARATE accounts. Lilith was the unnamed woman in Genesis 1 and Eve is the more suitable companion created in Genesis 2. You should also note the patriarchal tenor of this entire story.) So Lilith is cast out for assuming that a woman can be treated equally to a man and swears vengeance on all of Adam’s offspring. According to some variations of the tale, she then becomes the 1st vampire.

The point is this, we have carefully consider how we read each individual bit of text. Any ‘slippery slope’ argument depends on you not doing this. If parts of Genesis/Esther/Jonah or more saga than historical/scientific textbook then surely the rest of the Bible HAS to be treated this way!! OR, we understand that while each piece does fit into a bigger picture, we have to approach each piece on its own terms. Demanding a literal reading of the entire Bible subsequently demands that we take Lilith as an historical figure and THAT opens up all kinds of uncomfortable doors. OR, we can approach Isaiah 34:14 as the glorious promise that it is. Eventually, all of our deepest and darkest fears will be laid to rest. This does NOT mean that we then have to approach Acts, or the Gospels, in the same way. We simply apply the same approach and read those specific texts on their own terms. I hope this makes sense, the munchkin was all over the house this morning and my coffee consumption consequently a bit erratic. :slight_smile:

Respectfully,
Jim


(George Brooks) #10

@pacificmaelstrom

Pretty sensible…

Certainly it was not “eating a piece of fruit” (or a sexual transgression) that changed the pelvic or neural structure of Eve’s birth canal…

Nor was it the transgression that transformed snakes to become limbless.

These changes were EXERTED BY GOD… because of the transgression … not as an automatic result of the transgression.


(Jamie) #11

I don’t think it presents the theological problems that many people do. Because God is timeless the effects of our future sin are built into the creation of the world from the very beginning. In the same way Jesus death redeems sin for all time. Maybe the story of Adam and Eve is meant to explain that God desires us to live in a better world and that our sin is why the world is flawed as it is. In other words although science tells us this is how it always was the Bible tells us it didn’t have to be this way and there is hope.


(Jamie) #12

That may very well be true about the Jewish tradition but don’t assume that the Jews have the right interpretation or understanding of their text just because they had it first.


(Jim Lock) #13

@pacificmaelstrom

Perhaps I need some clarification on your position. I’m having a hard time with the notion that Isaiah was inspired/instructed to write a specific name indicating a specific person in Jewish tradition and have it NOT reference said tradition.

Or, perhaps we agree that Lilith was never a historical figure and that Isaiah/God used her imagery to paint a picture of some future peaceful state? (I don’t want to get to far off tangent here, was trying to show that there are precedents for reading Genesis 1 and 2 in a non literal sense without creating any kind of slippery slope.)

Respectfully,
Jim


#14

Such chutzpah.


(Jamie) #15

I think you first need to build a bulletproof case that the passage you reference is intended as a reference to the Jewish tradition you cite, rather than either a coincidence or this being a passage on which the tradition itself was built. I think the story of Lilith is a Jewish myth that is not divinely inspired. This is precisely my point. We cannot cite Jewish interpretation, commentary, or folktales as being in any way authoritative. The same thing applies to the golem, as well. Where the word is referenced in Psalm 139:16.

I don’t disagree with your conclusion, I don’t think you’re giving a very good example. And in context the text in Isaiah that you site seems to be speaking of animals.


(Jamie) #16

Well as a Christian I have some very basic disagreements with Jews over the meaning of much of the Old Testament. The Christian position is essentially that The Jews have completely missed the point of their entire text. So that doesn’t really set the Jews up as any sort of authority on the Scriptures.


#17

Speak for yourself.


(Jamie) #18

Is it not the Christian position that the entire Old Testament points to Jesus?


(George Brooks) #19

@pacificmaelstrom

This is a common Christian position … one might even say it is the MAJORITY Christian position.

But it is not the test of Christianity.


(Jamie) #20

Well then I guess you agree it is safe to say I speak for more than just myself.