@Shannon from something I just wrote inspired by this thread. After some preliminary definitions I ended up here:
Is Genesis True?
I believe Genesis 1 is a wonderfully true story in what it teaches about the form and function of the world and the nature of God. I do not view its literary genre as history though. It is much closer to ancient poetry and part of its purpose is in correcting the mistaken mythologies of Israel’s neighbors and exalting the one true God in a time when polytheism was the norm. The story is from a pre-scientific era and has no modern interest in the scientific age of the earth. It cannot resolve the 24 hour vs epoch debate because it has no knowledge of it. It doesn’t care about it. If you look closely at it a very discernable pattern emerges. The events on days 1 and 4, 2 and 5 and 3 and 6 all correspond very well with one another. On day one light is created, on day four the sun and moon. On day two the waters above and below are separated and on day four fish and birds are created creatures below and above. Day three separates the dry land from the water and naturally land creatures arrive on day six. Days 1-3 are concerned with setting up what happens on days 4-6. The order and function of the world is due to God’s purpose and careful planning. That is the point intended here. A point I absolutely affirm as 100% true.
Genesis 1 also establishes God’s primacy and expresses Jewish monotheism. When we read it in light of other Ancient Mesopotamian creation stories, it plainly tells us God has no rivals, no prior lineage, there is a monopoly on power and only one true God. Unlike in the Atrahasis epic, God doesn’t need a discussion amongst peers or the approval of anyone to create human beings. Unlike in the Enuma Elish, we weren’t created after he proved himself defeating Tiamat the sea goddess in some cosmic struggle and gained the renown of the other gods. The sea monsters in Genesis 1:22 are just another part of God’s good creation.
There is no conflict mythology in Genesis because the author is plainly telling us God cannot gain what he never lacked and there has never been a challenger worthy of Him. A rise in power is not possible for one who has never not been in power. Bill Arnold writes of Genesis, “Israel’s God has no rivals. There can be no struggle with forces opposed to his actions or corresponding to his power. There can be no victory enthronement motif because God’s victory was never in doubt; rather, God has never not been enthroned. There can be no enthronement portrait here because God has not become sovereign; he has simply never been less than sovereign.”
In its original context, the audience of Genesis 1 would have been aware of many features of Egyptian, Assyrian and Babylonian mythology. The absence of conflict mythology or an origin story for God would have clearly stood out to ancient readers and hearers of this story. Genesis tells us a great deal simply by not including these elements and comparing how it differs from other creation stories. It is in this context that Genesis 1 must be read and understood. From within this interpretive matrix, a clear statement of Jewish monotheism and the sovereignty of the Biblical God is given. That is the primary purpose of the first creation story bar none. I absolutely affirm Genesis is 100% correct on this point.
Genesis 1 is also an etiology for the sabbath and for that reason we probably should
understand the “days” therein generally in the context of a human week. Etiologies were extremely common in antiquity and in the Bible itself. Since scripture is accommodated and does not intend to teach us science, and the form and function of the narrative in Genesis is clearly designed to teach theological truths to ancient audiences who would have understood these cultural references, there is no need to fuss over this. Genesis 1 is not interested in “twenty four hour periods” vs “long epochs.” That is a modern issue not at all relevant thousands of years ago. Just as one should not seek to learn quantum mechanics from a poetry text, this is imposing the wrong question on Genesis which explains the patterns and regularities of the observed world in terms of God’s creative work.
So why the days? What is the author telling us besides what was delineated above? Genesis is expressing the importance of honoring the sabbath which is tied into the created order. Rather than worrying about the length of the days in Genesis and asking it questions to which it never intended to provide answers to, questions which are ultimately meaningless given its more poetic genre, we should be pointing out to our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord that the importance of the Sabbath is as plainly taught as is Jewish monotheism or that humans were the climax of God’s creative work. Fussing over the meaning of “days” in Genesis might also allow us to conveniently neglect an important issue facing the Church today, why so many Christians no longer spend the sabbath devoted to honoring God. We certainly have no issues honoring capitalism on Sundays.
Why I Embrace Wooden Literalism when reading Genesis 1
Despite the fear of being accused of having a sensationalistic or clickbait-like title, as it turns out I feel I am a bit of a wooden-literalist when it comes to Genesis 1. I believe what the account is teaching us is absolutely true as written in its original context to its original audience based on how they would have understood it. However, I am not a Biblical concordist because I do believe Genesis 1 teaches us theological truth though some ancient cosmogony that we now know to be incorrect. For example, it assumes there is a solid firmament in the sky while teaching us about God’s care and providence in establishing the form and function of the natural world. To summarize what we learned of Genesis 1:
- It has zero interest in 24 hours vs long epochs.
- There is only one God (thus flouting polytheism which was the norm)
- God is sovereign. God alone has all the power and no rivals.
- God has always been sovereign and has never had rivals (no conflict mythology)
- The created order is due to God’s foresight and planning.
- Humans are the climax of God’s creation and given dominion over it as stewards.
- The Sabbath is of such immense importance to God that it is tied into the created order.