What is the Theological Meaning of Creation in Scripture?

If the creation accounts in Scripture are not meant to communicate scientific and historical details the way we expect science and history to be written today, what are they meant to communicate?
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/jim-stump-faith-and-science-seeking-understanding/what-is-the-theological-meaning-of-creation-in-scripture

I’m happy to hear your thoughts about the doctrine of creation. What makes sense and what troubles you about Fergusson’s (or my) points?

I just appreciate the clarification and articulation of this subject. I, like millions of others, believed in the young-earth, completely literal reading of Genesis as a kid and into my adult life. It has only been over the past few years that I really started to question the logic of it all compared to the scientific evidence/facts about the age of the earth, etc. I am still learning and growing, so I appreciate the conversation and the information. Thanks!

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It seems like one has to begin with some other questions about the creation narratives before examining the theological meaning. To begin, why are there two creation stories at all? It seems like God could have done the job in one story and been done with it. Something happened that inspired a second author to write a second and vastly different story. And then there was the redactor - the poor fellow who got stuck trying to make the two versions cohere and appear as theologically consistent as he could. Fortunately, he seems to have considered both stories as sacred so he could only add material to achieve this task, and not remove anything. A close reading thus allows one today to reasonably separate the contributions of all three. For example, the redactor apparently composed the Eden river narrative (Gen. 2:10-14).

Additionally, most scholars identify Herodotus and Thucydides as the first historians, writing a couple of centuries BC. Since both creation stories were composed long before this, is either intended to be history in the modern, post-enlightenment sense of the word? Almost certainly not. In fact, the earlier version - Gen. 2-3, has numerous features which place it in the category of oral folklore. And, as cultural anthropologists learned early in the 20th century, oral folks do not think or reason in the deep, complex manner used by members of literate societies.

To keep from rambling on too far, a final important point is that the two creation versions have different theodicies. The earlier Gen. 2-3 story blames evil on the transgression of Adam and Eve, while the later post-exilic Gen. 1 has evil pre-existing God’s creation as darkness, emptiness, and the chaotic deep. So, once again, one has to ask why there are two versions of how evil came about? Why was the later author inspired to write a story which omitted Adam and Eve, and whose theodicy Paul later completely ignored?

Thus, trying to find the theological meaning of creation becomes a vastly more difficult task if one has to first consider these other, complex questions.

Good luck.


When I look at the “figurative” meaning of the Genesis story… my starting point is not “The words Let There be Light” must be God’s words … so how do I make sense out of this?"
My starting point is that a review of the creation story in Genesis reflects human error very similar to the flawed creation stories of the Sumerians and the Akkadians.

From this I conclude that the Genesis story is NOT a story dictated from the mind of God. It is the HUMAN attempt of explaining what happened. The Greek story about
the source of evil is the story of Pandora. Pandora was not evil. And the Divine creation of the box is not evil. But Pandora was “flawed” … and because of her human
weaknesses, she opens the box and the evils are released.

I presume none of us think there was ever really a box.

Similarly, why would we conclude a flawed story like the Genesis treatment of creation is reliable at the historic level? Aren’t you satisfied that the priestly
author was attempting to resolve the question of evil by resorting to earlier stories he had read?

Thoughts, Don?

George Brooks

I don’t think either Genesis creation story is historical per my previous post. They were written to meet the needs of the Israelite people at two different times - the peak of their power during the united monarchy, and at its nadir during or after the exile from Judah. The Yahwist version provided a creation story for the Israelites, just like ones all of their neighbors had once they became a united kingdom. Thus, it contains elements from the Enuma Elish, the Epic of Gilbamesh, and the myths of Adapa and Dilmun. However, it is written in a monolatrous fashion, reflecting the belief in Yahweh as their god. Gen. 2-3 is also very etiological, containing many references to how things originated - including evil. Adam and Eve are meant to show the origin of the Hebrew people alone, not all people on earth. Thus, Cain could find a wife and worry about being killed by other people.

However, half a millennium later, this simple story no longer applied as Israelites were now located all over the ancient world. Gen. 1 provides a solution by showing Yahweh (now called Elohim) to be the god of the entire world, and a monotheistic one. The priestly writer left out the etiological stuff (including Adam and Eve) and wrote it in a fashion to counter the polytheism of Babylon. He showed God was in control by writing the creation story in an organized form of two triads for the first six days, and with his use of humbers for the days. He clearly did not like blaming the Israelite peoples progenitors for introducing evil to the world and thus changed the theodicy to make evil a pre- existing feature . Elohim’s creation job was to organize the world - bring cosmos from chaos - and thus ‘good’ into the world. However, evil (chaos) was not totally eliminated, but instead became a feature of the world.

Both stories are written as theological narratives, with a sequence of events. However, neither is a history in either the Greek or modern sense. I think there is merit to the comparison to Pandora’s box as Greeks and peoples of Canaan had frequent contacts from at least the late Bronze Age through the Greco-Roman era.

No, I do not think either story came from the mouth of God, but instead He used inspired authors to meet the Israelite varying needs of their times using relevant stories. I think this meets the definition of ‘progressive revelation’.

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I am fine with your scenario… if I understand your point correctly:

that the Book of Genesis was not meant to be taken literally as history.

Let me know if I missed the boat…


George Brooks

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