Introduction ......................................................................................................................................1 Overview of Creation Narrative Interpretations ..............................................................................1 Significance of Creation Narrative Interpretations ..........................................................................3 Genesis 1:1 .......................................................................................................................................4 Nonhistorical View of Creation Narrative .......................................................................................6 Pictorial Day View of Creation Narrative .......................................................................................8 Progressive (Old Earth) View of Creation Narrative .......................................................................9 Gap Theory View of Creation........................................................................................................10 Recent (Young Earth) View of Creation Narrative .......................................................................12 Conclusion .....................................................................................................................................13 Bibliography ..................................................................................................................................14


Introduction Children in Sunday school are taught, “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”1 These simple words, so profoundly etched into the collective consciousness of the Judeo-Christian world, stood unchallenged for millennia. Contests against these words faced throughout history related more to alternate views of creation and not a denial of the involvement of a deity altogether. This all changed in the nineteenth century with Darwin‟s release of The Origin of Species. From that point to today, the simple words of Genesis 1:1 have launched debates between naturalism and deism. In response to this debate, those holding a higher view of the Bible, and the God it reveals, have felt compelled to attempt reconciliation between science and Scripture. This research offers a snapshot of the debate as it stands. Beginning with an overview of the creation narrative interpretations, the issues at stake are presented. The discussion regarding creation perspectives would be incomplete without an exegetically-based understanding of the verse creating the debate, Genesis 1:1. Although some of the interpretations address other verses and word usage, Genesis 1:1 is the beginning of the dispute and merits careful consideration. From there, the five interpretations are presented and any outstanding features of each position are expounded on. Overview of Creation Narrative Interpretations The five interpretations of the Genesis creation narratives discussed in this research are the nonhistorical, pictorial day, progressive (old earth), gap, and recent (young earth) views. These theological assertions, ranging from denial to literalism, cover the range of ideology in the debate of origins. While there are various modifications to the proposals presented in these


All Scripture taken from The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).


schools of thought, this research attempts to present a broad observation representing each perspective. Likewise, there is some overlap of ideas from one to the next. With the exception of the last view, all the interpretations of the Genesis creation narratives are attempts to reconcile relatively recent scientific discoveries with the Biblical account. Some are very creative while others rely on reinterpreting perspectives and Hebrew expressions. At the very least, the debate is complicated by the reality that the creation account is written to a prescience society by a prescience society. This is not to imply they were without any understanding of their world, but “it is certain…the biblical account of creation was not written to counter Charles Darwin or Stephen Hawking, but it was written in the light of rival descriptions of creation.”2 Regardless, modern Christians must navigate the treacherous waters stirred by the aforementioned Darwin and Hawking. The assumptions offered by most in the scientific community cause students of the Scriptures to wrestle against the dogmatic assertions of modern science and those of the creation narrative itself. The solidarity of modern science is not all as it seems as biologist Franklin Harold remarked that modern biology cannot provide a satisfactory and scientific answer to the complexity of life. This underlying problem in evolutionary methodology creates renewed interest in the creation narratives.3 Perhaps, the resurgence of interest in origins of the universe is foundational to one‟s existential understanding. If humanity is an accident, then life is not sacred or special. This explains not only the interest but also the deeply emotional nature of the debate.


Tremper Longman, How to Read Genesis (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2005), 72.

William A. Dembski, The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 269.


Significance of Creation Narrative Interpretations The significance of the creation narrative and its interpretations often goes without explanation; however, this significance cannot be overstressed. The first few words of Genesis establish humanity‟s place in God‟s universe. In addition, this narrative establishes the King of universe and His ability and authority to govern the affairs of His creation. These verses, then, establish a philosophical framework by which to evaluate the functions of the systems in the universe. One‟s perspective on the creation accounts have implications far beyond an event no human actually witnessed.4 Likewise, the Biblical narrative of creation is also a polemic against pantheism and dualism. Although pantheism is essentially a kind of monotheism, the Biblical account confronts the ideology that god is everything by identifying, in the first three words (in Hebrew), that God created everything. In confronting dualism, Scripture‟s noticeable silence of any alternative force existing beside God makes it clear to the interpreter: it was God alone creating.5 There are also issues relating to the veracity of the total witness of Scripture when addressing the issues of the creation narratives. Genesis 1:1 leaves no doubt as it states, “God created.” If one begins to vacillate as to the method of God‟s creative force, one needs to look no further than Jeremiah 10:12(a), “But God made the earth by his power.” In the Lord‟s response to Job in Job 38:4-21, His creative powers are the basis for His argument. Turning to the New Testament, John 1:1-3 teaches not only was God the agent of Creation, but the Word (incarnated as Jesus) was present and “though him all things were made;

Daniel Harlow, "Creation According to Genesis: Literary Genre, Cultural Context, Theological Truth." Christian Scholar's Review 37, no. 2 (January 1, 2008): 163-198. (accessed February 24, 2012), 163-164. Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 304.



without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3). Hebrews 1:10 also declares the world was the product of His hands. Bolstering this assertion are the simply overwhelming words of Colossians 1:16(a), “for in him all things were created.” If one asserts creation was not a product of God Himself, then the remainder of Scripture is referring to a mythological event. Further complicating this is these references use creation as proof of God‟s power and authority. If Scripture refers to an event as historical reality when it is not, the validity of the rest of Scripture is (rightly) called into question. The significance to contemporary humanity is not merely the uncompromising statements against alternative ideological, theological, or philosophical perspectives. These statements are certainly valid to humanity, but the ultimate significance of the creation narratives is one of sovereignty. In a world where humans are mistreated, killed, and overlooked, the issue of worth is paramount.6 If a loving creator formed all there is, He maintains the right to rule over creation‟s affairs. If all there is reduces to chemical reactions by random chance, humanity is reduced to an accident with no intrinsic value. Again, this reduces to the issue of sovereignty: either humanity is its own master or humanity owes its life and sustenance to a Creator to Whom it will answer. Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). The first words of the Scriptures present a unique set of interpretative challenges. In order to present the various interpretations of the creation narratives, the first words of the Scriptures must be analyzed. These profound words set into motion God‟s interaction with humanity. Immediately one must address the phrase “in the beginning.”

John H. Walton, The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2001), 65-66.


Although philosophers and scientists mostly agree the universe had a starting point, humanistic scientists typically hold there was matter smaller than the head of a pin containing all the mass of the present universe. This tiny collection of matter ignited and in the timespan of a few seconds, the universe grew by an exponential, and virtually incomprehensible, amount. Even contemporary scientific theory of a space-time and ten-dimensional string theory rests on one idea: the universe had a definite beginning.7 Scripture asserts not only the Lord‟s creative ability but also the reality of this definite beginning. Even the phrase “in the beginning” (in Hebrew) signifies this definite beginning. Moreover, it indicates a definite period of time that many commentators hold is connected with the ultimate end of the same universe God created. This being the case, the Holy Spirit begins the story of the universe with a foreshadowing of its end.8 Thus, this single Hebrew word is one of inauguration and eschatology. In regards to its definite beginning, many humanistic scientists and ardent theologians would find agreement. The first verse of the Scriptures continues stating, “God created.” This is certainly the point at which humanistic scientists and people of the Scriptures diverge. The Hebrew word for “created” in the Scriptures always has God as its subject. This is not some general deity but is the God of the Scriptures. This verb, reserved for the God alone, emphasizes the freedom of God‟s innovatively creative ability. Furthermore, the placement of this unique noun and verb combination stresses to the reader: God is the subject of the Bible.9

Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2001), 18-19. K. A. Mathews, vol. 1A, Genesis 1-11:26, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 126-27. Gordon J. Wenham, vol. 1, Word Biblical Commentary : Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), 14.
9 8



Genesis 1:1 demonstrates the creative force behind all there is. Creation is the indication of measured action of an artist. The universe, according to Genesis 1:1, is not the product of impersonal, random processes. Instead, the assertion of Scripture is creation exists as an example of divine purpose in which God exercised a desire to create then a desire to make Himself known to His creation.10 From this understanding, the five interpretations of the creation narratives will be presented. Nonhistorical View of Creation Narrative This interpretation of the creation narratives assumes the story is a myth. Although various adherents to this perspective might allow some level of moral truth taught through the passage, many in this group consider the Biblical account of creation a sophisticated myth. It stands beside the other Ancient Near East creation stories as windows in a culture‟s history but not to be understood as a serious account of origins.11 The Genesis account of creation is attacked by this camp as ranging from folktales akin to contemporary American folklore of Santa Clause, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny. The more agreeable supporters of this interpretation merely view the stories as a method of explaining the world around the ancients and exist today providing a snapshot of their culture. Although the ranges of opinion and tolerance are diverse, the unifying perspective is the same: these stories, although important to those who told them, are not true. Moreover, those holding this interpretation base their beliefs on interpretations of current scientific research.12

Conor Cunningham, "What Genesis doesn't say: rethinking the creation story." Christian Century 127, no. 23 (November 16, 2010): 22-25. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 24, 2012).
11 12


Ross, 12-13. Cunningham, 22-23.


This view does not have support in a Biblical worldview. Only with a complete disregard of the Biblical texts can this position be supported. Further supporting this view is the documentary hypothesis of Wellhausen in the late nineteenth century. Although his purpose was not directly related to creation, the process of dissecting the alleged sources behind the Biblical text casts significant doubt to the veracity of the accounts themselves. If the book of Genesis is really series of fragmentary, but distinct, sources, then the book as a whole is nothing more than a collection of stories haphazardly stitched together.13 At its core, this view of creation denies the existence of any deity. It depends entirely on natural processes with no ultimate meaning and no ultimate cause. Redemption becomes a needless fiction because humanity has no purpose beyond the definition of evolution chance. Regardless of the contributions of societies, cultures, and individuals, their existence is reduced to random chance and mutation without any hope of answering the questions of consciousness. Logically, this view also is indefensible. Although beyond the scope of this research, any view of creation must be logically defensible in that it must provide complete answers. This view rests on the concept that matter existed without defining its origin. This matter suddenly exploded creating the elements needed for everything in existence in the universe without defining its cause. For reasons unknown, this matter coalesced due to gravity resulting in suns, planets, and moons without explaining the origin of gravity. Without explaining how or why, amino acids then form out of these planetary chemicals giving rise to life. This life, through natural selection, produced all life in existence and the entire process from start to finish occurred without any outside stimulus. It is logically indefensible.


Wenham, xxvii.


Pictorial Day View of Creation Narrative The pictorial day view of creation treats the days of creation as an issue of structure and not of chronology. This approach is a literary perspective in which the alternatives are presented as God showing Moses six pictures representing creation or Moses choosing to assemble his story of creation in six divisions. Although sequential in their presentation, this interpretation does not necessarily view the six days of creation as chronological. This literary perspective supports its own claims by the structure easily seen in the text. As a group, days one through three and days four through six offer some level of parallel. In addition, there are similarities specifically between days one and four, two and five, and three and six.14 An issue with this view is the highly theoretical nature of it. Nothing in the text indicates this to be the case and nothing throughout Scripture supports this perspective. Many commentators, however, agree with the grouping and pairing of certain days as a literary device. Certainly, the Lord created the environments on days one through three and populated these environments on days four through six, but this does not constitute a different interpretation on the entire structure of the creation narrative.15 Further complicating this view is the absence of any literary clues in the text signaling the interpreter to the highly fluid nature of the text this view requires. The text is presented historically and chronologically. The text is presented as truth in its current form and regardless of modern science‟s problems with God‟s revelation. This being the case, the burden of proof would be on the creation and not on the Creator. To its defense, however, this view has the unique advantage of the ability to navigate the current scientific trends and the desire to hold a theistic view of the universe. Regardless of how

Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1998), 407Harlow, 173.



the scientific community views the chronology of evolution, the pictorial day interpretation is not concerned with any discrepancies. Since this view rests on the entire creation narrative as a sequence and not chronology, it retains its capability to circumvent any potential scientific challenge. Progressive (Old Earth) View of Creation Narrative As the parenthetical part of its name indicates, the progressive view of the creation narrative allows for an old earth while maintaining God as the creator. In some ways, this interpretation rests on the meaning of “day” in Genesis 1. Although the Hebrew word usually refers to the twenty-four hour day modern humanity associates with it, this is not its only usage. In addition to its use as a marker of sunset to sunset, it also refers to spans of time. At some circumstances, it refers to an unspecified length of time. Most obviously, this view accounts for the apparent age of the universe through these unspecified periods called “days.”16 Walton discusses the likelihood of the Hebrew word for “day” covering an indefinite period of time: In the semantic range of yom we must include (1) the daylight hours, (2) a twentyfour day, (3) special days (e.g. day of his death), and (4) a plural use that can refer to a few days or even a year. Furthermore, (5) the definite article can be added to yom to make it mean “today,” or (6) a preposition can be tacked on the front and a demonstrative pronoun associate with it say “in that day” or simply “when.”17 There are, however, more subtleties to this interpretation than just an alternate meaning of “day.” Although the abrupt changes to species were separated by large amounts of time, progressive creationists still view God as the creator and author of the changes. They do not deny mutation of species resulting in changes within the species but they deny the interspecies mutations naturalistic evolution insists triggered the development of new species. Stated

Erickson, 407. Walton, 81.



alternatively: when new species came into being, God did not use previous species to create the new one.18 In this way, this view does not violate the Biblical references to these life forms reproducing “according to their kinds” (Genesis 1:12, 21, 25). Additionally, it does not violate God‟s unique creation of different types of animals. Lastly, this interpretation does not create Scriptural problems with the exceptional creation of humans. One of the primary problems with this interpretation is in the reinterpretation of the word “day.” There is no indication in the text that it is meant to be taken in any other way than the typical meaning of “day.” There are additional problems with the references to evening and morning throughout Genesis 1. Furthermore, while certainly existing before Darwinism, this interpretation gets most of its fuel from its offer to answer some of the questions presented by naturalistic evolution. Gap Theory View of Creation The Gap Theory is built on a suggested “gap” between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. Proposed by seventeenth century Dutch theologian Episcopius and scientist J.G. Rosenmüller, it fell out of favor until the late nineteenth century by Scottish theologian Thomas Chalmers. This interpretation gained wide acceptance with fundamentalists when it was embraced in the notes of the Scofield Reference Bible.19 It hypothesizes an alternative translation to Genesis 1:2. If the word translated “was” in Genesis 1:2, were translated as “became,” the phrase now supports the gap theory. This alternate


Erickson, 505-506. Elwell, 480.



translation is certainly within the semantic range of the Hebrew word.20 Additionally, the gap theory allows for the apparent billions of years modern science insists exists between the “big bang” and the formation of the Earth and the life it sustains. The assumption of a gap between disorder and organization is similar to many other Ancient Near Eastern creation stories.21 It is easy to conclude, based on this perspective, that this gap between chaos and order is present in all these stories because there was an actual gap. Taking this common element in coordination with the scientific conclusions and the gap theory of interpreting the Biblical account of creation is quite attractive. This particular interpretation of the creation narrative falls on exegetical difficulties. Although the Hebrew word can mean “became,” it is indefensible from a Hebrew point of view in Genesis 1:2. The author (traditionally, Moses) constructed the sentence the way it is and not in a way that would accommodate this other translation. Walton summarizes, “If the author had intended this, he would have put the verb first in the sentence and attached a preposition to the word „formless‟.”22 Since this is not how the text has been transmitted, the exegetical possibility of the gap theory is in jeopardy. Furthermore, the timing of this reinvigoration of this theory is a response to Darwin‟s theories and not something produced through rigorous exegetical study. Although this gap was offered earlier in the history of theology, it did not enjoy widespread acceptance until there was a reason to react using it as a defense. It is very problematic to offer exegetical solutions produced as a reaction.

Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000), 224a.


Longman, 77. Walton, 72 footnote.



Recent (Young Earth) View of Creation Narrative This view held sway for the majority of the history of Biblical thought. This interpretation has several variations within it, but it all rests on one premise: creation occurred in six literal days. This view denies virtually any kind of evolutionary assistance in creation, unless one counts alleged microevolution (a term modern science does not use). Moreover, this view maintains an extremely high view Scripture and it is this belief the adherents use as their basis for interpretation.23 Virtually all conservative commentators (including the ones listed in the bibliography) agree there is nothing in the text of Genesis 1 indicating anything other than six literal days in which God created. It is the defense against modern science causing Biblical interpreters to choose meanings other than the one clearly stated. Walton, who does not hold to this overall creation interpretation, admits, “the idea of creation in seven days serves as one of the main sticking points in the attempts to harmonize science and Scripture.”24 It is in Walton‟s point where this view finds most of its problems. Modern science does not validate creation could have occurred in six, twenty-four hour days. According to modern science, it took billions of years for this process to occur. Although the text does not indicate a ready-made alternative to the literal historicity of itself, the problem lies in the mountain of empirical data against it. However, those holding this view rest in the text itself and not modern science. Repeatedly, Genesis 1 refers to “evening and morning” and gives a day reference (Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, and 31). It seems the text appears insistent: these were literal days. Again, apart


Elwell, 304. Walton, 80.



from recent scientific perspectives, the text does not indicate any alternative theory of interpretation.25 Conclusion At a fundamental level, creation is not so much a debate on how creation came into existence insomuch as it is a debate on who is in control of the affairs of humanity. If God created, then humanity has a responsibility to Him. If He did not create, humanity owes Him nothing. As stated in the significance section, the implications are crucial as they define how humanity accepts or rejects Scripture and the God of those Scripture. Scripture‟s assertion is

clear, “in the beginning God created” (Genesis 1:1a). Exceptions to this rule must be addressed with the One Who created, not the ones attempting to uncreate Him.


Matthews, 144.


Bibliography Brown, Francis, Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles Augustus Briggs. Enhanced Brown-DriverBriggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. electronic ed. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000. Cunningham, Conor. "What Genesis doesn't say: rethinking the creation story." Christian Century 127, no. 23 (November 16, 2010): 22-25. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 24, 2012). Dembski, William A. The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004. Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology: Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001. Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998. Harlow, Daniel. "Creation According to Genesis: Literary Genre, Cultural Context, Theological Truth." Christian Scholar's Review 37, no. 2 (January 1, 2008): 163-198. (accessed February 24, 2012). Longman, Tremper. How to Read Genesis. Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2005. Mathews, K. A. Vol. 1A, Genesis 1-11:26. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996. Ross, Hugh. The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2001. Walton, John H. The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2001. Wenham, Gordon J. Vol. 1, Genesis 1-15. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002.


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