Creation: Genesis as Foundation—Part 2
Many great thinkers were inspired by Scripture to explore God’s created world; as a result, modern science was born. Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton, John Ray, Robert Boyle, and other early great scientists believed that their work revealed even more about the handiwork of God’s creation.
After the French Revolution, however, nineteenth-century science began to move from a theistic worldview to one based on naturalism and materialism, often with no place at all for the supernatural. These philosophical ideas were popularized by Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859). Since that time, science has increasingly distanced itself from its biblical foundation, resulting in a radical reinterpretation of the Genesis story.
Does the Bible teach an antiquated, unscientific view of cosmology? Was the biblical account simply borrowed from the surrounding pagan nations? Was the Bible culturally conditioned by its place and time, or does its inspired nature elevate us to a view of origins that is complete in its divine framework?
These are some of the issues we will touch on in this week’s lesson. * Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, May 30.
It is commonly believed that many in the ancient world thought the earth was flat. Most people, however, for a variety of good reasons, understood that the earth was round. Even to this day, though, some claim that the Bible itself taught that the earth was flat.
John, the author of these texts, is writing end-time prophecy describing the four angels of heaven “standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds” (Rev. 7:1, NASB). He repeated the word “four” three times to tie the angels to the four compass points.
In short, he’s just using figurative language, as we do today when we say, for example, that “the sun is setting” or that the wind “rose from the east.” To insist on a literal interpretation of these prophetic texts when the context indicates a figurative idea of north, south, east, and west is to take these passages out of context and make them teach something that they are not teaching. After all, when Jesus said, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt. 15:19, NKJV; emphasis supplied), He was not talking about human physiology, or the literal human heart. He was using a figure of speech to make a moral point.
In Job 26:7 the earth is depicted as being suspended in space: “ ‘He stretches out the north over empty space and hangs the earth on nothing’ ” (NASB). The earth is a “ ‘circle,’ ” or sphere (Job 26:10, NASB). Isaiah 40:22 states, “It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain” (NKJV).
Archaeologists have discovered texts from ancient Egypt and the Near East that contain primeval histories of the Creation and the Flood. This has caused some to wonder whether the Genesis account was borrowed from these cultures or was dependent in some way on them. But is such a thing really the case?
Although there are similarities between the stories (e.g., the first humans are made of clay), the differences are much more definite.
1. In Atra-Ḫasis man works for the gods so that the gods can rest. In Genesis, God creates the earth and everything in it for humans as the apex of Creation, and then He rests with them. In Genesis, humans also are placed in a garden and invited to commune with God and care for His creation—a concept not found in Atra-Ḫasis .
2. In Atra-Ḫasis , a minor god is killed and his blood is mixed with clay to form seven males and females. In Genesis, first Adam is “formed” intimately by God, who breathes life into him, and woman is “made” later to be his “ ‘helper’ ” (NKJV). God didn’t create Adam and Eve from the blood of a slain god.
3. There is no sign of conflict or violence in the Genesis account, as found in the Atra-Ḫasis story.
The biblical account is sublime in depicting an omnipotent God who provides humanity with dignified purpose in a perfect world. This radical difference has caused scholars to conclude that, in the end, these are very different creation accounts.
Far from being dependent upon ancient pagan creation myths, Genesis seems to have been written in a way that refutes those myths and distances God as Creator from them.
The terms “sun” and “moon” were surely avoided because their names in Hebrew were the names (or closely related to the names) of the sun and moon gods of the ancient Near East and Egypt. The use of the terms “greater light” and “lesser light” showed that they were created for specific functions, “ ‘for signs and seasons, and for days and years’ ” and to “ ‘give light on the earth’ ” (Gen. 1:14, 15, NKJV). That is, the text shows very clearly that the sun and moon were not gods but created objects with specific natural functions, much as we understand them today.
The ancient Near Eastern myths unanimously depict man’s creation as an afterthought, resulting from an attempt to relieve the gods of hard labor. This mythical notion is contradicted by the biblical idea that man is to rule the world as God’s vice-regent. Nothing in the creation of humans was an afterthought. If anything, the text points to them as the climax of the Creation account, showing even more starkly how different the pagan and biblical accounts really are.
Genesis, thus, presents a corrective against the myths of the ancient world. Moses used certain terms and ideas incompatible with pagan concepts. And he did this by simply expressing the biblical understanding of reality, and of God’s role and purpose in Creation.
There is one element that makes these genealogies unique in the Bible: they contain the element of time, causing some scholars to correctly call them “chronogenealogies.” They contain an interlocking mechanism of descent information coupled with spans of time, so that “when Person 1 had lived x years, he fathered Person 2. And Person 1, after he fathered Person 2, lived y years, and he fathered other sons and daughters.” Genesis 5 adds the formula phrase, “And all the days of Person 1 were z years.” This interlocking system would have precluded deleting certain generations or adding them. Genesis 5 and Genesis 11 contain a continuous line of descent, as corroborated by 1 Chronicles 1:18–27, in which there are no added or missing generations. In this way the Bible interprets itself.
For nearly 2,000 years, Jewish and Christian expositors have interpreted these texts to represent history and an accurate way to determine the date of the Flood and the age of the earth, at least from the seven days of Creation as depicted in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2.
In recent decades, there have been attempts to reinterpret Genesis 5 and Genesis 11 to accommodate longer ages, as some archaeological and historical data are interpreted (by fallible human beings) to suggest. This raises serious questions about the reliability of the Bible record.
But if we are to understand God’s concept of time and its progression through history, we must recognize that these two chapters are “both historical and theological, linking Adam with the rest of humankind and God with man in the realm of the reaches of space and time. Genesis 5 and 11:10–26 provide the time framework and human chain that link God’s people with the man whom God created as the climax of the six-day creation event of this planet.”—Gerhard F. Hasel, “The Meaning of the Chronogenealogies of Genesis 5 and 11,” Origins 7/2 (1980), p. 69.
Matt. 19:4, 5
Luke 11:50, 51
2 Cor. 4:6
1 Tim. 2:12–15
1 Pet. 3:20
Jude 11, 14
Rev. 2:7; Rev. 3:14; Rev. 22:2, 3
Jesus and all of the New Testament writers refer to Genesis 1–11 as reliable history. Jesus refers to Moses’ writings and the creation of male and female (Matt. 19:4). Paul often uses the Creation account to substantiate the theological points he makes in his epistles. He declared to the learned men of Athens, “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24, NASB). In these ways, the New Testament writers built on the foundational nature of Genesis to show the modern reader the significance of this literal event.
Read Romans 5. More than half a dozen times, Paul makes a link from Adam to Jesus (see Rom. 5:12, 14–19). That is, he assumes the literal existence of a historical Adam, a position that becomes fatally compromised when an evolutionary model of origins replaces a literal reading of the texts.
Further Thought: Read Gerald A. Klingbeil, ed., The Genesis Creation Account and Its Reverberations in the Old Testament (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 2015).
“The Bible is the most comprehensive and the most instructive history which men possess. It came fresh from the fountain of eternal truth, and a divine hand has preserved its purity through all the ages. . . . Here only can we find a history of our race, unsullied by human prejudice or human pride.”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 25.
“I have been shown that without Bible history, geology can prove nothing. Relics found in the earth do give evidence of a state of things differing in many respects from the present. But the time of their existence, and how long a period these things have been in the earth, are only to be understood by Bible history. It may be innocent to conjecture beyond Bible history, if our suppositions do not contradict the facts found in the sacred Scriptures. But when men leave the word of God in regard to the history of creation, and seek to account for God’s creative works upon natural principles, they are upon a boundless ocean of uncertainty. Just how God accomplished the work of creation in six literal days he has never revealed to mortals. His creative works are just as incomprehensible as his existence.”—Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts, book 3, p. 93.