Genesis 1 – Scattered Thoughts

I start thinking about Genesis 1 by quoting from Genesis 29:18-28:

And Jacob being in love with her, said: I will serve you seven years for Rachel, your younger daughter. Laban answered: It is better that I give her to you than to another man; stay with me. So Jacob served seven years for Rachel: and they seemed but a few days, because of the greatness of his love. And he said to Laban: Give me my wife; for now the time is fulfilled, that I may go in unto her. And he, having invited a great number of his friends to the feast, made the marriage. And at night he brought in Lia, his daughter, to him, giving his daughter a handmaid, named Zelpha. Now when Jacob had gone in to her according to custom, when morning had come he saw it was Lia. And he said to his father in law: What is it that you meant to do? Did not I serve you for Rachel? Why have you deceived me? Laban answered: It is not the custom in this place, to give the younger in marriage first. Make up the week of days of this match: and I will give you her also, for the service that you shall render me other seven years. He yielded to his pleasure: and after the week was past, he married Rachel.

The Aramaic peoples used timespans in figures of speech. In this passage a week is made to stand for a year.

This being so, we have at least one example in Genesis where figurative language is used with respect to timespans, and consequently there is no a priori reason to assume that other timespans in this book must be literal. This being the case, questions about whether specific timespans should be taken literally or figuratively will need to be judged on their own merits, taking into consideration the context and the literary type.

So with respect to Genesis 1, it is not unreasonable to ask whether it must be the case that its purpose is to present a literal chronology of God’s work of creation. Having said that, though, there are at least two dogmas that surely may be affirmed from Genesis 1 without recourse to the thesis that it presents a literal chronology: first, the fact that God created everything, and that He did so ex nihilo; secondly, that He created Man in His image.

As one who previously insisted that upon a young earth I am sympathetic to the interests and concerns of those who do so, but I no longer think that the Christian Faith stands or falls upon the answer to this question. To my knowledge the Church has never defined a dogma concerning the chronology of Genesis 1, and that fact alone makes me reticent to be dogmatic about it myself.

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Posted in Creation, Scripture
3 comments on “Genesis 1 – Scattered Thoughts
  1. blueskygrannie says:

    Does the Christian Faith stand or fall on the question of whether we have a young earth or an old one? Interesting to think about. We humans are so bound by time we cannot really imagine “no time” or an eternity. In my own little dusty creature thinking I see no problem with a young earth versus an old one. The science man has developed so far to date the earth is not always consistent, so we have to be careful as Christians not to think too highly of it as always accurate and true. Old or young, it is God who has created the earth. Denying that, I think we all would agree our Christian Faith would be in deep trouble.

    What I do wonder about our faith falling or standing is the belief that man evolved from lower life forms. In order to do that, evolutionary “science” tells us that there were millions of years of death taking place. Millions of years of mistakes so to speak, before the evolutionary tree finally got a species that could survive. If the Bible speaks clearly that there was no death before sin, the evolution theory will not fit. Does the Bible clearly teach there was no death before Adam and Eve sinned?

  2. aquinasetc says:

    Old or young, it is God who has created the earth. Denying that, I think we all would agree our Christian Faith would be in deep trouble.

    Yes, I think this is right. But there are people (both Catholic and Protestant, though I think more of the latter) who really do believe that the age of the earth is or should be an article of faith. I know that I was one of them :-) I understand the concerns of the Young Earthers, and I certainly respect their motivation, but I no longer think that their concerns are warranted. It is sufficiently clear from the Bible that God did create the world ex nihilo, and I can’t imagine a theological issue that just demands that He did so within a given time period or in some specific sequence.

    I think that you have brought up a key point in raising the question of eternity. God is not bound by time; He is completely outside of it, in an eternal Now. So anything in the Bible that suggests otherwise is purely an accommodation to human limitations. Surely this applies to Genesis 1.

    What I do wonder about our faith falling or standing is the belief that man evolved from lower life forms.

    I’m not really sufficiently well-read to offer an opinion about this, but philosopher Ed Feser wrote an interesting article which (among other things) considers what role (if any) evolution might have played in the appearance of the human race. You might find it helpful. See here.

    Does the Bible clearly teach there was no death before Adam and Eve sinned?

    I’m not sure. I think it is sufficiently clear that this is not taught in Genesis, though. Sharks and killer whales (for two examples) aren’t equipped to sustain their lives off of algae or seaweed, so it seems pretty clear that at the very least there’s reason to think that animals lived and died (and certainly plants would have died upon being consumed even if all animals were vegetarian). I don’t think that one can safely conclude from Genesis that man would not have died physically prior to the Fall. Given that our end is to enjoy the beatific vision of God, and that this is not something that our earthly bodies can do, it seems at the very least reasonable to think that earthly death was never out of the question. (I’m being deliberately modest in phrasing all these remarks, just because I haven’t done a lot of reading about this).

    Fred

    • blueskygrannie says:

      Thanks for all the good comments. We are just children of our Heavenly Father wondering how He has done things. When my son was about 3 or 4 he told me he knew why it was windy. He said it was because of the trees moving their branches! I wonder if God ever “smiles” at our conclusions about the world He made.

      I am a Catholic who believes God created ex nihilo, speaking into existence perfectly designed life forms and not having to mess around for “millions of years” trying to get a wing to grow out of a reptile with millions of forms discarded (as in the traditional evolutionary model).

      Genesis does make it sound like there was no death for Adam and Eve in the beginning, for only if they ate of the forbidden tree would they die. Romans tells us the wages of sin is death. Putting those two teachings together does give me the impression there was no death at all in the Garden. Because of their sin the whole creation groans and travalis.

      His ways are not our ways and we all certainly “see through a glass darkly,” and I am just sharing my childish perceptions as well. Thanks for “listening.”

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