December 18, 2007
by: jovial_cynic

image: Heaven Let The Light Shine Down... (cc) PentaxFanatiK

Growing up in church, I often heard that new converts should start their Christian faith by reading through the gospel of John to get a fuller understanding of their faith. From there, they were instructed to read the rest of the gospels, as well as the book of Proverbs, because they were fairly easy to read. It was explained that the rest of the bible was more challenging, and there was no point in creating roadblocks at the beginning of their newly found faith.

I didn't question this teaching; I figured that the church leaders knew what they were doing. Years later, having come into my own understanding of the text and of the tactics some churches use to make converts, the cynical side of me believes this: if you can get people to nod at the easy things, you're going to get those same people to nod at the difficult things. By difficult, I mean the commonly taught interpretations of the text that simply make no sense. If you can get people to believe that the Bible is the Word of God, and then get them to believe that you and/or your denomination holds the keys to the proper interpretation of the text, you can get them to believe anything you say.

I propose trudging through the text head-on and confronting these difficult passages with some reason and understanding.

image: Antennae Galaxies (Public Domain)

The first chapter of Genesis* presents us with one of most heated religious debate topics: creation vs evolution. Many Christians take the seven-days-of-creation approach (rendering the universe 4 to 10 thousand years old), whereas others believe (as the field of physics states) in a 13.7 billion year old universe. Both can't be true, so one (or both) must be incorrect.

Does the bible actually teach that the universe was created and completed in a literal seven days? How do Christians hold a seven-day interpretation in one hand, and scientific evidence in the other? What are "days?" What does it mean to "create?" When is "in the beginning?" Let's pick the text apart.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis 1:1 starts off with what many pass off as a chapter heading. If this is merely a chapter heading, the line of text simply states what is going to happen throughout the rest of the chapter; it's easily glossed over. However, if it's a verse by itself, perhaps it's a good idea to see exactly what it says.

The Hebrew word from which we translate "beginning" (re'shiyth) can actually be translated in a few ways. In the NASB translation, it is rendered "beginning" 19 times throughout the Old Testament, and it is translated as "first" 16 times. However, if we check each passage we find the word and see how it is used, in almost every instance, the word "first" fits quite well.

If we replace "in the beginning" with "first" in Genesis 1:1, we have a completely different way of viewing the first verse in the bible:

First, God created the heavens and the earth.

First. That is, prior to the rest of creation. Everything after verse 1 takes place somewhere in the heavens and the earth which God created. In the midst of that single verse, there is nothing to indicate the time involved. There is no problem with a 13.7 billion year old universe. There's nothing in the text that precludes the current scientific model for how the universe came to be.

Does this interpretation work? What are the theological consequences for allowing for an ancient universe? Does this provide a stronger case for evolution?

I'll continue to explore this idea in further posts. Stay tuned.

NOTE: I've discovered an error in my translation/interpretation in this text; the correction is explained in this post.

* I set the link to point to the New American Standard Bible (NASB) translation, as it's the most literal of translations, which is more useful for studying. The literal hebrew/greek is the most ideal.


M. Hyland said:
It's a sad, sad shame so many people call themselves christians and fail to follow the basic idea of love your neighbors etc. and have never put forth the effort to read the entire bible.

But that's where the term "sheeple" comes into play, if someone they trust tells them what's there and does their thinking for them, why should they waste the effort right? Such a sad sad shame.

December 19, 2007

jovial_cynic said:
Agreed. But it's not just Christians, or even religions. The moment you get people into an "us verses them" posture, it becomes very easy to shift people into group-think.
December 19, 2007

Wonder said:
that's an interesting take on Genesis -
I haven't yet studied the literal greek & hebrew of the Bible, but I'd like to learn what the text actually says(including what it says about itself)with some degree of independence from the 20-30 centuries of ideology built up around it - although i'd settle for independence from 20th-21st century ideology ;)

It's important for Christians not to run away from science - If what we believe is true, then no discovery of cosmology, geology or evolution can disprove God as creator, even it if challenges our ideas of how exactly he went about creating.

December 19, 2007

jovial_cynic said:
It's important for Christians not to run away from science - If what we believe is true, then no discovery of cosmology, geology or evolution can disprove God as creator, even it if challenges our ideas of how exactly he went about creating.

Precisely. The text is meant to instruct us within the context of the lives we live. The teachings of the text should apply whether the earth is flat, round, ancient, young, revolves around the sun, or is the center of the universe. Our faith simply states that God is God, and that we wholly depend on Him for salvation. That's pretty much it. The truth would still be the truth even if our universe was a cardboard box.

December 19, 2007

Luke said:
Hey Buddy,

Well you know where I stand on this. I find no reason to try to extrapolate more out of the text than is actually there. To focus so much attention on a few words seems (to me) a little agenda driven. Sure physics might indicate in some areas that the world is zillions of years old. But in other areas it points to a young earth. Exodus later states that in six days God created everything.

The first use of the word 'day' has to have a literal meaning before it can have a metaphorical meaning otherwise the word is meaningless.

In my last recollection we came to a point where you said essentially that it could have been 6 literal days but what happened before those 6 days could have been billions of years. In which case we're at a cross-roads that can't really be decided definitively because we really have nothing to go on. God created everything supernaturally not through some natural process (in those 6 days) so to assume that he created some natural process that took billions of years to come to fruition, then created everything supernaturally in 6 days, doesn't really make any sense to me. He created the world to create us, and since we are the real purpose of His creation why would He (who created time in the first place) waste billions of years before He decided to create us???

If God created everything why can't He also have created it with the physics to appear aged and beautiful (versus flat and un-aged like the plains instead of mountain ranges). He created the laws of physics in the first place.

It goes back to the old evolutionary argument where one asks another, "Can God create the universe in billions of years? Yes. Can He create it in seconds? I suppose He could create it in seconds if He wanted to. Can it create it in days? NO!"

December 19, 2007

Herman Cummings said:
A Scientific Prediction From Genesis

Besides myself, all others that try to tell us what Genesis says do not understand the text, and are speaking from ignorance. I’m sorry to have to take this position, but there are too many false teachers and unqualified people talking about “creation\evolution debates” (when no such contest exists), and proclaiming false doctrines about Genesis, such as Creation Science, theistic evolution, progressive creation, and “gap” theories. There is even the fad of “Intelligent Design”, which is a big waste of time, and has almost nothing of value to offer.

There are no “creation accounts” in Genesis. The opposing view of evolution is what I call “the Observations of Moses”, which were visions of six days from the past, given to Moses by God, on Mt. Sinai in 1598 BC. Each day was taken from a different day of the week, each week being the first week from a different geologic age of mankind.

Having said that, I am now making this declaration, so that mankind may know that the words and events written in Genesis are true, and the humanist theories of our origins are false. I predict that secular science shall soon find, if they have not already, solid evidence of prehistoric mankind, which is earlier than 30 million years in age. The book “Moses Didn’t Write About Creation!”, states from Genesis that mankind has been in his present likeness for over 60 million years. Moses wrote about extinction and restoration.

Herman Cummings
PO Box 1745
Fortson GA, 31808

December 19, 2007

jovial_cynic said:
Luke -

It'll be focusing attention on more than a few words. I'm tackling the entire Torah this way. This is precisely how the Torah was studied during and before the time of Christ; I see no reason why we shouldn't also study it this way. The only agenda is to eliminate preconceived notions and let the text speak for itself.

Regarding God creating the universe aged and beautiful, your argument is identical to stating that God may have created the universe yesterday, and that He planted memories in our head so we think that a past extending beyond two days exists. It's referred to as an irrefutable claim -- it cannot be disproved, because a necessary component to the claim is that we cannot know the actual nature of anything.

I don't think there's anything in our physical world that works that way. I think that God's majesty is demonstrated perfectly in the natural order of the world He created. The unraveling of galaxies at the burst of a supernova, the constant speed of light, the relationship between gravity and mass... all which precisely follows the laws of the universe, is much more beautiful to me knowing that it abides by physical laws. For God to have created a world which only appears to be following an order seems like mythology, in which people attribute everyday events to the hands of the gods. From that, we have gods blowing on the earth to create wind, and a flaming chariot which carries the sun across the sky. We agree that such beliefs stem from a lack of understanding; attribution to the supernatural often spring up when no scientific explanation exists. Arthur C. Clark stated, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." I think the same applies to anything people cannot yet explain.

December 19, 2007

jovial_cynic said:
Herman -

That certainly is interesting. However, I don't agree that Moses was speaking of days from different geological ages; that wouldn't align well with the Exodus 20:11 passage that says that it was created in 6 days, after which there is the day of rest. We can argue over what "days" means in that context, but I don't think any interpretation of the text allows for arbitrary days selected across various ages as you propose. But I'd be glad to further engage in a conversation on the topic.

December 19, 2007

jovial_cynic said:
Luke, you said this: "He created the world to create us, and since we are the real purpose of His creation why would He (who created time in the first place) waste billions of years before He decided to create us???

For that matter, why would God wait to save a man? Why did God wait until Paul had already sent a bunch of Christians off to be imprisoned or killed before revealing Himself to Paul? The same question about God "wasting time" could be asked, right?

December 19, 2007

Robby said:
All very interesting...!
December 19, 2007

Wonder said:
Does the Bible actually say that we, humanity, are the reason for creation? if so, where?

If so, why would spending billions of years preparing the creation for us necessarily be a "waste" of time? God is not limited as we are.

December 19, 2007

jovial_cynic said:
I don't believe the bible states that humans are the reason for creation, but the fact that we are the final piece of creation seems to indicate that creation was made for us. We're also given dominion over the earth...

But I agree that it wouldn't be a "waste" of time. I don't think that such a notion exists in God's timetable.

As a further interesting note, there's more to the first word in Genesis that I didn't notice before, and I'm going to explore it in my next theology post.

December 20, 2007

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