Is Genesis 1 a How-To Guide to God’s Creation?

There are currently several studies going on in the life of my wife and me of ancient history as recorded in the first eleven chapters of Genesis. Our church is going through this section of scripture as an adult Sunday School class, the small group to which we belong is also going through it, and Debi has just joined a BSF class and they are going through the same section of the Bible. They are all just getting started, so the events in the first two chapters are in focus right now.

As anyone who has studied the Bible knows, there are minor controversies within orthodox Christianity surrounding the purpose and meaning of these two chapters. None of these controversies includes any major doctrine of the faith, of course, so they are not high on the scale of importance as far as I’m concerned. The outcome of these discussions has no bearing at all on how we are to live our lives as Christians day-to-day. That being said, I wanted to blog briefly about my views on these two chapters.

The main focus of the discussions mentioned above is whether or not Genesis chapter 1 is a play-by-play of how God created the earth. There are basically two camps in this debate, though there are several variations in each camp. One camp will contend that the six days mentioned in chapter 1 should be taken to mean that God created the earth in the six literal days as they are laid out. Basically, the creation looked like this.

Day 1 – God created light and separated light from darkness.
Day 2 – God created the sky.
Day 3 – God separated water from dry ground to create seas and land. He also created vegetation on this day.
Day 4 – God created the sun, moon, and stars to measure time and to separate light from darkness.
Day 5 – God created sea creatures and birds.
Day 6 – God created land animals. Then God created mankind after his image.

The other camp claims that the account in Genesis 1 is not a literal play-by-play of how God created the earth. Rather, this account is meant to be an easy way for an illiterate people to memorize the fact that there is nothing that exists on earth that was not created by God. Some have said that Genesis 1 is Hebrew poetry which further points to it not being literal, but there are problems with this claim—scholars of Hebrew language say that there are very few elements of Hebrew poetry present in this chapter. That notwithstanding, there are fewer problems with this camp’s theory than the other.

I agree with the claims of this second camp, and I’ll explain why.

The historical context of the writing of this account is soon after the nation of Israel was led out of Egypt by Moses. Moses most likely wrote this during the early years of the wilderness wandering beginning with Numbers chapters 13 & 14. These people had lived their entire lives as slaves in Egypt. They were illiterate for the most part and oral tradition is all they had regarding recorded history. So, in my opinion, God had Moses write the creation account in a way that would be very easy to remember. The main point of the account is that God created everything. Though it would have been easier to just stop chapter 1 after the first verse, I believe God wanted to stress that he created everything; name something in nature and God created it.

If you take the creation account as described by the first camp above, I believe you run into some problems.

First, you can see in day 1 that God created light and he separated the light from the darkness. But on day 4, God created the sun and the moon to separate the light from the darkness. So, when was light separated from darkness, in day 1 or day 4?

Secondly, when chapter 2 is added to the discussion, there are two points of order that seem to disagree with chapter 1’s account. According to chapter 1, plants were created on day 3 and mankind on day 6. But Genesis 2:5-9 seems to indicate that man was created before the plants.

Now no shrub of the field had yet grown on the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. Springs would well up from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground. The Lord God formed the man from the soil of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

The Lord God planted an orchard in the east, in Eden; and there he placed the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow from the soil, every tree that was pleasing to look at and good for food. (Now the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil were in the middle of the orchard.)

This passage seems to say that (1)there were no plants, (2)God created man, (3)he created the Garden of Eden, (4)then he created the trees in the garden.

Another point of order is land animals, birds, and man. Which came first? According to chapter 1, you have to say that animals were created before man (both on day 6) if you agree with the first camp above, as well as the birds (created on day 5). But chapter 2 says that man was created before animals. Take a look at Gen 2:18-22.

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.” The Lord God formed out of the ground every living animal of the field and every bird of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them, and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man named all the animals, the birds of the air, and the living creatures of the field, but for Adam no companion who corresponded to him was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was asleep, he took part of the man’s side and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the part he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

This passage seems to say that (1)God says he’ll make a companion for Adam, (2)God created the animals of the ground and the birds, (3)he brought them to Adam to name them but none were suitable as a companion, (4)then God created Eve as the companion for Adam.

It is my opinion that the account in Genesis 1 is much more interested in why God created the earth than how. Here is my opinion of the main point of chapter 1 regarding why God created the earth.

Gen 1:26-27
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.” God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.

I believe that the main point of Gen 1 is that God created everything and that he did it for his most prized creation: mankind. It’s written in the way it is because it’s easy to remember.

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