Barry Newman's Blog

October 29, 2010

Science and Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 3 (part VII)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 1:22 am

I have decided to change the title to this series to: “Science and Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 3”.  Consequently I have altered the titles to the previous parts. It was becoming a much longer series than I had anticipated.  When this series ends I intend to take a break and then begin a new series following on from Genesis 2: 3 at a later date.  I hope I am forgiven!

Genesis 1: 6-8 – Day 2 (again)

“And God said let a firmament be in the midst of the waters and let it divide the waters from the waters.  And God made the firmament and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament.  And it was so and he called the firmament, ‘Heavens’ or ‘Sky’.  And there was evening and there was morning the second day.”

Mention has already been made of what was very likely understood by “raqia” – firmament – a solid vault.  The waters of course were not made during this Day.  They were in existence before the creative Days are mentioned.  The waters are simply divided into two portions.  A separation is made between some of the waters now beneath and some of the waters now above the firmament.  Day 2 shares with Day 1 a process of differentiation.  In Day 1, light, having been made, was differentiated from the darkness.  In Day 2, the firmament having been made, the waters were separated into those above and those below.  In both Days 1 and 2 God introduced “form” where previously there had been “formlessness”.  As in Day 1, what God made he also named. The “raqia” he named, “Heavens” or “Sky”.

Genesis 1: 9-13 – Day 3

Twice in Day 3 God speaks – He acts. This will be paralleled in Day 6 where again God speaks – He acts, twice. 

In Day 3, as in Days 1 and 2, God brings about differentiation.  In his first act, by drawing the waters under the vault into a specific location and causing dry land to appear he differentiates between these waters and the land.  The dry land he names “Earth” and the now more localised waters, he names, “Seas”.  In Days 1, 2 and 3 God has been concerned with creating basic structures.  What was without form to begin with now has quite distinctive features, separate from one another.

In his second act God says, “Let the land produce vegetation” – two types: “the plant bearing seed according to its kind and on the land the tree yielding fruit with seed in it according to its kind”.

In the first act, God determines that it should be so and it is. Likewise in the second act He determines that the Earth should yield these things upon the earth and it does.  This is the God of awesome but uncomplicated power. And with respect to both those situations that he brings about on Day 3 He, as it were, stands back from his creation and sees that it is good.  In effect he proclaims that it is good.

But what is meant by, the terms, “Earth”, “Seas”, “the plant bearing seed”, “the tree yielding fruit with seed in it” and “according to its kind”?  

The question of what is meant by the first two terms is addressed in some detail by Seely, P.H. in an article entitled, “The Geographical Meaning of ‘Earth’ and ‘Seas’ in Genesis 1: 10” (Westminster Theological Journal, 59, 1997, 231-255).  The temptation for many has been to see these terms in the light of the modern understanding of the earth as a spherical globe with isolated continents affixed to a solid crust upon which exist a number of oceans that surround these continents.

Seely provides evidence for the claim that prior to the 5th century B.C. the earth was considered by peoples throughout the world, to be basically a flat single “continent”, usually considered to be disc-like and thereby described as “circular”. He maintains that this was still a view held by most people up until New Testament times. He is convinced that Genesis 1: 1; 1: 2 and 1: 10 refer to the entire earth and that the reference to the firmament in Day 2 indicates that the earth of Day 3 is conceived of as flat disc-like with the firmament coming down over it like a hemispherical upside down bowl – a belief, he claims, that was held by all other peoples. 

To further support his understanding of how the ancient Hebrew conceived of the earth, he cites Isaiah 40: 22 which speaks of “the circle of the earth”. It has been common by some to refer to the Isaiah text as supporting the notion of a globe but Seely points out that “circle” does not imply “globe” whereas the Hebrew for “ball” would have conveyed that idea.  For additional support he refers to Daniel 4: 10, 11 and 4: 20 where reference is made to a tree of enormous height with its top touching the sky and it being visible to all the earth. Job 37: 3 is cited as implying that God’s lightening can be seen at the very extremities of the earth – the earth being flat. Appeal is also made to the statement, made in a cosmological context, that the dawn grasps the earth by its edges (Job 38: 13).

Seely also provides evidence for the view that in the ancient Far East it was commonly held that the earth was one entity floating on an ocean and that in the ancient Near East it was the belief that a sea surrounded and supported the disc-like earth.  Arguing from its use in scripture (citing e.g. Ezekiel 27: 4 and 28: 2 where a reference is made to Tyre being located in the heart of the seas) he also concludes that the Hebrew for “Seas” has the meaning “Sea”.  Reference is made to Job 26: 10 and Proverbs 8: 27 to support the idea that in the mind of the writers, when God gathered the Sea into one place, that one place was “circular” in shape. He cites Psalm 72: 9 and Zechariah 9: 10b in support of the idea that the phrase, “from sea to sea” is a reference to two oceans on either side of the earth as though it were an island.  He believes that Genesis 49: 25, Deuteronomy 33: 13, Proverbs 3: 20 and Psalm 24: 1,2 and  136: 6 as well as Genesis 2: 5, 6; 7: 11 and 8: 2 support the idea that the Hebrew believed that water lay beneath the earth.  

Thus, he concludes that like their contemporaries, the Hebrews considered that the earth was surrounded by the Sea (with arm-like appendages extending into the rivers and connected seas) and floating on the Sea, from whence came the water of springs, wells and all land locked waters.  In summary Seely believes that the understanding of Earth and Seas in Genesis 1, textual material that belongs to the 2nd millennium B.C., is in line with the understanding of ancient peoples of that time.  I think Seely is correct but I have not done him justice in this brief survey of his article.  We may appeal to the notion that in many if not all of the texts of Scripture that Seely cites, the writer is writing with poetic flair.  It would be a little odd however if the language that the writer uses, being simply poetic and not to be taken literally, happens to coincide with language used by other cultures, around about the same time and even in nearby localities, language that was meant to be understood literally.

But now, to the terms used of the vegetation.  To begin with, I again refer to an article by Seely: “The Meaning of Min, ‘Kind’”, Science and Christian Belief, 9 (1), 1997, 47-56.  The article mainly deals with “min” (kind) as it applies to non-plant life and will be considered again when reflecting on Days 5 and 6.  Suffice it to say here, that Seely mounts an argument that “kind” cannot neatly be aligned with any one of our modern classificatory terms, such as, “phylum”, “class”, “order”, “family”, “genus” or “species”.  It belongs to a world where plants and animals are classified differently to the way we moderns might classify them.  Our taxonomic systems have been created only relatively recently and the way the modern biologist determines how different species relate to one another and how the term “species” should be understood has been changing even more recently!

It is difficult to tell exactly what is intended by “the plant bearing seed” and “the tree yielding fruit with seed in it”. “Esev”, “plant” is sometimes translated by the word, “herb”, and it can be found in the phrase, translated, “plant of the field”. Given that in Genesis 1: 29 the “plants bearing seed” and the “trees yielding fruit with seed in it” are described as food for man, the reference in 1: 11,12 might be meant to be so restricted.  “Plants bearing seed” might include, grains of various types and “trees yielding fruit with seed in it” might refer to what we commonly understand by fruit trees as well as plants with berries etc. Does this mean that other types of “plant life” are not referred to?  Not necessarily so. In Genesis 1: 30, “green ‘esev’”, perhaps a reference to grasses and other leafy vegetation, not explicitly mentioned in 1: 11, 12 is designated as food for creatures other than man.  Perhaps “the plant bearing seed” and “the tree yielding fruit with seed in it”, while being primarily understood as “plant life” suitable for food for man is also used as a general way of referring to “plant life” although even then the “plant life” might be understood as restricted to that which is edible by either man or other creatures.

However what is the significance of the reference to “seed” and “after its kind”?  “Light”, the “Heavens” or “Sky”, “Sea” and “Earth” are permanent.  Substantially they do not change.  Plants, on the other hand, come from the Earth but later they wither and die.  I know the text does not say that, but certainly, later, they are eaten. They are impermanent. Yet God has so made them that after a fashion they also are permanent.  They can be depended upon. They reproduce. The plants bearing seed will by their seed produce new plants that will have the same character as the plants that they came from.  The trees yielding fruit with seed in it will by their seed produce fruit trees that will have the same character as the fruit trees that they came from.  That is, perhaps what is being implied is faithful reproduction of type leading to permanence rather than simple type immutability.

By producing this plant life God has brought about more “form”, more structure, to what was originally the “formless” world. And in all of Days 1 to 3 there are no mythological elements so common in the creation accounts of others. There is God and the creation that he brings about.  The creation is not him but it is his handiwork. And now, just before Day 4 begins the world is ready to be filled with entities which “make use of” the form that God has created in those first three days.

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