Barry Newman's Blog

November 23, 2010

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

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 7:48 am

The questions we want to ask & How to read Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 3

But what of the questions we want to ask, in spite of the document’s significance that it has in its own right and regardless of its being a document set within the culture of another age? The questions that we are readily tempted to ask can assume such importance as often to minimise, dwarf and almost totally obscure the otherwise extremely instructive material presented to us in Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 3 concerning God, his nature and his creation.

In spite of what has just been written we will now turn to the questions we still like to ask. Perhaps we have to do this, given the age in which we live. How long were the days really?  How did God create the world?  How long did he take? When did he create the world? How did the author know about these things? How long did he really take? How did he really create the world? When did God really create the world?  And what are we to make of modern evolutionary theories, both cosmological and biological?

We might argue that the duration of the days in the Genesis account is undefined or that they represent long periods of time or that at least the first three days were of long duration, because the sun didn’t make its appearance until the fourth day.  I think the reference on the first day to darkness being called “night” and the light being called “day” (meaning something like daylight) makes it fairly clear that each day represented either what we would call a 12 hour day with its following or previous night making up 24 hours, or what we refer to as a 24 hour day.  Over hundreds of years, if not thousands, if one went to the Genesis record to establish one’s cosmology it would be natural to say that the world was made in six ordinary days, unless one decided to interpret the text allegorically or in some other way symbolically.  For me the meaning is reasonably plain.  Days 1 to 6 and probably Day 7 as well, were six or seven ordinary days.  Basically, this is the view that Walton (Genesis, p. 156) takes.

How did God create the world?  The text simply says he spoke and it was so.  How long did he take? Certainly he took no longer than six days.  The text seems to imply that he worked during the daylight hours (if that makes sense for Days 1 to 3 as well as for Days 4 to 6), though there is little to prevent one from concluding that each creative act was but a moment long.  When did he create the world?  If we follow the rest of Genesis and among other things, take into account the ages given for certain people referred to there, and allow for incomplete but continuously successive genealogical material, we could conclude that the world was created about 6 to 10, 000 years ago. 

It may be judged that in coming to these conclusions I have simply adopted a literalistic understanding of the text.  However, I have attempted to understand the literary nature of the text by teasing out what it said and how it said it along with viewing both of these matters in the light of other related literature of its day. Indeed if, as I have outlined it, that is the way one is meant to read the text then it can be maintained that the understanding is a literal one rather than literalistic. The understanding is a literal one, not only in the sense that what it seems to say on the surface is the way that it should be understood, but also in the sense that understanding the nature of the literature has been paramount, from my point of view, in determining how the text should be understood.  However, I acknowledge that my understanding of the text is likely to be judged literalistic by the person who believes that the text should be understood differently to how I have outlined.  I suspect an appeal to “literal” and “literalistic” in this case is not helpful.

But please read on.

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