A clear and moonless sky filled with brilliant, twinkling stars. Laws of nature tuned with clockwork precision. Living cells packed with enough information to fill a vast library. Complex biochemical machinery engineered into the simplest forms of life. Abstract reasoning, language, and the arts. What do these have in common? Each is a testimony to the majesty of the Maker and an onerous burden to those who say, "There is no God!"
Never before have humans achieved such heights of knowledge about the world around us. As science peels back each layer of ignorance like the skin of an onion, we should gain a more profound sense of awe at the Creator's handiwork. Yet now more than ever Christians are faced with an apparent dilemma: is science the friend or foe of faith?
On one hand the Bible teaches that the heavens declare the glory of God. From the very beginning Godhas revealed His invisible attributes through what He made. On the other hand critics insist that science proves there is no god. Consequently Christians are tempted to throw up their hands in despair, looking to the preacher for eternal life on Sunday and to the scientist for modern life on Monday. Is this really the way we must live?
Far from a compartmentalized life where faith and reason do not interact, God intends for us to love Him with fully engaged minds (Matt. 22:37). Rather than leaping blindly after an irrational faith, we must base our faith on a reasonable, substantive foundation so we can give a solid defense for our faith. This foundation starts by understanding how everything began. After all, many of the toughest questions faced by believers and seekers today directly relate to the topic of creation:
“Where did we come from and how did we get here?
How do I know that God exists?
Can we trust Genesis?
Can we reconcile science with the Bible?”
As we face these tough questions, we can strengthen the foundation for our faith and develop a greater sense of wonder for our glorious Creator.
The Holman QuickSource Guide to Understanding Creation is designed for seekers who are looking for answers as well as Christians who want to understand more about creation. We believe that studying creation from the biblical and scientific perspectives helps establish a positive basis for the Christian faith while also highlighting significant weaknesses and errors in competing worldviews. But it's no easy task to study creation, for one must span a broad spectrum of disciplines including theology, ancient languages, and scientific disciplines ranging from astrophysics to zoology. Countless books have been written about the minutest aspects of creation. Such breadth and depth presents an imposing challenge to Bible students. Even scientists move quickly out of their specialty when studying the multifaceted subject of creation.
This QuickSource Guide simplifies the quest to understand creation by walking you through the scientific and theological issues while providing a thorough overview of each pertinent topic. This single resource provides a comprehensive overview of the theology and science of creation. It's your one-stop source for getting a good grasp on the issues and understanding the perspectives different Christians take as they try to arrive at a solid understanding of the biblical and scientific testimonies about creation.
Some Christians may think that faith means living with unanswered questions, and to some extent it does. Yet while biblical faith is an assurance of things not yet seen, it is never to be a blind or irrational faith.
Christianity finds its uniqueness in its objective truth, not merely subjective sentimentality. The biblical message is set forth into the public marketplace of ideas and invites critical investigation. This openness to examination is important, for the heart cannot embrace beliefs or claims that the mind justifiably rejects.
It is by God's design that we think this way. He wants us to use the mental faculties He gave us. Indeed, we are instructed to test everything and hold on to the good (1 Thess. 5:21). In this book we take the approach that the inerrant biblical message about creation is foundational to our faith and that scientific truths about creation will not contradict the Bible. We also believe that understanding creation helps us answer the Big Questions that challenge our faith. Questions such as:
To separate truth and myth about the Creator, we will sift through ancient stories and modern discoveries about the beginning and the Beginner.
To delve deeper into the Bible's story of what the Creator has done, we will survey the first three chapters of Genesis and other biblical creation accounts.
A study of the biblical doctrines linked to creation and the role of creation in God's eternal plan will help us gain an understanding of God's big plan for creation.
When was Earth created? An overview of the primary evangelical views on the creation time frame aims to help get you started toward a satisfactory answer. Restricting our study to those views that hold to biblical inerrancy and the historicity of the creation account, we summarize and present the strengths and weaknesses of the Recent Creation (Calendar Day) view, the Ancient Creation (Day-Age) view, the Fiat Days view, the Analogical Days view and the Framework Hypothesis.
God has revealed Himself not only through His written Word but also through His created world. Nature bears witness to the invisible attributes of God (Rom. 1:20) and provides compelling reasons to believe the biblical account of creation. The biblical testimony provides the same confidence for belief in God and His role as Creator. For this reason our book will examine the science and theology of creation with a view to exploring how God created the universe.
All of the topics covered in this book are important, fascinating and exhilarating. Some of them are also very controversial. For instance, the age of Earth is often a divisive topic even among Christians who agree on all the vital doctrines of the faith. Our hope is that we can demonstrate respect and charity as we survey each viewpoint, and we hope you will read with a discerning mind. With that said, we invite you to join us in unpacking this fascinating thing we call creation.
There is no universally accepted convention for capitalization of earth. In this book we capitalize Earth anytime we have our home planet as a planet in view. So, for instance, we speak of the age of Earth, not the age of earth (land). Conversely, when we are speaking of the land, surface of the planet, or geological elements, we will use lowercase earth or the earth. An exception to this rule will be the familiar biblical refrain, heavens and earth, which has our planet and all the starry hosts in view.
Part 1: Ancient Stories about Creation and the Creator
Since the beginning of time, people from every culture have asked:
“Why are we here?
How did we get here?
Is there a purpose to this life?”
These questions have given rise to a broad array of fantasies, folklore, and myths about creation. Cultures develop these in an attempt to establish their identity in the world. Once these beliefs are disseminated throughout the populace, all of life’s vital questions are addressed in the context of this foundation. This chapter examines several of the most important ancient creation stories and compares them to the biblical account.
All nations and cultures share a common quest to understand where they came from. For this reason each culture has forged its own creation myth (cosmogony) to explain the origin of the universe, Earth, and the human race. Records preserved from ancient times testify to the central role questions of origins play in establishing the identity and religious heritage of every nation. Many opponents of the Christian faith assume that the biblical creation account is nothing more than yet another in a long line of such documents, in this case a Hebrew creation myth that sought to establish a preeminent place for Abraham’s descendants.
Yet in comparison to all other ancient cosmogonies, the historical accuracy and scientific plausibility of Genesis are striking. The radical thinking of its inspired author, Moses, is clear when compared to the far-fetched myths of the Mesopotamian cultures that surrounded the Israelites. It especially stands in stark contrast to the science and philosophy Moses learned in Egypt’s world-class educational institutions.
Four different creation mythologies evolved in ancient Egypt, but several common themes run through each of them. It was said that in the beginning the only thing that existed was a primordial ocean called Nu. Out of these waters rose a hill on which a temple stood. In each version of the Egyptian cosmogony, the creator of the world emanated (sprang forth) from this primeval, living temple. For instance the Heliopolitan cosmogony begins with Atum’s creating himself on the hill that rose from the waters. He then brought into being all the various lesser gods of the atmosphere, earth, and sky through bodily emanations. It is as if he were budding off new divinities.
A new creation myth developed in the fourth millennium BC when Memphis became the capital of Egypt. Not willing to accept the former account which glorified another city, the Memphian cosmogony trumped the Heliopolitan myth by deeming Ptah, the high god of Memphis, as the creator of Nu (the primeval waters from which Atum was self-realized). This is paramount to saying, “Our god created yours.” Yet another creation myth arose in Thebes. The Theban cosmogony said that Thebes was the original city and all other Egyptian gods were in fact derived from their god, Amon. Thus we see that each of the Egyptian cosmogonies was an attempt to bolster the self-image of various cities. Politics, greed, and competitive spirit drove the foundation of these creation accounts.
Perhaps the most well-known of the Near Eastern creation myths is the Babylonian tale called Enuma Elish. Written in cuneiform (wedge-shaped letters) on seven clay tablets, it tells the story of the god Marduk’s rise to power and the establishment of Babylon as the region’s preeminent city. Fragments of the seven clay tablets were discovered in the middle nineteenth century by British archaeologist Sir Austen Henry Layard when he unearthed the ruins of King Ashurbanipal’s library in Nineveh. Although the version discovered by Layard was likely written as early as the twelfth century BC, older versions date as far back as the time of Hammurabi in the eighteenth century BC. Most scholars believe that its ultimate origin traces even farther back to Sumerian creation myths.
The Babylonian creation myth is an example of polytheism. Polytheism is the belief in many gods who coexist, each having distinct areas of responsibility and various measures of goodness or evil as well as power. Originally there were two primeval gods according to the Enuma Elish: Apsu, the ocean, and Tiamat, the fresh waters. They mingled and produced numerous other gods. As children often do, the offspring rebelled against parental authority. In time Apsu and Tiamat grew tired of the rebellion and decided to kill the huffy young gods they had begotten. But motherly love got the best of Tiamat, and so she backed out of the plan, leaving the dark task to Apsu alone. But before Apsu could strike, he was killed by one of the offspring, a god named Ea. Realizing her mistake, Tiamat then used her powers to produce a hoard of monsters for the purpose of avenging the death of her husband and taking back control from the younger gods.
Terrified by Tiamat’s threats, the gods selected Ea’s son Marduk to challenge her. Marduk agreed to the gods’ request on the condition that they grant him supremacy over them. After the gods anointed him king, Marduk quickly slew Tiamat. Here is where the story converts to a creation myth: Marduk took an arrow and split Tiamat’s corpse into two halves, making the arc of the sky with one portion and dry land with the other. Next he called forth the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers from her sightless eyes. Marduk then went on to slay Tiamat’s demon-commander, Kingu, and from his blood he formed the race of humans. The remaining older gods were honored and placed in the sky as the stars that formed the constellations. As we will see more clearly later, the far-fetched Babylonian account, much like the Egyptian account, differs remarkably from Genesis.
Christian Theism — Says a personal God exists who created and rules the universe. He created the universe from nothing rather than using some preexisting material or producing an emanation from Himself, and thus He is distinct from and transcends the entire material realm.
Atheism — Says God does not exist. The universe was not created by a higher power.
Pantheism — Says God and the universe are one all-inclusive unity.
Naturalism — Says the universe is the product of strictly natural laws and chance processes with no supernatural involvement.
Polytheism — Says many gods coexist, each with distinct areas of responsibility and various measures of goodness, evil, and power.
Many ancient traditions about the creation and early history of Earth share the same general framework found in Genesis 1-11, which includes an account of the world’s creation, the subsequent formation of human civilization, and an eventual deluge that wiped out humanity. The closest parallel to Genesis in ancient literature is the Babylonian Epic of Atrakhasis, which was written in the sixteenth century BC and thus predates Moses’ fifteenth-century BC authorship of Genesis. This epic is especially significant because, like Genesis, it recounts the beginning of civilization and a flood that destroys all of humanity except for one family. Another significant Babylonian flood story, known as the Gilgamesh Epic, was also found in Ashurbanipal’s library.
The Enuma Elish:
When the heavens above had not been named,
Firm ground below had not been called by name,
Naught but primordial Apsu (ocean), their begetter,
(And) Mammu-Tiamat (rivers), she who bore them all,
Their waters commingling as a single body;
No reed hut had been made, no marsh land had appeared,
When no gods whatever had been brought into being,
Uncalled by name, their destinies undetermined—
Then it was that the gods were formed within them.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered
the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was
hovering over the surface of the water.
Clearly there are similarities between Genesis and the various Mesopotamian cosmogonies. In a particularly striking parallel to Genesis and its six days of creation, the Enuma Elish includes six tablets detailing the creation of the gods followed by a seventh tablet describing a restful period of praise for the preeminent god. Both Genesis and Enuma Elish begin with a dark and chaotic world covered with water. Then there is a separation of waters, sky, and land, which is a part of the general progression from chaos to order. Stars are appointed to fixed positions to form the constellations from which the seasons of the year are measured; sun and moon are established in the sky; even the Tigris and Euphrates are called out for a place of significance in both Genesis and Enuma Elish. It is hard not to be impressed by the commonalities between all of these accounts. But what does it mean?
Despite the similarity of general themes in these various creation accounts, no ancient creation myth is truly comparable to the biblical creation story. Birthed by the Holy Spirit in a context of polytheistic fantasy, Genesis tells the unique story of the one true God who brought all things into existence by His innate power. Whereas the Enuma Elish tells of a succession of gods who, after being created by the original two gods, slay one another as they vie for power, Genesis presents a self-existent God who by definition cannot war with other gods. After all, no other gods exist! God stands alone as Divine Sovereign of the universe. Whereas the nonbiblical creation stories tell of mythical gods who strive to bring order to the chaotic natural realm, Genesis tells the story of the one true God whose spoken commands are always obeyed. Whereas the Enuma Elish teaches that humans were created to be slaves to the gods and labor in their place, Genesis teaches that humans are created with dignity and freedom.
Warring, vainglorious gods and demigods striving for supremacy; divine and semidivine murderers; female gods who accompany amorous male deities; rowdy pantheons of gods who wrestle with eternal matter to fashion heaven and earth — this is the stuff of the nonbiblical creation myths, and it all reads like a dark comic book. Even a cursory reading shows that Genesis does not contain such fanciful elements. Rather, there is an orderly and systematic unfolding of the divine plan of creation. And far from being beasts of burden created to jump at the gods’ every beck and call, humans are ultimately created in God’s image to fellowship with Him and bring Him glory.
If Genesis were merely authored by humans and inspired by surrounding creation stories, you would expect it to be marked by local prejudices and national character, just as the pagan creation myths were. Such is the case with the Enuma Elish; the wholly human concern for establishing Babylon as the home of the gods is its theme. Similarly, Egyptian cosmogonies were tailor-made to reflect the aspirations of particular cities. In contrast, there is no mention of Israel or the Jewish temple in the Genesis creation account. No jockeying for position or preeminence. All attention is focused on the Creator and His unfolding plan. Local concerns and the ambitions of the Hebrews go unmentioned.
The story of creation in Genesis is a true account. It is credible and comprehensible to all generations and all cultures. Most importantly, the biblical account presents a worthy conception of the Creator. The one true God acts with righteousness and holiness, independent of all other influences and with no aid outside of Himself. And all these things He does strictly for His own glory.
Despite the clear distinctions between Genesis and the Enuma Elish, some historians point to their common features as evidence that Genesis was derived from Enuma Elish and therefore never came from the pen of an inspired writer. One theory holds that Genesis is a compilation of multiple authors (the JEDP theory) and was written much later than the traditional date assigned for Mosaic authorship (around 1440 BC). Since the Hebrews in exile at Babylon in roughly 600 BC would have been exposed to the Enuma Elish, critics claim they adopted and adapted the Babylonian creation myth to create their own cultural identity.
However, this theory has been roundly refuted by diligent scholarship. Evidence throughout Genesis demonstrates that it was written from a pre-Israel perspective and thus originated long before the Israelites were exiled in Babylon. Plus, there is a simpler and much more feasible explanation for the relationship between Genesis and other creation accounts such as the Enuma Elish: ancient creation accounts all share similarities because they are all derived from the same true historical events. The original creation story would have passed down through various cultures for centuries, retaining a kernel of truth but also becoming distorted as it was inculcated into each particular culture. But by virtue of divine inspiration, the Genesis account is a uniquely accurate recounting of the creation of the world.
Today there is a broad consensus among evangelical Old Testament scholars that Moses was indeed the author of Genesis and that it was most likely written during the fifteenth century BC. It is intriguing to consider the context in which Moses wrote Genesis. Having been raised as the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter, he presumably would have received the finest education Egypt had to offer. Thus he would have been indoctrinated in Egyptian cosmogony. And yet nothing in the Mosaic creation account resembles or is erroneously influenced by the Egyptian creation myths he had been taught. Further, as we will see later, Genesis clearly refutes the Egyptian myths. These facts argue for the divine inspiration and inerrancy of the creation account Moses has given us.
A brief survey of the various ancient creation myths of the Egyptians and Babylonians shows the historical context from which the Hebrew creation account emerged. Egyptian and Babylonian (as well as the earlier Sumerian) creation myths were inherently polytheistic, with teeming masses of powerful but flawed gods competing for the spotlight. Only in the Genesis creation account do we find one true God who brought all things into existence in an orderly and virtuous manner and who stands unopposed in power and majesty.
The nonbiblical cosmogonies we surveyed painted very unimpressive moral pictures of the gods. Cohabitation, base motives, and warring between the chief gods led to the incidental creation of other gods as well as the earth, sky, sea, and all living things. Although several broad themes are held in common by the biblical and nonbiblical creation stories, the striking uniqueness and moral clarity of Genesis argue for its divine inspiration. Every ancient culture had its own version of the creation story, but the biblical witness stands in sharp contrast to all competing creation accounts and towers above all others as the one true story of creation.
When reading Genesis, it is easy to miss vital context clues. That is because Genesis was written thousands of years ago to inform and enlighten an ancient audience. This means the author, Moses, used language and references that were suited to that long-gone historical setting.
But Genesis is for modern people as well. By studying the languages and history, we can piece together the meaning God intends to convey. And certainly Genesis is as accurate and relevant today as it was when the ink was still wet, yet we fail to understand it fully if we miss the purpose in its original context. In this chapter we will examine the cultural and historical settings of Genesis in order to better understand the meaning of the creation account.
Briefly, Genesis is part of a larger literary work called the Pentateuch or Torah, which includes Genesis through Deuteronomy. The New Testament also refers to this grouping of five books as The Law. In terms of style, Genesis is a historical narrative with a specific focus. Namely, it tells the story of creation and early human history, centering especially on the life of Abraham and his descendents — Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Understanding their life situation will help you read Genesis as the ancients did.
“But the Lord selected you and brought you out of Egypt’s iron furnace to be a people for His inheritance, as you are today” (Deut. 4:20).
During Joseph’s lifetime Abraham’s descendents (the Hebrews) occupied lands in Egypt that had been granted to them by the pharaoh as reward for Joseph’s noteworthy service to the nation. The book of Exodus picks up the story several hundred years later when the Hebrews are indentured slaves in an Egypt that has come to despise and fear them. Joseph’s heroics were long forgotten. Hearing the Hebrews cry for help, God remembered His covenant with Abraham and sent a deliverer named Moses. Moses led the escape from Egypt toward the lands of Canaan, which God had promised to Abraham’s descendents four hundred years earlier.
After Moses led them out of Egypt, the road-worn Hebrews came to rest at the foot of a mountain called Sinai, located somewhere between Egypt and their ultimate destination in Canaan. But for them the drama had only just begun, for God showed up in power at Sinai and christened the Hebrew people with a new name: from this point forward they would be called “Israel.” As with any name change, this event involved the modern equivalent of paperwork. Just as America was founded on the basis of a written constitution and documents of law, so also the nation of Israel was founded by God with a binding covenant and the giving of the Law of Moses. More than just a new name, the Hebrews were given a new start.
Exactly who were these Hebrew escapees that congregated at the foot of Mount Sinai? They were about to form a mutual covenant with God to be His people forever (Exod. 19:1-8). Does this mean they were God-fearing, righteous people who had demonstrated long-standing zealotry for the God of their Fathers? Absolutely not! These people were chosen by God strictly because of His covenant promises to their forefather, Abraham. The people themselves were essentially as wicked and pagan as their late neighbors, the Egyptians. They had Hebrew genes, but Egyptian ways. For all intents and purposes they were Egyptians, as were their fathers, their grandfathers, their great-grandfathers, and so on for many generations back. Their roots in Abraham were largely forgotten.
So when the Israelites arrived at Sinai, they first had to be “reprogrammed.” Coming from the Egyptian culture, they had no adequate concept of who Jehovah God was and what He wanted from them. Hence, the Torah should be read as God’s response to all of the questions and confusions the Hebrews had. Moses had taken the people out of Egypt, now the Law of Moses was intended to take Egypt out of the people. The struggles recorded throughout the Old Testament show how hard this proved to be.
After reminding the huddled Israelites at Sinai that He, Jehovah, was the God that brought them out of Egypt, God gave them the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:1-17). The first law is foundational to all the rest: honor no other gods but Jehovah. First and foremost, God would not share His glory with any other so-called god. This must have been counterintuitive to the people, for they had long lived in a pluralistic context. They had also hauled an array of Egyptian idols through the sea and across the desert sands. Now God was saying that these were not allowed in the new kingdom He was establishing. Melt them, crush them to bits, or throw them into the river; in no case shall you keep them and bow before them.
Not only did Jehovah ban other gods; He also disallowed the use of statues to represent Him. Furthermore, He did not permit His people to craft statues of any skyward objects or any animals of the land or sea. This is important, for it was common among ancient cultures to venerate powerful beasts or wondrous objects in the heavens. The Hebrews had to honor their King and Him alone. A chief means of doing this was to remain connected to the creation story. By observing the seventh day of each week as a hallowed day of rest (a Sabbath day), they harkened back to the creation story and God’s wondrous works at the headwaters of history. This served as a weekly reset that reminded them of who they were and what their God expected of them.
After years of immersion in Egyptian culture and religion, the Israelites badly needed a change of focus. The Egyptians worshipped the heavens and earth, but the God of the Hebrews is far greater than these things. After all, He created the very objects the Egyptians took to be gods. The Egyptians worshipped the light and the dark. But God spoke light into being, illuminating the darkness. They worshipped the seas and the land. But God is the Maker of all land and storm-tossed seas. Beginning to see a pattern?
The Egyptians worshipped the sun, the moon, the stars, and even the changing seasons. Again, these are all God’s doing. They worshipped fish. They made idols of birds. They carved images of land animals. God made those as well. And last of all, the Egyptians worshipped man in the form of the pharaoh. They built monumental shrines to their glory that still stand to this day. The Mesopotamians did much the same with their suzerain rulers. In fact, it was the universal practice of ancient cultures to worship their human kings. But such things should not be, for Jehovah God created man and woman in His own image. Hence for the Hebrews, looking at a man might recall God’s image in humanity and prompt worship of God, but it should never call forth worship of humans.
Genesis 1 is a short account of a big accomplishment. Sometimes people mistakenly think Genesis 1 addresses all that happened during the creation event. Genesis 2 shows us that this is not a correct assumption. For example, chapter 2 indicates that the making of man and woman involved far more than the brief account reveals in chapter 1. Given the scope of God’s work in creating the world, we might question why only these very few created items are mentioned in Genesis 1. Certainly those of us who take great interest in science and nature would like a longer, more detailed account. But if Genesis 1 included even a brief mention of all the life forms that God created and how He did it, we would need a forklift to carry our Bibles around! For example, the most plentiful of all earthly life forms, bacteria, are not mentioned in Genesis. Likewise, the “how” for all of these creation events is not exhaustively detailed in Genesis 1. We are simply told that God spoke and things came into existence.
Given this brevity, we may be tempted to think Genesis leaves vital issues unaddressed, but a proper grasp of the historical context dispels this impression. The fact is Genesis 1 is a direct and maximally effective counter to the false gods of Egyptian and Mesopotamian paganism.
A graphic demonstration of how the biblical creation account presents an intentional contrast to pagan beliefs is found in the summation passage near the end of the Torah. Addressing the whole nation, Moses says:
You came near and stood at the base of the mountain, a mountain blazing with fire into the heavens and enveloped in a dense, black cloud. Then the Lord spoke to you from the fire. You kept hearing the sound of the words, but didn’t see a form; there was only a voice. He declared His covenant to you.
He commanded you to follow the Ten Commandments, which He wrote on two stone tablets. At that time the Lord commanded me to teach you statutes and ordinances for you to follow in the land you are about to cross into and possess. Be extremely careful for your own good—because you did not see any form on the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire—not to act corruptly and make an idol for yourselves in the shape of any figure:
a male or female form, or
the form of any beast on the earth,
any winged creature that flies in the sky,
any creature that crawls on the ground, or
any fish in the waters under the earth.
When you look to the heavens and see the sun, moon, and stars—all the array of heaven—do not be led astray to bow down and worship them. The Lord your God has provided them for all people everywhere under heaven.
But the Lord selected you and brought you out of Egypt’s iron furnace to be a people for His inheritance, as you are today (Deut. 4:11-20).
We must not miss the importance of Moses’ maneuver here. When summarizing the most important of all the laws God has given, Moses makes reference back to vital elements in the Genesis creation account as supporting evidence. After reminding them (again!) that the invisible God is the one who brought them out of Egypt, Moses recounts in reverse order the elements of the Genesis 1 creation account. He even elaborates on the details of the fourth day just as He did in Genesis 1. It is as if Moses is marching the people back through time, back through the giving of the commandments at Mt. Sinai, back to Egypt for a review of the rampant idolatry practiced there, and back to the creation event itself, where God formed all things. Moses’ intention is clear: he wishes to warn his people against worshipping the things Jehovah God has created. Instead, they were to worship only their Creator. That is the fundamental purpose behind Genesis 1.
Genesis was not intended to be a science text explaining answers to modern science questions which the ancient Israelites certainly never asked. It was intended to be a direct counter to the pagan culture from which God had just extracted the Hebrews. The aim of the book was to educate them on what it meant to be the people of God. To try to make Genesis into a science text today, thirty-five hundred years after its composition, is to miss the purposes God set out for this text. We must be very careful not to force-fit natural history into a text that aims to give a theological history.
Though Genesis does not answer many of the science questions we could ask of it, God did provide a highly detailed account of natural history elsewhere. It’s found in nature itself. As King David said, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands. Day after day they pour out speech; night after night they communicate knowledge” (Ps. 19:1-2). God provided natural revelation with the explicit intention that the things He made would provide humanity with irrefutable evidence of His existence, His power, and His goodness.
“What can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. From the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:19-20).
This means no nation or culture in history has been left without a faithful and true witness to God. Hence, there is no excuse for denying God and the truth He has made evident in nature.
From the beginning of time to our own day, God’s message to us in Genesis and in nature has remained the same, while pagan beliefs have come and gone. Since God alone created all things by the power of His Word and according to His plan, He alone is worthy of worship. To do otherwise is to oppose God’s clear revelation.
As Creator of the universe, God has the right to establish rules for living. In giving the Hebrews the Ten Commandments, God provided a witness to His moral character as well as a guideline telling His people how to relate to Him in a healthy way.
Genesis was not written for a scientifically advanced audience. We must be careful not to force Scripture into paradigms that have been created by our modern context, and we must be careful to allow natural revelation to inform our reading of Genesis. This can be a difficult balance to pull off, and not every Christian will reach the same conclusions.
Today we can identify with the religious pressures the Israelites experienced in Egypt. We are surrounded by images and messages from a thousand different worldviews. Most likely your neighbor’s beliefs about God are vastly different from yours. Perhaps even the people living in your own home have views that contradict your own. How can you maintain your faith in such a society? One way is by taking your cue from God’s commandment to observe the Sabbath. Built into the day of rest is a call to reflect on God as Creator. Focusing on God as the one and only Creator helps you stand firm in a world of many religious options.