Can you conceive of or imagine anything that doesn’t have a beginning?
Genesis lays the groundwork—indeed, narratively sets the stage—for the rest of the Bible’s grand, overarching theme: redemption and atonement (at-one-ment) with God. The text assumes there to be a God, and attributes to Him powers beyond that of any other known being. He is able to create something from nothing (ex nihilo) by simply willing it to be, and making it known through speaking. And thus we have ostriches, jellyfish, dandelions, mountains, clouds, and friends. How important are these first stories in Genesis? Some of the most strained theological disagreements stem from how we interpret the text: how did the world come to be, life, especially? How significant today should we make the “7th day of creation” on which God rested? Is the Genesis model of marriage still tenable, and is it an exclusive model for us? To what degree did the fall of Adam and Eve from perfection lead us down a path of brokenness, was it only sociologically, or is it a genetic liability?
Read through Genesis 1-2. Without allowing yourself to argue for or against a certain type of creation (literal 7 days, evolution, etc.), examine first what these passages say about God. He is, after all, the first character in the Narrative. This means the story is first about Him, and His Spirit. He arrives at a place of watery chaos and interacts personally with it. He is powerful, his word creates. He is good, his creation is just right. He is thoughtful, everything needed for life to survive—no, to thrive!—is here. He is creative, all manner of plant and animal life abounds (teems). He is vast, he can make planets and star systems. He is personal, shaping a man and constructing a woman (opposite terms from what we might associate today with the sexes). He is gracious, he blesses them with prosperity and fruitfulness. He is generous, he grants or delegates to humans leadership and stewardship of the planet. He is wonderful, earth is made to be enjoyed, the right kinds of pleasure abound everywhere!
What picture of God do you appreciate most from the creation accounts? Is there one that resonates more than others?
Days of Creation
The use of the Hebrew word yom that concludes each day of creation is used sequentially with a cardinal numeral, giving it specificity and orderliness. That God rested on the Sabbath, and established a weekly day to commemorate His rest on the 7th day is consistent with His character and the 4th commandment in Exodus 20:8-11. This is a very serious matter. Ellen White (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 111) levels a fairly serious charge against those who feel Genesis 1 incorporated vast periods of time, including evolutionary development to humans from simple life, in her chapter entitled “The Literal Week”:
…the assumption that the events of the first week required thousands upon thousands of years, strikes directly at the foundation of the fourth commandment. It represents the Creator as commanding men to observe the week of literal days in commemoration of vast, indefinite periods. This is unlike His method of dealing with His creatures. It makes indefinite and obscure that which He has made very plain. It is infidelity in its most insidious and hence most dangerous form; its real character is so disguised that it is held and taught by many who profess to believe the Bible.
At the same time, the quarterly must be careful what it claims, namely, that yom in the creation account always means the same thing. Actually yom isn’t always used for just a day of 24 hours or of one earth-rotation (if the rotation speed at creation was more or less than our measured 24-hour period, which is entirely possible due to cataclysmic changes in earth from the flood or other catastrophe).
For instance, in 1:5 and 1:14, 16, 18, the word yom is distinguished from the night or darkness as the lighted part of the cycle governed by the Sun, not as the whole cycle of 24 hours. Yom can mean “the light part of the earth’s rotation,” or a 12-hour period of the larger day.
Furthermore, the chiastic 2:4, a transitional verse between the accounts of chs. 1 and 2, uses yom to indicate the general time period of God’s creation as a whole, unless one takes this verse to imply the entire creation of the complementary universe in one day.
And there are lessons in the first two chapters of Genesis that aren’t related to the days being literal or not. Perhaps more time can be spent learning those, as well!
How significant is it to overall Biblical understanding that we interpret the seven days as literal? What happens if we take a different approach? What do we lose or gain with each view, that is, what is at stake here?
It’s difficult to innumerate the changes that come on the world with mankind’s disobedience to God’s one law. Fear, selfishness, shame, separation, hiding, blaming, and these are just the relational aspects between people and toward God. Natural/environmental changes also attended the transfer of power from Adam as overseer of earth to Satan (the ancient serpent, see Job 1-2, and 41): decay and death, pain and predation now reign. As Paul says in Romans 8:22: “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” But the curse wasn’t given without a promise. Do you see it in Ch. 3?
What did the fall of mankind cost humans? What about the Creator Himself?
If Genesis 1-3 sets the stage for the Bible, it couldn’t do so more dramatically, yet efficiently. The narrative is incredibly brief, yet packed with truths, even for those who disagree on some of the details. A couple foundational pieces seem inescapable: a good creation was God’s intent, but now He is going to help remedy the mess human disobedience created. He refuses to leave us alone to suffer the ill effects of poorly-used free choice. He loves us just that much!