Does Genesis 1 communicate cosmic history?

Ok. But @jongarvey is wrong to say that it is not a narrative. So to be plausible, it needs to be both reasonable and probable.

If I could prove that Genesis 2:4 was a colophon for 1:1-2:3 I’d be done, and I think it is. But you don’t accept that.

None-the-less, the account starts out with a time element, and main character, and a setting, “In the beginning…” and a main character “God” and a setting “over the face of the deep”. Compare to the Book of Ruth: “In the days when… a man… went to Moab…”

It’s a narrative story of God creating the heavens and the earth. Why do you protest? Do you think it is not the real story? Like it doesn’t match up to how the world really came into being?

I see that you are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Option 1, if you admit that it is actually a story, then you feel like it’s not true, like it doesn’t match reality. So you would be stuck with @John_Harshman thinking that if Genesis 1 is an historical account, then it has no connection to reality.

So then, Option 2, you try to argue that Genesis 1 is not telling a story, or at least not trying to tell a real story. It’s just talking about purpose and function and theological connections, not material origins. Like many movies, it should come with a disclaimer: Any resemblance to actual events is purely coincidental. And since it doesn’t, you’re happy to provide it.

Option 3 is to see Genesis 1 as “based on real events”. But, in order to claim that “no animals were harmed in the making of this story”, you would have to be a Young Earth Creationist. But you reject that option.

Option 4 is to see Genesis 1 as “based on real events” and find a correlation between a scientific understanding of Earth’s history, and some kind of interpretation of Genesis 1. When science was very young, this could have been pretty easy, since there was not much science to disprove any particular interpretation of Genesis 1. Enter YEC. But science started coming up with lots of crazy ideas, many of which eventually proved to be false, as well as hanging onto lots of old false ideas such as “the physical universe is eternal and essentially static.” But it also started coming up with some pretty interesting ideas with a lot of data like “the Big Bang”. Then interpreters of Genesis 1 started getting their ideas kicked around by science. This started with YECs who got very defensive and decided to entrench which is Option 3 above. Of course, this all got very tiring and ego bruising, so many people jumped to either Option 1 or Option 2 above. So I get it. It’s hard work. And kind of scary. We’ve come through a tough time. There was a while when all the stories in the OT seemed like they might be made up. The archaeological data was sparse and not very supportive. But that has changed and is continuing to change. I think it’s going to be okay.

I want to say @deuteroKJ that I don’t see you as tired or having a bruised ego. I mean no personal offense and admit my rhetoric needs polish. I respect you and your opinion.

For what stories is that not still true? The main triumph of the OT is the fact that the Hittites actually existed. What else?

I don’t protest. I don’t mind calling it a narrative/story; I just mentioned @jongarvey’s take, who does make a good case for Gen 1 as prologue/background. And it is a real story. I just don’t see the necessary elements to think it must be read with strict historical precision. (I say this based on the text, not science.)

Since I’m a non-concordist, the rest of the discussion is less relevant.

The lack of a toledot for Gen 1 might serve as a disclaimer.

Oh - and I forgot to endorse Ken’s point: it’s nothing to do with the science, and everything to do with the text-in-itself.

Tom Wright does a lot of work on stories, and describes a non-story:

“Once Little Red Riding Hood decided to take some food to her grandmother. So she did and they were happy.”

I can’t remember offhand whether he was referring to Gen 1, but a number of scholars have pointed out how it is not a conflict with the environment, or anything else: God does what he wants to create the universe, and it is very good. Indeed, there are even elements that (intentionally or not) deny a story-like resolution of conflict, by contrast with Mesopotamian cosmogonies.

Two examples: The sun and moon, deities in pagan mythology, are not even named, but described as “lights,” created for God’s purposes.

And the great sea creatures, tannin, are just creatures created to frolic, as opposed to the wild primordial monster we see defeated in Enuma elish or the Caaanite Rahab myth.

Now, to be a non-story doesn’t detract from truth - many of our daily events are achieved without drama. But if an account is used as a prologue, then it’s simply the wrong lens to be using to view it as “history” (in any meaningful sense), still less to drill into it for science - which was a worldview that didn’t even exist when it was written. The question to ask is how it fits the story to which it is a prologue (and the story in this case is the grand narrative of the new creation in Christ, so that’s the lens we need).

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Nice. Then that’s a point we share.

Fair enough, but what would those missing elements be and what level of strictness would they demand if present? I will admit the concordists’ job is easier by recognizing literary stylization utilized in the account.

Namely, is their room for flash-back? The Day 4 account introduces unique innovations such as seasonal time markers, yet re-introduces Day and Night as already seen on Day 1 and the lighting of the heavens of Day 2. Day 4 depends on Day 1 and Day 2, yet also contributes something new.

In a similar way, on Day 5 fish fill the seas created on Day 3 and birds multiply on the earth created on Day 3. On Day 6, animals fill the earth.

So Day 1 & 2 are parallel to Day 4. And Day 3 is parallel to Days 5 & 6.

I think recognizing this structure is important to improving concordism as it currently exists. It’s a more nuanced flavor of the Framework theory.

Could be interpreted:

day = period of time
… and there was evening, and there was morning = along the time; period by period (day by day)

Day 1: Hadean (1-5)
Day 2: Archean (6-8)
Day 3: Proterozoic (9-13)
Day 4: Paleozoic (14-19)
Day 5: Mesozoic (20-23)
Day 6: Cenozoic (24-31)

That part is easier to understand if you accept that the light in the sky (the blue part) doesn’t come from the sun and existed prior to the sun. That is, the sun may rule the day, but it doesn’t cause the day. And of course the moon also glows with its own light, and it rules the night but doesn’t cause the night. Separating day and night from the sun and moon clarifies the succession. Day and night originate on day 1, but the sun and moon are created to enhance them both on day 4.

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This is beginning to be my pet peeve. Some people can see the Constitution as a living document, but yet we can’t see the Bible as one? Plus, we have little to no idea what Adam and Eve or Moses really knew about science - we can do some inference, but we cannot know everything.

It boggles the mind to think that early humans did not want to know how the world literally came to be when we’re obsessed with it. It galls me that we can act as if this interest only has to do with modern science.

Of course, this is the most important question.

Actually, we can see that there was a kind of science in the surrounding culture, notably Babylon, at least - and we can therefore see how radically different it was from our science. See the assyriologist Francesca Rochberg’s work, where she makes a bold case that they had an established system of empirical observation. only it was entirely strange to us, having no concept of “nature” (that was an idea of the Greeks a Millennium after Moses), and a basic principle that what the gods decreed would, as it were, “resonate” with things in the world like the movements of the stars, omens or dreams. So physical phenomena reveal the decrees of heaven, and they are what their science was interested in.

Now of course Moses was neither a pagan nor that kind of diviner of empirical signs (though Daniel was undoubtedly trained in it, because the text of Daniel says so), but reading Rochberg demonstrates just how recent and parochial is our “scientific” view of the universe.

You can get some idea of that by contrasting the way that medieval scholars viewed the world - the theory of resemblances, for example - or more graphic still look at one of their mappae mundi to see that it’s drawn according to a hierarchy of importance, not an attempt at an accurate projection. And that was only 600 years ago, not 3000+.

That’s why, for example, it’s hard for us modern folks to see how Moses could see the world as literally a temple, describing it in parallel terms to the building of the tabernacle in Exodus, or how Solomon could appreciate God as having his footstool in the newly completed holy of holies, and yet too awesome to dwell even in the highest heaven, let alone a human temple.

To the writer of Genesis, as indeed to pagan Egyptians and Babylonians, the sacramental world, the world of meaning, was more solid and real than the material. So whereas we might accept Moses seeing the literal world symbolically as a temple, he (if I’m right) would see the literal temple symbolised by the material word.

The nearest we get, perhaps, is that when we say, “This is my body given for you,” we are less than interested in who baked the bread, or the recipe.


If you want to see the Bible as a living document, then I don’t see how you could be a YEC.

There are many Christians who do see the Bible as a living document. They are usually called “liberal Christians” or “theologically liberal”. And those are typically used as terms of harsh criticism (even condemnation).

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Forgot to address this directly:

Nevertheless, it is true that this was not high on their list of priorities, because the past is another country. We have become obsessed with material origins in historically recent times.

Do you think that the ancients thought up, say, Enuma Elish as a primitive and thoroughly wrong attempt at science? No, they were interested in how their gods came to be in charge of them, and where their own place was in the cosmos. They were still wrong (may Marduk forgive me…) but the point is that if you know which god the sky is “literally” made of, you know whom to pray to about the weather.

Remember the Star in one of the Narnia stories? Eustace says to him, “In our world a star is a ball of burning gas.”
“Even in your world,” replies the star, “that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.” C S Lewis was mediaevalist and student of mythology, of course.

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I agree with this - the sacramental and metaphorical was how they constructed meaning. I appreciate that - because I tend to think in the same way, though I’m sure not to the same level.

Actually, I am usually interested in how the bread was baked too :slight_smile:

I would say they would explain certain passages as only relating to their historical context - so no they wouldn’t see it as a living document.

Thank you for sharing this. You might enjoy this chart: Ages of Joy, Days of Creation: Timeline or this graphic: Ages of Joy, Days of Creation: Creation Days Chart

I’d like to know what you think of the resources at those links. I’m trying to develop what you might think of as a “version 2.0” alignment between Genesis 1 and the scientific history.

Hi @jongarvey. I am wonder, within Genesis 1, apart from the use of the Hebrew words for firmament and the deep, what examples of “ancient science” do you see? Missing are a number of common elements like the pillars of the earth or the foundations of earth, etc. Genesis 1 seems to fairly light on ANE constructions, but maybe you see more?

Day 4 v14-18 is the most interesting and challenging part of the Genesis 1 account, in my mind. I’ve written about it at more length here: Ages of Joy, Days of Creation: Day 4

A: Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens
to separate day from night
B: and let them be for signs and for seasons
B’: and for days and for years
A’: and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens
to give light upon the earth
and it was so

Ever wonder why this passage is as it is?

On Day 1, day was already separated from night (by God) and light was already provided.

On Day 2, the heavens were formed.

So in the middle we have bracketed a concept not yet introduced in the text: “let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and for years”

This is called a chiastic structure (ABB’A’).
A and A’ are parallel - this case things God address on Days 1 and 2.
B and B’ are the center of the structure and are related/parallel ideas.

It is what is at the center of the chiasm that is supposed to be the focus of your attention, not the brackets.

The important part of Day 4 is the lights begin to provide novel function in ways that they did not previously serve. The “signs, seasons, days, and years” have importance to mankind which has yet to be created, and possibly to some animals yet to be created. In other words, something about how the lights in the sky moved about changed at this point so that new function was initiated.

The text after the command is a declarative doctrinal statement that gives God claim to all that is created relative to these “signs, seasons, days, years”.

We must not think that He created the lights on the fourth day because:

  1. we were already told that he illuminated the earth on the first day and
  2. we are told that the purpose of the lights is to do that very thing.

We must not think that God separating the light (day) from the darkness (night) on Day 1 and lights separating the day from the night on Day 4 are two separate things. This is an example of primary and secondary causation. The point is not that God illuminate the Earth in one way and then a second way, but rather that the illumination provided by the sun and moon are ultimately of God Himself. This is parallelism at work - two ways of saying the same thing.

On the Fourth Day God culminates activity started on the First and Second Days.

We can offer some additional observations:
On Day One, the light was “so” and good. But the separation and the Day and the Night are not yet declared good (finished).
On Day Two, the expanse was “so”, but also not declared good (finished).
On Day Four, all the elements are “so” and good (finished).

If you try to interpret Genesis 1 without recognizing the literary devices employed by the author, you will simply end up resorting to your own imagination regarding what the text is really communicating.

Unfortunately, there is no fit between Genesis 1 and those periods.

Yes, maybe the explanation of the verses in Genesis 1 is like that, even though I as a Muslim personally do not know anymore whether these verses have undergone word-for-word changes or not, I am very sure the verses in Genesis 1 are both past and present talking about the period of creation the universe, especially the creation of the heavens and the earth.

We have a similar verses in Quran about the creation of “Earth” in “2 periods” and possibly that period is now called Precambrian and Phanerozoic. Then also a similar verses in Quran about the creation of “Heaven and Earth” in “6 periods”.

Yeah, you are right. It is not fit. I was wrong, because Genesis 1 also actually tells about the creation of Heaven and Earth in 6 periods, and not just the creation of the Earth (2 great periods which are also divided into 6 shorter periods).

I only underline that day can be interpreted as a era or period which indicates a process of creation, not only literally interpreted as day with a period of 24 hours, because the time measurement in the original language of the book or scriptures can have variations.

As an example:
Quran Surah 7 Verse 54

The verses that mention “six days” use the Arabic word “youm” (day). This word appears several other times in the Qur’an, each denoting a different measurement of time. In one case, the measure of a day is equated with 50,000 years (70:4), whereas another verse states that “a day in the sight of your Lord is like 1,000 years of your reckoning” (22:47). The word “youm” is thus understood, within the Qur’an, to be a long period of time – an era or eon. Therefore, Muslims interpret the description of a “six day” creation as six distinct periods or eons. The length of these periods is not precisely defined, nor are the specific developments that took place during each period.

Quran Surah 70 Verse 4

Quran Surah 22 Verse 47