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Affirmations and Confessions of a Progressive Christian Layman – And God Created…

 
And God Created…

Genesis opens the Hebrew Bible with two conflicting and irreconcilable creation stories. Obviously neither of these creation myths reported actual events. Even so, there are people who believe that the universe was created exactly as described there simply because this is what the Bible says, so it is fact. Those people despise the Darwinian evolution theory, so they stubbornly grasp for an alternative and end up with literalism or Creationism that demands unquestioning acceptance.

I do not believe that creation was an accident. I agree with a biologist quoted by Leslie Weatherhead in The Christian Agnostic who said: “The probability of life originating from accident is comparable to the probability of the unabridged dictionary resulting from an explosion in a printing shop.” It is inconceivable that the universe just happened.

Let us examine the two versions of creation in Genesis.

The Elohim or Priestly Version of Creation: Genesis 1:1-2:4

Even though this creation story appears first in Genesis, scholars have concluded that it was written in approximately the 6th century BCE – four hundred years after the Yahweh version. It was written after Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BCE and during their Babylonian exile. The author of this creation story is known to scholars as “P,” because he or she wrote from a much more “priestly” perspective than the Yahweh account. The author used the name “Elohim” (pronounced e-lo-HEEM) for the creator. Elohim is a plural word that is translated “the powerful ones.” The use of the plural “Elohim” (rather than the singular “Eloha”) might be due to the polytheistic religions that the Jews were exposed to during their exile in Babylon.

In the Elohim account, Elohim created everything in six days (scholars speculate that this version was modeled on a Babylonian story in which the world was created in a specific number of days):

• Day 1: Elohim created the heavens and a formless void called earth; darkness covered everything, but a wind “swept over the” waters” (so the waters already existed? the Rûach, which means “wind, spirit, breath,” moved over the face of the deep and elohim can mean “great” as well as “God,” so the ruach elohim may therefore mean the “wind or breath of God”); Elohim commanded “Let there be light;” (I don’t like repeating Elohim over and over, but I don’t want to use a pronoun that would suggest that God has a gender) Elohim separated light from dark and called the light day and the darkness night; Elohim creates by speaking which suggests that Eolhim is being compared to a King, who only has to speak for things to happen; I don’t like the idea that Elohim is outside creation and speaks it into existence from afar;
• Day 2: Elohim commanded “a dome in the midst of the waters” that would “separate the waters from the waters;” the dome separated the waters “that were under the dome” from the ones above the dome (what are the waters above the sky? rain?); Elohim called the dome the sky; the firmament or sky may be interpreted as a solid dome which separates the earth below from the heavens and their waters above, as in Egyptian and Mesopotamian belief of the same time; in Babylonian myth the heavens were made of various precious stones with the stars engraved in their surface;
• Day 3: Elohim commanded the earthly waters to be gathered together in one place so dry land could appear; Elohim called the dry land “earth” (it is interesting that “earth” is a feminine noun in Hebrew; sort of like the “mother earth” concept) and the waters were called “seas;” Then Elohim commanded that the earth sprout vegetation – plants and fruit bearing trees of every kind (all the plants and trees have seeds);
• Day 4: Next Elohim commanded that there “be lights” to separate day from night; they were also “for signs and for seasons and for days and years;” so Elohim created the sun to rule the day and the moon to rule the night; then the stars were created (the stars were created after the earth in this Genesis story, but Job 38:4-7 claims the earth was created after the stars); Elohim set these creations in the sky to illuminate the earth;
• Day 5: And Elohim commanded the waters to swarm with living creatures (including “great sea monsters”) and the sky to fill with flying birds of every kind; Elohim blessed them and told them to “be fruitful and multiply”
• Day 6: Elohim commanded the earth to “bring forth” every kind of living creature – cattle, creeping things and wild animals; then Elohim said “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness” (When God says “Let us make man”, the Hebrew word used in Genesis 1:26 is adam; in this form it is a generic noun, “mankind,” and is not gender specific; after this first mention, the word always appears as ha-adam, “the man,” but Genesis 1:27 shows, “Elohim created man… male and female created he them;” the man and the woman were made instantaneously, both in “our image;” the author used plural phrasing in the Elohim’s creation of humankind: “let us,” “our image” and “according to our likeness” as if there is more than one god; the first people in this account do not have names); they were given dominion over the fish, birds, cattle, all wild animals and creeping things (from an ecological perspective, this has become a problem; too many people think “dominion” means they can slaughter without restraint); Elohim blessed the humans and ordered them to “be fruitful, to multiply and to fill the earth and subdue it” (another ecological problem; in the beginning, the earth needed to be populated, but currently overpopulation is a very real problem; subduing the earth does not mean raping it and its resources without regard for earth’s future health); In verse 30, Elohim says, “I have given every green plant for food,” so initially creation was to be vegetarian only after the Flood was man given permission to eat meat;
• Day 7: Elohim’s work was done, so “he rested” and “blessed the seventh day” (scholars tell us that the first chapter of the Torah, this priestly version of creation, was a revision of the Yahweh version to make the Jewish observance of the Sabbath the original rule and defining mark of Judaism).

Each day ended with “And there was evening and morning.” Since the Jewish day began at sundown, creation’s days also began with evening.

Elohim also reexamines what was created each day and pronounces it “good.” At the end of the sixth day, Elohim saw everything that had been made and proclaimed it “very good.”

On day one, God or Elohim created light and separated it from dark, but it wasn’t until the fourth day that the lights (sun and moon) were created to separate day from night. The stars were also created on day four. How can light exist without the sun? Don’t the sun’s rays cause daylight? When the sun sets, it becomes dark. It seems logical that there had to be a source for light on day one.

The Yahweh or Jahwistic Version of Creation: Genesis 2:4-25

The author of this creation story is known to scholars as “J,” because the creator was referred to as Yahweh (“YHVH” in ancient Hebrew; “Jahweh” in German; in most modern translations Yahweh is translated “the LORD God”). Scholars’ analysis of style and content has led them to estimate that the Yahweh creation story was written about the 10th century BCE or approximately during King Solomon’s reign. Scholars consider the Yahweh version the more primitive or more rural of the two creation stories. Some others characterize the author of this version as a poet rather than a priest. Whoever the author was, he or she is most likely writing down oral traditions. The Yahweh version is a more human story of temptation and punishment. The humans are referred to as “Adam” and “Eve” Adham is a Hebrew word meaning “humankind” and is usually translated “man;” Eve is not a proper name in Hebrew, but means “mother of all living.” However, this creation story claims that “man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all who live.”

In this creation story, individual days are not specified and the sequence is very different from the Elohim version:

• Yahweh made earth and the heavens;
• A spring or stream rose from the earth to water the ground; the King James Version of Genesis 2:6 translated this as “mist,” but since the mid-20th century Hebrew scholars have generally agreed that the real meaning is “spring of underground water;”
• Yahweh fashioned man from dust and breathed into him the breath of life; the word used in Genesis 1 for God’s activity is bara, translated as “created;” in Genesis 2 the word used when Yahweh creates man is yatsar, meaning “fashioned,” a word used in contexts such as a potter fashioning a pot from clay; Yahweh breathes his own breath into the dust or clay and it becomes nephesh, a word meaning “life,” “vitality,” “the living personality;” man shares nephesh with all creatures, but the text describes this life-giving act by Yahweh only in relation to humans; in the first Genesis creation story, God was distant, but in this one, God is near and stoops to fashion man from the dirt (I like the idea of God being near rather than distant);
• Yahweh planted a garden in Eden; the word “Eden” comes from a root meaning “fertility;” this is the only place in the Bible where Eden is a geographic location; otherwise, notably in Ezekiel 28, it is a mythological place located on the holy Mountain of God;
• Yahweh put man in the garden which included every tree that is pleasant to see and that bears good fruit; also in the garden was the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; the Tree of Life is similar to one in the Mesopotamian myth, The Epic of Gilgamesh, in which the hero is given a plant whose name is “man becomes young in old age,” but a serpent steals the plant from him; in another Mesopotamian myth, the king is placed in a divine garden to guard the tree of life; there has been a great deal of discussion about the type of knowledge given by the second tree, including human qualities, sexual consciousness, ethical knowledge, or universal knowledge; universal knowledge is the most widely accepted;
• A river flows out of Eden to water the garden; it divides into four branches: Pishon, Gihon (the Gihon was a spring outside Jerusalem, perhaps the spring that watered Eden);, Tigris, and Euphrates; according to an ancient Near Eastern concept, the river in Eden divides into four rivers that run from the four corners of the earth towards its center;
• Yahweh told man to till and keep the garden, (I dislike repeating Yahweh so much, but I am avoiding the pronoun “he;” I do not believe God has a gender) but Yahweh commanded man to eat freely from all the trees in the garden except for the tree of knowledge of good and evil; if man disobeys, death will be the result (in Gen. 2:17, Yahweh warns man if he eats from the forbidden tree he will die, but according to Gen. 5:5, Adam lived several hundred years after eating the forbidden fruit); “good and evil” is a merism, meaning “everything;” when Yahweh forbids eating from the tree of knowledge, Yahweh says if he does he will die; the Hebrew word used is the same as the one for issuing a death sentence;
• Yahweh decided that it is not good for man to be alone, so Yahweh created “him a helper as his partner;” Yahweh doesn’t appear to be the all-knowing deity when he creates the animals and birds in an attempt to find a satisfactory helper; whatever man called “every animal of the field and every bird of the air” became its name; no helper was found;
• Yahweh caused man to fall asleep and removed a rib to form woman; no names yet (the first mention of the name “Eve” is in 3:20 and the first mention of “Adam” is 4:25); woman was created to be ezer kenegdo to man (kenegdo means “alongside, a counterpart to him” and ezer means active intervention on behalf of the other person); the female is called ishah, “woman,” with an explanation that this is because she was taken from ish, meaning “man” but the two words are not actually connected; after the story of the Garden is complete, in Genesis 3:20, the woman receives a name: havah (Eve), but it was not really a name, it means “living thing” in Hebrew; the word traditionally translated “rib” can also mean “side,” “chamber,” or “beam;” we get the man’s name from Genesis 4:25, but “ha-adam” (no caps) does not mean “Adam,” it means “the earthling” or “human being.”
• Next comes a line that is a part of many wedding ceremonies: “Therefore, a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (notice that it does not say that the woman leaves her father and mother);
• Man and his wife were not ashamed of their nakedness.

The most obvious contradictions between the two creation stories are: in the Elohim version, humans were created after the other animals, while in the Yahweh version they were created before and man named them. In the Elohim version, man and woman were created simultaneously, while in the Yahweh version, man was created first, the animals next, and then the female was created from man’s rib.

Bill McKenzie asked several people, “How do you interpret the Genesis creation story?” Their answers appeared in a blog of the Dallas News in 2011. The following are a few of their edited replies.

Baptist theologian, Jim Denison, said, “Scripture tells us everything we need to know, not everything we want to know… I believe the Bible is its own best interpreter.” Therefore, he does not question the conflicting creation stories in Genesis. However, he did say that the six days of creation “were not necessarily 24-hour days.” They could be “six creative acts separated by eons of time or six separate ages.” He believes that Adam and Eve were historical figures. He said that the most important belief about creation is “that God did it.” Everything else is not “essential for living in God’s will.”

Larry Bethune, a Baptist pastor, said, “Genesis is religious literature. It communicates theology. It is not modern science. Making it fit modern science ignores the original context and detracts from the primary meaning of what the text wants to say… Genesis is about God’s relationship to creation, not about geological epochs and string theory.” He also believes that making these stories “fit current scientific theories… is like making airline pilots fly by Columbus’ maps. It is bad science and bad theology.”

Dean Brian Schmisek, School of Ministry at the University of Dallas, said, “The stories were written to convey theology rather than history.” Those theological truths include “God is good. God is a creator. Creation is good. Humanity (male and female) is made in the image and likeness of God. We are to be stewards of the earth.” The author(s) “wrote the text from their own point of view, consistent with ‘scientific’ knowledge of their time.” The Catholic Church believes that “science and theology are complementary rather than contradictory.” Schmisek also said that Catholics believe that Sacred Scripture, when it pertains to human salvation, is without error.

Presbyterian minister, Joe Clifford, responded, “Genesis was never intended to be a science book, nor a history book for that matter… It is a sacred text. As such, it speaks to the deepest questions of life, to the whos and the whys of life, not simply to the whens and the hows.” He said we should not impose scientific methods on understanding texts that were never written to address such questions. If they are examined for scientific evidence, people conclude that the stories are “false” and become atheists. Conversely, fundamentalists defend their historical truth with zealousness. Beyond true or false, “they reveal who God is, who we are in relationship to God and with one another, and who we are called to be.”

Rabbi Geoffrey Dennis says, “the first two chapters of Bereshit are not a scientific treatise… it is foremost a literary artifact.” He further explains that the creation stories were meant as a monotheistic response “to the pagan Mesopotamian creation myths, especially the ‘Creation as cosmic battle’ myth of Marduk vs. the sea monster Tiamat found in the collection known as Enuma Elish.” He also says that its use of “merisms, alliteration, word counting point to a moral appeal rather than a scientific argument.” He points out that the first word, “bereshit,” does not mean “In the beginning,” but is best translated “At the time of God’s creation.” He also believes that the author or authors of Genesis were “relating a mythic story, not history.”

Unitarian minister, Daniel Kanter, says “Genesis is a metaphorical story written by people trying to make sense of their lives.” The problem starts when we “literalize these creation stories as human history.” Despite our ability to ignore it, “within us is a seed that reminds us that we are inherently good, not evil.”

Dean William Lawrence, Perkins School of Theology, said, “There is no such thing as ‘the Genesis creation story.’ There are actually two creation stories in the book of Genesis.” These two creation narratives “are theological testimonies rather than geological, biological, or historical evidence.” The two very different creation stories in Genesis are “a spiritual way to give testimony to the relationship among God, humanity, and the environment.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Dean Lawrence that “evolution is not a threat to the faith but a fellow-traveler with the faith.” I believe God is capable of anything, including creating heaven, earth, the universe, and all life, but, for me, the word “creating” does not preclude evolution.

Some people question if evolution is true, why don’t we see evidence of it today? Evolution is a very slow process – what we know about evolution today took thousands or tens of thousands of years, far more than can be detected in one’s lifetime.

As an example of a rather quick evolution, the Tibetans who live at extremely high altitudes where oxygen is far less plentiful than at sea level do not experience mountain sickness. Chinese biologist found that at least thirty genes underwent evolutionary change as these Tibetans adapted to life on a high plateau.

Otherwise, the most recent change was among northern Europeans about seven-and-a-half thousand years ago when adults developed the ability to digest milk, i.e. they became lactose tolerant.

In his book Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, Marcus Borg wrote that contemporary biblical scholarship does not accept the creation stories “as historical factual accounts,” but “as ancient Israel’s stories of the world’s beginnings.” He claims they are “profoundly true” if they are read in a historical-metaphorical context.

Borg quoted early church theologian, Origen, who wrote:

What intelligent person can imagine that there was a first day, then a second and third day, evening and morning, without the sun, the moon, and the stars?…And that the first day – if it makes sense to call it such – existed even without a sky?…Who is foolish enough to believe that, like a human gardener, God planted a garden in Eden in the East and placed in it a tree of life, visible and physical, so that by biting into its fruit one would obtain life? And that by eating from another tree, one would come to know good and evil? And when it is said that God walked in the garden in the evening and that Adam hid himself behind a tree, I cannot imagine that anyone will doubt that these details point symbolically to spiritual meanings by using a historical narrative which did not literally happen.

The biggest problem of creation might be that Adam and Eve wanted to be like God. They wanted to know everything that God knew. According to Genesis 3:5, God knew that when they ate of the fruit of the forbidden tree of knowledge their eyes would be opened and they would know good and evil, which apparently made them like God. Actually, that may be the biggest problem of humanity as a whole – we want to be like God or we want to actually be God.

The most important things about the creation stories are God and created. I believe God is still creating and those creations are evolving. God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, so if God ever created anything, then God is currently capable of creating – which includes those creations evolving over the eons of time or springing up almost instantaneously if that is God’s will. Personally, I believe God’s creation is a continuing process. Evolution does not bother me, because I see God’s creative process as being a part of evolution.

Review & Commentary