How Can We Make Sense of the Genesis 1 Creation Account?
If one desires to believe that the Hebrew creation account given in Genesis Chapter 1 is truly part of the inerrant Word of God, does that oblige one to believe such things as this:
a. The whole Universe, including man, was created in 7 literal 24 hour day periods?
b. That God created the earth (vs 1) before He created even light? (vs 3)
c. That God created plants and trees (vs 11) before He created the sun, moon and stars? (vs 14-19)
The answer is NO. We do not have to interpret the Bible as making these kinds of absurd scientific pronouncements. There is a better way of interpreting the Scripture, which does violence neither to the Scriptural record nor to our reason.
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1).
This refers to the period of time from the Big Bang (about 17 billion years ago) until fairly recently on the cosmological time scale. Most astronomers recognize that their observations combined with Einsteins theory of general relativity indicate that the Universe came into being through a "Big Bang" explosion about 17 billion years ago. This "Big Bang" points to a Transcendant Creator who existed before the Universe did and still exists outside the Universe as well as within it. Religions which deny the existence of a transcendant Creator God have no foundation in observable reality.
It is estimated by Science that the earth is at least 4 billion years old. The creation of the galaxies and planets is described in verse 1 of the Genesis account.
"Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." (vs 2).
This verse establishes the point of reference for the description which is about to follow. Everything written in verses 3 to 31 is written from the point of view of an observer on the surface of the earth – NOT from the point of view of an observer in outer space.
Just before verse 3, the atmosphere around the earth is opaque. No light can enter. Hence darkness is over the surface of the deep.
In verse 3, God speaks, and the atmosphere around the earth is changed from opaque to translucent. The light which God had already created back "in the beginning" (vs 1) is now free to break through to the surface of the earth.
Similarly, in verse 14, the atmosphere changes once again, this time from translucent to transparent. Now not only can light break through, but the sun, moon and stars can clearly be seen. The text does not say or imply that God made the sun, moon and stars only on the fourth day. When it says "God made two great lights" in verse 16 the Hebrew verb is "asah" denoting action completed some time in the past (there are only 2 other tenses in Hebrew – one to express commands, and one to denote action not yet complete). In other words, God had already made two great lights (the sun and the moon). They were made "in the beginning" (verse 1) but it is only now that they would appear to an observer on the face of the earth.
We can see then that all the major difficulties with the text vanish once we understand the point of reference from which the Scriptural account was written. One more difficulty remains: how long was each "day" mentioned in the account?
Of course some could argue that God created things with an appearance of age. While this is philosophically possible, it would mean that God was creating things which gave the appearance of something that wasn't true. When astronomers observe a supernova going off at a distance of millions of light years distance, young earth creationists would have to say that God was creating the illusion of something which in fact never happened. I think it is fair to say that young earth creationists believe that our "knowing" anything apart from the words of the Bible cannot be trusted. To them, science must be forced to fit in with their particular interpretation of Scripture.
God is a truthful God. We deny that creation was made purposely deceptive by God. If we cannot trust God's voice in nature, why should we trust His voice in the Scriptures?
The Hebrew word for day, "yom" can mean a long period of time. Genesis 2:4 speaks of "the day in which the Lord God made the heavens and the earth". Obviously this "day" (yom) in Genesis 2:4 cannot be referring to a 24 hour period. So why force that interpretation on all the other days?
Concerning these days in Genesis 1, the phraseology of the Hebrew text is as follows: "and was evening and was morning day X". There is syntactical ambiguity here. One does not have to say that the Bible is saying that one evening and one morning equals one day. Perhaps even the evening and morning can be speaking more or less figuratively of the beginning and end of those particular ages of time, not of sunrise and sunset. The evening and mornig of the seventh day were not mentioned – perhaps because God considers we are still in that seventh "day".
Some of the early church fathers in their writings indicate that they did not believe that the Creation happened in six 24 hour days. There was no scientific evidence to pressure them to think that way. They pointed to the Scripture in 2 Peter 3:8, "But beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." Here we have further Scriptural evidence that a day need not mean 24 hours.
In conclusion then, when the account in Genesis Chapter 1 is understood in terms of a long period of time called "the beginning" and then from the point of view of the surface of the earth in the seven age-long days of Creation, we see a remarkable accuracy in the correspondence between the findings of science and the chronology of the Bible. Other ancient chronologies in religious books outside the Bible cannot compare with this accuracy, which God must have revealed to Moses when he wrote the account about 3400 years ago, long before scientific knowledge had advanced to its present level.
– Michael Fackerell
For further information, see the excellent book by Dr. Hugh Ross, "Creation and Time", 1994, published by Navpress, from which many of these ideas are drawn. Dr Ross has now written a number of other excellent books like "The Genesis Question" and others.
You may also be interested in material by Jim Schicatano found at his website "The Theory of Creation"
I also highly recommend the writings of Dr Dembski on Intelligent Design, Michael Behe on biochemical challenges to evolution, and Philip Johnson, a lawyer who shows pretty well that evolution is a certain philosophy, not really science in the truest sense of the word.