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
b. That God created the earth (vs 1) before He created even light?
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
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
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
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.