Case study on Genesis 1,1 – 2,4
Genesis 1,1 – 2,4 describes the creation of the world in six days.
It provides details of each day’s creation.
- On the first day God created light.
- On the second day God created the sky.
- On the third day God created dry land and covered it with
- On the fourth day God created the sun, moon and the stars.
- On the fifth day God the birds and the fishes.
- On the sixth day he created animals and human beings.
The story ends with these lines:
“Thus heaven and earth were completed, and all their furniture. And on the seventh day God finished the work he had done. He rested on the seventh day from all the work he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work he had done in creation.”
For more than 1800 years Christians were convinced that the creation of the world took just six days.
The majority of the Fathers of the Church and medieval theologians firmly believed in a literal six-day creation. In the Catholic Church views began to change since 1900. Pope Pius XII expressed a limited support for the theory of evolution in 1950 (Humani Generis). Pope John Paul II endorsed evolution even more emphatically.
Creationism [= belief in a six-day creation some 5000 years ago] is still strong among evangelicals. In the southern ‘Bible Belt’ of the USA, more than half the population are reported to be creationists. Their main reason is the conviction that Genesis 1,1 – 2,4 must be interpreted as teaching a literal six-day creation.
“The deciding factor, in my conversion to six-day creationism was the text of Scripture itself . . . For whatever questions and concerns I might have about young-earth, six-day, twenty-four hour creation, it was my duty as a Christian to submit my mind to the clear teaching of God’s Word. Since that time I have learned much that has strengthened my belief in creation theology, and I am grateful for the clear witness of God’s Word to this matter.” Richard D. Phillips, Creation Study Group, 11 January 2009.
However, a careful reading of the text shows clearly that a literal six-day creation is NOT the intended meaning of this creation account.
A second creation account in Genesis, immediately following on Genesis 1,1 – 2,4, shows that the details of both stories are not to be taken as historically true. For the two accounts contradict each other.
Genesis 1,1 – 2,4
|seven days||longer period|
| cosmos (as then known)
||garden of paradise|
| man created first,
then the birds,
then the animals,
| man created first,
then the birds,
then the animals,
finally the woman
|God creates by a command||God moulds creatures from clay|
Conclusion: both accounts teach about creation in the form of stories. The stories do not contradict each other because the details are only part of the presentation.
The ancient authors of Scripture often shape their story material to inculcate the meaning of religious laws.
- An aspect of the law of kosher meat, i.e. the injunction that forbids the eating of flesh that still has the blood in it (Genesis 9,4), is inserted into the story of Noah’s flood (Genesis 6,5 – 9,17).
- The law of circumcision is linked to Abraham’s election as the father of many nations (Genesis 17,1-27).
- The laws on the passover meal are made part of Israel’s escape from Egypt (Exodus 12,1 – 51).
In all such examples, the link provides a motivation for a law; but we know that the historical origin of the laws lies elsewhere. For instance, the taboo of not eating flesh with blood in it and male circumcision are found among other nomadic tribes. The passover meal was originally a harvest festival – with its unleavened bread and sacrifice of a young lamb. The scriptural authors laid the link between events in Israel’s history and such laws to give them a religious motivation.
The same applies to Genesis 1,1 – 2,4. The reason for narrating the creation of the world in six days is to lead to the climax: the meaning of the seventh day!
“On the seventh day God finished the work he had done.
He rested on the seventh day from all the work he had done.
So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work he had done in creation.”
Conclusion: The God who created heaven and earth by just speaking commands, does not need to ‘rest’. It is clear that the whole presentation in six days was constructed in order to make the link with the law of the Sabbath rest.
In Genesis 1,1 -2,4 the elements created on various days do not present a true sequence of creations. It reather presents the universe known at the time as a giant home constructed for human beings.
This is clear from the scheme the author follows:
- God creates the space for the home (day 1);
- God creates the roof (day 2);
- God creates the floor and its carpet (day 3);
- God creates lamps (day 4);
- God creates furniture (day 5);
- God creates the inhabitants (day 6).
You can examine these parts of the ‘home’ God created for human beings on the following diagram.
If you click on each day you can see a short video clip that contains the words of Genesis for that day. Please, allow pop-up on your browser for our website. For some browsers, you need to look at the top of your browser for instructions on how to do this.
So what does Genesis 1,1 – 2,4 want to teach?
- God has created everything.
- No creature is divine. Notice that the author lists
among the creatures beings that were often worshipped as gods and goddesses,
such as the sun and the moon, various birds and animals.
- God is almighty. He creates with a simple command.
In the creation stories of the Sumerians and Babylonians the creator god has to
fight with dragons and monsters.
- When we observe the Sabbath rest we honour God as our
- God created everything good. Throughout the creation
story we are told that ‘God saw that it was good’.
- The whole world is a home that God entrusted to us.
This teaching is the intended meaning of the scripture text.
Genesis 1,1 -2,4 does not want to teach the details of the presentation, such as the days and the sequence of the creation. These simply belong to the story element.
© John Wijngaards
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