Tuesday, August 18, 2009
My friend Jay just pointed me to an online Bible app at http://www.youversion.com. It looks pretty neat and allows you to actually post little bits of commentary on verses that other people can read. (I still prefer The Unbound Bible for the record... just because it has the scholarly stuff that I need.) I started at Gen. 1, and noticed a note by someone claiming that the Day/Evening language in Gen. 1 supports the literal seven day creation timeline. So, I wrote a little note to explain why I disagree with that position, and figured I'd toss it up here for someone to discuss if you're feeling particularly geeky. Here's what I had to say about the order and timeline of creation in Genesis 1 and 2.
Often people consider the "evening/morning" language in Genesis 1 to be evidence that creation took place over seven twenty-four hour periods. There are certain issues with a literal reading of the creation account however. These problems do not imply that God was not responsible for creation, but they do point out that a literal reading of Genesis 1 requires a symbolic reading of other texts.
Gen. 1 can be read as a literal account of the creation of the world, only if Gen. 2 is not read as a literal account of the creation of the world. Let me show you why I say that:
The order of creation in Gen. 1:
Day 1: Day and Night (1:3-5)
Day 2: Sky and Sea (1:6-8)
Day 3: Land and Plants (1:9-13)
Day 4: Sun, Moon and Stars (1:14-19) [ignore the problem of plants growing before the creation of the Sun for now.]
Day 5: Sea creatures and birds. (1:20-23)
Day 6: Wild animals, then human kind. (1:25-31)
Day 7: Rest (2:1-3)
If we just read Genesis 1, there is no problem. Maybe God made everything just like this, in seven twenty-four hour periods. There is the issue of plants growing before the creation of the Sun, but we'll table that for now. So, according to Genesis 1:25-31, humankind was created on day 6, AFTER the plants, and wild animals were created.
The problem with this arises in Gen. 2:5-7. There we read that "no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up..." (2:5) Then, in 2:7, God creates man. After creating man, God plants a garden in Eden (2:8), creates all the living creatures (2:19), and finishes by creating woman (2:20-22).
So according to Gen. 1, plants are created, then animals, and humans are created last. But according to Gen. 2, Man is created, then plants are created, then animals, and woman last.
The NIV recognizes this problem, and does a little trick to the Hebrew that most people would never recognize. The Hebrew in Gen. 2:8 reads: "ויטע יהוה אלהים" or "wayyitta Adonai Elohim." The NIV translates that: "Now, the LORD God had planted..." The problem is, the verb "wayitta" is written in what is called the waw-consecutive, which is used to explain the order of events in a story. By using the waw-consecutive, the Hebrew is expressly saying that the planting happens AFTER the creation of Adam. The NIV's translation "Now, the LORD God had planted..." implies that the Garden was planted BEFORE God created Adam. In other words, the NIV's translation directly contradicts the Hebrew grammar in order to support a preconceived theological position on the text. In Hebrew it is clear that in Gen. 2, God creates Adam, and then plants a garden, and then places Adam in the garden, and then creates the animals, and only THEN does He create Eve.
Whether or not you understand all the scholarly mumbo-jumbo is not important. What is important is that in these verses, the NIV is altering the Biblical text in order to support a theological position, instead of altering their theology to align with the Biblical text. Some people may see what I'm writing here and assume that I'm trying to undermine the Bible. I'm actually trying to do the opposite. I'm trying to respect the words of the Bible, and form a theological position from what the Bible says, instead of changing the words in the Bible to fit my theological position.
So what do we do? Do we throw out the whole thing? Do we conclude that all the Bible is a lie, and it's all just fairy tales Jewish Mommies used to tell their Jewish Babies? Of course not. When we look at the text for what it is, and refuse to distort it so that it conforms to our preconceived notion of what it is supposed to be saying (which I claim the NIV is doing), we are made to ask why it is written as it is. Why do Genesis 1 and 2 provide different orders of creation? When we ask that question, we begin to see that God is less concerned with using the Bible to explain the order of creation, or exactly how long it took Him to do it, and more concerned with telling us that it was He who created everything. Humans were made first, humans were made last... whatever. 7 days, 700 billion years, who cares. The point is, God did it.
Note that if you disagree with everything I've said, and maintain that the order in Genesis 1 is the literal order of creation, then you still have to explain how light existed and plants grew before God created the Sun, Moon and stars. But, when we put the Bible before our theology, and read Gen. 1 and 2 as they are written instead of as we want them to be written, we find this discrepancy. And once we see it, I think we are forced to accept that the Bible wants to tell us not HOW everything was made, but WHO made it. And fortunately for us, when we read the creation account in that light, that pesky question of how plants grew before the creation of the Sun, doesn't really matter any more.
Oh, and just a note because I did read a quick blurb on someone else's comment. While the English uses the definite article in front of the days, (as in "The first day... the second day...") the Hebrew is actually lacking the definite article. A more accurate translation of the days would be "Day one... Day two... etc." But that's minor.
Posted by Joshua at 3:10 PM