Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Order of Creation

Notice the curios lack of a watch on either of God's wrists.

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.


Ryan said...

"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."

I liked the issue that you bring up. I have never really noticed the order of creation.

However, I draw upon the quote that I have included above.

Does God, the Creator of the universe, really need the sun, moon, and stars to grow plants?

I guess the easiest answer to this Creation question is the following: In God, all things are possible.

Joshua said...

Certainly God doesn't need the sun to grow plants, he's God. The question is, do plants need the sun to grow?

But still, you do provide an answer. I'm not necessarily persuaded by the notion that the first plants God created either did not rely on photosynthesis, or were supplied the light through supernatural means until the sun was created, but that doesn't mean you have failed to provide an answer.

I certainly do agree that with God all things are possible. I just tend to lean toward the possibility that God's creative work took place gradually over millions of billions of years.

Still, my reading is just one reading. It comes with all that scholarly mumbo-jumbo which can make it seem more persuasive to some people. I don't mean to say that because I use words like "was-consecutive" that my answer is the best one. Surely the people on the committees that translated the NIV were much more educated, and much smarter than I am. It might be that God created the world in 7 literal days, and the NIV has it all correct, and I'm just a pretentious first year Master's student groping my way through things that are way beyond my pay-grade.

That's A Rapp said...

In Genesis 1 verse 3 God says let there be light, and there was light. True there was no Sun, but if God said there was light there was light. Much the same way Moses saw the shadow of the Glory of the Lord and his face was shining so brightly the Israelites had to ask him to cover his face. So for me, this order of Creation in Chapter one is a non issue. Plants need light, supernatural, artifitial or sunlight. I have noticed the seeming discrepancy in Chapter two. I do not know the Greek as you do and it definitely merits further study on my part. Thank you for posing this thought. We do agree that whatever the timeframe, whatever the order, it need not cause the inquisitions of the past. The point is God did it. Creator and sustainer of the universe. Truly amazing and worthy of my worship. Keep posting! I love to know the nuances of missing articles. Words are words and they all mean specific things.

Joshua said...

Thanks Stacy! You're right. There could have been plants that were sustained with supernatural light that was emitted before the creation of the sun. My post is really just an attempt to show why a forcibly literal reading of the Bible can be problematic. Often times, it is possible to gloss over those issues raised by a literal reading by saying, God can do what he wants, I'm just not always persuaded by that argument.

That's A Rapp said...

I know, there have been times when I have questioned things and people just casually say, oh that doesn't really matter. God's Word is true. Well, yeah, I know it is True, what is it saying?

Joshua said...

Right. I'm glad for people to be asking the questions, and even if we don't come up with the same answers, by interacting with the text, we help to keep it alive.

Rachel Elek said...

I think Stacy is wrong...;)

Tim 2 said...

I think that we are all living in a super old video game, like older than the 16 bit NES, on some crazy ancient system located in a bank somewhere in the universe. One dude still loves to play this game, its like the equivalent of the original sim city...but older. Once that dude gets tired of the game, or has to go rake the leaves or whatever we are all doomed!

Good thing his concept of time, or rounds, or whatever is much slower than ours, so centuries/millenia go by for us, but for this dude it is only round 2 and he cannot wait to get the uber super weapons in round 30...can you believe we are still using gun powder and our scientists are developing the cure for aids museum? SHeesh, I sure hope that dude in the black areas of the map doesn't show up with his terraforming technology and obliterate our entire continent so he can breathe noxious gasses which are poisonous for us!


Anonymous said...

If the plants grew before there was light, they must have got their energy from some source other than light. The plants have somehow changed to use light to photosynthesise since creation happened... The evolutionists will have fun with this!

Joshua said...

Evolution doesn't need to explain plants growing before the sun, because they don't believe plants existed before the sun.

Jerry Mac said...

Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." (including the sun, moon and stars). Genesis 1:14 and following are a reiteration of the purpose of the sun, moon and stars. Three key different word meanings in Genesis, Chapters 1 and 2; are: God created, made and let there be. Created is a current action, the other words are only reiterated statements.

Anonymous said...

we don't yet know whether a day was 100 hours ect.....

i am a idiot said...

we don't yet know whether a day was 100 hours ect.....

Anonymous said...

There was light before there was the sun. That is because there were glowing gases and formless blobs that were still compressing and forming identifiable shapes. Perhaps the sun was giving off life-giving light even before it had formed into a ball. Just a thought.