Convenient Rereadings of Genesis 1

Regarding Genesis 1 and 2, I’ve often heard an offhanded and basically unsubstantiated comment to divert attention away from creation and evolutionary debates. Indeed, reading my own blog, you might see a variation of that very comment when I discuss conclusions from the text: the emphasis is not on the What or the How as much as the Who.

That is still true. The text is emphasizing the person of Elohim over the celestial objects, over the waters, over mankind—but some have used that very real main point to detract from the fact that the text does actual contain “what” and some “how” in it as well. Yes the text says that the Who is Elohim but it also expressly says What He did (he created) and how (by speaking).

And yet, even while heavily emphasizing a Who these same people often come up with an alternate What and an extra-biblical How. It’ is not that God is creating—that occurs in verse one—they might say, it’s that He’s assigning roles for his created temple (indicated by the word “rest”). So they’ll read the English word “Let” and “Make” and they see assignment as in “Make me a King” or “Make me the Art Director for this job”. The person isn’t being created into a King or an artist but they’re being assigned to that role. And, they’ll add, the text is absolutely silent on the process (begging the question, methinks): Science—God’s second book of revelation—tells us how all things were made.

Now the assigning of roles might apply in some of the days (The fourth day for example and the assigning of roles to the lights to govern; the sixth day and the assigning of people to govern over the earth) but what role is there being assigned to light in verse 3? The passage says it was dark then God said “Let there be light” and then there was light—that’s no assigning at all but creation (it wasn’t there—now it was).Same thing with the vegetation. God doesn’t merely assign the role of Earth as vegetation producer; rather he says it and it happens (and it was so…the earth brought forth vegetation Gen 1:11).

And it really doesn’t even take into account the fact that there is no “Let” before the “there be” in this passage in the sense of assigning roles whatsoever. What it says is “Be” which as a divine utterance that brings things into being. This even applies in Gen 1:14 where we see the words “Be Lights”. So even if you hop down to verse 20 where one might try to argue heavily that the waters produced these creatures, we see that God creates all of them just as he created the heavens and the earth in verse 1 and 2.

Now as to the how (if it was an evolutionary process or not) I think it’s pretty safe to say that the passage doesn’t tell us that the creatures in the waters came about by divine selection and mutation. In the verses that matter (v 26) the verb bara (to create) which might mean made-from-pre-existent material is used, but also we see, another word coming to the fore (barak to bless) which indicates an obvious alliteration. The text is actually pretty clear that God created the creatures following after their own kind, from lesser creatures (crawling things) to the greater creatures (moon, stars, man).

Lastly, this idea of the word “rest” automatically indicating God entering into his temple needs to be examined but that’s outside of the scope of this post.

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8 replies on “Convenient Rereadings of Genesis 1”

You wouldn’t happen to have posted this simply because of my recent post at my blog? Or am I just being silly?

I do like the new look of your blog.

I thought it also might do with Daniel’s recent posts.

I am glad we have cleared it all up now (that is, the theological ramifications, not who you might have been addressing). :)

Good stuff, Rey. Names would be nice, though, to identify some of perpetrators proponents of the variant views – I mean scholars, not those that simply read a book and then think they’ve got it all figured out.

Off the cuff, John Walton on that video Scott linked to does it. Peter Enns does it as well. I vaguely remember Francis Collins doing it but that could be fuzzy since he tends to restrict himself to arguing science first.

If the what says it was accomplished by speaking, it doesn’t say how the speaking accomplished it. If it says they were created according to their kind (the result), it doesn’t say how it came about that they ended up according to their kind. I’m not sure what you’re complaining about is really all that problematic, at least on that score.

As for making vs. fashioning out of nothing, I don’t think you can argue that every time God makes something it’s ex nihilo, because Gen 2 conflicts with that. Adam was made from dust, and Eve was made from Adam’s rib. Unless those are different Hebrew expressions than what ch.1 says for animals and plants (which I doubt, but I’d be open to being corrected), the linguistic argument isn’t going to hold up to show that one species couldn’t have been made from another species.

Also, there’s a philosophical point that defeats any linguistic point anyway. If an act constitutes generating a new thing that wasn’t there before, it’s certainly possible that the new thing comes to exist from previously-existing stuff. That’s what happens whenever a new human being comes into existence (unless we’re Mormons who believe in the pre-existence of souls). So even if it’s not just assigning a new role, it doesn’t mean it’s ex nihilo, and it doesn’t preclude evolution from one species to another.

So I remain unconvinced that anything in this passage rules out theistically-guided evolution, and I still maintain that the variety of views on this subject can fit with all that this passage teaches.

Well, I’m not arguing that every time the text says something is made that it necessarily means it is ex nihilo. I’m saying that it is extremely convenient that merely because the word “made” is used to read the text as Made-and-Not-Created when there’s textual clues that tell one that this might not necessarily be the case. If there is an alliteration going on in the text that should give one due pause.

Same point with the role assigning. Sure it happens in the text, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the only thing going on in the text. It’s convenient to do that, but it is ultimately no different from the Young Earth Creationists who see the text using the word “day” and conveniently using that hook to make the entire text speak of 24 hour days.

In both cases, it might very well be the case that that is what happened (that it was theistic evolution or that it was ex nihilo 24 hour days) but reading those things into the text while ignoring all the textual issues happening in the text is a bit too convenient.

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