ATheological-Hermeneutical Approach to Genesis1-2
Randall Hroziencik, one of the students in our ARS Apologetics Certificate Program submitted a paper on the cultural and theological background to the two Genesis creation accounts, focusing on the genre of the first part of Genesis. We feel that this paper is of a very high quality and offer it for your consideration. Thank you Randall!
“A Theological-Hermeneutical Approach to Genesis 1-2”
Randall L. Hroziencik
Science & God; Science and the Bible (Course #4)
Apologetics Research Society – John Oakes, Ph.D. (Mentor)
We live in a culture of many competing worldviews, with each worldview providing answers to the questions of origins, the meaning and purpose of life, morality and ethics, and what happens to us after this life ends. Even within the Christian worldview there are differing answers to these important questions. Christian doctrine is not a set of detailed, very specific beliefs in which all Christians are in total agreement. One topic of Christian study in which doctrinal variation is well known is that of origins. Some Christians are supremely confident that the universe and the earth were created in six 24-hour days, only 6,000-10,000 years ago, while others are convinced that the universe and the earth are as old as mainstream science proposes, and that the days of creation represent long epochs of time. Still other Christians hold to the idea of the so-called “gap theory,” which combines a very old original creation with a fairly recent re-creation. Some who confess Christ as Lord have no problem with appealing to macroevolution as the best explanation for the diversity of all living things on the earth, while the Intelligent Design movement was developed predominately by Christians as a means of pointing out the insufficiency of Darwinian beliefs. Some Christians are convinced that the Genesis creation account provides only a broad literary framework by which people can learn the truth that God created – without getting hung up on the “details” of creation. What is a Christian believer to think?
My Story: Going Beyond Genesis 1-2 as a Scientific Exposition
I spent the first twenty-five years of my life as a humanist who was very critical of the Christian faith. Although never an atheist, I was essentially a deist who viewed the Bible as being nothing more than Hebrew mythology. I was certain that Darwinian macroevolution was a fact of science – one which is contested only by religious zealots – simply because I assumed that scientists could not be wrong about such an important issue as origins. By default I was a theistic evolutionist, which, as it turns out, is a widely-held theory.
Then, while studying for my degrees in diagnostic and therapeutic radiologic technology, I came face-to-face with professors who challenged me to re-examine my Darwinian beliefs. Once I realized that Darwinian macroevolution is based upon a number of questionable assumptions, I came to the conclusion that, “If I could be wrong about origins, then I could be wrong about some other biblical doctrines as well.” At that point I threw myself into a study of the truth claims of Christianity – and emerged a few years later a follower of Christ.
Like many new believers, my first exposure to the topic of origins from a Christian worldview came through resources from ministries devoted to young earth creationism. Many who have their worldview radically altered, as I did when I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior, may be inclined to “swing hard” and take on new viewpoints which are diametrically opposed to their former beliefs. The gap between theistic evolution and young earth creationism is as wide as one can get – at least within a theistic framework. Combined with my sole exposure to young earth creationist resources, I quickly became a strong proponent of that view.
Eventually, however, I became dismayed with the young earth creationist ministries. They seemed to foster a near-endless assault on old earth creationists such as Hugh Ross – spending more time belittling the ideas of fellow Christian believers than confronting the accusations of atheists and all who seek to destroy the foundations of the Christian faith. I decided to give Ross and others like him a fair trial, and I found that I agreed with many of their conclusions. Although I still preferred the young earth creationist model for human origins, I found myself in agreement with Ross and the other old earth creationists in the areas of cosmology, astronomy, and the earth sciences. In the past several years I have also entertained the ideas of gap theorists, Intelligent Design proponents, and even non-Christian authors such as Israeli scientist Gerald Schroeder and American physician T. Lee Baumann. Despite my focus on the natural sciences as they relate to Genesis 1-2, I clearly lacked an understanding of both the historical and cultural context of Genesis creation as well as biblical hermeneutics (specifically genre) in its application to origins. Those were the topics of study that were missing for me, and would have cleared many of the misunderstandings I struggled with in the area of origins.
Reconciling Science & Genesis 1-2
Inthe attempt to reconcile science and the Genesis record of origins, some very important questions must be asked. First, is it possible that these two different approaches to understanding origins do not have to conflict with each other, as is commonly believed? Secondly, is it really necessary to rigidly interpret Scripture in the light of modern scientific knowledge? Thirdly, what was the original purpose behind Genesis 1-2? Lastly, what is the literary genre of Genesis 1-2, and how does that impact the relationship between science and Scripture?
It is only natural to insist that science and Genesis must be reconciled to each other; God is, after all, the ultimate author of both science and Scripture. In this attempt at reconciliation, it is vitally important to provide a theory of origins which is not only true to science but is also scripturally sound. Richard Carlson and Tremper Longman III state that the creation-evolution conflict hinges on two issues. The first issue is the trustworthiness of the contemporary scientific understanding of the beginnings of the universe, our planet, and life, and secondly is the issue of the faithful reading of the two creation passages in Genesis (1:1-2:3 and 2:4-25), in their literal or non-literal forms.
The only two real choices for many Christians are either a literal reading of Genesis or atheistic evolution, but it does not have to be that black-and-white. More options exist than either of these two extremes. The options are, in order of literalism to skepticism, as follows: young earth creationism, old earth creationism, the gap theory, the day/age theory, theistic evolution, and atheistic evolution. Carlson and Longman propose four options: creationism (both young earth and old earth forms), Intelligent Design, partnership, and independence. Most students of Christian apologetics are sufficiently well-read concerning the two basic forms of creationism as well as Intelligent Design, so these theories will not be addressed in this paper. Adherents of partnership insist that both Genesis and science describe the origin of the universe from different, and non-conflicting, viewpoints, while adherents of independence hold that both science and Scripture are legitimate but independent enterprises; each provides an explanation for origins from a different, yet equally valid, perspective. Both partnership and independence theories insist that no conflict is necessary between Genesis and science. Therefore, according to Carlson and Longman both the partnership and independence theories differ from creationism and Intelligent Design in that neither partnership nor independence holds to the idea that Genesis and science must be in a state of conflict, although the author is quick to point out that many old earth creationists and Intelligent Design proponents are quick to make the same claim.
Ultimately, the seeker of truth must decide whether to read Genesis in a literal or a non-literal manner. According to Carlson and Longman, young earth creationists, old earth creationists, gap theorists, and (to a lesser extent) Intelligent Design proponents read Genesis literally, whereas theistic evolutionists and those who subscribe to partnership and independence theories read the creation accounts in a non-literal manner. Of course, atheistic evolution is no real option at all – the lines of evidence for theism, from both philosophical and scientific sources, are too numerous to allow for this option.
Two mistaken ideas underlie the commonly-held belief that the only valid options regarding origins are either biblical literalism or atheistic evolution. First is the belief that always remaining faithful to Scripture implies a literal reading of the Bible. One must be cognizant of the fact that the Bible, although truly the Word of God, was written in different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) thousands of years ago, in a Near Eastern culture which utilized various literary genres – a mix of historical narrative, poetry, parable, prophecy, apocalyptic, and so forth. In our modern Western culture we must remember the language translation factor, the time and culture factor, and the literary context factor, to name only a few of the most important considerations. Hanging onto every word literally in a modern English translation will not always work.
Secondly is the belief that science is inherently atheistic by nature. Science should be viewed as methodologically naturalistic, not metaphysically naturalistic (atheistic). Science is naturalistic in its methodology: without reliance upon the fixed laws of nature, the scientific method will not work. This in no way denies the existence of God and the miraculous, but rather avoids the belief in the supernatural for the practical reason of properly conducting science.
Genesis: A Pre-Scientific Account of Origins
We must understand the different functions of science and theology. Science addresses how nature is structured and functions, and is limited strictly to the natural realm, whereas theology is concerned with why things are the way they are, and is much more focused on the supernatural realm – although theology is certainly concerned with the natural realm as well. Science focuses on discovering the laws of nature, whereas theology is concerned with topics such as the existence and nature of God, the meaning and purpose of life, and what happens to us when we die: “…contemporary science addresses questions on how physical and biological processes began and continue to develop, while theology and philosophy answer why for the same questions.”
We must remember that, apart from divine revelation, the ancient Hebrew’s were limited in their grasp of scientific principles – at least in comparison to our modern scientific understanding. Denis Alexander holds the belief that ancient texts should only be read by modern people if they are willing to treat the texts as theological literature, and not as modern science textbooks. Many people make that very mistake, however. Alexander sums up his position on the relationship between science and Scripture:
So the purpose of our discussion of the Genesis text is not at all to see how the text responds to “enquiries” from the direction of evolutionary theory, but rather to see how we should understand the book of Genesis in the context of the rest of Scripture and of the ancient Near Eastern culture in which it was written. For that reason biblical commentators who wrote about Genesis many centuries before Darwin will also be cited, because in this way we can be sure that we are looking at an interpretive stance taken by Christians down the ages, not new interpretations imposed upon the text as evolutionary theory became widely accepted by (many but not all) conservative biblical scholars, and more broadly by the churches, during the later part of the nineteenth century.
We have to be cognizant of the fact that the Bible is a theologically-based book, not a treatise on modern science. Despite their lack of scientific achievement and advanced technology (by modern standards), the ancient Hebrew’s certainly possessed a supernatural revelation of creation, as evidenced by the fact that Scripture foretold of scientific facts centuries and even millennia ahead of modern discoveries. The book of nature (science) and the book of Scripture should not contradict one another, since both come from the same author. If there is a conflict, then it is due to either our incomplete understanding of science or our incomplete understanding of Scripture – or both.
Genesis 1-2: The Theology of Origins
Carlsonand Longman sum up their viewpoint on the Genesis creation account:
The first two chapters of Genesis, which accurately present observations and their historical understanding, are neither historical nor scientific in the twenty-first-century literal sense. Instead, the underlying message of these chapters applies for all time and constitutes a complete statement of the worldview of the Hebrew people in the ancient Near East. They accurately understood the universe in terms of why God created it but not how in the modern scientific and historical sense. This worldview, markedly different from those of their pagan neighbors, articulates the principles underlying their understanding of the relation of God to the universe, their relation to the one true God, and their relation to each other and to the created order.
Moses, under divine inspiration, began Scripture with a theological treatise on origins, the foundation for all of Scripture. It is of utmost importance that one remembers that the Genesis creation account be thought of in theological, rather than scientific, terms. In other words, Genesis supplies us with the truth about creation from a worldview perspective, not as a narrative enveloped by the natural sciences.
Carlson and Longman further elaborate on their view of the Genesis creation account:
Our proposal is that the “story under the story” in Genesis 1 and 2 represents the ancient Hebrew’s worldview and thus constitutes the primary relevance of these opening chapters in the Bible for all time and for all peoples. These worldview themes are found throughout all of Scripture, implying their relevance for all times, in particular for today. Understanding Genesis 1 and 2 in this way removes the requirement that they be consistent with contemporary science, for they had in the past and now have a much more important role to play.
That “important role to play” is to teach several truths – biblical, theological, historical, and even scientific, albeit to a limited extent. First, the universe had a beginning. This point cannot be stressed enough: the Hebrew’s were the only people group in the ancient Near East, and likely in the entire world, that believed the earth and the universe had a beginning. All of the other surrounding nations and tribes held to the belief in an eternal world. Although people from all cultures – from ancient times to the twentieth century – believed in an eternal universe, the Bible always had it right: ”In the beginning…”
Secondly, God – not the gods – created the heavens and the earth. All of the nations and tribes surrounding the Hebrew’s were polytheistic, believing in a god for this and a god for that. Only the Hebrew’s believed in the one true God of the universe. All of the other ancient Near Eastern cultures believed that the gods were part of this eternal universe, and had played a role in shaping the creation out of pre-existent matter. The ancient Hebrew’s alone believed in creatio ex nihilo.
Thirdly, God created the universe in an orderly manner. God created in steps, described by Moses as the “days” of creation. In modern times as well as in the past, the length of these days had various interpretations. Regardless of whether the days of creation were literal, 24-hour days or represented long epochs of time, God created in steps. Undoubtedly the six days of creation and the seventh day of rest forms the basis for our seven day week – six days of work followed by the Sabbath, or holy “day of rest.”
Fourthly, Darwinian macroevolution is a highly-debatable explanation of how the various life forms came into existence. Genesis 1-2 seems to indicate that all of the major categories of plant, animal, and human life were distinctly created by God. Vegetation (Genesis 1:11-12), the creatures of the sea and of the air (Genesis 1:21), and the creatures of the land (Genesis 1:24-25) all came into existence, in their basic forms, as a result of the direct creativity of God. Likewise, humans were created ex nihilo, and are not evolved from pre-existing life forms (Genesis 1:26-27). One type of life form does not eventually turn into another type of life form; all of the various plants and animals bring forth “according to their kinds.” Anaximander, a pre-Socratic philosopher from ancient Greece, proposed a theory of naturalistic evolution six centuries before Christ, and it is certainly possible that other naturalists existed before him.
Fifthly, human beings are the pinnacle of God’s creation; in fact, humans were created in the “image of God” (Genesis 1:27). In contrast, the gods of the surrounding nations and tribes often treated people in a capricious manner. These gods even used “humans as slaves to carry out the menial work of creation.”
It is very clear that Moses offered a theological corrective to the erroneous cosmogonies of the surrounding nations and tribes. Alexander continually stresses the point that Genesis 1-2 served as a theological corrective for the Hebrew’s pagan neighbors, and Allen Guenther points out the importance of Genesis creation as the sole source of theological truth regarding origins for the ancient Near East:
Had Israel not had an understanding of the beginnings of the heavens and the earth she would have been prone to accept the pagan conceptions of the gods and of creation which were represented in the creation accounts of surrounding nations. This was of great significance to Israel because many of the deities of her neighbours [sic] were identified with the processes of nature and were seen to dominate different spheres of nature. If Yahweh rather than Baal is to be acclaimed as God of fertility, there must be an explanation of his relation to the natural order. If Yahweh is truly God of all men, then there must be a clear indication that he either made all men, or, like Baal or Marduk, gained the ascendancy over the creator-god and rules universally by virtue of his acquired sovereignty.
Lastly, the genre of myth – which in many ways appears to be the genre of Genesis 1-2 – allows for a continually fresh reading of the biblical text in the light of new scientific findings. Needless to say, the claim that myth is a genre that has been included in Scripture is not a popular notion with many Christian believers, but an honest examination of this hermeneutical issue will reveal that myth is not a genre to be feared by those of faith.
At this point, an examination of the role of Genesis 1-2 as a “corrective theology” for the ancient Near East will be addressed first, followed by the claim that non-literal story or myth is the genre of Genesis 1-2; myth allows for a flexible interpretation of Genesis creation, especially in the light of modern scientific discoveries.
Genesis 1-2 as a Theological Corrective for the Ancient Near East
The ancient Hebrew’s were surrounded by pagan nations who truly “missed the boat” when it came to the issue of origins. Johnny Miller and John Soden have done an exceptional job of highlighting the differences between Hebrew cosmogony and the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Canaanite accounts of origins. Without question, these non-Hebraic worldviews would have been the most potentially influential upon the ancient Hebrew’s in the time of Moses. The author of Joshua tells us that even after the time of the exodus out of Egypt, many of the people of Israel still maintained devotion to the Egyptian gods: “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.” For many of the Hebrew’s, the Egyptian gods were likely the only aspect of deity that they knew anything about.
Following are the differences between the biblical and non-biblical accounts of origins. These differences would have served as the “corrective theology” necessary for Moses and the Hebrew’s to distinguish between truth and falsehood, giving them an anchor by which to remain grounded in the truth of origins.
Overview of Egyptian, Mesopotamian, & Canaanite Cosmogony
Since Moses came out of an Egyptian background, had an ancestral connection to Mesopotamia, and was going to the land of Canaan, the creation account of Genesis 1-2 should be most closely tied to these cosmogonies. In other words, we should not expect that the cosmogonies of other civilizations, such as the Greeks and those in the Indus Valley, would play a role in the Hebrew creation account.
As the story is told in Exodus, Moses grew up in the royal household of the pharaoh, so we should fully expect that Egyptian cosmogony was the greatest influence upon the wording of Genesis 1-2. In fact, “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action.” The author has always held the opinion that a person’s former beliefs will continue to exert an influence upon that individual unless he or she is cognizant of keeping those beliefs “in check.” Moses – even after encountering the one true God of the universe – may have had to occasionally stop himself from thinking in Egyptian ways, which were likely ingrained in him.
Unlike the convenient summary of origins outlined for us in Genesis 1-2, “There is no single Egyptian account known to date that describes the complete Egyptian perspective on creation.” Instead, scholars have been forced to piece together information on the topic of origins that is found in several surviving documents. These documents cover a time frame of two millennia, and therefore theological differences exist as a result of changing ideas over time. Interestingly enough, however, Egyptian cosmogony is “remarkably consistent throughout the 2,300 years of history they span.” Therefore, we are able to fairly describe Egyptian cosmogony.
As mentioned, Egyptian cosmogony was not the only belief system Moses had in mind. The ancestors of Moses and the Hebrew’s came from the land of Mesopotamia. Abraham, the father of the Hebrew’s, left Ur of the Chaldees to travel to Canaan (Genesis 11:27-12:9). Perhaps some of the people that accompanied Abraham along that journey were still heavily influenced by the pantheon of Mesopotamian gods, implanting them in new soil along the route to Canaan.
Regardless of that possibility, however, Miller and Soden point out that the ancient Near East was marked by a considerable amount of exchange regarding religious ideas:
The ancient Near East was not a collection of completely isolated nations; religious myths and beliefs flowed freely between peoples from different backgrounds, much as philosophy is exchanged between higher education communities in the United States today. If Egypt was a university on the west coast, Mesopotamia was such a setting in the east (though only about eight hundred miles as the crow flies from Egypt).
Therefore, Moses – especially as one who was highly educated within the Egyptian “university” setting – likely knew about Mesopotamian religious beliefs generally, and their creation stories in particular. The Egyptians, as a great civilization that heavily influenced the surrounding nations, likely made it a point to know about the beliefs of the people that surrounded them.
Only two texts of ancient Mesopotamia provide us with a fair degree of information regarding their cosmogony. The first is the Epic of Creation, also known as the Enuma Elish. This account is the longer of the two, and discusses the creation of both the universe as a whole and of humanity in particular. It served as a defense of the god Marduk’s claim to be the sovereign ruler over the remainder of the pantheon. The second account, the Epic of Atrahasis, predates the Epic of Creation. It is the most orderly account of the creation of humanity and the near-extinction of people at the hands of the gods, paralleling the Flood account in Genesis 6-8. The Epic of Atrahasis does not address the creation of the universe, however. It is from these two very ancient literary works that we are able to piece together a fairly reliable account of Mesopotamian cosmogony.
Lastly, as the land into which the Hebrew’s were moving into, the cosmogony of the Canaanites should be considered as a very relevant factor in the wording of Genesis 1-2. Well before the time of the Hebrew’s in Egypt, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived in Canaan, and it is not at all unrealistic to believe that even after the passage of centuries some vestige of the Hebrew belief system remained there. However, it is also wise to believe that over time any precepts related to Hebrew religion would have been twisted and conformed into something that more closely matched conventional Canaanite religion. Therefore, Moses would have chosen his words wisely – with the help of the Holy Spirit, of course – in order to refute these “once correct, now twisted” beliefs.
Of the three cosmogonies being addressed in this section, the Canaanite account of origins is the weakest in terms of what is left behind for us to study today. Nonetheless, we do know that the Canaanite gods were represented in Egypt, since these two nations were in close proximity to each other and there was a fair amount of exchange between neighboring nations, and we also know all too well how influential the Canaanite gods would be in the future of Israel. Therefore, the gods of Canaan, and what we know about Canaanite cosmogony, was highly influential in the wording of Genesis 1-2.
Moses Reveals Creatio Ex Nihilo
In the Egyptian account of origins, prior to the “starting point” of creation there existed “an infinite dark, watery, chaotic sea.” In opposition to this belief, Judeo-Christian theology maintains that God created the universe ex nihilo, or “out of nothing.” Prior to the beginning point of creation, there was no matter/energy, no space, and no time – nothing existed, not even an infinitely dark, watery, chaotic sea…which is, by definition, something.
Immersed in this infinite sea of chaotic darkness was Atum, the creator-god who was the source of everything. Atum brought himself into existence by separating himself from this pre-existent (eternal) watery darkness. This is nothing more than pantheism or, perhaps more correctly, panentheism, therefore Atum is clearly not the transcendent Creator-God of theism. The notion that this creator-god of Egypt could call himself into existence out of pre-existent matter is clearly a case of confusing the creator with the creation – a mistake that the Apostle Paul will later address in his Magnum Opus, the letter to the Romans (1:25). As a point of interest, since Atum was connected with the sun in Egyptian mythology, light would also have been present at this beginning point, despite the fact that the sun had not yet risen. This is a shared similarity with the Hebrew account, since God (through Moses) announces on Day One, “Let there be light,” while the sun is not mentioned until Day Four. This is not necessarily the result of Moses being influenced by Egyptian cosmogony, but may actually be an example of how the ancient pagan world sometimes “got it right” concerning certain aspects of origins and other metaphysical principles. Additionally, Miller and Soden point out that Moses may have intentionally begun with this similarity as a way to correct Israel’s theology of creation:
We are also not suggesting that Moses merely borrowed from Egypt. Rather, we are suggesting that Moses is starting with the Egyptian assumptions about creation to correct Israel’s theology of creation and not their way of talking about creation. Moses seems to begin with a starting point that Israel would have already accepted.
In Mesopotamian cosmogony, the universe is described as beginning with the “primordial waters” – the gods Tiamat (both “salt water” and “the deep”) and Apsu (“fresh water”). A third god, Mummu (likely “the mist”) is a vizier to Apsu. Eventually Tiamat and Apsu “commingled and produced the first generation of the gods.” This pre-existent watery mass is, once again, something rather than nothing, which is in opposition to the one true God calling forth the universe from nothing (Genesis 1:1). As with Egyptian cosmogony, the implied worldview is either pantheism or panentheism.
Regarding the “starting point” in Canaanite cosmogony, nothing can be said with any certainty beyond the fact that the god El and his wife, the goddess Asherah, are given the title “creator.” Only the fact of Canaanite polytheism can be established with confidence.
Moses Reveals the One True God of the Universe
In the ancient Near East, only the Hebrew’s were monotheists, although Pharaoh Akhenaten (died c. 1336 B.C.) did lead Egypt into henotheism – often mistakenly believed to have been monotheism – for a brief period of time. All of the non-Hebrew peoples of the ancient Bible lands held to polytheism; each group had a god or goddess that represented some particular function of nature, with some of the gods attaining to a higher status than other gods. The Hebrew’s alone recognized the one true God of the universe (Deuteronomy 4:35, 39; 6:4; 1 Samuel 2:2; 2 Samuel 7:22; Psalm 86:10; Isaiah 43:10; 44:6, 8; 45:22).
In Egyptian mythology, the universe consisted of thousands of gods – all of which were a part of Atum. This is very similar to the pantheistic basis for polytheism in Hinduism; the creator-god Brahma, who is the pantheistic “creator” in Hinduism, is the “Ultimate Reality,” and the millions of gods in Hinduism merely represent manifestations of some aspect or attribute of Brahma. In the Genesis account, God – who alone is the Creator of the universe – devised a system of nature by which the laws and forces of physics account for much of what human beings will encounter in their daily lives on this earth. In contrast, the Egyptians believed that “all the elements and forces that a human being might encounter in this world are not impersonal matter and energy but the forms and wills of living beings – beings that surpass the merely human scale, and are therefore gods.” In short, the Egyptians attributed every action to the gods.
In Mesopotamian mythology, the initial creator-gods Tiamat and Apsu commingled and produced the first generation of gods, who go on to produce additional gods over time. This is more of a conventional polytheistic worldview when compared to Egyptian (and Hindu) mythology, which blend pantheism with polytheism. However, Tiamat and Apsu are present in the beginning, which seems to indicate to some extent a pantheistic or panentheistic worldview – especially when compared to the transcendent Creator of the universe, as revealed in Genesis 1:1.
Canaanite mythology closely parallels the religious beliefs of Mesopotamia; the creator-gods El and his wife Asherah are at the head of the Canaanite pantheon. El was responsible for the creation of the earth, the gods, and human beings, while Asherah shared in the creation of the gods. Since little is known for certain about Canaanite cosmogony, it appears that Canaan possessed the purest form of polytheism of the three groups being examined, although perhaps future discoveries by archaeologists and Near Eastern linguists may shed further light on the matter and could possibly reveal a pantheistic-polytheistic blend similar to Egypt, the Indus Valley civilization, and, to a lesser extent, Mesopotamia.
Moses Reveals a Distinct Creation Period
Although strange to our modern mindset, the Egyptians believed that the creator-god’s means of creating could have involved sneezing, spitting, and even masturbation. Interestingly, however, some Egyptian accounts maintained that the creator-god actually spoke the universe into existence, just a Genesis proclaims (1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26).
In Egyptian cosmogony, all of creation was completed in one day, an event known as the “first occasion.” At the conclusion of that single day of creation, the sun traveled through the Egyptian underworld and fought the enemies there that sought its destruction, always to rise in victory the next day. In that sense, every day since creation has re-enacted the creation event. In contrast to this, Hebrew cosmogony reveals that God created the universe over a period of time referred to as six “days” (Hebrew yom), the length of which has varying interpretations. After that six day period of creation, God rested from the work of completion (Genesis 2:2-3), signifying that creation was now an event of the past that would not be repeated.
In Mesopotamian cosmogony, a fair amount of similarity exists up to Day Four of the Genesis account of creation:
The [Mesopotamian] account generally follows the same sequence up to day four: water pervades everything; light exists; water is separated to provide atmosphere and netherworld; land is made; sun, moon, and stars are created. These similarities are significant, perhaps demonstrating a similar understanding of creation across the ancient world.
With the creation of animal and human life, however, the similarity ends. The Chaldean version of cosmogony has man created first, followed by some animals, then plants, and finally more animals (similar to Genesis 2). The Creation of the Living Creatures account, on the other hand, has the animals being created before man (similar to Genesis 1). It would be remiss to neglect mentioning that similarities do exist between these two ancient cosmogonies, which once again may be attributed to either (1) a common creation story extending across the ancient lands of the Bible, or (2) an effort by Moses (via the Holy Spirit) to first seek common ground with his people in order to ease them into a corrective theology of origins. This second possibility is not unlike what Paul would do many centuries later when presenting Christian theism to the learned scholars of Athens (Acts 17:23, 28).
Once again, concerning Canaanite cosmogony little may be said with certainty other than the fact that El and Asherah were the creator gods. However, Baal reigned supreme among the Canaanite pantheon as he represented storms (rain) and fertility, making him the most practically meaningful of the gods. We can assume, as based upon the cosmogonies of Egypt and Mesopotamia, that the Canaanite view of origins featured some type of orderly creation, although perhaps these people were not so concerned with that aspect of creation.
Moses Reveals Humanity Created “In the Image of God”
In general, the cosmogonies of the ancient Near East (barring the Hebrew’s) maintained that the gods created human beings to serve them in some way; essentially, people were created to be slaves. Moses, however, reveals that human beings were created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27), a great honor bestowed upon humanity and a concept that should give each of us hope. As a result of being made in God’s image, human beings represent God on this earth and are, in fact, meant to rule over the earthly creation (Genesis 1:28).
In Egyptian cosmogony only one person (pharaoh) is the visible image of god, and is assigned the role of kingship over all other human beings. Moses, on the other hand, tells us that humankind as a whole is representative of God, and collectively is given the task of ruling over creation.
The Mesopotamian account of the creation of humanity is not nearly as close to the Hebrew account as is the Egyptian record of origins. In the Mesopotamian creation mythology, people are formed out of the blood of a god mixed with clay, or in some accounts people “sprout” from the ground as if plants, or are fashioned by the gods out of molds. As mentioned, many of the ancient Near Eastern cosmogonies have people serving as slaves, to relieve the lesser gods of some burdensome toil. Contrast this idea to Genesis, where human beings serve as “co-regents” with God, as caretakers of the earthly creation.
Again, Canaanite cosmogony does not go into great detail regarding the creation of human beings – other than that El is the creator-god of people – but we can say with a fairly high degree of certainty that the Canaanite pantheon did not view people as “worthy” creatures created in the image of the gods. That assumption is based upon the worship of Baal and Molech that plagued the people of the land of Canaan. Ron Rhodes addresses the vile nature of the Canaanites:
God’s command [Canaanite genocide] was issued not because God is cruel and vindictive, but because the Canaanites were so horrible, so evil, so oppressive, and so cancerous to society that – like a human cancer – the only option was complete removal.
Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. offers further details regarding the social and spiritual condition of the Canaanites:
When a people starts to burn their children in honor of their gods (Leviticus 18:21), practice sodomy, bestiality, and all sorts of loathsome vices (Leviticus 18:23, 24; 20:3), the land itself begins to “vomit” them out as the body heaves under the load of internal poisons (Leviticus 18:25, 27-30).
The Canaanites were a detestable people, burning their children as sacrifices to their false gods and committing grossly immoral sexual practices: “The Canaanites worshipped Baal, and his wife Ashteroth, fertility deities. Their religion involved temple prostitution, human sacrifice and orgies.”
Clay Jones describes the practice of child sacrifice to Molech:
Molech was a Canaanite underworld deity represented as an upright, bull-headed idol with human body in whose belly a fire was stoked and in whose arms a child was placed that would be burnt to death.
As difficult to accept as that is, Jones informs his reader of Plutarch’s report concerning this practice: “…the whole area before the statue was filled with a loud noise of flutes and drums so that the cries and wailing should not reach the ears of the people.” Needless to say, the Hebrew concept of humanity being created in God’s image, and serving as co-regent over the earthly creation is not a belief that the Canaanites held, as evidenced by their cruel and depraved service to Baal, Molech, and the other despicable gods of the Canaanite pantheon.
Genesis 1-2 and the Genre of Myth
It is of primary importance that one knows which literary genre is being used by the biblical writers in a particular passage or book. Several different genres are used throughout Scripture: narrative, poetry, wisdom, prophecy, apocalyptic, parable, epistle, law, gospel, and typology. Each genre has its proper place in Scripture. In fact, it is possible that the author of Hebrews alluded to this fact: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways.” Although “various ways” likely has multiple meanings, certainly genre could be one of those (albeit lesser) meanings.
A question which is often addressed by biblical scholars is, “What is the genre of the Genesis creation account?” Several different possibilities have been proposed. Alexander maintains that Genesis 1-2 is neither scientific narrative nor poetry, but rather believes that “elevated prose,” “theological essay,” or “theological manifesto” best defines the genre for Genesis creation. Another possibility, one which is not always acknowledged by biblical scholars, is the genre of non-literal story or myth.
Myth is a Legitimate Expression of Biblical Truth
Asserting that myth is a genre found in Scripture can be a surefire way to stir emotions, since myth is usually equated with fictional “fantasy” in our modern culture. The idea that Genesis 1-2 is myth is often viewed as the beginning of a slippery slope leading to heresy. However, the idea that the Genesis creation account utilizes the genre of myth does not have to be viewed as heretical. Myth is simply one possible way to convey truth, and it must be stressed that myth does not always equate to fictional fantasy, although that is one possible usage of the term. Gregory Schrempp points out the diverse uses of myth:
“Myth” refers to colorful stories that tell about the origins of humans and the cosmos. Attitudes towards myth vary greatly. Some regard it as a source of spiritual growth, while others see only falsehood. Some see in myth the distinct character of particular cultures, while others see universal patterns. Some regard myth as “contemporary” and “alive,” while others think of it as “ancient” and/or “dead.”
Usages of Myth
Howard Marshall makes the point that the term “myth” has four nuances, with any or all applying to a given situation. First, a myth may simply be a non-literal story which attempts to explain the origin of something in a manner which avoids the modern understanding of science and history. Therefore, myth may be considered “pre-scientific,” or representing the truth of origins apart from scientific and historical facts. This usage of the term certainly may apply to Genesis 1-2. However, since our modern culture places a premium on the latest scientific findings and facts, this usage of myth often has a negative connotation.
Secondly, myth may depict some aspect of the human experience in the form of a story about the past. This usage of the term definitely applies to Genesis 1-2.
Thirdly, a myth may be a story which is presented in symbolic terms, and therefore has a poetic or emotional appeal. This meaning of the term lends itself to continual reinterpretation in the light of fresh experiences and new discoveries. Being that Genesis was composed approximately three and a half millennia ago, this is an extremely important point when referring to Genesis creation.
Lastly, myth is often used to refer to any type of story which involves the gods or other supernatural actors. This is often the definition of myth that people associate with the term today. Of course, God – the only uncreated Supreme Being – as well as our newly-created original parents are the figures featured in Genesis 1-2, and as such this fourth usage of the term applies to biblical origins as well.
Marshall also stresses the point that myth does not automatically render judgment on the truth or falsity of a story, but rather serves only as a specific literary genre capable of revealing truth in a non-literal manner. In our modern world, many have come to associate myth with false stories such as Zeus and the gods of Mount Olympus. However, that is just one possible usage of the term – which clearly does not apply to Genesis 1-2.
Mary Magoulick offers several important uses of the term “myth” as well; three of them are exceptionally important for our understanding of Genesis 1-2. First, myths are narratives of cosmogony, connected with the foundation or origin of the universe and key beings within the cosmos, though often specifically in terms of a particular culture or region. Given the connection to origins, the setting is typically primordial, and characters are proto-human or deific.
Secondly, myths are narratives of a sacred nature, often connected with some ritual. Myths are often foundational or key narratives associated with religions. These narratives are believed to be true from within the associated faith system, though sometimes that truth is understood to be metaphorical rather than literal.
Thirdly, mythic narratives often involve heroic characters (possibly proto-humans, super humans, or gods) who mediate over troubling situations, reconcile us to our realities, or establish the patterns for life as we know it. Needless to say, all three uses of the term “myth” by Magoulick are readily applicable to Genesis 1-2.
The Characteristics of Myth
Magoulick goes on to list several characteristics of myth, many of which will be discussed. First, myth may be a story that is, or was, considered to be a true explanation of the natural world, and how it came to be. This characteristic clearly applies to Genesis creation, which reveals the origin of the universe, the earth, life, and humanity.
Secondly, the characters in myth are often non-human, such as gods, goddesses, supernatural beings, the first people, etc. Of course, the three main characters in Genesis 1-2 are God, who is a supernatural being, and Adam and Eve, the first people.
Thirdly, the setting in myth is often a previous proto-world which is somewhat like this one, yet different in some manner. Genesis 1-2 describes the initial state of the world, prior to the fall of humanity. Certainly the world before the fall of humanity is a different world than the one we live in today.
Fourthly, the plot in myth may involve interplay between this world and the previous or original world. Although not found in Genesis 1-2, Scripture has much to say about the effects of the fall of humanity, and how it has affected our relationship to God and with one another. This is, of course, a major theme in Scripture, forming the basis for the salvation message.
Fifthly, myth may be a metaphysical explanation of the universe, which is formative of worldview. Genesis 1-2 provides us with the true explanation of the origins of the universe, and the theistic worldview is founded upon the existence of the transcendent Creator-God first established in Genesis 1-2.
A sixth characteristic of myth is that it is often a metaphoric, narrative consideration or explanation of ontology, which is the study of “being.” Myth seeks to answer the questions, “Why are we here?” “Who are we?” “What is our purpose?” etc. Life’s fundamental questions are often addressed through myth. The Genesis record of creation offer answers to these key questions of existence. Origins, purpose, the theistic basis for morality, and (by extension) eternal destiny are addressed in Genesis 1-2.
It is clear that the genre of myth, as based upon the uses and characteristics described above, applies to Genesis 1-2. For that matter, the entire prologue of Genesis is arguably rooted in the genre of myth. The single most important question regarding the usage of myth is whether or not the point it makes is valid. For instance, if the overview of biblical creation began with the proclamation that the gods formed the world from pre-existent matter, we would know, based on the remainder of Scripture and the discoveries of modern science, that this is an incorrect theological statement and is nothing short of the fictional, fantasy-type usage of myth. Since Scripture opens with the statement, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and we can readily see that this statement is continuous with the remainder of Scripture and is supported by modern scientific discoveries and philosophical reasoning, we can be confident that the account of origins found in Genesis is a statement of theological truth – whether in literal or non-literal form.
Is Myth a Stand-Alone Genre or a Sub-Category of Poetry?
Carlson and Longman make the point that Jesus extensively used a close relative of myth in his teachings: the genre we call parable. Since Jesus addressed many topics that his audiences had not yet experienced, he had to reveal these important theological truths in a manner which the people could comprehend. His version of non-literal story or myth served that purpose. Certainly Jesus taught only truth; in fact, Jesus himself is the sole source of truth (John 14:6). If Jesus himself used parable to teach the masses, then parables’ close relative myth is also a legitimate expression in Christian theology.
In conclusion, the Genesis creation account provides a theological foundation for the entirety of Scripture. It is not necessary for Genesis 1-2 to promote the belief in a young earth, or an old earth, or a gap of millions or even billions of years between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, or any other theory of origins. The key points are that the one true God created the universe, bringing time, space and matter/energy into existence at a definite point in the distant past. God created in an orderly manner, through stages (the “days” of creation), and the various life forms that God created have the ability to exhibit diversity – but not change from one type of life form into another (e.g., plant to animal to human). Lastly, God created human beings, the pinnacle of his creation, to rule over the earth (Genesis 1:28). Compared to the beliefs of their pagan neighbors, the Hebrew’s were the only people group who knew the truth about origins – which is confirmed by modern science. Moses, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, provided his people with the truth about God and creation, which also served as a theological corrective for the erroneous beliefs of the surrounding nations and tribes. The Genesis creation account is not only theologically correct, but also served the ancient Hebrew’s well in that the account was scientifically and historically understandable by them. Although it is not a detailed, scientifically-precise account by modern standards, Genesis 1-2 does, through the genre of non-literal story or myth, convey to us the truth of theistic creatio ex nihilo.
On a personal note, I still have very serious reservations about Darwinian macroevolution, based predominately upon scientific reasons for rejecting the theory. However, the idea that the Genesis creation account falls under the genre of non-literal story or myth frees me to consider with an open mind the various claims that mainstream science proposes – barring naturalism, of course. Although it is possible that the universe and the earth are slightly younger than scientists claim, the proposition that the universe and the earth are only a few thousand years old is a scientifically erroneous as well as biblically unnecessary notion that has been a stumbling block for many seekers of truth, and more than a few earnest seekers have rejected the Christian faith based upon an argument with a well-meaning, but narrowly-focused, believer. Surely it is best to first convince someone of the truth that God created everything, and only then encourage the person to consider the different theories of origins proposed by the various “camps.” The assertion that the Genesis creation account is expressing theological truths through the genre of non-literal story or myth eliminates the need to try to fit modern scientific discoveries into the rigid confines of a literal interpretation of Genesis.
Although the proposition that the genre of myth is utilized in Genesis 1-2 may be offensive to many well-meaning Christians, once the definitions of myth are clearly understood those objections should be eased. Myth serves as a useful method of conveying theological truth, in some ways very similar to how Jesus utilized the genre of parable in his teachings.
Alexander, Denis. Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? Grand Rapids, MI: Monarch Books, 2008.
“Ancient Canaanites” (author unknown). Bible History Online. http://www.bible-history.com/archaeology/peoples/2-ancient-canaanite-bb.html
Carlson, Richard & Tremper Longman III. Science, Creation and the Bible. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010.
Couprie, Dirk L. “Anaximander.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://www.iep.utm.edu/anaximan/#H1
Guenther, Allen. “Creation: A Hermenuetical Study in Genesis 1:1-2:3.” Direction. http://www.directionjournal.org/article/?237
Magoulick, Mary. “What is Myth?” http://www.faculty.de.gcsu.edu/~mmagouli/defmyth.htm
McDowell, Sean & Jonathan Morrow. Is God Just a Human Invention? Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2010.
Miller, Johnny V. & John M. Soden. In the Beginning…We Misunderstood: Interpreting Genesis 1 in Its Original Context. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012.
Rhodes, Ron. Answering the Objections of Atheists, Agnostics, & Skeptics. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2006.
 The typical story is, of course, the believing student who encounters the skeptical professor – but my story never seems to be typical! For that, I thank God.
 Some, however, may be inclined to insert deistic evolution between atheistic and theistic evolution. I fully appreciate the category of deistic evolution, but others may argue that there are varying levels of divine involvement within theistic evolution, and that the designation “deistic evolution” merely describes one end of the spectrum of theistic evolution. Since many of the Christians, and especially the seekers, that I have entered into dialogue with are often confused by the different “ism’s” involved in a study of comparative beliefs, I tend to keep it simple and use only atheistic and theistic evolution.
 In all fairness, however, the pendulum swings both ways: I have witnessed more than a few old earth creationists take cheap shots at their young earth challengers. It is no wonder that Richard Dawkins has stated that Christians save their best battles for each other.
 Although I agreed with many of Hugh Ross’ ideas, especially those in the area of cosmology, astronomy, and the earth sciences, I found that I could not easily accept the old earth creationist view of human origins. This is when I began to realize the merit of considering the evidence for all of the Christian views on origins.
 Richard Carlson & Tremper Longman III, Science, Creation and the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010), 13-14.
 Ibid., 27.
 This ordering may be disputed, but the basic idea is that young earth creationism is at one end of the spectrum, while atheistic evolution is at the other end. On that note, all should be in agreement.
 Carlson & Longman, 26.
 I must add that I personally have never come across an Intelligent Design proponent that did not believe in an old earth scenario of origins, and in that regard there is a very close relationship between old earth creationism and Intelligent Design.
 Once again, the author is quick to point out that there are huge differences in how young earth and old earth creationists read Genesis 1-2, with young earth creationists being the only undisputed “literalists” among the various “camps.”
 Carlson & Longman, 26.
 The cosmological, teleological, ontological, and moral arguments – considered by many biblical scholars and theologians to be the four standard theistic arguments – should lead one to the undeniable conclusion that God exists, although these lines of evidence from natural theology allow for various “versions” of God, including the generic “God of the philosophers.”
 Carlson & Longman, 27.
 Ibid., 13.
 Denis Alexander, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? (Grand Rapids, MI: Monarch Books, 2008), 151.
 Ibid., 151-152.
 Carlson & Longman, 14.
 I am, of course, making the assumption that Moses was the author of Genesis; the Mosaic authorship of Genesis is a very ancient tradition that has become widely accepted. Marvin Lubenow, in Bones of Contention: A Creationist Assessment of Human Fossils (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1992), pp. 213-214 suggests that it is most likely that Moses composed Genesis by editing together many documents that go much further back into the historical record. Interestingly, Carlson and Longman (p. 111) suggest that Ezra may have been the final editor of Genesis.
 Carlson & Longman, 17.
 Genesis 1:1, NIV.
 Darwinism is, in its broadest sense, divided into two main branches – macroevolution and microevolution. Macroevolution is the concept that one biblical “kind” of life form can, over a great amount of time, become a different “kind.” Microevolution, on the other hand, states that each individual “kind” has the capacity to exist in a variety of forms, yet all of the individual forms are nonetheless the same type (“kind”) of living creature. Macroevolution is debatable, as it seems to deny that living creatures reproduce “according to their kinds” (Genesis 1:11-12; 1:21; 1:24-25). Microevolution, on the other hand, is a proven fact of biology, and is certainly biblical in that it supports reproduction of living creatures “according to their kinds.” Microevolution is, in general, the only non-debatable aspect of Darwinism.
 Dirk L. Couprie, “Anaximander.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://www.iep.utm.edu/anaximan/#H1 (accessed February 16, 2013).
 Carlson & Longman, 27.
 Alexander, 161-163. It should be noted, however, that Alexander is a proponent of theistic evolution, and therefore is in disagreement with my fourth point concerning the plausibility of Darwinian macroevolution.
 Allen Guenther, “Creation: A Hermeneutical Study in Genesis 1:1-2:3.” Direction. http://www.directionjournal.org/article/?237 (accessed February 16, 2013).
 Johnny V. Miller & John M. Soden, In the Beginning…We Misunderstood: Interpreting Genesis 1 in Its Original Context (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012), 77-144.
 Joshua 24:14, NIV.
 Acts 7:22, NIV.
 Miller & Soden, 77.
 Ibid., 78.
 Ibid., 113.
 Ibid., 114.
 Ibid., 139.
 Ibid., 78.
 Or possibly Re, Amun, or Ptah – the name may change, but the role of creator-god always remains the same in Egyptian cosmogony.
 However, many theists are quick to point out either (1) God only mentions the sun on Day Four, or (2) the sun was already in existence at some point in the billions of years that are included within Day One, but becomes visible to an observer on the earth only during Day Four. Needless to say, there are many uncertainties involved in lining up the events of modern scientific cosmology with the steps (“days”) in Genesis creation.
 Miller & Soden, 85.
 A vizier was the highest official in the ancient Near East who served the king or pharaoh.
 Miller & Soden, 114.
 Ibid., 139-140.
 Henotheism is the exclusive worship of one deity, while also recognizing the existence of other deities. Monotheism, on the other hand, is the belief that only one true deity exists.
 Miller & Soden, 79.
 Ibid., 114.
 Ibid., 140.
 Ibid., 80.
 Ibid., 123-124.
 Ibid., 122.
 Ron Rhodes, Answering the Objections of Atheists, Agnostics, & Skeptics (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2006), 254.
 “Ancient Canaanites” (author unknown). Bible History Online. http://www.bible-history.com/archaeology/peoples/2-ancient-canaanite-bb.html (accessed February 25, 2013).
 Sean McDowell & Jonathan Morrow, Is God Just a Human Invention? (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2010), 177.
 Other genres’ have been proposed, but these are considered to be the basic genres’ found throughout Scripture, according to several different resources.
 Hebrews 1:1, NIV (emphasis mine).
 Alexander, 153-154.
 Mary Magoulick, “What is Myth?” http://www.faculty.de.gcsu.edu/~mmagouli/defmyth.htm (accessed February 17, 2013).
 Carlson & Longman, 60.
 Magoulick (accessed February 17, 2013).
 The prologue of Genesis is chapters 1-11, which describes “primordial” (the most ancient) history. Demonstrating that myth is the genre of the entire Genesis prologue is beyond the scope of this paper, but should be considered by the reader.
 Carlson & Longman, 60.
 Genesis 1:1, NIV.
 Carlson & Longman, 61.