Genesis 1: No Need For Metaphor

Ray Butterworth     71212246     RS 390B   1999 November 1


Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
RSV — Revised Standard Version, Copyright © 1952
CEV — Contemporary English Version, Copyright © 1995, American Bible Society.
NASB — New American Standard Bible, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, The Lockman Foundation

1. Introduction

1.2 Thesis

If we take the Bible as literal truth, being careful to avoid allowing traditional teachings to influence our interpretation, it will present a view that is both self-consistent and consistent with the scientific understanding of the world.

In particular I dispute statements made during lectures that Genesis 1 cannot be reconciled with reality without either being treated as allegory, or using contrived theories such as 7000 year-long days.

If we are willing to drop our preconceived notions about what the Bible says, and instead try to understand what it actually does and does not say, we will find something that is very much in accord with science and history.

1.3 Assumptions

1.3.1 Scripture

All scripture can be considered as literal truth except where metaphor is explicit (e.g. Jesus's parables).

It should not be considered literal word-for-word dictation from God. Rather, scripture comprises divinely inspired writings told from the point of view of their human authors.

The mechanisms involved could be voices or visions of other times and situations. The author has written a true representation of what he has been shown or told, but can describe things only in terms of his own experience (e.g. someone from two thousand years ago, shown military helicopters and not knowing what they are, might very well describe them as being like locusts with iron scales, and having wings that sound like many chariots and horses running into battle.)

The scriptures are of course subject to translation and transliteration errors, as well as occasional blatant insertions (e.g. 1John 5:7 KJV) or biased translations (e.g. Mark 7:19 RSV, or Acts 12:4 KJV), but they may be considered as fundamentally correct.

1.3.2 Interpretation

Individual pieces of scripture are often ambiguous or vague. Under the assumption that all scripture is true, we should never claim a specific meaning for a scripture without making sure that it harmonizes with all other scriptures. (1Thessalonians 5:21 Test all things; hold fast what is good.; Acts 17:11 These were more noble …, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.);

We may combine the knowledge given by several scriptures to determine the consistent truth that they contain. This is especially important when several authors describe the same events (e.g. the four gospels, or various visions of the end of the world). What each witness has seen or heard might be different from what the others have observed, but their descriptions are complementary, not contradictory.

1.3.3 Tradition

It is also important not to confuse scripture with beliefs learned from other sources. Traditional beliefs, such as the Easter and Christmas myths or tales of heaven and hell, can easily distort our understanding of scripture, so it is very important to be aware of the sources of our own beliefs.

In particular, it is these traditional interpretations that very often cause apparent contradictions or inconsistencies in scripture. The problems are not internal scriptural inconsistencies, but conflicts between the scriptural truth and the traditional interpretation.

For instance, the only proof Jesus offered that he was the Christ (Matthew 12:40) directly contradicts the Good-Friday / Easter-Sunday story. But that doesn't mean that the scripture is wrong, or that he failed to prove he was the messiah; it simply means that the traditional myth taught by most nominal Christian churches is wrong.

That might sound a strong claim, but in such verses as Matthew 7:14, Matthew 7:22 and Matthew 7:23 Jesus said that the true church would be small, with the majority of the world sincerely following a false gospel and worshiping him in vain:

Because narrow is the gate; and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in your name? And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!.

and in Matthew 7:15 and Matthew 24:4-5,11 he warned of a false gospel:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly, they are ravenous wolves.
[…] Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying [that] I am the Christ, and will deceive many. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.

Only a few decades later, the apostles could see their church corrupted by Greek philosophy and other pagan beliefs and practices, and were at a loss knowing what to do about it, as we can see in 2Peter 2:1:

[…] there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them and bring on themselves swift destruction.

Jude 3,4:

[…] contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness, and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Acts 20:29-30:

For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.

and 2Corinthians 11:4:

For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted — you may well put up with it!

It is only once we are willing to unlearn the many falsehoods that usurp the name Christianity that we can begin to learn the truth.

2. Genesis 1:1

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

In the beginning

While some scientific theories suggest that there was no beginning, that creation is a continuous process, the most commonly accepted view is that the universe began some ten to twenty billion years ago. What, if anything, existed before that beginning, or even if time itself existed is not known.

While the Bible does claim knowledge of what existed before the beginning, it makes no claims that would contradict the apparent age of the universe.

In the beginning God

The Hebrew word translated here as God is elohim, the im suffix indicating a plural word (as in cherubim). This plurality agrees with John 1:1-2:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.

In the beginning God created

And it was this Word (or spokesman), Christ, that performed the actual creation, as we can see in John 1:3:

All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.

Colossians 1:16:

For by Him [Christ] all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth […].
All things were created through Him and for Him.

and Hebrews 1:2-3:

[God] has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power […]

and with Jesus's own claim, in John 8:57-58, that he himself was the JHVH of the Hebrew scriptures:

Then the Jews said to Him, You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?. Jesus said to them, Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.

which was considered so blasphemous that those that heard attempted to kill him for uttering it, the reference being to his earlier declaration of this name in Exodus 3:14:

And God said to Moses, I AM WHO I AM. And He said This you shall say to the children of Israel, I AM has sent me to you.

It is important to keep in mind that the man who was Jesus in the Greek scriptures is also the god who was JHVH in the Hebrew scriptures, just as it is important to keep in mind that the gospel message that Jesus and the disciples taught was read from those same Hebrew scriptures, not the Greek, which were written decades later.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth

The word heavens is sometimes translated as the singular heaven, but the original Hebrew word is shamayim, and like elohim, it too is a plural word. Depending upon context, there are three meanings to this word. The first heaven is simply the earth's air, the second is space beyond the atmosphere, and the third is the location of God's throne (2Corinthians 12:2 up to the third heaven).

Before the physical creation, there were already created spirit beings known as Angels, and symbolically referred to as stars in Job 38:4,7 and elsewhere:

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? […]
When the morning stars [(Lucifer?'s) Angels] sang together
And all the sons of God [(the other) Angels] shouted for joy?

Note that sons of is not meant literally (as a reference to Christ would be) but a Hebrew idiom indicating those characterized by, as in sons of disobedience.

These angels were lead by three archangels, Gabriel, Lucifer, and Michael.

3. Genesis 1:2

The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

The earth was

Notice that even though the word was frequently appears in italics, to indicate that it was supplied by the translators, the first use in this verse isn't italicized since there is a Hebrew word from which it has been directly translated. In Hebrew, if a simple state of being is intended, the verb to be is omitted. But in this case, the word doesn't indicate a state of being, as it does in English, but also a change of state. The New International Version has a footnote indicating that it could have been translated as became, and the same Hebrew word is used in Genesis 19:26: […] became a pillar of salt.

The earth was without form, and void

Many translations use without form and void or other similar expressions, but the translators may have been influenced by the Greek belief that the universe originated from chaos. The same Hebrew word for void, bohu, is translated in Isaiah 34:11 as emptiness in reference to a land that has been destroyed, while the word for without form, tohu, is translated in other verses, such as Deuteronomy 32:10, Job 12:24, Psalms 107:40, and Isaiah 24:10, and 41:29 as ruin, waste, desert, empty place, confusion, and wilderness. The Contemporary English Version renders this verse as:

The earth was barren, with no form of life;

More significantly, Isaiah 45:18 uses the same word tohu:

For thus says the LORD,
Who created the heavens […],
Who formed the earth and made it […],
Who did not create it in vain [tohu] […]

providing further indication that this is not how God originally created the world, but how it later became. The RSV has did not create it a chaos, while the NASB has did not create it a waste place.

The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep.

Between verses 1 and 2 is a long period of time during which the earth must have teemed with life, as evidenced by the fossils of dinosaurs and other extinct creatures. But what was it that turned God's creation from perfection to darkness and desolation?

One thing God cannot create is character. Free will is something shared by both angels and man, who must freely choose to do God's will. Lucifer, and a third of the angels (Revelation 12:4), chose to rebel against God (Revelation 12:7-9):

And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

It was the ensuing conflict and Lucifer's ejection from heaven that caused such massive damage to the earth.

Isaiah 14:12 refers to these events while comparing the king of Babylon to Lucifer:

How you are fallen from heaven,
O Lucifer, son of the morning!
How you are cut down to the ground,
You who weakened the nations!
For you have said in your heart:
I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;
I will sit on the mount of the congregation
On the farthest sides of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will be like the Most High.

and Ezekiel 28:12-15 compares (perhaps sorrowfully) the king of Tyre:

[…] You were the seal of perfection,
Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
You were in Eden, the garden of God; […]
You were the anointed cherub who covers; […]
You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created,
Till iniquity was found in you.

Jesus referred to this in Luke 10:18:

I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven

Peter in 2Peter 2:4:

[…] God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to [Tartarus] and delivered them into chains of darkness […]

and Jude in Jude 6:

And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgement of the great day;

But even though rejected by God, Satan still remains in charge of the earth. John 12:31, John 14:30, John 16:11, 2Corinthians 4:4, Ephesians 2:2 refer to him as the ruler of this world, the god of this age, etc. And in Luke 4:5-6 Satan claimed to have authority over all nations:

Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, All this authority I will give to You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.

Jesus's non-denial of Satan's claim confirms that Satan does hold such power.

4. Genesis 1:3-5

Then God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.

Even though perfect character cannot be created, God can create beings capable of using their free will to develop such character in themselves. But unlike the angels, man would be a physical being, mortal instead of immortal, and subject to permanent termination should he choose to go against God's will. As Ezekiel 18:20 says The soul who sins shall die […].

But first God had to clean up the nuclear winter mess that the earth had been turned into. On this first day he allowed sunlight to once again begin warming up the earth.

5. Genesis 1:6-8

Then God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day.

Then on the second day, the dense clouds lifted, opening an expanse (the Hebrew word means expanse) between them and the ocean.

6. Genesis 1:9-13

Then God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth; and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. So the evening and the morning were the third day.

On the third day, God lifted the continents from the ocean, then cleaned them with rain and mist (Genesis 2:6), allowing plants to grow again.

Science agrees that grass (grains), fruit-trees, etc. did not exist until very recently. Their creation was a necessary prerequisite for humanity; man could not have survived very well in the pre-Adamic world.

7. Genesis 1:14-19

Then God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons and for days and years; And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth; and it was so. Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. So the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

By the fourth day, the atmosphere had cleared, exposing the second heaven's expanse. The word translated as made is not the same Hebrew word that is elsewhere translated as created. Rather than creation it connotes ordination or designation to a specific purpose. The moon, stars, etc. had existed for eons, but now they had a purpose.

Also note that these days, as indicated by one period of night and one of daylight, could not have been different from a 24 hour day. Plants need sunlight to live, and while they can survive a short time without it, they certainly can't survive for thousands of years as some suggest.

8. Genesis 1:20-23

Then God said, Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens. So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth. So the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

On the fifth day, sea life and birds were created. Again note that birds and the fish that mankind eats did not exist until very recently.

9. Genesis 1:24-25

Then God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind; and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind. And God saw the it was good.

On the sixth day, animal life was created. Many plants need animal life to propagate; they could have survived years without them, but definitely not millennia.

Again note that cattle, sheep, etc. require grass, another recent creation necessary to make the earth habitable by man.

10. Genesis 1:26-31

Then God said, Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth. And God said, See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food; and it was so. Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

Other versions translate fill as replenish, a word that implies refilling something that has been emptied.

And along with the animals, God created mankind, the ultimate reason for the creation. We were created in his image, to develop his character, to reproduce and ultimately to become his literal sons, sharing his power and immortality. See Hebrews 2.

11. Genesis 2:1-3

Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

Finally, God created his sabbath as a symbol to remind men of the (re)creation and their place in it. Everything was done for man, so that man might fulfill his ultimate purpose of allowing God to reproduce himself.

12. Summary

A literal interpretation of the Bible not only allows for an indefinite period of time between its first two verses, its many references to such a time require it.

During this period, life flourished under Lucifer, who eventually rebelled against God, and (at least once) life was destroyed and the earth devastated.

In seven literal 24-hour days, God recreated the surface of the earth and repopulated it with life suitable for a human world.

The scientific and historical record does not significantly contradict these circumstances.