Genesis and Science

Outline

Introduction
Purpose of the Text
CreationVerbs
Frame of Reference
Stage 1
Stage 2
Stage 3
Stage 4
Stage 5
Stage 6
God Rests
Hamonization
Genesis 2 and the Creation of Man
Conclusions

Introduction

A common objection to biblical creation I’ve encountered from skeptics is the claim that the sequence of events as described in Genesis does not match the sequence of events extrapolated from the scientific data. This article seeks to examine and explicate the account of creation given in the Christian scripture and ascertain what it does and does not say about the events which occurred and the order in which they occurred. In the conclusion I will attempt to answer the question of whether conflicts exist and, if so, how problematic they are.

The interpretive perspective is that of an old-creation model and may not exactly match the interpretation offered by other Christians, particularly those who hold to a young-creation interpretation. That said, the interpretation is not materially dependent on any particular age of the earth – the primary focus is the specific events and any sequence of them required by the text. Some of the material presented is already covered in other articles but is included when that seems appropriate.

Purpose of the Text

It is first necessary to make clear that the purpose of the scriptural account of creation is not to provide a scientific exposition God’s creative endeavor. Rather, it’s to establish that God, and God alone, is the author and sovereign of all creation, and man is uniquely created in God’s image to be his regent on earth. Genesis chapters 1 through 3 document creation from the perspective of mankind, the preparation of his habitat, the complete provision for mankind’s every need and desire, and their subsequent fall from their appointed place as a result of choosing moral determinism independent of God’s rule instead of eternal life in submission to God.

Therefore, the account of creation is not a science textbook and should not be treated as one. We should not expect scientific or technical terms and descriptions, but rather commonplace and phenominological ones. That is the language of scripture is not one of technical specifics, but of mankind’s everyday experience. What is striking in that, however, is just how often the scripture uses terms which are surprisingly accurate to the technical reality even while using the everyday language of an ancient people. We should not consider this as shoehorning science into scripture but as recognizing how God made his revelation relevant to peoples and cultures from ancient to modern.

But it should be possible to harmonize the account with the knowledge of creation which we acquire through observation and logical extrapolation. At some points we may need to concede that our knowledge is yet limited and less that certain (and it may always be). It is my hope to demonstrate that the purported glaring and insurmountable inconsistencies between our scientific knowledge of earth history and the biblical account of creation do not, in fact, exist.

Note, particularly, that while the succession of days clearly implies a sequence of events, within the creation “days” there is no specific sequence implied in the order in which things are listed unless there is a “Then…” construct.

Creation Verbs

Although I have discussed these in other articles, it is crucial to understand that there are four verbs used to describe the creative acts of God in Genesis 1-2:

bara Created : Used exclusively in scripture to describe acts performed by God, this word describes things coming into existence for the first time, not formed from any pre-existing materials. Used for the creation of the “heavens and the earth” in 1:1, the sea creatures, swarming creatures and flying creatures in 1:21, mankind in 1:27 and for the whole creative process in 2:4.
asah Made : A generic verb meaning “to do” or “to make”. Used for actions by both God and humans. Implies a reforming of existing materials into a new form, with the connotations of mixing and combining. In particular, this verb refers to an action that could have taken place at any time up to the point in the narrative where it’s used. Used for the making of the celestial bodies in 1:16, the “beasts of the field” in 1:25 and mankind in 1:26.
hayah Let there be : Connotes allowing a process to run its course. It can involve the supernatural direction of natural processes. Used of light in 1:3, the “expanse” in 1:6 and the celestial bodies in 1:14-15. I find it fascinating that in each case what is being described are possibly changes to Earth’s atmospheric makeup.
yasar Formed : Used twice in Genesis 2. It has the sense of molding a substance into the desired shape. The concept is very much that of a potter working clay (a particularly apt comparison given the context). Used of mankind in 2:7-8 and of the beasts of the field and birds in 2:19.

The subtleties of these Hebrew words have significant implications for understanding what the text actually claims. Since the English translation is completely consistent with respect to the Hebrew words, subsequent references will be to the English not the Hebrew so as not to necessitate backtracking by those unfamiliar with the Hebrew terms. But it’s important to note that the English words/phrases may convey different connotations than does the Hebrew text. Most readers approach the text never noticing that different words are used for different actions.

Pay paticular attention to the use of “God made” which can have a pluperfect complete tense. That is, it can equally infer “had made” or “had already made” and requires only that the thing has been accomplished by that point in the narrative.

Narrative Frame of Reference

1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Genesis 1:1-2 (ESV)

The linguistic style of Genesis chapters 1 and 2 are that of a narrative; in order to properly interpret them it’s vitally important to first establish the frame-of-reference provided for the narrative.

Genesis 1:1 describes, in sweeping form, the creation of all space, time, energy and matter from nothing. In biblical language the “heavens and the earth” describes the totality of this creation.

Genesis 1:2 marks a transition to the development of planet Earth becoming the focus of the narrative. Biblical scholars are in almost unanimous agreement that between verse 1 and verse 2 there is a clear break in the narrative and, furthermore, that the break allows an indeterminate and undisclosed amount of time to have elapsed. In one short sentence, the Bible describes the creation of the entire universe and then shifts gear to bring us to the important part of the story, the formation of mankind’s home, Earth.

Further, verse 2 establishes that the planet was in a primitive, primordial state, covered in water and swaddled in darkness – “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep”. Job chapter 38:4 ff, indisputably talking about creation, states, “4 ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? … 9 when I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band’” – this well describes the type of atmosphere we see on primitive planets, such as that of Venus; so dense that no light can reach the planet’s surface. Psalm 104:6 describes the initial Earth as a water world, covered “with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.” The Hebrew phrase translated “formless and void” describes the Earth as a useless space, a place of desolation, wastedness, and chaos. The planet was fully formed, but it was shrouded in darkness, covered in water, empty of life and unfit for life.

Lastly, verse 2 establishes a frame of reference for the following narrative as being at or near the surface of the planet – “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Understanding this point is critical in properly understanding what follows; that being the progressive development of planet Earth as a habitat for life, and ultimately for human beings, in which development God was explicitly involved, every step of the way.

Stage 1

3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Genesis 1:3-5 (ESV)

A process is initiated by God, and the end result is that some significant amount of light is now reaching the surface of the planet. This process may be understood to have caused a thinning of the atmosphere from opaque (a “swaddling” “darkness”) to translucent.

This light was apparently that of the Sun with the result being a day/night cycle as a result of the Earth’s rotation. At this point the heavenly bodies, the sun, the moon and the stars are not visible in the sky.

Stage 2

6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. 8 And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

Genesis 1:6-8 (ESV)

Another process, following on the heels of the atmospheric thinning, and perhaps even overlapping part of that process, the water on the face of the planet is separated from the atmospheric vapor which now recedes into the upper atmosphere. This would result in conditions which allow a water cycle to operate between the water on the planet and the water in the atmosphere.

Stage 3

9 And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

Genesis 1:9-13 (ESV)

In a third process, the waters on the face of the planet, which heretofore entirely covered the surface (recall Psalm 104:6), recede (relatively speaking) and dry land “appears”. This is descriptive of tectonic activity causing the planetary crust to shift, rising in some places, perhaps falling in others, with the net effect of large masses of dry land arising as a result. The description is very much reminiscent of the prehisotoric succession of large super-continents, Vaalbara, Ur, Kenorland, Columbia, Rodinia, Pannotia, Pangea, etc.

The word used for gathering the waters is especially interesting in the sense of waiting that it implies – the Hebrew word is qavah, which literally means “wait” or “wait for”. Brown-Driver-Briggs suggest it’s root is in the idea of twisting and stretching, therefore connoting the “tension of enduring, waiting”. This is highly suggestive of a prolonged process.

The most difficult thing about the English text here is the apparent description of very advanced, complex vegetation. However once again the Hebrew words used offer a much broader understanding:

deshe Grass, herb, vegetation : Vegetation with connotations of “tender”, a sprout. Fresh grass, grass, green, herb, new grass, new growth, tender grass, vegetation.
eseb Grass, herb : Green vegetation.
zera Seed, offspring : Any plant that reproduces by seeding in the broadest sense of the word.
ets Tree, trees, wood : Any kind of stiff, fibrous plant.
peri Foliage, fruit, produce : Any kind of plant useful for food for any creature.

(Note that some of these words have even broader meanings, though for brevity only those pertaining to vegetation in some way are discussed.)

It’s also worth noting the sense of process implied in the description of the development of plants, “Let the earth sprout … The earth brought forth …” This is not the sense that “God said and poof!”, but rather that these things developed over time in the normal, natural way.

Stage 4

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights – the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night – and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

Genesis 1:14-19 (ESV)

Again, “Let there be” signals a process; this time the atmosphere thins from translucent to transparent and the celestial objects become visible to the naked eye for the first time.

It’s worth reiterating that the phrase “God made” speaks of an action that was previously completed at some point prior to “now” in the narrative. It might be better understood by a modern English reader as “God had already made”. That is, we are being told only that God had made the celestial bodies at some point before this, not (necessarily) that they were made at this point, on day 4.

Also important is the reason given for these lights becoming visible, “for seasons, and for days and years”. That is, they are seasonal markers. Since what follows next is the creation of higher life forms, the appearance of the celestial objects is well timed for the animals that depend on them for their biological cycles. The celestial object are not God’s to be served by mankind, but creations of God designed to serve mankind.

It seems fair to me from the way these events are described to conclude that the sun, moon and stars were already in existence and were now revealed for the first time with respect to would-be creatures dwelling on the surface of earth. In this case we can reasonably infer the pluperfect meaning of “God had already made”, since the creation of the lights was already spoken of as completed: “Let there be lights… and it was so.”

An alternative harmonization for this day is the time immediately following the Cretacious-Paleogene extinction event. Scientists theorize that this massive impact from an asteroid would have had catastrophic effects on the global environment, including an extended “impact winter” which would have made it impossible for plants and plankton to carry out photosynthesis. Following this event, the sky’s would have been darkened for an extended period of time. If using this harmonization theory, this and the following days are pushed forward to 65 MYA and Days 5 and 6 describe the repopulation of earth with mammals as the dominant life-form.

Stage 5

20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

Genesis 1:20-23 (ESV)

Next comes the creation of what seems to be aquatic life and aerial life.

There is an interesting choice of words here translated “swarms of living creatures”. The Hebrew words employed are:

sherets Swarming things, teeming
nephesh A soul, living being, that which breathes
chay Alive, living, moving, active

While the noun sherets could easily apply to everthing from plankton to large fish (which do in fact behave in a collective manner), the word nephesh is usually applied to those creatures which manifest some degree of emotion and relational attachment; in scripture this is particularly applied to those animals which are capable of forming bonds with humans. It therefore strikes me as unexpected that sherets and nephesh should refer to the same kind of creatures; it could be a reference to the great diversity of all aquatic fauna which is in motion.

This idea is reinforced by vs 21, “every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm”. Taken together with chay, in context these verses seem to convey the entire breadth of aquatic life which moves about from tiny creatures, to schooling fish all the way through to the large mammalian creatures – rich, diverse, teeming, abundant life.

The word translated birds is owph, which means broadly, “flying creatures, fowl, insects, birds” with the most common usage being for birds; in this context “bird” might be too specific and the ESV gives “flying things” as an alternative, which would then convey a much broader idea, “let flying things fly above the earth … every winged flying thing …”. The word could thus easily refer to flying creatures both small and large, which would actually be quite consistent with the description of the preceding description of acquatic life.

The biblical concept of “kind” is uncertain and vague and certainly doesn’t coincide nicely with any taxonomic term used in biology. The statement that creatures are created according to their “kind” suggests the capability for diversity within the creation, but with natural limits. This turns out to be significant because when the creatures of God reproduce, the result is another creature with essentially the same nature as it’s parents. This suggests a potential for God’s creatures to “evolve”, that is to diversify and change over time, but with divinely established limits to that potential.

The principle thing to note here is that the Hebrew terms for both kinds of life being described seem to cover the broad spectrum of aquatic and flying life. Again, the idea is not to describe every kind of life with scientific precision, but to refer to exemplers which which the majority of humans would be familiar which would convey the intended meaning.

But, again, the use of nephesh makes me consider pushing the date of Days 4 through 6 to the time of the mammals.

Stage 6

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds – livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

2831 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Genesis 1:24-31 (ESV) – vss 28-30 elided as irrelevant for this article

The higher animals and mankind are created last.

Here again, as in vs 20, there is the critical specificity of nephesh chay, translated “living creatures”, literally living souls – that is the mammals. However an alternative is to consider this simply the “breathing” animals.

As with Day 5 the particular emphasis is on the nephesh animals which can form bonds with mankind, which can be tamed and set to a purpose and which can be made to serve the needs of mankind, for food, work and companionship. Note that this does not preclude earlier creation of reptiles, dinosaurs and various other land creatures some time earlier.

But it is then significant to me that the land animals that predate the mammals, indeed all those before the last great extinction event ca 65 MYA, would seem to go unmentioned. One possibility is that God wanted to emphasize to us, “every creature on which you depend to eke out your existence is provided by my direct benevolance. There is nothing you have which was not given by me.”

Once again we are told that the creatures are made “according to their kinds”, implying a limit to diversification, but the ability to diversify, nonetheless.

The conclusion of God’s creative acts, the pinnacle of God’s creation, is mankind. Created last and bearing the very image of God, to rule over creation – that is to be God’s regent here on Earth.

God Rests

1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

Genesis 2:1-4 (ESV)

The chapter division between Genesis 1 and 2 causes an artificial break in the English Bible which does not exist in the Hebrew. Thus the first verses of chapter 2 conclude the creation account in describing how God rests from his work of actively creating.

The work from which he rests is specifically that of creation. It’s pertinent that the seventh day has no boundary, which implies (but does not demand) that the seventh day has not ended. This is further reinforced by the words of Jesus in the gospel of John:

16 … this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

John 5:16-18 (ESV)

Since Jesus was justifying his working on the Sabbath because his father continues to work until “now”, the argument can only make sense if he meant that the Father continues to work on his Sabbath – the only Sabbath for the Father revealed in scripture is that of the seventh day of creation; his Sabbath rest from creating.

As well, Hebrews chapter four should arguably be understood to indicate that the seventh day of rest continues on. Since we will not enter into the rest spoken of in Hebrews until the passing of this world’s realm, I think the best way to understand the creation Sabbath is extending from the completion of creation until the ending of this universe. This could be understood to mean that we should expect to see no evidence of genuinely novel creatures after the appearance of mankind (specifically, homo sapiens sapiens), though this is not absolutely required.

The meta-creation-account concludes in Genesis 2:3.

Harmonization

So then, in summary we have the following creative acts documented in Genesis 1 in the following order.

All dates are approximate.

Principle Harmonization

The principle harmonization aligns Day 4 with the late Proterozoic era and Day 5 with the beginning of the Paleozoic era (Cambrian radiation event).

Genesis Account MYA Scientific Description
Verse 1 : Creation of the heavens and the earth 13,870 Big Bang; stellar development; solar system; Earth.
Verse 2 : Earth is formless, empty & dark. 4,550 Primordial Earth covered in water with a thick, dense, opaque atmosphere.
Day 1 : Atmosphere becomes translucent. 4,500 Moon collider; late heavy bombardment.
Day 2 : Separation of surface & atmospheric water. 3,800 Water cycle stabilizes following the LHB. First (microbial) life. Heavy cloud cover over whole planet.
Day 3 : Dry land. Vegetation, plants & trees. 3,500 Plate tectonics & volcanism now dominate; first photosynthetic life. Steadily increasing oxygen. Primitive vegetation.
Day 4 : Visible celestial objects. 650 Cloud cover breaks for the first time, making celestial bodies visible. Atmosphere approximates current conditions.
Day 5 : Breathing, moving aquatic & aerial life forms. 530 Cambrian radiation event, Early to late Paleozoic.
Day 6 : Breathing, moving land creatures. 380 Late Paleozoic through Mesozoic to Cenozoic.
Day 6b : Human beings. 0.100 Modern humans (homo sapiens sapiens).

Alternate Harmonization

The alternate harmonization aligns Day 4 with the time immediately following the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event (end of the dinosaurs) and Day 5 with rise of the mammals to dominance.

Genesis Account MYA Scientific Description
Verse 1 : Creation of the “heavens and the earth” 13,870 Big Bang; stellar development; solar system; Earth.
Verse 2 : Earth is formless, empty & dark. 4,550 Primordial Earth covered in water with a thick, dense, opaque atmosphere.
Day 1 : Atmosphere becomes translucent. 4,500 Moon collider; late heavy bombardment.
Day 2 : Separation of surface & atmospheric water. 3,800 Water cycle stabilizes following the LHB. First (microbial) life. Heavy cloud cover over whole planet.
Day 3 : Dry land. Vegetation, plants & trees. 3,500 Plate tectonics & volcanism now dominate; first photosynthetic life. Steadily increasing oxygen. Primitive vegetation.
Day 4 : Visible celestial objects. 650 | 65 Pre-Cambrian or after the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) extinction event cloud/smoke/ash cover breaks again, making celestial bodies visible as atmosphere again approximates current conditions.
Day 5 : Soulish aquatic & aerial life forms. ~65 Paleogene radiation of sea mammals & birds.
Day 6 : Soulish land creatures. ~65 Paleogene radiation of mammals.
Day 6b : Human beings. 0.100 Modern humans (homo sapiens sapiens).

Genesis 2 and the Creation of Man

Genesis 1 and 2 are not conflicting creation accounts, but complementary ones. Genesis 1 to 2:3 describes the big picture creation of the cosmos, from beginning to Adam and Eve. Then Genesis 2:4 onwards provides a detailed account of the creation of Adam and Eve at the end of Day 6.

Genesis 2, therefore, is not a retelling of the events of Genesis 1, but is instead a supplementary expansion of Genesis 1:26-27 with some additional details of the rest of creation included as relevant to the creation and significance of mankind. Where Genesis 1 simply documents that God created mankind and that as male and female we reflect God’s image, Genesis 2 documents the specific events surrounding the creation to show the reality and significance of mankind as a distinct creation and different from the animals.

The detailed account of the creation of mankind begins in verse 5 by way of introduction with a brief synopsis of the state of the land in which the next part of the narrative takes place:

5 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up – for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground – 7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Genesis 2:5-9 (ESV)

Key to understanding this passage is the translation of the Hebrew word erets, variously translated earth and land in Genesis 1 & 2. In some cases the use of “earth” implies to the English reader the whole globe, which is not at all what the Hebrew requires (and which misconception is sometimes exacerbated when it is capitalized in English translations, applying an interpretive bias which may not be warranted). So when Genesis 2:5 says there was “no bush of the field yet in the land” and the mist (or spring) was watering the “whole face of the ground” it can refer to only a limited geographical region – and this is certainly what is meant given the context; the region in question being that of Eden and it’s surrounds. Nothing in these verses implies or requires that the subject is the whole planet.

Therefore the geographical focus is Eden and the biological focus is mankind. This focus is entirely expected and appropriate for the one creation of God that was “in the image of God”. It fits very well in the overall narrative flow and sets the stage for telling how sin and death (for mankind) entered the world in the following chapter. Note that there is no indication anywhere in scripture that sin brought death for any part of creation except for mankind.

We are told that within this “land” of unspecified extent, God “formed” the first man, of “dust”, planted a garden and placed him in it to work and tend it. God caused the garden to be abundant with the kinds of plants that Adam needed for food – making the point that Adam had no physiological lack.

Here an element which is central to the overall narrative is introduced, that the garden also contained two very special trees, a tree of “life” and a tree of “the knowledge of good and evil”.

10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. 14 And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

Genesis 2:10-14 (ESV)

The scripture describes Eden as a place abundant with life and provision, a well watered paradise, making the point that Adam has no physical need which might drive him to eat from the forbidden tree.

The place names, of course, should not be considered to necessarily bear any relation to the names of modernity, though they may have been meaningful to the people of Moses’ time.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Please take careful note that it’s the “knowledge of good and evil”, not merely “knowledge”. What was placed before the man was the choice between life and self-determination, between the dependence on God in obedience and the ability to determine for oneself what is good and what is evil. Man’s failure of this single moral choice is detailed in the following chapter. This is the same choice before us all today, between obedience and self-determination. God does not send us to hell, rather he gives the unbeliever their heart’s desire for eternity – a place where all beings answer to no-one except themselves. If you want a picture of hell, really, truly and deeply consider a world in which every being manifests total selfishness absent any and all restraint.

The warning is given that to choose self-determination is to choose death. Notice that at this point Eve has not yet been created; scripture is silent on this, but the strong implication is that the prohibition was communicated to Eve from Adam, not directly from God.

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.

Genesis 2:19-20 (ESV)

God knows that, as yet, there is no creature in creation which is a suitable partner to the man he has created. But before he remedies that lack, he first must make the man keenly aware of it. As well as working the garden, Adam’s task was to observe and name the animals with which he interacted – no indication is given of just how many animals this meant, though it was certainly not all of creation, since many of the animals lived in habitats far distant from the location of Eden (regardless of where in the world Eden was located).

The significant result of this exercise in naming is the realization by Adam that nothing in all of God’s creation is “like” him – Adam is unique and now he knows it.

An interesting side-note here is that God had “formed” the beasts and birds “out of the ground”.

21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”

Genesis 2:21-23 (ESV)

Having demonstrated to Adam his uniqueness in creation God now proceeds to make another person from material taken from Adam’s side (“ribs” is an unecessarily specific translation here; the Hebrew word is tsela which means generally “side”).

This new person is now as unique as Adam, and like him quite separate from all the animals. That some significant time had elapsed is seen in “at last”. Adam immediately perceives her unique suitability when he cries “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”, quite similar to our idea of our child being our very “flesh and blood”.

Only now is the image of God fully evinced in creation, as Genesis 1 tells us, “male and female he created them”.

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Genesis 2:24-25 (ESV)

The institution of marriage is incepted, and mankind in the purity of their sinless state have no need of clothing for their bodies, for there is not yet a violation of self in being fully exposed to another.

Conclusions

The physical changes to the planet, as described in Genesis, seem to comport remarkably well with theories of early Earth-history, including an initially opaque atmosphere which became translucent and then transparent and initial water-world conditions and subsequent formation of stable land masses.

This sequence of events for life’s creation comports reasonably well with current science for the development of our planet. However, I must acknowledge difficulties:

  1. Day 3 seems, at first, to describe complex, advanced flora far earlier than the scientific evidence for such vegetation. But the length of day three can cover the whole span of time from the early Archean to late Proterozoic (pre-Cambrian). That is the whole period of oxygenation before the appearance of large-bodied animals. It is also possible that our dates for vegetation may be somewhat broad.
  2. Day 5 and Day 6 have the creation of birds before land animals. This seems problematic until the Hebrew word is properly understood as generically “flying things”. It’s also possible that the animals described on Day 6 are the post-dinosaur mammals with which humans would be familiar and with which we would interact and the use of nephesh does lend support to this idea, but it is difficult to make this claim with complete confidence.

In the first harmonization I’ve placed Day 5 at the Cambrian explosion and Day 6 around the time of the dinosaurs and small-bodied mammals. But, as shown in the second harmonization, I’m tempted to place Days 4, 5 and 6 immediately after the dinosaur extinction event with the arrival of mammals, on the basis of the use of the Hebrew word nephesh when describing these animals. I remain uncertain.

The other possible omissions I can see are any explicit mention of: microbial life (not surprising given the literary intent); insect life (also not surprising); and aquatic flora, which may be implied by “sprout vegetation” on Day 3 since Hebrew eretz – “earth”, “land”, “territory” – is not strictly limited to the dry land. That there is no specific mention of dinosaurs or reptiles is also not surprising because the point of the narrative is not to give an exhaustive catalog but, rather, to make clear that God did it all. That is, it’s a theological account, not a scientific one.

In my evaluation, the sequence aligns remarkably well. It must be remembered that the Hebrew terms for flora and fauna are inherently imprecise which admits considerable flexibility. The days are of varying length in real-time: For the day-age view this poses no problem; however for the analogical-day view (that the days are God’s days rather than ours) uneven days is a little unexpected; for the “days of initiation” view (where the days are when God began a new era) there is no problem whatsoever with this.

Of particular interest, and which came as something of a surprise for me, is the deep sense of processes embedded in the narrative, particularly with respect to the physical development of the planet. There is real scope for the creation of relatively primitive master “kinds” which diverge and speciate in the biblical account of creation. Fully four out of the six days strongly imply God using natural processes to achieve his desire.

Clearly Christians can be dogmatic only in that God created everything, not how he did so.

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