Most of the squabbling about creation/ID/evolution centers on the creation story found in Genesis 1. If you haven’t read it recently, follow this link , take a few minutes and refresh your memory about what the story says and what it doesn’t say.
I propose that much of our confusion about what to make of this text originates in our asking the wrong set of questions about the text.
What if we set the science questions aside for a moment and ask instead:
- What does this passage tell us about God?
- What does this passage tell us about men and women?
- What does this passage tell us about the relationship between God and human beings? *
Asking different questions can give us different answers. Genesis 1 becomes the story of a single creator, carefully and intentionally creating a good universe. God creates and provides for humankind.
This view of the creator and the cosmos contrasts with the dominant views of other cultures in the ancient middle east. Scholars spend their entire careers reading and studying these texts and there are all sorts of Internet sources (some better than others). But check here and here for information about the Babylonian creation story. There are also translations of the text available on line.
Ask the same questions of the Babylonian creation story. What does this tell us about the gods? What does this tell up about human kind? What does this passage tell us about the relationship between the gods and human beings?
The Babylonian view is it is a violent world, filled with wars and destruction. Humankind is created to serve the gods.
Ancient Babylon and ancient Israel have very different views of the world. Remember everyone else in the ancient world are polytheists, except for Israel. But beyond that, how the gods or God relate to the world and humankind is very different. In Genesis 1, Israel proclaims a unique view of creation. In a very real sense Genesis 1 is a statement of faith.
As I wrote last week, this text received it’s final form at or just after the Babylonian Exile. Israel has been soundly defeated, and the “best and the brightest” were carted off to Babylon. The exiles are confronted with a big, prosperous, rich Babylonian culture. The temptation to assimilate into the dominate culture must have been overwhelming. The place on earth were God is present to Israel, the Temple has been destroyed. It is a time of cultural and theological crisis. Has God abandoned Israel? Since Israel has been defeated by Babylon, has Israel’s God been defeated by the Babylonian gods?
Genesis 1- as statement of faith- says NO. Our God, the God of Israel is the creator. The sun and moon and stars are not gods as the Babylonians supose, they are the creation of the true God. The true God, the creator God of Israel has been and continues to be in control of the world.
The devistating experience of the Exile causes Israel to think seriously about who God is and how God acts. Not everything Israel believes about God is found in Genesis 1. The story doesn’t end after one chapter. But Israel firmly declares who God is in relation to the universe, the world and humankind.
I know some of you are still saying, what about the science? Didn’t the original audience believe this was how, physically how, the universe was created? And if this is the word of God, isn’t Genesis 1 then, how the creation happened?
Genesis may reflect the best understanding of the physical creation available to ancient audiences. I don’t think we should be surprised or alarmed by that. I find John Calvin is quite helpful here. As he writes in his Commentary on Genesis, these texts were written appropriate to the understanding of its first audience. It makes no sense for Genesis 1 to speak of things beyond their comprehension. In Scripture, God comes to us, reveals God’s self to us, in ways that we can understand. If Genesis were to be written today, the science would be different. Through modern science we have discovered much- but not all- about the origins of the universe and humankind. But the purpose of the text, to tell us about God and about humankind and about the relationship between God and humankind would be the same.
I’d like to know, what do you think?
* From: Dick Murray, Teaching the Bible to Adults and Youth, Abingdon Press, 1993, page 41.
There is much more that can be said about all of this. For more information, the resources I listed last week are still good sources. In addition, Thomas Cahill’s book, The Gifts of the Jews is quite helpful, particularly for understanding ancient near eastern culture and religion.