By Captain Deb Thompson
“The Canvas And Paint Already Existed, But… The Painting Was Created”
I was raised in a home that taught that all Scripture was to be taken literally. It seems like a popular way of interpreting Scripture. It’s also an extremely dangerous way of interpreting, especially when a specific passage was intended by the author to be read differently. For example, one such passage that is often taken literally, in a desire to refute science, is the first chapter of Genesis. This chapter was never written to be taken literally, nor was it ever meant to argue Evolution in its original context.
Currently, I’m taking a college course in Pentateuch and it has challenged me to look at Creation in a completely new way, by looking at it through the eyes of the original readers.
The first thing to note is that creation stories involving deity/deities were not rare in the Ancient Near East. Mesopotamian, Akkadian, and Egyptian were cultures that had their own creation stories as well, just to name a few. The sole purpose of creation stories was to answer the big questions of life, “Do/does gods/God exist?”, “Why is there a human race?”, and “Do/does gods/God interact with humanity?” Genesis 1, in the form of the Creation Story, gives us the answers to these questions.
The first two verses of Genesis were extremely eye-opening for me. I grew up hearing that verse 2 is where we see the fall of Satan, although, there is no mention of Satan falling out of Heaven in this passage or anywhere else in The Bible, for that matter. One thing we want to take into account is that in the Ancient Near East, people weren’t interested in the structure of the Earth, as much as they were interested in the function of the Earth. Therefore, the original readers wouldn’t have read Genesis 1 to tell them how the Earth came into existence (as we read it in our culture today), but instead, they would have read Genesis 1 to tell them about what the Earth’s functions and roles were. Most importantly, the Earth’s function was to be God’s Temple where God’s people were to worship and serve Him. Later, in the Old Testament, we see this concept illustrated by the Tabernacle and then through the three Temples. This order, function, and role came out of chaos, or as the second verse states, had been “formless…empty… darkness… deep”.
Next, let’s move onto the word, “create”. “Create”, in the original Hebrew is “bara” which means to, “create, shape, form”. When we read the word, “create” we often confuse it with the word, “manufacture”. Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch explains the difference between these two words with the example of art. We manufacture paints and canvases, but to paint a picture is to create a function and purpose for the paints and the canvases, and to create a painting is the role of an artist. Therefore, the manufactured item is the day and night, but the function of it is time, and the purpose of time is to fill it with worship and service to God. Therefore, to create time was the role of the Almighty God, and He is powerful enough to create time out of the pre-existing chaos. The original readers would not have read this as a structured 24 hour period being manufactured, but rather to answer what was the function and purpose God created for the 24 hour period.
Another intriguing phrase to look at in the Creation Story is, “and God saw that it was good.” Throughout the book of Genesis we read God “seeing” and in response “providing” for those He saw. One example is in Genesis 16 with the story of Hagar and the near death of Ishmael from thirst while in the desert. Hagar names Elohim as “the God who sees me” and she names the water well, which was provided for Ishmael, “Beer Lahai Roi” respectfully.
At first glance, having a God who sees may not seem too important; however, I think there is something extremely significant in it. I have a passion for Deaf Ministry, and something I have read in several places is that sometimes Deaf can feel like they cannot communicate with God because us hearing people like to use clichés such as, “hearing God’s voice”, “listening to God” and “taking time to speak to God”. However, to inform a Deaf person that God sees us, then communication is provided for everyone. There’s significance in knowing that God not only hears us, but sees us too!
The second half of the phrase tells us that what God saw was good. I had always thought this meant that it was good for God; however, that isn’t why it was good. This phrase isn’t listed after everything that was created, only things that were created good for mankind. For example, after the creation of light and after the creation of land, it is said to be good because it is beneficial for mankind.
God creates man and woman in His image. Man and woman have the roles of ruling over creation (fish, birds, animals, etc…) and to multiply. Humanity was also created to commune and have relationship with God. This is important because other creation stories (as discussed earlier) have other purposes for humanity, such as one saying that humanity are to be slaves to the gods, alone. To have a relationship with God was pretty unique to the Genesis 1 story.
Well, actually, there are a lot of things that are unique about the Creation Story of Genesis 1 that we don’t find in other creations stories. For example, our Creation Story is monotheistic, meaning “one God”. And since it’s monotheistic, it’s a peaceful, beautiful, and simple story. All other creation stories were polytheistic, meaning “many gods”. Their creation stories are complex and tell of wars and violence between the gods. Genesis 1 starts out with, “In the beginning God created the Heavens and the Earth…” There is no explanation of where God came from because He wouldn’t be confused with other gods, and more so, because He is eternal. Other cultures had to give an explanation of where their gods began.
In conclusion, the number one purpose of the Creation Story found in Genesis 1 was to be theological and to teach the Jews about the Hebrew God and the functions, purposes, and roles He gives to creation. Genesis 1 was not written to teach of the structure or the manufacturing of creation. If we take this passage literally, we miss out on theology and a deep understanding of God that sets the tone for the rest of Genesis, and consequently, the rest of The Bible.
In conclusion, I believe science explains the manufacturing of Earth, and Genesis gives Earth a purpose and function. I believe science answers how the Earth is structured, and Genesis tells me how it functions. I believe science tells me how it all began, but Genesis tells me what the purpose of it all is. I believe science cannot answer Genesis’ questions and Genesis’ question cannot answer science’s questions. I believe science and Genesis complement one another.
I am the heart, You are the heartbeat
I am the eyes, You are the sight
I see clearly I am just the body, You are the life
I move my feet I go through the motions, but You give purpose a chance
I am the dancer; You are the Lord of the Dance
–“Lord of the Dance”, Steven Curtis Chapman–