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THE STORY OF CREATION
The Bible and science
Modern science has revealed so much about the wonders and the size of the physical universe that human beings may seem almost to be nothing. The Bible takes a different view. Human beings are its main concern, for they alone are made in God’s image. The story of creation is but an introduction to the story of God’s dealings with the human race. The Bible demonstrates this order of importance from the outset by fitting the story of creation into a mere week, into the opening page of a 1,000-page Bible.
The Bible was never intended to be a scientific textbook. It is not concerned with the sort of investigation that modern science is concerned with. If its language were that of modern science, people in former ages would not have understood it, and people in future ages would find it out of date. The purpose of the Genesis account of creation was not to teach scientific theories, but to give a short simple account of the beginning of things in language that people of any age would understand.
Language of the Bible
As with the rest of the Bible, the book of Genesis was written in the everyday language of the people of the time. For example, the Bible speaks of the four corners of the earth (Isaiah 11:12) and of the pillars, bases and cornerstone of the earth (Job 9:6; Job 38:4-6); but if people use those statements to deny that the earth is a globe, they misuse the Bible. They show a misunderstanding of the nature of the Bible’s language.
Yet such misunderstandings occur. Centuries ago people thought that the sun moved round the earth, but when one scientist suggested that the earth moved round the sun, he was condemned for not believing the Bible. The argument his accusers used was that the Bible says the earth remains still and the sun rises and sets upon it (1 Chronicles 16:30; Ecclesiastes 1:5).
The Bible speaks of the heavens and the earth as ordinary people see them from their standpoint on earth. The scientist may speak of the sun as the centre of the solar system, with the earth a minor planet of the sun, and the moon a small satellite of the earth. But to people of ancient times, and even to us today, the earth where people live is the centre of their world. The sun is merely the ‘greater light to rule the day’, and the moon the ‘lesser light to rule the night’.
In reading the Bible we must understand not only what the Bible says but also what it means. When it says that God ‘sits above the circle of the earth’ (Isaiah 40:22), it does not mean that he sits in space somewhere above the horizon, but that he is the sovereign Lord of the universe. Likewise when it says that God ‘made man from the dust of the earth’ (Genesis 2:7), it does not mean that he took in his hands a ball of clay and formed it into a human shape as a baker makes a gingerbread man, but that he made man out of common chemicals. Even we ourselves, who came by natural processes of birth, are said to be formed out of clay and made from the dust of the earth (Job 10:9; Ecclesiastes 3:20).
The Creator at work
God is pleased when people study his creation and learn its wonders (Psalms 111:2). The Bible tells us that God is the Creator, and it reveals something of his purposes in creation, but if people want to find out how the physical creation functions, they must do so by hard work as God has appointed (Genesis 3:19). God does not give such knowledge by direct revelation. How the various organs of the human body function, for example, is a problem for medical science to solve, not the Bible. The same principle applies in other fields of science.
Science may tell us more about God’s creation, but it does so from a viewpoint that is different from that of the Bible. The Bible tells us that God is the one who did these things, and the scientist tells how he might have done them.
When the Bible says ‘God did this’ or ‘God created that’, it does not mean that he must have done so instantaneously or ‘magically’. We pray, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ (Matthew 6:11), but we do not expect God to work instantaneously and drop food from heaven on to our plates. We expect him to work through the normal processes of nature in producing the crops from which we get our food by hard work. Yet we still thank God, for we know that he is the provider of all things. Believers and unbelievers might agree on how nature provides humankind with food, but believers add something extra, because they see God working through nature. The ‘laws of nature’ are God’s laws. Science may investigate the physical world and suggest how something happened, but it cannot say who made it happen. Believers can, for ‘by faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God’ (Hebrews 11:3).
Believers may therefore hesitate to dismiss a scientific theory simply by saying, ‘But I believe God did it’, because the theory may have been the way God has done it. When the scientist tells us how rains falls or how grass grows, we do not contradict him by saying, ‘But the Bible says God makes the rain fall, God makes the grass grow’ (Matthew 5:45; Matthew 6:30). We accept both as true.
Plan of the Genesis account
As we might have expected, the Genesis account of creation is from the viewpoint of the ordinary person. The story is recorded as if someone were describing creation, not from somewhere in outer space, but from his dwelling place on earth. The earth is only a very small part of God’s creation, but the creation story in the Bible is concerned mainly with the earth and mentions other features only in relation to the earth.
The Genesis account is concerned with showing that God made everything out of nothing, that he worked from the formless to the formed, from the simple to the complex. It outlines how he brought the universe through various stages till his creative activity reached its climax in Adam and Eve. Its basic design is to divide the creation story into two groups of three days each. The first group shows how God created the basic spheres of operation (light and dark; sea and sky; fertile land), the second how he created the features within each of those spheres (lights of day and night; creatures of sea and sky; creatures of the land).
This simple creation story, though not intended to be a scientific account, is not in conflict with science. The following notes suggest one way in which scientific knowledge, far from causing us to doubt the Genesis creation story, may in fact give us a more meaningful view of it.
The creation (1:1-2:3)
Countless years ago God, by his sovereign power and will, created the universe. At first the earth was featureless and in darkness because of the mass of surrounding water, but as the thick clouds of water vapour began to lose their density, a hazy light came by day from the invisible sun (1:1-5; first day). As they lost further density, the surrounding clouds of vapour gradually rose from the earth, producing a clear distinction between the ocean’s surface below and the ceiling of heavy cloud overhead (6-8; second day). Meanwhile the earth was drying and land became visible. Simpler forms of life then began to appear. Various kinds of soils and climatic conditions produced various kinds of plants, which were so created as to continue producing further plants of their own kind (9-13; third day).
The heavy cloud overhead, which had been becoming thinner and thinner, finally broke. The sun, moon and stars, previously hidden, now became clearly visible. Their effect upon the earth helped to produce a variety of weather and a pattern of annual seasons (14-19; fourth day).
As God’s creative activity moved on, animal life began to appear, with creatures in the sea and creatures in the air, all of them suited to their environment (20-23; fifth day). The land also experienced this development of animal life, till it too became full of all kinds of creatures. Finally came the first human couple, who together represented the peak of God’s creation. Like the other animals, they were so made that they could feed themselves from what grew on the earth and reproduce their own kind. But they were different from all other animals and were given power over them; for they alone, of all God’s creatures, were made in God’s image (24-31; sixth day). (See ‘The image of God’ below.)
God’s rest after the creation of the first human couple signified not that he had become tired or inactive (for he continues to care for what he has created), but that he had brought his work to its goal. Having prepared the natural creation for human life, God now desired humankind to enjoy that creation with him (2:1-3; seventh day).
The image of God
Being made in God’s image, human beings are unique in God’s creation. Somehow they are like God in a way that nothing else is. This does not mean simply that certain ‘parts’ of human beings such as their spiritual, moral or mental capacities reflect the divine nature. The whole person is in God’s image. Because of this expression of God within them, men and women are in a sense God’s representatives upon earth. He has appointed them rulers over the earthly creation (see 1:27-28).
Without the image of God within them, people would not (according to the biblical definition) be human. Even if they had the physical appearance of human beings, they would be no more than creatures of the animal world.
An animal’s ‘animality’ is in itself; a person’s humanity is not. It depends for its existence upon God. That is why human beings, in spite of the dignity and status given them by God, cannot exist independently of God. They may want to, and may bring disaster upon themselves as a result (as seen in the story of their original disobedience; see notes on 2:8-17, 3:1-24 below), but they cannot destroy the image of God. The image of God within them is what makes them human.
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Genesis 1". "Brideway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
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