In the Bible the doctrine of creation is based on divine revelation, this being particularly the case in the New Testament, where creation is seen in the light of the divine revelation in Jesus Christ and the “new creation” which has already become a spiritual reality through His work.
Biblical Creation Narratives
The early chapters of Genesis were, of course, not given to reveal the truths of physical science, but they recognize creation as marked by order, continuity, law, plastic power of productiveness in the different kingdoms, unity of the world and progressive advance. The Genesis cosmogony teaches a process of becoming, as well as a creation (see Evolution). That cosmogony has been recognized by Haeckel as meritoriously marked by the two great ideas of separation or differentiation, and of progressive development or perfecting of the originally simple matter. The Old Testament presents the conception of time-worlds or successive ages, but its real emphasis is on the energy of the Divine Word, bringing into being things that did not exist.
The narrative material in the early chapters of Genesis consists of ancient efforts at historical composition, and while scientific procedures were by no means unknown in Mesopotamian antiquity, they had no bearing upon the Biblical accounts or doctrines of creation.
Because the Genesis accounts of creation are “pre-scientific” in the western technological sense, and “unscientific” in the Sumerian sense also, it is necessary to urge caution when attempts are made to “reconcile” them to the accounts of creation furnished by the modern descriptive sciences. While there are numerous points of contact there are also natural and obvious differences in standpoint. Although it is perfectly legitimate to recognize that both Genesis and biological science propose some concept of derivation by descent, it is equally wrong to imagine that the Genesis account can be proved or disproved by reference to a theory of biological origins which is itself highly suspect in certain important areas.
It has to be recognized that as far as the Bible is concerned, the Old Testament account of creation does not preface the rest of Scripture as though it were an isolated attempt in antiquity to explain the origins of phenomena and human life. Indeed, if the first word of Genesis, berēs̱ẖîṯ, is translated correctly to read “by way of beginning” or “to begin with,” it will relate to something other than an absolute temporal start to creation. What the position of the creation narratives shows, in fact, is that for the ancient Semitic writers creation was the starting point of history. It formed the necessary stage upon which the drama of human sin and redemption could be enacted, a drama in which the nation of Israel, and later the Christian Church, played an important role. Thus it is difficult to separate the creation narratives from the material which follows, since it was the intent of the various writers in antiquity that such a connection should be observed, as much for theological as specifically historical reasons.
Old Testament creation narratives
The two accounts of creation in the Old Testament (
The first narrative
The first of these accounts is unique for its dignified monotheism and non-mythological nature. There are no struggles between deities or primordial powers, nor is there any attempt to exalt one race or city at the expense of another. The narrative does not support a “three storied universe” of heaven, earth and underworld, as is commonly assumed, and throughout it relates the incidence of phenomena to the control of a consciously organizing Mind. The standpoint of the narrative is an ideal one, being that of a geocentric observer who would experience the unfolding of creation and life differently from what an extra-terrestrial observer would. Given this standpoint the narrative conforms remarkably to what such descriptive sciences as astronomy, biology and geology have to say about the origins of the world. It would be some time before the initial cloud cover thinned out sufficiently to allow the rays of either end of the spectrum to reach the earth, and longer still before sunlight and moonlight as such were recognizable features of existence. Again, the placing of the vegetable creation before that of the animals is not as accidental as was formerly maintained, since the study of photosynthesis has shown that green plants furnish the oxygen necessary for animal existence.
On the whole,
The second narrative
The second narrative gave geographical identity to the home of man, placing it in Mesopotamia. There is no difficulty in this identification if the “rivers” Pishon and Gihon are regarded as “irrigation canals,” since there was no separate word for these two entities in Akkadian. The expression “tree of knowledge of good and evil” is also an example of merismus, and refers to a “tree of the entire range of moral experience.”
The story of the creation of woman is a classic example of the way in which the Ancient Israelites cloaked their deepest and most cherished truths in narrative form so as to protect them from the profane gaze of the scoffer. The word translated “rib” in English versions should be more properly rendered “an aspect of personality,” indicating that pristine man was broken down into male and female components, quite similar in character but needing compatible union before the wholeness of the pristine creation could be realized. This fundamental unity, of which marriage was representative, was emphasized by Jesus (
The material dealing with creation in the first two chapters of Genesis should be treated as a unit for a proper understanding of the theology of creation. The second narrative, which deals more fully with the creation of man and woman, is complementary to the first, which speaks of the world being fashioned for man to occupy. The homogeneity of man with his environment is emphasized in
Are the Two Accounts Contradictory?
It is a mistake to assume that the two Genesis narratives are duplicates, for they actually complement one another. To say they are contradictory is like saying that an atlas begins with two contradictory maps. A map of the world and a map of the United States would overlap. The first would include a great deal of territory not included in the second. The second would include a great deal of detail not mentioned in the first.
In the case of the creation narratives, the first outlines the broad processes of creation and shows how all things emerged from the creative power of God, while the second pays greater attention to the creation of man and sets him with his mate in a specific geographical location.
This is exactly the relation between the two accounts.
Again, it is sometimes said that
Biblical doctrine of creation
The thought of the ancient Hebrews consistently related all existing phenomena to God as the one ground or source of existence. Because of this specifically monistic attitude there could never be any place in their concept of creation for the kind of dualism entertained by some other religions. To God as the sole Creator belonged the responsibility for the world of nature and men, and though there were facets of His creation which did not reflect His high moral and ethical character, even these were ultimately reconcilable to belief in the activity of one creative deity. The relationship between God and His creation is a contingent one, for it is the Lord who makes all things (
Creation by the Word
As a regularized expression of the way in which God formed the world, the idea of creation by the Word is rather late. It is, however, implicit in
The latter was synonymous with that sovereign power which shaped the course of history and the lives of men alike, being supremely manifest in the creation of the world. The account in
Creation ex nihilo
As a formal expression of belief this concept is again a comparatively late development (
Man’s place in creation
The concept of creation out of nothing applies, of course, to the formulation of the cosmos, and does not exhaust the Biblical teaching on the subject of creation. Thus man was not created ex nihilo, but from previously prepared material, the “dust from the ground” (
Because of the personal relationship which exists between God and His creation there can be no room in Scripture for the idea of “nature” as an autonomous power set in motion by a First Cause. God is depicted as being at all times in control of the world (cf.
The fact that the same concept was applied to Seth as a son of Adam (
Though he has been made in the image of God, man is still inferior to the deity in stature (
Threats to creation
The creation narratives contain no hint of foreboding for the future, for everything has the seal of perfection stamped on it. Until the declension of man and woman from pristine grace, the prospect for the future was one of continuous and untrammelled fellowship with God. When sin entered human experience it cast a blemish upon all created life (cf.
Consistently throughout the Old Testament, however, the greatest menace to the divine creation was the fact of sin, particularly where it represented a violation of the covenant obligations. The covenant community was itself a special creation, intended as a witness in pagan society to the nature and power of the one true God and a means of His expression in the world. Many of the prophets diagnosed the national malaise in terms of sin and rebellion against God (
The new creation in Christ
The New Testament authors agreed with Judaism that God alone was the creator of the world through His Word, but in the light of the fuller revelation of God in Christ they viewed the process of creation Christologically. In Jesus all things cohered (
History and other cosmogony
No one mythological account has been found to date which deals specifically with the creation of the cosmos in the sense in which the first chapter of Genesis does. Most of the texts referring to creation are part of other literary material involving legendary persons, the organization of early society, and the struggles between the various gods of the pantheons. Some of the Mesopotamian creation stories were linked with particular cities such as Nippur, Lagash, and Shuruppak, and narrated the activities of the creative deity. Thus Enki, the god of the deep and of wisdom, made Nippur the base for a subsequent extension of his influence in Sumeria, creating mankind after the pantheon had been completed, and developing all the early cultural forms in his favorite city.
A further myth relating to the exploits of Enki and Ninhursag told how Enki led his forces against Nammu, the wicked primeval deity of the sea, after which with the help of Nin-mah, the earth mother-goddess, he created man from clay. Sumerian cosmogony found its most popular adaptation, however, in the creation myth known as Enuma elish (“When from above”), recovered from the ruined library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh but extant also in fragments from Ashur, Uruk and Kish. This epic mentioned two mythical divine personages of Sumerian tradition, Apsu, the underground sweetwater reservoir, and Tiamat, the salt water ocean. Marduk, patron god of Babylon, slew the latter in battle, established the earth and organized the celestial constellations. The sixth tablet of the epic described how man was created from the blood of Kingu, an ally of Tiamat. Following Sumerian tradition man was regarded as being vastly inferior to the gods, constituting almost an afterthought of divine creativity. Another Sumerian myth spoke of the paradise known as Dilmun, a place now identified with the small desert island of Bahrein in the Persian Gulf, and which in antiquity was a focal point of maritime trade between Mesopotamia and India. In this locale the mother-goddess Ninhursag was believed to have produced offspring painlessly without normal labor. The god Enki decided to eat some of the plants which grew in this paradise, but became ill as a result. The curse was lifted and Enki was restored to health by the intervention of a specially created goddess Nin.ti, whose name means the “lady of the rib” and “the lady who makes live.”
In predynastic Egypt the cult of Re at Heliopolis maintained that the god had emerged from the waters of the Underworld and was self-created. From him came the other deities such as Isis, Osiris and Set, and these were followed by the creation of human beings. The cult of Ptah in the Thinite period of Memphis gave its chief deity priority over all other gods, regarding him as contemporary with the Underworld waters themselves. Ptah was the great cosmic mind who by the projection of his thought produced the world and its contents. Even the other gods were only manifestations of his creative ideas, and in his utterances there resided almighty power. Yet another ancient cult, that of Thoth of Hermopolis, credited its god with the creation of the world, the control of natural cycles and the bestowing of culture upon the human race. Thoth was venerated as the god of wisdom and was honored by a number of titles which reflected his creative genius.
The deities of ancient Greece were not generally held to be responsible for creation, but instead were themselves the creatures of antecedent forces which they replaced. The Theogony of Hesiod gave Chaos the chief position in the pantheon and spoke of his successor as earth who, impregnated by heaven, became the mother of all living things. In the Orphic myth the great creator Phanes emerged from an egg, created the universe and the ancient heroes of the Golden Age, and then retired until his grandson Zeus swallowed him and his creation, after which Zeus recreated the existing world order. The Greek myths of creation varied considerably in matters of detail, and spoke less of creation as such than development through procreation from vague beginnings.
A Perspective on the Length of "Days" in Genesis
The length of the creative days of
On the seventh day (
Creation and Evolution
Creation is certainly not disproved by evolution, which does not explain the origin of the homogeneous stuff itself, and does not account for the beginning of motion within it. Of the original creative action, lying beyond mortal ken or human observation, science—as concerned only with the manner of the process--is obviously in no position to speak. Creation may, in an important sense, be said not to have taken place in time, since time cannot be posited prior to the existence of the world. The difficulties of the ordinary hypothesis of a creation in time can never be surmounted, so long as we continue to make eternity mean simply indefinitely prolonged time. Augustine was, no doubt, right when, from the human standpoint, he declared that the world was not made in time, but with time. Time is itself a creation simultaneous with, and conditioned by, world-creation and movement. To say, in the ordinary fashion, that God created in time, is apt to make time appear independent of God, or God dependent upon time. Yet the time-forms enter into all our psychological experience, and a concrete beginning is unthinkable to us.
A further Perspective on Genesis and Evolution
There is much discussion about the question of “evolution” in relation to the Creation, but the word “evolution” is used in many different ways. If taken in its historic sense (the theory that everything now existing has come into its present condition as a result of natural development, all of it having proceeded by natural causes from one rudimentary beginning), such a theory is sharply contradicted by the divine facts revealed in
The universe, we feel sure, has been caused; its existence must have some ground; even if we held a philosophy so idealistic as to make the scheme of created things one grand illusion, an illusion so vast would still call for some explanatory Cause. Even if we are not content with the conception of a First Cause, acting on the world from without and antecedently in time, we are not yet freed from the necessity of asserting a Cause. An underlying and determining Cause of the universe would still need to be postulated as its Ground.
Even a universe held to be eternal would need to be accounted for--we should still have to ask how such a universe came to be. Its endless movement must have direction and character imparted to it from some immanent ground or underlying cause. Such a self-existent and eternal World-Ground or First Cause is, by an inexorable law of thought, the necessary correlate of the finitude, or contingent character of the world. God and the world are not to be taken simply as cause and effect, for modern metaphysical thought is not content with such a mere ens extra-mundanum for the Ground of all possible experience. God, self-existent Cause of the ever-present world and its phenomena, is the ultimate Ground of the possibility of all that is.
"Wisdom" in Creation
In Old Testament books, as the Psalms, Proverbs, and Jeremiah, the creation is expressly declared to be the work of Wisdom--a Wisdom not disjoined from Goodness, as is yet more fully brought out in the
Bibliography and Further Reading
- H. W. Robinson, Inspiration and Revelation in the (1946), 4-33.
- E. Jacob, Old Testament Theology (1958), 136-150.
- G. A. F. Knight, A Christian Theology of the Old Testament (1959), 107-118.
- James Orr, Christian View of God and the World, 1st edition, 1893.
- J. Iverach, Christianity and Evolution, 1894.
- S. Harris, God the Creator and Lord of All, 1897.
- A. L. Moore, Science and the Faith, 1889.
- B. P. Bowne, Studies in Theism, new edition, 1902.
- G. P. Fisher, Grounds of Theistic and Christian Belief, new edition, 1902.
- J. Lindsay, Recent Advances in Theistic , 1897.
- A. Dorner, Religionsphilosophie, 1903.
- J. Lindsay, Studies in European Philosophy, 1909.
- O. Dykes, The Divine Worker in Creation and Providence, 1909.
- J. Lindsay, The Fundamental Problems of Metaphysics, 1910.
- N. H. Ridderbos, Is There Conflict Between
Gen.1.1-Gen.1.31and Natural Science? 1957.
- L. Gilkey, Maker of Heaven and Earth, 1959.
- F. D. Kidner, Genesis (TOld TestamentC), 1967.
- J. A. Motyer, “ Theology,” in NBC Revised, 1970, pp. 26-27.
- C. Westermann, Creation, 1974; D. J. Wiseman, Clues to Creation in Genesis, 1977.