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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Genesis - Chapter 1

What if… science and the Bible were both true?
What if… creation and evolution told the same story?
What if… Adam and Eve were real people? What kind of world would they live in?
What if… we could tell the difference between God’s word and human interpretation?

What is the aim of this study:

• To keep the emphasis on the Bible. To remember God’s word is more important than my interpretation.
• To be ready to encourage people to read the Bible and hear God’s word, rather than risk them rejecting what God says because of man’s word. My interpretation may be valuable to me, but it’s God’s word that might make a difference to my neighbor.
• To know what the Bible says, even if it’s not what I think it ought to say.

Lesson 1: Creation: Genesis 1-2

What if… faith and science don’t have to disagree?

Before reading, try putting these 3 things in the order in which you think they were created –
• Plants
• Reptiles
• Man
Then read Genesis 2:4-8, 18-19. Is that what you came up with? If not, which version is “true,” the Genesis 1 account, or the one in Genesis 2? Or are they both attempts at describing something our words can’t explain? If we argue that science must agree with a particular interpretation of Genesis 1, we might actually be asking science to disagree with Genesis 2.

Interpretation and God’s word
What if… the story of creation doesn’t say what we think it says?
The Genesis 1 version of creation really is different from the version in Genesis 2:4-8. Either humans were created last, or they existed before plants and water. Both can’t be true unless they’re trying to tell something other more than just science. But does that mean we have to call one of them myth and one science?

What if Adam and Eve were sitting round the camp-fire with Seth Daddy tells the story of Genesis 1, how God – the only witness – created the world and ended up with man. “But Daddy, does that mean we’re an afterthought?” asks Seth (though he uses simpler terms, since language couldn’t say so much back then). Then Mommy tells the story of Genesis 2, how we were first in the mind of God, there in His plan before anything else began. But language didn’t have words to express mind and matter.

History and God’s Word
What if… the Bible doesn’t sound like a myth after all?
Recording the stories:
Not only are there two versions of the story of creation. There are also two names used for God in the book of Genesis (El and Yahweh). Perhaps there were even two (or more) writers.

When the Northern and Southern kingdoms of Israel split up, priests and prophets continued to work in both countries. There were probably copies of the same and similar writings stored in separate collections. But the areas of emphasis and particular interpretations may have varied, just as they do today when Catholics and Protestants choose different wordings for the Lord’s prayer.

When the Northern kingdom was conquered, some Northern Hebrews (and their priests) returned to Judea for refuge. Religious leaders might have met to agree on the definitive version of scriptures, just as in New Testament times they met to agree on the Christian Bible. Someone, maybe even Jeremiah, might have taken on the task of combining all the stories into one account.

Genesis 1 uses the name El, probably more popular in Israel;
Genesis 2 uses Yahweh, which was probably more popular in Judah

Tradition says Moses wrote first five Bible books. And traditional disagreements ask who wrote Moses’ death scene? It could have been added later of course. Or God could have dictated it before Moses died. Or Moses could have written the source works that were later compiled into the books. It all depends on your interpretation.

Preserving the stories:
There are lots of non-Biblical stories with similarities to the Bible. The similarities might be used to suggest the Bible’s just a myth, based on other myths, but the differences suggest otherwise. A storyteller changes things to make the tale more exciting and memorable. But a priest recounting one of God’s stories might not dare. Compared to mythology, the Bible may have some fun stories but it’s really quite boring. And it’s usually the boring text, even if written down later, that’s more authentic.

Science and God’s word:
What if… we could interpret faith and science so they agree?

The Big Bang and Evolution
Look at the order of creation in Genesis 1. What comes first?

Light: When scientists first proposed the Big Bang theory, some disagreed on scientific grounds – they wanted more evidence – and others on “religious” grounds – a Big Bang, or primal cause, might suggest the existence of a primal creator. But more evidence has been found since then, and most scientists now agree that the universe began in a sudden flash of light.

Of course, that may not be the “light” of Genesis 1. The Bible’s light could be that deep gray winter light when we can't see the sun; the beginning of our planet when the sky was thick with the dust of volcanic ash. We can’t know, but we can guess; we can interpret.

Water: Free water is essential to life and begins the cleaning process in the air.

Plants would arise after water, adding oxygen to the air and continuing the cleaning process.

The Sun and Moon appear in the newly cleared sky. As a child, I always wondered how God made light before he made the sun and moon. But scientifically, sun moon and stars would have all been invisible till after plants covered the earth and did their work.

Next came fish and birds, animals, and people, all in exactly the same order as scientific theory would suggest. Of course, that particular theory is evolution, and many Christians have as religious an objection to it as some scientists used to have to the Big Bang.

All the same, whatever theory you believe, even the most avowed of skeptics agree that the Bible was written more than 2,000 years ago. So how on earth did people back then mange to guess so many things right? Might it not be easier to believe in God than to believe in such a huge coincidence?

Whatever you personally believe about evolution, it might be wise to be wary of saying it contradicts the Bible. God gives clear warnings against our turning our neighbors away from Him. And convincing them that the Bible's not worth reading might be just as bad. In the end, it’s not our opinions or our interpretations that matter, but God’s word.


Gladys Hobson said...

Good to see a Christian unafraid of accepting the study of Biblical Criticism and its sources.

Sheila Deeth said...

Thank you Gladys.