Maker of Heaven and Earth, Part 2
In part 1 of Pastor Dave Swaim’s sermon, we heard about the many different ways that Christians respond to what--at first glance--appears to be a conflict between science and scripture. However, much of the apparent conflict arises when we force the narrative to address questions that it was not seeking to answer. Today, Swaim illustrates this by taking us on a brief tour of Genesis 1 and 2.
If you wish to hear the sermon in its entirety, you may do so here.
"Maker of Heaven and Earth" (transcript, part 2)
Open your Bibles up and let’s look together at Genesis chapter one. Sadly, I think that most translations of the first words of the Bible get us started on the wrong foot. “Bershit barah Elohim. Hashamiim vahaaritz” is the Hebrew introduction to the Bible. It’s usually translated, at least the traditional translation going back to the King James Version in 1611, is “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” But a better translation of that sentence may be, “in the beginning of God’s creating the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and empty.” That means that instead of claiming to be the first point in creation, this story opens up at an early stage in creation, which makes sense because the earth, although still a wet mess, already exists. This opening has much more of a, “once upon a time,” or, “back when kings still roamed the earth,” sensibility about it, and it’s less precise about an exact moment. And this kind of opening is used for a very different kind of literature, which we’ll get to more of in a moment.
Verse 3: “And God said ‘let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw the light was good and he separated the light form the darkness. God called the light ‘day’ and the darkness he called ‘night.’ There was evening and there was morning, the first day.” As you can see, the entire chapter follows this same pattern. If you’re looking at it, you just see this repeated over and over again—these same phrases over and over again—and God said let there be a vault, and God said let there be water, and God called the vault ‘sky’ and the dry ground land, and there was evening and there was morning, the second day, and the third day, and so on it goes. It’s interesting to note, however, the odd order that we see here. God created light on the first day, but no sun or stars to generate light until the fourth. He created vegetation on the third day before there was any sun or rain to nourish it. Of course God can do anything he pleases, but it’s strange that in the very next chapter, Genesis 2:5, we read, “now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground.” We could point at many more similar problems, and it should raise questions that two incongruent creation accounts are written back to back.
But we encounter a very different type of problem if we skip a few chapters ahead. We learn that Adam and Eve were the first couple, and they had two sons. Fair enough. But in chapter four, after Cain kills his brother Abel, who was he so afraid would kill him in revenge? Who are all these people he’s nervous about? And in verse 17, whom exactly did he marry? Well, you think maybe the Bible just didn’t happen to mention that Adam and Eve also had a bunch of daughters. Maybe it didn’t say that, and so maybe Cain married one of them, which is a little freaky, and something the Bible specifically prohibits. But then the two of them moved to a city. A city? I mean, there’s only one family on earth! Right? And his brother’s dead! Perhaps this is why so many early Christians, long before Darwin, didn’t read Genesis in the same way that modern Christians assume we should. For example, following many people before him, the great church father Origen, born in the 2nd century, revered the scriptures, but didn’t believe Genesis 1 to be a historical or literal account of the creation of the cosmos. The colossal scholar, Saint Augustine in the 5th century, shared the same view, as did Thomas Aquinas, the leading voice of Christian orthodoxy in the 13th century.
These are all very conservative Christian scholars who believed the Bible was absolutely true. And yet, long before Darwin, all of them warned that misreading Genesis 1 and 2 literally might make us miss what they’re really all about. Just like arguing about his mother might make us miss the main point of the prodigal son parable. Just a few years before Darwin published The Origin of Species, John Wesley, the 18th century Anglican minister who was the pioneer of the Methodist movement, also rejected a literalist interpretation of a 6 day creation. In the 19th century, perhaps the most influential defender of biblical inerrancy was Professor B.B. Warfield, who also accepted evolution as the proper scientific account of human origins.
It's commonly assumed that we must choose between science and scripture. And yet long before Darwin, Christians who believed in the absolute truth of scripture did not believe that Genesis described a literal 6 day creation any more than we think that Jesus was describing a real family in the parable of the prodigal son. Both Genesis 1 and Luke 15 are absolutely true—but not literally true. There’s an important difference. And demanding a literal meaning may make us miss the critical truths that they convey.
In Part 3 of this series, Pastor Swaim goes on to talk about what the Genesis creation narrative is really telling us.