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Maker of Heaven and Earth, Part 2

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October 18, 2011 Tags: Creation & Origins

Today's sermon features David Swaim. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

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.

David Swaim is Senior Pastor of Highrock Covenant Church in Arlington, Massachusetts. After attending graduate school, he served in numerous churches until he settled at Highrock.

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MarcM7 - #65578

October 18th 2011

Swain has pointed out internal inconsistencies that open the way to making Adam
and Eve symbolic.  What will he do with Paul’s teaching?  Without
Adam’s sin condemning all humankind, is it literally true that God won’t love
humans if they don’t profess faith in Christ?

Darrel Falk - #65580

October 18th 2011

It is important to point out that nothing that has been said (either here in this sermon, nor by being attentive to that which emerges from the scientific data) necessitates  “making Adam and Eve symbolic.”

CF - #65582

October 18th 2011

I was thinking the same thing!

ZeroG - #65586

October 18th 2011

He didn’t explicitely state that Adam and Eve are symbollic, but I think you can probably assume it at least. I think this just causes those who took “Adam and Eve” literally, should look at Paul’s teachings in a different light or a little closer to see what he is really saying. 

I look at the story of Adam and Eve as the story which explains how our consciousness of ourselves silenced Elohim. 

G8torBrent - #65592

October 18th 2011

“Adam’s sin condemning all humankind” Anyone reading this blog probably knows that “Adam” is just a transliteration of the Hebrew. So, translated in your comment, it would be “Man’s sin condemning all humankind.” And sure enough, we are all guilty of that.

The tricky part of what Paul says, IMO, is the “through a man” bit. I rather believe that spiritual death didn’t exist until the first Adam (man)—with whom God initiated an image-of-God relationship—sinned. Even with a population of humans capable of relating to God, there would have to be a first who actually did, wouldn’t there? His sin brings death (spiritual death, now a possibility for every human) just as the result of Jesus’ actions is that “all will be made alive.” Well, not all, but it’s possible for all.
CF - #65581

October 18th 2011

“Professor B.B. Warfield ... accepted evolution as the proper scientific account of human origins.”

This is not entirely clear. Certainly, he allowed for evolution as the proper scientific account, but based on the work of Fred G. Zaspel (cf. http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/publications/35-2/b-b-warfield-on-creation-and-evolution), it seems that he may not have actually considered it proper scientific account but instead remained agnostic.

Still, that’s a step farther than many conservatives are willing to go today.

Darrel Falk - #65585

October 18th 2011

Thanks, CF.  Here is the link to Mark Noll’s summary of the views of Warfield on evolution.  http://biologos.org/blog/one-voice-relating-science-and-nature-in-todays-world-part-3

Shirley - #65587

October 18th 2011

Sadly, that the Bible is a collection of wise, wry stories still seems to elude us. It took me forever to catch on. My husband losing his teaching job at a Christian school over the issue of evolution—did that mean I’d married a heretic (see http://shirleykurtzbooks.blogspot.com/p/apple-tree-or-mango.html)? By now my rancor has dissipated, I suppose. Well, maybe it hasn’t.

Shirley - #65630

October 20th 2011

Me again. I’m new to BioLogos and can’t figure out how to get a return
message to the reader who commented privately. “Norman” (pseudonym)
noted the tenuousness of his own position as a science teacher at a
Christian school—openly investigating, maybe knocking, the sacred-cow
beliefs would mean risking his job.

Norman, getting fired didn’t flatten my husband. The uproar from most of
the staff was buoying, a testament to his character and
professionalism. But I grow more and more disenchanted with the church.
Denominations—their institutions—their official publications—seem
essentially political. Is the church a place of truth if honesty puts a
person in jeopardy? Do we sacrifice intellectual integrity?

HornSpiel - #65590

October 18th 2011

This sermon just keeps getting better. I’m sorry for those who think that if A&E are non-literal, that that is somehow a problem for Christianity. His whole point is that if you take Gen. 1-2 literally, you are missing the point.

If you suppose that there was some historical couple that God first spoke to, I do not see how that helps. Were their names really Adam and Eve, (did they speak Hebrew?), did all the events, including the talking snake occur historically (could you have filmed it and recognized it as this story?), did they really have two sons who fought as described? If not, then the historical couple are not the Adam and Eve of Genesis. As interesting as it would be to know about their lives, theirs would not teach us the truths that tht Genesis 1 and 2 do.

penman - #65595

October 19th 2011

Hornspiel #65590

“If you suppose that there was some historical couple that God first
spoke to, I do not see how that helps. Were their names really Adam and
Eve, (did they speak Hebrew?), did all the events, including the talking
snake occur historically (could you have filmed it and recognized it as
this story?), did they really have two sons who fought as described? If
not, then the historical couple are not the Adam and Eve of Genesis.
As interesting as it would be to know about their lives, theirs would
not teach us the truths that that Genesis 1 and 2 do.”

I think it helps to have a historical Adam & Eve because the New Testament assumes their historicity in many places, & places theological weight on that historicity.

What doesn’t help, I think, is to insist that Adam & Eve were the sole biological progenitors of all humankind (= homo divinus, humanity bearing God’s image). I don’t see that clearly in the text - in fact, I see things in the text that count against it - & it creates needless burdens for our science. It’s more in harmony with biblical thought, in my humble opinion, to see Adam as the covenant head & representative of an existing race, rather than its sole genetic father.

KevinR - #65596

October 19th 2011

I suppose we can take it that Exodus 20:11 has some kind of poetical meaning instead of stating that all of creation was started and completed in six literal days that man could understand….???

”  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
Just whose better translation is this? Pastor Swaim’s? Just how many people were involved in creating the NIV? Could all those who worked on Genesis have been mistaken?

Scott Jorgenson - #65634

October 20th 2011

Swaim’s suggested translation follows the general trajectory of modern scholarship when it comes to this.  Some modern translations reflect this:

- The New Revised Standard Version, an ecumenical translation and probably the most widely-respected one today in academic scholarship, has: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void…”

- The modern Catholic translation, the New American Bible, has: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland…”

- Among older translations, Young’s Literal has: “In the beginning of God’s preparing the heavens and the earth—the earth hath existed waste and void…”

See any technical/academic Genesis commentary from recent decades for a discussion of this, including pro’s and con’s.  For example, see Westermann’s “Genesis 1-11” (though IIRC he comes down against this translation).  In short, it is highly plausible, though by no means a done-deal, to translate it this way.

NIV is a good translation, but was produced exclusively by scholars affiliated with evangelicalism.  And at times IMHO their work betrays certain conservative-evangelical distinctives and conceptions, which tend to hew to tradition and doctrine, and preclude serious consideration of alternatives that would challenge those commitments.  For example, the whole reason NIV (almost alone among translations) translates Genesis 2:19 as “had formed” instead of simply “formed” is because of reasons like this.  In that case (Genesis 2:19), it was IMHO likely an attempt to maintain some narrative consistency between Genesis 1 and 2, something typically considered crucial in conservative evangelicalism because of the assumed need to see those passages as reliable historical reporting.  Swaim, of course, is arguing against that assumption.
penman - #65599

October 19th 2011

KevinR #65596

“I suppose we can take it that Exodus 20:11 has some kind of poetical
meaning instead of stating that all of creation was started and
completed in six literal days that man could understand….???”

Well - but why assume that being human means an incapacity to understand the creation days except as literal sequential solar days? Augustine was human, & he didn’t understand them that way; and Augustine was regarded as the Theologian Par Excellence for the next thousand years & longer (in the West, anyway). No one accused him of being an esoteric myth-monger.

The 4th commandment could mean that practical human time is based on God’s ordering of creation as given in the revealed text. IE, revelation has ordered creation-time in a certain way (see Gen.1), & the Creator-Revealer has chosen to structure practical human time on that revelational ordering.

MarcM7 - #65610

October 19th 2011

I’m glad to have all of these posted insights.  When I posed the question I was just pointing out what I think makes fundamentalists so nervous in anything that deviates from a literal interpretation of Genesis.  Once you allow that there might not have been a literal first A&E who brought sin on all mankind, then what accounts for God’s judgment against us and the reconciliation of humankind through the sacrifice of one man as atonement for it?  Human nature is sinful, we all know it.  But apparently it comes out of the biological & psychological nature of our creation.  Are we to be condemned for how we are created for eternity by the creator?

Shirley - #65655

October 21st 2011

Ah, might I stick out my neck again? Our Christian tenet of sacrifice—atonement? How is it differently, really, from the code held to by ancient indigenous groups? Their gods, too, sought righteous justice, but could maybe be placated with corn, beer, cloth, llama blood, and so forth (besides the occasional child left out in the weather to perish).

Dare I mention, this time, my book Sticking Points (Cascadia, 2011), which tortuously examines the topic? Okay, now I’ll quietly tuck back in. 

ZeroG - #65657

October 21st 2011

Interesting connection Shirley. Keeping with the indigenous people theme, I like to think of Genesis as a story kept alive before writing was common. And the easiest way to tell the story is to hang parts of the story on the days. It helped insure nothing was left out. I think this is all you can read into the days, it was just a way to help tell the story.

Going further, I think Genesis is the story of how we came to understand our place in this world. It allowed us to spacially locate ourselves in this world. In a sense, I think it is the story of consciousness.

The devine nature of the creation story is how it reveals itself in many religions. It seems to hit some common nerve in the human experience. 

sy - #65612

October 19th 2011

What I really like about this sermon, and what I find to be a novel point in it, is the emphasis on the idea that by asking the wrong questions, we are missing the right answers. Pastor Swain seems to be  making the case that questions related to whether God created heaven and earth in 6 days and why the order is so strange, are the wrong questions. I noticed his emphasis that the light created by God on day 1, had no natural source (neither sun nor stars) which could mean that this light was a different kind of light. So perhaps a better question would be, what exactly did God create in Genesis 1 (eg. was the light a spiritual light, is that why God saw that it was “good”?)

I look forward to see what Pastor Swain says about the real questions to be asked from this passage.

Menno van Barneveld - #65706

October 24th 2011

Let me state that I am a servant of Jesus Christ our lord. He gave me a gift of the holy spirit so that I could get answers on my questions. Otherwise I could hardly know what our lord wanted me to do for him as a servant. That you don’t think that the following is my own wisdom.
God revealed Genesis 1-11 through his scribe as a gathering of facts told in the form of a myth. You cannot understand it in details without the revelation of additional information.
1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, (NRSV)
Verse 1 tells us that God created a four dimensional space plus time. There is a three dimensional space for the earthly universe and a three dimensional space for the heavenly universe. They are twin universes separated on some distance in the fourth spacial dimensin “With”.
2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God

swept over the face of the waters.
Verse 2 tells us that this space and time was empty. A wind of God is from the word “ruach” and that means “holy spirit”. God and the holy spirit are indipendent entities who co-operate with each other. God made the plan for all creation and He commands what has to happen at times and the holy spirit executes the creation. While God is somewhere the holy spirit is everywhere inside and outside the creation.
3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
The big bang is impossible. Putting all mass of the universe in a small ball makes a black hole from which nothing can escape. Instead God created a powerfull lightsource that started to fill the space with light, both in heaven and in earth, and it still does. Fotons can be split up in matter and antimatter, the holy spirit can remove the antimatter so that the space can become filled with matter. And this is still happening. We are living in a growing universe expanding with the speed of light. The age now is 1.75 billion years and so the diameter is 1.75 billion light years, for a foton cannot travel faster then the speed of light away from the foton in the opposit direction.
All particals, fotons too, have seven qualities, gravity, electromagnetism, weak nuclear force, strong nuclear force, life, spirit and concious. all in some messure depending on the kind of particle.
That the duration of the creation is counted in days is because it points to the commandment the we may work 6 days, but every seventh day we must take one day rest, for Jews from Friday evening till Saterday evening, for followers of the Christ the Sunday from 0 h till 24 h.
This as an illustration how to read Genesis 1-11. Rest me to state that the first commandment is Genesis 1:28, God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

beaglelady - #65750

October 26th 2011

Are you Conrad or just a clone?

Menno van Barneveld - #65826

October 28th 2011

Who is Conrad? I don’t know him.

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