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On the Creation Account

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August 6, 2010 Tags: Creation & Origins

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

To understand and apply Genesis 1 correctly, we have to consider issues of genre and intention. Too often these chapters are read as if they present a purely straightforward (read literal) historical and even scientific account of cosmic and human origins. They are thus then read as a polemic against modern scientific ideas, particularly Darwinism.

In my opinion, if one reads Genesis 1-2 closely and with knowledge of contemporary ancient Near Eastern texts, it is impossible to believe that the original author wanted his audience to read the text literally. Let me explain by giving a couple examples.

First think of the days of Genesis. “Day” typically means a twenty-four hour period. When it means something like “period of time,” it occurs in a formula like “day of the Lord.” In addition, each of the six creation days are described as having an “evening and a morning.” Those who want to read the creation days as literally 24 hour days will often point to these facts as indicating that we are dealing with a real day, not a period of time. That seems very reasonable until we note that the sun, moon, and stars aren’t created until the fourth day. But to have a literal “day” there has to be a sun, moon, and stars! These heavenly bodies define what a literal day is. Attempts to argue that God manipulated the light and the darkness of day one in a 24 hour period are a far-fetched and strange. These are not literal days, but a figurative way to present the fact that God ordered creation. The first three days are realms that are filled by the second three days, so the light/darkness realm of day one are inhabited by the sun, moon, and stars of day four. The sky/sea realm of day two are filled by the birds and fish of day five, and the land of day three is filled by the animals and humans of day six.

Second, we must remember that a fundamental principle of biblical interpretation is to read a text in the light of its original context. The first audience simply was not interested in how the creation came into existence, but who brought it into existence and why. Again, Genesis 1-2 was not written against Darwin, but against rival ancient Near Eastern claims. The Enuma Elish of Babylon attributed creation to Marduk and the Canaanite version pointed to Baal. Both of these ancient creation myths saw creation as a result of divine conflict between creator gods and deities that represented the chaotic waters which they defeated and controlled. In contrast, the Bible identifies Yahweh as the creator and since there are no rival gods there is no conflict either. God created the “earth as a formless void,” a watery mass and created the habitable world from it. The watery mass was not there from the beginning.

In a word, Genesis 1 proclaims that God ordered creation. It is not concerned with how God did it. To use Genesis 1 to reconstruct the process of creation is a misuse of the text.

Commentary written by the BioLogos editorial team.

Tremper Longman is the Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, as well as Visiting Professor of Old Testament at Mars Hill Graduate School and adjunct of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of over twenty books, including the upcoming Science, Creation and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins with physicist Richard F. Carlson.

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Dan - #24751

August 6th 2010

I have no problem with the contention that since there was no sun, no moon, no stars, a 24-hour day is not required by the text.  I agree that the intent of the author was not “how” the cosmos was created and “by whom” was central to the author’s intent.  But I keep coming back to the same two problems with the Biologos position.

1.  The genealogies and the New Testament quotations indicate the author’s intent in those passages includes that the Genesis events are actual events - historical Adam, historical fall.  So a consistente “author’s intent” hermeneutic needs to acknowledge as much.

2.  The “intent” of all of scripture is of a miracle working God who authored nature and it’s laws and is not bound by natural law.  The “intent” of the authors is that God does things that nature does not at various times in history.  Biologos insists on explaining all of God’s activity from a naturalistic perspective where natural law can explain all things.  That is not the intent of the Biblical authors, nor is it consistent with a belief in a God who created natural law.  It is an assertion devoid of any warrant save conformity to modern naturalism.

Justin Poe - #24752

August 6th 2010

Good points Dan….I could take a more open minded approach to the theories here at Biologos IF there were no NT ever written.  Biologos is always going to have to battle the authority of the NT writers, specifically some of the apostles themselves when it comes to trying to convince people of the “naturalism” in the Bible…...

Mike Smuts - #24760

August 6th 2010

Dan and Justin:
The argument that the NT quotes from Gen indicates that it should be read as “actual events” or “historical” (Dan) is interesting but not valid.  If I should speak on the wonderful grace of God and inllustrate it by quoting how the father of the prodigal sun received him unconditionally, does that make the content of the parable to be historical events?  Or, does the fact that the reference to the father of the prodigal son comes from a parable, make the reference invalid?

Quoting from sections of scripture is not validated only when it refers to actual historical facts, but when it corresponds with the intention and message of the quoted passage.

I agree with the position of Tremper Longman that the intention of Gen.1 is to reveal God as Creater of the universe, nature and humans.  Gen.2 adds to this by indicating that He seeks a realtionship with us, humans who tend to disobey Him.

Karl A - #24766

August 6th 2010

Dan: “Biologos insists on explaining all of God’s activity from a naturalistic perspective where natural law can explain all things.”

Can you justify that allegation, Dan?  Especially the part about “ALL of God’s activity”.  Or were you employing hyperbole?

Martin Rizley - #24805

August 6th 2010

I would like to know Tremper Longman’s view on the issue raised by Dan and Justin.  There are many who admit that the peculiar nature of the first three creation days cautions us against being dogmatic about the duration of time involved in the entire creation period.  But can it be denied that the Bible unequivocally teaches that God made a first man and woman from whom all people are descended, and that Jesus and the apostles accepted this narrative as literally true?  Can it be denied that the Bible presents Adam, not as a symbolic figure, but as a real figure with a specific life span and descendants whose names are given to us in Scripture?  Can it be reasonably doubted that the author of Genesis intends for his readers to regard these names not as ‘made up,’ but as the actual names of real people who lived in the past?  Moreover, Genesis teaches that the creation period ENDED when God finished making all basic ‘kinds’ of things.  Evolutionary views of cosmic history leave no room for a creation period, since there is simply matter organizing itself into organic life which then endlessly mutates into various forms.

HornSpiel - #24812

August 6th 2010

Dan wrote:

The “intent” of all of scripture is [to be a communication ] of a miracle working God who authored nature and it’s laws and is not bound by natural law.  The “intent” of the authors is [to show]  that God does things that nature does not at various times in history.

I think Dan is reading a modern mindset into the intent of God and the human authors. Ancient man did not have the miracle/natural law dichotomy. Of course (in the mind of ancient man) God is miracle working, but the intent of the creation story is not to show discontinuities with the natural order (as the ancients understood it). The ancient creation myths actually show conflict and discontinuity.  Genesis, par contre,  shows God is a sovereign, orderly and deliberate Creator, who cares about His creation. Our modern scientific understanding of origins dovetails quite nicely with that theological truth.

Modern Creation Science models actually run counter to the essential truths of Genesis. They insist that most of creation is explained by God’s massive miraculous interventions in the natural order producing discontinuities in the apparent age of nearly everything in the entire universe.

Theirs is not  the God of Genesis.

Ken Wolgemuth - #24814

August 6th 2010


Your last paragraph is so illuminating in relation to “Modern Creation Science”, that I think is better referred to as Henry Morris did,  “Scientitific Creationism”, and what an “ism” it is.

Indeed, IMHO, “Theirs is not the God of Genesis”

To the King of Creation,

Ken Wolgemuth

merv - #24833

August 6th 2010

Couple of challenges here, HornSpiel,

I’ve also made much of how modern scientific thought approaches the world differently than ancients did, but I wonder if we don’t go overboard emphasizing alleged differences.  Bible writers wrote about stopped days, floating axe-heads, miraculous healings, etc. precisely *because* they recognized that this isn’t the way things ordinarily work.  If they were, they couldn’t have functioned as signs and wouldn’t be called miracles by anybody.  I do agree that the ancients seem to be way ahead of some of us today in recognizing that God’s hand directs ALL processes whether or not we (or they) had additional insights into the specifics of *how*.  Some creationists today fall unwitting into the trap of accepting that “natural explanation” = “no God”.  The remedy for that one is deeper Bible study and not taking Dawkins & Co. seriously.  I do wish YECs would study the Bible a bit more in that regard.  But we should probably cut the ancients some slack:  they recognized amazing events just like we do & weren’t so different in that regard.


merv - #24836

August 6th 2010

You also wrote:  “Genesis, par contre,  shows God is a sovereign, orderly and deliberate Creator, who cares about His creation. “

This is an interesting point—and I think a good one to raise in the context you do:  a contrast to other violent and polytheistic creation myths of the time.  We could also contrast it with what I propose to be a recent “creation myth” if you will.  Some, have proposed that the story told the evolutionary way is anything but orderly, deliberate, or reflective of a caring creator.  Biologos folks would say that we should be cautious in imputing back on the Creator our own standards for what constitutes efficiency or order (what is time or death to God?).  And I tend to agree.  But it still does make for an interesting tension that I don’t think I’ve heard anybody resolve satisfactorily.  Maybe that’s a Gordian Knot.


merv - #24838

August 7th 2010

.... having written that ....

I do want to add, HornSpiel, that I do appreciate and agree with your point that the creation account does have an emphasis on the *continuity* of God’s sovereignty and goodness with His creation as opposed to it being “fallout” from wars between gods.  I think your essential point is well stated and I don’t want my last post to be read as a disagreement over that. 

Regarding your notion of ancients not recognizing discontinuities in how things occasionally happened:  I think they recognized those just like we would.  But how that applies to the creation account which was inspiration later received rather than penned by an eye-witness—that could be another matter entirely.


HornSpiel - #24856

August 7th 2010

Merv & Ken,
Thanks for your comments. I certainly make a difference between latter miracles,  like Axe heads floating and the standing still, which clearly fall into the category of signs, and the initial creation account, which as I state above, stresses order and deliberation.

If the YEC account is true, then God is the author of confusion, if not outright deception.

Ken Wolgemuth - #24877

August 7th 2010


May I please have permission to use your last sentence occastionally.  The theologians who support the YEC mantra just do not seem to understand the kind of God they are promoting.

I would enjoy talking on the phone sometime.  Such connections I have made on this blog have been quite meaningful.

Ken Wolgemuth
Solid Rock Lectures
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

JMFK - #24887

August 7th 2010

Hornspiel, Merv, and Ken,

I very much appreciate your discussion regarding the” continuity” of God’s creative order. The Hebrew writers of the OT did not see the regular orderliness of the material universe as evidence against the Creator, but as the blessing of his covenant faithfulness with his creation in providing a stable environment for life to flourish. That his activity within his creation could result in things such as storms, tectonics, predation, and animal death in no way diminished their appreciation for his gift of life, but rather elicited their worship all the more:

“May the Lord rejoice in his works - who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke” - Psalm 104:31-32
“Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command.” - Psalm 148:7-8
“The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God.” Psalm 104:21
“O Lord, how manifold are your works…the earth is full of your creatures…When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.” Psalm 104:24-30

Also Job 38-41; Psalm 104 in full.

merv - #24890

August 7th 2010

Those are awe-inspiring passages, JMFK—- thanks.

Dan and Martin have some as yet unanswered (on this thread) challenges above, one addressed to Tremper Longman.  I don’t want to see those forgotten—- hopefully Mr. Longman will answer.  If he doesn’t, I hope Martin will allow some of us to address it.


HornSpiel - #24909

August 7th 2010

Ken, I am happy to let you use my phrasing, though the thought is not original. Perhaps I should be the one who should be citing you! For example here.

What I really like about these blogs is the opportunity to get feedback on various arguments and perspectives, and to learn the intellectual lay of the land from many points of view. The tree varve example in your scholarly paper being serialized here is one of the clearest presentations of evidence falsifying Flood geology I have ever seen.

It think it is best to understand Scientific Creationism, as it now stands, as an apologetic, rather than a scientific hypothesis (much less theory.) Even though it is scientifically bankrupt, it does have strong theological/philosophical underpinnings. (This is not really to downgrade it. TE is also an apologetic. It does not pretend to be a scientific program.)

I think the honest YECers would agree, it is a model looking for a theory.

cloyd - #24940

August 7th 2010

One of the issues for me is a very simple one: What is true? and not, What squares with a particular set of writings?  The writings are ancient and loved and quite frankly, give great insight into human behavior and our place in the universe. However, just because they give those insights, it does not follow that they are true in all things. I have come to trust science for many things. Science does not offer ultimate answers. It suggests them, but then, it recognizes new information may change those things we now think are ultimate. That is the strength of science. It can see when it is wrong (ok, sometimes it takes it a while, but it can.

Yet, faith calls me, and the Christian faith calls me. The rigid, literalistic way of interpreting scripture kept me from faith for years, until I learned that ALL Christians were not fundamentalists, and that I could read things like Noah’s flood and the creation allegorically.  The point was made that the prodigal son parable makes no claim to being historicity factual. It is true, none the less. Some will take offense at my saying it, but I see much of scripture, especially Genesis, more like parable than history.

Martin Rizley - #24988

August 7th 2010

Cloy,  When you ask “what is true?” are you thinking of truth in a relativistic sense (‘true’’ meaning “what is true for me” or “what works for me”) or are you thinking of truth in an absolute sense as a revelation from God to men concerning the nature of ultimate reality?  Because I think that is what the Bible means when it speaks of truth.  When the Bible says that God sent His Son into the world, that He was born of a virgin, performed miracles, suffered and died on the cross, rose again, and that He is coming again, it is talking about matters of absolute truth that are “true” for everyone.  Thus, when Jesus said to His fellow Jews, “Unless you believe that I am He (God’s Son), you will die in your sins” (John 8:24), He was talking about a real consequence that would come upon them if they rejected the divinely revealed truth concerning His Person.  The question that needs to be asked, therefore, is whether Jesus viewed the Bible as simply a book containing truth mixed with error, or whether He regarded it as wholly true in all its teaching.  I am convinced that He regarded it as wholly true (see Matt. 4:4, 5:18; Luke 24:25-27, John 10:35, John 17:17)

Greg Myers - #25452

August 11th 2010

The original audience was interested in both “how” and “who,” and the author was interested in telling them both. This follows from the observation that the text offers two detailed explanations of how.  Sure, both the author and audience were aware of competing claims, but that context does not turn descriptions of fashioning Adam from dust or Eve from Adam’s rib into opaque metaphor or allegory.  Rather, metaphor or allegory have as a taking off point certain claims as to how and who.  This is backed up by thousands of years of allegory and metaphorical interpretations based on the assumption of the historicity of the Genesis stories.

It is not sufficient to attempt to harmonize science and religion by making the text mean whatever science has discovered (or to make the text about something else altogether, not at all related to science).  The first step is, rather, to recognize that the bible simply got it wrong.  Just like it got it wrong about genocide, slavery, women as property, homosexuals, etc., etc.  Religion, as am impulse toward love and community, is a force for good.  Religion, as a set of dogmatic beliefs, which must be defended against all comers, has sponsored all sorts of mischief and suffering.

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