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The Genesis of Everything, Part 3: The Purpose of Genesis 1

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June 23, 2012 Tags: Biblical Interpretation
The Genesis of Everything, Part 3: The Purpose of Genesis 1

Today's entry was written by John P. Dickson. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

Note: Today's post is the third of a four-part series by theologian, historian and Christian apologist Dr. John P. Dickson, dealing with the history and interpretation of Genesis 1. Dickson's paper first appeared in 2009 as "The Genesis of Everything: An historical account of the Bible’s opening chapter," at Christians in Science and Technology (ISCAST), an Australian organisation dedicated to exploring the interface between science and the Christian faith. As that title suggests, it urges us to treat the early chapters of Genesis as a literary and historical statement, and listen carefully to it on those terms.

In the previous post, Dr. Dickson examined the genre of Genesis 1. In today's post, he describes the purpose of Genesis 1.

The Purpose of Genesis 1

But genre is only half of the matter. Equally important is an appreciation of the historical purpose of Genesis.

As citizens of a scientific age we assume that any document which mentions the origins of the world must be concerned with the mechanics of those origins, that is, with how the universe was made. But that is surely anachronistic. One of the first rules of historical enquiry is: thou shalt not read contemporary assumptions into ancient texts. In the case of Genesis we absolutely must remember that this text was composed two and half thousand years before the scientific era, at a time when intellectuals were not even asking questions about the mechanics of creation.

Paganism and biblical ‘subversion’

So what is the purpose of this portion of Scripture, according to biblical historians? In a nutshell, the opening section of the Bible appears to have been written to provide a picture of physical and social reality that debunks the views held by pagan cultures of the time. In short, Genesis 1 is a piece of subversive theology.

To anyone familiar with the Old Testament this subversive, anti-pagan intent will come as no surprise. One of the golden threads of the Old Testament is its sustained critique of the pagan religions of Israel’s neighbours—the Egyptians, Canaanites and Babylonians. The first two of the Ten Commandments, for instance, are all about shunning the pagan deities of the ancient world.10 Moreover, the book of Psalms—the hymn book of ancient Jews—regularly and explicitly declares that the creation owes its existence not to the pagan gods but to Yahweh, the God of Israel.11 In Jeremiah 50:2 the Babylonian creator god, Marduk, is explicitly named and denounced. Given the prominence of this motif in the Old Testament it would be surprising if the Old Testament’s longest statement about creation did not take a swipe at pagan understandings of the universe.

We do not have to speculate about this. Through a stroke of very good fortune, scholars are now able to see just how the writer of Genesis went about his task of debunking his ancient rivals.

Enuma elish: a Babylonian Creation Myth

Just as Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was about to be published (1858), archaeologists working in Mosul in Northwest Iraq (ancient Mesopotamia) in the early 1850s discovered tablets almost three thousand years old (Hess 1994 pp. 3–26). On these tablets was written in cuneiform an account of creation held sacred by Israel’s near and dominant neighbours, the ancient Babylonians. Suddenly, we were in a position to compare Genesis 1 with a pagan creation tradition which, according to most scholars, predates the biblical account by several centuries.12

We now know that if you were raised in Babylonian culture of the second millennium BC your view of origins would have been based on a story that was as popular as our Santa Claus fable and as socially influential as Darwinism itself. The story came to be called Enuma elish, the opening words of the epic.13 To make a long, seven-tablet story short, Enuma elish narrates the violent adventures of the original family of the gods. Apsu and Tiamat, the father and mother of the gods, go to war against their offspring because of all the chaos the youngsters bring to their peaceful kingdom. Both divine parents are killed by the greatest of the junior warrior gods, Marduk, who goes on to fashion the universe out of the various bits and pieces of the vanquished gods.

As bizarre as all this sounds, stories like Enuma elish were critical expressions of ancient people’s understanding of the purpose and significance of life. Indeed, Enuma elish was so important in Babylon it was publicly recited in the capital every New Year’s day. It was their national mythic story. It was Christmas and ANZAC Day rolled into one.

The fascinating thing about all this is that Genesis 1 shares numerous thematic and stylistic features with the pagan myths scholars have uncovered in the last 150 years. Enuma elish provides the simplest point of comparison:

  • Both Enuma elish and Genesis begin in the first paragraph with a watery chaos at the dawn of time. Instantly, then, we know we are in similar thought-worlds.
  • Both stories proceed in seven movements: seven days in Genesis 1 and seven scenes written on seven tablets in Enuma elish.
  • The narratives even share the same order of creation, beginning with the heavens, then the sea, then the earth, and so on.
  • Both accounts climax with the creation of men and women, which occurs in the sixth scene or day in both accounts.

After initial speculation that Genesis had perhaps plagiarized pagan creation motifs,14 it soon dawned on scholars that what we find in Genesis 1 is philosophically antithetical to the message of these other myths. Historians soon realized something that they should already have expected given the criticism of pagan creation motifs found elsewhere in the Old Testament: Genesis 1 is a polemic against pagan cosmology and theology. Genesis uses stylistic elements of its pagan equivalents in order very cleverly to debunk the view of the world expressed in those traditions. The parallels constitute not an emulation or endorsement of paganism but a parody or subversion of it. Genesis storms onto the ancient Middle Eastern stage with guns blazing, so to speak, making profoundly controversial claims about God, the environment and the purpose of human life.15

Exactly how Genesis achieves these subversive aims is the concern of the remainder of the paper.

The Solitary God

The most prominent theme in Genesis 1 will have struck ancient pagan readers as a perverse novelty. The creation of the universe, says Genesis, was a solo performance. Behind the entire cosmos, in all its intricacy and variation, there is just one God. To give it a modern philosophical tag, Genesis 1 proclaims an uncompromising ‘monotheism’. It does this in a number of ways.

A striking introduction

Firstly, our text begins with a striking introduction: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ The writer does not bother to warm up his readers to the notion of one Creator; he puts it on the table up front. A single God, says Genesis, created not just this particular mountain or that particular constellation but the ‘the heavens and the earth’, which is the ancient way of saying ‘everything’.

A solo performance

Secondly, the chapter has just one performer. There is plenty of activity in the account—lots of speaking, making, seeing, separating, naming and so on—but only one actor. The second paragraph sets up the pattern well:

And God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day’, and the darkness he called ‘night’. And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. (Gen 1:3-5)

Compared with other creation accounts of the time, Genesis 1 is a conspicuously lonely affair.

The use of ‘god’ instead of ‘Yahweh’

The third way the passage proclaims monotheism is subtle but highly effective, especially for ancient readers. It has to do with the use, or rather non-use, of God’s personal name. Pagan creation myths always named their gods so that readers could know which god did what. In the Babylonian Enuma elish no fewer than nine separate deities are named in the first two paragraphs.16

The ancient Jews also had a personal name for their god: ‘Yahweh’, or the more anglicized, ‘Jehovah’,17 and it appears many times throughout the rest of Genesis. What is fascinating is that of the 35 references in this chapter to Israel’s Lord not one employs the divine name. The author simply uses the noun ‘God’—elohim in Hebrew.18 The effect of this is to undercut any suggestion that Yahweh was simply a Hebrew member of the pagan pantheon. ‘There is not Yahweh and Apsu and Tiamat and so on’, says the author of Genesis. ‘There is just God.’ And by repeating the noun 35 times the writer makes his point loud and clear.

Coherence in Creation

A corollary of pagan polytheism was a belief in the essential incoherence or randomness of the universe. In Enuma elish, for example, the physical world is said to have been fashioned as an after-thought, out of the bloody carnage of the war of the gods. The creation, in this view, is ‘haphazard’ in origin and ‘tainted’ in character. This was the broad viewpoint of ancient societies.

By contrast, Genesis 1 insists upon the elegance and intention of creation, in other words, upon its coherence. The universe is not a mindless collection of unpredictable forces, but the ordered accomplishment of a single creative genius. Monotheism in the Creator, says Genesis, results in coherence in the creation. The theme is emphasized by the 1st-century Jewish intellectual Philo in his On the Creation. It is found at almost every point in the biblical chapter.

The number ‘7’ and wholeness

I have already mentioned the artful use of multiples of seven throughout the chapter. In accordance with Hebrew literary conventions, this underlines the ordered perfection of creation. Philo devotes 15 pages to the brilliance of the number seven. He begins:

I doubt whether anyone could adequately celebrate the properties of the number 7, for they are beyond all words. (Philo p90)19

The careful structure of the passage

A more obvious device is the careful literary structure of the passage. Each creative scene follows a deliberate four-fold pattern:

  • a creative command (‘let there be light’, for example) followed by
  • a report of the fulfilment of the command (‘and there was light’)
  • an elaboration of creative detail (‘he separated the light from the darkness’) and, finally
  • a concluding day-formula (‘and there was evening, and there was morning—the first day’).

This pattern carries on through the whole account. The effect of all this is to underline the order and coherence of creation.20

Repetition of the word ‘good’

The repeated affirmation of the ‘goodness’ of the creation serves the same point. Verses 4, 7, 12, 16, 21 and 25 tell us that what God made ‘was good’. The seventh and climactic reference in v.31 says that the creation ‘was very good’. One gets the impression that the author is trying to counter the low view of creation present in just about every pagan culture of the time.

The demystification of the heavens

The final contribution to this theme of coherence is particularly subversive in an ancient context. Many ancient societies worshipped the sun and moon as gods in their own right.21 Genesis 1, however, describes these heavenly bodies simply as ‘lights’—a big light for the day and a small one for the night:

And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.’ And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. (Gen. 1:14-16)

The author in fact refuses to use the normal Hebrew words for sun and moon, shamash and yarih, which may have been construed as divine names corresponding to Amon-Re in Egyptian tradition. These lights, moreover, are said to have been given by God to serve the inhabitants of the earth, rather than to be served by them. Anyone familiar with paganism will not have failed to see the significance of such comments.

The number symbolism, the careful structure, the affirmation of the creation’s ‘goodness’, and the demystification of the heavenly bodies, all combine to challenge pagan notions of the capricious nature of the physical world. The creation is not random or possessed by spiritual powers, says Genesis 1; it is the coherent masterpiece of a single creative genius.


10 Exodus 20:3-5 You shall have no other gods before me. 4 You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them.
11 Psalm 95 1 Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD ... 3 For the LORD is the great God, the great King above all gods. 4 In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. 5 The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Psalm 96 4 ... great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. 5 For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.
12 For the dates of the documents and inscriptions in question see the relevant chapters in ‘I Studied Inscriptions from Before the Flood’ (Hess 1994).
13 The title comes from the opening words of the cuneiform text ‘When on high (enuma elish) ...’ The texts of various Mesopotamian myths, including Enuma elish, can be found in Dalley (Dalley 1992).
14 Leading the charge with the theory that Genesis was deeply dependent on the Babylonian myths was Herman Gunkel’s monograph of 1895 (Gunkel 1895). For an abridged English translation of the relevant parts of Gunkel’s study see Anderson (Anderson 1984 pp. 25-52).
15 Standard introductions to this theme in scholarship are found in Sarna (Sama 1970), Kapelrud (Kapelrud 1974) and Tsumura (Tsumara 1994 pp 3-26). A vigorous attempt to rebut the ‘majority view’ espoused above is found in Kaiser (Kaiser 1970 pp. 48-65).
16 Apsu, Tiamat, Lahmu, Lahamu, Ansar, Kisar, Anu, Nudimmud, and Mummu.
17 The name ‘Yahweh’ is represented in English Bibles by the word ‘Lord’, written in capital letters. This is rather unhelpful really because the word doesn’t mean ‘lord’ at all; it’s a personal name and was intended to be used as such.
18 Only in the introduction to the next section, in chapter 2:4, does the author name this Creator-God as Yahweh elohim, the God named Yahweh. This is such a striking feature of the text that some scholars have proposed that chapters one and two were written by different authors. The first they call the elohist because he preferred the generic word ‘god’ or elohim, and the second they call the yahwist because he preferred God’s personal name. The phenomenon is far more easily explained, as above.
19 His extraordinary account of the number 7 is found in On Creation 89-128.
20 This insight corresponds to that of the first century Jewish author, Philo, as mentioned at 1.1.
21 In fact, in Egypt, Amon-Re, the Sun-god, was said to rule the entire Egyptian pantheon, a collection of no fewer than 2000 deities.

In the final post of the series, Dr. Dickson examines the place of men and women in Genesis 1.

John Dickson is founding Director of the Centre for Public Christianity. He has a degree in theology and a doctorate in ancient history, specializing in the birth of Christianity. An ordained Anglican minister he is also a Senior Research Fellow of the Department of Ancient History, Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia), where he teaches a course on Christian origins. He has hosted two nationally televised documentaries (The Christ Files and Life of Jesus), authored over a dozen books and is a busy public speaker.

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Bilbo - #70590

June 23rd 2012

Dr. Dickson,

Thank you for a fascinating presentation.  I’m wondering about Gen.1:14, “...and let them be for signs….”  Would pagans have seen any astrological connotation associated with the word “signs”?

Roger A. Sawtelle - #70591

June 23rd 2012

17 The name ‘Yahweh’ is represented in English Bibles by the word ‘Lord’, written in capital letters. This is rather unhelpful really because the word doesn’t mean ‘lord’ at all; it’s a personal name and was intended to be used as such.

For an interesting and insightful essay this footnote hits a very jaring note.  LORD (small CAPs to reflect in part the capitalization of the Name) in English Bibles is not intended to translate the personal Name of YHWH in the Hebrew Bible.  It is to reflect Jewish usage which holds the Name of YHWH sacred (See the Third Commandment) and thus uses the Hebrew word Adonai or Lord instead of YHWH when reading the Hebrew Bible. 

This information is not new or secret.  It is found in the preface of most English Bibles.

In the Greek Bible, both the New and Old Testament (LXX,) the Greek word for Lord is used, Kurios.  Thus when it says Jesus is Lord in the NT, it can also be understood as Jesus is God or YHWH, because the word Kurios is the same for both.

The word Lord, Adonai, means Master, Sovreign, Ruler.

YHWH is the personal Name of God and is used with Elohim, as in “I am YHWH your God (Elohim)” at the beginning of the Decalogue.  It does have an important theological, philosophical, and cosmological meaning, I AM WHO I AM.  See Exodus 3.     

Merv - #70594

June 23rd 2012

As much as I appreciate and agree with the understanding of Genesis one as a response to its pagan surroundings, I hope the irony isn’t lost that the whole brouhaha over synthesizing the evolutionary narrative with the monotheological creation narrative would have been much easier with the pagan story.  Maybe the Babylonians had no idealistic view of nature that Paley bequeathed to us today.  This is tongue-in-cheek, of course.  Dr. Dickson’s point is well taken that our mechanical questions now were not at all their questions then.  But one could have fun imagining what concordists today would do with the pagan story were they harmonizing that one.


George Bernard Murphy - #70600

June 23rd 2012

Hey Merv, I didn’t see your blurb about concordists,...... but am happy to represent that fine view.

Concordist would notice that  old Enema Elish does not concord that well.

Both science and Genesis report that God’s LAST creation was humans. [Late on day 6].

Old En’s story starts with humans [or superhumans] [Gods?] already there on the scene,..and goes down hill from there.


Yikes! Give me a break!

 Well then,.... there must have been a lot created BEFORE E.E’S CREATION STARTS.

The bibles story of “rocks first,... humans last’,  agrees perfectly with cosmologists and other scientists.

So the score is;

Genesis concordance with science,..... 1

En.El’s correlation with science,.... 0

George Bernard Murphy - #70596

June 23rd 2012

. “One of the first rules of historical enquiry is: thou shalt not read contemporary assumptions into ancient texts. In the case of Genesis we absolutely must remember that this text was composed two and half thousand years before the scientific era, at a time when intellectuals were not even asking questions about the mechanics of creation.”

The Genesis account certainly agrees with those people now living in the “scientific era”

How did that happen?

Well perhaps it should not be called ‘historical inquiry”.

 That implies that it relates to action taken by men. GOD WROTE OR INSPIRED IT.


So identifying Genesis as “history” may be incorrect scholarship.

Craig Robinson - #70601

June 23rd 2012

“thou shalt not read contemporary assumptions into ancient texts”

You just did!

You assumed that Gen 1 was written 2500 years ago and as a REaction against pagan views. As such, you are implicitly accepting conclusions of critical scholarship that Gen 1 is a priestly document written AFTER most/all of the rest of the OT was written.

The text though, does not present itself that way. It presents itself in such a way as to take the creation account of Genesis 1 as written first, and as the theological and narrative foundation of all that comes after it. The creation acount is PROactive not REactive. There is one and only one God who creative everything, visible and invisible. Mankind, like their parents Adam and Eve, and like the sons of Israel, then move away from that revealed truth and pursue their own imaginations, creating their own Gods and idols in the images of the created things already revealed to them.

The OT and the whole Bible continuously presents God as revealing himself and his truth and then man moving away from that truth. Not the other way around where man creates his own truth and then God decides to reveal himself to straighten things out.

You have read your own assumptions into the text and not taken as it stands.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #70602

June 23rd 2012


The Bible in a sense describes it as it happened, but not as humans experienced it.

There has always been one God, YHWH, but YHWH did not reveal Godself until Abram and the patriarchs.  There has always been moral law, but until YHWH liberated the children of Israel and gave Moses the Ten Commandments humans did not have a covenant with God based on these laws.

God does not change, but people do.  God has revealed Godself and God’s purpose to humanity in steps also through Joshua, the judges, Saul, David, Solomon, and the kings, the prophets, Jesus Christ, Paul and the apostles, and even down today through the Holy Spirit.

Even though we can say that God revealed Godself once and for all through Jesus Christ humans are still learning the full significance of His life, death, and resurrection today.  God is proactive, but huams are slow learners and we need time and patience to understand what God is telling us about ourselves, our world, and about God.            

Craig Robinson - #70604

June 23rd 2012


Thanks, for the reply. Forgive me, but I am not sure how your reply addresses my point, or if you understand my point.

Based on how I read Dr. Dickson, he accepts the assumptions of critical scholarship that says Gen 1 was written AFTER the rest of the OT. That is an assumption, right or wrong, that he is bringing to the text. It colors the way he interprets the text.

The text itself does not present itself that way. It presents itself as if Gen 1 was the first thing written and that all of those who came after knew what God had written about the creation.

As such, the text does not, in my opinion, present a polemic against pagan Gods. It presents God as the one and only God, who created all things before there were any people to create pagan Gods in the image of those things God created. 

So I am saying two thing:

1. Dr Dickson brings assumptions to the text immediately after he says not to. He may be right about those assumptions (I don’t believe so), but even if he is right he is still bringing assumptions to the text.

2. His assumptions, that he is bringing to the text, allow him to treat the text as a polemic against foreign Gods. If he is wrong in his assumption, and that Gen 1 was written very early before anything else, and/or if its truth was communicated before any other truth, then one can not take Gen 1 as an after the fact polemic against pagan Gods, because it would have been written or its truth communicated before pagan Gods were created (by man).

So basically, Dr. Dickson can only make his argument, whether right or wrong, by bringing his own assumptions to the text, which in fact do not reside in the text itself since the text presents the truth of Gen 1 as the first truth communicated.

Or, iow, no one can come to Dr Dickson’s conclusion simply by reading the text in the way the text presents itself. He must bring in assumptions from outside the text.

George Bernard Murphy - #70606

June 23rd 2012

Well whether Genesis 1 was written after other books of the old testament or not,.. it was definitely written BEFORE modern science knew Hubble’s law, or had any other objective proof that A SUDDEN MIRACULOUS CREATION FROM NOTHING HAD OCCURRED. 

And it definitely was written about events that happened before any human was created. AND IT DEFINITELY HAS ESSENTIAL EVENTS IN their CORRECT SEQUENCE.

And no other ancient creation “myth” has any of those things.

wesseldawn - #70777

July 1st 2012

Yeah but…where did that moral law come from? There had to have been a law already existing before the Ten Commandments?

Afterall, Adam and Eve must have known God’s law? They would have passed that onto their children and so on…

So then Moses’ Law was not the first but a restablishing of the first law (as we are in need of today)!

The Books of Eden/Adam and Eve and Enoch of the Apocrypha had to have been in existence prior to Moses’ Law!

Joriss - #70607

June 23rd 2012

I also feel it very much this way: God speaks in no way about other gods in genesis 1, nor in the following chapters. So assuming that God in gen. 1 reacts against other gods is making God less a God of initiative and more a God of  reaction.  That implies that God first granted other gods, spirits, idols or whatever beings there may be in the sky, to reveal themselves with their lies to his creation , and then reacted and said: Well, no, that’s not Me. Seems a pretty weird assumption. He is the Alpha and the Omega, not gamma and omega. He does not need other beings or gods to react on.
We know that Abram was called by God out of land of idolatry, so in his days there was idolatry, but in the days before Noach we don’t read about idols, but that the earth was corrupt, full of violence, wickedness and evil. I think there is a good reason to assume, although not for sure, that idolatry, creation myths etc. began to flourish áfter their language was confounded and they were scattered on the earth. So no central memory of the past was left. Before that time they were one people, with one language, and with one central memory of the past; they all knew the same facts. So there could hardly have been a variety of myths and gods.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #70609

June 23rd 2012


I am glad you feel it instead of think it.

God does not have to worry about other gods.

God does not have to be concerned about if people think about if God is proactive or reactive.

God just does what is right. 


Merv - #70610

June 23rd 2012

Genesis 1 may not have mentioned any other Gods, but later prophetic writings—messages from God to later Old Testament prophets sure do mention other gods, and in quite the poetic manner no less.  Israel is repeatedly compared to an adulterer chasing after other lovers, forsaking their true God.  I don’t think such passion, anger and hurt expressed over a wayward people makes God any less of a God, but some might consider such language ‘weird’.  God allows us to anthropomorphize him throughout Scripture but seems to assume (rightly) that ancients were smart enough to know symbolism and metaphor when they saw it—i.e.  that God is not literally a ‘rock’ or a ‘fortress’ or a ‘hen covering her chicks with her wings’ or for that matter a man walking in a garden looking for a couple and calling out because they are hiding from him.  I think we moderns who have drunk a little too deeply of science have, because of that, become confused and now think these stories all need to be literal or else they mean nothing at all.  So in that sense I think the modern textual criticism, as wrongly motivated as some of it may be, may be doing us a service by helping cull away unhelpful modern approaches. 


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70608

June 23rd 2012


Thanks for your response.

Personally I dod not see whether it makes much difference when a text is written or even by whom to determine whether it is a polemic or not.  If you disagree with me and write a response to my point of view, it could be called a polemic whether this is intended or not. 

It seems to me that the ANE origin stories are older than the stories of the Hebrews, so in some sense the Bible was written in response to them, particularly because pagans were members of the same culture, and the same ethnic group except for religion, which here is the biggie.

Now it seems to me that you are carrying a polemic of your own against “form criticism” by calling it an “assumption.”  I took OT under Prof. Frank Cross a well respected scholar of Hebrew and Canaanite literature, so maybe I can address some of your concerns. 

Form criticism is based on the fact that language and literary style changes with time.  Scholars have detected different language and styles within Gen 1.  They have interpreted this to mean, as I understand it, that many of the materials in this chapter are from an ancient oral tradition called E (after Elohim) which were put together by P much later. 

P stands for priestly editor, who maybe was making a polemic against foreign dieties, but was using much older materials which were familiar to many people in oral form.  Presumably most people at this time were not literate.  Also it should be noted that there is a second Creation narrative found in Gen 2:4-14 which uses YHWH for God.  It is thought that comes from a separate oral tradition probably from a different part of the country, which was divided between north and south. 

Therefore based on information internal to the Biblical narrative scholars haved come to the conclusion that at a certain place and time, probably I think during the time of David/Solomon, ancient scholars in Jerusalem saw the need to collect, preserve, and edit these very old materials and put them into book form for the edification of the Jewish people.    

You might disagree with this conclusion, but I would not call it an assumption. 

Another important key:  God speaks in poetry(which is another reason God does not teach science.)  Look for poetry in the OT for the oldest words of God.         

GJDS - #70611

June 23rd 2012

This part of the series has been entitled ,”The purpose of Genesis 1.” Yet it deals with a scholastic and perhaps historical view of what may or may not have prevailed in this part of the world about 3000 years ago. I suggest the purpose of Genesis 1 is to teach us (and indeed all of those who have turned to God) that He is the Creator of all things in heaven and earth. Teachings of origins have appeared in all cultures and have been discussed by scholars; indeed most accounts by pagans appear to have been more detailed and graphic than that in Genesis (Babylon, Egypt, Greece/Rome, and Eastern religions). In the pagan teachings that I have become aware, their approach has been to provide descriptions in terms that can be understood within a human and super-human context. Thus, these gods squabble, fight with each other, may be gods of natural objects (e.g. Egypt god of the sun) and each nation sees itself as showing its culture and religion are superior in force and warfare. These cultures developed religious organisations and stories to serve their purpose, which was to exercise power over the people.

I do not agree that Genesis 1 (or indeed the Bible) were written to subvert anyone or anything, and least of all pagan myths. I think the writer was guided by the Holy Spirit to write Genesis simply, unequivocally and purposely, to effectively teach that God created the heaven and earth, and God is One. People may respond in this context and increase in their understanding, or conversely, their heart may be hardened (Eph 4:18) and they remain alienated from God in their ignorance. It is the power and eloquence of the language of Genesis 1 ( and 2) that has continued to this day to unequivocally declare the eternal truth that there is one God and He is the creator; this message continues to confound pagans and gentiles of today as it did in by-gone days.

George Bernard Murphy - #70614

June 23rd 2012

GJDS wrote.” Teachings of origins have appeared in all cultures and have been discussed by scholars; indeed most accounts by pagans appear to have been more detailed and graphic than that in Genesis (Babylon, Egypt, Greece/Rome, and Eastern religions). In the pagan teachings that I have become aware, their approach has been to provide descriptions in terms that can be understood within a human and super-human context. Thus, these gods squabble, fight with each other, may be gods of natural objects (e.g. Egypt god of the sun)”

AND…. none of these “teachings of origins” is worth the parchment it is written on when compared to the scientific facts that recent generations have finally come to understand as the REAL STORY of creation!

Only genesis parallels the real facts.

Craig Robinson - #70613

June 23rd 2012

Thanks Roger,

Now we are much closer to talking the same language. 

Hopefully, it should be obvious from my two posts that I already understand stand everything you said. I understand what the higher criticisms are saying, and I understand that Gen 1 is consider Priestly, which is why I refered to it as Priestly in my first post. I’ve also had a very good Hebrew professor.

Do I have a polemic of my own? Absolutely! I believe that the higher critics are making assumptions. I do not at all consider them facts. One of the biggest problems with higher critics is their confidence in their own assumptions and their unwillingness to examine them.

While the scholars starting with Wellhausen have considered Gen 1 a priestly document because of its language, I believe there are many more compelling reasons to to place it as the earliest document written. I don’t find the reasons of the higher critics compelling, and I don’t think most of the people that agree with them have examine the evidence very closely if at all.

So, yes I believe that Dickson is making an assumption, though many/most scholars would agree with him. He could be correct. I don’t believe he is. But right or wrong, his case is built upon his assumption.

George Bernard Murphy - #70615

June 23rd 2012

Well Craig that is why I like science.

 They make assumptions,... but then they do some experiment to check the assumptions.

 If they cannot confirm their assumptions they drop them.

 Where there is scientific evidence to back the Bible I definitely feel more secure IN MY FAITH.


You would be amazed at how many assumptions scientists have abandon and how many others they have been forced to consider,.. like a single object being in two places at the same time,..... and multiple past histories which are all real.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #70620

June 24th 2012


I am glad that we understand each other better.

However I still have two serious problems with you

The first is that you still call the Source Theory of how Genesis 1 was written an assumption, and thus have confused George Bernard Murphy about the nature of theology.  An assumption by definition is an unexamined presupostion. 

The Source Theory is that a theory, which is based on evidence, just as Darwin’s Theory is based on evidence.  You have to agree with a theory just because it is a theory, but usually you need to explain why you don’t agree with the evidence or how it is interpreted.  

George Barnard,

Theology is a “science.”  That is what the ending “ology” means.  Theology studies God in a logical systematic way.  Theology is different from the natural sciences because of its subject and the evidence it uses to study God, which is basically the Bible. 

Therefore when a clear reading of the Hebrew text of Genesis 1 indicates that it was written by more than one person and at more than one time, scholars seek answers as why this many be true and they came up with the Source Theory.  The problem is that other people reject the Source Theory on ideological grounds, not because it best explains the facts as we know them from the Biblical text.

Contrary to what some people think, theology is not based on personal preference, what a person wants to believe or thinks is right.  Theology is based on our best understanding of Jesus Christ as we know Him, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit through the Bible and general revelation.

Theology and natural science both test ideas or theories.  Philosophical assumptions which lay behind both theology and natural science are very difficult to test and neither natural science nor theology is doing a good job of doing so, which is what I am trying to change.    


The other issue is the oral tradition question, which you did not address.  My statement was that the oral tradition (E) behind Gen 1 was indeed the oldest part of the Bible.  P, the Priestly Editor, was just that an editor who put pieces of the tradition together. 

Presumably he, if P was a male, made sure that the six days of Creation worked with the six days of the week with the seventh day being the Sabbath day of rest, as found in the Fourth Commandment.  In the Deuteronomy version of the Decalogue, this statement is not present.   

You seem to assume that the books of the Bible were written by an individual as opposed to the oral tradition.  Let us say that Moses wrote Genesis 1 as many people think.  He live about 500 years after Abraham, so that would mean that for 500 years the Hebrew people would not know that God created the universe, if they were dependent on the Gen account. 

Of course even if it would written out most people would not be able to read and handwritten books do not grow on trees so oral transmission would still be essential.  Moderns do not trust oral traditions, but research shows them quite accurate.

The Gilgamesh Epic, in which the ANE pagan origin views are clearly laid out, is at least as old as Abram, about 2000 B.C. and Abram and his family originated right in the heart of this civilization.  Therefore any change from the pagan understanding of origins to a Jewish one would be reflected in the Genesis 1 document.          

Craig Robinson - #70623

June 24th 2012


I think you are trying to give the word “assumption” a technical meaning beyond just its plain ordinary meaning.  All I am saying is that Dickson a priori believes something to be true, and his understanding of Genesis 1 is based on that a priori belief. You can call it whatever you want. But I will call it an assumption.

One of the indications that it is an assumption is that there has been a lot of movement away from a four source theory to more of a two source theory currently. And yes I understand there are several variations. But that is somewhat of a problem, because those variations are just a demonstration that it is not fact. While I will admit that the vast majority of liberal/mainline scholars accept some sort of source theory, they do not agree on exactly what it looks like.

My own studies have led me to believe that really truly, very few scholars have actually even reexamined Wellhausen’s original thesis/assumptions about the dating of Gen 1 and the categorizing it as Priestly. Many of them don’t even state the original reasoning but just state it as fact without any analysis. It is convenient for them to do so because it fits there bias.

In my own study of the language of Gen, I see that the language permeates the whole OT. I also see that not only its language but also its patterns are often paralleled in material that is not considered Priestly. There is no way this could be if in fact it was written last.

The plagues which are considered one of the earliest sources are saturated with creation language not just from Gen 1, but also from Gen 2. If a section of scripture relies on two separate accounts, then those two accounts had to written first, not later. Now certainly critical scholars believe several of the plagues belong to the priestly tradition, but in fact the so called priestly plagues have less language from Gen 1 than the other plagues. Therefore, I don’t believe the source critical assumptions hold up here.

A bigger problem. A close look at Gen 1 indicates more to me that it is “Kingdom” language. It describes a King’s kingdom. A close look at Gen 2 indicates more to me that it is “Temple” language. It describes a priest’s temple. So if Gen 1 is more focused on a kingdom and Gen 2 is more focused on a temple, then why is Gen 1 considered priestly and Gen 2 considered non-priestly? Makes no sense to me except to conclude that the source critics “assumptions” are just false. And if false, then any argument built on them has no weight.

I don’t mean to offend, but let me ask you a challenging question. Have you ever personally looked closely at the original arguments about Gen 1 as priestly and researched them yourself? Or have you just always accepted that someone else’s research was correct? I think if you really did the serious research on Gen 1 yourself, that you would find support for the assumptions are not as strong as you think.

In regards to the content of Gen 1 itself, what I am also saying is that the text itself does not present itself as a polemic against other Gods. So to make that argument, what I am saying is you have to go outside that text to draw a conclusion that it is a polemic against other Gods. Even if you are looking at language from within the text you are still going outside the text in some way or another if in fact you are dating that text. 

In terms of how and where the tradition first came down and when it was written down, I am not sure any one knows. But I personally see no evidence that it was a reaction against something else already believed or written. It makes more sense to me that the Babylonian myths are perversions of the creation story, especially since that is how we see sin work throughout the Bible. Truth is given, man perverts it.


Roger A. Sawtelle - #70645

June 25th 2012


I am sorry but neither assumption or a priori mean what you are trying to make them mean.  Theology, that is the communication of the things of God, requires the proper use of words.  Understanding does not thrive on confusion. 

A priori means without previous examination.  As we have discussed most scholars have studied form criticism, so it is unfair to jump to the conclusion that Dr. Dickerson has not.  Just because you or I disagree with a particular theory does not mean that it is unexamined.  No science or scholarship begins from scratch.

Again I do not understand why you are hung up on the priestly part of Gen 1.  “In the beginning God created the heaven and earth” is a statement worth the price of the whole book, so to speak, and it comes from E and not P.  People seem so caught up in some of the details that the wonder and majesty of the book are set aside.

I really do not care what Wellhausen thought.  All I know is that the Sabbath was the center of the conflict between Jesus Christ against the Saducees, the PRIESTLY party and the Pharasees, the Rabbinic party. 

They both said that the absolute Sabbath rest was part of God’s seven days of creation.  Jesus disagreed according to John, even going so far as to contradict the Genesis version of Creation.  I agree with Jesus and not with the priestly understanding of the Sabbath found in Genesis.

For Jews the Sabbath is God’s Seal of Creation and it is still the center of Jewish worship life.  For Christians Jesus Christ is the new Seal of Creation and the first day, the day of Resurrection and Pentecost, is the center of Christian worship life.

While many Jews have adopted the understanding of Jesus that it is alright to do good works on the Sabbath, many still go out of their way to do nothing that can be considered work on the Sabbath and some believe that the Messiah will come when all Jews keep a perfect Sabbath.

Another blockbuster statement found in Gen 1 is the couplet:

“So God created humankind in their (plural) own image,

 in the image of God they created them,  

male and female they created them.”   

Certainly you are familiar with the very ancient form of Hebrew used in this verse and the speculation as why Elohim is treated as a plural, when elsewhere it is singular.  Thus it seems to me that there is very good evidence that Gen 1 was written or compiled using very old sources called E for short.

Because science is so highly regarded in our day and age and science is based on propositional truths, many people expect and want God to teach in propositional truths.  However God has a different mindset from modern people. 

God knows that relational Truth is the highest form of truth.  We cheat ourselves and others when we try to make Christianity into a set of propositional truths, instead of God’s relational Truth.  

Craig Robinson - #70657

June 26th 2012

Dr Dickson is saying that Gen 1 was written 2500 years ago. That is consistent with Wellhausen’s original proposal, which is still the majority opinion of critical scholars today. Dickson is basing his argument on Wellhausen’s proposal. That’s why it is relevant. 

Based on the work of Wellhausen, the overwhelming opinion of critical scholars is that Gen 1 belongs to the P source and was written approximately 500 bc. You are certainly more than welcome to believe that it belongs to E, but as such you are making a departure from critical consensus.

Roger A. Sawtelle - #70659

June 26th 2012


On doing some further research it appears that you are more nearly correct.

I was basing my understanding of Source Criticism on what I was taught and what I still believe to be accurate, not what the majority of scholars seem to think.  Again this does not mean that the majority opinion is an assumption or a priori.

I stand by the version of Source Criticism outlined above, that Gen 1 is based on the E Source which is based on ancient oral tradition.  It was edited and compiled by the Priestly editor who gave it its emphasis on the Sabbath as the seal of Creation.

As always it is the content and meaning of the scripture which are important, rather than the source, although the understanding the source can give additional meaning to the text.  

Thus I would disagree with Wellhausan and Dickson in saying that it is a strictly Priestly document, but it does have some Priestly overtones.

Norman - #70619

June 24th 2012

This is a very nice outline and summary of some of the basic background and components of Gen 1, however there is a further definition that is essential to understanding Gen 1 that has been overlooked and is essential for a greater depth of comprehension.  


That is the Biblical definition found applied throughout scripture from Gen 1 to Rev 22 and that is what Heavens and Earth stands for from the Jewish concept. I would unequivocally state that the terminology “Heavens and Earth” as biblically defined is much more spiritually inclined than a physical construct presents.  When the Jews speak of the Heavens they speak of the dominion of spiritual governance that Elohim/YHWH  has authorized for His covenant people (Image bearers).


The scriptures speak of the Heavens and Earth (the better term is Land) being rolled up,  shaken, or ending and finally the sun, moon and the Sea being done away with in importance. These applications are obviously not physical ramifications taken by the Jews but are functional covenant applications that Walton attempts to describe in his Genesis 1 book.  In Heb 12:26-28 the author describes the time of Moses on Mt. Sinai as a previous time when the Land/earth was shaken but coming soon the Heavens and land will both be shaken again. The inclusion of the Heavens in the description of being shaken is simply the acknowledgement that the rules governing God’s people will be changed along with the people making up the land. The Hebrew author is simply stating that what was implemented for governance of the Heavens through Moses (the Law) is being changed through Christ. We have a new governance of the Heavens that will exist under Christ Headship instead of under the old Adamic/mosaic headship that was passing away during the time of the writing of Hebrews.


That transition of the Heavens and Earth is the theme of the book of Hebrews as is Revelation.


Heb 8:13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.


Rev 21:1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  … 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.


Just a note concerning the de-creation of the Sea: in Jewish jargon the “Seas” represents the Gentile peoples of the know world while the Land represents God’s people whom are created out of the waters or “seas”.  The de-creation represents that in the new Heavens and Earth there will be no more “seas” or separate designation of two modes of humanity. See Ephesians chapter 2 for Paul’s nice examination of the forming of two peoples into one through Christ.  This language in Rev has nothing to do with physical cosmos but is about spiritual cosmos. Similarly in the new covenant established by Christ the determination of the signs and seasons which were instrumental for Mosaic Temple worship are being de-created functionally through the lack of need for sun and moon. Paul states essentially the same ideas but in non apocalyptic language.


Col 2:16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.



Once a modern reader grasp that the Jewish mindset concerning the terminology of Heaven and Earth was all about the establishment and events of spiritual governance concerning  God’s people changing from one covenant to another then the terminology and applications start to make a whole lot more sense.


The background this article provides is important but first one simply must grasp the main concept and definition that permeates the scriptures from Genesis to Rev.  It’s really much more complex than even this article presents and we need to realize that the author or authors of Genesis already had these concepts in play. Therefore Gen 1 is not simply an anti pagan construct but is a blueprint or prophetic outline for God’s Image bearing faithful whom ultimately bear His Image through Christ.


2 Cor 3: And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

wesseldawn - #70745

June 29th 2012

‘The narratives even share the same order of creation, beginning with the heavens, then the sea, then the earth, and so on.’


But then Gen. 2:4 throws a wrench in the whole thing:

“These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, (Gen. 2:4)

The order (‘earth and heavens’ instead of ‘heavens and earth’ - is strangely reversed!! Also generations and ‘one day’ is referring to ‘the same’ time frame!! What’s up with that?

 “Generations” refers to a “long period of time” while the translation of day is “to be hot”!

Therefore, Genesis is referring to a “long period of time” the state of which “was hot”!

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