A Lesson from Genesis

We have seen that there is little value in trying to understand these Genesis texts from a modern scientific perspective, because God never intended them to describe that. This means there is nothing to be gained by debating whether Genesis 1 supports or refutes long ages of time, geologic periods, biological development, and so on.

In researching the subject of creation, and particularly this section on Genesis, it has been inspiring to see how many lessons can be drawn out of Genesis 1. Clearly many scholars through the ages have poured much effort into this chapter, and those who have done so have been richly rewarded. (Mind you, the same can probably be said about all of God’s word.)

It’s not within the scope of this book to offer detailed expositions of Genesis, however, there is one theme relevant to this topic that seemed to stand out, and so it’s worth a quick digression…

Identity through separation; preparation for representation

Several commenters have observed that the first three days of Genesis 1 can broadly be described as God preparing environments to contain the things he creates; and he then organises these things by separating them and giving them identities that describe their function or role.

Then, the verses that cover days four to six discuss God populating the environments he prepared. If we briefly look at each day with this thought in mind, we have the following:

Day One: The key activity is separation, not creation. God said, “Let there be light”, but he then separated light and dark into distinct entities and gave them identities: day and night. Thus, he has prepared environments for the lights that are to come later. One to rule the day, and the other to rule the night. (And if you have just whispered to yourself, “with one to rule them all”, then you are a Geek after my own heart.)

Day Two: Once again, the key activity is separation. The waters already existed, but God placed the raqia in the midst of the waters to separate the waters above from the waters below, gave the resulting environment an identity: shamayim (heaven or sky, depending on your translation).

Day Three: Separation again, but with a difference. The waters are gathered together and called ‘sea’. This is environment for the some of the creatures created on Day Five.  As the waters gather together, land emerges and is given a name, and vegetation appears.

Day Four: Parallel with Day One. Think of the day and night as containers, prepared to contain something. We now find out what those are: Lights. One light to rule the day, a lesser light to rule the night, and the stars. They are then placed into the firmament that God set in place on Day Two.

Day Five: Parallel with Day Two. The waters that were prepared below the expanse are populated with sea creatures, and the expanse made on Day Two was populated with birds.

Day Six: Parallel with Day Three. The land was prepared to support living creatures, which were to be fruitful and multiply. This also includes man, which was to be made in God’s image.

When reading about God creating man, we often focus on the first few words of Genesis 1:26, “Then God said let us make man…” And so the creation vs. evolution debate begins. When we read the whole phrase, we are offered more context, “Let us make man in our image”. Man is a ‘Day Six creature’, a creature of the land, but one that represents the culmination of creative activity and is fashioned into God’s image, with dominion over all the other creatures.  Walton has this to say about the image of God:

“The image of God is a gift of God, not neurologically or materially defined. The image of God as an Old Testament concept can be understood in four categories: It pertains to the role and function that God has given humanity (found, for example, in “subdue” and “rule,” Genesis 1:28); to the identity that he has bequeathed on us (i.e., it is, by definition, who we are as human beings); and to the way that we serve as his substitute by representing his presence in the world. When Assyrian kings made images of themselves to be placed in conquered cities or at important borders, they were communicating that they were, in effect, continually present in that place. Finally, it is indicative of the relationship that God intends to have with us.”⁠1

This theme presented in Genesis 1 echoes through all of scripture. As much as it is referred to as a pattern of creation, it also symbolises a pattern of our re-creation in Christ.

Adam was created to have separate identity. Israel was to be separate. Those in Christ are to be separate. Through that separating process, (separating light from dark and emerging from water) God gives identity and purpose, and prepares an environment which he expects to contain his light; and he expects that which has been separated to be fruitful.

Nothing about the biological process of evolution changes this. The evidence might show that all hominids share a common ancestor genetically, but this does not change the message from Genesis 1. In fact, it evens echoes it, because in evolutionary terms, we have simply repeated this pattern. Homo sapiens is now a separate creature that has been prepared (formed, made into God’s image) and is conscious and intellectually aware enough understand God, to represent his image over the creation he has fashioned.

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1 John Walton, The Lost World of Adam & Eve (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015) p41.