(Note: This is the first episode in my continuing exploration of the Bible. You can read my series introduction here. All Bible quote are NIV and cannot be used for commercial purposes. Read copyright information here.)
Genesis 1 through Genesis 2:2 – “And God Said..”
That’s exactly what jumps out at me as I read Genesis 1 - sheer simplicity. There are no backstories, no origin stories, and no explanations. Something about the simplicity flies in the face of something I’ve heard all my life – that Genesis is only a creation myth, and not different than any other culture’s or religion’s creation myth. To be intellectually honest, I must entertain the possibility Genesis 1 and 2 are exactly that, only myths.
Is this an ancient Jewish creation myth, handed down from oral tradition and then captured in writing sometime in the Bronze Age? I am no expert on world mythologies, but I read a lot about mythology as I research my books. Genesis 1, however, is radically different than all the other creation myths I’ve encountered for two important reasons. First, for the simplicity of its story and, second, for its lack of detail.
The writing is bare bones, but beautiful. Each major section begins with “And God said…” God speaks, and the universe springs into existence. This is a radical departure from every creation myth I can find. There are no cosmic turtles with worlds on their backs, no giants holding up the universe, no World Trees, no titans swallowing their children, no giant’s hatching from universal eggs or cosmic roosters or goddesses flinging mud to create men. In Genesis, there is only the Creator and His words.
In two and a half pages we meet God, but learn very little about him. He isn’t described. He is just there. In fact, God isn’t even called a “He” until Genesis 1:4. (If he self-identifies as male, who am I to argue?) We only learned that He is a creator, and therefore I assume creative. God is an artist (I like this guy already.)
Come along as I take the first steps into the Bible. Let’s break down Genesis 1 paragraph-by-paragraph:
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (NIV)
What jumps out at me here is we have “earth”, but it is formless. What does that mean, dirt? Does the “deep” mean “water”? If so, then the heavens are made of water? I would assume so, because it has a surface. So, God starts with formless earth, which I take as simple matter, and the heavens made of water.
BTW, this passage also It defines God as spirit. What is ‘spirit’? The dictionary defines it as “a supernatural, incorporeal being.”
GEEK ALERT: What if instead of earth, we say “matter”? What if instead of the deep, we say “space”? That’s kinda cool, and makes more sense from a modern perspective. What I find most interesting is, according to scripture, life begot the Universe, not the other way around.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. (NIV)
Now our protagonist adds light to matter. He makes his first value judgement of the book, and indicates His fondness for light. He separates light from darkness somehow and defines “day” and “night”. First question…is the “light” the same as “the sun”? SPOILER ALERT: No, because he creates the sun and moon later.
6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day. (NIV)
NOT WHAT I LEARNED IN SUNDAY SCHOOL: What’s amazing about this from a modern perspective is the separation of the “waters”. I was taught and heard that this passage was about the separation of the oceans and seas, but it’s not. The separation is vertical. It is a separation of the terrestrial waters from the sky. Genesis infers the sky and ocean are both water, and only a layer (vault) of atmosphere separates the two. The geek (and pilot) in me loves this, because modern man often refers to the sky and space like the seas, something to be sailed and explored. Nautical terms and spacefaring terms are even the same. In my mind, this is the condensation of the planet, the separation of outer space from an atmosphere-enshrouded planet.
9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. (NIV)
God likes continents. Next.
11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day. (NIV)
In this passage, God creates plant life on land. This all sounds good and perfectly logical, until one reads the next passage…
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day. (NIV)
I’ve got a lot of questions here. Plant life emerged on Day 3, before the sun and moon and stars. An interesting point is that one of the reasons for the creation of these heavenly lights is to mark the passage of time. That means, I assume, the previous three days were on some other time scale not tied to the passage of the sun, moon or stars. So, we really don’t know exactly how long these days are. I REALLY want to geek out here and start speculating about primitive life being transplanted on a forming earth by comets and asteroid impact and compare this to what science thinks it knows about the creation of the solar system, but I’m not going to take the bait.
I think I’ll leave the divine poetry alone.
Which brings up the next point…there was light before there was a sun, so when God says “Let there be light” back on Day 1, he’s not talking about the sun.
20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day. (NIV)
Day 5 is dedicated to creating sea life and the creatures of the air. That’s pretty straight forward, and sets up Day 6, the Grand Finale’.
24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. (NIV)
Day 6 is BUSY! God makes all the land animals, and he likes them. I noticed that every once in a while God makes a point of saying something is good. I’m glad God likes animals, because I like animals, too. Now there is one more animal to make.
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. (NIV)
In Genesis 27-29 God gets to it and (like the rest of creation) makes both men and women by simply speaking. However, something different happens here ,and there are four points I want to make, or perhaps four questions I want to ask. God says “Let us make mankind in our image…” First, who is he talking to? Second, did he get help making people? Third, what aspect of His image are we made in? Physical? Spiritual? I’m going to assume spiritual because way back in Genesis 1:1 it says “the Spirit of God”. Finally, why did he make people?
The answer to the last question is answered clearly - to rule over all the other creatures of the earth. According to Genesis, being created in God’s image is a prerequisite for earthly dominion. In fact, this is (at least in sequence of occurrence) God’s first issued order to humankind. Genesis 28 and again in 29, God commands mankind to rule the other living creatures of the earth.
SPOILER ALERT: Its Day 6 and no mention of Adam and Eve yet – just men and women created at the same time, in the same image of God.
What’s the next order God issues to the race of men? It’s the one order, law, commandment, etc that humans have had NO problem following, In Genesis 1:28 God commands people to get busy making kids.
NOT WHAT I LEARNED IN SUNDAY SCHOOL: It dawned on me reading Genesis 1:29 that God tells the new race of men what they can eat, and it ain’t beef. God is very clear people are going to be vegetarians. He doesn’t expressly prohibit eating meat, but he doesn’t expressly allow it, either. Also, He specifies the same diet for the beasts of the earth.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
2 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (NIV)
In Genesis 1:31 through 2:2, I learned even God needs a day off. He didn’t just say the seventh day was good, He BLESSED IT. I like that, and it helps me identify with Him because I need days off, too.
And then a chilling realization dawned on me, one I had never considered before. Let’s say, for arguments sake that the 14 billion years the universe (as we presently know it) can be divided into 7 parts – one part is a “day” to God. I know, I know, it doesn’t neatly line up and I’m not going to try to make it fit…THAT. ISN’T. MY. POINT. My point is this…
Once the earth was created, the rest of the Bible, starting with Genesis 2 picks up on Day 7 or on Day 8. On Day 7, God “rested from all the work of creating he had done.” It’s His day off. That means the span of human history takes place on God’s day off, and every time we screw up and he has to come down here and straighten things out, he’s having to come into work on a Sunday.
Result = Angry Old Testament God.
Or, this is Day 8, and it’s God’s Monday morning.
Result = Angry Old Testament God.
Why don’t you all chew on that until next time, when we look at Genesis 2-3, a little story about Adam and Eve (two Old Testament kids doing best they can), and what I learned in Sunday school and what I actually read in the Bible take an unexpected divergence.
See ya then.
Brian Braden is the author the book THE ILLUSION EXOTIC, the historical fantasy novel BLACK SEA GODS and several other exciting books.