In much of the Evangelical corner of Christianity, one of the litmus tests for whether someone is conservative enough (a.k.a. Faithful to the inerrancy of Scripture), is their belief in the days of creation. If someone holds to a literal 7-day creation cosmogony (see this post for elaboration), then they are considered faithful to the right reading of the text in Genesis. If someone holds to something other than 7-day creation, then their faithfulness to the Scripture is suspect. There are a few stops on the spectrum for creationism, to be sure. You have the 7 literal days of creation adherents. You have the “Gap-theory” adherents (those who believe in a large time gap between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2, but all the forms of the world and creatures we see now happened after that gap over a 7 day period. Then you have the adherents to a 7-epoch belief, where each day represents an era or epoch that could span a large amount of time. At the farthest end of the spectrum from literal 7-day creationism is the metaphorical 7-days of creation. And many fall into a combination of two or more of these positions.
In much of the Evangelical corner of Christianity, one of the litmus tests for whether someone is conservative enough (a.k.a. Faithful to the inerrancy of Scripture), is their belief in the days of creation
At the end of the day, what we have are people who are honestly trying to make sense of the first book of the Bible while still trying to be faithful to what is written. For years, I was a literal 7-day creationist. One of the reasons for me was seeing how political science has become. With pop-science like Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” to how bacteria on Mars is considered life, but an embryo in a woman’s body isn’t “life” until birth, I have a hard time relying on what most people call “science.” I’ve seen documentaries where naturalists claim that rock formations took millions of years. I’ve seen other documentaries where theist geologists claim the sedimentary layers are the way they are because of a sudden shift in the landscape. I’m not a geologist, so I don’t claim to know.
I can get on board with science that is objective and is dedicated more to discovering truth than to pandering for government funding. I can also get on board with theologians who are more interested in discovering truth than to pandering to traditional views that may not be accurate to the truth
I can get on board with science that is objective and is dedicated more to discovering truth than to pandering for government funding. I can also get on board with theologians who are more interested in discovering truth than to pandering to traditional views that may not be accurate to the truth. So where do I begin to make sense of things in my quest for what really is there? As a Christian, I start with Scripture. Then I look (as much as I can) at the culture surrounding the time a passage was written. I know Scripture was written in a time and place with a language common to its original hearers and with a worldview held in common as well. So that is where I start with the 7 days of creation in Genesis. Wherever you may land on the creation spectrum is your business. What I am about to show in this post is how much more meaning there is in the Genesis 1 narrative than 7 days of activity.
Discoveries and scholarship in the last century have brought to light so much more about the ancient world where the Biblical authors lived. Anthropology, Linguistics, and History have all played a part in shedding new light on our holy book. As a result, believers in the Bible and the Christian faith are faced with a challenge. Either we put our efforts into understanding how these ancient documents can better influence how we read our holy scriptures, or we can remain willfully ignorant of them and choose to believe they have no bearing on how we understand the Bible.
I can see how the later approach would be tempting. Many of the scholars who write about Gilgamesh, Atrahasis, Marduk, Ba’al Haddad, and the other myths and gods of the ancient world are secular. They have no allegiance to the Bible or its sanctity. And I can admit the challenges to faith when we start seeing eerily similar parallels of pagan myths and our inerrant scriptures. In my observation, to head in this direction, we tend to end up in one of three camps.
- We back away from these other documents in an effort to preserve our faith in the Bible, because it is so inextricably linked to our faith in God.
- We abandon the sanctity of the Bible, going the way of secularism and seeing the Bible as just another myth written by ancient religious leaders.
- We face the challenges to how we read and understand the Bible as we learn about these other documents and fight through them with our relationship with God and with the humility that maybe, just maybe we have been reading parts of the Bible wrong, and it is our approach that needs to change by growing in a greater understanding of what is really there believing that in the end we will have a greater and deeper knowledge of God’s truth.
I have chosen to take this third path. I still hold to my belief in the Inerrancy of Scripture, to the deity of Jesus, and to the power of the Holy Spirit. I am at peace that if legitimate science proves something I thought different, then my faith isn’t shaken. Yet at the same time, I remain very skeptical of the pop-science most of us get exposed to via social media, the news channels, and NYT bestseller books. Having said that, the rest of this post is a dive into camp 3.
Days of Creation Are a Literary Structure To Encompass All of Creation
If you looked at how Genesis 1 flows, the days of creation follow a set pattern. If we pair up the days of creation according to the pattern we see:
Day 1: God creates the Heavens Day 4: God creates Sun, Moon, Stars (inhabitants)
Day 2: God creates the Sea Day 5: God creates sea creatures (inhabitants)
Day 3: God creates the dry land Day 6: God creates land creatures (inhabitants)
Day 7: God rested
When the author wrote the book of Genesis, it is highly unlikely he was writing to answer Darwin’s questions of evolution that would appear some 3000+ years in the future. What is more likely happening is the author is addressing competing creation stories of his time, stories that didn’t set God (YHWH) at the beginning.
Some of this will spill over into the next point. What we see now, due to discoveries in the last century regarding texts from the Ancient Near East (Middle East), is a whole insight into Israel’s world that we were not previously privy to. From sources like the Epic of Gilgamesh, Atrahasis, and others, we have learned that Israel’s neighbors and even ancestors had a very different view of the world.
From sources like the Epic of Gilgamesh, Atrahasis, and others, we have learned that Israel’s neighbors and even ancestors had a very different view of the world.
Polytheism was one of the major givens in the Ancient Near East. The sun, the moon, the sea, the sea creatures, the seasons, even the stars were different deities. Remember the “golden calf” incident in Exodus? Where do you think they got the idea for a cow being a god? In addition, most of these ancient societies held to some sort of theomachy (war among the gods), where the aftermath ended in the creation of our world and our humanity.
With the scripting of Genesis 1, what we get is not a literal step by step history of creation, but rather a creation narrative that rightly puts God at the center of the universe as the sole creative power for everything.
Which leads us to our next point.
Creation Narrative Disempowers Old Gods
In the ancient world, the sun and moon were gods who had names that were worshipped. The Babylonians (City in the region of Abram’s origin) worshiped the sun god, Shamash, as well as the moon god, Nanna. They also believed one of their hero gods, Marduk, defeated the evil goddess Tiamat who ruled the seas and rivers (the watery deep).
The ancient world was replete with gods and goddesses that ruled the lights of the sky, the agriculture of the earth, and all the waterways.
When the author of Genesis wrote the first lines of chapter 1, he systematically reduced all the powerful gods of his known world to mere entities controlled by the powerful voice of the one true God.
When the author of Genesis wrote the first lines of chapter 1, he systematically reduced all the powerful gods of his known world to mere entities controlled by the powerful voice of the one true God. No longer would the sea be a goddess needing to be placated by offerings and sacrifices. No longer would the sun need to be worshiped along with the moon for fear of them not showing up.
Have you ever noticed that all the literal Bible translations refer to the sun and moon as the “Greater Light” to rule the day and the “Lesser Light” to rule the night? Did they not have words for the sun and moon? Sure they did. The use of Greater and Lesser lights in reference to the sun and moon was intentional from the author of Genesis. Israelites were a Semitic people. That means they had a linguistic connection with the Semitic people of Mesopotamia. In Hebrew, as in other Semitic languages, the terms for sun and moon (related to Shamash and Nanna), still carried deified baggage. The terms would still be recognized as gods. The author of Genesis didn’t even give the sun and moon the dignity of the words that named them because of their divine connotations. Calling them Greater and Lesser lights depersonalizes the celestial objects as well as de-mythologizes their power. Only YHWH has the ability to direct the course of history, mankind, and nature. And, unlike their Mesopotamian kin, Israelites didn’t have a theomachy to worry about, leading to efforts in appeasing one god over another to garner success and favor.
The author of Genesis effectively disempowered the gods of their neighbors and ancestors.
Seven Is a Revered Number in the Ancient World
For centuries, people have figured out the significance of the number seven in the Bible. 7 days for creation. 70 weeks in Daniel, Seven year crop rotation, 49 years for Jubilee. Any student of the Bible can see the number 7 and its variants are significant.
What we haven’t always known is just how significant the number seven is to the entire Ancient Near Eastern region. We find the number seven to have significant meaning and power all around Mesopotamia and into Canaan. In some of the other flood accounts, the rain lasted for seven days. Seven was the number of completion. Seven was a sacred number. Even in the genealogies of Genesis, you see the 7th descendent in each list having a significant contribution to the way things were. Even 7th from the line of Cain, Lamech, admitted to killing a young man with little provocation and declared a 70×7 greater curse than Cain on anyone who attacked him. This was likely an attempt on Lamech’s behalf to boast of his wickedness and how he shouldn’t be messed with.
In this list of reasons the number seven is significant, I mentioned that seven was a number for completion and was a sacred number. That leads us into the next section dealing with the seven days of creation.
Creation Narrative Parallels Temple Consecrations
We see in Genesis the creation of all that is in six days with a day of rest on the seventh. For centuries and even to this day, we have come to read this account of creation the same way we would read about the 30 Years’ War. We read Genesis 1 as a play by play account of exactly how God created the universe. This is how we’ve been trained to read it for hundreds of years, namely because it is the only document we have known from that era in which it was written. Add onto that the way we hold to the Bible as a holy book that is to be taken at face value instead of analyzed, and we come away with fairly definitive conclusions about the words that are written.
Yet, when we compare the use of the number seven in the Bible with the use of the number seven in other ancient accounts, we see it is a universally sacred number across the Ancient Near East. It is considered so sacred that a 7 day period was the prescribed time for the appropriate consecration of a temple, a tabernacle, or any other sacred abiding place of a deity. We can also see this appearing in parts of the Old Testament for the temple dedication under King Solomon (1 Kgs 6-8). The temple was created in 7 years (year 7 being a Sabbath year). The temple dedication happened during the feast of tabernacles (a 7-day festival) on the 7th month of the year. Then in chapter 8, Solomon gives 7 petitions during his dedication speech. Stacking that many 7s into one event reverberated the depth of the meaning of how holy this temple dedication really was.
The temple was created in 7 years (year 7 being a Sabbath year). The temple dedication happened during the feast of tabernacles (a 7-day festival) on the 7th month of the year. Then in chapter 8, Solomon gives 7 petitions during his dedication speech. Stacking that many 7s into one event reverberated the depth of the meaning of how holy this temple dedication really was.
So how does this relate to the 7 days of creation? The pattern has been set from the Old Testament to other ancient works like Enuma Elish (an Akkadian creation narrative dating to 17th Cent. BC). In what has been discovered, it can be shown that the seven days of creation in Genesis are essentially showing God consecrating the world has his holy temple. He has prepared a dwelling place for himself in the cosmos and has made the Garden of Eden his Holy of Holies, where his representative (imago dei) would tend to him regularly.
In the end, Genesis 1 isn’t really about how God created the physical universe in 7 24-hour periods. It is much more epic than that. Genesis 1 (and 2-3) are about God creating a holy, consecrated dwelling place for himself in the physical universe. That means it looks into the future of humanity as well as the end times. God knew from creation that He was preparing earth to be his home. Way back then, he was preparing for what John realized in his Gospel that God would come and “dwell” among his people via the incarnation. Eventually, God will dwell among his people permanently in the second coming.
Genesis 1 isn’t really about how God created the physical universe in 7 24-hour periods. It is much more epic than that.
After learning what I’ve learned about how Babylonian, Akkadian, and Egyptian records have influenced our understanding of the Bible, I see our God doing something much bigger than we have been allowing by reading the Bible as the sole existing document of the time. What I see in the parallels of other myths are the truths of God and history being confirmed by multiple sources. Some people have a struggle with test of faith. I’ve found myself more in awe of God in what he’s done. Now that I understand how grand God’s scale of creation and redemption is, when I’m asked about a literal 7 days of creation, my response is simply, “It doesn’t matter.” Genesis was never about making scientific claims or statements. Maybe He created it in 7 days, maybe he didn’t. Either way, it doesn’t matter and my faith isn’t dependent on it and my view of scripture isn’t hindered. Why? Because in the end, it isn’t that such a reading of the Bible proves the Bible wrong, it is that I’ve been reading the Bible wrong. There’s a huge difference. The Bible can be absolutely true and all be completely literal.
Thanks for spending the time to read this post. I hope it helped you
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