Lesson 9


We have seen in the previous lesson that the Bible does not give a specific date for the creation of the earth. The Bible does give a sequence to the earth's history and it identifies a few events which can be checked by looking into the record we find in the fossils and rock strata of the earth's crust. A flood of questions, both scientific and biblical, are unleashed when a discussion of this type is initiated. (It is not the purpose of this brief lesson to answer every question, but rather to establish some concepts that may aid the student in his or her own study of this subject.)

We have seen in our first lesson that the earth had a beginning and that the beginning was caused. In subsequent lessons we have seen that there is an incredible amount of evidence that the cause was a personal God. Science does not lend itself to an explanation of the creation of matter. Science assumes matter had certain properties and had achieved a certain level of complexity and then it provides some possible explanations as to how it might have gone from that assumed initial condition to the present condition. Whether science starts at the first 10- 43 second or at some later point (both of which have been suggested), the procedure is the same.

In a very similar way the Bible starts with a certain set of conditions without explaining how those conditions were produced. Genesis 1:1 says there was a beginning and that God created (bara) the heaven and the earth (erets in Hebrew). If we take the Hebrew literally in this verse, we are being told that all space, time and matter/energy in the cosmos were created at that point. We are not told how they were created--just that they were created. This matter/energy was formed into the heaven and the earth. The heaven would include all celestial objects: the sun, the moon, stars, galaxies, black holes, nebulae, comets--everything. How long it took for this to be accomplished is not stated in the verse. A person may complain that the sun and the moon and the stars are described in verses 14-19, but the word used in these verses is asah not bara. In other words, verses 14-19 are not saying that these objects were “created” at that time, but that they were “made.” Verse 14 tells us why they were made to be seen from the earth at this point in the creation history: "Let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years."

One might theorize that heavy cloud cover may have obscured the view of the heavens from the earth so that one could not establish the signs, seasons, days, or years. Now the chronometers were established in preparation for man’s arrival.

Not only does the first verse give us the creation of celestial objects, but of a functional earth itself. Notice that the verse says God created the heaven and the earth. The word erets in Hebrew used in this verse does not mean a blob of molten rock. The normal use of this word is for a working earth. There are numerous passages where the word erets clearly means a functional earth such as Genesis 6:4-11 and Deuteronomy 28:23-26. By the end of Genesis 1:1 there was a functional, living, working earth. If you had stood upon the earth at this point in time, you would have recognized it. Let us once again remind you that how long God used to accomplish this creation is not revealed in the passage. Only by making enormous assumptions can we give any approximation as to when this creation occurred or how much time was involved in its completion.

Another unknown in this verse is the method or methods God used to accomplish His purposes. Did God create oil in the ground, coal deep within the earth, canyons like the Grand Canyon, fossils deep inside the earth and on the tops of high mountains? He could have done all of this and thus given the impression that the earth was produced over eons of time if He chose to do so. God also could have created you two seconds ago with this booklet in your hand, the memory in your head, and the earth functioning as it is all around you. The question is not what God could have done, but rather what did He do. To suggest that God created a full grown earth with fossils in the ground, carbonized plants in coal seams, the light from distant galaxies in place, all in an instant, raises some serious questions about God’s nature and the promises He gives. Consider the following: "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man" (James 1:13). (See also Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalms 25:8-10; 33:4-5; Romans 3:4; Jeremiah 9:24; Lamentations 3:25; Numbers 23:19; James 1:17; Titus 1:2; Psalm 111:3; Romans 9:14; and 1 Samuel 15:29.)

The Bible does not present God as a deliberately deceptive God who purposely produces evidence that would mislead sincere, seeking individuals. Why would God place a dried out dinosaur in a deposit thousands of feet underground if the animal in fact never lived? The answer is that He would not. As Einstein said, "God is subtle, but he's not malicious."

A more logical and consistent approach to the creation is to realize that God has made (asah) much of what is on the earth as well as creating it! Genesis 2:3 closes the history of the earth of the first chapter by saying: "And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made" (emphasis added). Both processes were involved in all of the things that God produced.

Not only was the matter created in Genesis 1:1, but that matter was shaped and molded into a finished "heaven and earth." In order for that to happen, some making, and forming, and shaping had to take place. This molding and shaping is a continuous process--still in operation in various ways today. It is very possible that a living ecosystem operated in Genesis 1:1 to produce the earth. Bacteria may have swarmed in the oceans and giant plants may have lived in great swamps. Dinosaurs may have roamed freely accomplishing their purpose in being. The purpose of all of this would have been to prepare the earth for man. This living ecosystem would have produced the coal, oil, gas, and the like, as well as providing the basis of man’s ultimate food supply!

Of the millions of species that have lived upon the earth, the Genesis account describes a very few. The whole history of this planet is described in 31 short verses of Genesis 1. The Bible’s purpose is to say that God created it all--not how or when. It is when man speculates on the how and when, that error and conflict creep in. We would be amiss to expect Genesis 1:1 to say "In the beginning God synthesized deoxyribonucleic acid by the dehydration and the polymerization of polypeptides ... ." Such an explanation would have been total nonsense to the people of Moses' day, and to much of the world today.

When the Genesis account does identify things we can understand, the sequence of the creation agrees with the scientific evidence. Some of the biblical statements are subtle and require considerable study of the original language, while others are abundantly clear. The structure of the water in the lithosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere is implied in Genesis 1:6--7. Verses 9 and 10 imply that the water was in one place (or bowl) and the land (erets) was in another. This suggests that there was a single land mass and a single body of water early in the earth’s history.

More clear is the statement that plants were present very early in the earth’s history (before animals or man), and that three different kinds of plants were produced (verses 10-11):

deshe--grass (moss: algae, or lichen)
(not chatsir--which is what you mow)
eseb--herb (horsetails, ferns, conifers)
peri--flowering tree (apple, dogwood, etc.)

The fossil record shows that stromatolites (picture to the right) from algae are among the first living things upon the earth. Gymnosperms appear later stratigraphically and include ferns, horsetails, and conifers. The most recent plants are the angiosperms, the flowering plants which produce seed-bearing fruit. This sequence fits the biblical description perfectly. The kind of accuracy we have seen here continues through Genesis 1.

The first animals were water creatures (Genesis 1:20-21). The first warm-blooded creatures were birds (verses 20-21). Later are the mammals (verse 24), and the last thing to be created is man (verses 27-28). Much is omitted in these verses. No where do we see duckbill platypuses, echidnas, kangaroos, insects, bats, walking or swimming birds, and hundreds of other forms of life we are familiar with today, but everything that is mentioned is sequentially correct.

There is an important point of biblical interpretation that needs to be made. The word "hermeneutic" is used by scholars to describe how we go about interpreting the Bible. We are suggesting a very literal and a very logical hermeneutic in these lessons. We are suggesting that when you read a word in the original language of the Bible, that the word in Hebrew means the same thing every time it is used unless there is some stated reason why that is not the case. This literalness does have some doctrinal importance. The word "baptizo" in the Bible, for example, literally means to immerse and in some biblical cases can be shown to have been understood that way by the first century Christians. John was baptizing at the Jordan because there "was much water there" (John 3:23) certainly suggests that he was immersing people. In Acts 8:38 when Philip baptized the Ethiopian Eunuch they went "down into the water." We would suggest then, that all baptisms in the New Testament involved immersion. That comes from the hermeneutic we have stated. Someone may not wish to take the Bible that literally, or may not feel that it makes any difference, but we use this example to help you understand the words in Genesis.

In verses 24-25 the word behemah is used to describe an animal God brings into existence. What was that animal? The word behemah is used 52 times in the Old Testament. Forty-nine of those 52 times it means cow. The other three times are here in Genesis 1. So what does it mean here? Does it mean Tyrannosaurus rex? A cow was something that could be milked. I would love to see you try to milk a T. rex. In Job 40:15-18 a "behemoth" is described. This is an enlarged form of behemah. Did the ancient Israelites know an animal that fits this description? The answer is that they did--perhaps more than one. One animal that we know has existed is the glyptodont which was a giant ground sloth. It had a "tail like a cedar" and a very small brain.

The bottom line here is that what is described in the creation week of Genesis 1 are the animals that Moses was familiar with--his cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, etc. What else would you expect? Trying to explain an animal to Moses that he had never seen would be unnecessary and incredibly difficult. How would you describe a platypus, an echidna, a penguin, an amoeba, a virus, a bat, a mole, a moray eel, a blue whale, or a dinosaur to a man who had never seen one? We do not see dinosaurs in the biblical record, nor would we expect to see one there. You can argue that they existed but simply were not described. You can argue they were elsewhere and Moses never saw one. You can also argue that they existed in a different time period and that God used them to prepare the earth and never intended for Moses to be concerned with such animals.

There are many unanswered questions in the Genesis account because of its brevity. Questions of time are the most obvious, but there are many others. The message Genesis gives is that God created everything, and He created man specially in His image. Much has been left for man to learn, and science is the tool by which we learn it. The brief biblical record is accurate in what it says. When we think we have a conflict it is due to either our misreading and/or misunderstanding of the biblical record, or our misreading and/or misunderstanding of science. The one who did the creating will not give us a contradictory record of that creation in His written account.

© 2009, John N. Clayton
Lesson 9 cover picture: iStockphoto.com/floop

Lesson 9 Questions

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