August 7, 2021 - Creation

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Today we’re going to talk about creation. How did it happen? Is there a special word for what God did? At what classification level did God create life? And how long did it take?

Only one being in this universe can create out of nothing. The rest of us must create out of previously existing material. Even if we create a new idea or object of art or intellectual property, we did not create the ingredients. (We could even question whether we create new ideas, or simply discover them; Ecclesiastes says there is “nothing new under the sun.”)

The Hebrew Bible has a verb for what God did: bara’, to create out of nothing. We find this verb used 48 times, mostly in Genesis (11 times), Psalms (6 times), and Isaiah (17 times, mostly in chapters 40-45). God is always the subject. Bara’ is different from yatzar, which means to make from previously existing material, like a potter creating objects from clay. Yatzar is the word used in Genesis 2:7 for God making humans out of the dust of the earth. Still one more word for “create” is the generic ‘asah, to do or make. Both ‘asah and bara’ are used for the totality of creation in Genesis 2:4, bara’ being the more specific of the two.

What else does God create-out-of-nothing? Exodus 34:10 announces to the Hebrews in the desert that God will create unprecedented wonders. In Numbers 16:30, Moses warns that God is about to create one of those wonders: the earth will swallow up his opponents. In Psalm 51:10 (51:12 Hebrew), David cries, “Create in me a clean heart, O God!” Psalm 102:18 predicts that “a people yet to be created (= born) may praise the Lord.” Isaiah 41:20 predicts that God will again create unprecedented events. Isaiah 45:7 declares that God creates both welfare (shalom) and harm / bad (ra‘, a word we plan to talk about in a future program). In Isaiah 54:16, God says, “I have created the destroyer.” And in Jeremiah 31:22, God predicts that he will create one more new thing: “a woman protects a (grown) man.”

Note that in Genesis 1, bara’ is only used for: the initial creation of heaven and earth on the first day, for the creation of animal life in the sea and air on the fifth day, and for the creation of humans on the sixth day. One could imply that God uses what he made in these creative acts to make the rest of what exists. In fact, on the third and sixth days, God commands the earth to bring forth plants and vertebrates. If I were inclined to believe in macro-evolution (which I am not), I would use these commands as Biblical support for that belief.

We are told that God creates organisms according to their “kind” (min), a word that is used 31 times, almost entirely in the creation account, in the worldwide flood account, and the kosher food passages in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. In the kosher food passages, “species” is the best way to translate, but in Genesis, I suggest a higher classification level.

Micro-evolution within a genus or species is hard to deny, such as the common descent of all species of sunfish. But macro-evolution that turns a primitive chordate into a fish, a fish into a frog, or a land mammal into a whale, would require so much change that only an intelligent Creator could make it happen. So my theory is that min refers to a genus within which its members are genetically close enough to interbreed. You can cross a lake trout and a brook trout, but not a trout and a bass; such “kinds” would require super-natural intervention to produce.

Look at the so-called Cambrian explosion. At its earliest end, the fossil record suddenly goes from the tiniest, simplest organisms to a wild number of phyla, with complex creatures like the trilobite suddenly appearing out of nowhere. This does not fit the model for gradual evolution, and it’s a shame that most public school students are not given this information, because that would be creationism, one of the rare absolute evils in the belief system of relativists.

Francis Collins, the director of the Human Genome Project, is the only evolutionist who raises questions not yet answered by creationists, such as how to explain seemingly useless DNA. But evolutionists fail to answer the scientific issues raised by creationists.

What about the time frame for the Biblical creation? Here, folks like myself who believe in Biblical inerrancy can agree to disagree. The literal 144-hour creation framework is said to be what the Bible really means, both by conservatives who believe the theory, and by liberals who reject it as foolish. It is argued that yom always means 24-hour day, but one might ask how long the seventh day was; has God rested from creation or not? And how long is the Day of the Lord?

Others theorize that creation did not happen in six days, but was revealed in six days. This would include John Walton’s cosmic temple theory, which we find in his book The Lost World of Genesis One. His theory affirms that God creates all from nothing, but that the six days are actually about God organizing it all into the parts of God’s cosmic temple.

Meredith Kline, one of my professors at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, offers another version of the six-day revealing of creation: the framework hypothesis. Kline observes that plants are created on the third day, but the heavenly bodies are not created until the fourth day. He sees the order of the six days as not chronological, but topical. What God creates on the fourth day (heavenly lights), is what rules what God made on the first day. What God creates on the fifth day (winged creatures and fish), is what rules what God made on the second day (sky and water). What God creates on the sixth day (land animals), is what rules what God made on the third day (dry land and plants). Finally, God creates the creature who is appointed to rule them all.

Personally, I lean toward either the framework hypothesis, or the so-called “day-age” theory. I can see an account of gradual creation in Genesis 1, similar to what a secular scientist would suggest. We start with an event like the Big Bang, where light and matter come into existence. The atmosphere forms, then the continents and plant life, then we capture the moon into our orbit, then aquatic life and flying insects (by now we’re in the Pennsylvanian period?), then animals of the Jurassic and Cenozoic periods, with a pronounced break between these and the appearance of a creature made in the image of God.

What exactly is the “firmament” that God creates on the second day? Many scholars believe that Genesis is talking about a solid dome over the earth. To me, that sounds like mythology; that makes Genesis sound like it was composed by prescientific slobs. I don’t believe that’s what God wants us to understand here. In fact, the idea that this word refers to a solid dome was based on bad Greco-Roman science more than 1000 years after Genesis.

Instead, in a blog post of mine called “Firmament: Dome or Atmosphere?”, I have argued that the Hebrew word used here refers to an object that is hammered out very thin and spread like a canopy over the earth. A better way to translate this word in Genesis 1 is “expanse.” I think it refers to the atmosphere, which does act as a wall to prevent space junk from falling to earth. For more details on this subject, search online for Hobson, “Firmament: Dome or Atmosphere?”

What exactly are the “whales” or “great sea monsters” that God creates on the fifth day? Some believe these to be mythological, but I believe they must be real animals. One possibility is the narwhal, which was known to the Assyrians in Bible times, although today it is found only in the Arctic. Other possibilities include the swordfish and the giant squid. The translation “whales” in the KJV is based on the Greek version, where the word includes all sorts of creatures from whales to dolphins. The Hebrew term is tanninim, which the Greek version translates everywhere else as “dragons.” Genesis rejects the idea that these are chaos monsters; God creates them out of nothing, and God declares them “good” along with the rest of creation. For more details, search online for Hobson, “Sea Monsters in Genesis?”

Surprisingly, Genesis 1 tells us nothing about the creation of angels. But Job 38 tells us that the “sons of God” (meaning angels) are already there when God lays the foundations of the earth. So somewhere at the very beginning of time, before anything else was made, God created heavenly spirit-beings who were greater than we are, some of whom then rebelled, led by the angel Lucifer. So there was a whole lot that happened before God created our heaven and earth.

There may be life on other planets, although whether there is life like ours or not depends entirely on God, and not on chance or probability. The odds against life as we know it are truly astronomical, but even those odds are controlled by God. And if you believe the Bible to be God’s word, there are no other universes that have been created by other powers. Nor were there any worlds created or ruled by ancestors of the Biblical God. God had no ancestors.

What are the implications of the Bible’s creation account? First, we are taught to believe that creation is good, because it is produced by God. Both Hinduism and Gnosticism are well-known for taking a dim view of the material world. Tertullian’s comical jab at those rascally Gnostics was that they reject the goodness of creation, but they have to hijack the Creator’s water to baptize their converts! All that God has created is “very good.” (Genesis 1:31) The evil that exists in the world is the result of us turning our back on God and bringing a horrendous curse on God’s good earth by our sin. We pray for the day of God’s all-time re-set to remove the curse on God’s good earth.

Another implication I find here in Genesis is that, as I have taught my confirmation students for years, we can only choose between either a God who always existed or matter that has always existed. You can worship God, or worship matter. Those are the options. To me, it is more logical that matter owes its existence to a higher power, specifically, the One first revealed in the Hebrew Bible. To say that God merely reorganized matter that was already here instead of creating it out of nothing, which means to say that God depends on someone else or material that was already here before he existed, takes away from the glory that belongs to God alone.

Another implication of the Bible’s creation account is that God has charged us to manage the earth faithfully. The term “subdue” (kabash) in Genesis 1:28 is used a total of 15 times in the Hebrew Bible; its basic meaning is to bring hostile forces under control, such as the inhabitants of Canaan (Joshua 18:1), or to bring people into subjection as slaves (Nehemiah 5:5, Jeremiah 34:11). One memorable verse is where Haman falls on the couch to beg Queen Esther for his life, and the king roars, “Will he even assault the queen in my presence?” (Esther 7:8) Another remarkable verse is where Micah rejoices over the day when God will “subdue” our iniquities and “trample them under foot” (Micah 7:19).

 

The term “have dominion” (radah) is used a total of 22 times in the Hebrew Bible; its basic meaning is to manage with authority, like Solomon ruling his empire (1 Kings 5:4). Likewise, Psalm 72:8 says of the king, “May he rule from sea to sea.” Israelites are forbidden to “rule” their slaves with harshness (Leviticus 25:43, 25:46, 25:53). In Leviticus 26:17, Israel is warned that if they sin, their enemies shall “rule” over them. And in Jeremiah 5:31, we are told that the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests “rule” at their direction.

These two verbs in the creation mandate (“subdue” and “rule”) teach that we are not to let nature tyrannize us. Instead, they teach us that we must exercise faithful management of the earth for the good of humankind. Extreme environmentalism would demand that we sacrifice human lives and health on a mass scale for the dubious good of an earth that hardly merits human sacrifice. God’s word does not give us license to squash whatever threatens the comfort or convenience of our lifestyle, but it does teach us that we must subdue threats to human life, because we care for those who are made in God’s image.

Much as we do well to assist endangered species that are poorly adapted for survival, to prioritize them over human life and health is downright idolatry, to set them up as false objects of worship. That is, unless we admit that human beings have the right to make such decisions as a part of our management responsibility over creation. But if we concede that humans have the right to exercise such responsibility, then the floor is open to debate as to whether Genesis’s commands to prioritize human life should outweigh other needs.

Sadly, some have misunderstood the creation mandate as a command to run roughshod over creation, to bulldoze it to death as we see fit, as if we had better ideas than the Creator, like the old cartoon where an Army Corps of Engineers commander is building a dam and says, “This is what God would have done if he’d had Federal funds.” When I was a teenager, I had a bumper sticker that opposed the proposed Meramec Dam in Missouri, which would have flooded miles of beautiful river, plus one of the largest caves in Missouri. I have always passionately opposed the mindless dredge-it-and-dam-it approach to God’s creation.

I firmly believe it is an insult to the Creator to trash the Creator’s masterpiece. From the rain forests of Oregon to the mountains of Utah, to the spring-fed streams of the Missouri Ozarks, to the prairie grass of Iowa, I see God’s reflection everywhere in the beauty of creation, and I want to keep it that way. Because I am a conservative, it is only logical that I will want to conserve God’s masterpiece of creation. God has given us only so much oil, minerals, and other resources on this earth, and I believe we must use them faithfully and not irresponsibly.

One more important teaching we learn from this chapter is that the entire human race began with a single pair of ancestors. Unless we believe that we all descend from the same pair of ancestors, we open the door to racism. A lot hangs on the existence of an historical Adam and Eve. And yet that belief has been challenged in the past 10 years by claims that the complexity of human DNA requires an original pool of 10,000 people from whom the whole human race descends. However, that claim is based heavily on guesswork, estimates, and assumptions.

Here is where my bias in favor of Biblical authority leads me to be skeptical of the claims of science until they are proven trustworthy. Too often guesswork can be driven by personal agenda. Expert guesses are what they are; they are subject to correction as we are able to find evidence and ways to test those guesses, and we would certainly hesitate to fly on an airplane if aviation science were based on the same level of guesswork.

One huge question we need to ask about that gene pool is: How many of these so-called genetic ancestors of ours are merely human-like in their genetic structure, and at what point are we talking about creatures who actually bear the image of God? That is a question that science cannot answer from DNA.

The non-existence of an historical Adam would undercut the whole of what we believe about sin and redemption. The oneness of the human race is absolutely essential if we believe in the reality of universal sin, and if we believe we all need a Savior. Sin is gobbledygook to an ape, as it probably was for ancient hominids. Without meaningful oneness throughout the human species, the fall of the human race gets reduced to the level of a fairy tale.

But even if we choose to believe that sin and redemption are not a problem with a pool of 10,000 original humans, there is still one more implication we must face. If we are not one blood, descended from the same pair of parents, then we can easily argue that my species of the genus Homo is superior to yours. Then the only grounds we will have for condemning racism is “because I said so.” God’s word says that we are all descendants of the same two parents.

So what about our first ancestors, Adam and Eve? What if they had never sinned? And was their rebellion against God a good thing or a bad thing? Was it really necessary for them to blow up God’s good creation and bring such a horrible curse upon the world? We’ll spend our entire program talking about that next time on Biblical Words and World.

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