Creation and Evolution (Part 6)May 26, 2013 Time: 00:21:18
We have been dealing with different interpretations of Genesis 1 and we looked at the Literal Interpretation, the Gap Interpretation, and Day-Age Interpretation and now we come to the so-called Revelation-Day Interpretation. The Revelation-Day Interpretation holds that the seven days spoken of in Genesis 1 are not days of creation but days of revelation. That is to say, these are seven consecutive days on which God revealed to Moses, or whoever the author of Genesis was, what God did in creating the world. So each day is a literal, consecutive day but they are not days of creation; these are days of revelation of God’s creative activity rather than a description of the seven days of creation themselves. So Revelation-Day Interpretation substitutes seven consecutive days of revelation for seven consecutive days of creation.
What might we say by way of assessment of this theory? I have to say that this view strikes me as rather implausible. There is nothing in the text itself to suggest that we are dealing here with revelatory days – seven consecutive days of revelation. There is no such phrase as “then the word of the Lord came to me again, saying,” etc. Or “then the Lord spoke to me saying” such and such. There is simply nothing in the text that suggests that we are dealing with seven consecutive days of revelations to the author. On the contrary, the days are described as what God does on each successive day – the things that he creates on those successive days. Then at the end of each period of creation he pronounces it good and then comes the evening and the morning. So there is no suggestion here, I think, that what we are dealing with are days of revelation rather than days of God’s creatorial activity. So I find this view to be one that is pretty implausible.
Literary Framework Interpretation
Let’s go on to a more interesting view – the Literary Framework Interpretation. The Literary Framework Interpretation has been ably defended by the French New Testament scholar Henri Blocher. Henri Blocher wrote a book called In the Beginning in which he defends the Literary Framework View.1 According to this view, the author of Genesis 1 is not interested in chronology. He is not attempting to relate one view after another in chronological fashion. Rather, the days serve as a sort of literary framework on which he can hang his account of creation. He wants to describe how God is the source of all life; God is the creator of all the world. He uses the framework of six days as a literary structure on which to hang his account. But he doesn’t intend for this literary structure or framework to be interpreted in a chronological way.
Ever since the Middle Ages, biblical commentators have noticed that there seems to be a sort of parallelism between the first three days and the second three days in Genesis 1. Corresponding to the first day is day 4, corresponding to the second day is day 5 and corresponding to the third day is day 6. Blocher also sees this structure as significant.2 He says that on the first three days, God creates the domain or the space for a certain life form or entity. Then on the correlated second three days he creates the occupants of the space or the domain. So, to give an example, on day 2 the text says that God separates the waters which are above the heavens from the waters which are below the heavens. Then on the fifth day he creates the sea creatures and the birds to inhabit the waters and to fly through the heavens where the water has been cleared away. Similarly, on day 3 God is said to create the dry land and the vegetation and the fruit trees. Then on day 6 he creates the land animals and man to occupy the dry land. Notice also that on the third and the sixth day, there is a double work of creation on both of those days. On day 3, there is the dry land and the vegetation – two acts of creation – and then on day 6 there are two acts of creation – the land animals and then human beings. So the idea is that on the first three days, God creates the habitats or the domains and then on the second three days he creates the inhabitants or the denizens of the domains. So the creation account is not intended to be chronological; rather, the creation week is a sort of thematic or literary framework on which to hang a non-chronological account.
I think that this is an extremely interesting view which is ably defended by Blocher and so it deserves serious consideration. I do have to confess, however, being somewhat skeptical about the alleged parallelism between the first three days and the second three days – days 1 through 3 and 4 through 6. A closer reading of the text shows that these days are not really parallel in an exact way. For example, on day 4 God creates the lights in the sky – the great light, the sun; the lesser light, the moon; and the stars. So he creates the heavenly luminaries on day 4. What corresponds to God’s creating the lights in the firmament on day 4? Well, clearly, it is God’s creation of the firmament on day 2. On day 2 he creates the firmament and then on day 4 he places the lights in the firmament. The separation of darkness and light on day 1 that takes place isn’t really the creation of a place for the sun and the moon and the stars. That comes on day 2 when God creates the firmament – that is the place or the domain in which then on day 4 God places the sun and the moon and the stars. Similarly, on day 5, God creates the sea creatures. What corresponds to God’s creating the sea creatures? Well, it is his creation of the seas on day 3. That is where the verbal linkage is. True, on day 2, he separated the waters above the heavens from the waters below the heavens but it is not until day 3 that the waters below the heavens are gathered into seas and are given the name “seas.” Then on day 5 God creates the sea creatures to inhabit the domain of the seas. So, again, it is not really parallel to day 2 where he simply separates the waters above the heavens from the waters below the heavens.3 Finally, on day 3, notice that you have not simply the creation of the dry land – it is not simply barren – you also have the creation of the vegetation and the fruit trees which inhabit the dry land and grow on the dry land. So on day 3 God does not simply create a domain, or a space; he also creates some of the inhabitants or some of the things that live in that domain. I think it would be a real stretch of the imagination to think that the vegetation is meant to be a domain in which man and the animals are going to live and they are created on day 6.
So I have to say I am not really persuaded that this parallelism is actually there in the text as opposed to a sort of construction that the interpreter is imposing on the text or reading into the text. I don’t think that this parallelism is really there in the way described. It seems to be a construction or a manufacture of the interpreter – in this case, Blocher. Having said that, I don’t think that the Literal Framework View is committed to saying that the framework should be understood in terms of domains and inhabitants of those domains. We will see this when we get to the view of Functional Creation which we will talk about next time. There is a parallelism also seen between the days but it is interpreted in a different way than domains and denizens of those domains. So I don’t think the Literary Framework View stands or falls on this particular interpretation of the parallels but nevertheless it does seem to call into question Blocher’s view.
Secondly, moreover, I am not convinced yet that the chronology in the narrative is not to be taken seriously. On the Literary Framework View, the chronology is meaningless. But surely the idea of numbering the consecutive days – second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth – with these ordinal numbers as the author does, and the progression from desolation in the beginning, the primordial seas, nothing alive to the appearance of the dry land then the vegetation then the animal life and finally culminating in man, and then on the seventh day God’s resting finally from his work of creation; surely that suggests that chronology is part of this narrative. Blocher admits that this motif of creation in 6+1 days is a common motif in ancient creation myths such as Egyptian creation stories. So that raises the question – if this is a common motif in the ancient world, why think that here in Genesis 1 that this isn’t meant to be taken seriously? Why think that this is just a literary device rather than genuine chronology? Notice that merely showing a parallelism doesn’t show it to be non-chronological. You could still have parallelism between the days and have them chronologically ordered. So I have some skepticism about this view; nevertheless, I think this is a very substantive and interesting view that deserves further exploration.
Question: It is very interesting and I believe in the chronology but the context and the content – the first three days and the later three days – I think is in place if you see it as a boundary. When he created the light, the boundary is set between light and darkness. Then the second day is heaven and earth. The third day is land and sea. And then the content comes in in that boundary. The interesting thing is human beings are trying to remove all the boundaries. So the judgment comes in Noah’s day when he removes the boundary between land and sea.
Answer: Wow, did you come up with this interpretation yourself?4
Followup: Well, I am studying BSF5 right now and as I answered those questions, all these ideas come in. So I just thought it is exciting to me.
Answer: Well, I must say I am impressed. I do think that the idea of setting boundaries between darkness and light, waters above and waters below, dry lands and seas is much more plausible then Blocher’s view. So I am impressed!
Question: Would that have been something Moses’ original audience would have understood about the creation account. Would the Hebrews have understood it? How would that fit in with Moses’ purpose in writing that story in the first place?
Answer: That is the key question, isn’t it? Blocher thinks that they would. He thinks that these original readers would have understood or wouldn’t have at least been misled by a literary, or thematic, arrangement in which God is doing something like creating domains and then inhabitants or perhaps boundaries and then content. Although, Blocher doesn’t really come to grips much with the fact that this is a motif that is found in another ancient creation stories. I think he needs to look at that and show us that that is not chronological either. If he could show us that in these other creation myths, this is merely literary then that would provide a very powerful argument in favor of thinking that it is merely literary here. But if in these other myths it looks chronological then that would weigh against his view. I don’t think, at least as I recall in reading his book, that he does much. He is aware of these things but he doesn’t discuss them a whole lot. We will see when we get to Functional Creation and the Hebrew Myth Interpretation that, there, these authors are much more in dialogue with the creation stories of Israel’s neighbors and we will see what clues they might provide for how original readers would have interpreted these.
Question: The Hebrew word for “firmament” is actually “hammered out sheet” – it is the same word that is used for the covering of the table with sheets of gold in the temple.
Answer: Yes. As we will see when we get to the Functional Creation, this becomes a very important argument in the hands of John Walton for his view of interpreting Genesis 1 not in terms of what he calls Material Creation but Functional Creation. He says if you interpreted this as literal, material creation then you are committed to what you said – namely, that there is some sort of a solid dome up there in the sky like a hammered out piece of metal. There is this solid dome up in the sky that separates the waters above from the waters below and occasionally it opens, the waters leak through, and it rains. Of course, no one with a modern scientific knowledge thinks that there is such a thing as this solid dome in the sky. The question there, I think, will be did these ancient Hebrews think so literally or could they use metaphors as well? Walton thinks not.
Question: Something I learned from Hugh Ross – biblical Hebrew only has three thousand words in it – it has a three thousand word vocabulary and that’s it. I think that is something that has to be kept in mind when looking at the original words – they didn’t have that much to choose from.
Answer: That is a good point. So are you saying this with respect to the solidity of the firmament?
Followup: Exactly. They could only describe the firmament using so many words. With only three thousand, you have to pick words that can have more than one meaning. It might not be quite as literal.
Answer: Yeah. OK, let’s not focus on that at this point. I do want to make sure we understand the Literary Framework View and any critique or assessment I’ve offered on that.
Question: Do you believe that the ancient translations, such as the Targums or the Septuagint, will give any value to this discussion?
Answer: That is a good question. I have to confess that in the work that I’ve read – commentaries and so forth – on Genesis 1, there doesn’t seem to be much appeal to Targums in terms of understanding what they said.6 I am not familiar with any literature of that nature. Targums were Jewish paraphrases or commentaries that could lend insight to how they understood various scriptures.
Followup: Because it was so much before modern science, one could see – is this literal or more figurative? Also, the ancient Greek of the Septuagint had an enormous vocabulary. It was based on the Greek of the ancient philosophers. Maybe it would help; maybe it wouldn’t because it would just be literal when they translated.
Answer: Or it could be something that is used metaphorically. You are using a dome as a metaphor for something like a boundary. But, yes, as for the Septuagint, it would be interesting to see what Greek word they used for rendering “firmament.” I don’t know. As I say, that is not really pertinent to the Literary Interpretation View.7
1 Henri Blocher, In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis (InterVarsity Press, 1984)
7 Total Running Time: 21:17 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)