Thursday, 25 June 2015

Five Reasons Why Interpreting Genesis 1 Literally is Impossible

I've pointed out that YEC cannot be honestly reconciled with both the scientific and the Biblical data as a literal reading of both creation narratives contradict each other in the length and duration of creation, the sequence of creation events in Gen 1 does not harmonise with what we actually know from science, and Genesis 1 when taken literally teaches the existence of a solid firmament. I've made these points repeatedly, but for the benefit of those needing a summary of why a literal reading is untenable, I've gathered together five of the main points. Read on.

1. Any reading of Genesis 1:1 that takes it as a reference to the beginning of the entire creation is based on a flawed reading of the Hebrew. As the respected Hebrew scholar Robert Holmstedt notes:
In a nutshell, the interpretation and translation of the first complex word, בְּרֵאשִׁית, in the Masoretic text of the Leningrad Codex as an absolute temporal prepositional phrase, “in the beginning, …” is grammatically indefensible. Period. End of story. [1]
Rather, the opening verses should be translated as:
“In the beginning period that God created the heavens and earth (the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the wind of God was hovering over the surface of the waters), God said, ‘Let light be!'”
Any argument that dates the universe by summing genealogies [2] is therefore on anything but solid ground.

2. Genesis 2 refers to the creation of a solid firmament separating waters above from waters below, in which were set the sun, moon, and stars, a fact acknowledged by competent scholars across religious traditions:
The etymology of rakia reveals that it clearly refers to a flattened, solid surface. The pesukim in Iyov 37:18 and Yeshayah 40:22 are likewise unequivocal. The Rishonim who defined the etymology of the word rakia, such as Radak and Ibn Janach, also explain it in this way. [3]
The solid nature of the raqia is well established. It is not the result of an anti-Christian conspiracy to find errors in the Bible, but the “solid” result of scholars doing their job. This does not mean that there can be no discussion or debate. But, to introduce a novel interpretation of raqia would require new evidence or at least a reconsideration of the evidence we have that would be compelling to those who do not have a vested religious interest in maintaining one view or another. [4]
Taking Genesis 1 as a literal account of creation demands we take it literally in all areas, yet even the most extreme YEC acknowledges that there is no solid firmament. 

3. Genesis 1:14-19 states that on the fourth day, the "lights in the dome of the sky" were put there to separate day from night, yet days 1 - 3 refer to evening and morning despite the fact that no sun, moon, and stars existed to separate 'day from night'. As C.C. Walker said:
And, therefore, if the “days” of Genesis 1. are to be taken as literal days, we feel bound to admit the sun as the origin of the “light,” and “evening and morning” that were the characteristics of “the first day.” How can you have “evening and morning” without the sun? We must settle up “the plain testimony” of verse 5 with that of verses 14–19. As we said before...“If we understand Moses as saying that the sun came into existence on ‘the fourth day,’ we make him contradict himself; we make him present us with day and night, evening and morning, without the sun upon which these things depend.” [5]
4. Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, when interpreted as sequential, literal accounts of creation contradict each other on the length of creation, the order of creation, and the very nature of God's involvement with creation. OT scholar Peter Enns notes:

These two stories are clearly significantly different, and they cannot be harmonized by saying that the first gives the overview and the second fills in some of the details. The presence of two different creation accounts is troublesome for readers who assume that Genesis 1 and 2 are historical in nature and that the Bible’s first priority is to recount history accurately. Yet the divergence of these stories cannot be reasonably questioned. To stitch them into a seamless whole would dismiss the particular and distinct points of view that the authors were so deliberate in placing there. The differences between the two creation accounts are further complemented by differences seen in other Old Testament passages such as Psalms 77:16–20; 89:5–37; Job 9:4–15; 26:5–14; 38:4–38; and Isaiah 40:12–31; 44:24–28. It does not seem to be a concern of the biblical writers to provide God’s people with a “unified” story of creation. [6]
5. The order of creation in Genesis 1 is contradicted by the evidence from the fossil record and astronomy. A literal reading of Genesis 1 makes the Earth older than the rest of the universe, but we know that the universe is around 13.8 billion years old whereas the Earth is only 4.6 billion years. Furthermore, the fossil record shows that:
  • Plants appeared on the earth at least 410 million years ago [7]
  • Birds appeared on the earth at least 130 million years ago [8]
  • Jawless fish appeared on the earth around 520 million years ago [9]
  • Mammals appeared in the earth around 200 million years ago [10]
  • Anatomically  modern humans appeared on the earth around 195 thousand years ago [11]
This is why YEC is poor science and even worse theology


1. Holmstedt R "Genesis 1.1-3, Hebrew Grammar, and Translation"Ancient Hebrew Grammar Nov 11 2011
2. There are major problems with using the genealogies as accurate tools to arrive at a creation date, as the conservative scholar W.H. Green noted in the late 19th century. See Green W.H. "Primeval ChronologyBibliotheca Sacra (1890) 47:285-303
3. Slifkin N "What the Firmament Really Is" Rationalist Judaism Jan 26 2011
5 Walker C.C. "Is it 'Wrong' to Believe that the Earth is a Sphere?" The Christadelphian (1913) 50:348
6. Enns, Peter. The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2012, p 52
7. Raven, J.A.; Edwards, D.  "Roots: evolutionary origins and biogeochemical significance" Journal of Experimental Botany (2001) 52: 381–401
8. Wang, M, et al. "The oldest record of ornithuromorpha from the early cretaceous of China." Nature communications 6 (2015).
9. Shu, D. G. et al  "Head and backbone of the Early Cambrian vertebrate Haikouichthys"  Nature (2003) 421: 526–529
10. Shundong Bi et al "Three new Jurassic euharamiyidan species reinforce early divergence of mammals" Nature (2014) 514:579–584
11. McDougall I., Brown F.H., Fleagle D.G. "Stratigraphic placement and age of modern humans from Kibish, Ethiopia" Nature (2005) 433:733-736