The Creation Account: How Moses Taught Faith to the Jews... and Me
- Dr. Roger Barrier Preach It, Teach It
- 2013 25 Jul
Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recently two of my young friends have raised questions about the creation story.
One, a young lady, had been deeply hurt when another gal at a Casas evening group told her that if she didn’t believe in a literal 7 days, she might not even be a Christian!
The other, a young guy science major whose father is a scientist and atheist, was beginning to question the whole "faith-thing," since he can't reconcile literal 7 days with scientific method…
I don't know if you want to address something this controversial and divisive, but… since the elephant is in the room, I think maybe we (er, that would be you, as "we" doesn’t have the answers…) should talk about it.
Love ya, "L"
I almost lost my faith over this issue.
I grew up in a church which taught Genesis One as proclaiming a literal-seven-day creation. Any other interpretation was a slap at the veracity of the Bible. Those not falling into line were considered outside the historic Christian Faith since they failed to "believe in the Bible."
And yet... this literal interpretation was not fitting well with what I was being taught in school. I loved math and science and took every course available: biology, advanced biology, chemistry, physics, advanced physics, geometry, trigonometry and calculus. Then, my senior year, I read Worlds In Collision by the Russian physicist, Immanuel Velikovsky and my faith was somewhat shaken.
But, I stood firm with the positions taken by The Center for Scientific Creation. I learned about young-earth theories and mature-earth creation stories; that God created the earth 6,000 years ago but made it to look as if it were 4.5 billion years old.
I considered the day-age interpretations that attempted to explain the apparent old age of the earth by interpreting the Hebrew word for day, "yom," as long-indeterminate eras that could have lasted millions of years.
Then, five years into my pastoring, I came across The Red Limit by Timothy Ferris. My faith was shaken to the core. The more I learned about cosmology and creation the harder and harder it was for me to believe in the Bible.
I was in spiritual agony.
I wondered if I could be a man of integrity and continue preaching while I doubted the integrity of the Bible. In Psalm 73, Asaph, the worship leader during David’s reign, also struggled with doubts. God told him to continue his ministry. However, he was to keep his mouth shut about his doubts until he had worked through them successfully. Asaph became my biblical model.
I took by faith that the Word of God was living and powerful. I felt I could confidently proclaim that the truths and teachings and proclamations of the Bible were absolutely capable of changing lives and evangelizing the lost.
(By the way, I’m surprised how many Christians have the same struggle I did. I wished I were more like my wife Julie, who doesn't worry about this at all. But, I'm not).
I intensified my research. I read books on general and special relativity, quantum mechanics, chaos and string theories, cosmology, time dilation, the standard model of particle physics, multiple dimensions, multiple universes, evolution and natural selection. Then, I tackled anthropology and genetics. You can read and study a lot of books in 15-20 years!
I cherished the things I learned, but none stabilized my faith. Everything was either/or. Either I accepted the literal seven-day creation or I accepted the findings of Science. No intermeshing of Science and Genesis One was apparent on the horizon. I was as confused as ever.
Then, I was introduced to Conrad Hyers and his book, The Meaning of Creation. Genesis One began making sense.
Hyers demonstrates how Moses used Hebraic poetry to declare that the Most High alone is God while the gods of Egypt were just creatures, all of which were made by the hand of the Most High.
What might Moses have been thinking about when he composed the creation story? He had just engineered the Exodus from Egypt. Many of the people were still worshipping Egyptian gods (cf. the golden calf (Exodus 32)); they wanted to worship like they had in Egypt. Aaron caved in and made them a god. Moses was so angrily out of control that he smashed the stone tablets to powder!
Moses' biggest concern was that the people would forget the Most High and begin (or continue) worshipping the Egyptian gods (Joshua 24:14). It boggles the mind to think that Moses was at that time focused on a literal, scientific teaching of when and how the world came to be.
To make his appeal as simple as possible he wrote in thoughtful, poetic, rhyming schemes that were easy to grasp and remember orally. Poetry was just the tool he needed.
Most of us recognize a poem as a poem because the words rhyme. But as we immerse ourselves deeper into poetry, we discover the genius of rhyme schemes and rhyming thoughts instead of just words. Poems are, in fact, more likely to rhyme thoughts than words. Shakespeare, for example, never rhymed words in his sonnets, but he utilized poetic patterns to rhyme thoughts; his plays were poetic narratives written in unrhymed iambic pentameter. Observe that several contemporary songs are rhythmic and tell stories without a single word rhyming with another.
Similarly, Hebrew poetry seldom, if ever, rhymed words. Ancient Hebrew poetry utilized eight different patterns to rhyme thoughts.
Psalm 91:1-4 is an excellent example of rhyming thoughts in Hebrew poetry:
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."
Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge...
No one interprets this passage literally. We all know that God is not a bird; He does not have wings and feathers. He is a spirit. This passage is poetry.
Rhymes are all over this passage. Shelter, as a concept, "rhymes" with 'fortress,' 'refuge,' 'feathers' and 'wings.' Each passage also rhymes with others. The lyric, "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High," rhymes with "and under his wings you will find refuge."
In essence the Psalmist is giving us a pictorial experience of God’s love and care—like a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings when they're threatened, so God brings protection and care to His children when they are in need. The point is well made.
So back to Genesis One, where Moses declared that God is the Creator of all things. In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth. In verse two, Moses declared that God’s creation was formless and empty. What is formless needs form. What is empty needs filling.
Now notice how on days 1-3 God gave form to the formless and on days 4-6 He filled what was now formed.
By the time God gets to day seven He is able to rest because the formless has form and the empty is now filled.
- On day one God created Light and Darkness (1:3-5).
- On day two God created and separated the Sky and Waters (1:6-8).
- On day three God created dry Land and Vegetation (1:9-13).
- On day four God created the Sun, Moon and Stars (1:10-19).
- On day five God created Birds and Fish (1:20-24).
- On day six God created Animals and Man (1:25-26).
- On day seven God rested (2:2-3).
The poetical framework is now in place. The rhyming begins.
- Day one rhymes with day four. On day one He formed light and darkness. He filled it on day four with the Sun, Moon and stars.
- Day two rhymes with day five. On day two the Almighty formed sky and sea. On day five He filled the sky with birds and the waters with fish.
- Day three rhymes with day six. On day three God formed dry land and vegetation. One day six He filled dry land and vegetation with animals and man.
Be certain to notice that each of the things God created in Genesis One were things the Egyptians worshipped as gods themselves: light and darkness; sea and sky; land and vegetation; sun, moon and stars, birds and fish; and animals and man (Pharaoh and his son were 'gods').
On each of the six days of the creation story, Moses toppled one or more of the Egyptian gods.
We might say that Moses was thumbing his nose at the Egyptians, singing, "My God is better than your gods! Your gods aren't gods! My God made your gods!"
I had no doubt in my mind that when Moses wrote down Genesis One he was thinking about God the Most High vs. gods who were only idols. Consider Moses' final charge to Israel just before he died not to return to the gods of Egypt. In this passage he repeated the pantheon of gods he addressed in Genesis One:
"Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not… make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly array—do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has [created]" (Deuteronomy 4:15-19).
My struggles ceased. My faith soared. No longer were seven-day creation and Science my only choices. Now that I understood Moses' intention in writing Genesis One, there was no need for both to mesh—or for my mind to be forced to choose one side or the other.
Finally, I no longer had to answer the oft-asked question, "How do dinosaurs fit into the Bible?" In this understanding of Genesis One, they don't.
L, I hope that my journey might be of help to your young friends and others. At the minimum, these are some things you might consider as you are reconciling the Bible with Science.
P.S. Dear Reader,
You may stop reading here. My answer is completed.
However, if you want to know more about the literary devices used by biblical authors to communicate truth to us, I have summarized several of them below. I hope you find them informative and helpful as you study the Bible.
Much of the Bible is written in prose and understood as literally true just as it is written. The Bible is replete with narrative stories which actually occurred as recorded. So, we interpret prose as prose. In the same way, we interpret poetry as poetry.
The Bible also contains metaphors. A metaphor is a comparison not using the words "like" or "as." For example, Jesus declared, "I am the door." None of us believe that statement to be literally true. Jesus is not made out of wood and hinges. He used a metaphor to describe Himself as the way into eternal life. We understand metaphors as metaphors.
The Bible is filled with similes. A simile is a comparison using the words "like" or "as." In the Olivet Discourse Jesus described the end times as follows: "As it was in the days of Noah, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be." The end will not come with the days of Noah; however, the end will be like the days of Noah. So, we understand that similes are not literally true, but they use one thing to help make something else easier to understand. So, we interpret similes as similes.
Onomatopoeia is a literary device that uses a word that sounds like the meaning of the word itself. For example, when the Rich Young Ruler turned His back on Jesus, Jesus "looked upon him with compassion." 'Compassion' is translated from a Greek word that actually sounds like someone's inner-most body parts being spilled out. Jesus' insides did not literally pour out. But, we experience from that particular word an insight into Christ's deep, emotional, heart-broken feelings of compassion for the young man who made the wrong choice. We interpret onomatopoeia as onomatopoeia.
Jesus often used Greek chiasms to teach truth. A chiasm is a Greek literary device used to invoke deep thought and consideration. Four clauses are arranged like an "X" in the rhyme scheme a-b-b-a. For example, Jesus said in Matthew 7:6: "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces." His statement is only understood by unraveling the chiasm. The first and fourth clauses go together as do the second and third. Now, His words make sense. Otherwise they seem like gibberish. We interpret chiasms as chiasms.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.