Many people now believe the creation account in Genesis is a charming myth with no evidence for validation. However, I think we can look at Genesis in a reasonable and logical manner, seeing that it actually does support scientific research. The origin of the universe and especially of human life is answered in the Genesis account. Both nature, science and theology can agree with each another and any apparent conflict between them is due to faulty interpretation and an incorrect understanding of the text.
First of all, it is important to understand that the New Testament depends very heavily on Genesis. At least 165 passages in Genesis are directly quoted or clearly referred to in the New Testament. Christian salvation is based on the Adam-Christ model, therefore the doctrine of creation is foundational for every other doctrine in scripture because God’s revelation begins with creation in the book of Genesis.
When examining the Genesis account, we must be careful not to employ a contemporary historical interpretation. The Hebrew mentality worked differently than ours in telling history and we need to take this into account when trying to understand scripture. Here the Hebrew author is using a technique that was understood to the readers of the time, namely that the writer would introduce a general concept, work with details and then sum the up the general concept and the details. Additionally, a secondary pattern of thought in the Hebrew mind was to a address a broad subject, then go to a more general subject and then to the specific. These two patterns we see in reading the Genesis account of creation. Why did the writer do this? To introduce the idea of covenant and grace that leads to the gospel message of Jesus. St. Bonaventure said: “God did not create to increase his glory, but to show it forth and to communicate it to those whom he loves.”
Now we need to consider the meaning of the Hebrew word “barah,” which means “to
create,” but not in the same sense as the English equivalent. Without understanding its Hebrew meaning, the reader misses a pivotal point which narrows down the message of this account. This Hebrew verb for “create” is used only of God’s creative activity apart from any pre-existent material. So the understanding for the Hebrew word is that God created out of nothing, without the use of any pre-existent material and the writer desired to express the thought of absolute creation, asserting that the heaven and the earth had a beginning and that this beginning is to be found in the fact that God created. We can see the same use of the Hebrew verb “barah” with its same meaning in Psalm 46 when the writer proclaims: “Create in me a clean hear Oh God!”
Evolution, then, does not begin from this standpoint. Evolution addresses how life developed, slowly and gradually, from something that was already there. This point, in itself, illustrates that the Genesis account and evolution do not have to be in conflict. Additionally, Charles Darwin doesn’t refute that God is behind the creating.
The second problem that many raise is to the meaning of the word “day” in this account. Since the sun is created on day four, people question how to count days one, two and three. Once again, we must examine the meaning of the Hebrew for “day.” “Yom” is the Hebrew word used here and has three meanings: its first meaning is a period of time that could be interpreted as a solar 24 hour day or its second meaning indicating the daylight portion of a 24 hour day. Thirdly, “yom” can additionally mean time, in a general sense, which never specified a definite period with an exact beginning or ending.
In each case, the reader must take into consideration that, at the time this account was
written, the Hebrews, nor the Hebrew writer, had an understanding that a day was 24 hours.
The third meaning of “yom,” a non-specific period, is also seen in 2 Peter 3:8 where it is written: “But forget not this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” If a thousand years is compared to a day, there is no reason that a million or a billion could not also be compared in the same manner. The Hebrew “yom” simply does not mean a day in our sense today. The use of morning and evening refers to the beginning and end of each of God’s creative periods.
St. Augustine in his “Literal Meaning of Genesis” (Book 4, Chapter 18) says this concerning the concept of the day: “The more likely explanation is this: these seven days of our time, although like the seven days of creation in name and numbering, follow one another in succession and mark off the division in time, but those first six days occurred in a form unfamiliar to us as intrinsic principles within things created. Hence, evening and morning, like light and darkness, that is, day and night, did not produce the changes that they do for us with the motion of the sun. This we are certainly forced to admit with regard to the first three days, which are recorded and numbered before the creation of the heavenly bodies.” [Sun, moon, stars.]
Why, then, is this an important way of approaching this? The long periods of time, noted as days, fit better the findings of science and the dating of the age of the earth by various scientific methods. In Genesis we need to remember that God works over a period of time. Here, we do not find a contradiction between Genesis 1, Genesis 2 and scientific theories. Additionally, we see that Genesis actually does support scientific research.
Finally, we tend to react emotionally when the word myth is used to describe literature in the bible. Joseph Campbell defines myth as: “talking symbolically about reality” and in his PBS series aired in the 1980s, he was interviewed and asked how religious myth functions. He responded by saying: “Myth helps us define our reality and asks us the question, How do I make sense out of my world?” So we can say that the bible reflects the way we understand God acting in our lives. We read Genesis in order to look for answers to the questions we have about life. Why are we like we are today? What happened to us because at one time we were innocent? What is our relationship to God? and Why do we suffer?
St. Thomas Aquinas said: “We came into existence when the KEY OF LOVE opened God’s hand.” In our reading and reflecting on creation, let us listen for God’s call as we are sustained in the hope of salvation, especially when we hear how “God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)
[v. Praised be Jesus Christ.
R. Now and forever!]