Several months ago I started a Bible Reading Plan that would take me through the Old Testament in a year. I found that particular plan to be too taxing. I don’t just want to read but to study the text I am reading. I have the Logos 4 Platinum Package which gives me an incredible amount of resources from which to learn (click here for the complete list of what it contains). I tried as hard as I could to keep up, but stopped reading somewhere between the middle of 1 Samuel and the beginning of 2 Samuel. Three or more chapters per day was just too much to study the way I want to study.
Today I started a new reading plan. This time I’m using a plan I custom created from within my Logos 4 Software (watch a software demo here). There are 929 chapters in the Old Testament (well, more if one is Catholic or Orthodox – which I am not) so I decided to have the software create a plan that would take 929 days, yet give me weekends off. Click click click – DONE! An average of one chapter per day should be much more manageable, and perhaps with the time to study deeper, I’ll recall more for the long term.
I could have picked up where I left off, thereby avoiding the task of studying the same chapters over again that were gone through in my last reading plan. But as I told my son this morning, every time I read the Bible I learn something new. So I begin yet again with Genesis 1. Today’s reading begins with Genesis Chapter 1 verse 1 and ends at Chapter 2 verse 3… the creation account.
I started by reading the full text from my chosen translation (I like the TNIV), then opened up my three favorite Commentaries: The New Bible Commentary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, and The Pulpit Commentary. On many days, depending on how mentally alert I feel, I’ll go on to read other commentaries, passages from related books, or even famous sermons on the passage being studied.
For today’s reading, The New Bible Commentary is great at laying out what many Christians believe: the 6 day account in Genesis 1 was not referring to literal days. It gives good reasons why this is likely the case, which is why I’ve quoted what it says, in its entirety, about today’s passages.
Should you like to share your opinions on whether or not the Genesis 1 account refers to literal days, please take the time to first read the following commentary and then tell me why you think it is wrong.
COMMENTARY #1 (of several I read today): The New Bible Commentary.1:1–2:3 Prologue: God creates the worldThis opening section of Genesis stands outside the main frame of the book set by the ten headings, ‘This is the account of’ (2:4 etc.). This shows that it is a prologue to the rest of the book, setting out who God is and how he relates to the world. It thus provides a key to the interpretation of Genesis, if not the whole Bible. But this prologue is more than a statement of theology, it is a hymn of praise to the Creator through whom and for whom all things exist..The prologue itself is carefully arranged. Ten divine commands result in eight acts of creation spread over six days, so that there is a correspondence between days one to three and days four to six. On day one, God created ‘light’ and on day four, ‘lights’ (sun, moon and stars); on day two, he created the sky and sea and on day five, the dwellers in the sky and sea (birds and fish); on day three, he created the land and vegetation and on day six, the dwellers in the land (animals and mankind), giving them plants to eat; finally, on the seventh day (the Sabbath), he rested..The works of creation moved to a climax on day six when mankind was created in two sexes. That this is seen as the crowning feat of God’s creation is emphasized by the lengthy comments on their creation and role (1:26–29), which are much fuller than those about any other creature. Indeed, the works of the five preceding days seem to focus on creating a home for mankind. Those aspects of creation that most affect human existence (e.g. plant and animal life and the sun and moon) are described more fully than the creation of light, land, or seas, which are less significant. God’s concern for humanity is made explicit in the provision of plants for food..It also seems likely that the emphasis on God creating for six days and then resting on the seventh is deliberate. God’s mode of working was to be a model for human activity. People, who are made in the image of God, are expected throughout the Bible to imitate God. So, as God worked for six days and then rested on the seventh day, human beings are to work for six days and rest on the seventh (Ex. 20:8–11)..The concern with human life on earth, which is apparent in this narrative read by itself, is the more obvious when it is compared with other ancient oriental accounts of creation. Genesis is implicitly rejecting other views of the gods and their relationship with the world. Here we have no story of how gods fought, married and bore children; there is but one God, beyond time and sex, who was there in the beginning. He created all things, even the sun, moon and stars, which other peoples often held to be gods in their own right. He required no magic to do this; his word was sufficient by itself. According to the Genesis account, there is one God, the sovereign Creator, to whom all the universe owes its being and whom it is expected to obey. Within that created universe, men and women have a place of honour, having been made in the divine image. We reflect God’s nature and represent him on earth..1:1–2 The beginning of creationThe NIV accepts the traditional understanding of these verses, namely that they describe the very first act of creation, when God created all matter (the heavens and the earth) out of nothing. But the earth immediately after creation was formless and empty, i.e. unproductive and uninhabited. So the narrative then proceeds to relate how in six days God organized this chaos into the well-ordered world we now see..Some modern translations and commentators understand v 1 differently. Some (e.g. the NEB) take it simply to be defining the situation when God started to create, ‘In the beginning when God created … the earth was formless …’ Others simply regard v 1 as a summary title to the first chapter. But neither view is as likely as that adopted by the NIV. ‘Create’ is something that only God does (the verb is used only of God in the OT). He demonstrates his power by creating marvellous and unexpected things (Nu. 16:30), e.g. great sea creatures (21), men and women (27) and mountains (Am. 4:13)..V 2 pictures the world as dark and desolate, covered by water and with the mysterious Spirit (or ‘wind’) of God hovering above the ocean. The suggestion here of a power within the Godhead is developed further by Pr. 8:22–31 and Jn. 1:1–3, which speak of ‘wisdom’ and ‘the Word’ assisting in creation..1:3–23 Creation continued1:3–5 The creation of light. The dark world was lit up when God said, ‘Let there be light’. More precisely, day was distinguished from night by the creation of light. Light is a form of energy and may be produced in many different ways, not just by sun and stars (which were not created until the fourth day). Contemporary cosmologists say that the universe began with a hot big bang, which must have made a very bright light. Order began to appear and replace dark chaos. The refrain God saw that [it] was good (cf. vs 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31) affirms the intrinsic goodness of the creation and its Creator..Note. It is possible that the order of evening-morning in And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day (cf. vs 8, 13, 19, 23, 31) reflects the Hebrew concept of the day beginning with sunset and ending with the following sunset. What matters most to Genesis, however, is that God worked for six ‘days’ and then rested. In that these are days of God’s activity not human work, it is unlikely that they are supposed to last twenty-four hours. Indeed, the Hebrew word for ‘day’ covers a variety of periods: the hours of daylight (Gn. 29:7), a twenty-four-hour day (Gn. 7:4) or an indefinite period (Gn. 35:3). That they were different from ordinary days is shown by the non-existence of the sun until the fourth day. Another hint that creation did not take six literal days is the mention of the creation of the heavens and the earth, i.e. the unorganized universe (1) before the six days were counted down. Finally, it should be noted that 1:1–2:3, unlike all other sections of Genesis, is not headed by the title ‘This is the account of’, which links the proto-history (2:4–11:26) to the patriarchal history (11:27–50:26). All these differences indicate that 1:1–2:3 serves as an overture to the rest of the book and that it may not be intended to be taken as literally as what follows. Nevertheless, that God worked for six days and rested on the seventh day (however long by human reckoning his ‘days’ were) is a pattern for mankind to follow..1:6–8 The separation of the waters. God showed his power again by putting limits on the waters which had hitherto covered the globe (cf. Jb. 38:8–11). Some were confined to the seas, the rest to the sky. The upper waters were kept there by the ‘expanse’ or ‘firmament’ (AV). From earth the sky (firmament) appears to be a sort of dome that prevents the waters in the clouds falling to earth (cf. 7:11)..1:9–13 The creation of land and plants. Even more important for mankind was the provision, on the third day, of dry land, on which he could live, and plants to sustain life (cf. 1:29–30). The distinct varieties of plants (11–12) bear witness to God’s organizing power, and these distinctions should not be blurred (see the rules against mixed breeding in Lv. 19:19; Dt. 22:9–11)..1:14–19 The creation of the heavenly lights. Even more powerful proof of God’s creative power, and ever pertinent to human existence, are the sun, moon and stars. Pagan contemporaries of Genesis regarded these bodies as gods in their own right. To avoid any suspicion that the sun and moon were anything but created by God, Genesis calls them just lights. They were appointed to regulate the fundamental rhythms of human life by defining day and night and the seasons of the year..1:20–23 The creation of birds and fish. The parallel between God’s work on the first three days and the second three days now becomes clear. On day one, light was created, on day four, the heavenly lights; on day two, sky and oceans, on day five, birds and fish. Once again, Genesis is stressing God’s concern for order. ‘The great sea creatures’ were regarded as divine in some ancient myths; Genesis insists that they were merely some of God’s creatures. Furthermore, God wanted the waters and air to be filled with his creatures, and his command and blessing guaranteed their fertility. No magic or fertility rites were needed to secure it..1:24–31 The creation of animals and mankindThe creation account reaches its climax on the sixth day. Note how much fuller the description of God’s work on this day is than for any of the preceding days and the parallels with the words of day three (land)..Here Genesis defines mankind’s purpose and place in God’s plan. God says man is to be made in our image, in our likeness. This means that mankind, both male and female, is God’s representative on earth. Ancient oriental kings were often seen as bearing the image of their god, but Genesis affirms that every human being is made in God’s image. The NT affirms that Christ is ‘the image of the invisible God’ (Col. 1:15), ‘the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being’ (Heb. 1:3). Such an understanding of the divine image was beyond the reach of the human author of Genesis, but he alludes to another dimension of it by the comment ‘Let us make man in our image’ (26). Here God is pictured talking to the angels, the only allusion to other supernatural beings in this chapter. This remark implies that man is like both God and the angels. (Traditionally, Christians have seen us and our to allude to the other persons of the Trinity. While this is a quite legitimate fuller interpretation, it is not the words’ primary meaning.).Secondly, because human beings are created in God’s image they are his representatives on earth and should ‘rule … over all the earth’ (26). Ps. 8:4–8 offers a marvellous poetic comment on this idea. Rule implies lordship but not exploitation. Man, as God’s representative, must rule his subjects, as God does, for their own good. While legitimizing human use of the world’s resources, God gives no licence for our abuse of his creation..Thirdly, God deliberately created humanity in two sexes to be fruitful and increase in number. He thereby blessed sexual intercourse and indicated its importance in his plan. Other ancient tales, hailing from urban Mesopotamia (which was worried by population growth), tell of the gods taking steps to curb human fertility by sending plagues, famine, flood and miscarriage. The God of Genesis repeatedly urged the first people to be fruitful (1:28; 8:17; 9:1, 7) and promised the patriarchs that they would be successful in fathering innumerable children. Sex is thus seen as an important part of God’s very good creation (31)..Fourthly, God provided food for mankind in the form of seed-bearing plants and fruit trees (29). Not until after the flood was meat-eating expressly sanctioned (9:1–3). Genesis, however, is not primarily interested in whether people were originally vegetarian but in the fact that God provided them with food. In Mesopotamian mythology the gods created man to provide themselves with food; Genesis affirms it was the other way round, that God feeds mankind (cf. Pss. 65; 50:7–15)..2:1–3 The holy seventh dayA dramatic change of pace and style highlights the distinctiveness of the Sabbath. The seventh day is not called the Sabbath here, but it is alluded to, for he rested could be paraphrased ‘he Sabbathed’. Furthermore, the seventh day’s importance is underlined by God blessing it and making it holy. The Sabbath is regularly called ‘holy’, but only in Ne. 8:9, 11 is any other festival called ‘holy’. Here, God is described as resting on the seventh day, but the narrator clearly implies that mankind, made in the divine image, is expected to copy his Creator. Indeed, the context implies that a weekly day of rest is as necessary for human survival as sex (1:27–28) or food (1:29). This is an emphasis that seems to have been forgotten today, even amongst Christians..Note. Genesis 1 and science. Genesis and modern science are answering different questions. Genesis explains who God is and how he relates to the created world. Science elucidates the God-given laws that explain natural phenomena; and from these laws scientists can work backwards to trace the course of the universe’s development. Science makes us aware of the infinite power and wisdom of the Creator, but it cannot explain God’s purpose in creating the universe, or his character. Genesis is not dealing with the issues raised by twentieth-century science but with ideas current in the ancient orient over 3000 years ago. Over against the polytheistic world-view that held there were many gods and goddesses of varying wisdom and power, Genesis declares there is but one God of absolute power and holiness. Rejecting the ancient view that mankind was simply created as an afterthought which the gods later regretted, Genesis affirms that man was the goal of creation and that his welfare is God’s supreme concern. These principles are reaffirmed repeatedly throughout Scripture, but they are set out with exemplary clarity in Genesis 1 and are central to what the author was trying to say. Modern readers should concentrate on these original intentions of Genesis and not bring to the text scientific issues which are foreign to its purpose..Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary : 21st century edition (4th ed.). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.
For those who have asked, I wanted to give a little insight into how I study the Bible. This is it. If you can afford to do so, I highly recommend obtaining a copy of Logos 4.