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The Christadelphian | January 2015

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial Time over
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning Light | Grahame A. Cooper
  • Studies in Matthew’s Gospel 13 – Fulfilling the Law | John Benson
  • Creation A sense of immediacy | Sid Levett
  • The purpose of the Ecclesia 11 – The Ecclesia as the flock part 4 | Peter Anderton & Paul Tovell
  • 100 years ago
  • “The things which are not seen are eternal” | Stephen Whitehouse
  • Swanwick memories | David Mills
  • Faith Alive! Questions about the return of Jesus | Andrew Bramhill
  • Signs of the times The emerging King of the North | Tony Bradshaw
  • Israel and their Land Outflanked? | Roger Long
  • Epilogue “Everyone mature in Christ” | David Caudery
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

Creation

A sense of immediacy

Several articles have been received in recent weeks supporting the historicity and literality of the Genesis record. Like this one by Brother Sid Levett, they reassure us that believers today can have full confidence in the creation account, not least because of the weight of support provided by other parts of scripture. Over the coming months we shall be printing a selection of these articles which we trust will be beneficial. After that we intend looking at some of the doctrinal implications arising from our belief in these early chapters – Editor

THE opening phrase of Genesis is remarkable for its brevity and majestic power: “In the beginning God …” There is no need for the words ‘omnipotent’ and ‘omnipresent’ for it conveys them. There is, however, the specific inclusion of God’s most supreme act – He “created the heaven and the earth”. The actual process of creation, other than an outline of the creation of Adam and Eve, is not provided but the record conveys a concept of a series of specific actions with the recurring statements, “And God said” followed by, “And it was so”.

This article focuses on the linguistic structure of the early chapters of Genesis. Our intention is to review the Genesis record by considering the words in their ‘plain, ordinary and common usage’ in English and, more importantly, in Hebrew, being the language in which it was given. In so doing we aim to establish that an acceptance of a literal interpretation is quite reasonable and is not a simplistic approach that disregards science. A literal interpretation is linked by some to the creation of the earth and all upon it taking place six thousand years ago, but as there is no mention in Genesis of the year in which creation took place it is not an integral part of a literal interpretation and is left in this article as an open question.

The legal maxim ejusdem generis has application to the interpretation of wordings and utilises the principle that in a document containing specific and general comments the latter shall be read in the context of the specific. This means that the words are to be interpreted in the context in which they occur. We shall therefore consider the English words as they stand in the account and for Hebrew will primarily utilise Cassuto’s Commentary on Genesis. Umberto Cassuto was Professor of Hebrew at the University of Florence and after fleeing Nazi persecution in the 1940s became Professor of the Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He wrote in Hebrew but a translation into English was prepared by Israel Abrahams, Professor of Hebrew at the University of Cape Town. Cassuto’s commentaries are held in high regard and are cited by other Hebrew scholars including Nehama Leibowitz in Studies in Genesis (published in 1972 by the World Zionist Organisation for Torah education and culture in the Diaspora).

Is it metaphorical or poetic?

It is reasonable to use the above described interpretative method in the absence of any reference to the Genesis account being metaphorical. Some parts are expressed in poetic language, but that is not evidence of non-literal subject matter as many writings in poetical style relate to literal events and of this Cassuto writes:

“A poetic construction like ‘beasts of the earth’ next to the corresponding prose form (1:25,30); or verses with poetic rhythm like verse 27: ‘So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them’, and a number of other poetic features … also point to a poetic tradition among the Israelites anterior to the Book of Genesis … Wherever in the course of the Biblical story, which is mainly in prose, the special importance of the subject led to an exaltation of style approaching the level of poetry, the thought took on of its own accord, as it were, an aspect conforming to the traditional pattern of narrative poetry.” [1]

Poetic writing, both secular and scriptural, is often used to draw attention to something significant. The creation of man in God’s image far transcends anything that mankind can do and is worthy of poetic description. Many events in human history, insignificant in spiritual terms but perceived by mankind as great, have been expressed in poetry without any question that the event was literal. Poetry is not an indicator of metaphorical subject matter.

Six creative periods

Whatever time frame we may attach to them, it is apparent that Genesis describes six creative activities each concluding before the next commences. The concept that God created all is announced in verse one, followed by the separate works of each creative period. Of this Cassuto says:

“Following the principle that one should ‘first state the general proposition and then specify the particulars’, the Bible will now pass in review before us all the component parts of the universe, one by one, and tell us, concerning each one, that it was created by the word of God.” [2]

This brings us to the question of how long was each creative period? Genesis describes each act of creation as taking place within a “day”. The Bible commonly uses the word “day” as a period of twenty-four hours and, where there are exceptions to this, the representative period is apparent from the context. In fact one could say that the Genesis record goes out of its way to reinforce to the reader that a twenty-four hour period is intended with the description of each creative period concluding with, “and there was evening and there was morning, one day”. We can deduce from this that God was emphasising that each creative act was a period of twenty-four hours. In fact it is a most strange expression to add if this was not the intention. “Evenings and mornings” are mentioned prior to day four, indicating that either the sun then became apparent or, if it was made on that day, Shekinah Light previously provided the separation of light and darkness. [3]

Cassuto’s commentary on this is:

“When day-time had passed, the period allotted to darkness returned (and there was evening), and when night-time came to an end, the light held sway a second time (and there was morning), and this completed the first calendar day (one day), which had begun with the creation of light. This method of reckoning the day (i.e., a day and a night) from sunrise appears to be at variance with the accepted Israelite practice of connecting the day-time with the preceding night, that is, the custom of regarding sunset as the starting-point of the day … An examination of the narrative passages of the Bible makes it evident that whenever clear reference is made to the relationship between a given day and the next, it is precisely sunrise that is accounted the beginning of the second day.” [4]

Examples of a new day beginning with the return of light are: “They made their father drink wine that night … and on the next day” (Genesis 19:33,34); “On the morrow the people rose early” (Judges 21:4); “If you do not save your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed” (1 Samuel 19:11). Verses such as these may not provide absolute proof that a “day” in Genesis is a period of twenty-four hours, but they are strong indicators that a conventional interpretation of a day is intended.

The “day” of chapter two

Some translations, including the KJV, RSV and ESV, refer in Genesis 2:4 to “the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens”, which has caused some to contend that if both were made on the same ‘day’ it conflicts with chapter one in which the earth exists from “the beginning” and “the firmament” appears on day two. However, the opinion of many Hebrew scholars is that the appropriate translation is “at the time when” instead of “in the day”. The simple answer is that in chapter two the better interpretation of the word is “when”, referring to the general period of creation, and some modern versions including the NIV adopt that translation.

A Hebrew scholar explains this in more detail as:

“In actuality, the literary unit 2:4b-25 uses the word ‘day’ in a different sense than does 1:1-24a. In fact, proper English translation of 2:4b would not have even produced the word ‘day’ such that the alleged ambiguity could arise. The verse opens with a temporal clause which, if rendered word-for-word, is misleading and inaccurate. This is a well-known idiom, consisting of ‘on the day of’ followed by an infinitive (in this case, ‘making’), which is to be rendered as ‘When (the Lord God) made’.” [5]

“And it was so”

Repeated throughout the first chapter of Genesis are the phrases “and it was so” and “God saw that it was good”, the latter culminating on the sixth day with “and behold, it was very good”. Because of the clarity of these words there is no need for a consideration of the Hebrew origins. “And it was so” provides a clear impression of immediacy and does not sit comfortably with a long drawn-out period of development. The words in the phrase “and it was good” do not, in general usage, provide an indicator of time but in the context of the creation record a sense of the short-term is conveyed. It is difficult to apply this phrase to periods comprising millions of years as that begs the question of when was each creative act deemed to be “good”. Was it at the creation of a single cell, or when a rudimentary form of the species was developed or at its ultimate developed state? The phrase appears to have been specially selected to convey satisfaction with an immediate outcome.

A call for faith

It may seem harsh to ask if God deluded us with the Genesis account, but the question must be addressed if opting for long-term creative activity or God-directed evolution. Admittedly there is no absolute proof of immediate creative acts, but there is no avoiding that linguistically Genesis describes a short-term process. One view is that God caused it to be written in that manner for ease of understanding by early generations, but this contention does not carry much weight. There is no evidence at all that early generations could not have perceived expressions such as an aeon or epoch of creative activity. Some consider that they must opt for a lengthy period of creation because of scientific contentions and, whilst not entering into debate about that here, we contend that there is no linguistic support for it. However, it is important to note that the debate is not simply one of science versus scripture, for many scientists accept the creation record as factual. God either created in the short period of time as recorded or defined it that way despite it not being so. There is a call here for faith that God has not sent a delusion and readers will have to determine whether or not to accept the record as stated.

Endorsement of a long-term process brings with it an inference that God could not instantly create a finished product and had to adjust, amend and alter His work until it reached the stage of being deemed “good”. Therein is a challenge to our perception of the almighty power of God and requires reconciliation with a drawn-out process, but not with one of immediacy.

Why six days?

There has been much debate on whether the six days of creation represent extensive periods of time, perhaps millions of years. The converse of whether God really needed even six days is seldom discussed. Interestingly, Brother John Pople raises this question in his book on John’s Gospel:

“The duration of the creation process – six days – is paramount. Why did creation last for six days? Since the power of the Creator is unlimited, it is obvious that the whole creation could have been created instantaneously should God have so willed. The careful division of the creation process over six separate periods suggests God deliberately draws our attention to the divisions … a pattern from which we are doubtless supposed to draw education; and edification.” [6]

The six acts of creation are surely not a random allocation of time and instead point forward to six periods of time followed by the limitless seventh day of refreshing for the servants of God, no longer constrained by the “evenings and mornings” of the preceding days. Again, this representation points towards a literal reading of the Genesis account. The alternative is that God caused creation to be described in a method bearing no resemblance to fact.

A mighty Creator

The pinnacle of creation was man, made in the image of God. Professor Cassuto says of this:

“At this point the text assumes a more exalted tone and becomes poetic … its stately diction and its particular emotional quality attest to the special importance …” [7]

The whole Genesis account of creation declares the almighty power of God and the grandeur of His word. All that is essential for us to know about creation is revealed. Man may have been given dominion over the rest of creation but before God we all stand as nothing. Let no humanist thought cause us to bring God down near to our level, for to each of us He puts the question:

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements – surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?” (Job 38:4,5, RSV)

Sid Levett

[1] Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis: part I – From Adam to Noah, page 11 (The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1998 reprint).

[2] ibid., page 20.

[3] See Brother Andrew Perry, Historical Creationism, page 66.

[4] Cassuto, page 28.

[5] Lloyd R. Bailey, Genesis, Creation and Creationism, page 127 (Paulist Press, New York, 1993).

[6] Brother John Pople, John’s Creation – A Model for Understanding the Gospel of John, pages 8,9.

[7] Cassuto, page 57.

 

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