Six Day Creation
Case study on Genesis 1,1 - 2,4
Genesis 1,1 – 2,4 describes the creation of the world in six days. It provides details of each day’s creation.
The story ends with these lines:
For more than 1800 years Christians were convinced that the creation of the world took just six days.
The majority of the Fathers of the Church and medieval theologians firmly believed in a literal six-day creation. In the Catholic Church views began to change since 1900. Pope Pius XII expressed a limited support for the theory of evolution in 1950 (Humani Generis). Pope John Paul II endorsed evolution even more emphatically.
Creationism [= belief in a six-day creation some 5000 years ago] is still strong among evangelicals. In the southern ‘Bible Belt’ of the USA, more than half the population are reported to be creationists. Their main reason is the conviction that Genesis 1,1 – 2,4 must be interpreted as teaching a literal six-day creation.
However, a careful reading of the text shows clearly that a literal six-day creation is NOT the intended meaning of this creation account.
A second creation account in Genesis, immediately following on Genesis 1,1 – 2,4, shows that the details of both stories are not to be taken as historically true. For the two accounts contradict each other.
The ancient authors of Scripture often shape their story material to inculcate the meaning of religious laws.
In all such examples, the link provides a motivation for a law; but we know that the historical origin of the laws lies elsewhere. For instance, the tabu of not eating flesh with blood in it and male circumcision are found among other nomadic tribes. The passover meal was originally a harvest festival – with its unleavened bread and sacrifice of a young lamb. The scriptural authors laid the link between events in Israel’s history and such laws to give them a religious motivation.
The same applies to Genesis 1,1 – 2,4. The reason for narrating the creation of the world in six days is to lead to the climax: the meaning of the seventh day!
Conclusion: The God who created heaven and earth by just speaking commands, does not need to ‘rest’. It is clear that the whole presentation in six days was constructed in order to make the link with the law of the Sabbath rest.
In Genesis 1,1 -2,4 the elements created on various days do not present a true sequence of creations. It reather presents the universe known at the time as a giant home constructed for human beings.
This is clear from the scheme the author follows:
So what does Genesis 1,1 – 2,4 want to teach?
- God has created everything.
- No creature is divine. Notice that the author lists among the creatures beings that were often worshipped as gods and goddesses, such as the sun and the moon, various birds and animals.
- God is almighty. He creates with a simple command. In the creation stories of the Sumerians and Babylonians the creator god has to fight with dragons and monsters.
- When we observe the Sabbath rest we honour God as our creator.
- God created everything good. Throughout the creation story we are told that ‘God saw that it was good’.
- The whole world is a home that God entrusted to us.
This teaching is the intended meaning of the scripture text.
Genesis 1,1 -2,4 does not want to teach the details of the presentation, such as the days and the sequence of the creation. These simply belong to the story element.
© John Wijngaards
The texts in our course Interpreting Scripture Correctly were written by John Wijngaards in 2009. Part of the contents is based on his earlier publications, in particular:
Illustrations in the video clip by Jackie Clackson.