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Seven Ways to Read Genesis One

Gary E. Schnittjer
Copyright © 2011

Reading Guide (pdf version) for selected views on the beginning narratives of Genesis.

The opening chapters of the Bible have attracted numerous and varied interpretations across many centuries. Today new views and plentiful publications on the first chapters of Genesis are produced every year (see, for example, five evangelical views). The purpose of this survey is to present seven historical game-changing interpretations of Genesis one. Most of the new interpretations in our own day are related to one or more these seven interpretations.
            I have used great economy in the presentations below. In each case I try to illustrate the interpretive perspective by using sound-bytes of the interpreters’ own words. While I have taken care to select these quotations to fairly represent the authors’ views, there is much more nuance and contextualizing needed in every case.
Augustine (354-430)
For Augustine the figural sense of the creation account seems more obvious than the literal sense. “In the case of a narrative of events, the question arises as to  whether everything must be taken according to the figurative sense only, or whether it must be expounded and defended also as a faithful record of what happened …. If, then, Scripture is to be explained under both aspects, what other meaning than the allegorical have the words: In the beginning God created heaven and earth?” (1.1 [19]; cf. p. 39)[1]
“God … works … by the eternal, unchangeable, and fixed exemplars of His coeternal Word and by a kind of brooding action of His equally coeternal Holy Spirit” (1.18 [41])
“Here it is written, God said, ‘Let Us make mankind to Our image and likeness.’ Scripture would indicate by this the plurality of Persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But the sacred writer immediately admonishes us to hold to the unity of the Godhead when he says, And God made man to the image of God .... [this] shows us that the plurality of Persons must not lead us into saying, believing, or understanding that there are many gods, but rather that we must accept the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as one God. Because of the three Persons, it said to Our image; because of the one God, it is said to the image of God.” (3.19 [95])
“God, therefore, did not say ‘Let this or that creature be made’ as often as the sacred text repeats And God said. He begot one Word in whom He said all before the several works were made. But the narrative of the inspired writer brings the matter down to the capacity of children” (2.6 [54]).
the days
“In all the days of creation there is one day, and it is not to be taken in the sense of our day, which we reckon by the course of the sun; but it must have another meaning, applicable to the three days mentioned before the creation of the heavenly bodies. This special meaning of ‘day’ must not be maintained just for the first three days …. But we must keep the same meaning even to the sixth and seventh days.” (4.27 [134]).
“But it is not true that material light is literally ‘light,’ and light referred to in Genesis is metaphorical ‘light.’ For where light is more excellent and unfailing, there day also exits in a truer sense …. why should we not say that there is also evening when angels after contemplating the Creator gaze down upon a creature, and that there is also morning when they rise from a knowledge of a creature to praise of the Creator?” (4.28 [135-36]).
“When we hear the words, ‘And God said, “Let there be made,”’ we must understand that the sacred writer would direct our thoughts to the eternal Word of God. But when we hear And so it was done, we should realize that in the created intellects of the angels there was produced a knowledge of the essence (in the Word of God) of a creature to be made.” (2.8 [58]).
interpreting scripture by scripture
“In this narrative of creation Holy Scripture has said of the Creator that He completed His works in six days [Gen 1]; and elsewhere, without contradicting this, it has been written of the same Creator that he created all things together [Sirach 18:1]. It follows therefore, that He, who created all things together, simultaneously created these six days, or seven, or rather the one day six or seven times repeated.” (4.33 [142]).
science and scripture
Augustine struggles with many issues like the oceans above the heavens, the shape of the heavens (flat or spherical), the movement of the stars, the cool temperature of Saturn [which he handles by noting that when one gets far away in the oceans above the heavens, it may turn to ice], and the like.

“The credibility of Scripture is at stake … there is danger that a man uninstructed in divine revelation, discovering something in Scripture or hearing from it something that seems to be at variance with the knowledge he has acquired, may resolutely withhold his assent in other matters where Scripture presents useful admonitions, narratives, or declarations. Hence, I must say briefly in the matter of the shape of heaven the sacred writers knew the truth, but that the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, did not wish to teach men these facts that would be of no avail for their salvation.” (2.9 [59])[2]
Judaic Readings
  The plusses in the following targumic readings are represented by italics.[3]
Targum Neophiti of Genesis 1:1
From the beginning with wisdom the word (memra) of the Lord created and perfected the heavens and the earth.
Thus, the targumist is reading Genesis 1:1 with, “When he established the heavens, I [Wisdom] was there” (Prov 8:27).
Targum Pseudo-Jonathan Genesis 1:26
And God said to the angels who minister before him, who were created on the second day of the creation of the world, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.”
Thus, the targumist is reading Genesis 1:26 with, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth … and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4, 7; cf. Jub 2:2 which refers to the angels as created on the first day)
Rashi (eleventh century)
R. Yitzchok said: The Torah should have begun with [the verse] “This month shall be [your first month],” (Exod 12:1) it being the first precept that the Israelites were commanded. Then why does it [the Torah] begin with “In the beginning”? This is because [of the concept contained in the verse,] “He declared the power of His works to His people in order to give to them the inheritance of nations.” [Ps 111:6] Thus, should the nations of the world say to Israel, “You are robbers, for you have taken by force the lands of the Seven Nations,” [i.e., the land of Israel] they [Israel] will say to them: “All the earth belongs to G-d. He created it and gave it to whomever He saw fit. It was His will to give it to them and it was His will to take it from them and give it to us.” [4]
            For Rashi creating the earth gives God the right to give the promised land to Israel. Rashi’s view, one of the classic Judiac readings, is predicated upon viewing the function of the scripture, especially the Torah, as giving laws to Israel.
John Calvin (1509-1564)
Calvin believes we are severely limited, thus, God in his goodness condescends and accommodates his revelation to our abilities—he speaks our language (so to speak).[5]
“Let us content ourselves with modesty desiring to proceed no further in our inquiries than the Lord, by the guidance and instruction of his own work, invites us” (Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, “Argument”).
“We ought not then to be surprised, that, while intent on the history he purposed to relate, he does not discuss every topic which may be desired by any person whatever” (on Gen 3:1).
“For by the Scripture as our guide and teacher, he not only makes those things plain which would otherwise escape our notice, but almost compels us to behold them; as if he had assisted our dull sight with spectacles” (“Argument”).
“Moses … accommodated his discourse to the received custom” (on Gen 1:5).
“Moses wrote in a popular style things which without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense, are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend. Nevertheless, this study is not to be reprobated, nor this science to be condemned, because some frantic persons are wont boldly to reject whatever is unknown to them. For astronomy is not only pleasant, but also very useful to be known: it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God. Wherefore, as ingenious men are to be honored who have expended useful labor on this subject, so they who have leisure and capacity ought not to neglect this kind of exercise. Nor did Moses truly wish to withdraw us from this pursuit in omitting such things as are peculiar to the art; but because he was ordained a teacher as well of the unlearned and rude as of the learned, he could not otherwise fulfill his office than by descending to this grosser method of instruction. Had he spoken of things generally unknown, the uneducated might have pleaded in excuse that such subjects were beyond their capacity. Lastly since the Spirit of God here opens a common school for all, it is not surprising that he should chiefly choose those subjects which would be intelligible to all. If the astronomer inquires respecting the actual dimensions of the stars, he will find the moon to be less than Saturn; but this is something abstruse, for to the sight it appears differently. Moses, therefore, rather adapts his discourse to common usage” (on Gen 1:16).
“If what is manifest to all be conceded, that Moses does not speak acutely, nor in a philosophical manner, but popularly, so that everyone least informed may understand him. Thus, in the first chapter, he called the sun and moon two great luminaries; not because the moon exceeded other planets in magnitude, but because, to common observation, it seemed greater” (on Gen 2:10).
“‘And God saw the light’ Here God is introduced by Moses as surveying his work, that he might take pleasure in it. But he does it for our sake, to teach us that God made nothing without a certain reason and design” (on Gen 1:4).
Calvin criticizes the view that God created everything at once, espoused by Augustine and others, because the Vulgate mishandled the Greek koine “commonly” which it has as simul “at one time.” Thus, Augustine’s text says “he who lives forever created all things together” (Old Latin and Vulgate of Sirach 18:1) but the Greek text says “He who lives forever created the whole universe” (RSV) (see Taylor, 1: 254, n. 69).

“Here the error of those is manifestly refuted, who maintain that the world was made in a moment. For it is too violent a cavil to contend that Moses distributes the work which God perfected at once into six days, for the mere purpose of conveying instruction. Let us rather conclude that God himself took the space of six days, for the purpose of accommodating his works to the capacity of men” (on Gen 1:5; Calvon goes on to talk of this as a misreading of Sirach 18:1).
Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918)
Wellhausen believed the Pentateuch was produced by weaving together several different versions of the story. The traditions are known as JEDP. J refers to the southern kingdom’s version (Jehovahist), E to the northern kingdom’s version (Elohimist), D to the prophetic and Deuteronomic version, and P to the priestly version. The separate sources were edited together by R, a series of redactors. Thus, Genesis 1 is the creation account from the Priestly version noting how closely it resembles the style of the priestly writings like Leviticus, and especially the design of the tabernacle in Exodus 25-31 and 35-40.

Wellhausen considered Genesis 1:1-2:4a (P) and 2:4b-3:24 (J) to be two separate accounts of creation, written by different authors with different theologies, at different times, for different readerships, that were only later edited together, like so many other doublets, in their respective narratives to form the Pentateuch.
“In the first account [Gen 1 by P] we stand before the first beginnings of sober reflection about nature, in the second [Gen 2-3 by J] we are on the ground of marvel and myth …. Here we are in the enchanted garden of the ideas of genuine antiquity; the fresh early smell of earth meets us on the breeze” (Wellhausen, Prolegomena, 304).[6]
“Intimately connected with the advanced views of nature, which we find in Gen. i, is the ‘purified’ notion of God found there …. In Gen. ii, iii, not nature but man is the beginning of the world and of history” (305).
“In the Jehovistic narrative [Gen 2-3] man is as wonderful to himself as the external world; in the other [Gen 1] he is as much a matter of course as it is. In the one he sees astonishing mysteries in the difference of the sexes, in marriage, in child-birth (iv.1); in the other these are physiological facts which raise no questions or reflections: ‘He made them male and female, and said Be fruitful and multiply’” (306).
Hermann Gunkel (1862-1932)
The many newly discovered ancient Mesopotamian writings (mid-nineteenth century), including many creation myths, causes a reevaluation of the genre. For Gunkel, Genesis’ stories are Israel’s “demythologized” monotheistic “myths” and “legends” which, in Genesis 1-2 offer a polemic against the ancient Mesopotamian counterparts even if, for him, there is some residual elements of myth remaining (sea monsters, divine court, i.e., “let us”).
“We believe that God works in the universe in the silent and secret background of all things; sometimes his influence seems almost tangible, as in the case of exceptionally great and impressive events and personalities; we divine his control in the  marvelous interdependence of things; but nowhere does he appear as an operative factor beside others, but always as the last and ultimate cause of everything. Very different is the point of view of the narratives in Genesis” (Gunkel, The Legends of Genesis, 8-9).[7]
“A child indeed, unable to distinguish between reality and poetry, loses something when it is told that its dearest stories are ‘not true’” (Legends of Genesis, 11).
“‘Myths’ … are stories of the gods, in contradistinction to the legends in which the actors are men” (Legends of Genesis, 14).
“Legends are not lies; on the contrary, they are a particular form of poetry” (Legends of Genesis, 3).
“The fundamental trait of the religion of Javeh is unfavorable to myths. For this religion from its very beginning tends toward  monotheism …. Therefore the Israel which we observe in the Old Testament could not tolerate myths, at least not in prose. The poet was excused for occasional allusions to myths” (Legends of Genesis, 15-16).
“Both narrators and auditors regarded the legends as ‘true’ stories. That this is true of the legends of the Old Testament is shown in the historical books of the Bible, where the narrators proceed by almost imperceptible degrees from legends to genuine historical narratives … [They] have not yet acquired the intellectual power to distinguish between poetry and reality” (Legends of Genesis, 39-40).
“It has certainly been apparent from Genesis 1 that this narrative is imply the Jewish adaptation of a much older thing, which originally must have been more mythological …. [several factors] point to a Babylonian background. This conjecture will now be amply confirmed by a comparison of Genesis 1 side by side with the Babylonian myth [Enuma Elish]” (Gunkel, Creation and Chaos,78).[8]
“They [the Israelites] learned from the Babylonians how the world was formed and came to be, and what its most ancient history had been. All of this was nothing more than ‘scholarship’ …. The religious concepts, however, which were added to this material in Israel, first made the myth what it has come to signify for us. The Babylonian comprehension of things is understood to be mistaken. Our faith rests on that of Israel” (Creation and Chaos, 111).
Karl Barth (1886-1968)
The new observations on Genesis 1-2 by Wellhausen and Gunkel, and others, form part of the interpretive context against which Karl Barth is working. Barth seeks to find a way through the “history” versus “myth” debate, as it related to the Genesis creation account. Barth proposed defining the account as saga (rather than myth or history).[9]
“The concept of saga has to be marked off from that of myth and well as ‘history’ …. What the biblical accounts offer is creation saga. But this means creation history and not creation myth.” (3.1.41).
Barth defined saga “in the sense of an intuitive and poetic picture of a pre-historical reality of history which is enacted once and for all within the confines of time and space.” (3.1.41).
“‘Historicised’ myth is not myth but a saga which, although it may work with mythical materials, differs sharply from myth in the fact that it does seriously and without any afterthought try to say how things actually were. In these circumstances, it is hard to see why there has been no agreement that the kind of saga which is found in the biblical creation narratives of creation is as such different from myth, and that the theme of the Babylonian myth—irrespective of textual relationships—is different from that of the biblical saga …. The epic Enuma elish is not a history of creation …. What we read in Gen. 1 and 2 are genuine histories of creation. If there is a connextion with the Babylonian myth or its older sources, it is a critical connextion.” (3.1.41).
[I am aware that it is too simplistic to sound-byte Barth here, for he speaks easily of scripture as “historical narrative” (die geschichtliche Erzählung) even while drawing a distinction between “history in historicist sense” (historische Geschichte) and “history” (Geschichte). The best bet is to read and discuss Dogmatics 3.1.]
Concordist—Harmonizing Science and Scripture
The many different kinds of views of Genesis 1-2 which are harmonized with scientific views of origins share the same view about what the narrative is and how it works. Namely, all harmonizing science and the scripture views presuppose that Genesis 1-2 is designed to provide a literal depiction of the construction of the physical universe. Thus, when Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin, among others, inspired new understandings of the physical universe, these were harmonized with different (concordist) literalistic readings of Genesis 1-2.
The kinds of science and scripture harmonizations include: gap theory, day-age, intermittent literal-six-day old-earth progressive creation, seven of “God’s days” [time-theory] (H. Ross), a beginning/“big bang,”  literal-six-day-young-earth-flood-geology, and others. What all of these views share is the conviction that the details of Genesis 1 and 2 can be coordinated with modern scientific theory of physical origins. Here are prominent examples.

James Orr, “Science and Christian Faith,” The Fundamentals (Chicago: Testimony Publishing Co., 1910-15), 4: 91-104.

“‘Evolution,’ in short, is coming to be recognized as but a new name for ‘creation,’ only that the creative power now works from within, instead of, as in the old conception, in an external, plastic fashion. It is, however, creation none the less.
            In truth, no conception of evolution can be formed, compatible with all the facts of science, which does not take account, at least at certain great critical points, of the entrance of new factors into the process we call creation.  1. One such point is the transition from inorganic to organic existence – the entrance of the new power of life.  It is hopeless to seek to account for life by purely mechanical and chemical agencies, and science has well-nigh given up the attempt.  2. A second point is in the transition from purely organic development to consciousness.  A sensation is a mental fact different in kind from any merely organic change, and inexplicable by it. Here, accordingly, is a new rise, revealing previously unknown spiritual powers.  3. The third point is in the transition to rationality, personality, and moral life in man.  This, as man’s capacity for self-conscious, self-directed, progressive life evinces, is something different from the purely animal consciousness, and marks the beginning of a new kingdom.  Here, again, the Bible and science are felt to be in harmony.  Man is the last of God’s created works – the crown and explanation of the whole – and he is made in God’s image.  To account for him, a special act of the Creator, constituting him what he is, must be presupposed.  This creative act does not relate to the soul only, for higher spiritual powers could not be put into a merely animal brain.  There must be a rise on the physical side as well, corresponding with the mental advance.  In body, as in spirit, man comes from his Creator’s hand” (103).

Selected notes from the Scofield Bible (1917 edition) espouse the “gap theory” and makes allowance for the “day age” theory (notes from [accessed 8.22.04]).
Genesis 1
1:2  And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
without form and void  Jeremiah 4:23-27; Isaiah 24:1; 45:18 clearly indicate that the earth had undergone a cataclysmic change as the result of divine judgment. The face of the earth bears everywhere the marks of such a catastrophe. There are not wanting imitations which connect it with a previous testing and fall of angels. See Ezekiel 28:12-15; Isaiah 14:9-14 which certainly go beyond the kings of Tyre and Babylon.

1:3  And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
Let there be light  Neither here nor in verses 14-18 is an original creative act implied. A different word is used. The sense is, made to appear; made visible. The sun and moon were created "in the beginning." The "light" of course came from the sun, but the vapour diffused the light. Later the sun appeared in an unclouded sky.

1:5  And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
day  The word "day" is used in Scripture in three ways: (1) that part of the solar day of twenty-four hours which is light Genesis 1:5, 14; John 9:4; 11:9. (2) such a day, set apart for some distinctive purpose, as, "day of atonement" (Leviticus 23:27); "day of judgment" Matthew 10:15 (3) a period of time, long or short, during which certain revealed purposes of God are to be accomplished, as "day of the Lord."

evening   The use of "evening" and "morning" may be held to limit "day" to the solar day; but the frequent parabolic use of natural phenomena may warrant the conclusion that each creative "day" was a period of time marked off by a beginning and ending.
1:26  And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
make man in our image  
Man. Genesis 1:26, 27, gives the general, Genesis 2:7, 21-23 the particular account of the creation of man. The revealed facts are: (1) Man was created not evolved. This is (a) expressly declared, and the declaration is confirmed by Christ Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:6, (b) "an enormous gulf, a divergence practically infinite" (Huxley) between the lowest man and the highest beast, confirms it; (c) the highest beast has no trace of God-consciousness--the religious nature; (d) science and discovery have done nothing to bridge that "gulf." (2) That man was made in the "image and likeness" of God. This image is found chiefly in man's tri-unity, and in his moral nature. Man is "spirit and soul and body" 1 Thessalonians 5:23.

"Spirit" is that part of man which "knows" 1 Corinthians 2:11 and which allies him to the spiritual creation and gives him God-consciousness. "Soul" in itself implies self-consciousness life, as distinguished from plants, which have unconscious life. In that sense animals also have "soul" Genesis 1:24. But the "soul" of man has a vaster content than "soul" as applied to beast life. It is the seat of emotions, desires, affections Psalms 42:1-6. The "heart" is, in Scripture usage, nearly synonymous with "soul." Because the natural man is, characteristically, the soul or physical man, "soul" is often used as synonymous with the individual, e.g. Genesis 12:5. The body, separable from spirit and soul, and susceptible to death, is nevertheless an integral part of man, as the resurrection shows ; John 5:28, 29; 1 Corinthians 15:47-50; Revelation 20:11-13.  It is the seat of the senses (the means by which the spirit and soul have world-consciousness) and of the fallen Adamic nature. Romans 7:23, 24.

Jeremiah 4
4:23  I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light.
without form and void   Cf. Genesis 1:2. "Without form and void" describes the condition of the earth as the result of judgment ; Jeremiah 4:24-26; Isaiah 24:1 which overthrew the primal order of Genesis 1:1.

Henry M. Morris and John C. Whitcomb. The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1961).

The following selections from The Genesis Flood illustrates the flood geology variety of concordist interpretation of science and the Bible.
“Either the Biblical record of the Flood is false and must be rejected or else the system of historical geology which has seemed to discredit it is wrong and must be changed.  The latter alternative would seem to be the only one which a Biblically and scientifically instructed Christian could honestly take” (118).
“It has been demonstrated, we believe, in earlier chapters, that the Deluge was a global catastrophe and, therefore, must have had a global cause and produced worldwide geological effects.  It is clearly the greatest physical convulsion that has ever occurred on the earth since the creation of life itself and in fact all but obliterated everything living on the face of the earth!  There is no escaping the conclusion that, if the Bible is true and if the Lord Jesus Christ possessed divine omniscience, the Deluge was the most significant event, geologically speaking, that has ever occurred on the earth since its creation.  And any true science of historical geology must necessarily give a prominent place in its system to this event” (217).
“One thing, however, is very significant.  Plants, in order to continue to grow in the present economy, must have a soil, water, light, chemical nutrients, etc.  The account has mentioned water and light, although in a somewhat different physical context than now provided, but the soil and nutrients must also be available.  As now formed, a soil requires a long period of preparation before becoming able to support plant growth.  But here it must have been created essentially instantaneously, with all the necessary chemical constituents, rather than gradually developed over centuries of rock weathering, alluvial deposition, etc.  Thus it had an appearance of being “old” when it was still new.  It was created with an ‘appearance’ of age!
            This, of course, was also true with the plants which were created at this time.  Similarly with the fishes and birds created on the fifth day and with man and the land animals and insects created on the sixth day.  Each was “full-grown” and placed in an environment already perfectly adapted to it.  This fact of rapid, almost instantaneous, attainment of maturity is pointed out with special emphasis in the case of the first man, who is said to have been directly formed by God out of the same elements as are found in the earth (Genesis 2:7) but then endued with the breath of life, and of the first woman, fashioned by God out of man’s side (Genesis 2:21, 22).
            This tremendous truth of a ‘grown creation’ cannot be overemphasized.  We are not of course told all the details of Creation and its description.  Enough is revealed, however, so that we should know beyond any doubt that at the end of the six days the Creation of “heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is” was complete and perfect: “very good,” as God pronounced it.  Everything was in harmony, with each of God’s creatures placed in an environment perfectly suitable to it.” (232-33).
“And of course there is no quarrel with the data of even the historical geologists, but only with the interpretations of those data.  As we have seen, the data on which historical geology has been based are almost entirely paleontological and the interpretive framework has been that of uniformity and evolution.  The previous chapter has shown some of the serious weaknesses of this framework, leading to the inference that nothing would really be lost by attempting to organize the paleontologic and other geological data on an entirely new basis.
            This, we believe, can be done most effectively by means of the clear statements and legitimate implications of the Biblical revelation.  After all, any real knowledge of origins or of earth history antecedent to human historical records can only be obtained through divine revelation.  Since historical geology, unlike other sciences, cannot deal with currently observable and reproducible events, it is manifestly impossible ever really to prove, by scientific method, any hypothesis relating to pre-human history.
            Because it is highly important for man to understand the nature of his origin, as well as that of the earth on which he dwells, and because of the impossibility of his ever really knowing about these matters otherwise, it is eminently reasonable that this Creator would in some way reveal to him at least the essentials concerning them.  Christians and Jews have for many centuries believed that this revelation is given in which is known as the book of Genesis (“Beginnings”), and indeed there is no serious rival claimant to such a revelation anywhere else in the religious books of mankind.
            Consequently, there is ample warrant, both spiritually and scientifically, for seeking to build a true science of earth history on the framework revealed in the Bible, rather than on uniformitarian and evolutionary assumptions.  This should be done, not with the attitude of trying to make the Bible accounts fit into the data and theories of science but rather of letting the Bible speak for itself and then trying to understand the geological data in the light of its teachings. …
            There is no need to suppose, of course, that the Noachian Deluge, which has occupied most of our attention in this book, produced all the geologic strata.  On the contrary, the Bible plainly implies that there are at least five great epochs of history, each of which has produced substantial segments of the geological formations” (213-14).
“Although there may be considerable latitude of opinion about details, the Biblical record does provide a basic outline of earth history, within which all the scientific data ought to be interpreted.  It describes an initial Creation, accomplished by processes which no longer are in operation and which, therefore, cannot possibly be understood in terms of present physical or biological mechanisms.  It describes the entrance into this initial Creation of the supervening principle of decay and deterioration: the ‘curse’ pronounced by God on the ‘whole creation,’ resulting from the sin and rebellion of man, the intended master of the terrestrial economy, against his Creator.
            The record of the great Flood plainly asserts that it was so universal and cataclysmic in its cause, scope and results that it also marked a profound hiatus in terrestrial history.  Thus the Creation, the Fall, and the Flood constitute the truly basic facts, to which all the other details of early historical data must be referred.
            Within this basic framework we have attempted to re-interpret the basic data of historical geology and other pertinent sciences, which at present are popularly interpreted in a context of uniformitarianism and evolutionism.  We have tentatively suggested a categorization of the various geologic strata and formations in terms of the Biblical periods of earth history, although retaining as far as possible the terminology of the presently accepted geological periods.
            Thus, it seems most reasonable to attribute the formations of the crystalline basement rocks, and perhaps some of the Pre-Cambrian non-fossiliferous sedimentaries, to the Creation period, though later substantially modified by the tectonic upheavals of the Deluge period.  The fossil-bearing strata were apparently laid down in large measure during the Flood, with the apparent sequences attributed not to evolution but rather to the hydrodynamic selectivity, ecological habitats, and differential mobility and strength of the various creatures” (237).
“In conclusion, we find ourselves faced with an important alternative.  We must accept either the current theories of paleontology, with an inconceivably vast time-scale for fossils before the appearance of man on the earth, or we must accept the order of events as set forth so clearly in the Word of God.  Both views cannot be true at the same time, any more than can a Biblical anthropology and an evolutionary anthropology be true at the same time.  But if the ‘bondage of corruption,’ with all that such a term implies for the animal kingdom, had its source in the Edenic curse, then the fossil strata, which are filled with evidences of violent death, must have been laid down since Adam.  And if this be true, then the uniformitarian time-table of modern paleontology must be rejected as totally erroneous; and a Biblical catastropism (centering in the year-long, universal Deluge) must be substituted for it as the only possible solution to the enigma of the fossil strata” (473).

On concordist interpretations also see George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925 (Oxford, 1980), 118-123, 184-89.  Ronald J. Numbers, The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism (Berkeley: University of California Press), 1993, 184-213.  David N. LivingstoneDarwin’s Forgotten Defenders: The Encounter between Evangelical Theology and Evolutionary Thought (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987).

Augustine is reading Genesis 1 within Christian theology and has Greek philosophical convictions/flavor. The Judaic readings reflect a view that the Pentateuch’s purpose is “law” and the stories are a function of these laws for Israel. Calvin takes seriously that truth must be revealed, and because God is "above" and "beyond," truth is translated into a form commensurate with ancient creaturely capacities. Wellhausen believes the scriptures reflect compromise and synthesis of competing views/theologies/sources within Israel’s evolving society and religion. Gunkel thinks Israel borrowed and changed ancient Near Eastern myths, to suit their own religious sensibilities—they “demythologized” the myths. Barth seeks to refine the definition of its genre as a basis for his theological interpretation. The concordists read science and the creation account in tandem.
            One way to detect key differences is to figure out what a given view thinks is the question or are the questions being answered by Genesis 1.
Also, see an overview of five evangelical interpretations of Genesis 1.
And, see bibliography on Genesis 1-3.

[1] Page numbers are in brackets and refer to Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, trans. John Hammond Taylor, Ancient Christian Writers, vol. 41 (New York: Paulist, 1982), vol. 1.
[2] On other related points: angels = light, and they praise (4.22 [130]); “the knowledge they have is like day” (4.24 [132]); trinitarian “in the image” (3.19 [95]); science see pp. 30, 33, 52, 59-61.
[3] Targum Neophiti, and Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, trans. and ed. Martin McNamara, The Aramaic Bible (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1992).
[4] From (accessed 11.30.11).
[5] Revelation in general, including the presentation of God’s creation in Gen 1-2, is according to the goodness of his accommodation. That is, he accommodates himself to speak in ways humans, even ancient humans, can understand. Excerpts from John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, trans. John King [orig. 1563] ( [accessed 2004]).
[6] Quoted from Julius Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Israel (Ger. 1878; trans. 1885; reprint; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1994). Diagram from Justin Gohl, based on B. Arnold and B. Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Baker, 1999), 70.
[7] Hermann Gunkel, The Legends of Genesis: The Biblical Saga and History, trans. W. H. Carruth (1901, reprint; New York: Schocken, 1964).
[8] Hermann Gunkel, Creation and Chaos in the Primeval Era and the Eschaton: A Religio-Historical Study of Genesis 1 and Revelation 12, trans. K. William Whitney, Jr. (Eerdmans, 2006).
[9] See Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, eds. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance (London: T&T Clark, 1958), 3.1, § 41.1 (esp. pp. 68-94) . For an important interpretation of Barth in this context, see Kathryn E. Greene-McCreight, Ad Litteram: How Augustine, Calvin, and Barth Read the “Plain Sense” of Genesis 1-3 (New York: Peter Lang, 1999), esp. 178-90, 228-31. For criticism of Barth’s view of biblical history, see Childs 1960, 101.

Gary E. Schnittjer
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