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Creation stories in the Bible

Comparing/contrasting the
two creation stories in Genesis.

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Quotations showing three different interpretations of the Bible:

There is general agreement within most Christian denominations about what the Bible says. However, there are major differences about how to interpret the Bible. Thus there is no consensus on what the Bible means:

bullet Many Evangelical and essentially all fundamentalist Christians believe that the authors of the Bible were inspired by God, and that their text is inerrant (without error). Most interpret the Bible literally, unless otherwise indicated. Most follow creation science and regard the "day" in the first two chapters of Genesis as referring to 24 hour intervals. Conflicts among biblical passages can be harmonized.
 
bullet Many mainline Christians interpret Biblical passages as God's revelations to the ancient Israelites. They were adequate for their understanding in that era, but which are not to be taken as scientific descriptions. "The Bible is considered the 'fallible human rendering of divine inspiration'." 2
 
bullet Many Agnostics, Atheists, liberal Christians, Humanists, secularists, and others look upon these creation stories as being beautiful myths which were attempts by a pre-scientific society to understand their environment. Some find poetic and spiritual significance in most of the hundreds of creation stories taught by the world's faith groups.

Various groups conclude:

bullet Bible inerrancy: "We teach that God has created heaven and earth, and that in the manner and in the space of time recorded in the Holy Scriptures, especially Gen. 1 and 2, namely, by His almighty creative word, and in six days. We reject every doctrine which denies or limits the work of creation as taught in Scripture....Since no man was present when it pleased God to create the world, we must look for a reliable account of creation to God's own record, found in God's own book, the Bible...." Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod's doctrine of creation; adopted 1932. 1

bulletBible accurate on morality, salvation, etc.: "The Bible is not a science text; the scientific method was unknown in biblical times. ...The purposes of religion and science are completely different. Science seeks to describe, explain, and predict. The Bible tries to tell the purpose of creation, and to point the way to morality, righteousness, and salvation. It should not be surprising that their methods are different and even incompatible." David F. Beck 2

bulletBible not a scientific document: "Looking in the Bible for a scientific account of origins is like looking in the phone directory for a recipe for angel cake." Tom Harpur 3

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References to creation in the Book of Genesis:

There are two detailed descriptions of the creation process in Genesis:

bullet The First Creation Story; Genesis 1:1 to 2:3: Historical Christianity taught that the entire Pentateuch -- the five books from Genesis to Deuteronomy -- was written by Moses. Most fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christians continue to follow this belief. Most liberal and mainline theologians and religious skeptics accept the Documentary Hypothesis: that the Pentateuch was written by a number of authors (or groups of authors). They followed four different traditions, and imported some material from nearby Pagan sources. The Hypothesis asserts that the author of the creation story seen in the first verses of the Bible was an anonymous 6th Century BCE writer or group of writers of the priestly tradition (often referred to as "P").

Creation is described in Genesis 1:1 to 2:3 as occurring in six "days":

bullet Day 1: God commanded the presence of light and its separation from darkness.
bullet Day 2: God separated the sky and oceans.
bullet Day 3: God separated land from the oceans; spreading of plants and grass and trees across the land.
bullet Day 4: God caused the sun, moon, and stars to be attached to the underside of the firmament -- a dome that covered the earth.
bullet Day 5: God ordered the sea to "teem with living creatures" and birds to fly in the air.
bullet Day 6: God ordered the land to produce land animals. God created humans, "someone like ourselves" (Living Bible).
bullet Day 7: God rested. Followers of the Documentary Hypothesis believe this to have been a later addition, 4 placed there to give theological justification for the Sabbath (Saturday as a day of rest) for humans.

This sequence does contain some problems.

bullet Light was listed as appearing on day 1, but its source (the sun and stars) did not appear until day 4. Most creation scientists, who generally support the literal interpretation of this creation story, have a solution to this puzzle. Many say that light initially came from God, before he created the sun and stars.
 
bullet Birds were said to have appeared before other land animals. Paleontologists, who almost universally support the theory of evolution, point out that  the fossil record shows the opposite order. Creation scientists discount this belief. Most regard the rock layers containing the fossil record as having been laid down during the flood of Noah; thus, the fossils do not represent the evolution of the species of animals and birds.
 
bulletThe most controversial debate over this creation story relates to its time span. Genesis 1 and 2 explain how Creation of Earth's life forms, the Earth itself, and the rest of the universe took six days. Supporters of the theory of evolution find evidence for a universe that has been evolving for about 14 billion years.
 
bulletThe Second Creation Story; Genesis 2:4 to 2:25: This is a different description of the creation of earth's life forms. Most mainline and liberal biblical researchers attribute this section to "J," a writer who lived in the 9th century BCE (some say 10th century; others say after the Babylonian exile). Again, religious conservatives trace the authorship to Moses, and generally believe that this is a simple restatement of the earlier creation story. The author of Genesis 2 writes that
bulletat first, there were no plants or grain present, because God had not yet sent rain.
bulletGod made Adam out of earth; this is a belief common to many early  Pagan religions in the Middle East.
bulletGod created plants and herbs, Adam, the Garden of Eden, trees, birds and animals
bullet God performed the first surgical operation, removing a rib from Adam and transforming it into the first woman, Eve. For hundreds of years, medical students were taught that men had one fewer rib than women. Finally, someone checked.
 
bulletConflicts between the creation stories: There are some apparent inconsistencies between the first and second creation accounts:
bulletThere may be a conflict over the number of days over which creation happened.
bulletGenesis 1:3 and subsequent verses say that God created the universe in six days.
bulletIn Genesis 2:4, some translations, including the King James Version, imply that it took one day. More details
bullet In the first account, fruit trees appeared before before Adam and Eve; in the second account, God created Adam, then the fruit trees appeared, then Eve.
bulletIn the first account, God created animals before Adam and Eve; in the second account, God created Adam. then the animals, then Eve.
bulletGenesis 1:20 describes how God had "the waters bring forth ...fowl" ; in Genesis 2:19, God formed them "out of the ground".
bullet In the first account, God caussed fish to appear on the 5th day; in the second account, the fish of the sea were not created at all.

Religious conservatives feel that they they have harmonized these apparent inconsistencies.

Related essays:

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Gary Locklair, "Doctrine of Creation," 2004-JAN, at: http://www.cs.cuw.edu/
  2. David Beck, "The Bible: A true and accurate account of creation? Summary," Coalition for Excellence in Science and Math Education, 1998-APR-13, at: http://www.cesame-nm.org/
  3. Tom Harpur, "Creationist arguments are damaging to Christianity," The Toronto Star, 2005-FEB-19, Page L11.
  4. H.C. Kee, et al, "The Cambridge Companion to the Bible", Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, (1997), Page 45 to 46

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Copyright © 1996 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-FEB-19
Author: B.A. Robinson

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