How Christians interpret the Genesis creation stories

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How Christians interpret Genesis:

Differing religious beliefs about origins of the species, the Earth, and the rest of the universe have their foundation in different views of the creation stories -- in the Book of Genesis in the Hebrew Scriptures, and in other passages elsewhere in of Bible:

bullet Conservative Christians generally believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. Thus they regard the creation stories in the first part of Genesis to be literally correct. Many  believe that the events covered six actual 24-hour days. 
bullet Some believe that God created the world exactly as stated, and they believe that it happened circa 4004 BCE. This date was computed by Bishop Ussher by working backwards in the Bible from the year during which Saul became King. 
bullet Others have estimated creation as early as 8,000 BCE. They base this upon the assumptions that the many "begats" in the Bible did not necessarily refer to a father begatting a son; rather, they may have described a grandfather begatting a grandson. This would insert an unknown number of generations into the calculations, and push the creation date back further into history.
bullet Other conservative and mainline Christians have attempted to reconcile the Bible with the findings of science. They believe that the Earth is billions of years old. They follow the day-age old earth, or gap theories described elsewhere in this web site. By harmonizing Genesis and science, they can continue their belief in God's inspiration of the Bible's authors, and the resultant inerrancy of the Bible.
bullet Post-Christians, and most liberal Christians do not accept the inerrancy of the Bible. They note that that the authors of Genesis lived in a pre-scientific world. Even elementary geology, cosmology, astronomy, biology etc. were beyond their knowledge and ability to understand. These Christians may accept the creation stories in Genesis as:
bullet A fallible human product by the ancient Israelites; an imaginative creative work that is unrelated to reality, but was the best that the authors could do with their primitive scientific knowledge.
bullet A myth derived from earlier Mesopotamian creation stories that was re-worked by the ancient Israelites to remove most of the original polytheistic references and show God's superiority over nature -- creator over creation.
bullet An allegory that was never meant to be interpreted literally. A myth that is used as a vehicle to teach spiritual truths. 6

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Why is the debate over origins so important?

Conservative Christians commit a great deal of effort and money into the promotion of creation science. Many work persistently to have it taught as part of the science curriculum in public schools. One reason is that the liberal and Roman Catholic positions, which favor evolution, throw into doubt Adam, Eve, and the Garden of Eden as actual people and places. Creation science supports the creation stories as literal truth. If the creation stories in Genesis are religious myth, then the story of Adam and Eve eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil would probably also be considered as a fable that never happened.

Historical Christianity teaches that humanity's isolation from God and descent into sin stems from this event. If the original sin and fall of humanity did not happen, then people would not need to be saved. Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) would not have had a role as savior; his execution and resurrection would not be needed. Thus, many conservative Christians treat the creation stories as of paramount importance. If the stories are allowed to be interpreted as myth, religious conservatives see foundational Christian beliefs collapsing like a row of dominoes.

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  1. Steve Schaffner, "Various interpretations of Genesis," at:

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Copyright 1995 to 2005, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published on 1995-NOV-3
Most recent update: 2005-AUG-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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