Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Myth or More

What about the part of Genesis 1 that says there was light on earth before the creation of the sun? That was the question a thoughtful student had for me this week. He has been interested in Christianity and has been doing some reading both in the Bible and on the Internet. And he was having having trouble reconciling Genesis 1 verse 3 and verse 14.

As this student was reading it, verse 3 says that God created light on day one and verse 14 says God created the sun and moon and stars on day four. He wondered if the Bible could possibly be true if there was such a glaring inconsistency in this the first chapter.

I love those kinds of questions. They challenge me to think and research. And they always result in greater understanding of our world.

My research on this topic resulted in my coming to see a remarkable correlation between the narrative of origins we hear from science and the narrative of the Bible. The bottom line is that when we put the narratives side by side. The correlation is virtually one to one.

This was not a new idea. I've read about attempts to reconcile science and the Bible for a number of years. I've just never looked into myself.

First, some preliminary words both for my skeptic friends and my believing friends: I have come over a number of years to the conviction that the Bible does not require the interpretation of the creation narrative as a recent event that took place in a series of six days. Nor does the Bible require a priori the rejection of evolution as a natural process that had some part in creation. That will trouble some of my believer friends.

On the other hand, I have come to see Genesis 1 as a very sober, straightforward, and accurate account of the origin of the universe. It is not myth. It is not metaphorical. That will likely not be received well by my skeptic friends who have relegated Genesis 1 to the dustbin of ancient myth.

A preliminary word about biblical interpretation: One of the principles of good interpretation is the book must have made sense to the original recipients. In this case, I understand the original recipients to be Israelites who have recently been freed from their sojourn and slavery in Egypt and are needing to discover their identity and purpose. Genesis is, therefore, a book to tell them of their origins, who they are in God's sight, and what God's purpose for them is.

That means the creation narrative must by understood in a mid-second millennium B.C. context. It is not a scientific description. That would not make sense to anyone. If we insist in forcing it into the genre of scientific description, we will be disappointed.

But if it is not scientific, neither is it myth. C.S. Lewis, who was an eminent professor of ancient literature, wrote that those who call this story or the story of Jesus myth have never read a myth. Put the Genesis narrative side by side with the Babylonian creation myth and the difference is striking. The Babylonian myth is peopled by gods who cavort like humans run amuck and by monsters and fantastical creatures with no reality. Check out the Babylonian myth at the Grand Valley State University site.

What is the Genesis creation narrative? It is a straight forward story of creation told in language and terms understandable to mid-second millennium people.

Oh, yes. What about the conundrum my student called attention to? In the scientific narrative of earth history, there would have been a time early on when the earth was just beginning to cool and volcanoes and volcanic activity was constant. At that time the surface of the earth may well have been as dark as when Mt Saint Helens erupted and darkened eastern Washington at noon. Later as the earth continued to cool,smoke and steam would have obscured the sun, but there still would have been light. There still would have been day and night. Just as the Bible says. Later the atmosphere cleared. At that point the sun and moon and stars would have been visible in the sky. Just as the Bible describes. No problem. If you look closely, no creation of the sun or moon is mentioned in either of the verses. Both describe conditions while a sun already exists. When was the sun created? In verse 1.

The results of my research can seen here Creation and Science.