Creation Week: Stuck in the Middle

Today’s post was the hardest of the week for me to write. In fact, I had Monday through Thursday’s written and scheduled before the week began, but I kept starting this one, then deleting it, then starting it again, then editing it… so here goes nothing.




Given all of the thoughts I’ve thrown out over the past four days, where does that leave me? Am I a young earth creationist? An old earth creationist? A theo-evolutionist?

The short answer? No.

I began this journey of understanding the African-Hebraic creation story in Genesis from the standpoint of a conservative Southern Baptist Church. Perhaps for that reason, I am hesitant to move too far away from the religious comfort found in the literalist approach to this story. But at the same time, I have to be honest with myself and with all of you: the literalist approach to this story just does not cut it for me any longer. I cannot make myself believe in it any more.

But I also am deeply skeptical about the hubris of science in the framework of modernity. If I learned anything from my college science classes (ten years ago now!), it was two things:

First, “science” isn’t this monolithic, homogeneous “thing”… ‘it’ is actually tens of thousands of human beings doing their best to understand the world around them. (Kind of like the ancient Africans who began telling one another a creation story…)

Secondly, and this is related to the first, I don’t think science knows half the things it purports to know. In my astronomy class, for instance, we had our childlike understanding of the world shattered to bits and pieces as we learned scientists don’t even know what an atom looks like. Those simple little pictures we drew of atoms in elementary school with the electrons flying around the outside of them? Turns out those were as real as a Milli Vanilli concert. And light? Don’t even get science started about light. One of the most basic and essential things to this world still confounds the smartest guys (and gals) we’ve got.

God really did a bang-up job on days 1 and 4. We’re still not able to figure it out.

So if we can’t even trust science with basic things like light and atoms, how are we supposed to trust science with important things like whether or not we used to be monkeys? (And yes, that is a halfway serious question. But only halfway. There is a certain hint of snarkiness that probably didn’t come across on your computer screen.)


Besides, I’ve long said: if evolution is true, then we humans got the shaft. I want my opposable toes back! How come my monkey ancestors get them and I don’t?

I think the values of modernity – particularly certainty, the modern idea of authority, and the idea that humans can know anything – have hijacked science and made it think it’s something it’s not.

But I almost cringe when I write that, too, because I definitely don’t find myself in the “God said it and that settles it” side of the debate any longer, demanding that school boards teach kids young earth creationism and that evolution is a series of “lies, damn lies”. I don’t want to come across as one of these science-haters, blindly following some southern preacher’s interpretation of Scripture at the expense of reality.

So again, where does that leave me? Stuck in the middle. And I guess that’s why this post has been so difficult to write. I’m trying to walk a fine line, and will probably end up ticking off both sides of the issue anyway.

What do I believe? The better question might be: “What do I think?” because ‘believe’ sounds too set in stone for me. My views on this stuff are obviously still evolving (crap, there’s that word again), and it has been my hope that conversation with you throughout this past week would help me figure this stuff out.

I think there’s got to be a better understanding of the creation story than the current presentation of dichotomous choices would lead us to believe. Young earth creationism misses the main points of the story and smacks of an ostrich-style worldview, complete with heads buried in the sand. Evolution completely robs the story of its power, beauty, and meaning.

I think the African people that came up with this story had beautiful truths to share and pass down to their children and their children’s children. I think God is creative and intimately involved with his creation. I think he created mankind “in his image”, which means we all bear the divine marks of a loving God, uniting us as humanity. I think God created the earth and the heavens (everything that isn’t the earth) and the when of that statement is much less important than the why.

I think we don’t really need to know whether the “days” in Genesis 1 were 24 hours, a thousand years, or a billion years. In fact, I don’t really think they “represent” anything like that. I think the days are a tool to help us understand the impossible-to-understand creative work of an all-powerful deity.

I think that at one point in history, this world existed as God intended it. Call it Paradise, call it a Garden, call it what you want, but for a period of time something like that existed. I think that is supported in the entirety of the Scriptural narrative, and for that reason alone I can’t say I believe in evolution. I think that at some point in our history, our relationship with God was distorted  and the world became not as God intended it. And I think Genesis chapter 3 is an ancient peoples’ attempt to explain that. I think it doesn’t really matter whether “Adam and Eve” literally ate a fruit off a tree of “the knowledge of good and evil”, or if there was a talking snake or not. I think that story, whether historically literal or not, is a morality play of sorts, useful in understanding our relationship with our Creator.

And I think God is actively at work redeeming his creation from that curse today. I think he invites us to join him in that redemption: the redemption of ourselves, and to join in the redemptive work of creation with him, both through the blood and sacrifice of his son Jesus.

That’s what I think I think. What do you think?

Creation Week at TWM:
Tuesday – Out of Africa 
Wednesday – Wise Men
Thursday – Jesus and Paul

Creation Week: Stuck in the Middle

Today’s post was the hardest of the week for me to write. In fact, I had Monday through Thursday’s written and scheduled before the week began, but I kept starting this one, then deleting it, then starting it again, then editing it… so here goes nothing.




Given all of the thoughts I’ve thrown out over the past four days, where does that leave me? Am I a young earth creationist? An old earth creationist? A theo-evolutionist?

The short answer? No.

I began this journey of understanding the African-Hebraic creation story in Genesis from the standpoint of a conservative Southern Baptist Church. Perhaps for that reason, I am hesitant to move too far away from the religious comfort found in the literalist approach to this story. But at the same time, I have to be honest with myself and with all of you: the literalist approach to this story just does not cut it for me any longer. I cannot make myself believe in it any more.

But I also am deeply skeptical about the hubris of science in the framework of modernity. If I learned anything from my college science classes (ten years ago now!), it was two things:

First, “science” isn’t this monolithic, homogeneous “thing”… ‘it’ is actually tens of thousands of human beings doing their best to understand the world around them. (Kind of like the ancient Africans who began telling one another a creation story…)

Secondly, and this is related to the first, I don’t think science knows half the things it purports to know. In my astronomy class, for instance, we had our childlike understanding of the world shattered to bits and pieces as we learned scientists don’t even know what an atom looks like. Those simple little pictures we drew of atoms in elementary school with the electrons flying around the outside of them? Turns out those were as real as a Milli Vanilli concert. And light? Don’t even get science started about light. One of the most basic and essential things to this world still confounds the smartest guys (and gals) we’ve got.

God really did a bang-up job on days 1 and 4. We’re still not able to figure it out.

So if we can’t even trust science with basic things like light and atoms, how are we supposed to trust science with important things like whether or not we used to be monkeys? (And yes, that is a halfway serious question. But only halfway. There is a certain hint of snarkiness that probably didn’t come across on your computer screen.)


Besides, I’ve long said: if evolution is true, then we humans got the shaft. I want my opposable toes back! How come my monkey ancestors get them and I don’t?

I think the values of modernity – particularly certainty, the modern idea of authority, and the idea that humans can know anything – have hijacked science and made it think it’s something it’s not.

But I almost cringe when I write that, too, because I definitely don’t find myself in the “God said it and that settles it” side of the debate any longer, demanding that school boards teach kids young earth creationism and that evolution is a series of “lies, damn lies”. I don’t want to come across as one of these science-haters, blindly following some southern preacher’s interpretation of Scripture at the expense of reality.

So again, where does that leave me? Stuck in the middle. And I guess that’s why this post has been so difficult to write. I’m trying to walk a fine line, and will probably end up ticking off both sides of the issue anyway.

What do I believe? The better question might be: “What do I think?” because ‘believe’ sounds too set in stone for me. My views on this stuff are obviously still evolving (crap, there’s that word again), and it has been my hope that conversation with you throughout this past week would help me figure this stuff out.

I think there’s got to be a better understanding of the creation story than the current presentation of dichotomous choices would lead us to believe. Young earth creationism misses the main points of the story and smacks of an ostrich-style worldview, complete with heads buried in the sand. Evolution completely robs the story of its power, beauty, and meaning.

I think the African people that came up with this story had beautiful truths to share and pass down to their children and their children’s children. I think God is creative and intimately involved with his creation. I think he created mankind “in his image”, which means we all bear the divine marks of a loving God, uniting us as humanity. I think God created the earth and the heavens (everything that isn’t the earth) and the when of that statement is much less important than the why.

I think we don’t really need to know whether the “days” in Genesis 1 were 24 hours, a thousand years, or a billion years. In fact, I don’t really think they “represent” anything like that. I think the days are a tool to help us understand the impossible-to-understand creative work of an all-powerful deity.

I think that at one point in history, this world existed as God intended it. Call it Paradise, call it a Garden, call it what you want, but for a period of time something like that existed. I think that is supported in the entirety of the Scriptural narrative, and for that reason alone I can’t say I believe in evolution. I think that at some point in our history, our relationship with God was distorted  and the world became not as God intended it. And I think Genesis chapter 3 is an ancient peoples’ attempt to explain that. I think it doesn’t really matter whether “Adam and Eve” literally ate a fruit off a tree of “the knowledge of good and evil”, or if there was a talking snake or not. I think that story, whether historically literal or not, is a morality play of sorts, useful in understanding our relationship with our Creator.

And I think God is actively at work redeeming his creation from that curse today. I think he invites us to join him in that redemption: the redemption of ourselves, and to join in the redemptive work of creation with him, both through the blood and sacrifice of his son Jesus.

That’s what I think I think. What do you think?

Creation Week at TWM:
Tuesday – Out of Africa 
Wednesday – Wise Men
Thursday – Jesus and Paul

Creation Week: Jesus and Paul

Some of the things that I held on to the longest when I began seriously questioning my understanding of the African-Hebraic creation story recorded in Genesis were several passages of Scripture in the New Testament. I had been taught to look at Scripture through the lens of young earth creationism, and quotes from Jesus and Paul were sprinkled in there as proof that it was the correct theory.

After all, if Jesus believed the earth was only 6,000 years old and Genesis 1 was about literal 24 hour periods, then it would seem to easily follow that we ought to be quick to believe that as well, wouldn’t it?

Of course, the lens which you use to interpret Scripture – consciously or subconsciously – often blinds you to other very real perspectives or interpretations… which may turn out to be just as valid (or even more valid) than yours. At least, that’s what I keep finding, over and over and over again as I grow in my relationship with Jesus (not just in this case, but in many issues/doctrines/ideas of Christian life). So it’s a good idea to explore some of those other perspectives from time to time, if for no other reason than to see what you’re missing out on. Heh.

The claim “Jesus was a young earth creationist” is repeated by tons of various ministries and teachers (just google the phrase to quickly find out for yourself). After all, Jesus quotes the creation story in Genesis, which means that he believed it, right?

Well, sure. No doubt. But it’s a non sequitur to say that also means Jesus thought the story must be taken literally.

The main passage used to make this claim is Mark 10:6, where Jesus quotes Genesis: “At the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’.”

The main point of this passage, according to proponents of young earth creationism, is the phrase “at the beginning of creation” – which purports to show that Jesus thought that humans were not made billions of years after creation was begun.

But, as with most sayings of Jesus, some context to Jesus’ words would be helpful here. How many young earth creationists know what Jesus was talking about in this passage?

The topic Jesus was discussing was marriage and divorce. The Pharisees asked him if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason. Jesus answers by quoting God’s original design for marriage: that God created man and woman to be joined together in marriage and become one flesh.

Far from being an explanation of the creation story, Jesus was highlighting God’s intent for marriage by using the story as an illustration. But what about that phrase, “at the beginning?” Matthew provides a few more details in his parallel account of this conversation, where Jesus says, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.” As I wrote about at length here, the use of these phrases show Jesus was referring to the pre-fall world where shalom reigned. At the beginning, when things were “very good”, divorce wasn’t necessary. Divorce only became ‘permissible’ or a part of life after the curse shattered that shalom.

To me, that’s what Jesus is referring to here – life the way God intended it to be, back at the beginning. Jesus wasn’t commenting on any sort of age of the earth debate or anything like that (especially since those arguments didn’t even exist yet).

Jesus quoted pieces of the creation story in order to beautifully illustrate the heart of God. Let’s not reduce that down to some shallow proof text.

The other passage I had trouble letting go of and letting live on its own (instead of under my heavy assumptions and perspective) was a passage in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. In Romans 5, Paul says that sin entered the world through one man (Adam), and death entered the world through sin. In the same way, the gift of God’s grace and life entered the world through one man (Jesus).

This is usually paired with Genesis 2:17, where God tells Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit or, “when you eat of it, you will surely die.”

Based on this passage, this is what I always heard: that there was no death in the world before Adam and Eve ate the fruit. That no animals were meat eaters before the fall, and humans didn’t eat meat either. That literally, nobody and nothing died until sin was introduced into the world. All the carnivores today were herbivores back in the garden.

Now, as I type that, I realize how silly that all sounds.

There absolutely had to be death before the fall. After all, nobody on the literalist side of the debate disputes that in their version of the story everyone ate plants to survive. But are not plants living things? Would they not have to die in order to be eaten?

Also, how in the world do you explain animals that were designed to trap and kill other animals? Did God create spiders with the ability to make webs so they could trap leaves in them? Did he give snakes venom to paralyze the flowers they were trying to subdue? And how did the Venus fly trap survive if it couldn’t eat insects? Cannibalism?

No, to say that Paul was referring to literal, physical death in this passage simply seems a bridge to far for me. It just doesn’t make sense. The fact that Adam and Eve did not physically die when they ate the fruit also leads to one of two options: either the talking snake was telling the truth when he told Eve, “you will not surely die,” or God was not talking about physical death.

So there is certainly a possibility (I would say a certainty) that physical death existed in the world long before Adam ate the apple and introduced this idea and the force of “sin” to us.

It makes sense, really, when you consider that Paul wasn’t talking about Jesus bringing physical life into the world in this passage either – a readily obvious point, but one I feel compelled to point out. We were all obviously physically alive before Jesus came. No, Paul is comparing a different kind of life and death here.

Some would say he was referring to “spiritual” life and death, but that rings sort of hollow with me as well, as if spirituality was somehow completely disconnected from physicality (I don’t believe that to be true at all). I would propose a better way to understand what Paul is referring to here (and what the writers of Genesis were referring to) is a kind of holistic life and death.

Something inside of Adam and Eve, and the whole human race (whether or not you believe Adam and Eve to be literal people or not) died the day our relationship with God became distorted. (Not broken, not severed, and not separated – distorted. Huge difference.) Something died in all of creation the day shalom was shattered. Not physically, although that may have been a piece of it. Holistically. Things were not right. They became as they should not be.

And following this line of holistic interpretation, Jesus defined “eternal life” not as physical life or parking your butt in Heaven life, but rather as knowing God (John 17:3) — that is, enjoying a restored relationship with him and the restoration of that shalom in our lives.

In other words, to quote Jesus, enjoying the way life was “at the beginning.”






Creation Week at TWM:
Tuesday – Out of Africa 
Wednesday – Wise Men
Friday – Stuck in the Middle

Creation Week: Jesus and Paul

Some of the things that I held on to the longest when I began seriously questioning my understanding of the African-Hebraic creation story recorded in Genesis were several passages of Scripture in the New Testament. I had been taught to look at Scripture through the lens of young earth creationism, and quotes from Jesus and Paul were sprinkled in there as proof that it was the correct theory.

After all, if Jesus believed the earth was only 6,000 years old and Genesis 1 was about literal 24 hour periods, then it would seem to easily follow that we ought to be quick to believe that as well, wouldn’t it?

Of course, the lens which you use to interpret Scripture – consciously or subconsciously – often blinds you to other very real perspectives or interpretations… which may turn out to be just as valid (or even more valid) than yours. At least, that’s what I keep finding, over and over and over again as I grow in my relationship with Jesus (not just in this case, but in many issues/doctrines/ideas of Christian life). So it’s a good idea to explore some of those other perspectives from time to time, if for no other reason than to see what you’re missing out on. Heh.

The claim “Jesus was a young earth creationist” is repeated by tons of various ministries and teachers (just google the phrase to quickly find out for yourself). After all, Jesus quotes the creation story in Genesis, which means that he believed it, right?

Well, sure. No doubt. But it’s a non sequitur to say that also means Jesus thought the story must be taken literally.

The main passage used to make this claim is Mark 10:6, where Jesus quotes Genesis: “At the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’.”

The main point of this passage, according to proponents of young earth creationism, is the phrase “at the beginning of creation” – which purports to show that Jesus thought that humans were not made billions of years after creation was begun.

But, as with most sayings of Jesus, some context to Jesus’ words would be helpful here. How many young earth creationists know what Jesus was talking about in this passage?

The topic Jesus was discussing was marriage and divorce. The Pharisees asked him if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason. Jesus answers by quoting God’s original design for marriage: that God created man and woman to be joined together in marriage and become one flesh.

Far from being an explanation of the creation story, Jesus was highlighting God’s intent for marriage by using the story as an illustration. But what about that phrase, “at the beginning?” Matthew provides a few more details in his parallel account of this conversation, where Jesus says, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.” As I wrote about at length here, the use of these phrases show Jesus was referring to the pre-fall world where shalom reigned. At the beginning, when things were “very good”, divorce wasn’t necessary. Divorce only became ‘permissible’ or a part of life after the curse shattered that shalom.

To me, that’s what Jesus is referring to here – life the way God intended it to be, back at the beginning. Jesus wasn’t commenting on any sort of age of the earth debate or anything like that (especially since those arguments didn’t even exist yet).

Jesus quoted pieces of the creation story in order to beautifully illustrate the heart of God. Let’s not reduce that down to some shallow proof text.

The other passage I had trouble letting go of and letting live on its own (instead of under my heavy assumptions and perspective) was a passage in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. In Romans 5, Paul says that sin entered the world through one man (Adam), and death entered the world through sin. In the same way, the gift of God’s grace and life entered the world through one man (Jesus).

This is usually paired with Genesis 2:17, where God tells Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit or, “when you eat of it, you will surely die.”

Based on this passage, this is what I always heard: that there was no death in the world before Adam and Eve ate the fruit. That no animals were meat eaters before the fall, and humans didn’t eat meat either. That literally, nobody and nothing died until sin was introduced into the world. All the carnivores today were herbivores back in the garden.

Now, as I type that, I realize how silly that all sounds.

There absolutely had to be death before the fall. After all, nobody on the literalist side of the debate disputes that in their version of the story everyone ate plants to survive. But are not plants living things? Would they not have to die in order to be eaten?

Also, how in the world do you explain animals that were designed to trap and kill other animals? Did God create spiders with the ability to make webs so they could trap leaves in them? Did he give snakes venom to paralyze the flowers they were trying to subdue? And how did the Venus fly trap survive if it couldn’t eat insects? Cannibalism?

No, to say that Paul was referring to literal, physical death in this passage simply seems a bridge to far for me. It just doesn’t make sense. The fact that Adam and Eve did not physically die when they ate the fruit also leads to one of two options: either the talking snake was telling the truth when he told Eve, “you will not surely die,” or God was not talking about physical death.

So there is certainly a possibility (I would say a certainty) that physical death existed in the world long before Adam ate the apple and introduced this idea and the force of “sin” to us.

It makes sense, really, when you consider that Paul wasn’t talking about Jesus bringing physical life into the world in this passage either – a readily obvious point, but one I feel compelled to point out. We were all obviously physically alive before Jesus came. No, Paul is comparing a different kind of life and death here.

Some would say he was referring to “spiritual” life and death, but that rings sort of hollow with me as well, as if spirituality was somehow completely disconnected from physicality (I don’t believe that to be true at all). I would propose a better way to understand what Paul is referring to here (and what the writers of Genesis were referring to) is a kind of holistic life and death.

Something inside of Adam and Eve, and the whole human race (whether or not you believe Adam and Eve to be literal people or not) died the day our relationship with God became distorted. (Not broken, not severed, and not separated – distorted. Huge difference.) Something died in all of creation the day shalom was shattered. Not physically, although that may have been a piece of it. Holistically. Things were not right. They became as they should not be.

And following this line of holistic interpretation, Jesus defined “eternal life” not as physical life or parking your butt in Heaven life, but rather as knowing God (John 17:3) — that is, enjoying a restored relationship with him and the restoration of that shalom in our lives.

In other words, to quote Jesus, enjoying the way life was “at the beginning.”






Creation Week at TWM:
Tuesday – Out of Africa 
Wednesday – Wise Men
Friday – Stuck in the Middle

Creation Week: Wise Men

One of the arguments I used to hear from the young earth creationists (and that I repeated quite a bit myself back in the day) is that all the way back through history, the Church has always believed in a literal interpretation of Genesis.

To hear the conservative folks tell it, you’d think that young earth creationism – to interpret the African-Hebraic creation story in Genesis absolutely literally – is the only right and correct way to interpret Scripture… and that it’s the only way godly people have interpreted it throughout the history of the Church.

In this revisionist history, the teaching that the early chapters of Genesis is not literal doesn’t appear on the scene until Darwin began his Satanic quest to lead Christians astray. (Yes, that was sarcasm…)

But I found the more I learned about some of the early church fathers and some of the more contemporary giants of the faith, the more I saw a much more complex picture of this historical debate.

Even though the theory of “evolution” wasn’t known yet, it seems that many (if not most?) of the early church fathers never thought the “days” in the Genesis story had to be interpreted literally – or even should be interpreted literally. Indeed, many of them taught that the Church should guard against a literal interpretation of the days of Genesis. Many thought that each “day” was a 1,000 year period, or that the “days” were inserted into the story simply to give humans a frame of reference for an unknowable work of God. Some thought God actually created everything instantaneously and that the “days” didn’t have anything to do with time. Still others taught that we would never be able to know what exactly each “day” was supposed to represent (a view I am becoming more and more comfortable with personally). Finally, some taught that God did not create the heavens and the earth in six literal days, but revealed his creative process over a period of six days.

Consider the following list of early church fathers, writers, theologians and philosophers who explicitly taught against a literal interpretation of the African-Hebraic creation story in Genesis:

Justin Martyr (second century)
Tatius (second century)
Irenaeus of Lyons (second century)
Clement of Alexadnria (third century)
Tertullian (third century)
Julius Africanus (third century)
Cyprian of Carthage (third century)
Hippolytus of Rome (third century)
Origen (third century)
Augustine (fifth century)
Jerome (fifth century)

That’s a pretty impressive list of highly esteemed folks there. And it wasn’t only early Christians who thought that the story was best understood figuratively or allegorically – many highly respected ancient Jewish leaders and historians also believed that, including Philo, Abraham ibn Ezra, and Josephus.

Now, as mentioned above, this was all long before the idea of evolution came about, and so many of these men still believed in a young age of the earth. But what is more important is that they wanted to make sure that everyone understood that the “days” of Genesis 1 were not literal days — because the Creation story was about a lot more than that, and to boil the thing down to that argument was widely missing the point and the beauty of the passage.

In other words, to quote William Jennings Bryan (of Scopes “monkey trial” fame), “The Rock of Ages is more important than the age of rocks.”

Speaking of some of the more recent Christian figures who, like Bryan, who are okay with a non-literal interpretation of the Genesis story, folks like Chuck Colson, Hugh Ross, Francis Schaeffer, N.T. Wright, and most notably (to me, at least) C.S. Lewis can be included in the list.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean that rejecting a literal interpretation of Genesis is necessary (or even favorable). But as I began wrestling with the issues presented by my fundamentalist-inspired understanding of this passage of Scripture, I found immense comfort knowing that there was a long history of respected, godly men who came before me who also found an allegorical or figurative approach possible while still holding a high view of Scripture.

Creation Week at TWM:
Monday – Suspending Belief in the Name of… Belief
Tuesday – Out of Africa 
Thursday – Jesus and Paul
Friday – Stuck in the Middle

Creation Week: Wise Men

One of the arguments I used to hear from the young earth creationists (and that I repeated quite a bit myself back in the day) is that all the way back through history, the Church has always believed in a literal interpretation of Genesis.

To hear the conservative folks tell it, you’d think that young earth creationism – to interpret the African-Hebraic creation story in Genesis absolutely literally – is the only right and correct way to interpret Scripture… and that it’s the only way godly people have interpreted it throughout the history of the Church.

In this revisionist history, the teaching that the early chapters of Genesis is not literal doesn’t appear on the scene until Darwin began his Satanic quest to lead Christians astray. (Yes, that was sarcasm…)

But I found the more I learned about some of the early church fathers and some of the more contemporary giants of the faith, the more I saw a much more complex picture of this historical debate.

Even though the theory of “evolution” wasn’t known yet, it seems that many (if not most?) of the early church fathers never thought the “days” in the Genesis story had to be interpreted literally – or even should be interpreted literally. Indeed, many of them taught that the Church should guard against a literal interpretation of the days of Genesis. Many thought that each “day” was a 1,000 year period, or that the “days” were inserted into the story simply to give humans a frame of reference for an unknowable work of God. Some thought God actually created everything instantaneously and that the “days” didn’t have anything to do with time. Still others taught that we would never be able to know what exactly each “day” was supposed to represent (a view I am becoming more and more comfortable with personally). Finally, some taught that God did not create the heavens and the earth in six literal days, but revealed his creative process over a period of six days.

Consider the following list of early church fathers, writers, theologians and philosophers who explicitly taught against a literal interpretation of the African-Hebraic creation story in Genesis:

Justin Martyr (second century)
Tatius (second century)
Irenaeus of Lyons (second century)
Clement of Alexadnria (third century)
Tertullian (third century)
Julius Africanus (third century)
Cyprian of Carthage (third century)
Hippolytus of Rome (third century)
Origen (third century)
Augustine (fifth century)
Jerome (fifth century)

That’s a pretty impressive list of highly esteemed folks there. And it wasn’t only early Christians who thought that the story was best understood figuratively or allegorically – many highly respected ancient Jewish leaders and historians also believed that, including Philo, Abraham ibn Ezra, and Josephus.

Now, as mentioned above, this was all long before the idea of evolution came about, and so many of these men still believed in a young age of the earth. But what is more important is that they wanted to make sure that everyone understood that the “days” of Genesis 1 were not literal days — because the Creation story was about a lot more than that, and to boil the thing down to that argument was widely missing the point and the beauty of the passage.

In other words, to quote William Jennings Bryan (of Scopes “monkey trial” fame), “The Rock of Ages is more important than the age of rocks.”

Speaking of some of the more recent Christian figures who, like Bryan, who are okay with a non-literal interpretation of the Genesis story, folks like Chuck Colson, Hugh Ross, Francis Schaeffer, N.T. Wright, and most notably (to me, at least) C.S. Lewis can be included in the list.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean that rejecting a literal interpretation of Genesis is necessary (or even favorable). But as I began wrestling with the issues presented by my fundamentalist-inspired understanding of this passage of Scripture, I found immense comfort knowing that there was a long history of respected, godly men who came before me who also found an allegorical or figurative approach possible while still holding a high view of Scripture.

Creation Week at TWM:
Monday – Suspending Belief in the Name of… Belief
Tuesday – Out of Africa 
Thursday – Jesus and Paul
Friday – Stuck in the Middle

Creation Week: Out of Africa

Where did the Hebrew creation myth come from?

The writer of Genesis 2 doesn’t detail for us where the Garden of Eden – that place where humanity once dwelled in peace and undistorted relationship with God – was located. He does, however, note that four rivers flowed out of the Garden: the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates.

Nobody knows where the Pishon and Gihon were, and there are further questions as to whether or not the rivers we know as the Tigris and the Euphrates are the same ones the writers of Genesis named. Assuming they are, that would put the Garden of Eden, and the origin of human life on earth, in the Middle East… somewhere around what is now Iraq.

Multiple scientific disciplines are edging us toward saying probably not.

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, the world of genetics and faith were both rocked when genetic scientists announced that by following mitochondrial DNA (DNA passed down to children through the mother) back through time, they could trace human history back to one single female from whom everyone on earth is descended. They dubbed her “Eve”.

Creationist Christians jumped up and proclaimed, “See, we told you so!”

Only one problem. Well, two, really. First, they followed this line of mitochondrial DNA back about 200,000 years (which doesn’t quite jive with the young earth creationist belief of a 6-10,000 year old earth). Secondly, they traced “Eve” back to… eastern Africa.

Yes, Africa.

Interestingly, there is increasing amounts of anthropological, archeological, linguistic, and even Scriptural evidence that mankind did originate from Africa, migrating northeast to the Middle East. (For some incredible compilations of research on this topic, check out the blog Just Genesis, and specifically posts like this one.) And when they did, they brought their culture, language, and stories with them

Stories, including those of creation.

There has been much written comparing and contrasting the Hebraic creation story with other Mesopotamian creation stories, including (and especially) the famous Enuma Elish from Babylon. Some skeptics have even proposed that the Hebrews borrowed elements of their creation story from their neighbors. But truth be told, these creation stories are much more different than they are similar, and any favorable comparisons are really somewhat of a stretch.

However, something quite incredible happens when you begin to compare the Hebrew creation story with the creation stories of some peoples in ancient Africa. You begin to find remarkable similarities that are impossible to explain away or ignore:

*The Gikuyu people of modern-day Kenya tell of Gikuyu and Mumbi, the first man and woman, who were created and placed under God’s special tree of life. God then showed them the whole land and told them, “This land I hand over to you, O Man and Woman. It is yours to rule and till in serenity, sacrificing only to me, your God.”

*According to the Yoruba of Nigeria, God molded the first man and first woman from the ground and breathed into them life and sent them forth to settle the earth.

*As the Abaluyia people tell the story, God created man first and then created woman so he would have a companion. The Lugbara people told of man being created first, then woman being created and the two being joined in marriage as husband and wife.

*The Shilluk creation story says God created man from clay and woman from man. The Bambuti Pygmies recount that God created man from clay, covered him with skin, and poured blood into his body — but that it wasn’t until God breathed into man that he became alive.

*Or consider the utterly remarkable similarities in this western African creation story (where even the idea of a Triune God is introduced!):

At the beginning of Things, when there was nothing, neither man, nor animals, nor plants, nor heaven, nor earth, nothing, nothing, God was and He was called Nzame. The three who are Nzame, we call them Nzame, Mebere and Nkwa. At the beginning Nzame made the heaven and the earth and He reserved the heaven for Himself. Then He blew on the earth and the earth and water were created each on its side.

Nzame made everything: heaven, earth, sun, moon, stars, animals, plants; everythng. When He had finished everything that we see today, He called Mbere and Nkwa and showed them His work. “This is my work. It is good.”

Wow.

There are several ideas that we find widespread among African creation myths: the idea that there was nothing before God created, that man was created last or toward the end of creation, and that man was created in a state of happiness, innocence, or immortality and lived more or less in “paradise”.

So what then can we conclude about our own biblical creation story? That it was obviously taken or adapted from African creation stories — and this makes complete sense when we consider the early migration of the human race.

Imagine humans “growing up,” so to speak, in Africa for thousands of years, where they pass down these creation stories orally from generation to generation. These stories are all similar enough to easily say they have a common ancestor story – The Creation Story. Over time, the small differences appear in various cultures and regions. And when the human race begins migrating out of Africa and begins populating the Middle East, these stories continue to be told and passed down.

And eventually, somebody writes the story down and it becomes what we have recorded as the beginning of Genesis.

As an interesting side note, adding the days of creation to these stories may have been a tool to organize or order the story, or to help people remember the story more easily. The days of creation don’t really make sense when taken literally (day & night, light & dark prior to the sun being created, etc). However, if we look at the days of creation as two sets of three, we see something really neat begin to take shape: days 1-3 represent the creation of environments and days 4-6 the population of those environments. Check it out:

Day 1 – Light and Darkness Day 4 – Sun and Moon
Day 2 – Sky and Water Day 5 – Birds and Fish
Day 3 – Land Day 6 – Animals and Humans

Thus, we begin to understand how it was that the Hebrews could place the creation of the sun after the creation of light. They weren’t saying that light literally existed before the sun, they were simply placing the sun in its proper “environment”. Just as fish and birds belong in the water and the sky, the sun belongs in light and the moon in darkness.

All of this is certainly not to say that our African-Hebraic creation story is not inspired. It is definitely easy to assume that God revealed himself to the earliest humans living in Africa and inspired their creation story (which eventually came to be the Hebrews’ story – and ours now as well). Just because something was passed down orally for thousands of years before being written down doesn’t mean it didn’t originate from God.

In fact, to me, knowing that our story of the origin of the universe comes from the land from where the human race has its origins makes it even more likely that it is true!

Of course, not all African creation stories bear this remarkable resemblance to ours – Africa is a large continent that was host to many different and diverse ancient people groups. But those that do share these similarities have got to make us consider the possibilities, don’t they?

Creation Week on TWM:
Monday – Suspending Belief in the Name of… Belief

Wednesday – Wise Men
Thursday – Jesus and Paul
Friday – Stuck in the Middle

Creation Week: Out of Africa

Where did the Hebrew creation myth come from?

The writer of Genesis 2 doesn’t detail for us where the Garden of Eden – that place where humanity once dwelled in peace and undistorted relationship with God – was located. He does, however, note that four rivers flowed out of the Garden: the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates.

Nobody knows where the Pishon and Gihon were, and there are further questions as to whether or not the rivers we know as the Tigris and the Euphrates are the same ones the writers of Genesis named. Assuming they are, that would put the Garden of Eden, and the origin of human life on earth, in the Middle East… somewhere around what is now Iraq.

Multiple scientific disciplines are edging us toward saying probably not.

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, the world of genetics and faith were both rocked when genetic scientists announced that by following mitochondrial DNA (DNA passed down to children through the mother) back through time, they could trace human history back to one single female from whom everyone on earth is descended. They dubbed her “Eve”.

Creationist Christians jumped up and proclaimed, “See, we told you so!”

Only one problem. Well, two, really. First, they followed this line of mitochondrial DNA back about 200,000 years (which doesn’t quite jive with the young earth creationist belief of a 6-10,000 year old earth). Secondly, they traced “Eve” back to… eastern Africa.

Yes, Africa.

Interestingly, there is increasing amounts of anthropological, archeological, linguistic, and even Scriptural evidence that mankind did originate from Africa, migrating northeast to the Middle East. (For some incredible compilations of research on this topic, check out the blog Just Genesis, and specifically posts like this one.) And when they did, they brought their culture, language, and stories with them

Stories, including those of creation.

There has been much written comparing and contrasting the Hebraic creation story with other Mesopotamian creation stories, including (and especially) the famous Enuma Elish from Babylon. Some skeptics have even proposed that the Hebrews borrowed elements of their creation story from their neighbors. But truth be told, these creation stories are much more different than they are similar, and any favorable comparisons are really somewhat of a stretch.

However, something quite incredible happens when you begin to compare the Hebrew creation story with the creation stories of some peoples in ancient Africa. You begin to find remarkable similarities that are impossible to explain away or ignore:

*The Gikuyu people of modern-day Kenya tell of Gikuyu and Mumbi, the first man and woman, who were created and placed under God’s special tree of life. God then showed them the whole land and told them, “This land I hand over to you, O Man and Woman. It is yours to rule and till in serenity, sacrificing only to me, your God.”

*According to the Yoruba of Nigeria, God molded the first man and first woman from the ground and breathed into them life and sent them forth to settle the earth.

*As the Abaluyia people tell the story, God created man first and then created woman so he would have a companion. The Lugbara people told of man being created first, then woman being created and the two being joined in marriage as husband and wife.

*The Shilluk creation story says God created man from clay and woman from man. The Bambuti Pygmies recount that God created man from clay, covered him with skin, and poured blood into his body — but that it wasn’t until God breathed into man that he became alive.

*Or consider the utterly remarkable similarities in this western African creation story (where even the idea of a Triune God is introduced!):

At the beginning of Things, when there was nothing, neither man, nor animals, nor plants, nor heaven, nor earth, nothing, nothing, God was and He was called Nzame. The three who are Nzame, we call them Nzame, Mebere and Nkwa. At the beginning Nzame made the heaven and the earth and He reserved the heaven for Himself. Then He blew on the earth and the earth and water were created each on its side.

Nzame made everything: heaven, earth, sun, moon, stars, animals, plants; everythng. When He had finished everything that we see today, He called Mbere and Nkwa and showed them His work. “This is my work. It is good.”

Wow.

There are several ideas that we find widespread among African creation myths: the idea that there was nothing before God created, that man was created last or toward the end of creation, and that man was created in a state of happiness, innocence, or immortality and lived more or less in “paradise”.

So what then can we conclude about our own biblical creation story? That it was obviously taken or adapted from African creation stories — and this makes complete sense when we consider the early migration of the human race.

Imagine humans “growing up,” so to speak, in Africa for thousands of years, where they pass down these creation stories orally from generation to generation. These stories are all similar enough to easily say they have a common ancestor story – The Creation Story. Over time, the small differences appear in various cultures and regions. And when the human race begins migrating out of Africa and begins populating the Middle East, these stories continue to be told and passed down.

And eventually, somebody writes the story down and it becomes what we have recorded as the beginning of Genesis.

As an interesting side note, adding the days of creation to these stories may have been a tool to organize or order the story, or to help people remember the story more easily. The days of creation don’t really make sense when taken literally (day & night, light & dark prior to the sun being created, etc). However, if we look at the days of creation as two sets of three, we see something really neat begin to take shape: days 1-3 represent the creation of environments and days 4-6 the population of those environments. Check it out:

Day 1 – Light and Darkness Day 4 – Sun and Moon
Day 2 – Sky and Water Day 5 – Birds and Fish
Day 3 – Land Day 6 – Animals and Humans

Thus, we begin to understand how it was that the Hebrews could place the creation of the sun after the creation of light. They weren’t saying that light literally existed before the sun, they were simply placing the sun in its proper “environment”. Just as fish and birds belong in the water and the sky, the sun belongs in light and the moon in darkness.

All of this is certainly not to say that our African-Hebraic creation story is not inspired. It is definitely easy to assume that God revealed himself to the earliest humans living in Africa and inspired their creation story (which eventually came to be the Hebrews’ story – and ours now as well). Just because something was passed down orally for thousands of years before being written down doesn’t mean it didn’t originate from God.

In fact, to me, knowing that our story of the origin of the universe comes from the land from where the human race has its origins makes it even more likely that it is true!

Of course, not all African creation stories bear this remarkable resemblance to ours – Africa is a large continent that was host to many different and diverse ancient people groups. But those that do share these similarities have got to make us consider the possibilities, don’t they?

Creation Week on TWM:
Monday – Suspending Belief in the Name of… Belief

Wednesday – Wise Men
Thursday – Jesus and Paul
Friday – Stuck in the Middle

Creation Week: Suspending Belief in the Name of… Belief

Genesis 1-3. The Creation story. Is there a passage of Scripture more argued about and fought over than this? I’ve been spending a lot of time in these first three chapters lately, and wondering if rigid dogma is really the best way to approach stories like this one (I know: surprise, surprise, right?) This week, I want to take you through some of my thought processes regarding the Hebrew creation story and what it means for us.

And I want to start with this thought (no use holding back on the first day, right?): if the creation story we found in Genesis were located in any other sacred text out there and some other religion was trying to pass it off as Truth, we’d call BS faster than you can say “punctuated equilibrium.”

What is there to really believe is literally accurate in this story? A talking snake? The sky being made out of water? God creating day & night and light & darkness all somehow without the assistance of the sun? Or God creating “two great lights… the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night.” Evidently, someone — notably God, in this case — forgot to inform the Hebrews while he was inspiring them that the moon isn’t a light (and the sun isn’t any more special than any other star out there).

Okay, okay… I know I’m treading on thin ice here, but consider this for just a moment with me. Break this story out of its accepted framework in the Judeo-Christian tradition. What if you were reading this story and thought it came from, say, an African pygmy tribe? Or an ancient pagan culture, say from somewhere around Babylonia or maybe China?

If we’re honest with ourselves, I’d bet our first reaction would be laughter, and then, “How could anyone think that is literally true? C’mon.”

I’m starting this week with this uncomfortable question because it’s largely where I’ve begun my re-evaluation of this creation story. I came to know Jesus in a conservative Southern Baptist church. We brought in preachers and teachers who taught that the only way you could rightly interpret Genesis 1-3 was absolutely literal. And I believed it with all my heart. I got together with a group of students from our church on a semi-regular basis to watch the young earth creationism videos from Dr. Kent Hovind, and ate them up. I loved it. Couldn’t get enough of it.

It was only recently that I began to feel the freedom to question some of these hard and fast beliefs and reread the Genesis creation story for itself, not for any agenda being imposed upon it.

And that’s when the ludicrousness of a talking snake – and the other stuff listed above – really hit me.

Think about how quickly we dismiss other cultures’ creation myths (and notice also how quick we are to label them ‘myths’ as opposed to our ‘true’ version of events) because of how silly they are. Would not these other cultures look on our Hebraic story and think the same thing?

Isn’t this what every creation myth has in common?

There’s a simple and obvious reason for this: creation myths were… well, created… thousands (even tens or hundreds of thousands) of years ago by primitive people. They were a way of making sense of the world around them and the role they played in that world.

To an ancient people, of course it makes sense to call the sun the greater light and the moon the lesser light – and assume that the deity you worship created them specially for your world. They had no idea that there were billions of stars out there like the sun, or that the moon was just a chunk of rocky space debris like hundreds of others in our solar system.

So the all-important question then: is this story truth? Well, to the ancient Hebraic people it certainly was. And isn’t that what matters? The creation story in Genesis 1-3 helps them – and us – understand and frame in their worldview. It helps us interpret their understanding of life and what roles they play in this world and how they (and we) relate to that Creator God.

Think about it – if you subscribe to a creation myth that holds the world was created by gods slicing one another apart or destroying things or some other random acts of violence, you are going to relate to those gods in fear. If your myth has gods that have overtly human flaws and can make mistakes and have to go back and fix decisions they made, you are not going to place any confidence or faith in those deities.

But if we worship the Creator God Elohim found in Genesis 1-3, we see that he is creative, interested in peace and harmony, merciful, benevolent, and desirous of a positive relationship with his creation. Our role is to pursue those values and that relationship with him.

This stands in marked contrast to nearly every other creation myth surrounding the Hebrews back when they wrote this one down. And that makes the question of “was there really a talking snake?” a lot less important.

(I realize this post, and this series, is going to make a lot of folks really uncomfortable. It makes me really uncomfortable. And I’m certainly not trying to propose that I’ve got anything completely figured out. I might not even fully agree with everything I write this week! My desire is simply to process with you – to throw some thoughts out there and spark some conversation – and some thinking of your own on this topic. So have at it – what do you think?

Coming up this week:
Tuesday – Out of Africa
Wednesday – Wise Men
Thursday – Jesus and Paul
Friday – Stuck in the Middle

Creation Week: Suspending Belief in the Name of… Belief

Genesis 1-3. The Creation story. Is there a passage of Scripture more argued about and fought over than this? I’ve been spending a lot of time in these first three chapters lately, and wondering if rigid dogma is really the best way to approach stories like this one (I know: surprise, surprise, right?) This week, I want to take you through some of my thought processes regarding the Hebrew creation story and what it means for us.

And I want to start with this thought (no use holding back on the first day, right?): if the creation story we found in Genesis were located in any other sacred text out there and some other religion was trying to pass it off as Truth, we’d call BS faster than you can say “punctuated equilibrium.”

What is there to really believe is literally accurate in this story? A talking snake? The sky being made out of water? God creating day & night and light & darkness all somehow without the assistance of the sun? Or God creating “two great lights… the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night.” Evidently, someone — notably God, in this case — forgot to inform the Hebrews while he was inspiring them that the moon isn’t a light (and the sun isn’t any more special than any other star out there).

Okay, okay… I know I’m treading on thin ice here, but consider this for just a moment with me. Break this story out of its accepted framework in the Judeo-Christian tradition. What if you were reading this story and thought it came from, say, an African pygmy tribe? Or an ancient pagan culture, say from somewhere around Babylonia or maybe China?

If we’re honest with ourselves, I’d bet our first reaction would be laughter, and then, “How could anyone think that is literally true? C’mon.”

I’m starting this week with this uncomfortable question because it’s largely where I’ve begun my re-evaluation of this creation story. I came to know Jesus in a conservative Southern Baptist church. We brought in preachers and teachers who taught that the only way you could rightly interpret Genesis 1-3 was absolutely literal. And I believed it with all my heart. I got together with a group of students from our church on a semi-regular basis to watch the young earth creationism videos from Dr. Kent Hovind, and ate them up. I loved it. Couldn’t get enough of it.

It was only recently that I began to feel the freedom to question some of these hard and fast beliefs and reread the Genesis creation story for itself, not for any agenda being imposed upon it.

And that’s when the ludicrousness of a talking snake – and the other stuff listed above – really hit me.

Think about how quickly we dismiss other cultures’ creation myths (and notice also how quick we are to label them ‘myths’ as opposed to our ‘true’ version of events) because of how silly they are. Would not these other cultures look on our Hebraic story and think the same thing?

Isn’t this what every creation myth has in common?

There’s a simple and obvious reason for this: creation myths were… well, created… thousands (even tens or hundreds of thousands) of years ago by primitive people. They were a way of making sense of the world around them and the role they played in that world.

To an ancient people, of course it makes sense to call the sun the greater light and the moon the lesser light – and assume that the deity you worship created them specially for your world. They had no idea that there were billions of stars out there like the sun, or that the moon was just a chunk of rocky space debris like hundreds of others in our solar system.

So the all-important question then: is this story truth? Well, to the ancient Hebraic people it certainly was. And isn’t that what matters? The creation story in Genesis 1-3 helps them – and us – understand and frame in their worldview. It helps us interpret their understanding of life and what roles they play in this world and how they (and we) relate to that Creator God.

Think about it – if you subscribe to a creation myth that holds the world was created by gods slicing one another apart or destroying things or some other random acts of violence, you are going to relate to those gods in fear. If your myth has gods that have overtly human flaws and can make mistakes and have to go back and fix decisions they made, you are not going to place any confidence or faith in those deities.

But if we worship the Creator God Elohim found in Genesis 1-3, we see that he is creative, interested in peace and harmony, merciful, benevolent, and desirous of a positive relationship with his creation. Our role is to pursue those values and that relationship with him.

This stands in marked contrast to nearly every other creation myth surrounding the Hebrews back when they wrote this one down. And that makes the question of “was there really a talking snake?” a lot less important.

(I realize this post, and this series, is going to make a lot of folks really uncomfortable. It makes me really uncomfortable. And I’m certainly not trying to propose that I’ve got anything completely figured out. I might not even fully agree with everything I write this week! My desire is simply to process with you – to throw some thoughts out there and spark some conversation – and some thinking of your own on this topic. So have at it – what do you think?

Coming up this week:
Tuesday – Out of Africa
Wednesday – Wise Men
Thursday – Jesus and Paul
Friday – Stuck in the Middle