It appears that everything in the Bible promotes controversy. Man with his natural tendency of hatred towards God strives to question everything that He says in His Word. Much like the serpent in the garden, many ridicule, "Did God really say that?" Perhaps no other book of the Bible creates as much controversy as the book of Genesis; especially the first eleven chapters. Scholars and laymen alike have attempted to cast doubt on several things which serve as foundational to the entire Bible, our understanding of God and ourselves, and the very history of redemption. I have already looked at one of these issues with The Necessity of A Literal Adam. As I have begun to lead my Sunday School class in a study of the book of Genesis, I continue to encounter other issues that have spawned no small amount of controversy. However, as I take the time to examine the text closely (as any serious Bible student should do), I find no reason for such controversy. This can be seen in several of the controversies surrounding the creation account in Genesis 1. The length of a day, the issue of evolution, and the so-called discrepancies between chapter 1 and chapter 2 are all easily answered within the text itself.
The Duration of A Day
One issue that has come up regarding the creation account in Genesis concerns the idea of just how long were the six days of creation. Some have suggested that the term day refers to a period of a great amount or age of time since the Hebrew word for day does sometimes refer to a period or age of time such as the day of the LORD. Others have argued that it means 1,000 years based on 2 Peter 3:8. Interestingly, while many modern day scholars and students want to view these days as a much lengthier period of time, several of the church fathers and theologians such as Augustine actually shorten them. In fact, they believed that God created the heavens and the earth in an instant since He stood outside of time.
This mess can be solved just by looking at the text itself. Moses does not leave us hanging as to what he means by the term day in Genesis 1. In fact, he even defines it for us. We are told that each day is categorized by there was evening and there was morning (vv. 5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31). For the Hebrews which would first read this account, what do you suppose would come to mind with the phrase there was evening and there was morning to define a day? The literal 24 hour day that they were accustomed to of course, where there was evening and morning, and another day began with the next evening. (The Hebrews and Jews calculated their days from evening to evening.)And if that itself is not enough to prove that day here means what we commonly understand day to indicate today (pun not intended . . . this time at least), then just look at Exodus 20:11. In giving the command to keep the Sabbath, Moses points back to the account given in Genesis 1 as its basis. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Now to be consistent here, we have to understand Moses to mean the same thing with day in v. 11 as he does throughout Genesis 1 which he refers and in vv. 9-10. If Moses meant 1,000 years with the term day in Genesis 1, this means that he also means that in Exodus 20:11, which means that he also meant that in vv. 9-10. This would indicate then that this commandment states that the Hebrews should work 6,000 years and then rest on the 7,000th year. He has to refer to a literal 24 hour day in all three cases. Otherwise we are faced with something absurd that does not make sense and that does not fit the context at all. So a day, understood from the text itself, refers to a literal 24 hours.
Another controversy we find concerning Genesis 1 deals with the THEORY of evolution. (Notice that I highlight that it is a THEORY and not a fact. It has NEVER been proven. The so-called "missing links" are still missing. Questions as to why monkeys still exist after man supposedly evolved from them have yet to be answered.) Genesis 1 does not allow the possibility of macroevolution at all. Genesis clearly states that God made the animals according to their kinds (vv. 21, 24-25). He did not make them according to one kind that evolved into another kind and so on. Furthermore, the author delineates between the species. He explains that God made the fish of the sea and the birds of the air on day five (vv. 20-21) and then the livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth on day six (vv. 24-25). It does not say that God made the great sea creatures which grew legs and wings to become the beasts of the earth or the birds. Instead, He created each species separately and distinctly. Adam is shown not to have been created from the changing of a monkey but instead out of the dust of the ground itself (Genesis 2:7). In fact, the Hebrew name, Adam, comes from the same root of the Hebrew word for ground, adamah. God formed Adam from the adamah, not from any other creature. There is no way to harmonize the idea of Darwinian evolution with the account of creation we find in Genesis.
Several have claimed that we actually find two contradictory accounts of the creation narrative side by side in the book of Genesis. They postulate that Genesis 2:4-25 serves as a separate account of creation that we just read in Genesis 1:1-2:3. Some have even went so far as to argue that this indicates multiply authorship of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) instead of the sole author being Moses. As we have noticed with the other two controversies surrounding the creation account in Genesis, a closer examination of the text reveals there to be no problem here at all. The reason for the numerous differences between these two chapters actually stems from them not being the same account. In fact, the author never claims them to be.
Genesis 2:4 actually begins a new section in the book. This is indicated to us by the phrase, This is the account of/These are the generations of _____________. (The Hebrew word used here is toledoth, meaning origins or generations.) Such a phrase occurs in the book a total of 11 times and appears to divide the work into 11 sections. Thus, the first section of the book would serve as the Prologue or Introduction (1:1-2:3), this section would run from 2:4-4:26, the third section would be 5:1-6:8; the fourth 6:9-9:29; the fifth 10:1-11:9; the sixth 11:10-26; the seventh 11:27-25:11; eighth 25:12-18; ninth 25:19-35:29; tenth 36:1-37:1; and eleventh 37:2-50:26. Just a cursory reading of these first two sections in succession should indicate that their context is very different. Genesis 1:1-2:3 gives the overview of God's creation of the heavens and the earth in six days and His resting or ceasing from work on the seventh day. Genesis 2:4-4:26 focuses on the creation of humanity specifically, his start in the Garden of Eden, his fall and degeneration into sin, and the hope found in the seed of Seth. It does not present itself as being a separate or additional account of creation at all. In fact, it serves to fill us in on some details pertaining to the creation of man itself and his start.
Now the question remains concerning the supposed difference in the order of creation in comparing the two sections. Those who have viewed this as double like to point out that the order of what was created here is different. In chapter 1 plants and animals were created before man while here in chapter 2 it is man first and then the animals. However, we must realize again that chapter 2 does not give us an account of the creation of the entire heavens and the earth but only man and his start in the garden. Genesis 1:1-2:3 certainly is chronological as indicated in the progression of the days (day 1 followed by day 2 followed by day 3 and so on) while Genesis 2:4 is topical with man as the center. Everything is described in relation to man. Moses already informed us on the order of God's creation. Now he wants to provide us with more details concerning the crown of God's creation, man. Also, we need to keep in mind that chapter 1 refers to the entire heavens and the earth where here we are focused on one garden within this earth; a place called Eden (2:8). The Garden of Eden serves as the scene from 2:8 until 3:24 when man is kicked out of the garden due to his sin. In fact, the plants that are mentioned are those specific to this garden (2:9). It is not referring to the creation of all the plants of the earth. Thus, this does not reverse the order of the plants being created before man that we read about in chapter 1. So what about 2:18-19 which appears to indicate that God created the animals after His creation of man? The biblical text says no such thing. The Hebrew form of the verb for make in v. 19 is what is called a waw consecutive imperfect, which should be translated as a past tense. It is often used for the "past tense narrative sequence." A good translation of the verse would be something to the effect of out of the ground the LORD God formed [or] had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky. Read properly, no contradiction can be found between the two chapters.
Such controversies are only controversial because of a failure to actually examine what the text of Scripture says. When studying Scripture we must labor to understand what the author originally intended to say. This takes time and work! But if we are concerned about what God has to say to us, then it should be a "labor of love" for us. Let's not continue to make such mistakes but study to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has not need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
Soli Deo Gloria!!!