“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” (Genesis 1.1)
So begins the Bible. But what does it mean? Does it mean that God created the earth – and our solar system – and our galaxy – and the whole universe, just as described in chapter 1 of Genesis, i.e. in just 7 days? Or if not in literal days, in 7 consecutive periods of time? And if we don’t believe that, how can we take the Bible seriously at all? Does it mean that, if you believe that the theory of evolution is right, you can’t be a Christian?
These are some of the questions that arise when we think about the first chapter of the Bible, and it produces some very heated arguments.
The key question is, what kind of writing is the first chapter of Genesis? Is it science? Or is it poetry?
The answer is actually very easy. All you need is to read Genesis 1 with your eyes open and your brain awake, and the answer is obvious. Here’s how:
Day 1 God created light and darkness
Could this be a description of the Big Bang?
Day 2 God separated the water above the dome of the sky from the water beneath the dome of the world. (Some bibles use the word “Firmament” but the meaning is the same). So this created the two elements of water and air.
Day 3 God gathered the water into seas and let the dry land appear.
Then God created vegetation, plants and fruit trees.
Day 4 God created the sun and moon and stars, so that time could be measured (see v. 14).
Really? This is peculiar. Where did light and darkness come from in day 1? And how come the sun got created after the fruit trees?
Day 5 God created birds and great sea monsters and every kind of water creature.
Day 6 God created cattle, insects and wild animals. Then he created man and woman, “In the image of God he created them.”
Day 7 God took a well-earned break.
So what does this tell us? It sounds like a scientific account, and it follows roughly the order in which things happened, except for day 4.
However, it is not science, and I can prove it.
If you put the six days of creation in two columns, the first three days in one and the second three days in the other, it becomes glaringly obvious. Day 4, the sun and moon and stars is a big clue. Day 5, the birds and fishes, is the clincher.
Day 1 Light and darkness Day 4 Sun, moon and stars
Day 2 Water and air Day 5 Birds and fishes
Day 3 Dry land and plants Day 6 Animals and humans
As you can see, what is being described is a drama. First the stage sets are made, all three of them. The the actors come on stage: the sun and moon to play in the light and darkness; birds and fishes to play in the air and water; animals and humans to play among the plants on land.
There is nothing here to contradict the theory of evolution. Instead we have an understanding of the world as both orderly and good, the basic presuppositions which lie at the heart of modern western science. Totally unlike the chaotic and violent story in the Babylonian Creation Epic, which you can read extracts form in my book “Bible in Brief”.
So yes, you can be a Christian and hold to the theory of evolution!