Six Days of Creation and the Sabbath
1 In the beginning when God created[a] the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God[b] swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
6 And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8 God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
9 And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
20 And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” 21 So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind[c] in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth,[d] and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
27 So God created humankind[e] in his image,
in the image of God he created them;[f]
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Good morning! Our scripture this morning was long, so thank you for sticking with me through it. This is the first week of my eight-week long sermon series on the book, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again. In it, the author Rachel Held Evans starts at the beginning with the very first stories of our faith.
This is the book of Genesis, which actually translates to mean “origin,” “creation,” or “beginning.” For ancient peoples, origin stories were their way of explaining our world. If you do a little searching, you can find origin stories from across time and cultures which explain how the world came to be, where babies come from, why it rains, and where the sun goes at night. A lot of origin stories describe how humanity came to be, and what their connection was with God or the many Gods that they worshipped.
Genesis is the book of the Bible which first introduces us to Yahweh, and which establishes our religious ancestors’ relationship with God. Genesis is full of origin stories about creation, the beginnings of humanity, and the start of the Jewish faith. It should be noted that the book of Genesis is not a science textbook. As Rachel puts it,
“Contrary to what many of us are told, Israel’s origin stories weren’t designed to answer scientific, twenty-first century questions about the beginning of the universe or the biological evolution of human beings, but rather were meant to answer ancient questions about the nature of God and God’s relationship to creation. Even the story of Adam and Eve, found in Genesis 2 and 3, is thought by many scholars to be less a story about human origins and more a story about Israel’s origins, a symbolic representation of Israel’s pattern of habitation, disobedience, and exile, set in primevil time.”
So, even though many Christians have tried to misuse the creation story in Genesis to disprove scientific findings, the book of Genesis should not be used that way. It does not define or describe the historically accurate picture of all of creation. And that’s because it was never meant to. The early writers of Hebrew religious texts weren’t concerned with the same things we are today. They weren’t discussing the big bang or black holes or atoms or evolution. Genesis is and was meant to be a book that holds the mystery and wonder found in the story of a group of people and their relationship with God.
We can’t force ancient stories to take the place of modern science, but we can use it to learn how ancient peoples understood the world, the way the world works, and humanity’s place in it. In fact, if we search the creation stories of other societies we can actually find a lot of the same themes—storytelling about humanity’s origins have a lot of similarities across cultures.
For example, the Babylonians creation story begins, “When the heavens above did not exist, And earth beneath had not come into being…” and continues by explaining that Order was created from chaos. Does any of that sound familiar?
The Atrahasis Epic describes humanity being created from clay, much like how Adam was created from dust. It also has a very similar Flood narrative to the story of Noah and his Ark found in Genesis. This story also tells of God’s judgement on humanity, a great flood, a wise man and animals saved in a boat, and sacrifices offered afterwards.
If you have some time this week, I recommend looking up some origin stories from different cultures around the world. I think you will be surprised by the similarities to the stories found in the book of Genesis, and the way that early cultures explained the beginning of creation.
This is because throughout different times, cultures, and locations, early humans were all searching for answers to many of the same questions about who we are, why we are here, and how we came to be here. And they found those answers in mythology, poetry, and storytelling from the wise ones among them. The thing is, we’ve lost much of the cultural understanding and context clues that ancient peoples used to interpret these stories. As Rachel puts it,
“We’ve been instructed to reject any trace of poetry, myth, hyperbole, or symbolism even when those literary forms are virtually shouting at us from the page talking about talking serpents and enchanted trees. That’s because there’s a curious but popular notion circulating around the church these days that says God would never stoop to using ancient genre categories to communicate. Speaking to ancient people using their own language, literary structures, and cosmological assumptions would be beneath God, it is said, for only our modern categories of science and history can convey the truth in any meaningful way.”
So, if we can’t use the creation story in Genesis as a scientific telling of how the world was created, then what can we take away from it? For me, the most important take-away is a better understanding of who God is and how God cares for humanity. In our creation story we find a God who is actively engaged in the act of designing our world, doing the hard work of putting things together and finding them to be good. We find the story of a God that instructs humanity to care for the earth and for each other. And along with all of that, we find a deeper and richer understanding of who God is.
Western Christianity’s emphasis on trying to read the ancient Hebrew origin stories as history rather than poetry, myth, and symbolism overlooks something very important….as Rachel puts it, it’s
“…one of the most central themes of Scripture itself. God stoops. From walking with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, to traveling with the liberated Hebrew slaves in a pillar of clour and fire, to slipping into flesh and eating, laughing, suffering, healing, weeping, and dying among us as part of humanity, the God of Scripture stoops and stoops and stoops and stoops. At the heart of the gospel message is the story of a God who stoops to the point of death on a cross. Dignified or not, believable or not, ours is a God perpetually on bended knee, doing everything it takes to convince stubborn and petulant children that they are seen and loved. It is no more beneath God to speak to us using poetry, proverb, letters, and legend than it is for a mother to read storybooks to her daughter at bedtime. This is who God is. This is what God does.”
Our culture today is very different than the one described in the book of Genesis. It’s very different than the society that Jesus was born into, or that the early church was created in. But by reading the stories of the origins of our faith, we too can be reminded of who God is. “The Bible’s original readers may not share our culture, but they share our humanity, and the God they worshipped invited them to bring that humanity to their theology, prayers, songs, and stories.”
So, as we continue to study the Bible over the next two months, may we remember a few important things.
May we remember that the Bible is both complicated and dynamic.
May we remember that God is revealed in its pages through the eyes, perspectives, and stories of human beings. People whose culture was different than ours and whose understanding of the world was different than ours, but who share a common humanity with us.
May we remember that the Bible describes a God who created us with love, who is with us throughout the good and the bad, and who is still speaking to us through interpretation, study, and wrestling with our sacred text.
…And may we remember that though the Bible tells ancient stories, it is for all of us too.
Inspired: Origin Stories
Six Days of Creation and the Sabbath