The opening words of the Bible are, “In the beginning”, followed by the story of creation in six days. At the back of the African Bible we find a scientific chronology of creation. From the start to the appearance of homo sapiens took about 14,2 billion years. These two stories seem to contradict each other, or do they? I think not! Perhaps they are both right.
To understand what is happening here, we need to understand that there are many kinds of literature. Try paging through a newspaper. You will find advertisements, political reports, the leading article, comic strips, scientific and sports articles, to name a few. We understand that each literary form is different from another; we therefore, automatically adjust how we understand them. Hopefully nobody would understand the headline, “Sharks eat Cheetahs” as a scientific article. Sharks do not eat cheetahs – this is pure nonsense. Approach it as a sports report and you will either enjoy it or hate it, depending on which rugby team you support.
The stories which make up Genesis 1 – 11 are certainly not scientific or historical. They
belong to the literary form (genre) of Myth.
Myth is an imaginative story expressing deep TRUTHS about life in a creative manner; eg, God is the Creator (Gen 1: 1 – 2: 4a); there is a struggle between good and evil. (Story of Paradise Lost Gen 3; Tower of Babel, Gen 11: 1 – 9).
There are two Creation Stories and they are quite different. The TRUTH behind both these
stories is that God is the Creator. Is this in conflict with science? No! In fact, the story
that the scientists tell about the origin and development of the earth, gives a picture of God
which is infinitely greater than one in which God creates by a word.
Traditionally it was held that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible (Torah / Law).
This presents many problems. In Deuteronomy Chapter 34 Moses’ funeral is described.
Clearly somebody else had to have written this account.
Cain and Abel were the sons of Adam and Eve. (Gen 4: 1 – 2) The third son was Seth. (Gen
4: 25) Two verses later we read, “This is the record of the descendants of Adam … Adam
was one hundred and thirty years old when he begot a son in his likeness, after his image;
and he named him Seth.” (Gen 5: 1-3) No author could possibly have Seth as the third son
and two verses later, as the first born.
A possible explanation is that there were two writers involved; they wrote at very different
times and somebody later combined the two stories. Whoever did this was not too
concerned with the lack of historical logic that resulted. This is what we think actually
Scholars tell us that, the Torah / Pentateuch / First five books of the Bible, were written
by four groups of writers. They are given names that say something about their style of
Yahwist (J); Elohist (E); Deuteronomist (D); Priestly (P)
In Genesis 1 – 11 we find only two of these groups of authors, Yahwist and Priestly. The
Yahwists wrote in the tenth century BC and the Priestly around the time of the Exile (587 –
“How on earth is it possible to say who wrote which parts,” you may ask? Actually it is quite
easy when you are shown how. We will use the two creation stories to do this.
Different names for God
The Hebrew word used for God in Genesis 1 is “Elohim”. Genesis 1: 1 reads, “In the
beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.”
Genesis 2: 4b begins with, “At the time when the Lord God made the earth and the
heavens..” In this verse the Hebrew word used is “Yahweh” and we translate it “Lord God”.
The first story was written during the 500’s BC (Priestly) and the second story much earlier,
about 1000 BC. (Yahwist)
Different points of view
The story written in Genesis 1 shows a priestly influence and quite naturally speaks about
“heaven and earth.” From his point of view heaven is more important and so he puts it
first. The second writer says, “earth and heaven.” He was probably a farmer. His first
concern is for the earth.
In the first story God is very busy, but always from a distance somewhere ‘up there’ – a truly priestly perception.
The farmer places God on earth. He describes the Lord God taking up clay and forming
man out of the clay. “Then the Lord God planted a garden.” (Gen 2: 8) Farmers are very
practical people. “The Lord God took the man and settled him in the garden.” (15) One can
easily imagine the Lord God showing ‘Man’ his new home – our home. Emmanuel, God is
with us. (Mt 1: 23)