The Days of Creation

For many people it may have been a while since they thought that much about the Genesis account of the Creation of the world. They may have learned what was created on each day of the week in Sunday school, or heard a pastor or teacher talk about it some. When they hear about things like “Genesis is in crisis”, or how so many people are giving up their faith in the Bible because of Genesis 1, they may be scratching their head, wondering what all the fuss is about!

In this article we will take a look at Genesis 1, in a way your Pastor or Christian teacher probably has never has shared with you. We are going to look at the plain text, and read it in the most simple terms, without trying to bring in any modern interpretations, or in any way try and “help out” the plain, literal words of the text. Our discussion here will be directed to the sincere and mature reader and may not be appropriate for grade school students.

Shepherd with Sheep and Goats 

For this exercise I would like for us to read the Genesis account of Creation from the perspective of a shepherd living in Palestine about 3200 years ago. Let’s call him Joel.  Joel has likely never traveled more than about 20 miles from his home.  He probably has not had any formal education, and most everything that he knows about the universe around him comes from the things that he learned from his parents, friends, and from what he has personally observed as he has looked up into the sky from the hillside next to his goatskin tent. This is not to say that Joel is not intelligent. In many ways, he is probably more intelligent than us!  It would be good not to think of Joel as a simpleton, just because he might understand the world around in him ways that are different than our own.  

With this image in mind, let’s go through the first chapter of Genesis, and do our best to see it  from Joel’s  point of view. To help you visualize what Joel may be seeing in his mind as he hears the words of Genesis, we have prepared some simple art to go with our article  that will illustrate the days of Creation. These illustrations will likely seem very odd to your way of thinking, but we believe that it is a good representation of not only the words of Genesis, but the cosmology of Joel’s day.  While some Christian apologists have provided some evidence that there were a few ancient people groups that had a more advanced understanding of the universe, most did not.  We should not forget that even as late as 1492, there were many who believed that Columbas and his crew would sail over the end of the flat earth!

One more thing before we begin …
I feel like I should give fair warning... Some who read this article, at least at a surface level, may become offended at some of the thoughts presented, as well as the illustrations that are used, perhaps even angry!  This is a very sensitive subject for many people. We do apologize for any undue stress that we might cause!  Some will likely accuse me of attempting to undermine the Bible or trying prove that Genesis was not inspired by God.  This is not true. I do believe that the Bible was fully inspired by God, including Genesis 1. I hope that this will become clearer as we make our conclusions at the end of this exercise.

With that preamble, let’s get started!

At the beginning of the creation week, God starts with a water world.  It has no real shape, it is empty, it is dark, it is chaos!

Day 1 - Light, Day and Night


Creation Day 01 
The first thing that God does is create light.  Light is good!  It helps us see what is happening!  

Many authors have suggested that this might be a reference to the “Big Bang”, talked about by scientists today.  While I very much like Big Bang cosmology, for the purposes of this article, remember we are trying to understand God’s description of Creation from Joel’s perspective. We can be sure that Joel had not heard of the Big Bang, and it would not make a lot of sense for God to inspire the prophet to mention it. Lets do our best to avoid making any relationship to how we view the universe today.  Put all modern theories, laws and relationships aside! Let’s just sit right beside Joel on his hillside looking out over his sheep.  What do you see happening in your mind as we hear about God creating light?  

We might ask, “where does the light come from if the sun hasn't been created yet, or how can you have “evenings and mornings” on the first three days with no sun”?  However, that would be us, bringing our worldview back into the text. We need to stop doing that! If we were to ask Joel where he thought the light was coming from, he might give us a strange look… as if to say, “weren’t you listening”? “God just created it! He said, let there be light and there was light!”  Light exists because God created it!  We get the light of day because of it.   

As Joel has gone about the duties of his life, he is probably up about an hour before sunrise and yet the light of day arrives, even before the sun begins its journey across the heaven.  Living in cities where we rarely even get up until the sun is high in the sky, we may never have noticed this or that the light of day is present, even after the sun goes down.  Without our current knowledge of the solar system, we, like Joel, might never have made the relationship between the sun and the light of day. It is very conceivable that you would have seen the sun as God’s later gift, of a great light made to rule the day, and give us signs and seasons.

Also on day one, God separates the light from the darkness that was everywhere before.  Now there is a very definite light time and a very definite dark time.  God calls the light time, "day", and the dark time, "night". God sets up the first great cycle, the night/day cycle.

Day Two - Firmament and separation of waters

Creation Day2

On the second day, God creates a space for everything that He plans to create.  Modern day commentators like to suggest that what God created here was our atmosphere, or in some way try and relate the creative activities of day 2 to something that makes sense to our worldview and cosmology. However, remember our shepherd guy, Joel and that he probably knew nothing about the various levels of atmosphere that our science textbooks talk about today.  We want to try and understand this Creation account, in the same way that he saw and understood it!
 
The most simple reading of the original words here, that describe the creation events of day two, is that God separates the waters of earth by setting up a solid “dome” structure.  Joel lived during what is referred to as the "Bonze Age".  Artisans and craftsmen knew how to shape and combine various metals to make beautiful items.  Some might hammer metal into the shape of a bowl and might even polish it to make it glisten in the sun. The polished bass bowl, if placed upside down might be a good local illustration of the beautiful strong "dome" that God creates on day two to hold the water above the dome or "firmament", and keeps it from pouring down and flooding the earth, making it a total water world again.  The open space that this creates in the middle of the separated waters, provides a place for everything that God wants to create. When there is a heavy rain, it is just understood, that God has opened up some of the windows of heaven and some of the water above the firmament has come through.
 
Many modern translations of the ancient Hebrew words of Genesis have tried to shy away from the concept of this solid dome structure to hold back the seperated waters, as it is so foreign to our modern cosmology, but I believe this to be a mistake. I believe that it is best to simply stay with what the text says, as the translators of the New Revised Standard version have done, when they render the passage this way,
 
"And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 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. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.”

Some have tried to suggest that in the original creation that there may have been an actual dome that kept water separated away from the earth, just as Genesis described, but that God took away the dome during Noah's flood.  This is an interesting proposal. However, while this idea handles the Genesis text more responsibly than those that try and deny that the dome is even mentioned here, I fear that the concept of a pre-deluvian dome with water above, is full of problems.  I have found that it is just better to let the text say what it says, and not try and help God out, or help Moses out, by suggesting wild theories to try and account for some of the unusual things that appear here in the Genesis record of Creation. I believe that they are better ways to understand what is happening here, as we shall see.   The important visual to see here is that on day two, God separates water from water by creating a very strong, firm structure, to keep the separated water from crashing back together.  The open space that is created by the dome is called "sky".

Day Three. Dry Land and Seas
 
Creation Day 3

On the third day we see more separation and naming going on.  The water under the dome is all gathered up into one place, and dry land appears.
 
On this day, God also creates all kinds of plant life.  Note that all of this dry land and plant life is created inside the dome.  The dome is still keeping the waters of the original world separated.  Lots of water is still above the dome ceiling!
 
Day Four – The Sun, Moon and Stars

Creation Day 4

Day four is probably the most incredible day of the Genesis 1 narrative.  For skeptics, seekers of truth, critics and believers alike, the Sun, Moon and Stars present major challenges in terms of not only when they are created, but also where they are placed!  

Even though our scientists are now discovering "rogue planets", that are just out there in space, not orbiting any sun, it is difficult to conceive that our "water world" existed before the sun and stars were even created.  Astrophysicists tell us that in our universe, you need to have at least two cycles of sun creation/destruction, before you can have the type of heavy elements that exist today, that are necessary to make planets like Earth.  That kind of star life-cycle activity apparently would have taken at least seven billion years!  To think of a world with heavy elements floating out there in the vastness of Space, even before the stars were created, goes against everything we currently understand about our universe!  This is a major challenge that atheists like to use against the veracity of the Bible.  They like to point out that the Bible teaches that our rocky planet existed before the sun, moon and stars are created on the fourth day!

Some Christian apologists have suggested that this may have simply been a matter of perspective.  It is proposed that the author of Genesis may have been given a vision of the creation event and that if the earth was covered with thick clouds the first three days but then cleared up on the fourth day, it may have seemed from his perspective as though the sun was created on the fourth day.  While this kind of argument may be clever, I fear that it is an example of how some writers “apologize” too much!

We need to remember that this visualization of the Creation event was written for Joel and his people, not us!  That is not to say that we cannot gain any value from it today.  It is only to say that when we try to understand the writings of the Bible today, we need to apply responsible rules of interpretation.  One of the most important principles of hermeneutics is that we need to always remember that the writings of the Bible had a “primary” audience, the people that it was originally written for.  To understand the message of the Bible correctly we need to always remember this, and keep everything in perspective based on this fact.  If we don’t apply this and other important principles of interpretation, we will find ourselves lost in a sea of confusion and misunderstanding.

If there are things in Genesis 1 that do not make sense to us today because of our understanding of the Universe, that’s OK!  It’s not a deal breaker.  It doesn’t mean that God no longer exists or that we need to give up on the idea of a Creator.  It doesn’t even mean that The Creator god did not inspire Genesis.  It simply means that it was inspired to teach the idea of Creation to Joel and his friends, in a way that would make sense for them.  It is left to us, a much later audience with a completely different worldview, to remember this and take this into account when we read how God explained things to them.   Any parent should understand what is going on here.  Responsible Bible students should also be able to catch on what is going on here as well.  We should be mature enough to accept the fact that it is not always about us.  The Creator revealed Himself to a people group in a way that they would best understand.  If we want to gain insights for our time, we need to be prepared to account for this.   It is up to us to pull the big ideas and principles safely through the veil of language, culture, and worldview.

The SunThe late arrival of the Sun is not even the biggest challenge with the Genesis description of the fourth day.  The big question and concern that should be on every students mind, is where God places the Sun, moon and stars!
 
Much to everyone's surprise, they are placed inside the dome!
 
At least everyone today is shocked and perhaps a little dismayed by this imagery… But think of this from Joel's perspective. Back in the day of our young shepherd friend, according to his logic and worldview, placing the lights inside the dome would be about the only real place they could go! If the lights were outside, we would no longer be able to see them through the thick walls of the polished brass dome! Plus, with all of the water up there, it would probably be difficult for the sun and moon to move across the sky!
 
While the description of the fourth day in Genesis 1 raises some big questions for us, this would be perfectly normal thinking for the original audience of Genesis. In fact if God would have inspired the prophet to describe the creation event more in terms of what we know of the cosmos, not only would the people not have been able to relate to the description, the prophet probably would have been rejected as some kind of raving lunatic for his “wild ideas”.  Had the author of Genesis placed the sun 93 million miles away from earth, and the stars even further out, he would most certainly been rejected as a prophet and we would not have his record today.     
 
From what we know of the universe today, it may be difficult for us to understand how anyone could have ever thought that the stars were inside a dome that covers our earth. Yet it was a widespread belief by many diverse ancient people-groups that extended even down to the day of the learned Greeks!  We might remember the story of Icarus, who attempted to escape Crete on wings made of feathers and wax.  Ignoring his father's advice, Icarus flew too close to the sun.  His wings melted and he fell to the earth!  While it may be true that some cultures had a more advanced understanding of the cosmos, most early civilizations believed the sun moon and stars to be very close!  Perhaps a big part of the reason why it is hard for us to understand how they could have thought this is because few of us have spent many nights sleeping under Palestine skies!
 
During the 1990’s I had the wonderful opportunity to spend three summers working on an archaeological dig in Jordan.  I spent most of those nights sleeping under the same starry sky as our shepherd Joel did, so long ago.  I developed a real sense of connection to the minds of the ancients, spending time in their land, sleeping under their skies. In that part of the world, distances are much closer than we are used to in North America. Even though we were working in Jordan, on a clear day, from our tell, in modern-day Hesban, we could see the rooftops of Jerusalem, glistening in the sun!  
 
One of the most memorable moments of my life came one night when our group was taking a weekend break from the dig. My daughter Michelle and I, went on an excursion.  We rode some camels and spent a night sleeping under the stars in a desert region in southern Jordan called Wadi Rum.  After we put out our little campfire, we settled down in the sand, on that moonless night, to do some star gazing. I remember being a little disappointed as I looked up because it seemed as though there were a lot of clouds in the sky. “I guess it won’t be a good night for star gazing after all,” I thought.  It was a good moment or so before I came to the shocking realization that the "cloud" I was seeing was actually the Milky Way, vividly displayed on my “sky screen”!  For the first time I was able to really understand how Joel may have believed that the stars were indeed, inside the dome!
 
I know that at this point some readers are probably very uncomfortable with the way we are dealing with Genesis 1, but I submit that this is a very plain, simple, even “literal” reading of the text. It is what the original inspired author wrote, it is what the original reader or listener would have easily understood and been able to identify with.  Again, from the New Revised Standard Version”
 
"God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.  God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth,  to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day."
 
It is interesting to do a survey of people's reaction to the events of the fourth day, especially the idea that the Sun, Moon and Stars are placed inside a dome that covers the earth.  For some, this is reason enough to give up on the Bible all-together!  They are so shocked by the description of the dome that they conclude that the writings of Genesis are no different than the "creation myths" of any other ancient culture.  They say, "It cannot be inspired by an Omniscient God.  Since the Bible cannot be trusted to be truthful from the very first page, how can it be trusted on any other point?"  

Others take the position that since the Sun, Moon and Stars are obviously not inside a dome that covers our Earth, Moses could not have possibly meant to say that.  "We must be misunderstanding his words".  Others like to develop incredible theories, in an attempt to get the Genesis account to line up with our cosmology.  For example, some might suggest that even though the light from the stars and galaxies, that we see and photograph with our telescopes, are millions of light years away from Earth, God still created them on the fourth day of creation just a few thousand years ago, as stated in Genesis one.  The reason that we are able to see them is that God not only created the stars on that day, He also created millions of years of light streaming from those stars to reach Earth so that we could see them.

Some "Young Earth" creationists even suggest that the stars are not millions of years away at all, that this is just some kind of illusion that science has gotten wrong! Few commentators seem to be content to simply allow the text to say what it says, in the simplest terms, and still call Genesis 1 Divinely inspired!  I believe that the translators of the New Revised Standard should be congratulated for the courage to do this!
 
Day Five - Birds of the Air, and Sea creatures
 
Creation Day 5

As amazing as all of this creation of life is, the thing that I want us to note for this exercise, is to see where God set the birds free to fly. He puts them inside the dome!  

This is the same dome that he placed the Sun, moon and stars the day before!

"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.”  
 
Strange to us perhaps, but perfectly real and normal thinking to the mind of our shepherd friend.
 
Day Six - Land Animals and Mankind
 
Creation Day 6
Day six gives us most of the animal life on Earth, as well as the crowning event, the creation of mankind, in the very image of God.

The Best Kind of Inspiration
Before we end this exercise, I would like for us to reflect for a moment on the implications of this very simple and primary reading of Genesis.
 
First of all, I would like to be quick to point out that while I believe that this is probably the best way to read and understand the  Genesis account of Creation, in its purest and most authentic, even, literal form, I do not accept the premise of many that this is therefore proof that Genesis was not inspired by God.  On the contrary, I see this kind of narrative to be inspiration at its greatest!  

The fact that our Creator chooses to reveal Himself and his principles within the context of the worldview of the people he is communicating to, I believe should be something that is celebrated and praised! Instead of people losing faith in The God of Scripture, because the Genesis account speaks to Moses' worldview, rather than our worldview, they should be standing back in amazement and awe, that God was willing to speak so directly to the mindset of our shepherd community.
 
Secondly, I would like to make clear that I do not believe that Genesis 1 should be categorized, as so many do, as just ancient Hebrew mythology and folklore.   While in some sense, a very literal definition of mythology may have application to the traditional literature and stories of any culture, I believe that because we believe that God inspired Genesis 1, this makes it much more than typical mythology!
 
Thirdly, I would like to assure the reader that, just because the Creation account of Genesis was prepared and directed to a different people with a completely different worldview, does not mean that I conclude that the passage therefore has no value for us today. I believe that it very much does, in many ways!
 
I know that there will be many who struggle with the idea of how the Genesis account of the creation of the world could be inspired by an all-knowing God with whom it is "impossible to lie".  If there was no polished brass dome, how could God say there was? How could God possibly tell the people that the sun, moon and stars are in the same space, inside the dome, where the birds fly?

Sadly, after a careful study of Genesis, many have done one of two things. They have either dismissed Genesis as having not been inspired of God, or they have dismissed the God of Genesis, as being nothing more than a fictional character of Hebrew myth. Some have been so angry for having been “deceived” so long that they have given up their faith in a Creator God altogether, and embraced the theories of the development of life through naturalistic processes alone. This is so unfortunate, so unnecessary! God is not the problem here! Genesis is not the problem here! The biggest problem is with us and our expectations of Genesis.  Because Genesis does not fit with people's per-conceived ideas of how inspiration works, they give up on the Bible and the God of the Bible.

Instead of dismissing this most valuable text as being non-relevant, we need to celebrate the Genesis account for what it is!  This is God communicating to the ancients, in the best way that He sees fit!  Even though the dome is foreign to our thinking, it was a big part of Joel's world and so God uses what Joel knew, to explain how He brought order out of chaos and created everything!  We might not like it that God did it that way, but really, who are we to tell God how He should communicate?  Who are we to thumb our nose at God because He doesn't communicate the way we believe that He should have!
 
I would like to suggest that where we often get ourselves into the biggest problems and face the biggest disappointments, is when we come to scripture with preconceived notions about how God should do things and how Inspiration MUST work.  If we would simply come to the Word of God as a child, with a teachable spirit, and carefully observe what is happening in the words of the Bible, we may learn some wonderful new things about God!  We may discover that He is this wonderful storyteller who has the amazing ability to share universal truths and principles within the current understanding of the people he speaks to.
 
If God were communicating the creation event, for the very first time today, He would most likely Inspire His author to write or speak in terms that we would understand, based on our worldview and scientific knowledge.  This would be the most effective way to communicate to us in a way that would be believed and accepted as truth.  But even if He did that, do we really believe that this 21’st century narrative of Creation, using all of the symbols of our cosmology, would in any way be a good representation of the absolute realities of the events and activities of the days of creation?  If we would answer yes, I would suggest that we probably flatter ourselves WAY too much!  Do we really think that we have arrived?  If God were to describe to us the absolute realities of the events of the Creation week, we likely would not have a single clue what He or his messenger, was talking about!  Communication between us would have failed.  We would likely conclude that the communication was pure nonsense and reject the message as not having been from God or inspired at all. In order for communication to take place, in order for understanding to happen, the communicating parties have to have some common points of reference!
 
How would the people of Joel's day related to a Creation description, if God would have told it to them using the science of our day?  Would they have even listened or accepted it as truth from God?  How would the concepts of an expanding Universe filled with billions of Galaxies, each having billions of suns, millions of light years away? What might Joel think of the idea that the earth is really not the flat land that he knows, but really more like a big round orange, just hanging out there in some kind of space and that he and his sheep were tiny specs on the orange? Do you think you might get him to believe that? How far do you think that you might get in trying to convince Joel and his clan that the sun and moon don’t really pass across the sky? Try explaining to them that all of this is just an illusion that we have because our earth, a big ball, hanging in midair, is spinning round and round?  "What keeps the ball spinning?  How do we stay on the spinning ball?  If there is no big reservoir of water being held back by a dome with a strong wall, where does the rain come from?"  
 
Can we begin to see why God chose to communicate to Joel and his friends the way that He did?  
 
Instead of losing our belief in the God of the Bible because He "gets it wrong from the very first page", let us instead be thankful that He is such a personal God that He takes the time to translate His ideas, His big principles, into the language and thought processes of the people that He meets.  He leaves it to us to "catch on" to the accommodation He is making to Joel's culture. Should this really be that hard?  Why do we have such a difficult time understanding what is happening here?
 
With all of our technology, understanding, education, this should be easy.  With all of our disciplines of study, such as anthropology, that seek to develop sensitive means of cross-cultural communication, I believe that God expects us to “get it”, “deal with it”, and move beyond all of the problems we seem to like to keep bringing back to Genesis!

Surely we know enough about accommodation, even as parents when communicating to our children when they are very young, to be able to understand what is going on here.  We need to be mature enough in our thinking, to not get so shocked at the ancient images of Genesis.  Rather than give up our faith in a Creator God, rather than attempt to rewrite the Genesis account to make it fit our cosmology, we simply need to accept what is going on here and take the principles of the Genesis-account that do transcend culture, translation and worldview, and apply these to our life and understanding.
 
What are the big principles from Genesis one that we can appreciate today.
 
Here is a list of some of the more important ideas.
 
There was a Beginning!
This may seem trivial and obvious, but it is one of those beautiful examples where the Bible does get it right, on the very first page, even the very first line, long before science figured it out! It is only recently that the general consensus in the scientific community has shifted to the idea that there was a beginning. For many years, science thought of the universe as being infinitely old, with no beginning.
 
God Created all Things.
For Joel, this would have been a revolutionary concept! Most of the Creation stories of the nations around him involved the actions of many gods and their often, unintentional activities. The Hebrew Creation account speaks of the very intentional activity of just one supreme God.
 
God brings order out of chaos
God gives things structure, reliability, and laws. He separates, divides, and establishes.  We need not wonder how the laws of physics were established, we only need to go to Genesis 1!
 
Creation activity sets Earth’s big time cycles rolling
God creates the day, the week, the month, the years, the seasons, time itself!  One of the recent conclusions of Science is that on the day of the “Big Bang” time was created.  If only Science would have put more faith in the Bible, they could have caught on to this a long time ago!
 
God lays His personal design artistry on all biological life
He creates all life on earth!  Every kind of plant life, every creature of the land, seas, and firmament.  Even the creepy crawly things are of His amazing design.  Just take a close look at the incredible colors on a lobster, or the iridescent wings of a fruit fly under a microscope, and you will see the hand of an Artist!  Science proposes common decent, the Genesis account teaches common design!
 
God Sets Mankind apart
God creates man special in His own image.  People have self-awareness, conscious thought, and incredible minds to be able to even think about the big questions of life.   
He gives mankind the responsibility to manage the Earth.  
 
God creates the Sabbath
To have a healthy and balanced approach to life, God creates not only the weekly cycle, but also the Sabbath!  One day in seven is set aside to rest, worship the Creator, praise God and remember the work of Creation.
 
 
These are just some of the big ideas that we can reap from the Genesis account of creation. To dismiss Genesis as mere mythology, or not inspired by God is a big mistake!  There are more important, God-given principles of understanding in this one chapter than probably any other chapter of the Bible!
 
In future articles we will take a look at such questions as when did Creation happen, and are the days of creation to be considered as literal days …  
 
For further reading:
 
The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate – John H. Walton
The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science and the Ecology of Wonder – William P. Brown

On the second day, God creates a space for everything that He plans to create.  Modern day commentators like to suggest that what God created here was our atmosphere, or in some way try and relate the creative activities of day 2 to something that makes sense to our worldview and cosmology. However, remember our shepherd guy, Joel and that he probably knew nothing about the various levels of atmosphere that our science textbooks talk about today.  We want to try and understand this Creation account, in the same way that he saw and understood it!

The most simple reading of the original words here, that describe the creation events of day two, is that God separates the waters of earth by setting up a solid “dome” structure.  Joel lived during what is referred to as the "Bonze Age".  Artisans and craftsmen knew how to shape and combine various metals to make beautiful items.  Some might hammer metal into the shape of a bowl and might even polish it to make it glisten in the sun. The polished bass bowl, if placed upside down might be a good local illustration of the beautiful strong "dome" that God creates on day two to hold the water above the dome or "firmament", and keeps it from pouring down and flooding the earth, making it a total water world again.  The open space that this creates in the middle of the separated waters, provides a place for everything that God wants to create. When there is a heavy rain, it is just understood, that God has opened up some of the windows of heaven and some of the water above the firmament has come through.

Many modern translations of the ancient Hebrew words of Genesis have tried to shy away from the concept of this solid dome structure to hold back the seperated waters, as it is so foreign to our modern cosmology, but I believe this to be a mistake. I believe that it is best to simply stay with what the text says, as the translators of the New Revised Standard version have done, when they render the passage this way,

"And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 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. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.”

Some have tried to suggest that in the original creation that there may have been an actual dome that kept water separated away from the earth, just as Genesis described, but that God took away the dome during Noah's flood.  This is an interesting proposal. However, while this idea handles the Genesis text more responsibly than those that try and deny that the dome is even mentioned here, I fear that the concept of a pre-deluvian dome with water above, is full of problems.  I have found that it is just better to let the text say what it says, and not try and help God out, or help Moses out, by suggesting wild theories to try and account for some of the unusual things that appear here in the Genesis record of Creation. I believe that they are better ways to understand what is happening here, as we shall see.   The important visual to see here is that on day two, God separates water from water by creating a very strong, firm structure, to keep the separated water from crashing back together.  The open space that is created by the dome is called "sky".


Day Three. Dry Land and Seas

On the third day we see more separation and naming going on.  The water under the dome is all gathered up into one place, and dry land appears.  

On this day, God also creates all kinds of plant life.  Note that all of this dry land and plant life is createdinsidethe dome.  The dome is still keeping the waters of the original world separated.  Lots of water is still above the dome ceiling!

Day Four – The Sun, Moon and Stars

The SunDay four is probably the most incredible day of the Genesis 1 narrative.  For skeptics, seekers of truth, critics and believers alike, the Sun, Moon and Stars present major challenges in terms of not onlywhenthey are created, but alsowherethey are placed! 

Even though our scientists are now discovering "rogue planets", that are just out there in space, not orbiting any sun, it is difficult to conceive that our "water world" existed before the sun and stars were even created.  Astrophysicists tell us that in our universe, you need to have at least two cycles of sun creation/destruction, before you can have the type of heavy elements that exist today, that are necessary to make planets like Earth.  That kind of star life-cycle activity apparently would have taken at least seven billion years!  To think of a world with heavy elements floating out there in the vastness of Space, even before the stars were created, goes against everything we currently understand about our universe!  This is a major challenge that atheists like to use against the veracity of the Bible.  They like to point out that the Bible teaches that our rocky planet existed before the sun, moon and stars are created on the fourth day!

Some Christian apologists have suggested that this may have simply been a matter of perspective.  It is proposed that the author of Genesis may have been given a vision of the creation event and that if the earth was covered with thick clouds the first three days but then cleared up on the fourth day, it may have seemed from his perspective as though the sun was created on the fourth day.  While this kind of argument may be clever, I fear that it is an example of how some writers “apologize” too much!

We need to remember that this visualization of the Creation event was written for Joel and his people, not us!  That is not to say that we cannot gain any value from it today.  It is only to say that when we try to understand the writings of the Bible today, we need to apply responsible rules of interpretation.  One of the most important principles of hermeneutics is that we need to always remember that the writings of the Bible had a “primary” audience, the people that it was originally written for.  To understand the message of the Bible correctly we need to always remember this, and keep everything in perspective based on this fact.  If we don’t apply this and other important principles of interpretation, we will find ourselves lost in a sea of confusion and misunderstanding.

If there are things in Genesis 1 that do not make sense to us today because of our understanding of the Universe, that’s OK!  It’s not a deal breaker.  It doesn’t mean that God no longer exists or that we need to give up on the idea of a Creator.  It doesn’t even mean that The Creator god did not inspire Genesis.  It simply means that it was inspired to teach the idea of Creation to Joel and his friends, in a way that would make sense for them.  It is left to us, a much later audience with a completely different worldview, to remember this and take this into account when we read how God explained things to them.   Any parent should understand what is going on here.  Responsible Bible students should also be able to catch on what is going on here as well.  We should be mature enough to accept the fact that it is not always about us.  The Creator revealed Himself to a people group in a way that they would best understand.  If we want to gain insights for our time, we need to be prepared to account for this.   It is up to us to pull the big ideas and principles safely through the veil of language, culture, and worldview.


The late arrival of the Sun is not even the biggest challenge with the Genesis description of the fourth day.  The big question and concern that should be on every students mind, iswhereGod places the Sun, moon and stars!

Much to everyone's surprise, they are placed inside the dome!

At least everyonetodayis shocked and perhaps a little dismayed by this imagery… But think of this from Joel's perspective. Back in the day of our young shepherd friend, according to his logic and worldview, placing the lights inside the dome would be about the only real place they could go! If the lights were outside, we would no longer be able to see them through the thick walls of the polished brass dome! Plus, with all of the water up there, it would probably be difficult for the sun and moon to move across the sky!

While the description of the fourth day in Genesis 1 raises some big questions forus, this would be perfectly normal thinking for the original audience of Genesis. In fact if God would have inspired the prophet to describe the creation event more in terms of what we know of the cosmos, not only would the people not have been able to relate to the description, the prophet probably would have been rejected as some kind of raving lunatic for his “wild ideas”. Had the author of Genesis placed the sun 93 million miles away from earth, and the stars even further out, he would most certainly been rejected as a prophet and we would not have his record today.  
 

From what we know of the universe today, it may be difficult for us to understand howanyonecould have ever thought that the stars were inside a dome that covers our earth. Yet it was a widespread belief by many diverse ancient people-groups that extended even down to the day of the learned Greeks!  We might remember the story of Icarus, who attempted to escape Crete on wings made of feathers and wax.  Ignoring his father's advice, Icarus flew too close to the sun.  His wings melted and he fell to the earth!  While it may be true that some cultures had a more advanced understanding of the cosmos, most early civilizations believed the sun moon and stars to be very close!  Perhaps a big part of the reason why it is hard for us to understand how they could have thought this is because few of us have spent many nights sleeping under Palestine skies!

During the 1990’s I had the wonderful opportunity to spend three summers working on an archaeological dig in Jordan.  I spent most of those nights sleeping under the same starry sky as our shepherd Joel did, so long ago.  I developed a real sense of connection to the minds of the ancients, spending time in their land, sleeping under their skies. In that part of the world, distances are much closer than we are used to in North America. Even though we were working in Jordan, on a clear day, from our tell, in modern-day Hesban, we could see the rooftops of Jerusalem, glistening in the sun!  

One of the most memorable moments of my life came one night when our group was taking a weekend break from the dig. My daughter Michelle and I, went on an excursion.  We rode some camels and spent a night sleeping under the stars in a desert region in southern Jordan called Wadi Rum.  After we put out our little campfire, we settled down in the sand, on that moonless night, to do some star gazing. I remember being a little disappointed as I looked up because it seemed as though there were a lot of clouds in the sky. “I guess it won’t be a good night for star gazing after all,” I thought.  It was a good moment or so before I came to the shocking realization that the "cloud" I was seeing was actually the Milky Way, vividly displayed on my “sky screen”!  For the first time I was able to really understand how Joel may have believed that the stars were indeed, inside the dome!

I know that at this point some readers are probably very uncomfortable with the way we are dealing with Genesis 1, but I submit that this is a very plain, simple, even “literal” reading of the text. It is what the original inspired author wrote, it is what the original reader or listener would have easily understood and been able to identify with.  Again, from the New Revised Standard Version”

"God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day."

It is interesting to do a survey of people's reaction to the events of the fourth day, especially the idea that the Sun, Moon and Stars are placed inside a dome that covers the earth.  For some, this is reason enough to give up on the Bible all-together!  They are so shocked by the description of the dome that they conclude that the writings of Genesis are no different than the "creation myths" of any other ancient culture.  They say, "It cannot be inspired by an Omniscient God.  Since the Bible cannot be trusted to be truthful from the very first page, how can it be trusted on any other point?" 

Others take the position that since the Sun, Moon and Stars are obviously not inside a dome that covers our Earth, Moses could not have possibly meant to say that.  "We must be misunderstanding his words".  Others like to develop incredible theories, in an attempt to get the Genesis account to line up with our cosmology.  For example, some might suggest that even though the light from the stars and galaxies, that we see and photograph with our telescopes, are millions of light years away from Earth, God still created them on the fourth day of creation just a few thousand years ago, as stated in Genesis one.  The reason that we are able to see them is that God not only created the stars on that day, He also created millions of years of light streaming from those stars to reach Earth so that we could see them.

Some "Young Earth" creationists even suggest that the stars are not millions of years away at all, that this is just some kind of illusion that science has gotten wrong! Few commentators seem to be content to simply allow the text to say what it says, in the simplest terms, and still call Genesis 1 Divinely inspired!  I believe that the translators of the New Revised Standard should be congratulated for the courage to do this!

Day Five - Birds of the Air, and Sea creatures

As amazing as all of this creation of life is, the thing that I want us to note for this exercise, is to see where God set the birds free to fly.

He puts them inside the dome! 

This is the same dome that he placed the Sun, moon and stars the day before!

"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.”

Strange to us perhaps, but perfectly real and normal thinking to the mind of our shepherd friend.

Day Six - Land Animals and Mankind

Day six gives us most of the animal life on Earth, as well as the crowning event, the creation of mankind, in the very image of God. We will talk more about in future articles.

The Best Kind of Inspiration 

Before we end this exercise, I would like for us to reflect for a moment on the implications of this very simple and primary reading of Genesis.

First of all, I would like to be quick to point out that while I believe that this is probably the best way to read and understand the  Genesis account of Creation, in its purest and most authentic, literal form, I do not accept the premise of many that this is proof that Genesis was not inspired by God.  On the contrary, I see this kind of narrative to beinspiration at its greatest! 

The fact that our Creator chooses to reveal Himself and his principles within the context of the worldview of the people he is communicating to, I believe should be something that is celebrated and praised! Instead of people losing faith in The God of Scripture, because the Genesis account speaks to Moses' worldview, rather than our worldview, they should be standing back in amazement and awe, that God was willing to speak so directly to the mindset of our shepherd community.

Secondly, I would like to make clear that I donotbelieve that Genesis 1 should be categorized, as so many do, as just ancient Hebrew mythology and folklore.   While in some sense, a very literal definition of mythology may have application to the traditional literature and stories of any culture, I believe that because we believe that God inspired Genesis 1, this makes itmuch morethan typical mythology!

Thirdly, I would like to assure the reader that, just because the Creation account of Genesis was prepared and directed to a different people with a completely different worldview, does not mean that I conclude that the passage therefore has no value for us today. I believe that it very much does, in many ways!

I know that there will be many who struggle with the idea of how the Genesis account of the creation of the world could be inspired by an all-knowing God with whom it is "impossible to lie".  If there was no polished brass dome, how could God say there was? How could God possibly tell the people that the sun, moon and stars are in the same space, inside the dome, where the birds fly?

Sadly, after a careful study of Genesis, many have done one of two things. They have either dismissed Genesis as having not been inspired of God, or they have dismissed the God of Genesis, as being nothing more than a fictional character of Hebrew myth. Some have been so angry for having been “deceived” so long that they have given up their faith in a Creator God altogether, and embraced the theories of the development of life through naturalistic processes alone. This is so unfortunate, so unnecessary! God is not the problem here! Genesis is not the problem here! The biggest problem is with us and our expectations of Genesis.  Because Genesis does not fit with people's per-conceived ideas of how inspiration works, they give up on the Bible and the God of the Bible.

Instead of dismissing this most valuable text as being non-relevant, we need to celebrate the Genesis account for what it is!  This is God communicating to the ancients, in the best way that He sees fit!  Even though the dome is foreign to our thinking, it was a big part of Joel's world and so God uses what Joel knew, to explain how He brought order out of chaos and created everything!  We might not like it that God did it that way, but really, who are we to tell God how He should communicate?  Who are we to thumb our nose at God because He doesn't communicate the way we believe that He should have!

I would like to suggest that where we often get ourselves into the biggest problems and face the biggest disappointments, is when we come to scripture with preconceived notions about how God should do things and how InspirationMUSTwork.  If we would simply come to the Word of God as a child, with a teachable spirit, and carefully observe what is happening in the words of the Bible, we may learn some wonderful new things about God!  We may discover that He is this wonderful storyteller who has the amazing ability to share universal truths and principles within the current understanding of the people he speaks to.

If God were communicating the creation event, for the very first time today, He would most likely Inspire His author to write or speak in terms that we would understand, based on our worldview and scientific knowledge.  This would be the most effective way to communicate to us in a way that would be believed and accepted as truth.  But even if He did that, do we really believe that this 21’st century narrative of Creation, using all of the symbols of our cosmology, would in any way be a good representation of theabsolute realitiesof the events and activities of the days of creation?  If we would answer yes, I would suggest that we probably flatter ourselves WAYtoo much!  Do we really think that we have arrived?  If God were to describe to us the absolute realities of the events of the Creation week, we likely would not have a single clue what He or his messenger, was talking about!  Communication between us would have failed.  We would likely conclude that the communication was pure nonsense and reject the message as not having been from God or inspired at all. In order for communication to take place, in order for understanding to happen, the communicating parties have to have some common points of reference!

How would the people of Joel's day related to a Creation description, if God would have told it to them using the science of our day?  Would they have even listened or accepted it as truth from God?  How would the concepts of an expanding Universe filled with billions of Galaxies, each having billions of suns, millions of light years away? What might Joel think of the idea that the earth is really not the flat land that he knows, but really more like a big round orange, just hanging out there in some kind of space and that he and his sheep were tiny specs on the orange. Do you think you might get him to believe that? How far do you think that you might get in trying to convince Joel and his clan that the sun and moon don’t really pass across the sky? Try explaining to them that all of this is just an illusion that we have because our earth, a big ball, hanging in midair, is spinning round and round?  "What keeps the ball spinning?  How do we stay on the spinning ball?  If there is no big reservoir of water being held back by a dome with a strong wall, where does the rain come from?" 

Can we begin to see why God chose to communicate to Joel and his friends the way that He did?  

Instead of losing our belief in the God of the Bible because He "gets it wrong from the very first page", let us instead be thankful that He is such a personal God that He takes the time to translate His ideas, His big principles, into the language and thought processes of the people that He meets.  He leaves it to us to "catch on" to the accommodation He is making to Joel's culture. Should this really be that hard?  Why do we have such a difficult time understanding what is happening here?

With all of our technology, understanding, education, this should be easy.  With all of our disciplines of study, such as anthropology, that seek to develop sensitive means of cross-cultural communication, I believe that God expects us to “get it”, “deal with it”, and move beyond all of the problems we seem to like to keep bringing back to Genesis!

Surely we know enough about accommodation, even as parents when communicating to our children when they are very young, to be able to understand what is going on here.  We need to be mature enough in our thinking, to not get so shocked at the ancient images of Genesis.  Rather than give up our faith in a Creator God, rather than attempt to rewrite the Genesis account to make it fit our cosmology, we simply need to accept what is going on here and take the principles of the Genesis-account that do transcend culture, translation and worldview, and apply these to our life and understanding.

What are the big principles from Genesis one that we can appreciate today. 

Here is a list of some of the more important ideas.

There was a Beginning!
This may seem trivial and obvious, but it is one of those beautiful examples where the Bible got it right, long before science figured it out! It is only recently that the general consensus in the scientific community has shifted to the idea that there was a beginning. For many years, science thought of the universe as being infinitely old, with no beginning.

God Created all Things.

For Joel, this would have been a revolutionary concept! Most of the Creation stories of the nations around him involved the actions of many gods and their often, unintentional activities. The Hebrew Creation account speaks of the very intentional activity of just one supreme God.

God brings order out of chaos

God gives things structure, reliability, and laws. He separates, divides, and establishes.  We need not wonder how the laws of physics were established, we only need to go to Genesis 1!

Creation activity sets Earth’s big time cycles rolling

God creates the day, the week, the month, the years, the seasons, time itself!  One of the recent conclusions of Science is that on the day of the “Big Bang” time was created.  If only Science would have put more faith in the Bible, they could have caught on to this a long time ago!

God lays His personal design artistry on all biological life

He creates all life on earth!  Every kind of plant life, every creature of the land, seas, and firmament.  Even the creepy crawly things are of His amazing design.  Just take a close look at the incredible colors on a lobster, or the iridescent wings of a fruit fly under a microscope, and you will see the hand of an Artist!  Science proposes common decent, the Genesis account teaches common design!

God Sets Mankind apart

God creates man special in His own image.  People have self-awareness, conscious thought, and incredible minds to be able to even think about the big questions of life.  

He gives mankind the responsibility to manage the Earth. 

God creates the Sabbath

To have a healthy and balanced approach to life, God creates not only the weekly cycle, but also the Sabbath!  One day in seven is set aside to rest, worship the Creator, praise God and remember the work of Creation.

These are just some of the big ideas that we can reap from the Genesis account of creation. To dismiss Genesis as mere mythology, or not inspired by God is a big mistake!  There are more important, God-given principles of understanding in this one chapter than probably any other chapter of the Bible!

In future articles we will take a look at such questions as when did Creation happen, and are the days of creation to be considered as literal days …  

For further reading:

The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate – John H. Walton

The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science and the Ecology of Wonder – William P. Brown