1. Interpreting revelation about creation
  2. The flood accounts
  3. Creation stewardship
  4. Orderly participation or silenced women?

Interpreting revelation about creation

Both Scripture and creation speak the truth

The New Testament proclaims that the Author of life is also the Way, Truth and Life: Christ Jesus.1 All that exists declares his glory and divine attributes.2 The Word is revealed in the Scriptures which speak of him and the universe formed by him.3 These two witnesses cannot ultimately contradict. Their truth points to the one who is Truth himself.

Scripture: God condescends to speak

God’s spoken and written word takes many forms. Jesus spoke in parables, he exaggerated,4 he inspired visions.5 About a third of the Old Testament is poetry. Often events are recounted in evocative formats,6 including songs, riddles and fables.7 God’s thoughts and actions are frequently anthropomorphized.8

The Bible’s most obviously historical books reveal sources, whether direct eyewitnesses, investigation, or other books.9 When God reveals something no human has yet seen, whether to Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, John or others, the style is frequently apocalyptic, poetic and full of symbolism. When Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God or eschatological events, he frequently used parable, simile and metaphor.

God speaks in ways that accommodate human ignorance. Nebuchadnezzar received a vision of a tree that only makes sense from a flat earth perspective.10 Ancient Hebrews did not understand the brain or even have a word for it, so God spoke of thoughts arising from the heart and kidneys, in keeping with the science of their time.11 The sun is described as moving – like an athlete – around a fixed earth; this is treated as literally as the movement of the wind and water as they cycle.12 The narrator of Genesis implies that Jacob’s trickery with his flocks was effective, though genetics tells us differently.13

Why did God not reveal the nature of the brain, earth’s orbit, genetics, or the enormity of stars and space? Because that is not the purpose of Scripture. God gave us dominion over the earth, which implies a mandate to understand it.14 The Lord allowed Adam to examine each beast to determine an appropriate name.15 He is also patient as we unravel mysteries in creation, not spoiling our exploration by blurting every surprise before we uncover it.

Genesis 1

If the creation of the world described in Genesis were plain historical prose, it would be virtually unprecedented within Scripture. Genesis 1 does not claim to be God’s perspective; it is recorded in the third person. There is no introductory statement telling us whether it is parable, vision, or literal account. In Job we have a creation account written as God’s speech, yet it is even more poetic.16 Psalm 104, a creation hymn, echoes Genesis yet describes the creation of food and creatures as an ongoing event not confined to three days. The New Testament interprets God’s seventh day Sabbath rest as ongoing and not a literal cessation from work.17

Creation: a witness without artifice

Interpretations of nature may be wrong, and nature can be used symbolically, but in and of itself the revelation of nature is entirely factual and literal. Our universe speaks of a beginning 13.7 billion years ago. Meteorites, moon rocks and earth rocks agree that our solar system formed roughly 4.5 billion years ago. Tree rings, ice cores and lake varves document a long, varied history within our biosphere. Fossils show change in living organisms over time. DNA shows relatedness.

Genesis 2–4

Just as astronomy can deepen our understanding of Joshua’s long day, science can also shed further light on what the Bible reveals about creation. Genesis 2–4 is a story about human history the way Ezekiel 16 is a story about Israel’s history. The characters in the story represent more than individuals, which is why Genesis and Paul sometimes refer to Adam as encompassing more than one person, including Eve.18 Genesis shows a progression from gathering food to raising livestock and crops to building cities, leading to musicians and ironworks.19 However, it shows these advances, which continue to today, coinciding with rejection of God, just as Paul declares more prosaically in Romans.20

In Genesis 2–3, we already know that symbolism is being used from the text itself. The serpent and the tree of life both appear to be more than a literal serpent and magical tree.21 The curse of the serpent seems to have far more than just snakes in mind.22 If the other characters, tree and curses are interpreted in similar fashion, they accord with what creation reveals. For instance, paleontology shows that the major differences between earlier primates and humans include brain size and hip structure. As humans walked upright, their hips became more rigid and narrow; as they gained intelligence, their skulls increased in size. In addition to other messages, Genesis reveals a natural consequence of our grasping for knowledge: increased pain in childbirth.23

A new creation

Our rejection of God is not the end of the story. While creation is presently subjected by God to an unjust ruler – humanity – it will be restored through the work of Jesus as he builds his church.24 While only God can resurrect our bodies and conquer death, he graciously allows us to partner with his kingdom work. God calls us to join him in desiring and bringing his kingdom to earth, as it is in heaven, so that ultimately God will be all in all.25

Scripture references

  1. Acts 3:15; John 1:1–5,9–10,14; 14:6
  2. Psalm 19:1–6; Romans 1:20; 10:17–18
  3. John 5:39,45–47; 10:37–38; Hebrews 11:3
  4. Matthew 23:24; Mark 10:25, Luke 6:41
  5. Acts 9:10–12; 18:9–10; 2 Corinthians 12:1–4; Revelation 1:1–2
  6. Psalm 74:13–17; Isaiah 51:9–10; Ezekiel 16:1–58
  7. Exodus 15:1–21; Ezekiel 17:1–10,22–24; Judges 9:7–15
  8. Genesis 3:8–9; 6:5–6; 8:21; 11:6–7; Exodus 15:6–12,16; 31:18; 32:11–14; Judges 10:16; 1 Samuel 15:10–11,27–29; 2 Samuel 24:16; Isaiah 62:8; Jonah 3:9–4:4; Luke 11:20; Acts 4:27–30
  9. Numbers 21:14; Joshua 10:13; 2 Samuel 1:18; 1 Kings 11:41; 14:19,29; 1 Chronicles 9:1; 29:29; 2 Chronicles 9:29; 12:15; 13:22; 16:11; 20:34; 24:27; 26:22; 27:7; 32:32; 33:18; 33:19; Nehemiah 1:1–2; 12:23; Luke 1:1–4; John 21:24
  10. Daniel 4:10–12
  11. Psalm 7:9; 16:7; 26:2; Jeremiah 17:10 (see footnotes)
  12. Joshua 10:12–14; 1 Chronicles 16:30; Psalm 19:4–6; 93:1; 96:10; 104:5; Ecclesiastes 1:4–7
  13. Genesis 30:37–43 (note the “thus” in the final verse)
  14. Genesis 1:26–28; 2:15; Psalm 8:3–9; Proverbs 25:2
  15. Genesis 2:19–20
  16. Job 38–39
  17. Hebrews 4:1–11; John 5:16–17
  18. Genesis 1:26; 5:2; Romans 5:12–14 (see footnotes)
  19. Genesis 2:16; 4:2; 4:17; 4:21–22
  20. Romans 1:18–32
  21. Revelation 12:9; Revelation 2:7; 22:1–2,14–20
  22. Genesis 3:14–15; Romans 16:20; 1 John 3:8
  23. Genesis 3:6,16
  24. Psalm 8:3–9; Romans 8:18–23
  25. Matthew 6:9–10; 1 Corinthians 15:27–28