27 November 2016

A Sunday School Lesson: . . . Created the Heavens and the Earth

That first and most familiar verse in the Bible continues:

  “ . . . created the heavens and the earth.”

Biblical scholars differ over the nature of this creative act.

Most biblical commentators interpret this as God creating the heavens and the earth ex nihilo, or out of nothing. He simply called things into existence with his words.

In contrast, some commentators maintain that “out of nothing, nothing comes.” They suggest that perhaps God created the universe out of some portion of himself. According to this view, the universe originated from the energy (or whatever kind of substance which makes up God as an entity) but is now existentially separate from him. This maintains the distinction between the creator and the creation, avoiding any confusion with pantheism.

And then others suggest that the the opening verse should actually be translated, “When God began to create the heavens and the earth. . . .” This offers a contrasting view to creation ex nihilo in which God works with pre-existing material, either eternally co-existing with God or, as in the view above, material produced by God's transmogrification of some portion of his being into the particles which constitute the material universe.

Biblical scholars also disagree also over the temporal reference of this verse. Some deny any temporal reference and claim it is simply an introductory statement to the creation account that follows. That account has been understood historically to refer to six literal twenty four hour days.

Not surprisingly, biblical commentators have attempted to interpret that account within the framework of whatever scientific understanding of the cosmos prevailed at that time. Today, some commentators propose that the opening verse describes the “big bang” that brought forth the universe. Often interpreters add to this a “gap” between that opening verse and the remaining passages describing the creation. They concede that the forces and material particles that constitute the universe are billions of years old. According to this view,  God subsequently created the earth out of that material in six literal twenty four hour days. And finally, others attempt to maintain the historical and scientific veracity of the scriptures by interpreting the six days in a figurative way, meaning either eons of time or simply as a literary framework.

One thing should be obvious. ALL modern interpretations of the account of creation in some way accommodate the text to modern scientific understanding of the cosmos. This includes creationists who insist that both the earth and the rest of the universe resulted from six days of creative work by God. For when even creationists interpret that phrase, “the heavens and the earth,” they maintain that it refers to the planets, stars, solar systems, and galaxies of the immensely large and expanding universe as understood in modern cosmology.

The state of earth creates its own special problem:

"And the earth was without form an void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."

 The Biblical author begins his account with water existing before the stars. This is the first of several chronological errors in this account.

Brett Palmer, over at the YouTube channel The Bible Skeptic, has uploaded some well produced video essays on Genesis and other religious topics. His series entitled What Genesis Got Wrong explores many of the scientific problems that confront Genesis. In Episode 2 Palmer looks at this Bible verse quoted above.

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