If the Bible’s Creation narratives were not written to be the literary Ken Ham to secular science’s Bill Nye, then why was it written? I argued in the last blog that the purpose of Genesis 1 and 2 is not to refute science in favor of creationism but instead to tell us about our Creator. That’s not the only thing Genesis 1 and 2 is doing though — here are some additional thoughts.
Something For the World
The Bible’s Creation narratives are not in conversation with modern science. They cannot be. The Bible’s creation stories are 3,000 years old and we need to treat them that way. Placing the two together is like a weird ‘Wild Wild West’ anachronism — giant mech-spiders in the world of horse-drawn chariots.
We need to remember that Israel, and the writing of Genesis, was not isolated but rather was surrounded by other cultures with competing creation stories. So who is Genesis in conversation with? Genesis is in conversation with the creation stories of it’s nearest neighbors—Egypt, Babylon, and Canaan.
These ancient cosmologies are driven by a motif called Theomachy, “battle of the gods.” Israel’s neighbors believed the world was the product of divine warfare. In Babylon the battle is between Marduk the storm god and Tiamat the great sea serpent. Marduk defeats Tiamat by blasting a massive gust of wind (like a first gen Pidgey) down Tiamat’s throat. He then seizes Tiamat’s open mouth, snout to chin, and rips in her half. From her divided remains he forms the heavens and the earth. In Canaan it’s the same story but with different gods.
What is the worldview statement of a cosmology birthed in blood? That the world is the product of violent conception. It is a place of chaos, blood shed, fear, and struggle — it’s not a home but a battle ground.
It is to this world that Bible’s Creation narratives were written. It is to this world they offer a powerful alternative.
Babylonian cosmology argues that the world is the byproduct of rival gods in conflict. The Bible argues that the world is the created product of the unrivaled God. Marduk created the world through violence and selfish and ambition. The God of the Hebrews did it through love and compassion. Marduk is a murder. The God of the Bible is a divine poet and royal artist. The Babylonian’ world is a place of chaos and fear. The Hebrews’ is a place of beauty and love.
The Bible’s creation story is not in conflict with modern Science because it isn’t talking to talking to it. It is in conflict with the neighboring cosmologies.
However, just because the Bible isn’t written to us doesn’t mean it’s not for us. The story of Genesis 1 is still important and still has much to teach us. This world, though broken, is the product of love and compassion. It is the handiwork of a divine artist and it is a good place — a good home.
Something For Us
If your a 6-day, young-earth, creationist you run into a real problem in Genesis 2. Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 offer distinct creation accounts. In Genesis 1 humans are the pinnacle of creation. In Genesis 2 humans come first and then work to bring about the rest. This is a problem if Genesis 1 and 2 are telling us about how the world came to be in chronological order. It’s a problem if the Bible is making a scientific statement. Good news though—it’s not. It is making a theological statement however.
“Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Gen. 2:7)
In the Babylonian story the gods tire of working and decide that they need to create slaves to labor for them. You cannot create living beings out of nothing though. The god’s need a life source to animate their slaves. Very quickly the unloved god Kingu becomes the fat kid at the Donner party. They kill him, mix his blood with dirt, and from the blood-mud form human salves.
There is a worldview statement implicit in this creation account. Humans are the product of violence and selfishness with one real function: servant hood. Our nature is destructive and selfish. Our value is our utility and ability to serve.
The Bible’s creation story offers an alternative. Humans are indeed a mix of divine and earthly material, but we are not the product of selfish violence, we are a work of love. The Creator did not kill and take to form us, instead, He gave of Himself to give us life. The God of the Bible did not create humans as slaves. He Created us as Image Bearers—mini-creators.
It is the claim of Genesis 1 that God granted a royal-priestly identity as imago Dei to all humanity. Whereas power in the Babylonian and Assyrian empires was concentrated in the hands of a few, power in Genesis 1 is diffused or shared. No longer is the image of God applied only to a privileged elite. Rather, all human beings, male and female, are created as God’s royal stewards, entrusted with the privileged task of ruling on God’s behalf. This democratizing of the imago Dei in Genesis 1 constitutes an implicit critique of the entire royal and priestly structure of ancient Mesopotamian society. —J. Richard Middelton
These truths are radically relevant for us today. Genesis 1 and 2 tells us that humans have value, regardless of their utility, ability, or function. Humans are valuable because God made them that way. The Bible also declares that all people—regardless of race, gender or statue are—equal. No king is better than a Klingon-speaking nerd who is no better than a plumber who is no better than a pastor.