Is Genesis 1-2 Poetry? A Bloggable Thought from the Bible Faculty Summit

by Aug 8, 2014Theology2 comments

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Bible Faculty Summit (here’s their brand new website, made last night real late and not quite complete…), held this year at Baptist Bible College in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. Here’s just one bloggable thought coming out of the many extremely stimulating and edifying discussions I enjoyed at the Summit.

Phil Brown of God’s Bible School and College mentioned that one reason (among many) to read Genesis 1-2 straightforwardly is actually found in Exodus. In Exodus 16, God tells the people the rules for manna:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” (Exodus 16:4-5)

And in case they thought God meant day-ages or placed hidden gaps between these “days,” God demonstrated that He had been quite serious and, well, literal:

But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted. (Exodus 16:20–21)

So how would these same Israelites have understood God’s use of “days” just a few weeks later when He said at Sinai,

Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:9-11)

The argument of not a few evangelicals today is that we have to understand Genesis 1 as its original audience of ancient near-easterners would have understood it. We bring a modern scientific frame to the text that ends up distorting it. But it seems the Israelites were fully capable of understanding a six-day creation story quite literally.

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  1. Duncan Johnson

    Thanks Mark. Interesting connection.

    As far as that other website goes, I’m very happy to see it, but hope that it gets filled with content soon. 🙂 I’m now a subscriber in Feedly.

  2. Daniel Pech

    Is Genesis 1 fanciful mere ‘theological’ symbolism?

    No, and here’s why: Genesis 1 identifies the Earth, in its five Divine namings (vv. 5, 8, 10). Let me explain, in a natural sequence of four topics:

    First topic is the nature of quantities. Second is where that gets us to those exactly five namings. Third is the foundational reality of the nature of our relation to the Earth.

    Fourth (see if you can predict the fourth from the first three) is the *Design* of the Design.


    The prime category of quantities is the primes, P.

    The exact opposite of the primes are the Highly Composites, HC. This is because an HC quantity is a quantity that has a greater quantity of factors than has any less quantitative HC. That is…

    …whereas a P, as such, has fewest logically possible quantity of factors (so that all P’s are identical in their quantity of factors), HC’s are a *hierarchy* in that regard.

    So the HC’s are feminine, and the P’s are masculine.

    In fact, the marriage of P’s and HC’s defines the third basic category: that of all quantities that are neither P’s not HC’s.

    The variety of subcategories of each of these three is infinite. And ‘what do you know’, 3 is the first ‘adaptive’ P:

    1 is foundational to all other quantities. 2 is a kind of P that reflects the HC’s. But 3 is the first P that has options as to how itself is defined. 3 is (a) 1 + 1 + 1; (b) 2 + 1; and (c) 1 + 2.

    1 has no definitional sequence, 2 has no option as to sequence, but 3 has options as to sequence. Within a timeless frame of reference, we can say that all quantities have no sequence. But in a frame of reference OF PROCESS, 3 is the first adaptive P.

    2 is a reflection on 1, like a mirror image of itself.

    So if we add 1 to 3 (3 + 1), we get a number (4) that emphasizes a reflection of 3 *in 3’s adaptivity*.

    5 is then 3 + 2. And the most intra-reflective sequence is the ‘Fibonacci’ sequence, FS.

    The fifth quantity of FS is 5.

    So 5 is the most relevant quantity to the concept of *self-identity* of a 3-type entity.


    Finally, by the most purely life-centric reading, the five Divine namings in Genesis 1 define the foundational factors, or the non-biological ‘half’ of, Earth’s water cycle. Those five, in their marriage-like RELATION to the Sun (Psalm 19), are what that same reading assumes is alluded to in the ‘formless’ of v. 2’s ‘formless and void’. This is because the account is addressed NOT to Blank Slate ‘minds’ living’ in a featureless environment, but actual human beings.


    Indeed, imagine if God had created humans in the following set of six conditions.

    Bound inside a Star Trek like space ship, and this ship stranded drifting indefinitely far out from any galaxy.

    This ship having artificial systems for all factors humans require to survive, and to live ‘normally’. And, just like the Enterprise, all those systems require maintenance.

    The main difference to Star Trek in this scenario is that, as just implied, the version of humanity that lives in this ship has no natural knowledge of anything but what this ship, and its strandedness, allows.
    Another difference to typical Star Trek stories also is key here: Beside its own recycling systems, the only raw materials available for this stranded ship’s maintenance and expansion is content-variable clouds of microscopic matter that randomly and constantly are ejected from nearby galaxies. The ship has all the technology required to ‘farm’ these clouds, but even that technology must not be allowed to degrade too far.

    The ship has artificial systems for (1) expanding the size and mass of the ship to accommodate any increases in human population; (2) synthesizing food; (3) generating gravity; (4) producing air pressure and air content; (5) producing thermal and lighting conditions; (6) maintaining hull integrity; (7) etc..
    The main issue of this scenario is that the health, and the very life, of humans in this scenario respectively would suffer or cease if any one or more of these artificial systems were not maintained.

    In this scenario, the ship’s data banks do not contain any information on the fact that there are planets, much that there is at least one planet has free gravity, free air and air pressure, free thermal regulation, a biologically based system of many factors of life support, and all that other things we actual, terrestrial natives take for granted about our Earth, our Sun, and wider cosmos. The only possibility for such information is a single, paper-like copy of Genesis 1:1-3.

    This copy of the account is made of a very durable paper-like material, such that it has held up well enough for the thousands of years in which this account has been handled by the humans who live in this ship. Electronic copies have been made and distributed from the start. But the only natural evidence that the paper copy is worth the story its presents is that no one has ever been able to determine just what it is of which its paper like material is comprised. Various occasional attempts have been made, with all manner of technology afforded by this ship. But to no avail.

    —Six results of this Scenario—

    So, now consider what would be our intuitions and conceptions of ‘everything’ if we all lived in that ship. Would we have all the conceptions necessary to understand the most metaphysically basic things which, in reality, we actual humans have in our real, Earth-based lives? I don’t think so. I think there would be a number of severe preclusions to our making any foundationally right sense of anything, either of

    (I) of the Completed Creation,
    (II) of Genesis 1 as an account of origins and Divine Design.

    The following six items are suggested as results of these preclusions.

    1. We would be so vastly far from any star that we would think stars are just points of light. Thus, unlike what it is that, in reality, we see of the Sun and Moon from Earth, our lives inside this ship would show us no apparently large celestial bodies. At best, we could see only the kinds of things that terrestrial humans see of the Milky Way galaxy without telescopes. Therefore, viewing the cosmos from that ship, far from any galaxy, there would be no near bright body to uniquely serve our needs either for visible light or for energy. And we could never achieve an everyday perception of a deep connection between light and heat. This is because the lighting fixtures in this ship would give off little or no warmth; And, because any actual local points within the ship that produce all our ambient heat would give off none of the kind of light by which we humans see.

    2. Worse, our best everyday sense regarding water would be that it is a liquid nutrient; that it has great potential for thermal storage; and thus, great potential for some kinds of thermal exchange. It would never suggest to us a way of life that is unbound by this ship.

    3. Still worse, the ship’s food synthesizers would rob us of any sense of just about everything worth knowing about God and Creation. Likewise, the ship’s air filtration and air pressure systems would, by effect, rob us of any knowledge of God. And our lack of a blue sky in ‘daylight’, on a planet that has trees, would make us foolish idiots as to the Divine origins of anything worth knowing. ‘What is a “tree”, momma?’, our children would have to ask, assuming we even know such a word ourselves, or its referent. ‘What is “day” and “night”, momma?’ ‘What is the “sea”, momma?’ These words, and their referents, would be esoteric, at best.

    4. Even worse, our metaphysics would obtain due to our sheer cost in time, labor, expertise, and technology in maintaining this ship, and would be warped in favor of a truly deep servitude to the concerns of mere survival. For, without our toil in maintaining its functions that keep us alive, we all surely would die when the ship fails. Thus our conceptions of the Creatorhood of God, and of His Ordinary Providence, would be obscenely lacking. Our very conception of human dignity would be bound horribly to that of the individuals’ earning a place on the ship. If a given individual, in his own liberty or need, simply lived a day without working, that individual easily could be committing injustice against both himself and all his shipmates. Only by special prior permission from them all could he ever cease toiling for even one day. Therefore, the very idea of a regular day of rest would be obscure to us; and that of a yearly multiple day holiday would be completely invisible to us. For we have no natural day, and no natural year, living in that ship.

    5. Imagine, in living all our lives inside this space ship, we somehow came to be well informed, merely by theory and record, that a planet based, water based means of life would leave us free from the costs of maintaining this ship. Imagine we even came into possession of Genesis 1. Would we think that such a hope was realistic? Or, instead, would we condemn even Genesis 1 as some kind of wicked lie? How could we even understand most of what Genesis 1 says? We, in fact, would see Genesis 1 as the most abominable thing possible. We would say, ‘If God wanted us to live on a planet, He would have created us on a planet. But this “Genesis 1” thing makes almost no natural sense, so it cannot be from God. It seems to say that God created the physics, here in vs. 1-3. So this we find self evident in it. Nevertheless, is an “animal”? So this, clearly, is a pagan account of origins, like an absurd kind of Fairy Tale! At best it is an involved code that no one can be sure to correctly interpret. So we must get rid of any copy of this “Genesis 1”! It is an absurd and false hope! It has been contrived by charlatans, or by those of unsound mind!’

    6. Worst of all, we would be inclined to the ‘logic’ of the science-fictional Vulcans regarding marriage: that marriage is some kind of collectivist loyalty to ‘the survival of the species.’ Thus, human social virtue would, for us, be mere fantasy. This is because our main set of concerns would be that of the values of (1) toil, and (2) the human power to make and contrive things to help us maintain the ship. We might have an open ended supply of raw matter that drifts through extragalactic space, as random clouds of it may continually be propelled out of host galaxies. But we would have no natural knowledge of any of the main things of which Genesis 1 is about.

    So this Stranded Space Ship hypothesis shows that our physical and metaphysical cosmological virtue depends on our native relation to the Ecological Earth. This space ship scenario, if it were reality, would be cosmologically misleading to us, both directly and in regard to Genesis 1. This scenario might be described as the ultimate ‘Space Ship Cosmology’. It would cause us to have a *bankrupt* philosophy of cosmology, anthropology, and theology.

    And item 4. shows what the Sabbath rest is about: rest. The command to keep the Sabbath rest was not intended to make it mechanically impossible for humans to work on the Sabbath. It was intended to help preserve the practice of resting on the Sabbath. Just because there was no Sabbath command in Genesis 1 or 2 does not mean God did not, at that time, intend for humans to cease producing physical wealth every seventh day. If anything, an original lack of any such command was itself the best expression of the nature and relevance of the Sabbath rest. It’s about general personal individuality, or autonomy, WITHIN the universal self evidence of Divine Design, NOT about ‘obeying’ ‘commands’. We are individual and differentiated living creatures, not robot clones. Not even the holy angels are clones. And the most differentiated from the creature, yet the most broadly affirming of the creature, is God.


    1. The general Heaven and is special Earth;
       2. The Earth, as its own general, in its relation to its likewise cosmically unique possession: an abiding maximal abundance of open liquid water;
         3. Likewise, that water and its special cycle;
           4. The water cycle and its special beneficiary and member, life;
             5. Life and its special category, animal life (plant/animal/mineral = animal);
              6. Animal life and its special category, human life;
    …7. A man and his wife (Genesis 2).

    This sevenfold human-affirming cosmic recursive is a thematic crescendo by Greatest Typological Value. It therefore is the maximum of encompassing and predictive. Genesis 1, sight unseen, can be described as an account of origins. But the account is nothing like that of the process of assembling a diorama, much less like that of assembling a Secular version of Nature Present: from the trivially mere physical ‘bottom, up’:

    In the absolute first moments of creating anything, God created space and matter, blah, blah blah.

    This may not be strictly false, but it is deficient. So it does not work for the ideal short complete account of origins. In other words, it is trivially uninspired, since it, in itself, does not even suggest either Divine Design or what to expect of an account that begins this way. If anything, it actually validates an atheistic cum deistic conception of cosmic physics: God is an all powerful…somebody who is personally indifferent, like a taxidermist who could not care less what the animal hide is stuffed with so long as the result (1) looks life-like and (2) has an infinite shelf life.

    But one cannot best describe even the assembling of a house on Earth as that of a list of the various basic parts of a house. This is because a house is not a pile of parts laying randomly about. Nor is it just one thing merely added to other. For example, the foundation of a house is not properly defined as that which, within zero gravity, is merely something affixed to the rest of the house. If the whole house were in zero G, the foundation would have no use as a foundation.

    So, it is only by a rationalistic, dissociative, ‘loyal’ cum ‘theological’ reading of Genesis 1 that we could find in it only what it spells out additively. This is no more perceptive than if, when we read a list of the most naturally obvious basic parts of a woman, as such, we fail to see that this list is describing a woman. And the fact is that a whole, living woman is not defined as an additive assembly of her basic parts. She is genuinely alive, not a fictional pre-electrocuted Frankenstein monster. The whole Earth’s ecology is a similar kind of genuinely alive. So it cannot well be built up like some diorama that, only upon completion, is ‘switched on’. It is not an automobile, but an irreducibly complex dynamic system. It has no ‘off’ mode, and neither has any of its basic parts.

    An automobile does not naturally require a particular and strict sequence and time frame of manufacture and assembly. The Earth’s ecology does. Purifoy (2020) notes hat the ‘incomprehensible interconnectivity and mutual reliance of everything in the’ Earth’s ecology ‘is an extremely compelling argument for creation in six normal days. God’ brought about ‘everything’ as actually ‘functional, and’ as ‘working together as interdependent systems and structures and communities.’ In fact, ‘what we see in the’ Genesis 1 ‘text’ is that God created exactly as we naturally would expect given that Order: ‘trees and plants are’ created ‘just a few days’ prior to that of ‘birds and fish and animals;’ ‘light is’ brought onto the Earth ‘just a few days before trees and plants’ are created;’ and ‘the atmosphere’ is formed ‘just a day to a few days before’ any ‘living things’ are created.

    (((( Purifoy, T. Jr. (2020): How Do We See Intelligent Design in Nature?. Is Genesis History? ))))

    The point is, the more broad and deep the value, the more important it for us to know or have confirmed to us. For me, the prime example of this principle is that of this person confirming to me the value of marriage, and this of a marriage in its best values, including that it is a marriage that calls Earth home. So, though it is logically possible to begin an account of marriage by telling me about nothing but y and x chromosomes, I might not even know of such things, but I naturally would know of marriage. In fact, though a marriage physically is ‘made up of’ subatomic particles, so is an undercooked steak or a ‘slab’ of stinking ‘roadkill’.