Genesis is the first book of the part of the Bible Christians call the Old Testament and Jews call the Tanakh. It is likely the most well known book of the Old Testament, although its length makes it one of the more difficult books to read all the way through.
"When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so"
Bible stories from Genesis
Genesis includes some of the best-known Bible stories, including:
- The two creation stories (the seven days of creation, Adam and Eve)
- Cain and Abel
- The flood and Noah's ark
- The tower of Babel
- The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
- Abraham told to sacrifice his son Isaac
- Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers
- Joseph interprets the pharaoh's dreams
The creation narratives of Genesis
Genesis 1:2 : A wind that proceeds from God sweeps over the face of a formless and void earth that is entrenched in a deep darkness and surrounded by waters. It is in this verse that we encounter an obvious error, recognized as such by our modern scientific knowledge. There is no "deep," because outer space is not full of water! Our planet is not submerged in infinite water, as described here. The idea of the World emerging from a great ocean is a feature of several pre-Christian mythologies, such as Babylonian and Sumerian creation stories.
Genesis 1:3-5 : God creates light by speaking it into existence. After assessing the light and seeing that it is good, God proceeds to divide the light from the darkness. He gives identifying names to these qualities, calling the light "Day" and calling the darkness "Night." The first day concludes.
Genesis 1:6-8 : God speaks again, this time commanding into existence an expanse that emerges in the midst of the waters by which the earth at this point is heavily surrounded. With this expanse, God makes another division. The distinction created here is the waters which are above the expanse and the waters which are below the expanse. God calls the dividing expanse "Sky," and with this identifying act the second day concludes. Thanks to modern science, we now know that there is no water above where the expanse is not. These verses are indisputably in error scientifically.
Another problem with this verse is that it sounds extremely similar to the Babylonian creation account as set down in the Enuma Elish. The Babylonian account dates earlier than the biblical creation story, which seems to indicate that the writer of Genesis drew from knowledge of this earlier myth when writing the biblical account. See the Creation story page for more information on this and other creation stories from various cultures.
Genesis 1:9-13 : The third day of creation as described in Genesis consists of two parts. First, God commands the waters under the heavens to undergo dramatic movement and violent upheaval. These terrestrial waters (as opposed to the celestial waters above as described earlier) gather themselves to one area, and dry land appears. The dry land is then called "Earth," and the waters that moved to accommodate the formation of this dry landmass is called "Seas." God observes that this is good.
Secondly, God then proceeds to create plant life. He commands the earth to bring forth herbs and vegetation that yield reproductive seeds and fruit-bearing trees of every kind that yield seeds. Thus, the earth at the conclusion of the third day is populated only by plant life on land that appeared the same day, encompassed by newborn seas. These plants apparently function in enormously different ways than the plants we know. The sun is not yet created at this point, creating stark problems for advocates of literalist belief in special creationism in terms of how the plants survived in the absence of photosynthetic processes.
Genesis 1:14-19 : On the fourth creation day, God turns his creative energies to the celestial expanse created on the second day. Presumably these verses refer to a location that is within the mythical air space between the two mythical waters, for it is the expanse that separates and thus lies between these two alleged bodies of water. God creates lights in this expanse, a greater light to dominate the day, a lesser light to dominate the night, and the stars. These verses, of course, refer to the creation of the sun, moon, and the stars. Of course, the sun itself is a star (one of the smallest in fact) and so the mention of stars after the mention of the sun is rather redundant to modern readers of the text.
God sets these celestial bodies in the expanse to dominate the day and the night, to separate light from darkness, and to give light on the earth. The deistic overtones of this verse are clear. We have already seen God create light on day one, and that darkness was already present from the very beginning. The source of this light is unknown, and is usually interpreted by scholars as a reference to a source originally divine or supernatural in nature. There is nothing divine or supernatural about the sun and moon. According to the text, God creates these physical entities to harness the division of light and darkness upon the planet, to in effect "take over the job" that God was performing prior to this. Of special note is the indication in this passage that these celestial bodies were created to serve as "signs for the set times - the days and the years" as well as for the purpose of giving light to the earth. This reference to "signs for the set times" is likely a strong indication that both the author of this text and the audience he was writing to believed in and practiced some form of astrology -- a superstitious pseudo-science based on unfounded assumptions and unsubstantiated by any method, and still practiced to this day.
These verses also present obvious conflicts with known science as well. We can detect what lies beyond our gravitational field. What we detect proves that it is impossible to have any passage of days or nights transpiring in the absence of a sun to guage their course against a constantly-moving earth. Without the sun, there can be no "evening and morning" (or days for that matter). Yet the first three days of creation maintain the presence of such measures. Furthermore, we also know the earth did not pre-date the lights in the heavens by any amount of time. The earth is vastly younger than these celestial bodies, despite portrayals to the contrary in Genesis. By implication, these lights were not set for the specific purpose of lighting the earth. The earth is not at the center (or the beginning, for that matter) of the universe in any respect.
Genesis 1:20-23 : In the same way that the fourth day of creation corresponded to the first day, so the fifth day of creation as described in these verses correspond to the second day. The terrestrial waters that were created on the second day are now populated with sea creatures, and the sky above these waters are likewise populated by winged birds of every kind. The literalist interpretation asserts independent and instantaneous emergence of fully-formed creatures, with no biological process or relatedness involved. This is also the literalist interpretation of the creation of the other animals and of man later in the text.
Other points of interest
"It not infrequently happens that something about the earth, about the sky, about other elements of this world, about the motion and rotation or even the magnitude and distances of the stars, about definite eclipses of the sun and moon, about the passage of years and seasons, about the nature of animals, of fruits, of stones, and of other such things, may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation."
- — St. Augustine (354-430 CE), De Genesi ad literam 1:19.20, Chapt. 19