Genesis 1: Biblical Truth, Scientific Fact, or Both?

Too often we read certain parts of the Bible, such as the Genesis account of creation and Noah and the flood, in a way that tries to extract scientific truths out of it, when in reality the purpose and intention of the Bible is not to be a scientific book.  The Bible is a theological Book, and it should be read as such.  We read different types of literature for different types of reasons, and they each have different purposes.  The purpose of a poem is not the same as the purpose of a biography.  The purpose of a Scientific journal article is not the same as the purpose for a prose narrative.

Genesis 1 in the original Hebrew was written in the form of a poem, and it was written in such a way to mirror the creation accounts of other peoples.  It was written as a Prologue, with the purpose of introducing the reader to God (YHWH) as the main character of the Bible, and to establish the beginning to the rest of the redemption story that unfolds over the course of the Bible.  Though it is possible that it contains details that are scientific in nature, (a friend pointed out after reading this that he found it interesting that in Genesis 1, the moon was created before the fish in the sea because they would have drowned without the flow of air through the water that is caused as a direct result of gravity of the moon causing the tides), this is not the point of the Genesis 1 account of Creation.

The Bible as a whole is a theological book that  was written to give us theological truths about God, and our relationship with Him and the world around us.  God spoke in Moses’ day in Moses’ way, and in Jeremiah’s day in Jeremiah’s way.   God speaks to us in David’s day in David’s way, in Jesus’ day in Jesus’ way, and in Paul’s day in Paul’s way.  That is to say that the Bible is written over a period of 1500 years by about 40 different authors, and through it God reveals things to us.  He spoke using  the thoughts and the language of the time in which each book of the Bible was written to express these truths to us so that we can understand them.  Sometimes this means that we must dig in and understand what these books said to the original recipients of these messages in order to understand what God is saying to us in our day in our way.  God reveals things to us in a way that we can understand them, and we must keep in mind that the way in which we think today is not the same as the way the original readers and hearers of these truths thought.

Modern day science sometimes expresses more accurately how certain things function, so that we know it is not simply breath that gives people life, but a multitude of body parts all functioning as one.  If we think “the Bible says that it is breath that gives life, Science says such and such, therefore the Bible is wrong” we are not approaching the Bible in the right way.  If the Bible says that God gave us the breath of life it is for a theological, not a scientific reason.   The idea that God gave us the breath of life is an expression of the fact that God gives everything life, and that from Him all life originates, in a way that the people of that time would understand it.  It was not written to express scientific truths per say, though sometimes the Bible does reveal scientific truths, but rather it was written to express theological truth, and so we should read it how it is meant to be read.  We should stop trying to prove the Bible is right scientifically, and begin living out the truth of the Bible and applying it to our  life, our relationships with others, and most importantly we should start applying it to our relationship with God.

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3 responses to “Genesis 1: Biblical Truth, Scientific Fact, or Both?”

  1. ninjanigel says :

    I appreciate this very much, so often you hear debates about whether God created the world in 7 literal days or through evolution. Genesis doesn’t seek to answer that question and it never can. The point is that God made everything we know and we don’t know, who cares how he did it?

  2. David Russell Mosley says :

    Derek,

    I think the one place you need to be careful is in defining the Bible as a “theological” book. It isn’t that I necessarily disagree, but that the term theological can imply to some that the Bible does not deal with history or fact, but simply theological truths. Do you see the problem? If we say the Bible is a theological book without qualifying what that means, it would be easy for someone to come along and say that it does not matter if Jesus truly lived or was truly resurrected because the theological truth of resurrection is what is important. Again, I agree that the Bible is a theological book, but it is more than that as well (or at the very least theology means more than theology).

    • Derek J. Brent says :

      David,
      I agree, clarification is needed here. It has already happened in the history of form criticism of the Bible that some (such as Kahler) have said that it is not history, but rather Geschichte, or the story of Scripture that matters. I would concur that the historicity of Scripture and the facts recorded there do indeed matter very much. The Bible is a historical text, as well a theological one. The point of this post is merely to argue that it was not written as a scientific text, and in doing so was contrasting its theological purposes with the supposed scientific ones. Thank you for your critical eye, and I hope to hear more from you here in the future!

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