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Most theologians today consider the first chapter of Genesis to be a response to the Babylonian creation epic called the Enuma Elish. Both accounts are concerned with the conquest of order over chaos. The Enuma Elish begins with “When on high,” and Genesis begins similarly, although with a unique Hebrew spin, with “In the beginning.”

The 7 days of Genesis

Most theologians today consider the first chapter of Genesis to be a response to the Babylonian creation epic called the Enuma Elish. Both accounts are concerned with the conquest of order over chaos. The Enuma Elish begins with “When on high,” and Genesis begins similarly, although with a unique Hebrew spin, with “In the beginning.” Also, the view of creation in Genesis seems derivative from the description in the Enuma Elish, although with a clearly transcendent view of God. But since there are many other interpretations, and nobody really knows which one might be correct, if any of them, I wanted to discuss my favorite. 

The earliest civilizations, including the Babylonians, were thought to have been star gazers. There are five planets that can be seen without a telescope: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Planets move differently through the night sky than stars. They disappear and reappear, moving as they wish, or so it might seem if you didn’t know they were planets. To the ancient mind they were gods.  

That makes for seven heavenly bodies worshipped by ancient cultures: the sun, the moon, and the five visible planets. They celebrated the seven day week around their worship of these seven heavenly bodies. For example, the sun god was concerned with bringing light into the world every morning. Our English language still carries this remembrance. Sunday is a day in honor of the sun; Monday is a day to worship the moon; on up to Saturday, which is the day for Saturn. The days of the week are capitalized because they were once considered gods.  his weekly worship was somehow transferred to the Germanic languages and found its way to our English. 

The writer of Genesis had no intention of honoring these gods. There was one God and one Creator of the world. Instead of the sun god being responsible for bringing light to the world, YHWH created light on the first day. The names of the week are not even mentioned in the first chapter because they were the names of gods. The days certainly had their names before Genesis was written, but they are purposely left out. Instead, they are simply called the first day, the second day, the third day, etc. In other words, the first chapter of Genesis was written around a seven-day week in opposition to the religious worship of Israel’s neighbors, not because of an actual description of creation. 

Now you may accept this explanation or not. Nobody knows how Genesis is written, and many have other favored interpretations. I wrote this to illustrate that there are other options to a literal seven-day reading of the first chapter. There is no need to read the Bible in that manner in order to take its message seriously.

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21 comments

  1. Bruce,

    I struggle to understand how we can take any of the rest of scripture seriously if we can’t take the first 3 chapters seriously. God knows how Genesis is written and in I Cor. 2:14-16 the Holy Spirit through Paul makes the distinction between being able to understand these things or not being able. True believers have the mind of Christ and believe all that God says. Faith believes what God has said and looks forward to His completion of the plan.

  2. I’ve always trusted how Jesus handled the OT scriptures as my exegetical compass: authoritative, historical, reliable and all connected to a Christ revealing narrative and plan.

  3. Dennis- I appreciate your concern and certainly understand the need to take the scripture seriously. But you have to remember that you live in the 21st century, and your culture is some 3,000 years removed from the writing of Genesis in time, and also on the other side of the world. You think in terms of scientific rationalism. You think in terms of western precision. The ancient Hebrew culture we are discussing had none of those things.

    What if the Holy Spirit had decided to write the creation of the world in terms of evolution and of protons and neutrons. Do you think the ancient Hebrews would have understood any of that? They would have become completely confused by the science and thrown the Bible into the trash.

    Thomas Aquinas said that the Bible was written according to the viewpoint of the people at the time it was written. Their world consisted of the Babylonian Enuma Elish and the stars, so God took that understanding and led them to his truth using the knowledge of the times. Would you have done differently? If you were to reveal yourself to a people in the ancient world, would you reveal modern science to them? They would become so confused by the science and not heard a word of what God wanted to reveal.

    I believe that myth is a perfectly acceptable medium to reveal the truth about God. I have no problem with the Bible being not being written for modern times (meaning not accurate in terms of western scientific rationalism) but still relevant to me and my world.

  4. Eric- Jesus in his humanity would have still been bounded by the ancient world in which he lived. I don’t believe we can say that because Jesus referenced Jonah, for example, we have to consider this as a historical event. Why would Jesus refer to western scientific rationalism if he lived in the ancient world? Jesus didn’t mention protons and neutrons and dark energy, did he? Why would we expect him to be rationally scientific and historically accurate in his references to Jonah, for example?

  5. I’m a believer in the the god/man and affirm the Chalcedonian definition of Jesus, which would mean, that He was conscious of his definitions and the implications for all time in his associations of people, places and events. I know some people still espouse a human limitation or constrict Jesus by his nature, but I think the council affirmation clears up much for me. So I rest in who and what Jesus spoke of as truth and I’m able to build my understanding of God, life and the universe upon His example and words.

    For me the alternative creation myths refrenced all speak of the truth being discovered in various ways but fully revealed, explained and fullfilled in the Jesus event. Some read those wolrd wide stories and see unity some see disunity, I choose unity. I think Romans talks about this in matters of light in creation, conscience etc.

  6. If you’re not going to look at Genesis 1-3 as metaphorical, you’re either going to be a non-Christian who affirms no part of the Bible, or you’re entirely and willfully blind to hundreds of years and millions of manhours of peer-reviewed, thoroughly tested, incontrovertible scientific truth. My approach is to be softer and get out of it what is good and healthy for life and discovery of inner truths.

  7. “I know some people still espouse a human limitation or constrict Jesus by his nature, but I think the council affirmation clears up much for me.”

    Eric, I don’t think that’s what Bruce meant. I could be wrong, but I don’t think he was placing a limit on Jesus because of his nature as a man; the constraint on Jesus would have been that he lived in the ancient world. Essentially, the constraint would be the people he was dealing with. It’s similar to the limits we all have when trying to teach abstract ideas to children. You could have Stephen Hawking’s intelligence and scientific knowledge, but you’re not going to get a 5 year old to understand string theory, and honestly you wouldn’t even try. You’d keep the lesson on a level they could understand and process at their particular stage of development. I think that’s what Bruce is getting at.

  8. So your saying Jesus just acted like people, places and events were true, just to help the poor ignorant folk who couldn’t understand the truth that all of those people, places and events were just fireside stories for fish frys?

  9. I did just a little research on the enuma elish tablets. I attached a link that does a great job of establishing the many differences between these and Moses recording of the creation account given to him by the true God. I read the text myself also and the two have light years of “truth ring” separating them. Moses records what Babylon was about: pagan rebellion against God, presenting the same arrogant “I wills” that caused satan to be banished in the first place. And this is the source of the enuma elish.

    As to being pushed into the box, Sam of either being a denier, or blind, I am not guilted into being either one of those. Much of so-called science is blind to the realities of God’s creation, refusing to either look at or comment on them because they are so damning to their theories. I would mention the complex and precise working of cellular DNA itself, and the lack of explanation as to how something so amazingly complex at the very building block level could have come out of nothing by chance. No, I’m not in awe of science, it has many gaps and flaws and I am willing to stand with the Lord God and His rendition.

    http://carm.org/genesis-creation-enuma-elish

  10. Bruce, the other problem I have with equating the Bible with myth is that by that definition itself a person has no obligation to believe it whatsoever. Myth means “fabricated” for some purpose or other whether good or bad. Truth is something transcendant that came from a source outside of our time/space dimension. Truth is something that is, no matter what we think about it. We can’t change it, only accept or reject it. Being created in God’s image has given us a mind to reason with, and a will to either accept or reject what is presented to us. We cannot, however, affect one iota of the consequences of our acceptance or rejection of a truth claim. If the Bible is a myth then I can take it or leave it depending on what’s in it for me, nothing gained or lost. If the Bible is truth from God, I can still take it or leave it, but I will experience the consequences laid out in that truth no matter what I think about it, for eternal good if I take it, eternal punishment if I don’t.

  11. Sam- I agree with you, except that I think even the idea of metaphorical vs literal is a modern concept. Before the last thousand years or so nobody would have even considered the difference. They just looked at the world in a different way than we do now, which in the view of many scholars is what is causing all the problems with biblical interpretation today. We often see “metaphorical” or “myth” as something that is less than true because we have a rationalized scientific truth to compare it with.

  12. Aaron- Thanks for clearing up about the human limitation. That’s exactly what I meant. I was not making a theological statement since I am not a theologian.

  13. Eric- Would you expect Jesus to expound upon protons and dark energy to people who would have no understanding of such things? Would you demand Jesus to speak in a scientifically rationalized manner to people in the ancient world just because that’s your viewpoint now?

  14. Dennis- I’m glad to hear you looked up the Enuma Elish and read it through! The problem I see with the critique you mentioned is that it’s comparing Genesis and the Enuma Elish from a contemporary viewpoint, not on their own terms. If you read Genesis as a seven-day literal creation account and the Enuma Elish as a Babylonian myth, both seen from a Christian fundamentalist viewpoint, then you probably aren’t going to get the similarities.

    Also, your definition of “myth” seems to be equated to something that is false. That is not the definition that scholars give a myth. Evaluating a myth as to whether it is true or false is really to misunderstand the myth. Take the example of Thanksgiving Day in American culture. If you asked historical scholars the historicity of the way we view Thanksgiving Day, they would say that it didn’t really happen that way. But that’s not the point. To even ask the question is to misunderstand the holiday. Thanksgiving Day is part of American culture. It’s how we define ourselves as a people. The purpose of celebrating that day is to celebrate who we are as a people. Thanksgiving Day is our myth just as Genesis was their myth. True or false is a contemporary scientific rationalization that doesn’t really apply.

  15. I would expect him to represent truth as truth not myth. Which is very much a theological issue, the which is how you started the conversation:

    “Most theologians today consider the first chapter of Genesis to be a response to the Babylonian creation epic called the Enuma Elish.”

    I don’t think the bible is a myth, I dont think Jesus decieved or played games with stories and I trust his handleing of people, places and events. I guess I simply disagree, which is cool. I’m not threatening eternal damnation if you disagree, I was just offering my perspective.

  16. Thanks Eric- I appreciate that and respect your view. I wouldn’t want to be eternally damned!

  17. Eric,
    I’m glad I did, I am trying to make my responses better thought out and to have put some effort into understanding another point of view. Did you happen to have time to check out the link? It does point out similarities and differences. If supernatural influences are allowed into the thought process, which I believe are just as real as something our eyes can see, maybe more so, then the enuma elish could very well have been an attempt at confusion by the enemy. The actual events preceded the writing of either document so that would be a possibility. I would still have to hold to the concept that a myth is something not necessarily true, otherwise why not just give the account of an actual event rather than rely on a myth to make your point or support your holiday or whatever?

  18. Sorry Eric, I meant to re-direct that last comment to Bruce.

  19. Dennis- Thanks for posting the link to the Creation Research article. I did read it, and I would have a different view of history than held by Creationists. From my take, history is always in the viewpoint of the one writing the account and the reader reading the account. Two people writing and reading about the same events will never recount it the same manner. Also, the idea of myth does not mean false as seems to be assumed by the article. I agree that there is one truth, but you and I don’t have it. We will never get there until we are in eternity. Until then we have to rely on faith.

  20. I think it would be just as reasonable to see the ancient Babylonian stories of the creation and flood, like the aforementioned Enuma Elish, as time and culturally distorted versions of an actual history, while the Genesis story is the Holy Spirit inspired story of the actual events. This is in harmony with the apostolic tradition that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16) Therefore I believe the description of the creation in Genesis to be an accurate explanation of the actual events.

  21. Thanks for the comment Owen, and welcome to SpokaneFAVS!

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