Fact or Fable in Genesis: Was the World Really Created in Six Days?

Genesis 1:1-2:3

April 28, 2002 | Ray Pritchard

These are exciting days to study the book of Genesis. A great deal has been written on this book in the last few years and there has been much new research in the area of science and the Bible. It’s always a good thing to focus on issues that really matter. Sometimes in the church we spend too much time nibbling around the edges when we ought to be tackling the core issues of life. It’s hard to imagine anything more fundamental to our faith than the opening chapters of the Bible. Here we find the answer to some very profound questions: Where did we come from? How did we get here? Were we created or did we arrive on the scene as the random product of mindless evolution? And if we were created, who created us and how did it happen? Where did it happen? When did it happen?

I don’t think I need to spend much time convincing you that these questions matter. Ideas have consequences. What you believe about where you came from will radically impact the purpose of your life. Creation leads in one direction and produces a particular worldview; evolution leads in another direction and produces a different worldview and a different set of values. In the marketplace of ideas, there are not many ideas that matter more than how you view the opening lines of the Bible. Are they true or not? Did these things really happen? Is this just an ancient myth, a saga, a legend, a Hebrew poem that bears no relationship to actual history? Or to borrow a phrase from the late Francis Schaeffer, is this “true truth” and not just “religious truth?”

Creation-Evolution Survey Results

Before going on, I thought you’d be interested in the results of a recent survey asking Americans to express their views of how the world came to be. These questions were asked of Americans in general, not just those who go to church. The answers are revealing:

  • 44% believe that God created humans in their present form sometime in the last 10,000 years.
  • 39% said evolution occurred but God guided it.
  • 9% said evolution occurred but it was not guided by God.

I find this result fascinating. Despite generations of brainwashing by the media and by the educational system, nearly one-half of Americans simply don’t believe in evolution. I attribute it to good, old-fashioned American common sense. Not everyone has “exchanged the truth of God for a lie.” Biblical evangelism begins with creation. We still have a sizable group of people who will hear our first word if we speak it clearly and effectively. As a side note, I should add that a March 2000 survey reported that 79% of Americans said that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in the public schools. Somehow that message has not gotten through in most school systems.

If Genesis Isn’t True

The question before us in this message is really quite simple: Can we take Genesis 1 literally and believe what it says about earth history? Was the world really created in six days? And if so, what does that mean and what difference does it make?

Let’s tackle the last question first. Regardless of how you answer the other questions, you need to get the question of significance settled in your mind. If Genesis is not true, then the whole Bible is suspect. If what is written in the early chapters cannot be trusted, then everything is up for grabs. That includes every miracle, every story, every psalm, and every prayer. If when the Bible talks about the Garden of Eden, there was no Garden of Eden, how can you be sure there was a Moses or a Joshua or a David? If Adam and Eve never really existed, what makes you so sure that Daniel ever spent the night in a lion’s den? If there was no Noah, then how can you take seriously the words of Jesus when he says, “As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:37 ESV)? But we can go ever further. The Apostle Paul tells us that “as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (I Corinthians 15:22 ESV). He calls Adam the “first Adam” and Christ “the last Adam” (I Corinthians 15:45). But if Adam is only a myth or a legend, how can you be sure that Christ is real? Perhaps he is a myth, too. The story of the Bible is like one of those interlocking puzzles where every piece eventually connects to every other piece. If one piece of the Bible story can’t be trusted, how can you be sure about anything else?

The story of creation leads to Adam and Eve which leads to the Serpent who tempts them and they fall. When they fall, sin enters the human DNA and ends up corrupting the whole human race. God’s solution to sin is to come to earth in the person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who died in our place, bearing our sins, taking our punishment, that we might be forgiven, declared righteous, given new life, and promised a home in heaven. There is a very direct line that stretches from the Garden to the Cross. Take away the Garden and there is no need for the Cross of Christ. Take that away and Christianity ceases to exist as a religion of salvation. We are left with a few hymns, good advice, and a church supper on Wednesday night. That’s about it. Everything else is gone.

There is a very direct line that stretches from the Garden to the Cross.

Jesus and Genesis

One of the best arguments in favor of interpreting Genesis literally is that Jesus and Paul both took Genesis literally. Jesus quoted from Genesis 1 & 2 (Matthew 19:1-9) and referred by name to Noah (Matthew 24:37). Paul directly compared Adam and Jesus in Romans 5 and I Corinthians 15. And in I Corinthians 11 and I Timothy 2, he makes arguments about spiritual leadership that depend on a literal reading of the story of Adam and Eve. Think about that. If the Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul took Genesis 1-11 as literal truth, then we ought to think long and hard before we dismiss it as a legend.

Despite generations of brainwashing by the media and by the educational system, nearly one-half of Americans simply don’t believe in evolution.  

I do not think it is any exaggeration to say that every major doctrine of the Bible begins in Genesis 1-11. Here we find the foundations of the doctrines of God, man, sin, salvation, marriage, the family, civilization, judgment, and the spread of the nations. When God starts his story, he starts with creation. If we cannot trust this part of the Bible, how can we be sure about anything else? Think of it this way. Genesis is as vital as Revelation. If we cannot trust the first pages of the Bible, how can we believe the incredible visions of the future that John describes in Revelation? Why interpret Revelation literally if we interpret Genesis figuratively? If the first paradise was a myth, how can we be sure the last paradise is not a myth? If we aren’t sure there was a literal Garden of Eden, how can we be sure there will ever be a New Heaven and a New Earth?

No Final Conflict

There are many who doubt Genesis because of the “assured results of modern science.” Because we are told incessantly that evolution is a proven fact, we assume it must be so. And because those who speak out in favor of creationism on the job or in the classroom are often ridiculed, we conclude it is better to keep our mouths shut. Many Christians have a “two compartment” view of life. We keep the Bible in one compartment and we keep what we learn at school in the other compartment, and we try hard to keep them separate. Some years ago Francis Schaeffer wrote a fine little book called No Final Conflict on the problem of the Bible and science. If you compress what he says down to one or two sentences, it looks like this: When all the facts are finally in, when the Bible has been fully understood and science has finally reached the truth of the universe, in that day it will be seen that there is no final conflict between the Bible and science. Since all truth is God’s truth, there can be no ultimate conflict between God’s Creation and God’s Word. The two go hand in hand. Seen in that light, we should understand that science and the Bible are not enemies, but allies in the search for truth. And I would like to congratulate those Christians in our congregation (and there are many of them) who have spent years pursuing higher degrees in the various fields of science. No doubt some of you will do very important research that will benefit many people. Others will teach, some will write, some will practice medicine, and others will make discoveries that will alleviate human suffering. I salute all of you. Go forward with courage. You are doing God’s work. And you are helping all of us understand the wonders of creation just a little bit more.

Every major doctrine of the Bible begins in Genesis 1-11.

I. The Sequence of Genesis 1

With that as background, we turn our attention to the first chapter of Genesis. Let’s take a moment to survey what it says so that we can discover how it all fits together.

Verse 1 takes us to the absolute beginning of all things. Here we learn that the universe has not existed forever, that it had a definite beginning, and that God personally created all that exists. It stands as a summary statement for the whole creation story, and as the first sentence in the story of our salvation. We are here because God created us. We are saved because God re-created us in Christ. There is a direct link between Genesis 1:1 and John 3:16 that must never be severed.

“The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2 ESV). Verse 2 introduces us to the first stages of creation. It tells us that when God began creating, the world as we know it was unformed, unfashioned and uninhabited. There is deep darkness, a vast ocean of water, and no life anywhere. And in this strange dark, watery, unformed world, the Spirit of God hovered like a mother eagle guarding her helpless children. God’s Spirit is about to give life where there is no life. Although much is shrouded in mystery, we may be sure of this: God’s Spirit was there in the beginning, taking the formless mass, moving through the darkness, filling the emptiness, preparing the way for God to speak the creative word and bring light into the world. Without the Spirit, nothing that is made will come into being. He is there in the beginning; he moves through the chaos and darkness; he protects the prenatal creation.

Now we come to the days of creation. Verses 3-5 tell us that on Day 1 light is separated from the darkness. This light comes from God, not from the sun, which is not created until Day 4. This should not surprise us since “God is light; and in him is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5).

Since all truth is God’s truth, there can be no ultimate conflict between God’s Creation and God’s Word.

Note the process of creation: God speaks and it happens. He commands and light appears. Nine times in Genesis 1 we find the phrase, “And God said.” This is called Creation Ex Nihilo, creation out of nothing. We can’t do this so we can’t even imagine how God does it. The only word for this is miracle. This is hugely important as we think about the Bible and science. The universe had a miraculous beginning. That ought to raise a caution flag as we consider the various scientific theories that abound today. At best they “see through a glass darkly.” Even the best theories grasp but a tiny sliver of what really happened during the creation week. The Bible tells us that God spoke and the universe came into being. You’ll never prove that in a laboratory but that’s what the Bible says. It reminds me of a t-shirt I’ve seen: “I believe in the Big Bang. God said it, and Bang! It happened!” The Bible emphasizes this truth in a number of places:

Psalm 33:6 “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.”

Psalm 33:9 “For he spoke and it was done; he commanded and it stood fast.”

Psalm 148:5 “For he commanded and they were created.”

2 Peter 3:5 “For by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in water.”

And the most important verse is Hebrews 11:3, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what is visible.” From this we learn something of the inherent limits of science. No scientist will ever be able to prove or disprove Genesis 1. It’s most basic truth lies outside the realm of scientific investigation. That doesn’t mean that scientific investigation of the past is useless or impossible, only that science has its limits. It cannot tell us how God said, “Let there be light,” and light came to be. We know that truth by faith in what God has told us.

On Day 2 (verses 4-8) of the creation week God separated the sea and the sky. It has been suggested that the “waters above” refers to a vast vapor canopy suspended over the entire earth that created a kind of “greenhouse effect” and produced ideal living conditions. If that is correct, it may partially explain the extremely long life spans of the patriarchs who lived hundreds of years, and it may help us understand where some of the water came from for the great flood of Noah’s day.

On Day 3 (verses 9-13) dry land appeared from beneath the waters. The continents were formed and the first vegetation appears.

On Day 4 (verses 14-19) God created the sun, the moon and the stars. Until this day, all light had come directly from God himself. Genesis 1 says that the lights in the sky are meant to separate the day from the night, to mark the changing of the seasons, and as signs for guidance, as in celestial navigation.

On Day 5 (verses 20-23) God created the birds of the air and the fish of the sea.

God rested on the seventh day, not because he was tired but because his work was fully done.

On Day 6 (verses 24-31) God created the land animals. The text mentions three categories: domestic animals, such as cattle and horses; small animals that crawl or creep on the ground; and larger, wild animals like bears and kangaroos and otters and elephants. On this day God also created Adam and Eve in his own image. They represent the apex, the climax, the crowning jewel of creation. They are created to rule over everything else God created. According to verse 29, it appears that all creatures were vegetarians until after the great flood.

Verse 31 tells us that when God surveyed his work, he declared it was “very good.” On six other occasions in Genesis 1 God calls creation “good;” when it is finished, he declared it “very good.” This means that as the universe comes from the hand of God, it is perfect and complete in every way. To use a modern phrase, this is a “turnkey” job. God created a mature, fully-functioning world and handed it over to Adam and said, “It’s yours now. Take care of it.” And by the way, if the world is messed up today, don’t blame God. When he finished, it was just fine. We’re the ones who messed it up!

That brings us to Day 7 (Genesis 2:1-3). God rested on the seventh day, not because he was tired but because his work was fully done. He created the seven-day week as a pattern for us to follow. Six days to work, one day to rest.

This, then, is the creation week: Six days in which God created all that exists and the seventh day as a Sabbath rest. The universe came into existence in a series of mighty miracles, all of it created out of nothing by the spoken Word of God.

II. The Message of Genesis 1

As we stand back and consider this remarkable story, we ought to ask what overarching messages we can learn from it. The creation week is rich with important themes. Here are some of them:

First, God is the theme of Genesis 1. He is mentioned 35 times in 31 verses. Creation is God’s work. He starts with nothing and creates all that exists around us. What starts as a mass of unformed material covered with water, in just six days is transformed into the beauty of the world around us.

Second, we learn that man is the apex of creation. When he created Adam and Eve in his own image, he forever separated the human race from the animals around us. You can do all the DNA testing in the world and the conclusion will stand. Our genetic code may be similar to the chimpanzee or to the koala bear, but we are not like them and they are not like us. We are not just “one of the animals” or the product of eons of evolution. We did not evolve upward from the amoebas and the mollusks. We were created by the hand of God. And unlike all other creatures, we alone were given the capacity to know him and to love him and to serve him.

We are not just “one of the animals” or the product of eons of evolution.

Third, we learn from this the fundamental unity of the human race. All humans are descended from the first couple, the first man and woman, Adam and Eve. All of us are related to each other because we all come from the family tree of Adam and Eve. To make the point sharper, you are related by blood to every other person on planet earth. Though we have divided into groups and clans and tribes and ethnic origins, and though we have different languages and cultures and patterns of speech, and though we have different skin tones and different physical features, it is still true that “he has made of one blood” (Acts 17:26 KJV) the entire human race. Thus there is no room for racial prejudice or bigotry. We’re all in the same boat together—created by the same God, all fallen into sin, and all able to be saved by the blood of Jesus.

Fourth, evolution utterly fails as an explanation of our origin because it is biblically impossible. Ten times Genesis 1 contains the phrase “according to its kind” or “according to their kinds.” This is God’s law of genetics. Everything in creation reproduces “after its kind.” Fish produce fish. Spiders produce spiders. Dogs produce dogs. Now you can have all sorts of fish, and thousands of different spiders, and who knows how many kinds of dogs, and so on. But a sparrow cannot produce a cow and a fish cannot produce a horse. Within the various kinds, there is room for infinite development, growth, and incredible variation. There can be infinite change on a small scale. But there can be no turning of one “kind” into another “kind.” God himself set the limits. He said, “This far and no farther.” God forbids it to happen. You can study coral or cockroaches, beagles or broccoli and it’s always the same. Everything God made reproduces “after its kind.” This is God’s decree. We can say it this way. Is there horizontal variation? Absolutely, and we see it everywhere. Six kinds of cabbage, 27 varieties of the marigold. If you are a bass fisherman, you can go after Rock Bass, Roanoke Bass, Ozark Bass, Shadow Bass, Yellow Bass, White Bass, Shoal Bass, Redeye Bass, Spotted Bass, Guadalupe Bass, and of course, Largemouth Bass and Smallmouth Bass, to name only a few. Plenty of horizontal variation. But vertical variation? No, God forbids it. That alone rules out evolution in the grand sense of “molecules to men.” It didn’t happen because it couldn’t happen. Naturalistic evolution suggests that the world around us arose from a single cell in the distant past evolving upward over billions of years, through a process of death, decay, disease, suffering, violence and pain. This is not the picture we get in Genesis 1.

Fish produce fish. Spiders produce spiders. Dogs produce dogs.

III. The Implications of Genesis 1

Let me wrap this up with a few closing comments. Even a casual reading reveals that Genesis 1 presents the origins of the universe as entirely miraculous. You cannot escape it as you read the text. It tells of a supernatural creation by a supernatural God. The universe comes into being by the Word of God alone. That is why you can have light before the sun is created. Why should that surprise us? God is light. You can’t read Genesis 1 in purely scientific terms or you will be led astray. That’s why Hebrews 11:3 says, “By faith we understand.” There is a moral component to the creation-evolution debate. Unbelievers will never fully grasp this truth because they can’t. They don’t know God so they will have a hard time understanding the world he made. Evolution is really the best they can do.

That leaves me with one or two other points to make and then I am done. What shall we say about the “days” of creation? Are they literal, 24-hour days? That’s certainly the way the text reads. If you want to find billions of years in the creation week, you will have to go someplace besides the text itself to find it. It might be true, but it’s not evident in the words of the Hebrew text. The days appear to be normal, 24-hour days. The text even says “evening and morning.” The only evening and morning we know anything about is the evening and morning of the 24-hour day. And whenever the Hebrew word “day” has a number attached to it, it always means a 24-hour day. Finally, when God gave the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, he reinforced the commandment about keeping the Sabbath holy this way: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day” (Exodus 20:11). I suppose I can say it this way. If God wanted us to understand this as six 24-hour days, how else would he have said it? How else could he have made it any plainer? I believe the more literally you take Genesis 1, the greater the supremacy of God. If you get hung up over the six days and modern science, perhaps you should ask yourself, “How big is my God?”

If you want to find billions of years in the creation week, you will have to go someplace besides the text itself to find it.

The Religion of Evolution

Leaving that, I close with some comments about creation and evolution. Many people believe in evolution because they need to believe in it. They dare not face the alternative. Evolution isn’t just a scientific theory. It’s also a worldview. Or better yet, it’s a religion. If you doubt that, just try arguing against it. In its broadest sense, evolution is directly opposed to the Bible because it is a comprehensive explanation for everything that exists. The truly committed evolutionist doesn’t need God because he can explain everything without him. Romans 1 describes such people this way: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22).

Perhaps the best-known scientist in the world is Stephen Hawking, author of A Brief History of Time. Although he is not a Christian, he seems fascinated by God and his role in the universe. He commented that “it is quite possible that God acts in ways that cannot be described by scientific laws.” Albert Einstein once remarked that “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.” To which Stephen Hawking replied, “God not only plays dice. He sometimes throws them where they can’t be seen.” He’s right, of course, and what he says is consistent with the biblical doctrine of creation (see Hebrews 11:3). There are limits to what any of us can understand about the miracles of the creation week.

Many people believe in evolution because they need to believe in it. They dare not face the alternative.

A Biochemist Speaks Out

This week I received an e-mail from one of the men in our 20/20 singles group. Among other things, he had this to say:

I’m so glad you stand firmly by Genesis! I am a scientist doing research at UIC and have a Ph.D. in biochemistry (the chemistry of life) and I can’t see how anyone can believe that there is no God or believe in evolution … Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:10-11 that we cannot avoid thinking about our origins because God has placed eternity in our hearts. However, unless he opens our eyes and our hearts, we cannot see our God as we should. It’s very sobering for me as a scientist to see these brilliant minds around me that cannot see what is obvious to me. It’s also very humbling because I realize that I too could be there without the grace of God.

For us as Christians, I believe that God has deliberately arranged things to test our faith so that we will trust him for who he is. He could have told us a lot more in Genesis but in his wisdom he chose not to. He has always done this to demonstrate his wisdom and power, as well as keeping us humble. From the time of Noah when it had never rained, to Jesus’ disciples who had to believe in his resurrection. Why else would God wait until Day 4 to create the sun when plant life was already flourishing? If we look at Genesis only from a scientific perspective (i.e. what has been observed before), then it won’t make sense, any more than talk of rain would have done in Noah’s day.

It has always been difficult to trust God. It was difficult for Noah, Abraham, for David and it will be difficult for us. What we all have in common is that if we trust God then the impossible will become possible for nothing is beyond him. There are times when we will all doubt. All the great biblical characters often had their moments. They didn’t have the complete word of God that we are now privileged to have, but there are also new challenges to our faith that people living 300 years ago never had to face. It’s certainly a challenge for me as a scientist to be ridiculed for what I believe and yet a few of my colleagues listen because they see that my scientific approach is not any worse than theirs because I don’t come with any preconceived notion of what to expect. I just seek to discover what God has done.

Play in the Paint!

May God bless that young man and may his tribe increase. God give us a hundred more just like him, men and women who will work at the highest levels while still believing the Word of God. No, it’s not easy but serving the Lord never is. A friend gave me this advice not long ago: “Ray, stay in the paint. That’s where you score points.” He was talking about the painted area on a basketball court called “the lane.” It’s right under the basket, and if you take the ball in there, you’re bound to be hit and pushed and hacked, and if you try to score, you’ll probably get an elbow in the ribs and you might get knocked down. If you stay far enough outside the paint, the opposing team will leave you alone. But you can’t win a game by shooting from half-court. You’ve got to shoot from the paint if you want to win. That means getting banged up and knocked around, but that’s also where you can score points. Standing for literal creation and against evolution is like playing in the paint. You’re bound to get hit and the other team may knock your teeth out. So what? That’s the nature of the game. As soon as you start believing in a little bit of evolution, they’ll leave you alone but you’ll be shooting from outside. It’s hard to score out there.

Take the ball inside! That’s how you win games. Take a deep breath and speak up for the truth of God. You’re bound to get fouled but that’s okay. Stay in the paint. Play in the paint. Stand up for the truth and take your lumps. That’s how you win the game. That’s how you win God’s approval. The battle is won in the paint by those who want to stand for the truth more than they fear what others might do to them. May God give us courage to “play in the paint” for the truth of creation and for the glory of God. Amen.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?