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What is Genesis 1 REALLY saying? by Fr. Gabriel Wissa

February 26, 2020

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; One God, Amen.

Since the Enlightenment period, and its associated scientific discoveries, way too many people have spent countless hours comparing the Bible with contemporary science, or today’s science. Many books have been written on this subject—some aim at reconciling between Scripture and science; while others, attempt to refute either side. Today, many Christians still repeatedly pin the two against each other in their search for truths regarding vital issues like the Big Bang, evolution theories, etc. And, of course, Genesis 1 is at the heart of this battle. But, is this the correct approach to Genesis 1? In this video, we will discuss how to accurately read Genesis 1 as well as the meaning of each of the first 5 days. In the next video on the subject, we will discuss the structure of the chapter—why are there seven days—and dive into the details of days six and seven

 

An accurate approach to the text must consider the historical and cultural background of the Israelites and their surrounding nations. One must remember that these ancient accounts are not written with the 21st century reader’s scientific obsession in mind. The objective of the Genesis 1 account is not scientific. As we shall see, the text is primarily meant to express statements of faith about the One Almighty God. The purpose of the text is not about revealing ‘how’ the world came to be, but, rather, ‘who’ is God and ‘who’ is a human being and ‘why’ God created us. This can be understood when one realizes that the first 11 chapters of Genesis, including the creation account, are an introduction leading to Abraham. In other words, it is an introduction to the unfolding historical events around the nation of Israel. And Israel is a relatively small nation surrounded by larger more powerful kingdoms, who regularly confront them on the battlefield. In fact, we can summarize the necessities of the ancient nations as follows: 1. The need for survival (since wars were very common at the time); 2. The significant need for offspring, specially males (more children meant a larger army); 3. The need for food. Remember, at the time, importation and exportation of goods were very limited, if existent at all. Sophisticated mode of transportations were not available. This meant that lack of rain in the region would lead to famine; which, in turn, would lead to death. Based on there need for these three main necessities, each ancient nation would worship their god with the hopes of receiving victory in their battles, as well as receiving offspring and food. In their understanding, each pagan god was authoritative within his territory. And, therefore, each nation was praying to their own god. But, the Israelites found shelter and comfort in their One God who has jurisdiction and authority in the entire world. He is the One who created the cosmos in Genesis 1. Therefore, it is His. And if the cosmos is His, then, in the Israelite’s understanding, it is also theirs. Why? Because, Israel becomes God’s people through the genealogies found in Genesis chapters 5, 10 and 11, which purpose is to ultimately link Adam to Abraham (the father of Israel). That same God of Israel who has authority in the entire cosmos is also the Source of their offspring and their food.  

 

Essentially, the purpose of the creation text is to declare the Hebrew God as the One True God. Remember, at the time, people worshiped many gods. It was a polytheistic world. So the intention of Genesis 1 is to ultimately demythologize the pagan gods. In other words, the objective is to dethrone all other gods—the God of Israel is the only true God. That is the message. This is accomplished by emphasizing God’s authority over the creation. First, this authority is stressed through the repetitive declarations “God said,” and “let there be,” entailing that the cosmos is created and ruled per the sole will of the One God. Ptah, the Egyptian pagan god, might claim that he spoke things into existence, but it is not true. The God of Israel is the One who did speak this world into existenceThis is also seen in Genesis 1 when God names each element in the creation. Naming something is claiming authority and power over it. In the same way, parents today get to name their children. In other words, God’s rule is not established via a series of battles between several pagan deities as the other contemporary nations believed. There is simply no competitor to Israel’s God. In addition, God gives a function to what He creates. As we shall see as we go through the days of Genesis 1God repeatedly gives a function to the creation. This is extremely crucial since, in the ancient world, something was real, or created, only when it served a purpose—when it had a functionIn today’s society, something is real when it is present. But, in the ancient world, even if something was physically present, it only existed when it had a purpose. Again, the text has to be read from their understanding—not ours.  

 

Now, let us start discussing the first 5 days. On the first day, we are told that the earth is without form and void and darkness is on the face of the deep and that the Spirit of God is hovering on the face of the waters. In the ancient world, many different nations considered the waters to be a god. In this specific case in Genesis, the deep waters were considered a pagan chaotic deityFor example, in the Enuma Elish, a popular story at the time, the Deep is personified as the goddess Tiamat, the enemy of another pagan god called Mardukwhom we will get back to later. The message in day one is that this deep chaotic water, representing, here, the goddess Tiamat, or another pagan god, along with the darkness, is overcome by the God of Israel, whose Spirit hovers over it and brings light. The main implication, here, is that God literally created the waters. But, while others consider the waters to be pagan gods, God is the true Creator and is in total control over these so-called godsAlso, unlike the fake pagan gods, that have to fight one another to conquer these deep waters, the Israelite God merely says: “let there be light” and it happens. He is in total control. Then, He proceeds to demonstrate His control once again by giving the light the function of Day and the darkness the function of Night. As we have seen, to the ancient nations, giving a function meant to bring into existence. Therefore, here, God brings both light and darkness into existence. So the text is speaking about the creation of the real world, but, as per the understanding of the time. A similar example of the Israelite God conquering pagan waters is also found in the 10 plagues, when God asks Moses to turn the Nile into blood. The Nile was an Egyptian pagan god at the time. In this case also, God is dethroning the Nile.  

 

In Day 2, God separates the waters above from the waters below. The appropriate meaning of this separation is understood when one looks into the science available at the time Genesis 1 was written. But, this is outside this video’s scope. Ultimately, the purpose of day 2 is to dethrone the false pagan god Marduk, who allegedly separated the waters in the story Enuma ElishThe Israelites God is the One who truly separated the waters and, therefore, is truly in controlNot Marduk or no one else of that matter. Likewise, the third day demonstrates God’s authority. He gathers the waters under the heaven to create the dry land. He gives names to the land and the waters. And He gives a function to the earth to bring forth lifegrass, herbs, trees with the purpose of sustaining mankind. The chief message of day three is that God gives a purpose to the earth, and now it exists, as per their ancient understanding. This purpose is that God, is the only One humanity can rely on to be fed; and therefore, to live. There’s no need to pray to the pagan gods for food. The true God will provide.  

 

On the fourth day, God makes the sun, the moon and the stars. However, in Genesis the sun and moon are not named ‘sun’ and ‘moon, but are called the greater light and the lesser light. Why is that? Because, Shamash (the Hebrew name for the sun) and Yarih (the Hebrew name for the moon) were both considered pagan gods at the timeAlsoit was common, at the time, to have one main God and several lower gods; therefore, to avoid the worship of these so-called pagan gods ‘sun’ and ‘moon, the text purposely does not name them. In other words, the Almighty God created mere lamps and gave them a function to preside over the Day and Night. They are not lower gods. A similar purpose is found in the 10 plagues once again, when God sent darkness for 3 days over Egypt. This was meant to demonstrate that the Egyptian pagan god Ra (or the sun) is not a real god capable of protecting himselfThat sun is the same pagan god St. Moses the Strong was mistakenly worshipping before discovering Christianity in the fourth century ADAlso, with that same dethroning purpose, the stars are very quickly glanced over in day 4. This is done in contrast with the pagan myths mistaken emphasis on astrology. The message is simple: God created the stars. Focus on Him, not on the stars themselves. 

 

On the fifth day, God creates every living creature that moves in the waters and firmament or sky. These creatures became animate beings with living souls. Once again, God is the Being to whom all creatures owe their lives. God also created the sea-monsters. The sea-monsters are often imprecisely rendered “great sea creatures” or “whales. But, the correct rendering is sea-monsters and it refers to creatures like Leviathan for example. In pagan stories, those were considered powerful creatures, who were rivals. Once more, there is a demythologizing or dethroning message. God has no rivals. They too are part of the creation. There is only One True God. These creatures in day 5 are also given a function to multiply and fill the waters and earth. So the message of these 5 days is that God literally created this entire cosmos but it is written as per the ancient understanding and it aims at dethroning their pagan gods. As of days six and seven, we will discuss in the next video on this topic. 

 

 

Structure 7 days 

Image of god 

Temple 

 

 

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