The Period of Beginnings
Queries concerning the origin of life and of things have always had a part in man's thinking. Discovery of the past, as exhibited by the Dead Sea Scrolls, not only challenges the scholar but fascinates the layman.
The Old Testament provides an answer to man's inquiry into the past. Unfolded in the first eleven chapters of Genesis are the essential facts regarding the creation of this universe and of man. In the written record of God's dealings with man these chapters extend into the past beyond that which has definitely been established or corroborated by historical investigations. With reasonable assurance, nevertheless, the evangelical unequivocally accepts this part of the Bible as the "first" (and the only authentic) account of God's creation of the universe.
The opening chapters of the canon are basic to the entire revelation unfolded in the Old and New Testaments. Throughout the Bible there are references to creation and the early history of mankind as portrayed in these introductory chapters.
How shall we interpret this account of the beginning of man, and his world? Is it mythology, allegory, a contradictory combination of documents, or a single man's idea of the origin of things? Other biblical writers recognize it as a straightforward narration of God's activity in creating the earth, the heavens, and man. But the modern reader must guard against reading into the narrative, interpreting it in scientific terms, or assuming it to be a storehouse of information bearing upon recently developed ologies. In interpreting this section of the Bible -- or any other text, for that matter -- it is important to accept it on its own terms. Without question the author made normal use, of symbols, allegory, figures of speech, poetry, and/or other literary devices. To him it apparently constituted a sensible, unified record of the beginning of all things as made known to him by God through human and divine means.
The time covered by this period of beginnings is nowhere indicated in the Scriptures. Whereas the terminal point -- the time of Abraham -- is related to the first half of the second millennium, the other events of this era cannot be dated with exactness. Attempts to interpret the genealogical references as a complete and exact chronology do not seem reasonable in the light of secular history. Although the narrative generally is in chronological sequence, the author of Genesis by no means suggests a date for creation.
Neither are the geographical details of this period known to us. It is improbable that the exact location of Eden, and of some of the rivers and countries mentioned, will ever be identified. What geographical changes occurred with man's expulsion from Eden and with the Flood are not indicated. In all likelihood they are beyond the limits of man's investigation.
In reading the first eleven chapters of the Old Testament one can think of questions that remain unanswered in the narrative. These queries deserve further study. More important, however, is the consideration of that which is stated; for this material provides the foundation and background for God's greater and fuller revelation as it is progressively unfolded in subsequent chapters.
The first part of Genesis falls neatly into the following subdivisions:
|I. The account of creation|
B. Man and his habitat
|II. The fall of man and its consequences|
B. Cain and Abel
C. The generation of Adam
|III. The Flood: God's judgment onman|
B. The deluge
|IV. Man's new beginning|
B. Noah and his sons
C. The tower of Babel
D. Shem and his descendants
The Account of Creation -- 1:1-2:25
"In the beginning" introduces the developments in preparation of the universe for the creation of man. Whether this dateless date refers to God's original creation or to God's initial act in getting the world ready for man is a matter of interpretation. In either case the narrator begins with God as the creator in this brief introductory paragraph or clause (1:1-2) in accounting for the existence of man and the universe.
Sequence and progression mark the era of creation and organization (1:3-2:3). In a period designated as six days order prevailed in the universe relative to the earth. On the first day light and darkness were ordained to provide periods of day and night. On the second day the firmament was set apart to be the expanse of the earth's atmosphere. Next in order came the separation of land and water, so that vegetation appeared in due time. On the fourth day the luminaries in the heavens began to function in their respective places to determine the length, seasons, years, and days for the earth. The fifth day brought into existence living creatures to populate the bodies of water below and the sky above. Climactic in this series of creative events was the sixth day. Land animals and man were ordained for the occupation of the earth. The latter was distinguished from the former and entrusted with responsibility to have dominion over all animal life. Vegetation was God's provision for their livelihood. On the seventh day God finished his creative acts and sanctified it as a period of rest.
Man is immediately distinguished as the most important of God's entire creation (2:4b-25). Created in the image of God, he becomes the focal point of interest as the narrative proceeds. More details are given here about his creation...(Continues...)