Why Christians too often miss the point of Genesis 1

Is the earth thousands of years old? Is it billions of years old? Is Genesis 1 literal? Are there six literal 24-hour days?

Questions like these are part of an overarching discussion and debate on the interpretation of the Bible’s opening chapter. It’s a hot button issue in many circles.

My point with this post is that this discussion is largely a waste of time where people get caught up in arguing about how long a day is in Genesis and miss the real point of the chapter.

I’m not saying issues related to the length of time that creation took are unimportant but I’m saying that they’re not all important and they’re not the most important issue in Genesis 1 and when we get preoccupied with those questions, we can lose sight of the more compelling and significant themes in the text.

The purpose of Genesis 1

  1. Genesis 1 points us to an all-powerful God who is mighty enough to create merely by the power of his word.
  2. Genesis 1 points us to the orderliness of God’s creation. It’s not chaotic or haphazard. Everything is brought forth by God at an appointed time.
  3. Genesis 1 points us to God’s creation while constantly telling us that the creation is good. It points us to an initially perfect creation. It also again points us to the God of the good creation who is himself good.

Theological themes

Genesis 1 also begins several theological trajectories which will run throughout the Bible.

  1. Most obviously, the Doctrine of Creation which is a recurring theme throughout the Bible. We see creative language used in the Psalms. We see an uncreation in the plagues of the Exodus. We see a new creation through the work and ministry of Jesus and in the New Heaven and the New Earth of Revelation.
  2. Genesis 1 also starts off important theological themes such as temple. In the Bible, a temple is not merely about a building. It’s the place where God is with his people. In Genesis 1, we see that the entire creation is a temple to God’s goodness and glory. In Genesis 2, we see Adam consecrated as the priest of the temple who’s given charge to “work and keep” to the garden, the temple.
  3. I would argue that we also see the beginning of Trinitarian theology in Genesis 1. From the beginning, we see the Spirit of God (Gen. 1:2). In creation, God says “let us make man in our image.”

A couple of considerations

The Hebrew word for day is yom. In both Hebrew and English, the words we use for day can have a variety of meanings. A day can refer to a 24 hour period of time. A day can refer to the part of a 24 hour period of time where there is daylight. A day can refer to a longer period of time (e.g. when people uses phrases like “Back in my day.”)

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