For centuries people have been intrigued by the book of Genesis. But what is it? Myth? History? Or something else? Join expert Dr. Andrew Brown as we explore this perplexing account as we delve into fundamental questions of human origins. An insightful conversation sure to get you thinking.
Our guest: Dr. Andrew Brown works as a lecturer in Old Testament at the Melbourne School of Theology. He’s previously worked as a baptist pastor and his PhD topic was a history of Christian interpretation of the creation week in Genesis chapter 1.
This conversation was recorded live in Melbourne in September 2018 in partnership with the Simeon Network.
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Bigger Questions asked in the conversation
So Andrew, a PhD in the history of Christian interpretation of the creation week in Genesis 1 - what a fascinating topic. Why did you do that? Couldn’t you understand the very first page of the Bible?
To kick off Bigger Questions we like ask a couple of smaller questions - we do try to have a bit of fun on the show. Today we’re asking Andrew Brown if the Genesis account of creation is simply a myth. So Andrew our smaller questions to you are about “fictional creation myths”.
History of interpretation of Genesis 1
Andrew, there are many creation myths - the ones by Tolkien and Adams probably fall into that category. Many in our world today would consider the first chapter of the Christian Bible in the same way - simply a myth. So is myth one of the ways the opening Chapter of the Bible has been interpreted?
So in your research, what did you discover about the history of interpretation of the creation week in Genesis 1? How has it been interpreted? Has interpretation changed over the centuries?
Today much criticism of the first chapter of the Bible revolves around the creation account describing a very short period period of time - just seven days. Wasn’t there criticism in earlier times when critics asked, ‘if God is so powerful, why did he take so long and not just create everything at once’? I suppose you can’t ever win?
What about the role of the Church Father, Augustine? He wrote a book, called ‘The literal interpretation of Genesis’. What was he concerned about?
Interpretation of Genesis 1
So how then do we interpret the book? Genesis 1:1, the very sentence of the Bible, starts with:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth
So what kind of literature do we have here? Poetry? History? Theology? Myth? Epic? Science?
So should we consider it another creation myth conjured up in the imagination of an inspired author like Tolkien or even Douglas Adams? One commenter on Goodreads described The Silmarillion - Tolkien’s creation myth - as an epic tale of Biblical proportions - so should we treat Genesis similarly? How are they different?
Some would say that Genesis being simply myth is fine, because myths communicate deep personal truths. For example one scholar said by “throwing off the shackles of having to believe in the historicity of the Bible, we are free to interpret the stories as a testament to the religious experiences of people from a different age”. Are you comfortable with that idea?
Are there parts of Genesis 1 that transcend particular interpretation frameworks - i.e. that the meaning is the same regardless of your framework? E.g. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Challenges with the interpretation of Genesis 1
Critics of the Genesis creation narrative look to apparent discrepancies within the account and assume it to be flawed, ahistorical, anti-scientific and hence mythical. For example, light appears on day one - in verse three when God says, ‘Let there be light’, But this appears before the sun, which is made on day 4 when God made two great lights. So this seems to contradict a logical and scientific understanding of the world, doesn’t this diminish the credibility of Genesis?
There appear to be other discrepancies with known cosmology - e.g. verse 6 where God said, ‘Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.’ It appears that there is water above the sky? How are we to consider this?
Critics also point to the perceived differences between the two creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2. So are they compatible or not?
Implications of Genesis 1
The famed atheist scientist Richard Dawkins once said, "Nearly all peoples have developed their own creation myth, and the Genesis story is just the one that happened to have adopted by one particular tribe of Middle Eastern herders. It has no more special status than the belief of a particular West African tribe that the world was created from the excrement of ants."
So why should we believe in the Genesis account of creation?
So Andrew what impact has reflecting on this chapter of the Bible had on you?
The Big Question
So Andrew, is the Genesis account of creation simply a myth?