Sunday, March 20, 2011

Genesis 1 and Creation Days

Paul from Canada asked: How do we know the account of creation in Genesis is not to be taken literally? Didn't the early church take it literally?

First, let me say I am not very knowledgeable about Church history. Whatever I do know is based on limited research  -- limited in the sense of how much there actually is to know about our 2,000 years history, and what I felt I needed to know before I made the decision that Jesus was leading me into the Catholic Church.

My expertise is in knowledge of Scripture.

Second, let me also preface my comment about creation and Genesis by saying I accept all of Scripture as literal -- unless the facts of the immediate context, studies in light of related passages, and fundamental truths taught in the entire Bible and interpreted by the Church indicate the passage in question should not be taken literally.

So, back to the question about how do we know the account of creation in Genesis is – or is not – to be taken literally. Didn’t the early church take it literally?

I have included several websites (see below) I found in my quick perusal of the internet to research your question. I searched key phrases: “Genesis 1 Old Earth” “Genesis 1 Young Earth” Genesis 1 Early Church Fathers”  Genesis 1 Ancient Rabbis.” The sites explore both sides of the issue. You might find them of interest, but I will not address their arguments here because that was not your question.

By the way, I also included a site for a Catholic Papal encyclical of Pope Pius XII who wrote, in 1950, that Catholics are not required to believe one side of the Old Earth/Young Earth debate. In other words, Catholics are free to believe what they feel is truth based on a variety of factors.  (See  -- especially paragraphs 35 and following).

Okay, so some of the reasons I believe in the literalness of Genesis one are these:

St. Paul, in his defense before Felix (Acts 26) said to the Jews in the courtroom, “Why is it considered incredible among you if God does raise the dead?” (verse 8).

And so I asked myself many years ago, “Why is it so incredible to me if God created the heavens and the earth in six days?”  After all, God is – well, God. He can do anything He wants, in however long a time He wants to take. He could have done it all in six nanoseconds, had He chosen to do so.

His work of creation is called a ‘miracle’ because He took nothing and made something from it. Miracles, by their very definition, suspend the natural order of physics, gravity, biology, etc., created by God. Thus, it was possible for Jesus to walk on water. It was possible for Him to appear out of what seemed ‘thin air’ to His disciples in the upper room. God’s miracles made it possible for Mary to conceive without human agency, for Elijah to be swept away into heaven by fiery chariots, for iron axe head to float (2 Kings 6:6), for 5,000 to be fed with only a few fish and some bread. And on and on.

Most important, of course, God’s prerogative to suspend His laws, natural and otherwise, resulted in the miracle of Christ’s resurrection, after Jesus had been dead three days.

And so, with regard to some of the scientific arguments that dismiss Genesis 1 as either myth or allegory, I thought (for example), why is it not possible for the light of distant stars to suddenly appear in the Creation sky, when we know light travels at 186,000 miles/second and it would (normally) take millions of years for the light of some of those stars to reach earth? The sudden appearance of starlight would easily fall under the category of a miracle – a temporary suspension of the laws of physics.

I had other thoughts – more theological, actually – about Genesis 1. St. Paul makes the case several times about our sin nature derived from ‘one man.’ And he often compares Adam to Jesus. See Romans 5:12-19 and 1 Corinthians 15:45-49, for example. If Adam were not a real, historical person, Paul’s argument falls apart. Further, Jesus’ genealogy in Luke traces back to Adam (to prove all of humanity – Jew and non-Jew – are saved by the blood of Christ). If Adam was not a real person, then we would only have Matthew’s genealogy, from which argument might be made only Jews are saved by Christ.

If Adam were not a real, historical person, then what did St. Paul mean when he made his comments to the Athenians (Acts 17:26):[A]nd he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth . . . ? Or what did he mean when he wrote to Timothy, “For it was Adam who first was created, and then Eve” if Adam (and Eve) were not individual, historical people? (1 Timothy 2:12-15).

And then I thought, if Genesis 1 is allegorical (as some have said to me), then what criteria do we use to decide when anything in Scripture is allegorical or historical?

Again, I thought, science cannot answer everything because miracles do not play by scientific rules. That’s why, again, we call them miracles when God suspends what science can see, hear, feel, touch, taste and extrapolate.

I don’t want to beat the proverbial dead horse, but I have heard pastors and I have read commentaries that scoff at the idea of miracles, saying they are simply allegories of greater truths. So the Red Sea didn’t really part, manna didn’t fall each day from heaven to feed the Israelites, and Christ actually got the food to feed the 5,000 from the people sitting on the grass, who were keeping their food for themselves and didn’t want to share until Jesus encouraged them to do so.

Some have even questioned the resurrection of Jesus.

And so, I reject attempts to take what is so often the plain sense of Scripture, and spiritualize it to mean something else. Which leads me to make this comment now:

I am grateful to God that He led me into the safety of the Catholic Church. It is safe here because God Himself gave the mandate to the Church to be the final arbiter of truth regarding Biblical morals and doctrine. When I face a question about what any particular scripture means, I might have what I consider a great idea. But I have been known -- many times I have been known -- to be wrong. The Church is not. And so I can safely defer to its authority.

As I said earlier, in cases such as this (Genesis 1) since the Church does not take an official position, Catholics are free to decide what they will believe -- so long as that belief does not contradict Church teaching elsewhere.

I don’t know if this answers your question, Paul. If not, I hope it at least gives you some food for thought.

Thanks for taking the time to ask.


Young earth
Old earth:

Other sites:

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