"I am given a beautiful woollen jersey for my birthday by my aunt. I am rapt with the gift – next winter will be easier to live through than this one! Initially I have no idea where the jersey came from. Perhaps she bought it at a shop and cut the label off – maybe too ashamed to admit it was bought from a cheap store or embarrassed to admit that it was bought from the most expensive store in town. Later my cousin tells me the story of the jersey. My aunt was staying with a farming friend at shearing time. At short notice she found herself needed to help out in the shearing shed. She worked hard for several days. Though she did not actually shear the sheep she more than earned the fleece of wool which was given to her when she left to return home. An old spinning wheel in the garage was brought into the lounge and the wool spun into a yarn. Then an idea entered her head. Knit a jersey for her beloved nephew. Out came the knitting needles and a pattern. What with this and that happening, it took a month or two to complete. But all her family were pleased when they saw the finished product, and they were glad that by giving it to me it would ‘stay in the family’.
My joy at the gift of the jersey, my appreciation of its usefulness is no different whether my aunt bought it at a shop or spent hours of patient toil on it. But the value I place on the jersey deepens when I learn of the time and effort which has gone into its production.
The point of the parable is obvious in relation to the ‘creation versus evolution’ debate. Creation is not less impressive, nor represents any less graciousness on God’s part for taking a longer and more complex developmental pathway than the seven day scheme implied by a literal reading of Genesis 1.
A number of evangelical Christians seem to get stuck in a mode which cannot read Genesis 1 other than literally and have been drawn to a detailed account of the origins and primeval development of life which seeks to explain everything as having been worked out in a chronological scheme which fits both with the ‘six days of creation’ in Genesis 1, and with the deduction from the genealogies of the Old Testament that the earth is thousands rather than millions of years old. This explanatory approach is variously know as ‘creation science’ and ‘creationism’, and in recent years has been linked with a specific questioning of standard evolutionary theory through a notion called Intelligent Design.
In what follows it is important that we separate two questions which do not necessarily have a connection. First, the question of whether theories about the origins and development of the universe and life within it account for all evidence satisfactorily. If ‘creation science’ or ‘Intelligent Design’ have discovered evidence that theories of evolution, cosmology, geology and paleontology need revising one hopes that scientists will do so, without allowing bias against the theology of the creation scientists or Intelligent Design proponents to influence their scientific objectivity. As a matter of fact one does not need to be a theologian or even a believer in God to ask searching questions of science. That is good science methodology since scientific theories gain strength from answering questions and resolving problems.
Secondly, the question of whether the opening chapters of Genesis constitute evidence that science should consider. For example, if we had some certainty that God was directly telling us that in six measurable time periods (whether of, say, 24 hours each or 1000 years each) the world was created in a specific order, then we could have some evidence for science to assess.
In fact, the problem of whether or not we are to read Genesis 1 as ‘literal’ or ‘scientific’ truth is readily solved by reading Genesis 2 as well! In Genesis 1:1–2:3 we have an account of the creation of the world which is spread over seven days (strictly speaking six days, since God rests on the seventh day) and describes two stages of creation. In stage one, with the heavens and the earth and water already created, during the first three days, God creates light (and darkness), sky and rain clouds, sea and land and vegetation. In stage two, over the next three days, God creates the sun, the moon, and the stars, fish and birds, land based animals and human beings together, male and female. The creation of humanity is specifically described as being ‘in God’s image’.
In Genesis 2:4-25 we have another account of creation (that it is another account is made clear by 2:4-5). In this account the emphasis falls on one single day of creation (‘in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens’). On that day, after the making of the earth and the heavens, and before either plants were made or rain fell, there was a mist which watered the land. The first living creature of any kind is man, made separately (and definitely not simultaneously) from woman. Then man is placed in a garden in which plants grow and a river flowed. After which the man is deemed to be in need of companionship and so land based animals, and birds (no mention of fish) are made for the man. When none of these proves a fit helper for the man, a woman is formed from the man and brought to him. The creation of humanity is specifically linked to marriage (2:24).
There is simply no question of both accounts being compatible and non-contradictory if read literally. One day does not equal six (or seven) days. Humanity cannot be created both before and after plants and animals. Thus Genesis 1 – 2 tells the story of creation in a non-literal manner via the medium of two accounts told sequentially. Common to both stories is the conviction that it is God who created the world and that humanity is the most important part of creation (being the culmination of the acts of creation in the first story and the first act of creation within the created world in the second story). Alternatively, we could say that in the first story humanity is the goal of creation and in the second story humanity is the centre of creation. That is, the messages of the accounts are compatible and non-contradictory. The first emphasizes that God deemed creation to be good, an emphasis lacking in the second. The second account emphasiszes that God gave the man the task of ‘working and keeping’ the garden, the first account tells us that God commanded humanity to ‘have dominion’ over the earth and the life on it.
The first account, as noted already, conveys a striking theological understanding of the relationship between God and humanity,
‘So God created man in his own image,
In the image of God he created him;
Male and female he created them.’ (1.27)
Of nothing else in creation is this said. The supreme value of human life, the equality of male and female are laid down forever in this statement.
By contrast the second account, describing the creation of woman as an act of creation derivative from the creation of the man, leads to a different message, a theology of marriage. In marriage a man and a woman become one flesh, a reunion so to speak of what they were in the one flesh of the original human being created by God. (Unfortunately this story has also led to the message being given that woman is inferior to man). Again, we should estimate this account’s importance correctly. Genesis 2 places marriage, with sexual intercourse as the primary means of enabling union between male and female, as both a foundational and distinctive human relationship deriving from the creation itself. Combined with the command in Genesis 1:28, ‘Be fruitful and multiply’, we may deduce that marriage is both a relationship of union between humanity differentiated into male and female and a relationship for reproduction of humanity.
What then of history and science in respect of creation and the two-story account given in Genesis 1-2?
First, Genesis 1-2 was not written as history or science. To some this will be heresy. But look again (and, if necessary, again) at the two stories in these first two chapters of Scripture. On key matters relating to both history and science, namely, consistent chronology and coherent non-contradictory sequences of events, Genesis 1-2 are more parable than documentary. They are story rather than history or science.
Of particular importance is the observation that two differing time spans, one week and one day are employed in each story. The time periods are symbolic. In particular the time period of seven days in Genesis 1:1-2:3 is confirmed as symbolic because the conclusion drawn emphasizes the establishment of the Sabbath day of rest (2:2-3). That a ‘day’ does not equal a twenty-four hour period becomes clear with reflection on the second story. If God creates Adam at the beginning of one day, and later creates plants and animals, it seems an extraordinarily busy day, what with the naming of livestock, birds, and ‘every beast of the field’, then the realisation that ‘a helper fit for him’ had not been discovered, and finally a ‘deep sleep’ falling on Adam in order for the female-creating operation to be accomplished. The ‘day’ is simply a symbolic period for the actual time in which the accomplishment of creation was achieved. Thus it is a complete waste of time trying to resolve whether one day equals twenty-four hours or a thousand years or some long primeval aeon.
It is tempting to treat Genesis 1-2 as a single undifferentiated account and explain the ‘day’ of the second account as an excerpt from the ‘week’ of the first story. But this will not do. Genesis 2:4 says ‘in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens’, 2:5 says ‘when no bush of the field was yet in the land (or earth) and 2:18 describes man as ‘alone’ prior to every beast and every bird being made (2:19). This is an alternative account of creation which sits alongside, indeed has been brought alongside the first account. Presumably as a compliment to both beautiful and profound stories, restraint has been exercised over the possibility of rewriting both and merging them into one. Together the two accounts may be treated as one whole story of creation in the sense that (a) nothing in each account is theologically contradictory, (b) both accounts have been included in Genesis (and thus in the Old Testament and the whole canon of Scripture) as one coherent narrative, and (c) Jesus himself draws from both stories together when articulating his theology of marriage (see Mark 10:6-7 which cites both Genesis 1:27 and 2:24).
Yet, this does not mean the two stories have no historical or scientific traits, just as parables often convey sound information about geography, economics, and social history. Both evolutionary biology and common sense tell us that light was necessary before plants were formed, and plants were needed before there could be animals (and this sequence is found in Genesis 1). Chemists tell us that the human body is made up from a couple of dollars worth of chemicals and lots of water (and in Genesis 2:7 God ‘formed the man of dust from the ground’, ground which was being ‘watered’ by mist, 2:6).
History is about the people who inhabit the past. At some point in distant time there must have been ‘the first’ people – at least in the sense that as humans talked about their past they located the beginning of humanity with one specific man and one particular woman. (It couldn’t have been two men or two women!) Naturally the argument arises that since the New Testament treats Adam and Eve as two ‘historical’ people therefore Genesis 1-2 must be ‘history’. But this argument misses the subtlety inherent in the situation. If Genesis 1-2 is ‘history’ then it is internally contradictory in its description of the origin of the first man and the first woman.
As a unified story combining two stories or versions of the creation of humanity, the account in Genesis 1-2 leaves the actual process of creation as both a scientific and historical mystery. That is, we have no way of deciding from the text whether ‘the man’ and ‘the woman’ of the story are created with or without evolutionary ancestry. Further, we have no means of deciding whether ‘the man’ and ‘the woman’ of Genesis 1-2 are a particular couple or representative of unknown generations of human beings who inhabit the earth beyond the descriptive range of the genealogy of Israel exemplified in the genealogy of Jesus which concludes with ‘the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God’ (Luke 4:38). That is, the character of the account in Genesis 1-2 means that ‘Adam’ can be referred to as a specific human being, the father of Seth, the husband of Eve, the originator with her of human sinfulness (as we find in the New Testament) while also being referred to as the original or we might say originating ‘man’.
Thus we can approach Genesis chapter 3 relaxed about its role in history! If Genesis 1-2 tells the story of the origin of ‘good’ creation, then this chapter tells the story of ‘wrongdoing’ and ‘suffering’ entering into and distorting the goodness of creation. Together these chapters tell the story of the origins of human life as we experience it in every generation, an experience of pleasure and pain, goodness and evil, and health and sickness. Again, it matters little whether the actual history of sin began a thousand generations before Seth or with his biological father and mother. Sin entered into the story of ‘the man’ and ‘the woman’ from the beginning and became the great problem of humanity both in relation to God and to each other, the problem Jesus came to solve once and for all through his death on the cross.
Naturally, the question arises when this ‘story’ becomes ‘history’ since undoubtedly there is a point between Adam and Eve and Jesus when what Scripture tells us about the deeds of his ancestors is reliable history. For some biblical historians this point is around the time of David, others push further back to, say, Moses, and some go back to Abraham. However we need to note that ‘story’ can incorporate ‘history’. There undoubtedly was a ‘first couple’ who were both fully human (defined as both ‘made in the image of God’ (1:27) and having ‘the breath of life’ (2:7) and were the ancestors of
Sin became a sad feature of human history from
the very beginning. The story in Genesis 1-3 testifies to these historical facts. Rather than advance a thesis
that the Old Testament is fabulous or mythological or legendary at the
beginning and at some later point becomes history, it is truthful to speak of
history and story intermingling in the Old Testament from Genesis 1:1 onwards.
We have argued that on some matters Genesis 1-3 is clearly telling a story without historical factuality, for
example, when it offers two differing descriptions of the act of creating man
and woman, but on other matters it tells a story which incorporates historical
factuality, for example, when it explains the creation of the world as an act
of God or the fall of humankind as an event occurring at the beginning of
Care should be taken in responding to the word ‘story’ used here, along with talk of ‘without historical factuality’. It would be unhelpful to then introduce the term ‘fiction’ into the discussion since this can be understood as a synonym for ‘untrue’. Thus the term has been avoided deliberately. For example, below we talk about the grace of God in the creation story. To characterise the story as ‘fiction’ could be to mislead readers into thinking that perhaps the grace of God is also a fiction, something which is not true, did not happen, just the wishful thinking of Moses! No, quite the opposite is the case. The story tells in an imaginative and poetic way how life was created, and includes some things which did happen ‘as told’ and some things which did not happen ‘as told’. But in every part the story truthfully tells us of God being creator and giver of life.
One advantage of supposing that ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are created utterly new is that it provides an explanation of the equality of all human beings, no matter which tribe or race or nation we belong to. One disadvantage of evolutionary explanations for the origins of human life which conclude that human life arose in different parts of the world at different times is that, potentially, they can serve the cause of theories of tribal, racial and national superiority. The kind of explanation advanced here implies that, if evolutionary development lies behind human life, and even if this development led to several different points in which human life came into being, at a certain point God deems that humanity is (a) distinct from the plants and the animals (b) of one single class of creature in which all are equally human, and (c) recognises humanity as made in the image of God. In terms of Genesis 1-2 this point is referred to in 2:7 when God breathes the breath of life into ‘man’, that is, ‘man’ is consciously distinct in spiritual, emotional, and mental characteristics from any other creature. A not insignificant point favouring the kind of explanation given above is that it readily copes with the origin of Cain’s wife (Genesis 4:17), and avoids the need to suppose that hitherto unmentioned sisters of Cain and Seth became their wives!
In other words, absolutely no questioning of the ‘truth’ of Genesis 1-3 is involved in concluding that these chapters are best categorised as theology rather than history or science, and best defined in terms of literary genre as story rather than historical description or scientific report. Indeed, to the extent that these three chapters tell us who created us, what value we have before God, the significance of marriage from the very beginning of human life, and the propensity of human beings to do wrong, we have more valuable truth here than in all the scientific and historical accounts of origins of life put together. ‘I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation’ (Psalm 119:99).
Sadly, a huge misunderstanding is bound up in the efforts of sincere Christians who seek to teach ‘creation science’ alongside or even in place of evolution in school science curricula. The misunderstanding concerns the kind of information conveyed in Genesis 1 (in particular). According to the explanation given above there is no attempt in that chapter to convey anything other than a symbolic chronology for the creation of the world, nor is there any attempt to convey any specific information about the actual order of placement of natural phenomena in this world. That Genesis 1 gets the order of some things correct (e.g. water, light, land, plants then animals) is simply common sense (perhaps especially clever common sense given the antiquity of the story or entirely unsurprising insight if we emphasise the divine inspiration of the story). It is hardly the basis for a new scientific paradigm, especially given the way the account places the creation of the sun and the moon and the stars after vegetation and fruit trees began growing (1:11-19)!!
 Claus Westermann, Genesis: A Practical Commentary
Eerdmans, 1987, p. 16, ‘Scholars are virtually unanimous in regarding the
second chapter [of Genesis] as the work of an earlier scholar and theologian
than the first.’ Grand Rapids, MI
 Thus the first specific reference to sexual intercourse in the Bible describes how Adam ‘knew Eve his wife’ (Genesis 4:1), ascribing to sexual intercourse an interpenetrative engagement of two people involving more than physical intimacy.
 Incidentally, maritime nations of the world (such as Aotearoa New
Zealand where the author resides) see themselves
accounted for in the first story but not the second which has no concept of
‘the sea’ and does not described the creation of fish. This is supportive of
the conclusion drawn from other details in the second account (such as the
rivers) that its ultimate geographical origins lie in Mesopotamia rather than . See, e.g.
Clare Amos, The Book of Genesis Palestine : Epworth,
2004, pp. 15-16. Peterborough
 It is necessary to acknowledge that we have different knowledge at this point to Jesus and Paul. In their Jewish upbringing there was only one whole story of creation woven into the history of
(i.e. the Jewish Scripture
we know as the Old Testament), thus this story was indistinguishable from
‘history’ in their conception of it, and consequently they naturally talked of
Adam and Eve as historical figures. We recognise, particularly through
scientific discovery, that the story of creation in Genesis 1-2 cannot be
‘history’ as we understand it, and thus we are forced to acknowledge the dual
role of the human figures in these chapters, both as representative man and
woman, and as Adam and Eve, parents of Seth. As a footnote to Genesis 1:26 for
the English Standard Version carefully says, ‘The Hebrew word for man (adam) is the generic term for
mankind and becomes the proper name Adam.’ Israel
 C.S. Lewis, for example, responding to a question about the fabulous elements in the Bible says, ‘Jonah and the Whale, Noah and his
, are fabulous; but
the Court history of King David is probably reliable as the Court history of
Louis XIV.’ (God in the Dock: Essays on
Theology and Ethics, Ark : Eerdmans, 1970, p. 58. An attempt to summarise the course of
the debate in biblical scholarship about the reliability of the Old Testament
as history is beyond the scope of the present work. Grand Rapids,
 Note the interesting description of the effect of God’s breathing the breath of life: ‘the man became a living creature’ (2:7). This is entirely consistent with the origin of humanity being an evolutionary process which yields a ‘living creature’ distinct from its predecessors which is recognisable biologically as ‘a human being’ and theologically as ‘man created in God’s image’.
 The word ‘potentially’ needs to be stressed. Patterns of ancient travel mean that humanity for countless generations have been thoroughly mixed and in no sense can we say of known human history that one part of humanity has been ‘more’ evolved than another.
 Here we barely scratch the surface of all the theology conveyed in these chapters. The reader is referred to solid commentaries on Genesis.