The original question was: A Bible Study guide book arranges the six days of creation described in Genesis 1 as two parallel groups of three, with the first three telling us God made the different parts of the creation, and the second three showing us what he made to function within each of the three parts. Does this structure show Genesis is not real history, but a poetic account about God’s power and orderliness?
Answer by Diane Eager
This idea is sometimes summarised as “Days of Forming and Days of Filling”, or “Days of Forming and Days of Use”. It is incorporated into some Bible Studies by getting people to fill in a table of the Days, set out as in the example below from Pathway Bible Guides.
In the leader’s notes associated with this Study Guide the table is preceded by the following comment: “We should read Genesis first and foremost not for scientific theory, but for what it tells us about God and his relationship to the world.”
The notes then present the completed table as set out here:
The study guide goes on to say: “The way the story is written suggests either that the account is not meant to be strictly literal, or even if it is, there are more important points being made.”
(Reference: Pathway Bible Guides, Beginning with God, Genesis 1 – 12, by Gordon Cheng, Matthias Media, 2006, page 53)
Let’s look at this supposed arrangement, and at what Genesis actually says more closely.
The six days of creation can be arranged in two groups of three that appear to have some symmetry, but it is only superficial, and has been imposed on the text, rather than a drawn out from within the text.
The example given above separates the first two verses from the rest of the narrative as being “before Day One”, but the text does not indicate this separation. The verse divisions are not in the original text. They were added later for referencing. As such they are useful tools, but must not be used to make divisions that the text does not indicate. In fact, if the first two verses were not part of the first day, they cannot be “in the beginning,” as the text clearly says in Genesis 1:1. There can’t have been any time before Day One. Furthermore, when did God create the earth?
Now lets look at the pairing of the first three days with the second three days.
The pairing of light with the heavenly bodies seems reasonable, but it ignores the fact that on Day One God also made the earth. Genesis 1:1 clearly states: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. The text then goes on to describe the earth at this stage – formless, empty and covered with water. (Genesis 1:2)
A plain reading of Genesis 1:1-5 indicates that in the beginning God made the heavens, i.e. what we would call outer space, and the earth, complete with all the water associated with the earth. This means God made all the matter that is in the earth, including what will be later be made into air, sea, land and living things. He then made light, and named Day and Night. All this happened on the first day.
The linking of the first and fourth days seems to make sense in that sun, moon and stars are located in outer space, and God also made light on the first day. If you accept that God made the earth on the first day it makes even more sense because God says that one of the functions of the lights in the sky is to give light on the earth. (Genesis 1:15) However, he also said they were put there to serve as signs of time and seasons. (Genesis 1:14-19) Who were they serving? It has to be human beings, who were not made until the sixth day.
The pairing of Days Two and Five also appears reasonable at a superficial level. On Day Two God separates the waters leaving a layer in between, that we call the atmosphere. (Genesis 1:6-8) On Day Five God creates creatures that live in the water and creatures that fly in the air. However, birds and other flying creatures do not live in the air in the same way that fish live in water. They live on land, which was not created until Day Three. Also, neither the sea creatures nor flying creatures can live anywhere until there was vegetation for them to eat and use as habitat. Vegetation was not made until the Third Day. Furthermore, nothing lived in the waters above that were also formed on the second day.
Finally, there is the pairing of land and vegetation on Day Three with land animals and man on Day Six. This seems to work, especially as man and the animals live on land and were told to eat plants. However, the birds and other flying creatures made on Day Five also live on land, need food to eat, and use plants for habitat. Furthermore, man was also told to rule over the land animals (made on Day Six) and the fish and birds (made on Day Five).
Overall, Genesis 1 is best read as a brief, but accurate description of what God created, and in what order, with some instructions given by God along the way, where relevant. It tells us God first created and organised the physical environment, provided food and habitat in a functioning ecosystem involving sea and land creatures, and finally created man to live and work on the earth, and have fellowship with Him. It is a perfectly logical sequence of events when you consider God’s purpose was to create a functioning home for mankind, and then create mankind to live in it.
Some people claim Genesis 1 is poetic symbolism. Our answer to this is to ask: Symbolic of what? What is God symbolic of? What is the earth symbolic of? What are the birds, fish and animals symbolic of? The text is clearly talking about these as reality, not symbols.
In the end, the only reason for contriving a structure of Days of Form and Days of Use is to distract Bible students from actual content of Genesis 1, and therefore avoid taking the text as a plain narrative that describes a series of real events. The only reason for not taking the text as historical reality is to avoid the clear disagreement with evolutionary theories of the origin of the universe, the earth and living things, and being forced to choose between the Word of God, who was there, and the words of men who weren’t.
Related Question: SYMBOLIC? Surely Genesis is just a symbolic account of creation with the point being God did it. Answer here
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