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 and John Mackay
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. Matthias Media is an independent publishing company in Sydney Australia, producing books and study guides for evangelical Anglicans and others. Moore Theological College, Sydney, is one of their Partner organisations.
Now let’s compare this formed/filled arrangement, with what Genesis says.
Note firstly that the table given above separates the first two verses of Genesis from the rest of the narrative as being “Before Day One”, and then sets out two parallel lists for the six days. However, the Genesis text does not indicate such a separation. Always remember 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 the text does not indicate.
But the problem arises that if the first two verses were not part of the first day, then neither can they be included “in the beginning”. Yet the text of Genesis 1:1 clearly does include them even if only because there can’t have been any time before Day One. Furthermore, putting them before Day 1, makes the question ‘When did God create the earth?’ unanswerable. Yet that also is only mentioned in the first two verses?
Now let’s consider how well the first three days do pair with the second three days.
Day 1 and Day 4?
The pairing of light (Day 1) with the heavenly bodies (Day 4) seems reasonable, but it ignores the fact that 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) This can be paired with nothing in day 4.
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 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 the sun, moon and stars are located in outer space, and God also made light on the first day. Then if you accept that God made the earth on the first day, it makes even more sense because God says one function of the lights in the sky is to give light on the earth. (Genesis 1:15) But this pattern starts to break down when you discover God also said they were put there to serve as signs of time and seasons. (Genesis 1:14-19) That’s a statement at best can be paired with only man who was not made until the sixth day.
Day 2 and Day 5
The pairing of Days 2 and 5 also appears reasonable at a superficial level. On Day 2 God separated the waters leaving a layer in between, that we call the atmosphere. (Genesis 1:6-8) On Day 5 God created 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 fish live in water. They live on dry land or in trees, which were not created until Day Three. Also, neither sea creatures nor flying creatures could live anywhere until there was vegetation for them to eat and use as habitat. But vegetation was not made until the Third Day. Furthermore, nothing lived in the waters above that were also formed on the second day. The pairing concept is failing at this point.
Day 3 and Day 6
Finally, there is the pairing of dry land and vegetation on Day 3 with land animals and man on Day 6. This also seems to work, especially as man and the animals live on land and were told to eat plants. However, it could be said that the creation of plants was filling, rather than forming.
The birds and other flying creatures made on Day 5 also live on land, need food to eat, and use plants for habitat, so they could be also paired with Day 3 as much as Day 2.
Finally, man was told to rule over the land animals (made on Day 6) and the fish and birds (made on Day 5). Again, the pairing concept is not a good fit at all.
Overall, Genesis 1 is best viewed as a brief, but accurate description of what God created, and in what order they were made, with some instructions given by God, 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 God 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 the word “God” symbolic of? Aliens?? What is the term “earth” symbolic of? What are the terms “birds”, “fish” and “animals” symbolic of? The text is clearly talking about these as reality, not as symbols.
The six days of creation can be arranged in two groups of three that appear to have some symmetry, but this arrangement is more superficial than real, and has been imposed on the text, rather than a drawn out from within the text. So why do it?
In the end, the only reason for contriving a structure of Days of Forming and Days of Filling is to distract Bible students from the factual historical content of Genesis 1, so they can avoid taking the text as a plain narrative describing a series of real events. But more importantly, the key reason for not taking the text as historical reality is to avoid clear disagreement with the claimed billions of years of earth-forming and millions of years of life-filling by evolutionary processes involved in the origin of the universe, the earth and living things. Instead, Bible readers need to choose between the Word of God, who was there, and the words of men who weren’t. Falsely pretending the text is merely spiritual in nature is a ploy the devil loves and Christ the creator rejects.
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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