Ways to interpret Genesis
What is the argument?
The Creation story in Genesis seems to say that God created the Universe during a six-day period. There are arguments about how to interpret this timeline.
One group of Christians called Creationists take a more literal view with some believing that the universe was made in six days. The majority of Church leaders in Christianity and also in Judaism (including the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi) see the time-line as figurative.
The perspectives of a scientist
In the video below, Dr Denis Alexander sets out a number of different perspectives on how life began and explains which he – as a Christian and a scientist – finds most convincing.
Not a new debate
Did you know that people were debating the best way to interpret the Biblical account of Creation long before Galileo challenged the notion of an Earth-centred Universe … and long, long, before Darwin worked on the theory of evolution.
Augustine of Hippo (a 4th century Bishop and Philosopher) argued that the Biblical account is allegorical not literal, on the basis that it then fitted better with a bigger theological picture of the nature of God.
Dr Rowan Williams addresses this issue
Dr Rowan Williams was previously the Archbishop of Canterbury, the senior bishop of the Church of England. Here are his responses to the questions, “”Why do you read the Bible?” and “How do you understand the story of Adam and Eve?”
Arguments for a Figurative Reading
Scholars who say that the Genesis stories are intended as give a figurative and not a scientific account present the following arguments. See whether you agree.
The text was written by someone long ago
Those arguing for a figurative reading of the text point out that the stories in Genesis were written thousands of years ago and convey ideas about the nature of God using language and ideas that made sense to people living then. They argue that if the same ideas were to be presented now, it is likely that the wording and metaphors used would be different.
Clues to the nature of the text
Scholars arguing for a figurative reading of the text say that there are a number of clues in the text that show this is the way it should be understood. They highlight that in Genesis, the text says the Sun, Moon and Stars were created on ‘‘Day’ 4 – but how can there be a ‘Day’ before the Sun and Earth exist. This, they say, tells us that the timeline must be figurative.
The Sun and Moon are ‘Lamps’
These scholars also highlight that the Sun and Moon are described as ‘lamps’ – one lamp for daytime and one for night. We now know that the Sun is a star and the Moon is a sphere of rock which reflects light. Why would the writer of the Creation story describe the Sun and Moon as lamps?
The answer, according to those arguing for a figurative interpretation is that the writer is using the language of appearance – this is how the Sun and Moon look. Scholars also say that this wording carried a message to people at the time. Living around the Jews were people who believed that the Sun and Moon were gods. The Creation story writer is saying that the God of the Jews is the creator of everything. God created the Sun and Moon which in turn are not gods but just beautiful ‘lamps’.