The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

Various Interpretations of Genesis
Steve Schaffner

The following is a list of ways that different Christians interpret the creation account(s) in Genesis without embracing young-Earth creationism. It's very much an off-the-cuff effort -- improvements and corrections are welcome.

1) Day-age. The days of Genesis are each periods of indefinite length.
2) Gap. There is a gap of a few billion years between Gen. 1:1 and Gen. 1:2.

These are both "conservative" approaches that preserve the inerrancy of the Bible. They were quite popular among fundamentalists until the Flood geology/young-earth movement drove them out two or three decades ago. They make more of an attempt to come to terms with the physical evidence than does Flood geology, but neither really addresses the discrepancies. That is, they allow for an old earth, but even so the Genesis account still doesn't fit the physical record at all well. They also take, to my mind, a peculiar attitude towards the text: it's literally true and an accurate record of the history of life, but written in a kind of code that made it incomprehensible for most of its history (i.e., no one reading Genesis without a knowledge of geology would come away with the idea that the Earth is billions of years old).

3) Allegory. The creation account is an allegory; its message is the spiritual truth contained in the allegory. This is a very old position in Christian interpretation, although until the conflict with science developed the account was usually (but not always) thought to be true both literally and allegorically. As is often the case with allegories, the precise meaning that's supposed to be conveyed varies with the reader. This approach is also consistent with an inerrant Bible, but not with a fundamentalist style of literalism. More recent variations would make the account a metaphorical or a mythic representation of spiritual truths.

4) Reworked myth. The creation account is a Mesopotamian creation myth that has been carefully reworked to express theological truths (monotheism, supremacy of Israel's God over the forces of nature, etc.). The myth is simply the medium through which these truths are conveyed.

5) Theology uber alles. The question of the historical truth of the account is of no importance whatsoever. All that matters is the theological truths it contains. A different formulation would be that the Bible should only be expected to be reliable in matters of theological importance; it's not intended to be a science or history textbook, and hence need not be entirely accurate in those areas.

6) Fallible human product. Like the rest of the Bible, the Genesis account is not God's word, but a record of and reflections on a particular people's encounter with God. There's no reason to expect it not to contain errors, especially in matters that were outside the knowledge of the authors.

Some of the above approaches are inconsistent with each other, and some are not. I see that I've only commented on the validity of the first two, probably because I find them to require strained readings even on their own terms. Obviously, those who hold such beliefs don't agree with me, so don't take my word for it.

Home Page | Browse | Search | Feedback | Links
The FAQ | Must-Read Files | Index | Creationism | Evolution | Age of the Earth | Flood Geology | Catastrophism | Debates