Finally, Faith and Science Make Friends

There are three big takeaways from John H. Walton’s Lost World of Adam and Eve. All three are positive developments for the church, though one will be controversial with many quarters.

1. Authority of Scripture

The first strong emphasis from Walton comes from his affirmation of the authority of Scripture. This has been a central tenet of Christianity at all times, but especially since the Reformation and its emphasis on sola scriptura, which came out of Luther’s insistence that the Bible ought to have the last word in matters of faith and practice.

Sola scriptura is a key for all Protestant traditions (except Anglicanism and Methodism) because it ostensibly provides a definitive test for all church doctrine. That is, if someone comes up with a wacky belief, we ought to be able to compare it with the Bible and judge whether it fits or not.

Sounds good in theory. But in practice, it’s a little tricky.

The Bible, it turns out, is not a depository of doctrinal proofs. Rather, as Walton reminds us, the Bible is a collection of ancient documents that are intimately tied to their original culture, as all writing is. This is not to say that the Bible is somehow irrelevant to contemporary cultures. Far from it. It simply means that if we are to properly understand and apply the authority of the sacred texts we hold dear, we need to do the hard—and ever evolving (oh no! I said it!)—work of understanding the ancient cultures in which they were written and read.

Here’s an illustration: I remember in high school being assigned A Tale of Two Cities for summer reading one year. Dutifully, I read it and understood hardly a word. That is, I knew the meanings of the individual words and sentences I was reading, but I didn’t really get the story. Fifteen years later I picked it up again and gave it another shot. Having learned a bit more about the French Revolution and its horrors, along with some of the English critique, Dickens’s masterpiece suddenly came alive to me. The lesson? I needed to know something about the culture in which the book was written in order to properly understand its full meaning.

The Bible is no different in this sense, and Walton is keen to remind us. Genesis—along with the rest of Scripture—is an ancient document, and we will best understand it the more we grasp ancient cultures. Without that understanding, he warns, we are making our own modern interpretations of the Bible the authority, rather than the Bible itself. And that is dangerous business.

2. Focus on Function

Another of Walton’s great achievements in this book is his persistent focus on function. Whether he is discussing the creation account of Genesis 1 or the various aspects of Adam and Eve, Walton again and again brings us back to the central question for an ancient culture? What are we here for?

Just this weekend, my pastor made this statement: The two most important days of your life are, first, the day you were born, and, second, the day you figure out why.

Think about it. Every person ever has wondered at this fundamental question. Every last one. Why? Because it has massive implications for how each of us will pursue life. Or, if we find that our answer to this central question turns negative or meaningless, we quickly find that the pursuit of life no longer seems worthwhile. Defining humanity’s purpose sounds like a subject of biblical importance.

Where all the stuff came from? Well, that seems like a distant question, in many ways. Whatever your theories on material origins, the stuff is all here and we need to figure out what we’re supposed to do with it. Discovering purpose is a far more primal question, appropriate for the beginnings of ancient Israel’s foundational stories.

3. Faith Makes Nice with Science

"Science and Faith" by Ryan Tracey is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Science and Faith” by Ryan Tracey is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This last point is essentially a derivative of the first two. Once we begin to take the Bible on its own terms and once we concentrate our energies on the kinds of questions the Bible is keen to answer, we discover we have fewer and fewer reasons to quarrel with scientific inquiry.

Let the geologists continue to explore Manson Crater, a dimple in the earth 24 miles across, thought to have come from an asteroid whacking into the Hawkeye State 74 million years ago. It’s fascinating stuff and could teach us wonders about our own planet and the wider galaxy. But it won’t fundamentally alter the story of Genesis 1-3, intended to teach why we’re here.

Let the biologists continue to dig into the human genome. It may lead to medical advancements or clearer understanding of our biological ancestry. But it won’t touch the fact that Adam, as the ancient Israelites understood him, was the first person uniquely called by God to a special task, presaging both Israel’s and the church’s own calling.

Science is not the Bible’s enemy.

I hasten to add a pastoral note to this last point. When our churches pit the Bible against science, broadly, we place the scientifically minded among us into a potentially impossible choice between their vocational calling and their faith commitments. In effect, we hang a sign on the doors of our churches reading, “We Don’t Serve Scientists”. Ew.

Anyway, all this is to say that The Lost World of Adam and Eve is a worthy addition to the church’s ongoing rediscovery of these ancient narratives. If we are wise enough to grapple with Walton’s study, we will all be the stronger for it.

Adam in the New Testament

This is part 8 in a series of reviews of John H. Walton’s Lost World of Adam and Eve (pt. 1, pt. 2, pt. 3, pt. 4, pt. 5, pt. 6, pt. 7). I purchased the book of my own accord with my own money, so there’s that.

Among the strange features of The Lost World of Adam and Eve is that the best chapter in the whole book wasn’t written by Walton. Before you turn your nose up at him, however, consider his rationale. Walton is a first class Old Testament scholar, so when it came to writing on the New Testament’s usage of Adam, he shows tremendous wisdom in deferring to his friend and colleague N.T. Wright.

Wright’s chapter sets out to discuss Paul’s concerns when it comes to Adam and sin. What he ends up doing, in typical Wright fashion, is to sketch a chapter that is truly monumental in scope. When I finished reading it, I outlined it for my wife, who said, “That sounds like it could be a whole book.” “Or a dissertation,” I agreed. The chapter is just ten pages.

Wright starts, much like Walton did in earlier chapters, by highlighting some common misconceptions. As we hinted in the last post about the first couple and original sin, Adam and Eve have become a crucial component to Evangelicals’ beliefs about soteriology. Wright characterizes the common understanding like this:

(a) God demanded perfect obedience from Adam and Eve; (b) they broke his command; (c) Jesus has given God perfect obedience; (d) he therefore possesses a “righteousness” that is available to believers (172).

It’s a caricature, certainly, but Wright’s point is simply that most Christians don’t know the robust way in which the first couple fit into the story, and so are left with this over-simplified version (which incidentally leaves out the entire Old Testament following Genesis 3).

Well, then, how do Adam and Eve fit into the biblical narrative, from the New Testament’s perspective?

Wright’s sketch goes like this. The story begins, of course, with God’s creation of the earth and, critically, with humanity set in place to help the Lord govern it all. We saw this several posts ago as the central element embedded in Genesis 1:26-28. Humanity is created to aid the Creator in bringing order to the creation.

For Wright, that commission on all humanity is crystalized in Adam and Eve, who, of course, fail.

This is the first point which Wright would say most Christians miss. The problem is not simply that humans have sinned and fallen out of relationship with God. That is true, but it is not the whole problem. The wider scope of the problem is that the creation itself will continue out of whack and chaotic without humanity in its rightful place as vice-regents with God.

God’s mind quickly turns toward dealing with humanity’s sin so that he can set them back in the place they belong, exercising their full purpose in creation. His solution? Abraham and his descendants. The Lord’s covenant with Israel was established principally so that through this particular nation, God could redeem all of humanity, so that through humanity, creation could be brought to peace. This is the core purpose behind God’s initial call of Abraham. If all goes well, the whole world will be blessed through him (Gen. 12:3).

But Israel Israels. And they end up in exile.

God’s game plan looks pretty rough. Creation is a mess. The governors of creation are corrupt. The rescuers of those governors are themselves crooked. What’s a God to do?

This, finally, is where Jesus comes in. Jesus is the true Israelite, called to redeem humanity. Jesus is the true human (the last Adam), called to bring the creation into its rest. And so finally, through the death and resurrection of the Christ is there at last the birth of the new creation.

That, says Wright, is Paul’s perspective on Adam and his importance, and it is principally found in Romans 8, the key portion of which is verses 19-25:

Yes: creation itself is on tiptoe with expectation, eagerly awaiting the moment when God’s children will be revealed. Creation, you see, was subjected to pointless futility, not of its own volition, but because of the one who placed it in this subjection, in the hope that creation itself would be freed from its slavery to decay, to enjoy the freedom that comes when God’s children are glorified. Let me explain. We know that the entire creation is groaning together, and going through labor pains together, up until the present time. Not only so: we too, we who have the first fruits of the spirit’s life within us, are groaning within ourselves, as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our body. We were saved, you see, in hope. But hope isn’t hope if you can see it! Who hopes for what they can see? But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it eagerly—but also patiently (The Kingdom New Testament, Wright’s own translation).

The point of it all is that the New Testament places Adam in a particular place—a critical place!—in the larger biblical story. It has everything to do with sin and falling away from God, as Evangelicals have long rightly pronounced. But Adam’s failing, we’ve consistently missed, has its dire consequences because of the purpose that Genesis 1-2 proclaim over humanity.

With this in place, we can begin to make sense of not only Adam’s significance to us, but also Israel’s. With this in proper perspective, we can finally begin to recognize why it is so essential that Jesus come as a human being and as an Israelite. With this all in view, we can begin to unravel our own calling in God’s new creation.

Is Original Sin Something We Really Need To Be Worrying About?

This is part 7 in a series of reviews regarding John H. Walton’s Lost World of Adam and Eve (pt. 1, pt. 2, pt. 3, pt. 4, pt. 5, pt. 6). I have sadly not been paid, either in cash or book form, to read and review this book. I do so as an altruistic service to you, dear reader.

When last we left our intrepid hero Adam, we were exploring why it isn’t necessary to regard Genesis as saying he was the first human ever or that he was entirely alone on the earth. This raises a follow up question: What are we to do with original sin?

It’s a fair question. For ages the church has more or less believed that Adam and Eve were the first couple and that they introduced sin into the earth by eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, contrary to God’s decree. That is essentially how the Bible portrays it. But if Adam is not the first human, then wouldn’t we have to assume that those before him were sinless? And wouldn’t this contradict Paul’s understanding in Romans 5?

So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned for before the law was given, sin was in the world, but there is no accounting for sin when there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam (who is a type of the coming one) transgressed (Rom. 5:12-14, NET).

Moreover, wouldn’t this jeopardize our understanding of Jesus as the only sinless human to ever walk the earth?

Troubling questions, indeed.

But Walton, for his part, raises counter questions. As an Old Testament scholar, he wonders about pinning the origins of sin on Adam and Eve, since the Hebrew Scriptures never do so. Instead, he cites Isaiah 43:27-28, which places blame on Jacob (142, n. 11).

In fact, Walton wants to shift the whole discussion away from the source of all sin (Who was the first to sin? Where did it come from?) and instead concentrate on a very different question—Given that sin is pervasive, what does it do? (This is similar to the dilemma we faced at the outset, asking Genesis 1 how everything came to be rather than what it’s all here for. Ask the wrong question; get the wrong answer.)

For this question, Walton takes his cue from Mark E. Biddle’s Missing the Mark, in which he gives this definition:

Sin is disequilibrium in this aspiration: humanity failing to reflect its divine calling, humanity forgetting its limitations (142, quoting Missing the Mark, xii-xiii).

In other words, the first couple’s sin was an attempt to be the locus of order, rather than God’s accomplices in bringing order. That is, their reach for the forbidden fruit was an attempt to fulfill their Genesis 1:26-28 mandate without the help of the Lord. Big mistake.

Splitting hairs? Maybe, but Walton’s redirection has two major advantages.

First, by shifting the question to sin’s effects rather than its source, Walton has allowed us to focus our attention on the result of Adam and Eve’s narrative—their banishment from God’s presence and the source of life. This is a classic case of keeping the main thing the main thing. Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden—the prototype for the Temple, the singular place where the Creator resides among his creation—is exactly the point of Genesis 2-3. This disastrous result sets the stage for the rest of the biblical drama. How will Yahweh re-establish his presence among humanity?

Second, by defining sin as disequilibrium in the human-divine relationship, Walton has again centered our attention on humanity’s original purpose. For him, sin isn’t simply about making mistakes or even disobedience for disobedience’s sake. Instead, sin is entirely about the first couple’s effort to outgrow their God-given vocation to be his partners in ordering creation. In other words, sin is the attempt to usurp or, I would add, circumvent God’s position above the creation.

Does this cause us theological problems in conflict with Paul’s verdict in Romans 5? Actually, I don’t think so. This is where Paul’s earlier argument in Romans 1-2 comes in. Adam and Eve tried to climb onto God’s throne, that is their sin, which Israel perpetuates in breaking the covenant time and again. Gentiles, not having the Law, give God’s throne to various idols, putting themselves in the same shoes as Israel, with regard to the human-divine relationship. Walton might say that even if Adam and Eve weren’t the first people, then we can be sure that all people ever were doing one of these two things. There’s just no escaping sin, it seems.

Here’s the great point, though, about Walton’s work, whether you agree with his viewpoint or not. He is persistent in demanding that we allow the biblical text itself to define the questions we ought to be asking. The Old Testament doesn’t show much interest arguing over where sin came from (and really, neither does the New Testament, on the whole). So why ask Scripture that question? The Bible does seem very interested in its effects and, more importantly, just what God is going to do about it. So maybe we ought to focus our attention there, instead.

Adam and Eve: The First Unique Humans

This is part 6 in a series of reviews of The Lost World of Adam and EveJohn H. Walton’s new book (pt. 1, pt. 2, pt. 3, pt. 4, pt. 5). Take it for what it’s worth: I bought the book myself.

I mentioned in the last post that Walton suggests that the biblical text does not require us to believe that Adam and Eve are the only humans on earth at the time of Genesis 2, or even that they are the very first humans.

To many, such a claim is no doubt shocking. To some, the notion of Adam and Eve not being the first people borders on heresy, if it hasn’t already leapt way across the line.

Nevertheless, we should always be cautious about our gut reactions to a new interpretation and perform due diligence in testing the idea. After all, Galileo was imprisoned by Pope Paul V, in part, because his heliocentric ideas appeared to conflict with the biblical text (most notably Pss. 93:1; 96:10; 104:5; Ecc. 1:5). That didn’t turn out well for Galileo, who died in chains, even if he has since been vindicated.

There is certainly some textual evidence that points away from Adam as the very first human—the toledoth at Genesis 2:4, suggesting the account of Adam and Eve follows the seven days of creation; the oddity of Cain’s fear of being murdered by others (Gen. 4:14); the question of how closely related Cain might have been to his wife (Gen. 4:17); and the population of Cain’s “city” (Gen. 4:17).

But it will be important, further, to ask a different question of Walton’s interpretation. If Adam and Eve are not the first couple, or if there are many other people on the earth at the same time, then what are we to make of their purpose in the Genesis story? In other words, what is special about them, if it is not that they are the first humans?

For Walton, the unique thing about Adam and Eve has nothing to do with their being the first people ever, but that they are the first people called for a unique purpose. What is that purpose? Adam and Eve are special in that they are the first priests.

Such an argument begins with the garden itself as a temple:

When we consider the Garden of Eden in its ancient context, we find that it is more sacred space than green space. It is the center of order, not perfection, and its significance has more to do with divine presence than human paradise (116, emphasis original).

This is not a new perspective. Eden has been recognized as a prototype for the tabernacle and Temple for a long time in biblical scholarship. (In fact, Walton’s endnote listing a sampling of scholarly background for the view fills an entire page. You could do no better than beginning a similar inquiry here.)

To paint a slightly fuller picture, if we think of the Garden of Eden as the singular place on earth in which the Creator particularly dwells and from which all life and wisdom is to flow, we have then similarly imagined a picture not too far off from the tabernacle in Israel’s early days and the Temple after Solomon.

There is another compelling reason to suppose that Adam and Eve are the world’s first priests and at the same time see their story’s significance in the Hebrew Scriptures. Adam and Eve, as priests, are archetypes of Israel itself.

Here’s a story for you. A people is taken by God and deliberately placed in a very special land. Among the conditions for remaining in that special land is the people’s obedience to God’s commands. The choice is ever before them. They can choose to follow God’s statutes and thereby receive life. Or they can turn against God’s ordinances and reap death. This people, sadly, choose the latter and, as a result, are banished from the special place God had given them.

Whose story is that? It is Adam’s story; it is Israel’s story.

Israel had been God’s priesthood (Exo. 19:6), uniquely called out of the rest of the world in order to display the nature of the Creator to the world. This is a central part of the nation’s identity, and it should not be surprising, then, if in their origins stories, they tell a tale of the very first people given the same purpose in the world. Adam is indeed Israel’s earliest ancestor from a functional perspective. What God was attempting through Israel, he had been up to from the beginning.

But I see you have a question: If Adam and Eve aren’t the first people, what are we to do with original sin?

Were Adam and Eve Really the First People?

This post is part 5 in a series of reviews of John H. Walton’s Lost World of Adam and Eve (pt. 1, pt. 2, pt. 3, pt. 4). I paid good money for my copy of the book, but you’re getting my unvarnished thoughts for free. Go figure.

Enough about Genesis 1, already. I thought this book was supposed to be about Adam and Eve.

One of the myriad issues that convolutes our reading of the origin narratives of Genesis 1-3 has to do with the relationship between the creation account in Genesis 1 and the account of Adam and Eve in chapter 2 and following.

Specifically, when Genesis 1 is read as the story of the beginning of all matter, we quickly run into logical problems, like why Genesis 2:5 appears to paint a picture of a desert, when vegetation had clearly been created on Day 3 (Gen. 1:11-12; on this question see Meredith G. Kline’s early essay, “Because It Had Not Rained”); or how in the world Adam managed to name every animal in a day (Gen. 2:20); or why Cain, after killing his brother is worried that other people will hunt him down (Gen. 4:14).

To help resolve these and other issues, Walton suggests interpreting Genesis 2 as a sequel to Genesis 1, rather than a retelling of the sixth day.

The swift among you are already objecting: Warning! If Genesis 2 is not a retelling of Day 6, then the humans discussed in Genesis 1:26-28 are not Adam and Eve, and therefore Adam and Eve are not the first people. We’ll get to this point shortly.

But first, the argument in Walton’s favor.

The point is somewhat technical, but directly in the text. Genesis 2:4 reads, “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created—when the Lord God made the earth and heavens” (NET). That opening phrase—”This is the account of …”—has long been recognized as a type of formula in Genesis. Smartypants scholars call it a toledoth, because that’s the Hebrew word that begins the phrase.

Anyway, toledoths throughout the book—there are ten others (Gen. 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 36:9; 37:2)—always begin a story about what happens after the person or thing mentioned in the formula.

For example, Genesis 25:12 talks about the toledoth of Abraham’s son Isaac. What then immediately follows is a genealogy of those who follow Isaac. It is not a return to the middle of Abraham’s life, but a way of introducing the next successive portion of the story.

But, you might say, Genesis 25:19 does leap backward in the timeline, back to Isaac after listing his descendants. Yes, but the important point is that the story leaps back to the beginning of that genealogy, not to someplace in the middle. Nowhere does a toledoth do this. This is done so that the author can proceed with the most important story line (in this case, Jacob).

Relating this to Genesis 1-2, we should expect, given the way toledoths are used elsewhere, for Genesis 2:4 to be introducing either (1) the beginning of a new story that takes place some time after the previous creation narrative or (2) a retelling of the entire creation narrative, with a focus on the most important people. We would not expect the writer to jump back into the middle of the previous account. Between the two options, number one should be favored, since number two only occurs immediately after a genealogy, and Genesis 1 certainly is not that.

Here is Walton’s own conclusion:

There is … no precedent by which to conclude that the introductory formula in Genesis 2:4 is bringing the reader back into the middle of the previous account to give a more detailed description of a part of the story that was previously told. Such introductions never do this in the rest of Genesis (66).

Further, Walton also acknowledges what we suggested at the top.

Though Adam and Eve may well be included among the people created in Genesis 1, to think of them as the first couple or the only people in their time is not the only textual option (66, emphasis added).

That sound you hear is somebody’s hackles raising. More later.

Does God Need a Nap?

This post is part 4 in a series of reviews of John H. Walton’s Lost World of Adam and Ev(pt. 1, pt. 2, pt. 3). I purchased the book with my own money because I was interested to read it, so you can trust my opinions on the text to be entirely unbiased.*

Ancient peoples, the Israelites included, are more interested in why things are here than how they got here. That is, the origins stories in Genesis 1-2 are about how things, and especially humans, have purpose rather than where and when the material that comprises those things came to be.

We saw that the first six days of creation in Genesis 1 are all about God putting a chaotic world in functional order, with humans finally situated at the top of the order chain, as it were, commissioned to govern the whole shebang.

But then there’s that bizarre seventh day. What to do with a day in which nothing happens, except, that is, God hitting the snooze button? Does God need a nap? And if so, why tell us?

Walton, for his part, sees Day 7 as the point of the whole story, and he has a lovely analogy to help explain how it all works.

Imagine you’re in the market for a new house. You search and search until you find just the one. When you see it, however, it isn’t staged, but completely empty. This is the world described in Genesis 1:2—it’s empty and void.

Now, if we were modern interpreters of this house, empty and void would mean that the house didn’t exist at all. There would be no foundation, no frame, no roof, no walls. But for the ancient Israelite, empty and void means that the house stands, but without purpose. There is no furniture and no people within. It needs to be put in order.

You buy the house and have all your stuff sent over. When you arrive, the furniture is everywhere and so are the boxes. The house is a mess. Chaos reigns. Work has to be done. What happens next are the first six days of creation. Rooms are named for what they will become—bedrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen. The appropriate furniture is set up according to its proper “habitat”—beds in the bedrooms, sofa in the living room, book cases in the study.

Again, to an ancient Israelite, these are the acts of creation. It is the process of God assigning purpose and function to everything within the house, and then going about the work of ordering it to be so.

But then comes the all important Day 7. I just recently helped my brother-in-law move house a few weeks ago, and once everything was transferred into the new place, I indeed felt like a nap. But the real heart of what happens after everything is neatly arranged in the house is the ongoing process of actually running the household, or making the house a home. That is what God’s rest is all about in Genesis 2:1-3. The rest he takes is like slipping into his throne to go about the business of ruling over the creation he just established.

Rather than the cessation of all work, divine rest is about the commencement of a different kind of work: governing. The creation story tells us how God made the world into a suitable place for him to reside as king among the vice-regents he created—humankind.

(Incidentally, this is why Jesus can make the argument that it is OK for him to do the work he does on the Sabbath. It is a partnership with the divine work of governing that has been going on ever since the dawn of Day 7.)

Among the great beauties of seeing the account in this light is the balance it gives with the Genesis and Exodus stories together, and, beyond that, the entire biblical story. See, God establishes an ordered world in which he can dwell among humanity. That communion gets lost rather quickly, and God immediately goes to work reestablishing some kind of connection with the human race for the purpose of regaining, retaining and extending his peace-filled kingdom. This he does through Abraham and eventually Israel. Notice, then, how Exodus concludes. God has again established a people for himself and he instructs them to construct the tabernacle, a singular space where God can live and reign among his people (Exo. 40). Later, this becomes the Temple, becomes the Christ, becomes the church. And still to come? The promise of the Lord again dwelling among the pinnacle of his creation, with no need at all for any kind of temple (Rev. 21:22).

Ultimately, rest (what we might call shalom) in an ordered world, with the Creator residing and ruling side by side with humanity, is the goal of all God’s (and our) creative endeavors.

* Nobody’s opinions are unbiased. Obvi.

Creation: What’s the Point, Even?

This is part 3 in a series of reviews of John H. Walton’s Lost World of Adam and Eve (pt. 1, pt. 2). I bought the book with my own money, so I don’t owe nobody nothin’, except the debt of love.

So, if creation narratives in the ancient Near East were all about the world being put into functional order (as opposed to being about how material came to exist), what purpose did the God of Genesis give the creation? What is Genesis 1 trying to tell us about (1) creation and (2) people?

It is worth taking the creation narrative in Genesis 1 day by day and notice what might be going on in each.

Day 1 (Gen. 1:3-5): Yes, we can say that God created light from nothing (Gen. 1:3), but the point of the first day is not to marvel at how God made light where there was none before. Rather, the focus is on two other elements. First, that the light is displacing a purposeless and chaotic darkness, and second, that the day concludes with God separating the two and giving them names: day and night. The purpose of day one is the establishment of ordered time.

Day 2 (Gen. 1:6-8): Notice here that what God is actually doing is separating things, putting them in their proper place. Where once there was (already) masses of water—the water above and the water below—now God has split them in twain. What’s the point? He is establishing a livable atmosphere between the two waters.

Day 3 (Gen. 1:9-13): This is similar to day two, in a way. Again, God is separating and naming things—this time land and seas. The purpose? Habitable land masses.

We should pause here and recognize a structural element to the text first articulated (as far as I know) by the late Meredith G. Kline. (This structural observation is called the Framework Hypothesis, and it makes loads of sense. You can get the actual seminal study right here. Cool, right? And then there’s more in Kline’s Kingdom Prologue.) Days 1-3 each describe the ordering, specifically, of habitat. Hmmmm. Perhaps we should keep our eyes open to whether days 4-6 have anything to do with those habitats.

Day 4 (Gen. 1:14-19): Among many folks’ objections to a strict chronological reading of Genesis 1 comes right here. How can we have had day and night, light and dark, for three days already, and God is just now getting around to shaping a sun, moon and stars? Many other folks have replied: God can do whatever he wants. Fair enough, but if day one was the establishment of night and day realms, it is interesting that here functionaries are set in those realms. Further, the main point of this section, as with the other days, is purpose. The sun, moon and stars are placed in their appropriate habitats in order to govern those spaces (Gen. 1:16).

Day 5 (Gen. 1:20-23): Day two was all about the separation of waters, above and below. Now, just as functionaries had been designated for the night and day realms, birds and fish are given to occupy and the waters above and below—inhabitants for the specific habitats.

Day 6 (Gen. 1:24-31): Day three saw the establishment of dry ground. If the pattern holds true, we ought to expect something to occupy that space. Enter land animals. And then the coup de gras: humanity. And here we find the ultimate statement of purpose, which is what the creation narrative has been all about. Humanity is commissioned to govern all other living things on the earth (Gen. 1:26-28).

Let’s set it out in chart form to make it easier.

Habitat Inhabitant
Day 1: Day & Night Day 4: Sun, Moon & Stars
Day 2: Sea & Sky Day 5: Fish & Birds
Day 3: Land with Fruit-bearing Plants Day 6: Land Animals who Eat Fruit

The whole narrative has been, primarily, not about where everything physically came from, but with the function everything in creation has, especially humans. This makes sense, if you’re an ancient Israelite. Your main question about the world is why you are there on the earth. What is your purpose? And the very first page of the Bible tells you just what you really need to know: you are a governor over the creation.

Heady stuff. But what of Day 7? There’s still one last pesky day to go, but we’ll have to save it for another post. Until then, go out and rule. It’s what you were made to do.