The first verse of the Bible says: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Thus as soon as one begins to read the Scriptures, a doctrine of creation comes into view. As we begin to pursue a doctrine of creation, one of the interesting things we notice is that all three persons of the Trinity are said to be involved in the process.
A number of Old Testament passages (like Gen. 1:1) refer simply to God as the creator. Other Old Testament passages speak of the Spirit as the creator. For example Ps. 104:30, while speaking about God’s created order, reads: “When you send your Spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth.” Then in the New Testament we get references to creation by means of the Son of God. Paul, for instance, while writing about “the Son [God] loves” (Col. 1:13) says: “by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers, or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him” (Col. 1:16, NIV).
Of course the classic passage on creation is the first two chapters of Genesis. Now interpreters differ in their interpretation of the creation narrative. Not only do orthodox scholars differ from liberals, but orthodox thinkers differ from one another. I will be sharing some of those differences later; but for now, I want to share a couple of preliminary thoughts.
First, the biblical creation story is not mythological. Myth (as classically defined) is a traditional, non-historical (usually fictitious) story normally featuring gods and goddesses, that explains a group’s origins or beliefs. But the Genesis creation account, even though it explains the origin of the universe as a divine action, is not mythological. Rather it is historical in the sense that it represents actual, once-for-all events that happened in history; and its content is true. That is to say, the biblical narrative not only differs from classic mythology, it gives its explanation of the origins of the universe in a non-mythical way.
However, second, the Genesis account is not a literal, prose account. It is written in a poetic, symbolic, theological form. Note, for example, that there are trees in the midst of the garden, the importance of which is symbolic rather than literal. They are described as a “tree of life” and a tree of “the knowledge of good and evil” (2:9).
There also is a parallel literary structure in the account between days 1 and 4, 2 and 5, and 3 and 6. We are not going to go into this parallel structure, but seeing it is significant to a proper understanding of the literary nature of the Genesis account.
Ray Dunning points out two important theological purposes of the creation narrative. One was to ground the Sabbath principle in the creative activity of God; and a second was to ground monogamous marriage in God’s creation (p. 238).
Thus the literary, symbolic and theological aspects of the narrative must be taken into account in interpretation of the Genesis creation narrative. Otherwise one tends to move towards extreme interpretations. On the one extreme is an over-literal kind of interpretation that doesn’t do justice to the symbolic and literary factors. And on the other extreme is the kind of interpretation that sees the whole account as mythological and doesn’t take the historical nature of the events seriously. A proper interpretation balances these.
Having made these introductory points, let us now begin our examination of the doctrine of creation by noting, first, that it was a creation out of nothing. That is, God created without using any preexisting materials, and without any emanation from himself. In other words, the creation did not emanate from God the way rays of light emanate from the sun. Rather God willed matter into existence out of nothing.
In Genesis we read that God brought the whole of reality into existence simply by speaking his word: “And God Said, ‘let there be light’” (1:3; cf. vv. 6, 9). The mere statement was sufficient for light to come into existence. Thus God has the power to will something to be, and it immediately comes into existence exactly as he willed it. Fantastic!
The New Testament scriptures support this idea. For instance, Paul in Rom. 4:17, writes that God, among other things, “calls into existence the things that do not exist.” The author of Hebrews says much the same thing, when he writes in 11:3: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (NIV). That is point one: the universe was created out of nothing.
Not only was the universe created out of nothing, second, it was created good. Everything that exists was originated as something good that fulfilled some good purpose in God’s plan (Gen. 1:31). Therefore insofar as creation goes, there can be no dividing it into categories of good and evil. In other words all evil has arisen from some sort of corruption of the original creation.
When we turn to the purpose of creation, we cannot divide reality into the sacred and the secular. Everything was created sacred in the sense that it has a purpose, which when fulfilled, glorifies God. As Ps. 19:1 indicates, even inanimate creation glorifies God.
Thus all of creation is intended to glorify God. The inanimate creation does so mechanistically simply by existing. Animate creation does it instinctively by responding to inborn instincts. And humanity glorifies God or not by means of moral choices, which of course makes the human response by far the most significant.
Thus to summarize, God was the sole source of everything in existence. He created it all out of nothing. It all was created good. And the purpose of it all was to glorify God.
The doctrine of creation as just outlined is not all that needs to be said. The original bringing into existence of the universe was not the end of God’s creative process. The Genesis account makes that clear.
For example, God says, in Gen. 1:20, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures,” implying that God did further creating using already created materials. That same sort of statement is made about the earth in v. 24: “Let the earth bring forth living creatures.” And then in Chapter 2, verse 7, when God’s creation of man is described, it says, “then God formed man of dust from the ground;” and he crated Eve is from a part of the body of Adam (2:21-22).
As we talk about God’s continued creative activity, we must deal with the relation of the doctrine of creation to modern science. Of course the theological conflict comes at the point of the relation of the Genesis creation account to the theory of evolution.
There are five basic views of the relation of God’s creation to the theory of evolution, though one could expand the list with variations of the five. In addition, each category can be divided into slightly different sub-categories. Therefore you must realize that this is an exceedingly complex issue; and we are looking at it in very broad terms.
The first view is known as Naturalistic Evolution. According to this theory, God was not involved in creation. The universe came into existence by some other means; and life arose mechanistically, by chance. The Theory of Common Ancestry (TCA) is a major part of this view. Those who hold it say that all living things came from a common ancestor (ultimately a single cell). Thus they believe that all life forms developed by means of microevolution and/or macroevolution.
Microevolution refers to the small changes that have and do take place within populations because of mutations, geographic isolation, natural selection, and genetic drift. Macroevolution refers to the separation and divergence of populations or population systems, which eventually gave rise to different species and other major categories of organisms.
Those who hold to naturalistic evolution also believe that the process of creation took millions of years. In this theory, spontaneous generation of life had to take place at some point. Because spontaneous generation never happens today, they conclude that the conditions under which it occurred no longer exist. Therefore that problem is now outside the realm of science.
The second view is called Deistic Evolution. In this view God created matter and the basic universe, but otherwise it is the same as naturalistic evolution. This position is called “deistic,” because of the teaching of Deism.
Deism was a form of liberal Christianity that was popular in the eighteenth century. It was a rationalistic way of understanding God’s relation to the universe. Since the Deists didn’t believe in supernatural intervention into the affairs of the world, they taught that after God created the universe, he went off and left it to function under the natural laws he had built into it. This view of creation has been called the deistic view because its ideas creation are very similar to those of the deists,. Both naturalistic evolution and deistic evolution believe that evolution is the means of creation of all, or nearly all, things.
The third view, called Theistic Evolution, has a lot in common with deistic evolution but goes beyond it. This position begins on the same ground as deistic evolution by saying that God began the process of creation, and then basically left it alone to evolve. But adherents of this view allow that God later occasionally modified the process supernaturally.
This was especially true when God created man. They would say that God created man by infusing a human soul into one of the higher primates that had evolved naturally. Thus in this view the physical side of man was the product of evolution, but the spiritual side of man’s nature was specially created.
The fourth position is called Progressive Creationism. This is the position held by most orthodox scholars. The basic points of this theory are that God not only created matter and the basic universe, he also instituted a process of further creation. This included a combination of major creation events and evolutionary process. God has remained active at all times during his creative process, sustaining and preserving, as well as creating. This is an important point. This continuing work of God in the world is called Providence. God does not abandon his creation to be ruled by natural law, as the Deists suggested. God always is active preserving, sustaining, and guiding his creation.
Moreover God created humanity as a special creation, as opposed to evolving from a single cell, or infusing a soul into a naturally evolved primate. Thus it would have been one of the “major creation events” mentioned above.
Persons who hold this view believe that microevolution occurs, but macroevolution is doubted. We also believe that we cannot date the creation of the earth or humanity from the Bible. The data just is not there for dating. In addition, we would say that an old earth, that is, an earth millions of years old, is not precluded by the Bible.
The fifth view is known as Scientific Creationism (also known as Creation Science). The position of Creation Science is very straightforward. Those who hold the view say that God created all life as it now exists: humans, horses, chickens, etc. Thus they deny most aspects of evolution.
They also believe that he did it in six literal 24 hour days, interpreting the first chapter of Genesis quite literally. They also would say that God created the earth less than 10,000 years ago. This is called the “young earth” theory, which goes against considerable evidence that suggests the earth is millions of years old, especially fossil evidence. And finally, creation scientists explain the fossil record by saying that it resulted from a global flood.