If we accept the truth of Genesis 1, then a number of alternative viewpoints about God are automatically ruled out. These viewpoints could also be called philosophies (the word “philosophy” means “love of wisdom”). Everyone has their own way of looking at the world, whether they consciously think about it or not.
If you believe Genesis, the following philosophies will not stand.
- Atheism: Atheists believe there is no God. Genesis 1 confirms there is.
- Agnosticism: Agnostics say they do not know whether there is a God or not. Genesis 1 says we accept that there is.
- Animism: This is the belief that many spirits control the world â€“ spirits of rivers, spirits of mountains, etc. Genesis 1 asserts that God created and controls the world.
- Polytheism: Polytheists believe there are many gods. Hindus would be in this category. Genesis 1 states there is just one.
- Dualism: This is the belief that there are two gods, one good and one bad, with the good god responsible for the good things that happen and the bad god for the bad things. Genesis 1 asserts that there is just one God, who is good.
- Monotheism: This is the belief of Judaism and Islam â€“ that there is one God, and just one person, thus rejecting God as a trinity. By using the word Elohim to describe God, Genesis 1 tells us that there is one God in three persons.
- Deism: Deists see God as the creator, but argue that he cannot now control what he has created. He is like a watchmaker who has wound up the world and lets it run on its own laws. As such God never intervenes in his world, and miracles are impossible. Many Christians are, for all practical purposes, deists.
- Theism: Theists believe that God not only created the world but is also in control of everything and everyone he has made. Theism is one step towards the biblical philosophy, but does not in fact go far enough.
- Existentialism: This is a popular philosophy today, where experience is believed to be God. Our choices and our own affirmation of ourselves is the “religion” followed. There is no creator as in Genesis 1 to whom we have to give an account.
- Humanism: Humanists reject the concept of a god outside the created world. Although Genesis 1 tells us that man is created by God, humanists believe that man is God.
- Rationalism: Rationalists believe that our own reason is God, rejecting the indication in Genesis that the powers of reason were given when God created man in his image.
- Materialism: Materialists believe that only matter is real and do not accept anyone or anything they cannot see for themselves.
- Mysticism: In contrast to materialism, mystics believe that only spirit is real.
- Monism: This philosophy underpins much of the New Age movement. It holds that matter and spirit are essentially one and the same thing. The idea of God as an independent spirit creating the world is thus ruled out of court.
- Pantheism: This idea is similar to monism, in that everything is believed to be God. A modern version of it is called Panentheism: God in everything.
In contrast to all these philosophies, the biblical viewpoint could be called Triunetheism: God is three in one, creator and controller of the universe. This is the biblical way of thinking which comes right out of Genesis 1 and continues through to the last chapter of Revelation.
The account uses only very simple categories. Vegetation is divided into three groups: grass, plants and trees. Animal life also has three categories: domesticated animals, animals hunted for food and wild animals. These simple classifications are understood by everybody everywhere.
Let us move on to look more closely at the text of Genesis 1 and in particular the style of the chapter. The obvious point to make is that it is not written in scientific language. Many people seem to approach the chapter expecting the detail of a scientific textbook. Instead it is written very simply, so that every generation can understand it, whatever the standard of their scientific learning.
This simple style is also demonstrated in the words used. There are only 76 separate root words in the whole of Genesis 1. Furthermore, every one of those words is to be found in every language on earth, which means that Genesis 1 is the easiest chapter to translate in the whole Bible.
Every writer has to ask about the potential audience for their work. God wanted the story of creation to reach everybody in every time and in every place. He therefore made it very simple. Even a child can read it and get the message. One of the results of this is the ease with which it can be translated.
The verbs are also very simple. One of the verbs used is especially important to our understanding of what took place. Genesis 1 distinguishes between the words “created” and “made”. The Hebrew word for “created”, bara, means to make something out of nothing and it only occurs three times in the whole of Genesis 1 – to describe the creation of matter, life and man. On other occasions the word “made” is used instead, to indicate that something is made out of something else, rather in the way we may speak of manufacturing things.
The description of God’s work of creation in seven days is also very simple. Each sentence has a subject, a verb and an object. The grammar is so straightforward that anybody can follow it. All the sentences are linked by one word – for example “but”, “and” or “then”. It is a remarkable production.
Genesis 1 is beautifully structured. It is orderly, spread over six days, and the six days are divided into two sets of three.
In Genesis 1:2 we read, “Now the earth was formless and empty.” The development starts in verse 3 and there is an amazing correspondence between the first three days and the last three days. In the first three days, God creates a varied environment with sharp contrasts: light from darkness, sky from ocean, and land from sea. He is creating distinctions which make for variety. On the third day he also starts to fill the land with plants. The earth now has “form”.
Then, on the fourth, fifth and sixth days, he sets out to fill the environments he has created in the first three days. So on day four the sun, moon and stars correspond to the light and darkness created on day one; on day five the birds and fish fill the sky and sea created in day two; and on day six animals and Adam are created to occupy the land created on day three. So God is creating things in an orderly and precise manner. He is indeed bringing order out of chaos. The earth is now “full” – of life.
It also fascinating to note that Genesis 1 has mathematical properties. The three figures that keep coming up in the account are 3, 7 and 10, each of which has particular significance throughout the Bible. The number 3 speaks of what God is, 7 is the perfect number in Scripture, and 10 is the number of completeness. If the occasions when the numbers 3, 7, and 10 occur are examined, some astonishing links emerge.
At only three points does God actually create something out of nothing. On three occasions he calls something by name, three times he makes something, and three times he blesses something.
On seven occasions we read that God “saw that it was good”. There are, of course, seven days – and the first sentence is seven words in Hebrew. Furthermore, the last three sentences in this account of creation are also each formed of seven words in the original Hebrew.
And there are ten commands of God.
The style of Genesis 1 is in marked contrast to other “creation stories”, for example the Babylonian epic of creation, which is very complicated and weird and has little link with reality. The simplicity of the Genesis account of creation has not been universally applauded, however. Some have suggested that this simplistic approach is proof that the Bible cannot be considered as serious in the modern era. But there is much to be said in defense of this simple approach.
Imagine describing how a house is built in a children’s book. You would want it to be accurate but simplified so that the young readers would be able to follow the process. You might write about the bricklayer who laid the bricks, the carpenter who worked on the windows, the door frame and the roof joists. You might mention the plumber who put the pipes in, the electrician who came to put the wires in, the plasterer who plasters the walls and the decorator who paints them.
Written in this way the description has six basic stages, but of course building a house is far more complicated than that. It requires the synchronizing and overlapping of different workers for particular periods of time. No one would say that the description given in the children’s book is wrong or misleading, just that it is rather more complex in reality. In the same way there is no doubt that Genesis is a simplification and that science can fill out a whole lot more detail for us. But God’s purpose was not to provide detailed scientific accuracy. Rather it was to give an orderly explanation that everyone could follow and accept, and which underlined that he knew what he was doing.