Friday, June 8, 2007

On Growing and Planting

I am continuing with my biblical case for old-earth creationism. In my first post, I summarized several reasons why I think the "days" in Genesis 1 were never intended by the original author (probably Moses) to be interpreted as 24-hour days. In this post, I want to give a few thoughts about Genesis 2:4b-9 and how it adds to my cumulative case.

The previous few verses give us a synopsis of God's entire week of creation miracles. Now the author is switching gears and zeroing in on the events of the so-called sixth "day" and providing more detail.
When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens — and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground — the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground — trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Now, a superficial, junior high interpretation of these verses is that they are describing the second day of creation and that there was no rainfall before Day 2. But a closer look at the text reveals something very different.

The first thing we need to know is that the NIV's translation of "on the earth" is hopelessly confusing. What do you think of when you hear the word "earth"? Probably the entire planet. But the Hebrew word translated "earth" is "eretz" and it does not necessarily mean the entire planet (although it can). Like many Hebrew words, it has a wide range of meanings. It can basically be used to refer to a piece of ground of any size, anything from the land in someone's garden to an entire nation to the entire known world. I would suggest that this phrase would more accurately be translated "in the region [of the Garden of Eden]" (a description of which begins in verse 10).

Secondly, these verses draw a perfect word-picture of a common mid-eastern weather pattern. There is a dry season followed by a wet season. What these verses are telling us is that Adam was created during the dry season. Then when the wet season came, God worked on designing the garden and then when He was done, He put Adam in the garden.

[Sidebar - Have you ever realized that Adam was not actually created in Eden? We all assume that he was because that's what our Sunday School teachers (and young-earth creationists) have told us. But that's not actually what the Bible says.]

Now, my third observation is related to the Bible's description that says God planted the garden and that he made all kinds of trees to grow out of the ground. There is no hint whatsoever in the text that would lead us to believe that God was instantly "poofing" all of these things into existence. Trees and shrubs are described as being "planted" and "growing" through their ordinary means, being directed and supervised by the God-given laws of nature.

Do I need to point out the obvious here? Anyone who is remotely familiar with the activities of gardening knows that this process would take longer than 24-hours! To say that God did "poof" the Garden of Eden into existence is to read something into the biblical text that simply is not there!

At minimum, I hope you can see by now that the young-earth creationist case is not the ONLY responsible approach to interpreting the Scriptures. Other options which still value inerrancy and the historical accuracy of the Bible are on the table as well. More to come...

[I want to give credit for this argument to my friend and colleague, Dr. Jack Collins. For more, I'd recommend his books: Science & Faith, as well as his commentary Genesis 1-4.]

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