In our last reflection on the Darwinian revolution and natural science in general in relationship with Christian theology, I made the very strong point—first of all, I made the very strong point about the Christocentrism of Orthodox theology, the Gospel of Christ, the crucified, glorified Christ as the very center of the Gospel. But then in our last reflection I took that very same conviction and applied it to the Bible and how Christians, ancient Christians and Orthodox Christians, relate to the Bible, how we ought to relate to the Bible, and that was as in a collection of writings that come from oral traditions that have various literary genres and ways of writing, that it is not a Quran—it was not dictated by God under one cover, as one book—but it’s a recording of many different traditions on very many different issues, all put together—law, history, chronicles, wisdom literature, poetry, hymnology (the book of Psalms)—how that’s all brought together and then how that’s all interpreted by what we Christians call the New Testament, the writings of St. Paul, first and foremost.
I say that because they were the first written, but then also the gospels, the Matthew, Mark, and Luke—the synoptic gospels—the Gospel according to St. John, then the letters attributed to John, and then of course with Luke we have the book of Acts. Then we have letters attributed to James and to Peter and to Jude in addition to Paul. Then we have that apocalypse, the book of Revelation. All of those books and writings, the 27 that we call the New Testament, interpreting the Law, the Psalms, the Prophets, the Pentateuch, the instructions, the historical events and wonders of God that are recorded in the historical books, the books of Joshua and Kings and Chronicles and Judges first, and then of course the other books: the psalms—the psalter is a kind of a Bible in miniature, a Bible in doxological and liturgical forms of praising and glorifying God for his wonders in history and in the nature itself. And then we have Proverbs, we have the wisdom literature, we have the apocalyptic literature of the Old Testament—books like Ezekiel and in Daniel.
So we have all this literature, and we said that the ancient Christians interpreted it all in terms of Christ crucified and glorified. And the confession that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ; the Christ is the Lord; the Lord is God’s Son, and God’s Son is God’s word, the devar Yahweh, the word of the Lord God in human form, the Word becomes flesh, dwells among us. That’s the center of the Christian faith, and that’s the key to understanding all of the Bible.
Then we said also that the New Testament writings interpret the Old Testament writings, the Hebrew Scriptures, as prefigurative, as shadows to the reality. The substance belongs to Christ. The truth is in Christ. The truth is in Christ crucified and glorified as the new and last Passover, Christ as the final prophet, the final teacher, the final high priest, the great pastor, the good pastor, the king that rules over all, and that all of that is foretold and prefigured and foreshadowed and prophesied in the events of the old covenant and the various covenants—the Noah covenant, the Mosaic covenant—that are then fulfilled in the final, new, and everlasting covenant, the last covenant, of the broken body and shed blood of Jesus. So the Old Testament is a prefiguration; it’s a typos. It’s a skia. Skia means “shadow”; typos means “type.”
St. Paul called the Old Testament a pedagagos to Christ, a schoolmaster, a tutor, the one who prepares us. As the holy Fathers say, for example St. Augustine, he said, “The whole of the New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and all of the Old becomes real and revealed for what it really means in the New.” That’s how ancient Christians relate to the holy Scriptures, to the many books that comprise what we call the Bible or ta Biblia, the books, the writings, the graphoi. That’s the general approach.
Basically we said last time that the Bible and the books of the Bible [are] in many different forms of writing—instruction (Torah means “instruction”), wisdom (chokhmah books, the [Kohelet], the wise writings), the chronicle writings, the genealogy writings—all of these are different kinds of literary styles that are even fulfilled in the New. I’d like to say also that I think the four gospels are in those literary genres of the Hebrew Scriptures. Mark is apocalypse; Matthew is Torah; Luke-Acts is chronicle-history, in the ancient meaning of the term: the history that tells about the mighty acts of God intervening in human life; and then, of course, John is theology. St. John the Theologian writes the theological gospel, which, by the way, is not even called a gospel. I think the St. John is a theological reflection on those who have accepted the Gospel and the Gospel story relative to the life of Christ are written in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
But be that as it may, what we would like to do today is to say that if the entire Scriptures are not natural science—they’re dealing with natural science, and the writers deal with natural science as they understand it, but they are not natural science at all, and they’re not intended for that purpose, and if these Scriptures are not mythology—they’re not fantasy, they’re not fiction, they’re not made up by human beings—but are in fact inspired by God—they’re divine writings that are God-breathed, God inspired—to be interpreted only by the same Holy Spirit who inspired them to be written in the first place and to be understood as God’s word in the form of words, this can only be interpreted through the Word incarnate who is Jesus Christ, so that the Bible is not science but it’s not myth either. It’s not mythology, it’s not fantasy, it’s not exalted human poetry, but it is God’s inspired writings which basically are there to tell what God is doing.
The Bible generally, if we had to say it in the simplest form, are the Scriptures that testify to the activity of God in nature and in human life and human history—God’s acts. In fact, you could say that the whole of Scripture, whatever its literary form, are prophetic books that reveal the activity of God, the word of God and the action of God, the devar of God. The devar means both “word” and “act” and “thing.” The Bible shows God’s thing in the relationship to creation, to the cosmos, the world, the galaxies, the sun, the moon, the stars, and then, of course, human life, the human history. It’s prophetic in the sense that it’s giving the truth about these things. It’s showing the meaning of these things.
We could even say, I think, without being wrong, inaccurate, to say that almost every event in the holy Scripture is foretelling a future event. Every event is in function more of the future than of the present and of the past. When you look back and read about the past events, then you understand what’s going on now in relation to what is still coming. The Bible is basically future-oriented. All of the books of the Bible are future-oriented. They tell what God has done in the light of what God is doing, in the light of what God still is yet to do. Of course, the whole thing that God has yet to do is to establish his kingdom throughout the universe, to be seen and to be worshiped as the Lord of all by the whole of creation.
According to the Scriptures, he’s already worshiped by the cosmos. The sun and moon and stars and the animals and the plants, they’re all praising the Lord. Just, I don’t know, read the last three psalms; read the book of Job. Certainly read and sing the Song of the Three Youths in the fiery furnace in Babylon, which we do on the Pascha Eve in Orthodox liturgy. Everything is praising the Lord in the cosmos—everything. Then in the end every human being will also bow before him. They’ll bend the knee to Christ and be offered to God the Father, and then all things will then be the kingdom of God.
So holy Scripture and Christian faith generally is future-oriented. Even we Christians today not only remember what God has done, we not only remember that Christ has come, we not only remember the crucifixion and the burial and the resurrection and the ascension and the glorification that has already taken place, but we remember all of this in light of what we still expect to come, that the coming kingdom that we live, our prayer is, “Come, Lord Jesus; come quickly. Thy kingdom come.” So it’s still future-oriented, and in general the whole holy Scripture is this way.
What we want to do today is to look at Genesis, to look at the first chapters of Genesis, and to see what is actually written there. What do we find there? What is that all about? And what is that all about in terms of the holy Scripture as we understand Scriptures? I might even just say: in terms of what I just said? If what I just said is the truth, that the Scriptures [are] generally about God’s mighty acts in nature and in history, but they are not science and they are not myth, and we must, I think, radically reject those two realities. The Bible is not about science, and it’s not about myth, but as we will see, hopefully right now, the whole of holy Scripture—certainly Genesis—is to de-mythologize, to destroy the mythic realities, to say, “No, we’ve got God action here, and then God’s action in a creation that can be treated scientifically,” that you can know, in other words. It’s not mythology, and all the things in nature-cosmos, they’re not simply symbols for some kind of spiritual world or some kind of moralistic story or some kind of expression of human desires or something. That’s not it at all.
What we’re going to say right now is that the Scripture definitely says that there is a reality to the cosmos and a reality to human history, and these can be studied. They can be known. That’s called science: when we study the realities of history and human behavior and historical happening. So there is no rejection of science, but there is definitely a limitation on science, because science can only tell us about nature and about history, but it cannot tell us its ultimate meaning. Then, of course, the Scriptures will say that the whole point is that God Almighty, who created all these things, he breaks in, he speaks, he acts, he chooses, he interacts with his human creatures in their freedom, and he does mighty acts in the cosmos, too. He can do things to the earth and the sky and the sun and the waters and so on, because he is God and they belong to him; they were formed by him, made for his glory and made ultimately for human beings to enjoy, to delight in, and to govern, together with God; and that human beings don’t do this, and then God intervenes and he acts. That’s what the Bible is about.
If we use a jargon, we could say that the Bible is about the mirabilia Dei, as they say in Latin: the wonderful things of God, or the magnalia Dei, the mighty works of God, the megala Theou, as they say in Greek. And in the Magnificat of Mary, in that little song of Mary in Luke’s Gospel when she’s pregnant, she will say that this is the God who has done great things, who has created the world, saved the people from Egypt, brought them through the desert, fed them with water [from the] rock—the God who acts does his final act in her womb. And that’s why she says, “And he who is mighty has done great things to me,” she says in the Magnificat, and that final wonder of God is the incarnation of the Son of God.
And then the ultimate wonder of God is that God in human flesh is crucified and dies on the cross, destroys all God’s enemies, the last of which is death, and is raised and glorified. That’s why on all the great feast days in the Eastern Orthodox Church, at the vespers of the feast day, we sing that line from the psalm, “Who is so great a God as our God? He is the God who does marvelous things—magnalia, megala, megalia, mirabilia, thavmasia! He does wonders and miracles. That’s our God: the God of the miracle interacting in the creation that he himself has brought into being.
But that creation can be studied scientifically; it can be known, and we will see in a minute that the great calling of human beings is technologia and theologia. Technology, technologia: it means to act, to know and to act and to manipulate the created things in the proper way. And then theologia is to know God and to adore God and to give God doxa and evcharistia, glory and gratitude. Doxologia, praise, and glory, to give that to God for making this creation and humanity that can be studied scientifically and that human beings can even be scientists in technology.
However, as St. Gregory the Theologian said way back in the fourth century, theologia is not technologia. Technologia has to do with created things; theologia has to do with the uncreated. It has to do with God who brought all these things into being and then has acted within them for the sake of their salvation, glorification, and deification.
So let’s go to Genesis and just see a little bit how this might work, how we understand this. Again, I want to say this is very primitive, very simplistic, very general, very sweeping. It can be studied much more carefully in much greater detail, and there are scholars who do that, and it’s just wonderful to behold. Then there are Church Fathers who are not scientists; they’re theologians. And then the Church Fathers take all this reality and how they understand it scientifically, and all the holy Fathers, they followed the science of their time. The holy Fathers certainly thought that the earth was flat; they certainly thought that the sun was moving around the earth. They dealt with the science of their time, and they loved it. They weren’t against it. They studied all the culture of their time: rhetoric and language and literature and philosophy. And they certainly dealt with the science of their time, but they were not scientists, and they were not speaking scientifically.
But when they say that all this has to be understood literally or literarily, not allegorically, not mythologically, what they’re saying is: it’s not a myth, it’s not an allegory; it’s about the activity of God in a creation that can be known. Then they tried to understand how those things can be brought together, and we’re still trying to understand that to this very day in the 21st century. But the difference between the Church Fathers who wrote about the six days, like Ambrose and Basil and John Chrysostom, we have a very different scientific understanding about reality, something that they probably could not even have imagined. Even the writers of Genesis itself dealt with what could be called the science or the cosmogeny of their day. They related to the created realities very much according to the science of their day, but when they did that, they did that de-mythologizing. What we’re going to see is that Genesis is a great smashing of the mythologies of Canaanite and ancient Babylonian and Egyptian religion. That’s what the holy Scripture is; that’s what certainly the book of Genesis is.
So let’s take a look and see what we have here and just reflect a little bit, very simplistically, very superficially, but what I’d like to do is to try to present what I think is the mode, the method by which we should approach these things, how we should deal with them, which I would actually say is the way the Church does deal with them. It’s the way the Church Fathers dealt with them, and we don’t simply follow the Church Fathers’ teaching as if it was some type of Quran or some type of whatever. We follow the Fathers in their method. We follow the Fathers by reflecting theologically on what we know scientifically. That’s what the holy Fathers did.
They reflected theologically on the basis of the word of God, incarnate in the words of holy Scriptures, inspired by God, and certainly they reflected theologically in terms of the Incarnation, the teaching, the passion, the suffering, the death, the resurrection, the glorification, and the enthronement of Jesus Christ, who is the Lord, Jesus the Messiah, who is the Lord, God’s incarnate Word. That’s what they did, and what they did in their time is what we’re supposed to be doing in our time. That’s what following the Fathers means. Following the Fathers means on the basis of contemplating Scripture, in the context of liturgy and worship of God, and listening to those words of Scripture in the context of the liturgy and the worship of God at the table with the doors being shut, so to speak, and then trying to put that into practice through a pure life, by asceticism and keeping God’s commandments. Then we come to insight; then we come to understanding. Then we can make theological statements about the cosmos and about human history and about humanity, and that’s basically what the Bible’s doing, and that’s what the Church Fathers have been doing to this present day.
So let’s finally get to Genesis here. When we read the book of Genesis, we must remember we have a Hebrew text and we have a translation into Greek. There are many translations into Greek done by Jews, but the one that we use primarily is called the Septuagint. That is the one that is basically used by the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church would use the Septuagint which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scripture done by Jews. By the way, we should always remember that the Hebraic text that we have, from which the modern English translations are done, like the King James Version and the Revised Standard Version, they come from medieval Hebraic texts, texts of the Jews of the Middle Ages of the Christian era, the Common Era.
So sometimes it just might be the truth that the Septuagint has a more ancient version of a text than the Hebrew text does, because the Hebrew text is a reconstructed text after, practically a thousand years after Jesus. It might really be that sometimes the Hebrew texts were tampered with because the Jews had to deal with Christianity at that point. So it’s not such a simple thing that the Hebrew text was first and more basic and then the Septuagint is later and then less dependable or something, but it’s not the case either that there’s not mistakes in both of those texts and that there may even be mistakes in the Septuagint when they were translating a text because they, for whatever reason, did not quite understand. And maybe even it’s the case that sometimes they even wanted to change the Hebrew text for some purpose.
So, thanks be to God, we don’t have a Quran; we have a Bible: we have the Books, and we do not treat these books as a Quran. We do not treat them as a book fallen from heaven, inspired by God in every syllable and every letter and every iota, that it’s—how can you say?—no mistakes in it whatsoever about anything at all, including history and cosmology and science and archaeology. That’s simply not the truth; that’s simply not the case. But the Bible and the books are God’s inspired texts that we read in the light of Christ and interpret through the cross of Christ.
Let’s go to Genesis. I’m going to read the RSV here. The RSV says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Or it could could even be translated, “When God began to create.” In the Septuagint English translations, it says, “In the beginning, God made the heaven and the earth.” Right from the beginning we want to see where it says in the RSV, “The earth was without form and void.” In the Orthodox Study Bible, translating the Septuagint, it says, “Unsightly and unfurnished.” Sometimes it’s translated in Greek, “Invisible: formless and aoratos, invisible,” rather than “void” or “empty.” Then it says, “Darkness was upon the face of the deep.” Then it says, “The Spirit of God” or “the wind of God” or “the breath of God, the pnevma Theou, was moving over the face of the waters.”
What we’ve got to see right from the beginning is, if you take that text as it’s written, there is no creation ex nihilo; it’s not out of nothing, because it says, “The earth was without form and void,” but there still was some kind of an earth; there still was something, what was there. Then there’s “the waters,” the face of the deep, and the Spirit over the face of the waters. So there’s some kind of primal waters there already. What we want to see is that the strict technical, philosophical meaning of creation, meaning something that God brings into being by his will which before did not exist at all and it comes out of nothingness, from that which did not exist, you can say that, technically, theologically, that particular concept—and I think some patristic scholars, I remember in my youth listening to them, like Jean Leclercq, the great Benedictine scholar, he said that probably that type of understanding only became totally clarified in the fourth century of the Christian era.
When discussing the Logos of God, you had to say, “What is the difference from the Logos who comes forth from the very being of God and the creation which God brings in existence by his will?” Because in the Bible, the words like “form,” “fashion,” “produce,” “make,” “create,” they do not necessarily mean “out of nothing.” They are not necessarily technical metaphysical statements, and if you take the entire Old Testament, the only place where you have it said literally that God created things out of what before did not exist, out of nothingness, is in Maccabees. It’s in the 2 Maccabees in what the Protestants call the Apocryphal literature; in the Protestant Bible it wouldn’t even be in there at all. It’s in the Orthodox Bible, because Maccabees is part of holy Scripture for us Orthodox.
So you have that statement where the mother of the Maccabees children saying that her boys being slaughtered were created by God through her womb and she’s their mother, but by the God who brought into existence all that did not exist out of nothing, out of nothing that didn’t exist. And you have a sentence similar to that in the letter to the Romans, that God called into being out of that which did not previously exist. But even there you don’t have the strict philosophical concept of nothingness. But here in the beginning you have God acting over a formless, void, invisible, dark reality that is called the face of the waters: “moving over the face of the waters.”
Actually, in the Septuagint Scripture, you have the Spirit of God moving over the waters, pnevma Theou epephereto epanō tou hydatos. So you have hydor right in the first sentence of the Bible, this “waters.” Well, what are those primal waters? What we want to see, though, is that the whole point of the Genesis story is not so much creation ex nihilo as the fact that there is a God who is the Lord over everything that exists and that he enters into it, he penetrates it. In the beginning it was just void and empty and formless and dark and meaningless, and there was nothing there to understand it. This is a revelation of God. This is not science; this is not mythology. This is an action of God.
Then it says, “And God said.” God speaks. God acts. You see? That’s the main thing in the beginning of the holy Scripture. Then it says:
God said: Let there be light. And there was light. And God saw that the light was good. God separated light from darkness. God called the light day; the darkness he called night. There was evening, there was morning: one day.
Here you’ve got to say that this has nothing to do with sunlight. The day can’t be anything like what we consider a day scientifically, because you don’t have a sun, and there won’t be a sun and a moon until the fourth day. So all the holy Fathers say this shows that this light belongs to God and it’s the light of meaning, it’s the light of revelation. It means that God is going to break through into this primal chaos that’s voidness and nothingness and no one is there and nothing is there, no plants, no animals, no nothing at all, but there is this kind of whatever you want to call it—chaos.
That’s an important point, too, because right from the get-go the holy Scripture wants to tell us that God is the God of the chaos. In the ancient world, chaos had a power of itself. Most of the ancient religions thought of a power of light and a power of darkness that were equally strong. They thought of light and darkness as the primal realities, but here they say that the light and the darkness are not the primal realities. The light and the darkness are created by God. God is over the light; God is over the darkness. There is a God who reigns and rules, and it is not dualistic, like the Hellenistic philosophies and religions and the Canaanite religions, where you have gods of light fighting against gods of darkness and they’re on an equal level and who’s going to win and all that kind of stuff.
Right from the beginning, the holy Scripture says that Elohim, God—and here this is in the tradition where God is called God, not “the Lord God,” but “God”—that this wants to say that there is God who is over all of these things and that light itself is not God and there is no “dark God” either and there is no dark side of God, as modern Freudians or Jungians or modern people would say, the dark side of God. There is no dark side of God. In fact, the Scripture is going to say as far as light is concerned, there is the uncreated light of God himself, and God dwells in unapproachable light, but that light is not created light, but there is created light, and that’s done on the first words of God in holy Scripture. He brings into the reality.
Then about night and day, it shows that darkness was first, and then the light comes, because night is dark and day is light, but day has nothing to do with the 24-hour period here. St. Basil the Great would even say that Yom—in Hebrew, that means an extended act; that’s why there’s going to be six “days” of creation and God’s going to rest on the seventh “day.” That’s why in the Scripture the coming kingdom of God is called “the day of the Lord, the Lord’s day, the first day, the eighth day,” but “day” here is a theological concept. It’s not a scientific concept when it’s used in Genesis. It doesn’t have anything to do with an earth-turn or a revolution of the earth or around the sun or whatever. It’s just plain not about that. It’s not about that at all.
When God separates this light from darkness and shows that he is the God of light and darkness, [he shows] that he’s the God who will cast down and raise up and bring to be and destroy and so on. H is God, there aren’t gods like in Hinduism, gods of destruction and gods of creation. No, there’s one God who transcends this all, and all these things are in his hands. They are under his power; they belong to him. He made them, and he’s going to rule over them, and he’s going to manipulate them, and he’s going to use them for his own glory and for the good of his creatures, particularly his human being creatures, as we will see.
On the second day, God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters. Separate the waters from the waters.” God made the firmament, separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament, and it was so. God called the firmament heaven, and there was evening and there was morning: a second day.
Here again you have a de-mythologizing sentence, because in the ancient Canaanite world, there were the gods of the waters, the powerful waters that everybody feared and [which] ruled everybody. There were the dragons in the waters, the beasts in the waters. And the water itself was called, in the Canaanite religion—Babylonian religion, rather—the tiamat. What Genesis wants to say here is this: the waters are not gods, and there are no gods in those waters. God—Elohim, the one God, the only God there is—is ruling over those waters, and he separates them. He has power over them. That’s why, of course, Jesus is going to walk on the waters. That’s why Jesus is going to calm the winds and walk on the waters, to show that he’s divine. But those waters are there, so there’s a separation.
Then here you have ancient cosmogeny. The understanding of the time—St. Basil probably even believed this, and Chrysostom and others—that the earth as we know it is a space between waters that are under the earth and waters that are over the earth. Then there are kind of pillars set up and there’s a firmament, and the waters are on top and the waters are underneath. For example, in the flood of Noah, those gates are going to be shattered, and the waters are going to come pouring down from the heavens and are going to come surging up from under the earth, and there’s going to be a huge flood, because God is going to let those waters out and destroy everything because he can’t stand the creatures that he made because they’re nothing but carnal and there’s none that’s good and he only saves Noah and his family. Then Noah becomes the one from whom all the human beings of the earth come.
As a matter of fact, you have the genealogy in Luke back to Adam, but if you take the Bible as it’s showing God’s intervention in history, then you can say that there was a destruction of the first formation and then it begins somehow over again with Noah. Then there’s a covenant with Noah that God will never do that again—the rainbow, and so on. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
But here we want to see that God is the God over the waters, and that’s why the psalms are making that point all the time. Even in the Orthodox Church when we prepare the bread and wine, we say, “The Lord reigns. The Lord is king. He is clothed in majesty. The Lord is clothed; he is girded with strength. He has made the round world so it cannot be moved. Ever since the world began, God was there over it.” And then, “This is the waters’ rage. The waters rage horribly, but the Lord who dwells on high is mightier than these waters, and he is glorified forever.” That’s the psalm which we actually use on every Saturday night when we enter Sunday, the Lord’s day. Read it. Read it in the holy Scripture. I believe that I’ll just tell you right now: it’s Psalm 93.
The floods have lifted up, O Lord;
the floods have lifted up their voice;
the floods lift up their roaring
Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
mightier than many waves of the sea,
the Lord on high is mightier.
Thy decrees are very sure;
holiness befits thy house,
O Lord, forever.
The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty.
That’s the idea. That’s the teaching. That’s the revelation, that there is a God who is over all this stuff, and these things are not divine in themselves. Mythology is over. There are no more sky gods, light gods, dark gods, water gods, but now there is God who is ruling all these things.
Then on the next day, the next act, the next completed act—and notice also that this is a process. This is a process; it’s not done all at once. It’s a succession of activities on the part of God, according to this theological vision. Then it says, “Let the waters under the heaven be gathered into one place. Let the dry land appear.” It’s interesting that in the beginning you have “The earth was without form and void,” but you only have the dry land appearing on the third day. Then on that third day, the dry land is called earth. So it’s only the dry land that’s called earth, and later on Adam will be called the earth-creature: adamach means “earth.” So you have the dirt, the earth.
Here even the ancient philosophers, certainly the Greek ones, thought that there were four primal elements. There was air, there was water, there was earth, and there was fire. But that’s another story. But everybody wondered about how things are. Here it says: however they are, God is over them all. Then it says, “The waters were gathered, and they were called seas.” So you have earth and seas, and they’re separated. It’s very interesting, by the way, that the scientists, when they study things, that’s how they see things, as a matter of fact. They see a planet earth that’s void and formless, and then they see land separating from waters, and then they see the world more or less—the planet earth anyway—coming into the shape that we now know it, and then the claim is that that’s done millions—I don’t know how many millions of years ago they claim that that’s done—but this is a very long, tedious process that all these things happen.
Why not simply say that that’s how you look at it scientifically, but theologically we see that God is behind and over all of these things. It’s not autonomous in itself, but God does give powers to that reality that he himself fashions. So he says, for example, on that very day, the third day, “Let the earth put forth vegetation.” It doesn’t say that God makes every plant, every flower, every tree.
“Plants yielding bearing seed, fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, according to its kind, upon the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, according to its own kind. God saw that it was good. There was evening, there was morning: a third day.
Not trying at all to make some parallelism between Genesis and, I don’t know, Darwinistic theories or evolutionary theories, but as a matter of fact, the scriptural text is very clear. It says the earth and the waters bring forth the various kinds of beings. Now we’re just talking about the earth and the plants and the animals and the seeds, and they have many different seeds, and there’s many great varieties, and that all this will be brought forth somehow in a power within itself. And God saw that it was good.
When you then get to the next day, the fourth, then you have the sun and the moon and the seasons for the days and the years. The firmaments of the heaven have lights, and God makes two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, the lesser light to rule the night. That’s the sun and the moon. And we still use those words at our evening prayer at vespers in the Orthodox Church. Every single vespers, when we come to evening, we say that the God has put the sun and the moon, the sun to rule the day and the moon to rule the night. That comes right from Genesis, and that’s God’s doing. That’s the way God wants it to be. That comes from the hand of God.
Then he says he makes the stars also and he set them in the firmament to make light and to make the days that we now use that term, yom, for a 24-hour period. The very word that was used the day before now becomes a 24-hour period in science, so to speak. We call each extended period a day: a night and a day, a 24-hour period. But that depends on the sun and the moon, and the sun and the moon are creatures. Here, John Chrysostom, for example, in his Hexaemeron, he makes that point radically strongly. He says what God wants to tell us here—and this is inspired by God—is that God Almighty created the sun and the moon, and he sets them to do their duties, but they are not gods.
We should note in the old world, Ra, the sun, was the Egyptian God; Astarte was the Canaanite god. The moon was a god. In Roman-Hellenistic religion, Helios and Solus is a god. For example, at the time of early Christianity, in the Roman empire they were having the festival of the birth of the Invincible Sun, s-u-n, in the sky, when the darkness gets [longer] in the winter, and then the spring starts coming. On that day, the Christians celebrated the birth of Christ who is the real Sun of righteousness, the Sun who created the sun, the Son of God, s-o-n, and the Sun of righteousness, s-u-n, that creates the s-u-n, the helios. He is the real Sol, he is the real Helios, he is the real solntse, he is the Sun, the spiritual sun, the theological sun, who created and rules over the natural sun.
Even the Christmas troparion in the Orthodox Church is a polemic against paganism, idolatries, mythologies. That’s following the Bible, because that’s what Genesis itself is doing here. Genesis itself is de-mythologizing. It’s saying the sun is not God, the waters are not God, the moon is not God—God is God, and God is Elohim here, the Most High God, the only God that there is. So then it continues. On the very next day, the fifth day, it says:
God said: Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures. (It says, “abound in creatures”; it says “bring forth” in Hebrew.) Let the birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens. So God created or fashioned or made great sea-monsters and every living creature that moves with which the waters swarm according to their kinds, every wingéd bird according to its kind. God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying: Be fruitful, multiply. Fill the waters of the sea. Let the birds multiply on earth.
So what you have on this fifth day that God also sees is very good—is good, actually; very good only comes at the end, the “very” part; but each time he’s going to say “good”; we’ll get to that in a minute. Here again you have varieties. You have all different kinds. There’s varieties of plants and animals. Then there’s varieties of stars. As St. Paul will say, “Star differs from star in glory.” The planets. Then you have swarms of living creatures, the quadrupeds. Well, not the quadrupeds yet. Now we only have the sea-monsters, the fish and the birds. So we have fish and birds coming first. It’s very interesting that that again—we don’t want to parallel it, but it seems scientifically that we can see the life-forms emerging on the planet earth, that from the waters and the fish and the birds that they come and you have the plants first. We don’t want to get into that, but it’s very tempting to theologize about that in that manner on the basis of the book of Genesis.
But then when it continues, and these are all different kinds and the varieties are very good, again it doesn’t say that God created each one of them out of nothing. It simply does not say that, and it doesn’t say that he even did it directly. He says, “Let the earth bring forth. Let the waters bring forth.” That’s the language that Genesis uses. Then when you get finally to the sixth day, it says:
God said: Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds, quadrupeds (the four-legged ones), cattle, creeping things, beasts of the earth according to their kinds. God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds, the cattle according to their kinds, everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind, and God saw that it was good.
Obviously God is fashioning all of this; God is behind all of this. It’s God’s will that this would be done. It’s God’s power that’s acting, that he gives to [and] within the creation that he makes, but notice that he gives that kind of dynamis and power to the creation itself. Here some writers like St. Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Philo, even, the Jew, they speak about God imagining all these things in his head with the Logos, and then he takes all the logoi, the plural words of his own mind, and then he brings them into reality in the created order. So you have everything has a seed of the logos that exists in the mind of God, and that led Gregory of Nyssa to speak about a double creation, the ideal world that God imagines and then what actually happens in the cosmic, material world that we know.
Probably there’s some Hellenistic philosophy behind that, like Plato’s ideal world and so on, but here in Genesis there’s no ideal world; there’s just what God calls in force and fashions and according to Irenaeus of Lyons, God is fashioning all this stuff by his hands. Irenaeus says that the two hands of God are his Logos (his Word) and his Spirit, so that everything God does he does by his Word and his Spirit. Then the Christians will come along, including St. Irenaeus, and say, “Christ is that Word incarnate, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God who was on Christ, making him Messiah, and who is given to us who believe in Christ, namely, the Holy Spirit.” But you have God fashioning all things, doing all these things, but he’s molding this creation, this earth and these waters and so on, according to his own desires, his own will, his own plan.
But he doesn’t say specifically in Genesis how that’s actually done, how it works itself out. That’s a problem, and scientists try to study and see: how does it appear the way it works its way out? Here you have Charles Darwin saying, “Well, it looks to me like it works its way out in millions of years, by changes that take place that we don’t quite know how and there is debate which way it takes place, but in order to have all these various varieties and the grandeur of which is magnificent and glorious, with all the different kinds of birds and plants and animals and orchids and dogs and everything that exists, that is totally marvelous and wonderful.” But then he would add that he seemed to think that it worked itself out through natural processes of their own without any particular invention from outside, and he would certainly say that all these things were not created from nothing but that they are dependent and they’re related to each other. Then he would also certainly say that it took millions of years for this to happen, not just ten thousand, and that it didn’t take place in six 24-hour periods, either. We have to honor that. Is that true or is that not? We have to decide that.
But if it is true, I personally would say it has absolutely nothing to do with what Genesis is about. Genesis is about showing that all these realities are not mythologies; it’s not allegory; it’s the activity of God. But Genesis is also there to say that these realities are real; they are historical. There’s time, there’s times when things appear, when they come to be. You could date things, and that there’s a reality which then allows for natural science. It allows for cosmological studies and historical studies and anthropological studies. You can study the cosmos, you can study the beings, the rocks, the waters, the air, the fire, the plants, the animals, the birds, the fish—everything you can study. You can study man, you can study what it means to be human. Then you can study human history and the interaction of these various creatures with each other, and certainly the action of the human being with all of these creatures. That can be studied. But it’s God who brings it all about. It’s God who does it. And it’s ultimately God who reigns over it all for his own purposes.
Now, on that sixth day also, when you have the animals made, one of the animals that is made is the earth-creature called Adam. But here the first story of Genesis is that God said, “Let us make man”—and it’s anthrōpos there, human being—“in our own image, according to our likeness.” It’s demuth and tselem in Hebrew, imago and similitudo in Greek—excuse me, it’s eikon and similitudo in Greek—oh, excuse me, that’s Latin. It’s image and similitude in Latin, imago and [similitudo]. In Greek it’s eikon, icon, and homoiōsis: icon and likeness.
And then this animal—and man is an animal. He’s from the dust. He has hands and feet and eyes and breath, and the breath of life is in him and so on. This man, this human being, is given dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the cattle, and over all the earth. The important thing here is that the human has dominion over everything else. Then it says that the human is made in God’s image and likeness unlike any of the other creatures. No other creature is said to be made in God’s image and likeness. Then it also says that it was God’s will that they would be created male and female. You have male and female. Arsen and gyne. You have male human being and female human being, and they belong together.
Then God gives them the very first commandment out of his mouth in the Bible to humans: “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the living things.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant which is on the earth for food,” and the breath of life is in all the animals, and the breath of life is in the human being, too. And then it says God saw that everything that he made was very good. Seven times he said it’s good, and this is a polemic against any type of dualism. What is created is good. It is not bad. It is not evil. It comes from a good God, and God has dominion and sovereignty over it all, and he gives this dominion and sovereignty to human beings. Then it says:
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation.
And that’s the end of the first story of creation in Genesis, and it’s called an Elohim story; it’s called a priestly story. It’s probably, the scholars think, the more ancient of all the stories that was kept in the mind of people. Most of the scholars think that it was actually written in its present form in the fifth century BC, which was after the Babylonian exile, actually. We didn’t have it in scriptural form before that, but they see it as a bearer of the tradition among the people as God is interacting with his people, revealing himself to them. It’s revelation.
And it’s interesting that this is an Elohist document, an E-document, because in it all the time God is called Elohim, which is actually plural in Hebrew, but it’s translated in Greek as Theos, in Latin as Deus, in Slavonic as Bog, and in English as God. So it’s God who is doing all these things, but it’s interesting that in the original language, “God” was a plural. It was a plural.
In any case, that’s the first creation story, but it’s not the only one. There is a second one, and the second creation story, a different tradition, where God is called Lord God, Adonai Elohim, or Yahweh, God Yahweh. That is another tradition that is put right next to this one, right in the same book of Genesis. And we will deal with that story in our next reflection.