Joshua Swamidass: I think it is interesting that you go to history to resolve those questions, because one thing I was taught is … Christians have really only interpreted this stuff literally in the past. On the “days” of Genesis, one thing that was really interesting was looking at how Augustine saw days.
Tremper Longman: Yeah, Augustine and Origen – two of the foremost church fathers – interpreted it figuratively. I have a wonderful quote from Origen (that I might pull out later), but he really cannot understand why anyone would read Genesis 1 literally. And he says, as I would say: how can you have a literal day with a literal evening and morning when you do not even have a sun, moon and stars until the fourth day? This is where the text is kind of saying to us: do not take these days literally. Of course, it is also interesting to see the magnificent parallelism.
Joshua Swamidass: Just to be clear though, Origen was a long time ago, right? He was before Darwin, right?
Tremper Longman: Yes, he was hundreds of years prior. Augustine was 400 AD. I am afraid to say when Origen was exactly … but he was even earlier than Augustine.
As for the days – just one more comment – you have an interesting parallelism between the first three days and the second three days. The first three days involve the creation of realms that are then filled by the inhabitants of those realms in the second three days. So, the realm of light and darkness, which is the subject of the first day, is filled by the sun, moon, and stars on day four. On day two, the skies and the sea are separated, and on day five the birds and the fish are created. Then on day three, the land is created by pushing back the seas and vegetation comes forth, and on day six, the land animals are created and human beings are created.
So again, I would suggest this is an indication that we are not learning the actual sequence of creation; we are getting a beautiful literary description of the creation to tell us that it was Yahweh and no other god that created creation. We should read Genesis 1 and 2 not as though it is rivaling Darwin, not that it does not have implications perhaps for it, but rather because it was written to rival Babylonian, Egyptian, and other creation texts.
- Before you watched this video, how did you think Genesis had historically been interpreted?
- Does the fact that early Christians like Origen and Augustine interpreted Genesis figuratively before Darwin strengthen the case for a figurative interpretation? Why or why not?
- Tremper Longman argues that the parallelism between the creation of realms in the first three days and the creation of the inhabitants of those realms in the following three days suggests that Genesis 1 was intended to be interpreted theologically rather than scientifically. Do you think the structure of the text implies a particular method of interpretation?
- How does treating Genesis 1 as a rival to Ancient Near Eastern creation myths rather than as a rival to Darwin shape one’s interpretation of its meaning?