A Matter of Perspective

Psalm 19 clearly teaches that the sun revolves around the earth. It says that the sun “rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other.” But this is in a book of poetry, so maybe we shouldn’t take it literally. Let’s look at a book of history instead. Genesis 19:23 says, “By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land.” The Bible clearly teaches that the sun moves around the earth.

Of course, I am being facetious. The Bible in these places is simply using language that accurately expresses the position of the sun as seen from our perspective on earth. We do this every day even though we know that the days are really caused by the rotation of the earth. Just because the Bible at times speaks from a human perspective, that does not make it untrue.

Point of view has a lot to do with one’s interpretation of Genesis 1. The focus of the chapter clearly is the earth. After all, it is the earth that was dark, formless, and empty, and it is the earth to which God brought light, form, and habitation. So let’s see how the chapter reads from the perspective of an observer on the earth.

Titan, the largest moon of Saturn

Scientific models of the early earth describes a dense, opaque atmosphere similar to that found on Titan, shown above.

Before the first day: The early earth was formed without seas and subsequently became covered with water (Gen. 1:2, Job 38:8). The earth was dark, being wrapped in thick, dense clouds (Gen. 1:2, Job 38:9). This is in complete agreement with the prevailing scientific models of the formation of the earth.

Day 1: God said “let there be light,” and there was light (on the earth). This does not mean that light did not previously exist anywhere in the universe, but rather it means that the surface of the earth had been dark. As the atmosphere thinned, sunlight was able to penetrate to the earth’s surface, bringing light to the earth.

Day 2: God separated the waters above from the waters below. There was now a distinct gap of transparent atmosphere between the global ocean and the clouds above.

Day 3: God caused the continents to emerge from the water. (Both the Genesis account and current scientific understanding indicate that the continents emerged from beneath the water.) After this, he caused seed-bearing plants and trees to grow on the land.

Day 4: God caused the sun, moon, and stars to appear in the sky. This does not mean that he actually created them on this day, although it would have looked this way from the earth. The atmosphere thinned to the point where the clouds broke, making the heavens above visible from the earth’s surface.

Day 5: God created advanced (nephesh) sea creatures and birds. (Note that many types of living things we know of today are not mentioned in the chapter. For example, it does not say on what day God created bacteria or plankton.)

Day 6: God created several categories of advanced (nephesh) land animals: mammals that can be domesticated (behemah), small creeping animals (remes), and wild animals (chay). Finally, God created man.

Day 7: God stopped creating. There is no record, either biblical or scientific, of the appearance of any new kind of living thing after the creation of man.

The sequence of events that I have presented is in agreement with the record of nature and with the current scientific understanding of the earth’s history as long as the Hebrew word for “day” is allowed its broader meaning of a span of time. I believe that my explanation represents a straightforward reading of the text of Genesis 1, considered from an earth-centered perspective and avoiding unnecessary speculation (e.g., trying to fit every known life form into one of the categories of living things specifically mentioned). I find it comforting that the record of creation that God has left in scripture agrees with the record that he has left in nature.

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