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The Creation Week: History of Interpretation
Transcript of The Creation Week: History of Interpretation
History of Interpretation
Text of Genesis 1:
The Creation Week
The World Outside the Text
Creation and general theology
Truth about God from Scripture, theology and philosophy
Contemplation, moral meaning
Spiritual ascent, the virtuous Christian life
Mystical or cryptic meaning
Timeless creation ontology
science of physical world
Physical aspects of creation
redemptive, and cosmic history
Creation in time/
Hermeneutics: from text to world and back again
Enlightenment and modern era
Renaissance and Reformation
It's simply the visible world,
displaying God's glory, and the creative role of the Word..
What deep truth has God hidden within the account of the six days of creation?
(Surely it is not the cosmos God is concerned about?)
Or is the truth in the words themselves, not beneath them?
Can Augustine's instantaneous creation count as the literal interpretation of the creation week?
How important is the literal (i.e. physical) interpretation compared to the moral and allegorical interpretations?
Can we reconcile Genesis with Plato or Aristotle?
Where is truth found?
In classical texts?
In ancient traditions?
From physical phenomena?
From mystical revelation?
How can we reconcile truth from other sources with that found in Genesis?
Truth from the telescope
Truth from the microscope
Truth from the sailing ship
Truth from the miner's pick
Is Genesis, with the rest of Christian Scripture, still authoritative for modern society?
Can we find room in Genesis 1 for the vast apparent age of the earth?
Is Genesis 1 merely one among other ancient Near East creation myths, like Enuma Elish?
J. G. Rosenmüller
Pioneer formulator of the ruin-restitution hypothesis, incorporating geological history into the supposed gap covered by Gen 1:2
Antiquissima telluris historia (1776)
Remarks on Cuvier's Theory of the Earth (1814)
English-language popularizer of the 'gap theory' concerning Gen 1:2
Hugo Grotius (1583-1645)
Explored in theological works and exegesis the idea of angelic dramas prior to the creation week and the Fall, drawing on the classical Greek concept of an initial Chaos and hints from church fathers and medieval exegetes.
A New Theory of the Earth (1696)
Advanced a theory of the formation of the earth and solar system wherein each day of the creation week was one year long, working from a related idea of Isaac Newton (1642-1727)
The Testimony of the Rocks (1857)
Key C19th British geologist exponent of a day-age creation week model
James Dana (1813-1895)
Manual of Geology (1862), etc.
Key late C19th North American geologists holding day-age model
Religion of Geology (1851)
Key C19th US geologist exponent of the gap theory
A Comparative Estimate of the Mineral and Mosaical Geologies (1822)
Pioneering 'Scriptural Geologist' with a literal creation week and diluvial geology.
An Essay toward a Natural History of the Earth (1695)
Pioneering attempt to explain Earth's geological development primarily through the deluge of Noah, enabling retention of a literal creation week in the face of geological evidence
Sacred Theory of the Earth (1684-89)
Archeologiae Philosophicae/Ancient Doctrine (1692)
Sought to explain Earth's formation drawing on Newtonian physical principles, especially in connection with Noah's Flood, while offering a Deist-influenced mythical reading of Genesis 1
The Epistle of Barnabas
(Apostolic Fathers) (~135)
Pioneering 'world-week' scheme wherein each day of creation represents a millennium or so of human history in God's plan.
Draws on Ps. 90:4/2 Pet. 3:8; Matthew 1; Revelation 20;
Jubilees; 2 Enoch 33
Irenaeus (c. 130-c. 200)
Hippolytus (c. 170-c. 236)
Methodius (d. c. 311)
Lactantius (c. 260-c. 330)
Against Heresies (174-189)
Divine Institutes (304-311)
Commentary on Daniel (200-204)
(esp. from Nag Hammadi, 100-300)
The Nature of the Rulers
The Secret Book of John
On the Origin of the World
Rewritings of the early Genesis narratives to accommodate Gnostic ontologies (understandings of hidden reality)
John Scot Eriugena (c. 815-c. 877)
Periphyseon (On the Divisions of Nature)
Combines the ideas of Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius' On the Celestial Hierarchy (c. 500) and Neoplatonism into an explanation of creation in terms of emanation from the Godhead.
The Literal Meaning of Genesis
On the Literal Meaning of Genesis (415)
Augustine's attempt at a more literal interpretation of the creation week, although with instantaneous creation involving ascending steps of angelic awareness of creation
On Genesis against the Manichaeans (389)
The City of God (426)
Figurative and typological approaches to the creation week in terms of periods of world history, human physical growth and spiritual progress
Gregory the Great
Morals on the Book of Job (590-604)
Enormous and wide-ranging work, among many other things, sets in place a synthesized patristic view of the creation week for the Western church: instantaneous creation of matter, followed by formation across six literal days.
Clement of Alexandria
(c. 150-c. 220)
Origen (c. 185-253)
On First Principles (212-215)
Both teacher (Clement) and student (Origen) held that the sequence of the creation week reflected not the time required for creation, since God's will is achieved instantaneously, but the order inherent in creation.
Origen sees literal creation week interpretation as folly.
Basil of Caesarea
Homilies on the Hexaemeron (378)
Although influenced by Origen, Basil chose to preach the creation week in a literal manner, although drawing many moral lessons by way of figurative interpretation.
Ambrose of Milan
(c. 339-c. 397)
Draws deeply on Basil's work of the same name, and influences Augustine's efforts to interpret the creation week.
Literal Commentary...Old and New Testaments (1707)
Henry, a Protestant, and Calmet, a Catholic, both learned, offered literal commentaries on the creation week little affected by early scientific theories about the earth's origin, but resisting ideas of an eternal world.
Exposition of the Old and
New Testaments (1708-10)
Luther turned his attention to a close study of Genesis in the last decade of his life and teaching, producing lectures that interacted with Augustine but chose to interpret the creation week literally, even if that should prove challenging, rather than resort to allegory.
Lectures on Genesis (1536)
Not the first to comment on Genesis, Calvin nevertheless prioritized the book, and rejected Augustine's timeless creation week as playing too fast and loose with the literal meaning of the text.
Highly influential in Protestant circles.
Commentary on Genesis (1554)
Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559)
Conrad Pellican (1478-1556)
Sebastian Münster (1489-1552)
Wolfgang Capito (1478-1541)
Around the 1530s the Swiss and German reformers from the Upper Rhine region from Strassburg up through Basel to Zurich drew on serious Hebrew scholarship and fresh Protestant convictions to produce a string of literal commentaries on Genesis
The Upper Rhine Reformers
Ephraem the Syrian (d. 373)
Narsai of Nisibis (399-502)
Jacob of Sarug (c. 449-521)
Stoutly literal concerning the creation week, they were nevertheless interested in finding typological reflections of Christ there, and preferred to express themselves in hymn and songs rather than in commentary.
It's a cipher, a cryptic text holding the secrets of the universe for those who can find the key.
It's more an outline of the redemptive history of the world.
It allegorically presents truths about Christ and the Church, or steps of spiritual progress by which we ascend to a full vision of God..
It's our cosmos, yes, but
needs to be understood philosophically.
G. H. Pember
Earth's Earliest Ages... (1876)
Defended Genesis account in light of geology, promoted end-times adventism and opposed spiritualism
T. R. Birks
The Bible and Modern Thought (1862)
J. H. Pratt
Science and Scripture not at Variance (1862)
John Pye Smith
Modified the Gap Theory by limiting both the (re)creation described in Genesis 1 and the Flood to a single region of the earth's surface.
On the Relation between the Holy Scriptures and Some Parts of Geological Science (1840)
Scofield Reference Bible (1909, 1917)
Popularised the Gap Theory for a generation of conservative English-speaking Christians
John Milton (1608-1674)
Paradise Lost (1664)
The defining English-language portrayal of the creation-and-fall metanarrative, based on the Bible but also showing classical and contemporary influences
Guillaume Du Bartas (1544-1590)
La Sepmaine (The Week) (1578)
A deliberate revival of the late-antique genre of the biblical epic poem, with a literal creation week seeing order produced out of an initial chaos
Publius Ovidius Naso (Ovid) (43 BC-AD 17)
Metamorphoses (8 AD)
The seminal poetic portrayal of the classical concept of a primordial Chaos for future generations of classically-influenced Christian thinkers
The Latin Epic Poets
Aletheia (Truth) (425 AD)
Christian poets framing the creation account in terms more or less related to classical concepts of origins
Marius Claudius Victor (400s)
De laudibus dei (Of the Praise of God)
Blossius Aemilius Dracontius (400s)
De Mosaicae Historiae Gestis
Avitus (d. 523)
Centones Virgiliani (384+)
Cyprian of Carthage (300s)
John of Damascus
(c. 675 – c.749)
Exposition of the
Joachim of Fiore (c. 1135-1202)
Liber de concordia (The Book of the Agreement of Old and New Testaments) (1200)
A world-week scheme that interpreted his own age as the end times in God's plan, the 'age of the Spirit'
Isidore of Seville (c. 560-636)
Bede (c. 673-c. 735)
Alcuin (c. 735-804)
Interrogationes et responsiones in Genesin
On Genesis (725)
Hugh of St Victor (c. 1096-1141)
On the Sacraments of the Christian Faith
Literal creation from instantly-made matter in literal week supports a world-week scheme and features suggestions of a possible pre-creation angelic fall.
Gregory of Nazianzus
(c. 326 – c.390)
Alludes to the fall of Lucifer prior to treating material creation.
Christian epics, now newly printed
Jean le Clerc (1657-1736)
Indefinite chaos prior to Day 1
In Genesin (1693)
Bishop Simon Patrick (1625-1707)
A Commentary on...Genesis (1695)
Indefinitely long first evening of Day 1
Simon Episcopius (1583-1643)
Philippus van Limborch (1633-1712)
The Truth of the Christian Religion (1627)
Theological Institutions (1650)
Theologia Christiania (1686)
Louis de Buffon(1665-1728)
Theory of the Earth (1749)
Cyclical, developmental, naturalistic explanation of earth's origin with evolutionary view of living things.
Mid-C19th French Earth Theorists
Benoit de Maillet(1656-1738)
Early advocate of 'deep time' on basis of experiments with cooling metal globes.
J. W. Dawson (1820-1899)
Archaia (1860), etc.
Arnold Guyot (1807-1884)
Creation, or the Biblical Cosmogony in the Light of Modern Science (1884)
Louis de Buffon(1665-1728)
The most influential day-age interpretation of Genesis in connection with an earth theory in the 18th century,
but with feigned air.
Letters on the Physical History of the Earth, Addressed to Professor Blumenbach (1793-95)
Jean Andre de Luc (1727-1817)
The Epochs of Nature (1780)
Peter Simon Pallas (1741-1811)
A more sincere and thoroughgoing day-age interpretation of Genesis 1 from a believing, well-credentialled geologist; influential in Anglophone circles.
Observations sur la formation des montagnes (1777)
De’ Crostacei e degli altri marini corpi che si truovano su’ monti (1740)
Anton Lazzaro Moro (1687-1764)
A pioneering day-age interpretation of Genesis 1 from Italian geological circles, with emphasis on volcanic action and distinction between primary and secondary formations.
Johann-Gottlob Lehmann (1719-1767)
Versuch einer Geschichte von Flötz-Gebürgen (1756)
Geological analyses recognising the difference between Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary rocks, contributing to the sense of distinct past eras of earth history.
Mid-late C19th German Geologists
Abraham Gottlob Werner (1749-1817)
Observations sur la formation des montagnes (1787)
day-age or periodic day theory
24-hour creation week
John C. Whitcomb, Jr.
Henry M. Morris (1918-2006)
The Genesis Flood (1961)
Seminal young-earth creationist publication for the late twentieth-century
George McCready Price
The New Geology (1923)
Key exponent of a literal, recent creation week for the early twentieth-century - a seventh-day adventist
David Lord (1792-1880)
Geognosy, or the Facts and Principles of Geology Against Theories (1855)
Mid-century US 'Scriptural Geologists' and brothers
The Epoch of Creation (1851)
Philosophically-informed attempt to anchor the appearance-of-age basis for a recent, literal creation week, using a cyclical concept of earth history
Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot (1857)
Westminster Confession of Faith (1648)
Enshrines Calvin's phrase "in the space of six days" in the English creedal tradition, shaping Presbyterian/Reformed as well as early Baptist and Congregational confessions.
long pre-creation chaos and/or angelic rebellion and fall
Two examples of the 'universal history' genre showing belief in a pre-creation chaos, and often limitation of the scope of the creation account, to be well established by this time.
A New History of the Holy Bible (1742-44)
[George Sale (1697-1736) et al]
An Universal History, from the Earliest Account of Time to the Present (1744-47)
Some of today's interpretations of the creation week have a deep past in church history!
The Gap Theory/The Ruin-Restitution Hypothesis
Bible & science agree
(God's 'two books')
Bible trumps secular science
(not science in principle)
Science trumps the Bible.
There are ancient interpretations of the creation week that seem very alien to us today!
The creation week of Genesis 1 grew to dominate the Western worldview...
and then over recent centuries has lost that dominance.
The creation week of Genesis 1 is uniquely designed to proclaim in every age the power and sole authorship of God in creation, and creation's goodness, purposefulness, orderliness and glory as it reflects God's intentions.
How else could it have been written, and still made sense to people both ancient and modern? (To see the opposite scenario, check out Enuma Elish!)
What is the highest reality?
Johannes Mercerus (c. 1500-1570)
Hieronymous Zanchius (1516-1590)
David Pareus (1548-1622)
Andreas Rivetus (1572-1651)
Strongly influenced by Calvin and other earlier Reformers, these commentators helped embed literal views of the creation week in Protestant Europe, including Puritan England.
Second Generation Reformers
Benedictus Pererius (1535-1610)
Francisco Suarez (1548-1617)
Cornelius a Lapide (1567-1637)
Dionysius Petavius (1583-1652)
These Catholic scholars and others like them, often Jesuits at this time, might have fought the Reformers on other fronts, but many were tacitly in agreement with them on the literal meaning of Genesis 1.
late medieval literal revival
Sentences (c. 1152)
This was the most important entry in this medieval genre of theological 'test-cases', wherein he seems to prefer Gregory's arrangement of matter over six literal days to Augustine's instantaneous creation.
Nicholas of Lyra (1270-1349)
Postilla litteralis super totum Bibliam (1322-1331)
Nicholas' highly influential entry in the 'postilla' commentary genre encouraged a physical, although highly philosophical, interpretation of the creation week. Luther's Genesis commentary seems to imply that his students are using Lyra as their 'set text'.
Acacius of Caesarea (d. 365)
Severian of Gabala (d. c. 408)
Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 350-428)
Theodoret of Cyrrhus (393-466)
These Greek Christian commentators emphasized historical sequence in their Old Testament interpretation, and so resisted the over-use of allegory to interpret the creation week, retaining the reality of the sequence of creation events.
Theophilos of Antioch (late C2nd)
To Autolycus (387)
Early theological treatments dedicated specifically to the six days of creation, designed to satisfy philosophically astute inquirers. Hippolytus' work is lost.
Hippolytus of Rome (c. 170-c. 236)
Pioneering 'Hexamera' (Six-Day Creation Explanations)
Roots found in:
C19th Scriptural Geology; C17th-18th 'theories of the earth';
C16th-17th Protestant literalism, as seen in the Westminster Confession;
Catholic abandonment of Augustine's instantaneous creation, as well as Aristotle's eternal world;
The medieval turn toward the literal;
The late-patristic creation stance of Gregory the Great, and
Literal and historical patristic emphases, e.g. those of Antiochene interpreters.
Roots found in:
The accelerating acknowledgment of 'deep time' in earth history in C18th-19th;
The C18th sense of multiple stages in geological history
C17th Arminian theological speculations about the fall of Satan and his angels;
The classical Chaos concept (e.g. in Ovid) as mediated through the Christian Epic Poets, including Renaissance exponents DuBartas and Milton;
Long-running Christian curiosity about the creation of angels and the possibility of an already-fallen Lucifer laying behind the serpent of Genesis 3.
Day-Age or Periodic Day (concordist) interpretation
Roots found in:
C18-19th geology's 'deep time' and belief in periodic catastrophes;
William Whiston's Newtonian 'New Theory of the Earth' with year-long days;
The early Modern emphasis that God is author both of Scripture and Nature;
The long-running Christian tradition of understanding history in units, seen in world-week belief but now applied to pre-history;
The patristic precedent, most influential in Augustine, of a figurative (or better, literal but ideal) interpretation of the time references in Genesis 1
Framework Hypothesis/Anthropomorphic Creation Week
Roots found in:
C18th-20th explorations of the literary form and internal symmetry of Genesis 1
Appreciation of a symmetry between days 1-3 and days 4-6 going back beyond Herder (C18th) to medieval times (Lombard's Sentences) and before, notably...
The late-patristic/medieval standard division of creation into creation (before the week begins), distinction (days 1-3) and adornment (days 4-6).
The long-running Christian Platonist tradition wherein the most important side of reality is the non-physical or the heavenly realm, which is timeless.
John Colet(c. 1466-1519)
Letters to Radulphus on the Mosaic Account of Creation
Both figures had little respect for the literal sense but were interested to uncover the eternal mysteries they perceived hidden in the creation account.
Tommaso de Vio, Cardinal Cajetan
Commentary in the Five Books of Moses (1531)
Combined an Augustinian instantaneous creation with a certain rationalism and awareness of new discoveries about the cosmos.
Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494)
Conjectura Cabbalistica (1653)
A threefold exposition of the first three chapters of Genesis, it demonstrates his mystical orientation and his belief that the Genesis text is cryptic and requires unlocking to access its deeper mysteries
mainly Neoplatonist interpreters
mainly Augustinian interpreters,
with an instantaneous creation
Creation Week as Myth
Roots found in:
C19th comparative religions movement and ANE textual discoveries
C18th-19th biblical criticism
The scepticism of the C17th Deist movement
Critical Remarks on the Hebrew Scriptures (1801)
Explained Genesis 1 as beautiful poetry expressing creation in human terms of a literal week of human labour, i.e. literal creation days in what is a 'mythos' or figurative week.
Connexion of Natural and Divine Truth (1838)
Essays on the Spirit of the Inductive Philosophy (1855)
Powell set off a storm of controversy by implying the limitedness of biblical authors' knowledge of nature and that Genesis 1 was 'at variance' with what was now known of nature.
God's Word and the Testimony of the Ages
(Gods Woord en der Eeuwen Getuigenis (1924)
Often credited as the pioneer of the Framework Hypothesis in the C20th
Joseph Needham (1713-1781)
Nouvelles recherches physiques et métaphysiques sur la nature et la religion (1769)
Offers a day-age model based on a Platonist, cyclical understanding of the creation days.
The Six Days of Creation (1855)
US biblical scholar, regards the creation days as days of God and not to be measured against human standards of time.
Genesis: Secrets of Creation (1910)
Founder/inspiration of Steiner educational philosophy
Arcana Coelestia (1749+)
Genesis 1 becomes the interpretive doorway to heavenly secrets made known especially to himself.
Aurora oder Morgenroethe im Aufgang;
Mysterium Magnum (1624)
Bizarre, quasi-gnostic interpretation of Genesis 1 that harmonized with the mystical and occult mood of the age.
Philo Judaeus (c. 20 BC-AD 50)
On the Creation of the World
Though a Jewish work, exerted a profound influence on allegorical and philosophical varieties of Christian interpretation of the creation week. Figurative and idealist rather than literal.
(c. 490-c. 570)
On the Creation of the World (c. 549)
Sought to defend both the philosophical credibility of the Mosaic account of creation in Genesis and the viability of Basil’s hexaemeral interpretation, in the face of the stricter literalism of the competing Antiochene school.
Gregory of Nyssa
On the Hexaemeron (> 380)
Defends his brother Basil’s hexaemeral interpretation, but aims to produce a more philosophically astute rendition of it.
Rupert of Deutz
On the Holy Trinity and His Works
The literal sense is the coarse veil of the old dispensation that is removed in Christ, allowing the light of more glorious realities to shine through.
Expositio in Hexameron
Understands the days of creation as a conceptual rather than historical sequence, and also pursues moral and allegorical meanings.
Thierry of Chartres
(c. 1100-c. 1156)
Treatise on the Works of the Six Days
Philosophically speculative interpretation in a Platonist mold, with a non-temporal creation week.
Anastasius of Sinai (d. c. 700)
Anagogicarum contemplationum in Hexaemeron
Both men typify the approach to the creation week and the Old Testament text generally that is described by Anastasius' catch-phrase (from Eph. 5:32): "This is a great mystery, but I am talking about Christ and the Church."
Isidore of Seville
Since the highest reality is the non-physical, heavenly realm, existing outside of time and change, the most important things that the Genesis 1 creation account can relate will likewise be timeless and eternal.
For that matter, how could God require time to do his creative work, if He is all-powerful?
Since Christ himself is the highest truth and greatest reality for the Christian reader, the method of allegory is used to find (or create) gateways in the Old Testament text to such meaning.
But is it allegory to say that Christ is the 'Word' by which God orders creation in Genesis 1?
Similar to allegory, but using such a heavy gnostic or mystical grid that the outcome makes sense only to the mystical insider or the wannabe. May depend on the interpreter's conviction of being the personal beneficiary of special, divine revelation, incorporating the particular mystical key to unlocking the Genesis text. Treats the biblical text as a code to be deciphered.
The creation week functions as a kind of outline or program of God's redemptive plan for history, dividing it into seven periods (sometimes of 1000 years each), and punctuated by great events or great figures such as Noah and David.
Moral Allegory (tropology)
Even more literal treatments of the creation week such as Basil's Hexaemeron were keen to offer lessons for Christian living suggested by elements within the categories of creation found in Genesis. For instance, Basil sees in the waxing and waning of the moon a fitting symbol of human instability.
Literal, moral, allegorical and eschatological ('anagogical') interpretations of the creation week were often felt to be mutually complementary rather than mutually exclusive.
Factors in the Modern Marginalization of Genesis 1
The modern age witnessed a move to the...
Singularity of meaning, limiting interpretive flexibility;
Physicality of truth, heightening questions of physical origins;
Multiplicity of ancient testimony, as the Renaissance recourse 'ad fontes' uncovers numerous ancient texts relating to creation;
Historicality of nature, leading to a sense of change, then development & deep time in nature.
The spell of Genesis 1 is broken for the Western world!
Why did the spell break? It was formed from false expectations!
Genesis 1-11 was expected to comprise:
All truth about natural origins
All truth about human origins and origin of civilization
The whole scope of primordial history (as part of biblical chronology) and of history overall (as a world-week schema)
The whole geographical scope of humanity...
...which is like being disappointed in a telescope because it makes a poor microscope, or an architect's house plan because it is so two-dimensional.
so what does Genesis 1 do?
"Of this six days' work no man can give a worthy explanation..., not though he had ten thousand tongues..., on account of the exceeding greatness and riches of the wisdom of God which there is in the six days' work above narrated." (Theophilos of Antioch, 'Ad Autolycus' 2.12)
"There are many men...empty of praise and devotion although filled with the splendours of knowledge." "Scripture has the power to restore the whole world toward the knowledge, praise, and love of God."
(Bonaventure, 'Collations', 1.8; 13:12)
Collations on the Six Days
Represents a determined step away from scholastic, philosophical interpretation towards a devotional and contemplative interpretation of Genesis 1, with the help of a richly allegorical and polyvalent hermeneutic.
Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274)
Summa theologiae 1a. 65-74
Philosophical and theological in orientation, Aquinas' famous work evaluates Augustine's instantaneous creation and gives it only partial endorsement.
His mentor Albert the Great had argued that Augustine's creation belief was reconcilable with the literal sense of Genesis.
Albert the Great
Summa theologiae part two