Tuesday, March 06, 2007


The creation account, and particularly Genesis 1, gets a significant amount of attention in modern theology. From the creation/evolution controversy to the debate over human sexuality, few biblical passages get trotted out more frequently for apologetic purposes.

But was the creation account really meant to be taken literally, as most evangelical Christians interpret it? Do the early chapters of Genesis present a History Channel-style account of where humanity and the physical universe came from? Given how far removed we are today from the mindset of the ancient cultures that the Bible was written for, it's far from a given that we can answer either of those questions with a 'yes.'

One item of particular interest to this discussion is the Babylonian creation myth, which displays some striking parallels to the Genesis account. Most scholars believe that the Babylonian account predates the biblical account by several centuries. Conservative Christian scholars who believe Genesis was written first base their assertion primarily on the belief that the Pentateuch was authored by Moses.

Historically speaking it seems more likely that the biblical account was based on the Babylonian account than the other way around, but we can't be absolutely certain which came first. It's also possible that both accounts were conceived separately, based on some older creation myth that existed primarily in oral tradition.

In any case, Genesis 1 takes on a whole new meaning when read as a counterpoint to the pagan myths of the day. Rather than being byproducts of the actions of various warring gods, the world, the sun, the stars and everything else in the universe are shown to be specific, intentional creations of the one true God. Mankind, far from being the slaves and playthings of capricious deities, represents the pinnacle of God's creation.

Viewed in this light, the creation account fulfills a purpose different than the ones we commonly ascribe to it today. It is truthful, inasmuch as it points us away from the false gods of antiquity and toward the one Creator of everything, but it is not necessarily a literal account of how the world came into existence.

Similarly, it's questionable at best whether these passages can be taken as an instruction manual for how God intends for us to order our lives. Advocates point to the fact that Jesus and Paul both reference the creation account in passages related to marriage, while quietly ignoring the fact that Paul also appeals to the creation account in his argument that women should keep their hair long and men should keep theirs short.

"Male and female He created them" (Gen. 1:27) has become a rallying cry for the 'pro-family' movement, but what does it really tell us? Taken in the context laid out above, it reasserts God's role as the creator of everything, including both men and women.

The modern argument that this statement proves that each of us was specifically created to be heterosexual stretches the passage far beyond what its context can support. Not only does it require reading an incredible amount of subtext into a single verse, but it's a demonstrably false statement when extended beyond God's original act of creation.

The primary biblical passage that is used to support the assertion that God specifically designed each of us down to the last genetic marker is Psalm 139:13-16, which speaks of God forming the psalmist in his mother's womb. But do a few lines from a poem, biblical or not, really provide adequate support for what is ultimately a fairly elaborate theological position? It's a comforting passage that speaks to how intimately God knows and loves us, but how literally is it meant to be taken?

Are we really ready to face the ramifications of saying that each of us was directly designed by God? Not only would this mean that God intended for some individuals to be intersexed (in direct contradiction to the conservative reading of Gen. 1:27), but it would make him directly responsible for every genetic anomaly, including a host of physical and mental disabilities and more than a few chronic ailments.

Many Christians would respond by stating that such suboptimal genetic variances are a byproduct of Adam's sin, but that then requires us to adopt a nonliteral reading of Psalm 139:13-16, which in turn removes our support for the assertion that each of us was specifically created to be heterosexual. (One can still argue that heterosexuality was programmed into the original template, but it's an enormous leap from there to the claim that all homosexuals are therefore just repressed heterosexuals who would have turned out straight given better childhood circumstances.)

Of course, the topic of what we attribute to Adam's fall opens up another giant can of worms, so it's probably best for me to put up the "To Be Continued" sign and leave it at that for the moment...


Dwight said...

Hey Eugene,

There is a passage to Moses (at the burning bush) where God basically states that it is he that makes people deaf and dumb, so the genetic anolomy thing might not be too far off the mark.

As far as Gen 1:26-27 it is actually a huge part of theology and referenced again in Gen 9 (after the flood as the reason we cannot kill one another). As for heterosexual marriage there is still the question of the two commands that many think are tied the image of God, i.e. rule over the earth and subdue it and be fruitful and mulitply.

It is that concept of the image of God that I have the hardest time getting around. The rest of the Bible I am good with explaining away (or the other way) for the homosexuality issue, but this verse is the hardest in my book.


Eugene said...

The whole "image of God" issue is another big can of worms (yet another post I need to work on now, thanks), but theologians are not in unanimous agreement as to whether gender is actually a component of that image. If it is, that just makes the intersexed an even larger dilemma, since we would now have individuals in whom the image of God is warped in a way that has nothing to do with our sin nature.

If "be fruitful and multiply" refers strictly to procreation, then not only are those incapable of procreating (interesexed or merely sterile) spiritually inferior to those who can, but celibacy would necessarily be a sinful state.

Using Exodus 4:11 (the passage referenced above) as proof that God did intentionally design everything about us would only exacerbate the problem, since God is now the direct author of something we presume to be offensive to his prescriptive design for humanity.