Evolution is something that has troubled a great deal of Christians and swayed a many people from accepting the possibility of a Biblical God. I think the biggest reason for this is that theologians have historically had a certain way of interpreting the Bible and are not strongly convinced by the evidence for evolution. This lack of conviction in the scientific theory causes people either question science or question their faith. I think that this is a mistake.
As a community of believers, we need to understand that we interpret things within the context of our knowledge. This means that the way Genesis was understood hundreds of years ago may not be relevant today. Genesis itself is still relevant, but the context through which it was understood is no longer relevant. This means that we need to consider the validity of scientific theory. We need to also consider the possibility that the way we understand a specific text may not be correct. The text itself may not be wrong, but our understanding of it may need to be updated.
Am I telling you to believe in evolution? No. I am telling you to consider how evolution may align with the literal text of the Bible. For the purposes of discussing evolution, I intend to start with Genesis 1:20. For some context on creation up to this point, please refer to my earlier post here. Remember from this post that Yom can mean Day or Era depending on its context.
Then God said, “Let the waters swarm and abundantly produce living creatures, and let birds soar above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.” God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind; and God saw that it was good and He affirmed and sustained it.Genesis 1:20-21
This verse takes place at the beginning of the fifth era (Yom) and describes the beginning of life beyond plants on earth. The first thing that we notice here is that it does not state how God creates these animals. Genesis simply says that God spoke a phrase and then created them. So God could have used any number of means to create animals, including evolution. The theory of evolution seems to agree that animal life likely began in the water, slowly moving to land very near the water, and finally to the air. Genesis does not contradict this, it merely states the things that were created in this era. In fact, when it lists examples, they are given in an order that loosely represents what evolution has found. There are studies that indicate the first birds evolved in aquatic environments.
In evolutionary theory, there is an event that occurred roughly 540 million years ago that is referred to as the “Big Bang” of evolution. It is also referred to as the Cambrian Explosion. During this event there is an inexplicably rapid rate of evolution resulting in a multitude of life forms. I am sure that it will be explained by science at some point, at least theoretically, but I do find it interesting that there seems to be so many “Big Bang” events aligning with Biblical creation.
And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth. And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.Genesis 1:22-23
Here we recognize that God is blessing the animals He created and instructing the sea creatures and birds to propagate and maintain themselves. The fact that God does not directly reference the “creatures that move” could be indicating that God is not ready for them to explode in population when He ends this particular era. Of these animals that God excluded, a small percentage will eventually become reptile-mammalian creatures, setting the stage for God to initiate the beginning of mammals. The overwhelming majority of these creatures however, will become dinosaurs. Remember that it is this category of creature that was not instructed to “be fruitful and multiply” and it is also this category of creature that is eventually almost entirely wiped out by a mass extinction.
And God said, Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind, cattle, and creeping things, and beasts of the earth after their kind: and it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creepeth upon the ground after its kind: and God saw that it was good.Genesis 1:24-25
With this verse we start the sixth era (Yom). God brings forth creatures to dominate the land. This would have been around 100 million years ago when early reptile-mammalian creatures split into four major groups. Current evolutionary theory has identified these groups as the following:
The laurasiatheres (a hugely diverse group including all the hoofed mammals, whales, bats, and dogs), euarchontoglires (primates, rodents and others), Xenarthra (including anteaters and armadillos) and afrotheres (elephants, aardvarks and others). Quite how these splits occurred is unclear at present.NewScientist.com
While the Bible does not quite separate these groups in the same way, I believe that it is referencing the same core creatures. The source Hebrew references something that could be translated as livestock (cattle in the American Standard Version). Livestock and other synonyms would largely refer to hoofed mammals.
The source Hebrew also refers to something that could be translated as “land crawler” which is generally considered to be reptiles and other crawling land animals. Remember that evolutionary theory is describing reptiles that split into groups, some of which stayed reptiles, a few of which began slowly transitioning into mammals. It is interesting to find a word in the source Hebrew which could so clearly represent the evolutionary process proposed as the beginning of mammals.
The final group mentioned in the source Hebrew here are “wild animals”, sometimes also translated as beasts. Given that the logical place to separate these “eras” is during the peak of the dinosaurs, the dual meaning of the source Hebrew is again very interesting. Dinosaurs could be considered beasts, as could elephants and rhinos.
If you have been paying attention, there is still one group remaining that Biblical text has not yet mentioned. Evolutionary theory identifies this period, roughly 75 million years ago, as the time when primates begin to arise. It is important to note the terms used within the Bible so far do not conjure images of monkeys. This may be because they are included as “wild animals” or it could be that they were the launchpad for humanity.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.Genesis 1:26-27
Here God creates man. Again there is no indication of how, merely that God spoke and then it happened. Keep in mind that we have not reached the Biblical creation of Adam at this point as this is still in the sixth day or era. This process would have started with the division of the four groups of mammals and finished with modern humanity splitting from the other primates just six million years ago.
And the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.Genesis 2:1-2
After the sixth day or era, God rests. During this time mankind increases in population and continues to evolve. The real question for modern Christians here is whether or not this can be reconciled with the creation of Adam and Eve.
Most interpretations of the Hebrew version of Genesis take liberties with the text in an effort to make it more “readable” for its target audience. King James, American Standard, Common English are all versions which are adapted to their audience. I am not going to say that this is a bad thing, but when trying to truly understand what the Bible is saying, when we really want to know if modern theory aligns with Biblical truth, we need to look at the source Hebrew rather than an interpretation as each interpretation is derived from someone else’s experience, knowledge, and context. These are the very things that we are calling into question, whether or not a new way of viewing the history of the world aligns with what is documented in the Bible. In many of these translations, Genesis 2:4 sounds as though the story of Adam is taking place on the sixth day. The source Hebrew does not indicate this. Some translations also state that there was no grass or plants but the source Hebrew more likely states “plants of the field” which would mean crops. This makes more sense if man had not yet learned how to raise crops.
The Lord God took some soil from the ground and made a man. God breathed life into the man, and the man started breathing. The Lord made a garden in a place called Eden, which was in the east, and he put the man there.Genesis 2:7-8
In Genesis 2:7-8 we see that God creates Adam. This is the first time God creates something individually by name. God moves Adam away from where he was created and into the garden of Eden. Perhaps this was done so that Adam and Eve would be separate from the other primates or perhaps even from other humans.
After explaining the creation of the universe, earth, plants, animals, and humans, Genesis then moves on to the creation of Adam and Eve without clearly returning to the sixth day. To me, this suggests that Adam and Eve were created after the seventh day or era. Genesis also provides some indirect evidence that other people existed along with Adam and Eve outside of Eden. This can be found in the story of Cain and Abel. When Cain murders his brother, this raises a few questions. If Adam and Eve were the first people created and are still living, no person has ever died up to this point. How did Cain know he could kill Abel? Cain’s reaction to his brothers’ death was not one of shock and confusion, but rather calculation. He knew he was going to kill his brother and he pretended that he did not know what had happened. But this alone is not very strong evidence.
Cain said to the Lord: “My punishment is too great to bear. Look, you have now banished me from the ground. I must avoid you and be a constant wanderer on the earth. Anyone may kill me at sight.”Genesis 4:13-14
Here Cain is afraid that other people, outside of his own family, will see him and kill him. Cain and Abel are the first sons of Adam and Eve, how could Cain be worried that others might find him and kill him? Some suggest that the Bible does not mention all of his siblings and that he may have additional brothers and sister. If this is the case, it seems strange that mankind would have fallen so far within a single generation that Cain, the first person to have ever killed another person, would be concerned that others within his own family might take revenge on him in direct violation of God’s will. To me, this suggests that the story is one of allegory, meant to teach lessons about morality as well as starting to explain the origins of the tribes of Israel.
Sticking with the traditional seven, 24-hour days creation narrative causes problems in the Biblical narrative itself when we arrive at Genesis 2. At this point, God is creating plants, humans, and animals, in an order that contradicts Genesis 1. I believe that the most reasonable conclusion here is that Genesis 2 begins a more allegorical tale that takes place after the seventh day. In this case, it seems to clarify quite a bit. At least it does for me.