When interpreting Scripture, it’s important to pay attention to genre, and this is generally determined by things such secular concepts as context and literary style. But we must remember that the Bible is not a secular book, and that it’s important to consider spiritual perspectives as well. Perhaps including this can help us see the nature of the Genesis creation narrative more clearly.
And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”
Numbers 12:6–8 (ESV)
Most of Scripture contains human elements such as personal observations, although of course, the development and understanding were shepherded by the Holy Spirit. However, because it could not have been witnessed, the creation narrative had to have been revealed prophetically. There are few other instances in Scripture that could have had no human input. Most of them are predictions of future events — again, passages into which no human could have input. The creation account should be considered as prophetic revelation because God was the only source. It is a narrative that could have had no human input.
A spiritual reason this distinction is significant, and not ad-hoc, is how it relates to the concept of personal witness. Throughout Scripture, the people of God are called to proclaim Him, especially from personal experiences of Him. From this standpoint, Jesus’ statement in Acts 1:8 was not a new idea, but an ancient, foundational one that found new expression in the Resurrection.
So, those passages of Scripture that are given directly from God, those passages that cannot result from human witness, fall into a different category than human-sourced narrative. To me, the implication of witness (or lack thereof) is as potentially significant to me as a secular element like literary style.
Both of these points apply to the Genesis creation narrative, and that makes it different than the rest of Genesis.
Once we recognize that the creation narrative is an example of prophetic revelation, we can compare it to other similar examples. In this case, the similar cases would be examples of historical narrative that had been prophetically revealed, such as Daniel’s and Ezekiel’s historical prophecies, Johns visions in Revelation, etc. It’s clear they are examples of the Lord’s statement above — they are highly figurative. Since prophetically revealed descriptions of such sweeping narratives are highly figurative in the rest of Scripture, then it is most consistent to consider the creation narrative in the same way.
Of course, even given these observations, it’s true that the narrative does not claim to be a prophetic revelation. For that reason, it’s easy to let the biases of the natural mind lead us to ignore that perspective. However, another possibility is that the passage is an interpretation of the prophetic revelation. Although less common, such examples exist (see Daniel 7:3-4 and Daniel 7:16-17). How do we know that isn’t the case here?
One strong clue comes from the two other places in Scripture which most directly reference the creation details: Exodus 20:11 and Exodus 31:17. Both of these passages explicitly state that the process took six days. It’s natural to interpret this as a directly literal reference (most easily done by ignoring the second passage), but note that they also explicitly state that God rested and got His energy back. This is clearly an anthropomorphism, a standard figurative technique. So the most clear and direct references to the creation narrative clearly and directly interpret it figuratively in part.
Given the source as prophetic revelation, and the presence of at least one Biblically-highlighted figurative element, there’s no reason to interpret the rest as literal, other than the fact that doing so is most comfortable for our natural minds.
Now, even though it’s clear that the passage is revelation, the analysis above assumes that the revelation came to someone other than Moses. Returning to the passage at the start of this essay, it appears that, had the revelation come to Moses, it could have a different expression. In this case, we should consider how God revealed things to Moses, especially other elements that had little or no human input. This will be the topic for a future post.