The initial creation account, from Genesis 1:1 through 2:3, is often considered to be part of a continuous narrative. However, is this really Scriptural? There are a number of things, both natural and supernatural, that point to a clear narrative break. By themselves, these observations prove nothing, but they do indicate that the passage needs more careful treatment than the rest of Genesis.
Looking at the text closely, both on its own and in the context of all Scripture, reveals details that point to a narrative break. A clear difference between the texts is that events common to both, are given in different orders. This difference is highlighted further by the sudden change in literary style. The level of change seems more consistent with separate narratives than a change of focus. Although even this difference doesn’t force a change, it’s even further emphasized by the fact that the name of God changes abruptly. In the first part, only Elohim is used, while after verse 2:4, Yahweh is included. This change suggests, for example, that the initial account could have been written before Moses, when the name “Yahweh” was unknown or less commonly used, and Moses included it with his writings under the Spirit’s guidance. But this is mere speculation, and the only thing we can know for sure is that the two sections are significantly different, and the most straightforward reading suggests they should be treated differently. However, it is possible to combine the narratives, and although the reasoning is complex and subtle, we should not dismiss that possibility.
A simpler way of reconciling the narratives is to consider the first one to be figurative. However, this seems out of place in a book when compared to the rest of Genesis; it seems odd to unexpectedly shift between figurative and literal. Although both are sometimes present in, for example, the prophetic books, the context makes it clear which is being presented. But here is an example of the difference between the Bible and secular texts. Although there were many human writers, there was really only one Author, and He walked among us for a brief time. When we look at His speech, we see Him unexpectedly use figurative terms from time to time. Often, He did this in ways that confused those around Him, even those who should have known better. If the incarnate Word saw fit to communicate this way, why couldn’t we expect the same from the written Word?
The reality of Jesus’ actions on the earth were attested to by a number of human witnesses. This is a fundamental characteristic of God’s people — we are to be witnesses to His activity in our lives. From Abraham’s servant, through the shouts of the Psalms, to the eyewitness characteristics of the Gospels, God’s people are to proclaim His power, faithfulness, love, and presence. From this standpoint, Acts 1:8 was not a new idea, but an ancient, foundational one that found new expression in the Resurrection. People recorded historical events, prophetic visions, their own thinking about God, etc. Virtually all of Scripture can be thought of as personal testimony in some sense, except for the initial creation narrative in Genesis 1:1-2:3. It is perhaps the only passage in Scripture that could have had no witness component. So although it is included as part of Genesis, this unique passage must be given special consideration.
Considering both natural and spiritual perspectives together, it’s clear that the initial creation narrative is a unique text that should be looked at independently, in the light of other Scripture. From that, its proper relationship to the rest of the Genesis narrative can be clarified. This should be done before making dogmatic assertions, and certainly before building doctrine. Future posts will attempt to do this simply.