Scripture was not written by scientists for scientists; it was written by men living in ancient times. The Genesis account, penned by Moses around 1450 BC, was written when people were living in the late Bronze Age. Primitive stone and bronze tools were used to work the land, to make weapons, and to build homes. Writing as we known it was recently introduced, but not a widespread skill. The great emphasis of day-to-day life was to find food for survival. Natural science was limited to personal observation. Many in those days were polytheistic; they worshiped natural phenomena such as the sun, the moon, stars, fire, and water.
Moses, author of the creation account in Genesis, had been educated in Egypt. Ancient Egypt flourished from 3000 BC until the first centuries AD. Its successes were largely based on the irrigation of the Nile valley, early development of basic writing, trade with surrounding regions, and military strength. Egyptians believed in a complex network of multiple gods and an afterlife that emphasized the preservation of the body; hence, mummies. Moses’ Egyptian background is also evident in his choice of words throughout the Hebrew text.
This is the background against which the Genesis account should be read and understood. People 3,500 years ago had no concept of “knowledge” like we have in our time. That which could not be seen or experienced personally would be beyond their ability to understand.
In Genesis, much emphasis is placed upon creation “days” (translated from the Hebrew word yowm In English-speaking circles these days are commonly interpreted to be 24-hour days. As noted above in chapter 2, these “days” should not be the focal point of discussion. Given the background of Jewish people, including Moses, events far distant in time would make little sense and likely could not be understood. The use of yowms to describe the process of creation seems a logical choice to convey a difficult concept in a language and account that could be grasped by Moses’ contemporaries.
Independent on whether yowm is a 24-hour day or some other expression of time, the text of the first chapter of Genesis shows some remarkable insights:
• There is one God: The vast majority of ancient religions are polytheistic, just like the Egyptian beliefs. Genesis sets forth the concept of One God.
• God is outside His creation: The gods of the ancients were represented by natural phenomena, usually the sun (the Egyptian god Ra) or moon (worshiped as Thoth by the Egyptians). In Genesis, God created the universe: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
• There was a beginning: Most ancient religions believed the universe had existed forever. Until the middle of the twentieth century even many scientists still believed the universe had always existed. Only during our generation has science – astronomy in particular – proved conclusively that the universe had a starting point (Big Bang). How was Moses aware of this?
• The beginning was not by chance. The beginning did not just happen; it occurred because God caused it (“God created…”). Big Bang cosmology still has no answer to that claim.
• Original conditions were not suited for life: Whatever the precise condition of earth’s primordial atmosphere might have been, scientists agree it could not have supported life. Genesis confirms added steps were needed once the earth was created.
• Non-life preceded life. Vegetation preceded animal life: According to Genesis, God created plant life at the end of the third day. This is consistent with natural science, which claims amino acids form proteins or RNA which lead to living organisms. Vegetation is essential to produce oxygen for our atmosphere so that animal life could appear.
• Simple preceded complex: The fossil record leads to the conclusion of natural science that simple organisms preceded more complex life forms. Genesis describes the same order of events.
• Mankind appears at the end: According to scientific observations, modern man appeared once recently in the geological record, later than all other life forms. Genesis teaches that God created mankind on the last day of creation.
Amazing, even mind-boggling! Those words come to mind when one realizes how accurately the 3,500-year-old Genesis account describes what human science has only figured out over the last 50 years or so. More than any generation before us, we have the scientific knowledge that shows that Moses was correct. But how could Moses have known – unless by revelation from God – how our world came to be?