There are many different interpretations of the first chapter in the book of Genesis. Countless theologians have tried to find an explanation as to whether or not the first chapter is literal, literary, or somewhere in between. As explained in the Genesis 1 lecture, there are four main types of interpretations of the text that are commonly held. Out of the four views: literal, literary, concordist and contextual, the literary approach seems to be the most logical position on interpreting Genesis 1.
Defined in the lecture, the literary perspective views the days of creation as literary devices used for the purpose of organizing the details of creation according to material not sequence. The chiastic structure, highly stylized repetition of language, and the absence of ordinal numbers lead to further support the literary interpretation of Genesis 1. Unlike the second chapter of Genesis, another account of creation, Genesis 1 uses a chiastic structure in the text. Genesis 1 lays out creation with three days of forming followed by three days of filling, with the second and fifth day implementing the chiasm.
This literary device is a very stylized Hebrew structure. Chiasm, a type of parallelism, is found in many times in the Hebrew Bible, specifically in the Psalms. It seems very likely that the author of Genesis 1 used this type of structure for literary effect. Instead of putting importance on the events of creation, the author puts more significance in the type of style that is used in the first chapter of Genesis. The chiasm that appears between the second and fifth day also seem to further implement a literary effect for the audience, helping foster the literary position of Genesis 1.
Not only does the chiastic structure, but also the highly stylized repetition used in the days of creation help provide evidence for the literary interpretation. The stylized repetition of Genesis 1 also provides evidence to further support the literary interpretation of the chapter. In every verse phrasing of the days of creation, the author writes in an ornate way. Each of the six days of creation starts with the phrase, “And God said” (NIV), followed by the creation, then “God saw that it was good,” ending with “and there was evening, and there was morning – the nth day”.
This specific type of repetition signifies literary devices. Also, there is a very specific correlation to the numbered day and the amount of information that is described within the chapter. For example, day one has little information about the creation, while day five and six have substantially more information about the creation event. The stylization of Genesis 1, along with the chiastic structure, work together to form a very obvious chapter created with literary purposes. The literary devices combined with the absence of ordinal numbers helps support the literary interpretation of Genesis 1.
The use of cardinal numbers, to express the days of creation, helps support the literary interpretation of Genesis 1. According to the lecture, the original Hebrew text does not give definite articles to each of the days except for the seventh and final day. The original Hebrew text, along with the New American Standard Bible read the text as “a sixth day, a fourth day, one day … etc” instead of assigning definite articles to the days that read “the sixth day, the fourth day, the first day. ” This absence of ordinal numbers helps support the educated guess that there was not seven literal days in which the heavens and earth were created.
Since the Hebrew text does not assign “the” to each of the days, it makes it harder to view each of the days of creation as a chronological event, as numerous other interpretations suggest, the most commonly known, New International Version. Even though there seems to be substantial evidence that supports the literary interpretation of Genesis 1, the true interpretation cannot be known; thus, theologians and Christians must be open minded and humble in their own personal beliefs on Genesis 1. The literal interpretation of Genesis 1 pokes holes in the literary approach from the evidence that the text states, “Then God said… and it was so. This statement implies immediacy. This, along with the use of the Hebrew word yom, a common word for day, imply that the days of creation were exactly twenty-four hour days in succession, instead of a literary understanding. Also, the concordist approach uses the evidence of both scriptural and natural revelation to counter literary views. Science and scripture are a complement of each other, and supporters of the concordist approach use the fact that God would not be deceptive about his creation, making the literary approach ineffective.
Finally, the contextual argument gives strong evidence that Genesis 1 resembles many other Ancient Near East creation texts, one being the Enuma Elish. Proponents of the contextual approach would argue that Genesis 1 is not a literary device but rather a text that focuses on God’s sovereignty and the creation of humanity in his image. While the literary approach has numerous suggestions of evidence, it is very important to note that the other three approaches of Genesis 1 offer just as strong of arguments for their respective views, leaving the truth about Genesis 1 ambiguous.