Creation and Worldview 2 (RJS)

I put up a post Tuesday on Richard F. Carlson and Tremper Longman III’s new book Science, Creation and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins. (A short review of the book by Christopher Benson can also be found in the web only edition of Books and Culture.)  The last two chapters of this book discuss the genre of the two creation accounts in Genesis 1-2 and the impact that has or should have on interpretation of these passages.

Concerning Genesis 1 and 2, Longman and Carlson find that these passages use different approaches to deliver different but related messages. They contain different facts, and different ordering of those facts. The fact that they are distinct is a significant observation, and helps to inform us of the genre and intent. Genesis 1 and 2 are not two different views of the same historical event to be harmonized, but presentations of a theological message in a non-literal genre.  The ancient view of cosmology is incidental to the message. Even the mode of creation of the first man – from clay of the earth – is a common motif in Ancient Near East writings, and is incidental to the message.

The important and complex theological truths being presented to the ancient Hebrews are most effectively cast in terms of the familiar – in this case in terms of creation concepts that were well known throughout the ancient Semitic Near East. (p. 123)

Summarizing the discussion of the creation accounts in Genesis …

In short, we propose that Genesis 1 and 2 are nonliteral accounts, housed in an ancient cosmology and a story of humankind’s beginnings, whose purpose is to teach important theological truths.

If we are on the right track, the next step is to determine the theological concepts that the Genesis 1 and 2 author was proclaiming to his hearers and to us. (p. 126)

Given these observations on Genesis and the previous discussion of other OT creation accounts Longman and Carlson propose as their central thesis that Genesis 1 and 2 constitute a worldview statement of the ancient Hebrew people. As such these accounts of creation belong prominently at the beginning of scripture.

This proposal contrasts with Denis Lamoureux’s view that Genesis 1-3 was an ancient origins account of the Hebrew people and that it was intended as such (here), but it complements his view that the ancient science and history are incidental to the message of scripture. Both Lamoureux and Longman take an incarnational approach in thinking about scripture along the lines of that proposed by Pete Enns in Inspiration and Incarnation, but where they take this approach is a bit different. The proposal by Longman and Carlson also contrasts and complements John Walton’s view that Gen 1 describes creation of function rather than the material universe.  In all three books there is agreement that the incidental context in the ancient Near East including cosmology and ‘science’ should be separated from the message, but some difference in the understanding of the message. I will elaborate on the proposal by Carlson and Longman, but the question of message and intent is an important one to consider.

What is the theological message  of Genesis 1 and 2? How is this identified?

The genre of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 is story. According to Longman and Carlson the ancient understanding of cosmology and biology, the ancient origin and creation myths of the people, were used as the framework of a story intended to convey an important message in a familiar form. The message is not in the incidental details of the story, but in the way those pieces are put together. Any good story, Moby Dick, A Christmas Carol, Parker’s Back, Huckleberry Finn, uses the familiar to convey a meaning, and the truth is in the meaning independent of the historicity or scientific truth of the incidental details.

The genre of the surface level of each Genesis creation account is story, related to observations and experiences of the ancient Hebrews. But there is a second level, a story beneath the story, that teaches the theology of the ancient Hebrews. … Part of the thesis of this book is that the purpose of the two Genesis creation passages is best understood as proclaiming theological truth, but this truth is not in blow-by-blow historical or scientific accounts of creation. … Instead, these are creation accounts that work together below the surface to articulate something much more important and, because of this importance, were placed at the beginning of our Bible. (p. 133)

The intent of the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 is a worldview statement that sets the foundation for primary worldview questions, questions that provide a general outlook on life and proper focus on life for God’s people. The kinds of questions addressed are not scientific or historical, but metaphysical, philosophical, and theological.

How is it that things exist? Things exist because God planned and prepared the universe, the world, and the living creatures of the world. God is responsible for the good creation in which we live.

Why do we exist? We exist as a specific decision of God and we exist for a purpose in creation.

Who are we? We are God’s creation given dominion over the earth to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it, to rule over the living creatures.  The man was formed to cultivate the ground, to live in relationship with his wife as a suitable partner, to live in relationship with God.

What does God think of creation? This world is God’s good creation and God has a high regard for and purpose for humankind as his creatures.

What are we to do? We are to develop, serve, care for, preserve the world we’ve been given and we are to do so in relationship to each other and in relationship with God.

Genesis 1 and 2 dispute other theologies and worldviews. In this video (one of many available on YouTube featuring  Tremper Longman III)  Longman describes something of his view of the creation accounts as responding to the ancient Near Eastern context and proclaiming a new worldview, a new outlook on life and purpose.

YouTube Preview Image

(0:50) But you see this is an imposition of a modern reading on the scriptural text. The biblical text is not disputing Darwin. It is actually disputing ancient near eastern ideas about creation, and it is picking up a lot of their descriptions and applying it to God. So, just a quick example, when Genesis 2 talks about Adam being created from the dust of the ground and the breath of God, that is clearly not a literal description of the way God did it because God doesn’t have lungs to breathe breath in. It is not the word for the Holy Spirit there. It is the word for breath. It is to be contrasted with Babylonian depiction of creation where the god Marduk takes the dust of the ground and mixes it with the blood of a demon god. So its not giving a literal description. It is saying something about who we are as human beings.

Longman elaborated a bit in his post on BioLogos:

Second, we must remember that a fundamental principle of biblical interpretation is to read a text in the light of its original context. The first audience simply was not interested in how the creation came into existence, but who brought it into existence and why. Again, Genesis 1-2 was not written against Darwin, but against rival ancient Near Eastern claims. The Enuma Elish of Babylon attributed creation to Marduk and the Canaanite version pointed to Baal. Both of these ancient creation myths saw creation as a result of divine conflict between creator gods and deities that represented the chaotic waters which they defeated and controlled. In contrast, the Bible identifies Yahweh as the creator and since there are no rival gods there is no conflict either. God created the “earth as a formless void,” a watery mass and created the habitable world from it. The watery mass was not there from the beginning.

In a word, Genesis 1 proclaims that God ordered creation. It is not concerned with how God did it. To use Genesis 1 to reconstruct the process of creation is a misuse of the text.

Genesis 1 and 2 are for us today. In answering the worldview questions Genesis 1 and 2 speak to us today as they spoke to the original audience. They do not speak against evolution, or modern cosmology. They are not contra Darwin. But they do speak against the view of scientific naturalism that there is nothing beyond the world we see. They speak against the absence of purpose and direction axiomatic to many who take science as the foundation of all knowledge. They speak against those today who will value humankind no more than the other plants and animals of creation. Genesis 2 speaks against those who degrade or devalue the partnership between husband and wife.  In fact, the worldview answers given to the original audience are the answers we need today. These are foundational answers for the people of God throughout all time.

What do you think – does the understanding of Genesis 1 and 2 as worldview statement make sense?

What are the drawbacks of this view? What do we gain or lose?

How does it compare with the proposals by Walton or Lamoureux?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

  • Rick

    “Both Lamoureux and Longman take an incarnational approach in thinking about scripture along the lines of that proposed by Pete Enns”.

    Do you mean Longman and Carlson? Or do you mean Lamoureux, Longman, and Carlson? (Just seeing if Carlson thinks differently on that)

    I am not trying to throw extra work on you, but it would be nice if at some point you did a chart that talks about the positions of Denis Lamoureux, Longman, Carlson, Walton, Enns, etc…

  • Scot McKnight

    I’m persuaded, RJS, that pastors need to do something about this proliferation of accessible literature — Walton, Longman-Carlson, Lamoureux. We need some pastors who will read this stuff and be willing to stand up in churches and say we’re going to have six weeks in a classroom setting on the genre of Genesis 1–2 and open up the discussion.

    There are enough evangelical Christians now who are evolutionists/theistic evolutionists and they need to be told that they are welcomed to the table. We’ve also got to stop the YEC and ID folks from thinking that they alone think biblically about these topics.

  • “Moruti” Lutz

    Great stuff. I think it is important to note, what Longman points out so clearly
    “… Genesis 1-2 was not written against Darwin, but against rival ancient Near Eastern claims.”

    Trying to construct a conflict between a text that has been writen in a pre-scientific era (by and for people of that time) and modern science (which has only been invented more than 2 millenia later) is simply anacronistic. What more can you say?

    The important thing, of course, is then to focus on the theological content of the biblical creation stories.

  • John W Frye

    RJS, I appreciate your faithful pursuit of this discussion because the discussion is reaching the stages where it is taking us to healthy places. Places like understanding the Gen 1-2 texts for the *purposes* for which they were written and not to answer our frantic questions about creationism vs (Darwinian) evolution. It seems to me that recent generations of Christians panicked over the discussion and tried to press the Bible to answer questions that the authors of the Bible would or could never have imagined. We can see that assenting to evolution does not mean the loss of God. That was the panicky false dicotomy that generated less light than heat.

  • rjs


    I meant Longman and Lamoureux. Carlson agrees with Longman, but Carlson is a scientist – a physicist. I was comparing what the Biblical studies, OT scholars had to say about the text. I added a phrase to clarify my meaning a bit.

    A chart that compares positions and conclusions would be useful – something for the future.

  • normbv

    Genesis 1 IMO is as Walton states a Temple creation account albeit not a physical material creation account. It is a bare bones outline of the creation of the Temple of God culminating with the Messiah Christ bringing fully to bear the Image of God upon the faithful. God then enters His rest when His and the Son’s work is finished firmly establishing His Temple which dwells in the hearts of faithful man.

    Gen 2 is the beginning story that fleshes out the outline of Gen 1 in which the first Garden Man is put in to tend the Garden Temple of God. There developed a problem called “the Law” which exposed man’s weakness of his nature requiring God to intervene and rescue him through a new last Adam [Christ] who removed the Law. The New Garden of Christ is where God comes down to man and dwells with him as Temple receptacles.
    That’s the reader’s digest version IMO.

  • DRT

    While I agree that the Worldview concept is good, I am concerned about using that language with people in the pews. If I were to say to a bunch of literalist folk something like “Genesis is a wonderful God filled book about the Worldview we have ….” I would then need to say “and by Worldview I mean our relationship to God and …..”. I have a hard time seeing how the Worldview word can stand on its own and communicate the way we are talking about its meaning.

    In other words, I think the pew sitters would hear Worldview and immediately think it supports their concept of Genesis literally describing their world view.

    The message/incident language helps since it clearly sets up a seperation where we can talk about the differences.

  • Robert A

    “The first audience simply was not interested in how the creation came into existence, but who brought it into existence and why.”

    I lead a men’s group that meets once during the week and spent three weeks talking about Genesis 1-2. Without using this text, I essentially came down to this point. It is a great one imho. As I walked through the various matters related to genre, showed them how we translate, talked about the views, explained a number of theses, encouraged dialog, and played a bit of devil’s advocate we had a tremendous experience.

    Almost all the guys became more generous in their views of creation. One guy, who has a science background, realized he could reconcile his faith with his education. The Holy Spirit allowed these men to see that there are other options that are just as orthodox and even more generous for belief.

    I’m not a Young Earther. I struggled with this belief. My faith has been strengthened by research in this area. Why would pastors and theologians stay away from opening the views on these non-foundational areas?

    As we learn and are guided by the Spirit to deeper truth we see true liberation and generosity. This kind of thing is what we need. Thanks for posting this book, I’ll buy and use it!

  • Michael W. Kruse

    I echo Scot’s ideas in #2. Just an additional thought from my perspective.

    The “rule,” “subdue,” and “dominion” aspect of the story. The ANE versions depict humans as slaves of capricious narcissistic gods. The Genesis account identifies humanity as priests in Gods holy cosmic temple (ala Walton) and as vice-regents over creation. Walton notes that the Hebrew words interpreted “till” and “keep” in Gen 2:15 are the same words used to describe the work of the Levites in Numbers 3:8-9. The word for “till/work” is also interpreted “worship” in other contexts.

    As we follow the biblical narrative God does not just call out a people for himself. He calls them out and attaches them to a particular piece of land over which they exercise stewardship. Per Chris Wright’s covenantal triangle (i.e., God, Israel (land), and Hebrews (people)) God’s mission is to expand the triangle until it includes God, all the earth, and all humanity. Jesus talks in terms of a Kingdom of God, which (as Scot has written) includes a king, a domain, subjects, and a code. In 2 Timothy and in Revelation we hear that Christ will reign forever and ever, and that we will reign with him. If everyone in rebellion is gone, then over what/who will we be reigning? The renewed created order … we are back to Genesis 1 and 2.

    John 1 tells us Jesus was there at creation and he was therefore certainly party to the commission presented in Gen 1 and 2. Yet we have collapsed worship and ministry down to events done in the context of a Sunday liturgy (or even worse, to emotionally intense feelings while singing praise songs) and acts of service that correspond to the redemptive work Jesus’ set in motion. From Gen 1 and 2 we see that worship and ministry are far richer and includes the work of our daily lives.

    I continually astounds me that we read Gen 1 and 2 and see what it says about God … and then, as if adding an addendum, … oh yeah, is also says something about our mission. I suspect ANE audiences would not just have been asking who was behind all this and what is its function, but (as you note) what is our response … what is our mission? God’s mission and our role in it is at the heart of the worldview, but we are so caught up in origins debates it rarely gets attention.

  • Amanda Furman

    RJS, I really appreciate all the time and work you’ve put into discussing the recent literature about this subject.

    I’ve been heading in the direction of accepting theistic evolution for several years now, but I’ve admitted that fact to almost nobody for reasons that I’m sure many on this forum can relate to. One must choose their battles wisely (and also I’m a wimp). I completely respect friends and pastors who can’t accept any version of evolution. However, I agree with the opinion of folks on this blog and Rachel Held Evans, that the false dichotomy is damaging.

    Scot, I’m looking forward to the day when I am welcomed to the table with open arms! However, perhaps more of us skittish types who aren’t in positions of leadership will venture out of our caves and politely let people know that we exist.

  • dopderbeck

    Scot (#2) — I heartily agree. And I’m very, very grateful that at my home church we are doing just that — we started the class last week. Here is the Class Website, which I’m building with various resources, podcasts, videos, etc. This is a bit of a risky venture, but the first class was excellent. Lots of people are curious, nervous, unsure what to think…. Hopefully we can keep this a healthy conversation space that focuses first on great truths about who God is and second on diffusing tensions over origins.

  • dopderbeck

    BTW, all the materials on my class website are available for use under a Creative Commons license — i.e., go ahead and use them! And I’m happy to discuss with anyone how we got to the point of being able to offer this class, experiences with it, etc.

  • normbv


    I’m looking forward to a report from you after the class finishes. Youre a brave guy. Kudos to you and wish you success. :)


  • pds


    “We’ve also got to stop the YEC and ID folks from thinking that they alone think biblically about these topics.”

    What a wholesale over-generalization! What ID leaders are you thinking of? None claim “biblical” support for core ID ideas. But hey, it’s your blog.

    Someone might say, “we’ve also got to stop the TE/EC folks from thinking that they alone think scientifically about these topics.”

    I think both ID and TE proponents make good points. I wish you could recognize that.

  • Scot McKnight

    pds, welcome back. Where you been?

    Odd you’d say that. Isn’t the whole point for Mohler, though? That YEC take the Bible at face value while the TE folks don’t. That’s how I read him. Am I wrong?

  • AHH

    Of course OT scholars have been telling us for years that Gen. 1 has a lot of polemic content, lifting up the theology (worldview) of YHWH as creator in opposition to the prevailing stories of the Babylonians, etc. See for example this article from 1984 (and it was not new then):
    Maybe these ideas will get more traction in the Evangelical world coming from someone like Longman whose Evangelical credentials are unimpeachable (he even affirms inerrancy). But I don’t know; the similar views of Evangelical OT scholar Meredith Kline didn’t seem to make much headway.

    I would also warn against making too much of differences in interpretation among Longman, Walton, and Lamoureux. They are all agreed on the major point, which is that the message of Gen. 1 is not science but instead is theology communicated using the common motifs of the culture. While they disagree about exactly how the story is working to communicate its points (how temple-related is it, how much is polemic against surrounding idols, etc.), those are sort of second-order disagreements.
    I hope these lesser disagreements don’t keep people from seeing the major point all 3 agree upon, namely that it is a big genre mistake to expect Genesis to answer our modern scientific questions. If that simple point were widely recognized in our churches, a large fraction of our problems in this area (bad witness, setting up youth for a fall, etc.) would go away.

  • AHH

    Scot @15:

    I don’t know that pds would defend Mohler and similar YECs, but he would say that you should not have included “ID” in your sentence. And (prepare to be shocked) I agree with pds about that point.

    As much as I dislike the ID movement, their leaders tend to leave the Bible out of things. I would say their opposition to evolution tends to be grounded not in defending a reading of Scripture, but instead in views about how God is supposed to work in the world and in a commitment to natural theology as apologetics.

    Now, certainly some of the support of ID at the popular level comes from people who see it as “defending the Bible,” and the ID leadership does not seem to discourage that (for example in not coming clean about the age of the Earth). But the leadership does not present things that way. Even when some ID leaders disparage the integrity and faith of theistic evolutionists, the accusations are not “low view of Scripture” — instead they are things like deism and caving into naturalistic philosophy and peer pressure.

  • rjs


    Part of the point I wanted to make here was that these OT scholars all agree on the fundamental approach to Gen 1-2; even 1-11.

    Working out the details is part of a larger conversation.

    OT scholars approaching the text of Genesis 1-11 don’t, for the most part, see a literal historical account of primeval history. This comes from many factors that have to do with the text, the language used, the relationship to other ANE sources, archaeological discoveries and more.

    Pete Enns, Tremper Longman, John Walton, Bruce Waltke, Kent Starks, Denis Lamoureux, Bill Arnold, to name just those whose work I have interacted with on this blog … I am sure that we could add more to the list as well.

    The scientific evidence for old earth and common descent, for that matter for the origins of disease, for the weather, flood, earthquake … is well established. From my perspective this needs to be part of the conversation (those OT scholars listed above all agree as well).

    This all needs to go into our search for the message of Genesis 1-11.

  • pds

    Scot #15,

    AHH said it pretty well in #17. Mohler is a YEC and a theologian. The ID folks generally focus on the science.

    ID proponents and TE proponents have a lot of common ground and it does not help to lump ID in with the YEC’s. The highly educated Christians I know have something of a hybrid ID plus evo view. You will lose the day by trashing ID, or by misrepresenting it.

    I am curious to know what primary ID literature you have read. Try it, you may like it.

  • Calebite

    I am currently in the middle of preaching a series on Gen 1-3, and have found that focusing on the worldview truths found in seeing these chapters as a literary response to other ANE creation accounts is immensely valuable and well-received.

    Contrasting the refrain of goodness and purpose in Genesis 1 with the chaotic, strife and evil filled Enuma Elish really helps us understand God’s good intent and our hope for eternity.

    Contrasting the position of humanity at the apex of the creation account made in the image of God with the position of humanity as an afterthought and as providers for the capricious gods in the Enuma Elish really helps us to value each person created in His image.

    These worldview truths are meaningful to the YEC people in the pews, and the OE/TE people in the pews. In fact, I told them up front that I wouldn’t even be answering those questions, and that I wouldn’t even be telling them where I personally stand.

    I think if there are drawbacks to this view, they are few. The more I apply the hermeneutical spiral, the more the view fits, so I am drawn to it. I think the congregation sees that we are ‘thinking biblically’, and I’ve had no complaints that we are not ‘thinking scientifically.’ Focusing on the worldview cosmology truths is yielding far more insight into God and His creation than focusing on trying to figure out the cosmogony questions.