Is the Genesis story of creation a metaphor?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: Is the Genesis story a metaphor? Scholars like John H. Walton argue that it is because the Hebrew word "bara" is used to imply war and violence… and that kind of stuff should not have happened before the fall. Also, many would argue that ancient cultures used metaphors and allegories to convey messages very much like the ones in Genesis which seems to steal from its impact. Is this all true?

Answer: Greetings friend. Thank you for touching down with us at Mainsail Ministries — and thank you for bringing us such a well-considered question.

You asked, “Is this all true?” (Emphasis mine). The answer is no. But if you asked, are the elements true… like, is it true that ancient cultures used metaphors etc. to carry messages that are similar in some aspects to those in Genesis, then the answer would be yes… because that’s the data. But I think you’re asking if Walton’s conclusion is true… that, therefore, the Bible’s creation account is a metaphor. To that, I say no.

But it’s important for you to understand that I’m no scholar. I’m only acquainted with Walton’s work second hand. But I have full faith in one of his critics, William Lane Craig of Reasonable Faith ministries. Craig deals with Walton and the “bara” issue in his Defenders series of teachings (which I recommend unreservedly). So, I’ll give you the link to the transcript that deals with “bara” here. The issues are simply too layered for me to do them justice in this venue.

(If you search for “Walton” on the Reasonable Faith website, you’ll come up with many more documents than just this one. Also, if this transcript seems a little dense, consider listening to the audio version of this teaching [and the entire series on creation].)

Now that I’ve “bailed” on “bara,” let me go back to your more general question: is the Genesis story of creation a metaphor? … because I’ve been back and forth on this for close to 50 years. But before I say anything more about this, you should know that many Christians still take a young earth stand on creation. However, I am one who takes an old earth stand… but this is a secondary issue of the faith. As such, we should be gracious in our disagreements. Just be aware that what follows is not a mainstream solution to the creation issues.

I came to Christ when I was 19, but I had not grown up in an evangelical culture. So I had zero knowledge of the Bible when I began my walk nearly fifty years ago. In my early studies, a young earth perspective was either implied or taught… yet strangely… using the Gap Theory as a safety valve to explain the archeological and scientific data that shows the world to be billions of years old. The idea was to protect biblical inerrancy — which is a good idea — but the Gap Theory is critically flawed… and the Bible doesn’t need that kind of help!

Here’s the thing: the Bible was written to ancient people, mostly about what they were going through at that time. A sensible hermeneutic (method of interpretation) has this as its basis. When someone breaks with this natural interpretation by saying that an ancient text addresses modern science, they are guilty of concordism — and the Gap theory is arguably the worst offender.

Does anyone really think that the fact that there is potential for a space between Genesis 1, verses 1 and 2 (remembering that the verse numbers are not inspired text) gives anyone biblical warrant to teach that billions of years exist there? That’s the best example I could give of an ad hoc solution. Using such methodology does more harm than good to the Bible’s reputation… except, perhaps, among the textually naïve who tend to subscribe to its inerrancy without any support from apologetics.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The Bible is inerrant. Furthermore, it’s in complete agreement with science! But it was not a science textbook when it was written, and it would be preposterous to think that it should serve as one now. Nevertheless, God revealed many true things about how the universe works to the ancients. So, although the Bible does not teach science as part of its scope, it nowhere contradicts science — and here’s the principle: the Bible is never in error… although its “protectors” often are… and Walton is one of these “protectors.”

In my nearly fifty years of earnest study, I have subscribed to many different interpretations of the creation account… and I have never become “unsaved” by any one of them! (… although, some have questioned this.) But I have recently changed my stand again. I now believe that the universe was created in six literal twenty-four hour days… AND … that the earth is about 4.6 billion years old! How can this be?

Again… I plead venue… because you’ll have to be conversant in (although not expert in) relativity to make sense of the data. So, I’ll provide a link to Dr. Sarah Salviander’s 141 slide presentation of Dr. Gerald Schroeder’s book, The Science of God. Both come with my hearty recommendation. (Salviander does an excellent job of capturing Schroeder’s book… although you’ll have to step through the slides manually by pushing the forward arrow 140 times!)

For years I played with metaphorical and alternate time interpretations of the creation account, but the thing that always haunted me was that the text just sounded like the author meant six literal twenty-four hour days — not eras and not metaphors — but physical evidence for the earth’s old age kept multiplying… and that old date for the earth got firmer every day.

But with Schroeder’s insights, I can (finally) satisfy my need to be true to the text… but without being obtuse concerning the age of the universe. This may not be the answer for you, but for now, it’s the best one I can pitch. As to your question, if you find this solution acceptable, then Walton’s “bara” issue will be moot because the days will indeed be literal.

I pray that this helped you more than it confused you.

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