Fill The Earth And Subdue It

(Genesis Study Series)

We are studying through Genesis chapter one with the help of John H. Walton’s book “The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.” Previous articles have emphasized the functional perspective of the ancient readers of Genesis. This is a very, very difficult perspective for 21st century AD Westerners to adapt to. Nevertheless, if we respect the authority of the Bible and the context in which it was written, we must read the creation account like an ancient Israelite would have.

On days one through three, God established three great functions of time, weather and food. The remainder of the days will see functionaries and inhabitants installed into these three domains

Genesis 1:14-19: Day Four

A shift occurs on day four from functions to functionaries. God separated light from darkness in verse 4 (He created time) and now the celestial functionaries (sun, moon, stars) are installed to give light on the Earth and to allow us to mark the passage of time.

We simply cannot honor the authority of the Bible while at the same time forcing it into the straightjacket of modern cosmology.

The literary structure of Genesis 1, where days one through three match up with days four through six, has long been recognized.

This structure reinforces the function/functionary relationship of what God has created in Genesis 1. If we attempt to understand the creation of these functionaries in terms of 21st century AD science, we are going to introduce a lot of confusion. We simply cannot honor the authority of the Bible while at the same time forcing it into the straightjacket of modern cosmology. However, if we understand the functions these lights serve as the ancient readers did, there is no problem.

The sun, moon and stars are not functions themselves, they perform functions. Again, note that nothing material is mentioned. We aren’t told what God made these “lights” from, only what function they serve. On day four, God installs functionaries to govern the day and the night (time).

Genesis 1:20-23: Day Five

On day five, non-terrestrial (water, sky) functionaries are created.

“In contrast to day four, where the functionaries were helping to accomplish the functions associated with the sphere which they inhabited, in day five the functionaries simply carry out their own functions in the cosmic space that they inhabit. The text addresses what they do (teem, fly) rather than the role they serve. But in the blessing God also gives them a function: to be fruitful and multiply. God created them capable of doing so, and it is their function to fill their respective realms.”[1]Walton, John H.. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (p. 66). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Genesis 1:24-31: Day Six

Land based functionaries are created on day six. Those who believe in theistic evolution might theorize that verse 24 supports the idea God created by use of evolution. In other words, “let the earth bring forth living creatures” hints that He produced life from non-life through evolutionary means. Theistic evolution constitutes a mistaken assumption:

“The role of the land or the mountains in producing animals does not give us material information as if this were some sort of spontaneous regeneration or a subtle indication of an evolutionary process. Rather the land and mountain are locations of origin. This is where animal life comes from, not what it is produced from. It is similar to a child today asking where babies come from. Rather than needing a description of sperm and egg in fertilization and conception, the child only needs to be told that babies come from hospitals or from their mothers.”[2]Ibid., 68

The last functionary God installed was man. Man was no ordinary functionary because he was created in the image of God and is the only functionary given that description. Mankind’s function was to “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth”” (Gen. 1:26 ESV). In other words, God appointed man as His representative on Earth, as stewards to rule (have dominion over) God’s creation on His behalf.

Not only that, but “God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28 ESV). This idea of subduing the Earth hints that God intended for mankind to continue what He started – bringing order to the rest of the world and expanding the borders of the Garden of Eden. We’ll talk about things related to image bearing and ruling in future articles.

References

1 Walton, John H.. The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (p. 66). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
2 Ibid., 68