Creation in Six Days?
Following on from last week’s topic of how we know the Bible is true, people often wonder how as Catholics we should interpret the story of Creation in the Book of Genesis. Do we take it literally, and do we have to believe the universe was created in six days?
The first thing to bear in mind is that the Bible is made up of many different genres or literary types: history, poetry, prayer, prose, theology, parable, and so on. So regarding the Creation story, it is a question of understanding the literary form – what type of writing it is. The first three chapters of Genesis are not meant to be read as science. They are written in symbolic and figurative language. However, the stories do give us the real truth that God created everything out of nothing, (ex nihilo) that it was all good, and that He did so in an intentional and systematic way in which He was involved at every single point. But it is not giving us a scientific text book.
People often don’t realise there are two different accounts of Creation in Genesis which differ from each other. In the first account (Gen 1:1-2:4) we have the seven days. First there is the creation of light, then the sky and the sea, then vegetation, then the sun and the moon, then the fish and birds, then the animals, and finally Adam and Eve. The second account of Creation (Gen 2:4-25) does not talk about days. It begins with the creation of Adam, then the planting of a garden, then the creation of animals, and then the creation of Eve. So these two accounts are different and they cannot be harmonised. But at the same time, they are not in conflict. They are describing the same event but from a different angle – but between them, they tell us all God wants us to know, and that He created everything out of nothing. They are not giving us a blow-by-blow account of precisely how God created everything.
It is also worth noting that the elements God creates; the sun, the moon, the earth, the sea, the animals etc, in the ancient world were worshipped as gods. By insisting these were all created by the One True God, the authors of Genesis are effectively dethroning all false gods and forbidding idolatry (the worship of idols).
So to answer the original question: No – we do not have to believe the universe was created in six days, although we are free to do so if we wish. But we do have to believe that God created everything out of nothing, and that it was good.
Fr Paul Gillham IC