The Purpose of Light and Darkness… in the Creation Narrative

How about reading the creation-narrative  as functional rather than simply informational—as why rather than what.

This functional reading of the text makes more sense to me.  Here’s distinguished OT professor Eugene Merrill on the matter:

The tensions between light and darkness and the waters and dry land, while not in themselves and as natural phenomena indicative of any imperfections in the work of the Creator, play their role metaphorically in later revelation and are suggestive of the basic cosmic struggle between good and evil that will become apparent in the postfall world.  The imagery is carefully chosen in that story, written long after the event, functions polemically against pagan mythological ideas of creation in which darkness and the deep are major elements, but also as a useful way of speaking of the life and death conflict between good and evil, which is a major theme in Scripture.  (Everlasting Dominion, pp. 130-31, emphasis added)

When the creation-narrative is read as functional rather than as informational, questions of whether the days were solar or there’s a gap at 1:2—become irrelevant.

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23 Responses to The Purpose of Light and Darkness… in the Creation Narrative

  1. Theophrastus says:

    Why distinguish the creation narrative in this way? For example, I do not believe you would be willing to treat Jesus, the crucifixion, or the resurrection as metaphors.

    What is the criterion by which you decide whether a passage in Scripture is to be viewed metaphorically (or in your terminology, functional) or as literal (or in your terminology, informational)?

  2. tc robinson says:


    I’m not arguing an either/or. Instead, I think we need to see the creation-narrative as both, what and why.

  3. Doug Mangum says:


    The idea that Gen 1 is a polemic against mythological creation accounts has been around a while, and it has a lot going for it. (The starting point for that approach is H. Gunkel’s Schopfung und Chaos). Merrill makes a lot of sense to me here.

    I don’t quite understand the drive that some people have to force the biblical creation account to be something it isn’t claiming to be – namely, a scientific, informational account of how things happened.

    Along the same lines, Theo, if we can’t tell the difference between metaphorical and literal passages, then should we just read them all as literal and factual until explicitly told otherwise? The thing about figurative language is that it is by nature elliptical – you’re never told explicitly, but there are ways to decide. If I have time, maybe I’ll find some examples to demonstrate.

  4. Theophrastus says:

    Doug, I fully understand your point, but once you make that point, do you have any beef with those who say that it is obvious that the resurrection narrative is metaphorical?

  5. tc robinson says:

    No, I thought I was missing something else. Yes, from what I’ve read in others like Walton, I’ve come to agree with the functional view of the creation-narrative rather than it just being informational.

    Thanks for the Tilling link. Ken Hamm’s statement is reckless, indeed.

  6. Richard says:

    I was going to mention this by Walton but you may already have seen it. On a more general level you may wish to check out Carr’s Reading the Fractures of Genesis pp. 62ff.

  7. tc robinson says:

    Yes, I enjoyed Walton’s analysis of bara’ and so on. Thanks for the links. Where do you get them? 🙂

  8. Well, I am glad to see Doug give positive comments on Merill’s book – given he is a developing Hebrew Bible Scholar and all. Now I will for certain want to look into it more.

    TC- I too agree with the functional take – it was to remind both Israel and those who read the Hebrew Scriptures just who is in charge! No?

  9. tc robinson says:

    Brian, that’s Merrill’s take. He spends a great deal in the creation narrative proving just that.

    It’s a great read!

  10. Doug Mangum says:

    TC, it’s not uncommon for evangelical Bible scholars like Merrill to be well-known among members of ETS, for example, but completely unknown to the members of SBL (unless they’re also part of ETS). Therefore, some Jewish Bible scholars, for example, likely don’t know him or his work at all. That’s what I was thinking of, anyway.

  11. tc robinson says:

    Thanks, Doug. Now I get it: academic vs theological, Walton vs Gunkel. Does make sense! 😉

  12. tc robinson says:

    Richard, I’d love to get that one! Let me know of its contents.

  13. Richard says:

    TC, you can view the contents online here. I’ll post a review of it when I’ve read it.

  14. tc robinson says:

    Richard, I’m looking forward to your review. Thanks.

    The table of contents intrigues me.

  15. Pingback: Book Review: The Lost World of Genesis One | The Church of Jesus Christ

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