In the Beginning

Small Voice Calling > The Call > In the Beginning

“How can I conceive the garden of light?”

In his autobiography, Ralph McTell recalls this story from Sunday School that inspired his song ‘Genesis Chapter 1 Verse 20’:

          One afternoon, Mr. Bustin had come into our lesson and asked if there was anything we wanted to ask him about the bible.
           Straightaway Philip said, “I have a question!”
           “Go ahead then, Philip,” said the reverend.
           “Okay. If Adam and Eve had two boys, Cain and Abel, where did their wives come from?”
           I was staggered that I had never thought of that one and neither had any of the other kids. How was Mr. Bustin going to get out of this one? I thought he would say that the theory of evolution was the truth, and that Adam and Eve’s story had been constructed for the children of Israel to understand, but he took on the question and gave the implausible answer that they would have had many daughters as well, and that times was [sic] different then, and that…
           “That’s incest!” interrupted Philip knowledgeably, and then not waiting for an answer he demanded, “What about amoebas and life beginning in the water and that we are all descended from that?”
           We all looked up expectantly.
           “That is also in the bible”, he said. “Read Genesis chapter 1, verse 20.”
           We did and it said, And God said, let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving things that hath life.
           It also went on about fowl of the air as well, but obviously this ambiguous reference could refer to an amoeba. I was amazed and Philip slightly disgruntled by Rev. Bustin’s biblical knowledge, but in the end I favoured Darwin over Moses.

(McTell, Ralph. ‘As Far As I Can Tell’, pp. 66-67. Leola, 2008)

Whose side are you on?

There’s no need to take sides. It’s not a competition. Science and the Bible tell different sorts of stories.  Where science proposes a biological pathway for ‘life beginning in the water’, the Bible says life happened because God commanded it. Where science describes what, the Bible explains why.

This is true of all such science v Bible debates, and particularly so of the stories in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, where the ‘action’ is placed in the time before the ‘historical’ period. They lack contemporary records that might verify or disprove them. By definition, they’re pre-historic.

Towards the end of chapter eleven we are introduced to Abram, who represents the earliest identifiable civilization to emerge from the archaeology of Mesopotamia and the fertile crescent. It doesn’t matter if he was a real person or if we’ve guessed his name. What matters is what God told him to do, and how he responded to it.

But the ‘older’ stories in Genesis chapters 1 to 11 are set in pre-history, and we have no way of knowing if they ‘happened’ or not.

So how are we to understand them?

The clue is in chapter 1 verse 1, which in most English Bibles is translated as ‘In the beginning, God…’. 

The subject of the Bible is God, not man, nor science, nor even ‘religion’. 

The Bible is not history. It’s His Story.

The time slips away
And on the sixth day will come man

From ‘Genesis Chapter 1 Verse 20’ by Ralph McTell
Full lyrics in ‘Time’s Poems’, p 315