Creation, Design & the End Times
As Christians, we are all creationists of some sort and believe in God's intelligent design. We believe in one God, who by the power of his spoken Word (Greek: Logos; G3056, "logical definition of absolute cosmic truth") alone, made the heavens and the earth "out of nothing" (Latin: ex nihilo). He formed the world from inanimate chaos, a disorganized mess of primordial matter. This contrasts with other ancient Near Eastern creation accounts in which a deity fought with and slew a godlike chaos monster. For example, in the Enuma Elish—a pagan myth from Babylon—Marduk defeated the cosmic serpent Tiamat and divided her carcass into heaven and earth. However, in Genesis, there is only one God and he separated the non-living, chaotic tehom (H8415, "the deep"; v. 2)—a Hebrew cognate of the Babylonian tiamat—into the waters above and below the firmament (vv. 6-7). Yes, we may consider Genesis a monotheistic correction of pagan myths from other Near Eastern cultures. The prophet Isaiah revisited this cosmic chaos monster theme when he wrote, "On that day the LORD with his cruel and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will kill the dragon that is in the sea" (27:1). Furthermore, the Israelites/Jews were never a great seafaring nation like the Greeks because they associated water with malevolent chaos.
When Moses recorded Genesis, he presented the Word that God spoke not as a magical incantation, but the equivalent of a scientific law (e.g., gravity, thermodynamics). In his gospel, John son of Zebedee wrote that Jesus is this divine Logos in the very form of God incarnate (1:1-5). He derived this meaning from both Greek and Jewish sources (e.g., Heraclitus, Aristotle, Plato, Philo) that defined Logos philosophically and theologically as the ruling order of the universe. This contrasts with the myth of Ptah, for example, whom the ancient Egyptians believed created the world with a spell that all pagans could use to harness his primordial power. In fact, this bolsters the etymological meaning of "Egypt[ah]," from the Greek pronunciation Aiguptos (G125) of the Egyptian name Hwt-Ka-Ptah (lit. "Mansion of the Spirit of Ptah"), originally given to the city of Memphis. Whereas some biblical scholars say the Israelites borrowed from other Near Eastern literature, their familiarity with it came in the form of correction, neither flattery nor respect.
Jesus: Genesis Revisited
For those commentators who doubt that the synoptic gospel writers Matthew, Mark, and Luke intended to portray the "historical Jesus" as the cosmic "Christ of faith," look no further than their accounts of when he calmed a windstorm on the Sea of Galilee, also known as the Sea of Tiberias or Lake Kinneret (Matt. 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25). Jesus reveals himself to be the Word, the divine Logos, who with mere speech—"Peace! Be still!"—restores order to a chaotic watery depth. When Jesus and his apostles set out on the Sea of Galilee, torrential rains opposed them. This was no small windstorm, as the Greek text called it a seismos (G4578, "shake," "commotion," or "tempest"), from which the English word "seismic" derives. Jesus had fallen asleep on the boat while the apostles feared they were about to capsize and drown in these hurricane-force winds and violent waves. For comparison, a 1992 storm ravaged the modern lakeside Israeli city of Tiberias when a Sharkiya—a cold, dry easterly wind of hurricane force—coming off the Golan Heights at 60 mph (96 kph) caused waves between 6-10 feet (2-3 m). In the gospel account, the Sea of Galilee became a microcosm, figuratively a "small world" (Greek: mikros, kosmos; G3998, G2889), of the Genesis creation. The water shook the boat like an earthquake shakes entire cities, or how cyclones and typhoons flood whole regions, threatening to kill and destroy everything in their paths. This squall carried with it the watery, monstrous chaos of creation. The apostles wondered about all this when they asked, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" (Mark 4:41b). It was the very Word of God who created them.
Cosmology refers to the philosophical and scientific "study of the world," from the Greek words kosmos and logos. Biblical cosmology alluded to a flat, disc-shaped earth supported by foundations with pillars holding up the firmament that separates the waters of heaven from the water cycle of earth (Gen. 1:7; 1 Sam. 2:8; Job 9:6; Isa. 40:22). There were literal windows in the firmament, a solid dome that prevented the cosmic ocean of chaos from reaching the inhabited world (Gen. 7:11). The cosmos was stable, meaning it neither rotated nor spun on an axis (1 Chron. 16:30; Pss. 93:1; 104:5). Instead, the Old Testament writers believed that God suspended the world in "the deep" ocean, one with actual edges in which he could see through a canvas-like dome (Job 28:24; 38:13; Ps. 29:10). The netherworld (Hebrew: Sheol; H7585) existed below the earth, "the grave" below the graves (Pss. 49:14; 88:11). Basically, Hebrew cosmology likens the entire world to a type of snow globe, which may also be shaken from its pillars (Job 9:6).
In contemporary English, we still refer to "sunrise" and "sunset" because that is how the 24-hour day/ night cycle appears to us from our ground-based observation points. King Solomon, the "Teacher" (Hebrew: Kohelet; H6953; cf. Eccl. 1:1) of Ecclesiastes wrote, "The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises" (1:5). This begs the question of whether the ancient Hebrews really believed in the geocentric ("earth-centered") universe they described, or if they merely used such imagery as poetic devices. However, this modern concern does not represent the authors' intents of writing and their historical or literary contexts. Strictly speaking, biblical creationism does not deal with modern queries about the age of the earth or whether the Noachide flood was local to the Near East or the entire globe as we know it today. What it does point to is an intelligent designer, God with his divine Word and Spirit in tri-unity (Gen. 1:2-3 ff.), who created all things.
In scripture, the worldwide flood in which God told Noah son of Lamech to build an ark to save his family is a cosmological one (Gen. 6-9). The main takeaway from the Noachide flood narrative is that God saved a righteous man and his family when he released the primordial waters of chaos to destroy creation. This was a reversal of the Genesis creation account, though God still controlled the outcome. Today, proponents of Intelligent Design (ID) view the Noachide flood through the lenses of history and science while many textual critics see it as mythological.
Coincidentally, there are over 500 deluge myths from nearly every ancient civilization, to include the Epic of Gilgamesh from Mesopotamia. The Havasupai (lit. "people of the blue-green water"), a Native American tribe with a history of over 1,000 years living in the Grand Canyon, believe primordial floodwaters surged along the Colorado River to form it. Their local deluge account also mentions a benevolent deity who saved a noble person in a wooden vessel. The geological evidence of this Grand Canyon flood, dating to about 400,000 years ago, includes heavy boulders suspended more than 100 feet (30 m) high along its walls. In reference to the Noachide flood, researchers in 1993 discovered ancient streambeds, river-cut canyons, shorelines, land surfaces buried in seafloor sediments, and shrub roots all submerged by Black Sea mud over 7,000 years ago. This happened when the rising Mediterranean breached the Bosporus Strait and poured saltwater into the then-freshwater Black Sea, which is close to the Ararat mountains of modern-day Armenia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Iran (cf. Gen. 8:4). In other words, geological evidence suggests the Noachide flood changed the Black Sea's composition from fresh to salty. So, yes, there is evidence for floods of "biblical proportions" throughout the world, albeit contested by those who deny God's existence.
The New Testament, however, presents the Noachide flood theologically. For example, the author of Hebrews testified, "By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith" (11:7). Simon Peter wrote, "God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water" (1 Pet. 3:20). Although God reversed his creation with the flood, he still rewarded Noah's faithfulness and saved him. Peter compared this to baptism, a type of death and resurrection in Christ Jesus because the cosmic chaos ocean represented death while the ark symbolized a transformation of new life (1 Pet. 3:21). Jesus himself compared his eschatological return as the Son of Man to the Noachide flood, in which most people were too concerned with their day-to-day lives to realize the world as they knew it was about to end (Matt. 24:37-38; Luke 17:26-27; cf. Dan. 7:9-14). On the last day, God will only save those who, like Noah, respond to him in faith.
End Times: Chaos Revisited
In Revelation, John revisited the cosmic chaos monster theme from Genesis. This time, scripture does personify chaos, although still crediting God with the victory. John wrote, "The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him" (Rev. 12:9). This whole time, it was Satan who caused disorder in creation: the chaotic beast of the depths, the serpent in Eden (Gen. 3:1-14), the sea monster Leviathan, and the great dragon at the world's end. John also applied the cosmic waters/ocean theme to Satan when he wrote,
But the earth came to the help of the woman; it opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth (Rev. 12:16).
Then the dragon took his stand on the sand of the seashore. And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads; and on its horns were ten diadems, and on its heads were blasphemous names (Rev. 12:18-13:1).
This may all sound mythological to the modern ear, not just supernatural—beyond the natural world. That said, Revelation also takes a geocentric cosmos model for granted similar to Genesis. Likewise, there is a war between God and the chaos monster who threatens to destroy his creation with its lawlessness (cf. 2 Thess. 2:1-7). Before the millennial reign of Jesus, an angel will seize "the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years" (Rev. 20:2). Furthermore, Revelation presents a teleology (from Greek: telos; G5056, "end") of creation, a philosophical and theological definition of God's final cause, function, purpose, design, and end-goal for the world. Jesus called himself this very telos when declared, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end" (Rev. 21:6), and, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end" (22:13). Alpha (Α) is the first letter of the Greek alphabet while Omega (Ω) is the last, indicating that Jesus is the ultimate reason—Logos—for all things that exist (John 1:1-4). In English, we could say that he is the "A to Z" as well as "everything from A to Z".
Epilogue: Faith vs. Fundamentalism
For us moderns, there are three primary ways to respond to the Bible's geocentrism in comparison to the quantum heliocentrism we know today: 1) Deny that the scriptures allude to a geocentric cosmos and mendaciously try to "read in" (i.e., eisegesis) heliocentrism where it does not belong; 2) Accept the Bible's ancient Hebrew cosmology and relate it to the newer internet-driven flat-earth conspiracy theories; or 3) Realize that ancient Jews and Christians described the world as they saw it from the ground, understanding the Bible is not a science textbook. On the last point, we can still accept the scriptures to be an accurate record of historical, biographical, and spiritual truths. Keep in mind, the Bible never tells us outright that the world is flat or that the sun revolves around it. This imagery serves as a literary device in scripture to convey monotheistic faith and the victory of God over evil.
Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe, at your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home. By your will they were created and have their being. From the primal elements you brought forth the human race, and blessed us with memory, reason, and skill. You made us the stewards of creation. But we turned against you, and betrayed your trust; and we turned against one another. Have mercy, Lord, for we are sinners in your sight. Again and again, you called us to return. Through prophets and sages you revealed your righteous Law. In the fullness of time you sent your only-begotten Son, Jesus, born of a woman, to fulfill your Law, to open for us the way of freedom and peace. By his blood, he reconciled us. By his wounds, we are healed. Therefore, we praise you, joining with the heavenly chorus, with prophets, apostles, and martyrs, and with all those in every generation who have looked to you in hope. Amen.
Attridge, Harold W., ed. The NRSV HarperCollins Study Bible, Revised and Updated with Apocryphal and Deuterocanonical Books. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2006.
Bolen, Tood. "The Sea of Galilee." Jerusalem Perspective. Jerusalem: Jerusalem Perspective, 1989. https://www.jerusalemperspective.com/1476.
The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Hymnal Corp., 1979. p. 369. https://www.bcponline.org.
Britannica, eds. "Teleology." Encyclopædia Britannica. London: Britannica, 2016. https://www.britannica.com/topic/teleology.
Dobson, Kent, ed. NIV First-Century Study Bible: Explore Scripture in Its Jewish and Early Christian Context. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.
Gerke, Sarah Bohl, and Paul Hirt. "Havasupai Reservation." GrCaHistory.org. Tempe, AZ: Arizona State Univ., 2021. https://grcahistory.org/sites/beyond-park-boundaries/havasupai-reservation.
Havasupai Tribe. "About Supai." Supai, AZ: Havasupai Tribal Council, 2021. https://theofficialhavasupaitribe.com/About-Supai/about-supai.html.
Hillar, Marian. From Logos to Trinity: The Evolution of Religious Beliefs from Pythagoras to Tertullian. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2012.
Kaiser, Walter C., and Duane Garrett, eds. NIV Archaeological Study Bible: An Illustrated Walk Through Biblical History and Culture. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.
Keener, Craig S., and John H. Walton, eds. NRSV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019.
Leeming, David. Jealous Gods and Chosen People: The Mythology of the Middle East. New York, Oxford Univ. Press, 2004.
Luckert, Karl W. Egyptian Light and Hebrew Fire: Theological and Philosophical Roots of Christendom in Evolutionary Perspective. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2012.
Mark, Joshua J. "Ancient Egypt." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Montreal: Ancient History Encyclopedia Foundation, 2009. https://www.ancient.eu/egypt.
Massey, Gerald. Egyptian Wisdom and the Hebrew Genesis. New York: Cosimo, 2008.
Montgomery, David R. "Biblical-Type Floods Are Real, and They're Absolutely Enormous." Discover. Waukesha, WI: Kalmbach Media, 2012. https://www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/biblical-type-floods-are-real-and-theyre-absolutely-enormous.
Orgell, Hugh. "Israel's Disastrous Winter Howls out with Fierce Wind." JTA Daily News Bulletin. New York: Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 1992. https://www.jta.org/1992/03/13/archive/israels-disastrous-winter-howls-out-with-fierce-wind.
Schoch, Robert M. Voyages of the Pyramid Builders. New York: Jeremy P. Parcher/Putnam, 2003.
Strong, James. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Updated and Expanded Edition. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007.
Trefil, James. "Evidence for a Flood." Smithsonian. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 2000. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/evidence-for-a-flood-102813115.
U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Havasupai Indian Agency, Arizona. Lawrence, KS: Haskell Printing Dept., 1928.