How can we best reconcile the notion that birds (Gen 1:20) were created before land animals (1:24)?

“Cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth” (Gen 1:24) come only after birds (1:20), which evolutionary history says is wrong. One way to approach this problem is to point out that reptile or amphibian would be an instance of a “living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly.” This is, after all, true, according to evolutionary theory. In other words, in the Mesozoic (dinosaur) era, even as fish and birds were evolving, so were the earliest, creeping land animals, and even if indeed they spent millions of years on land, it was in that earlier era that they came out of the sea. It was only in a later era, the Cenozoic, when mammals appeared, i.e., the sorts of animals the author doubtless had in mind when listing “cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth.” And it is rather strikingly apropos, I think, that the last living creature to appear was man. Besides all that, this is not a scientific treatise but a brief, suggestive account of the orderly way in which God created things; it is probably not a requirement that such an account match perfectly to the order in which things were actually created, particularly if the “days” are used as conceptual markers used for exposition rather than six consecutive 24-hour periods.

Why are various categories of animals, and then man, encouraged to “be fruitful, and multiply” (Gen 1:22, and in the case of man, at 1:28)?

What is the significance of this injunction? Reproducing and flourishing as a group seems to be both specially valued by God and is presented as a blessing (“God blessed them, saying”; 1:22). Othernatural processes are not similarly blessed; probably, there is some special meaning behind an emphasis on reproduction, particularly because it is repeated several times as a blessing, promise, or injunction (especially at Genesis 9:7, after the Flood: “be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein”). In short, life as such is specially prized by God: sacrificing the life of the most valuable animals atoned for sin; the most serious sins concerned unjust killing as well as improper reproduction; and the very most horrible pagan heresies involved sacrificing human life, especially a child’s life. Accordingly, the greatest reward of the Hebrews was to “multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore.” (Gen 22:17) Moreover, one of the saddest and desperate conditions of a young woman in the Bible was the inability to bear children. Life, in the Bible, is repeatedly shown to be among the greatest of blessings and holiest of things we can value.

What does Gen 1:26 mean with the claim that man is made “in the image of God”?

This doctrine is theologically deep and consequential, and is made the basis of all sorts of important concepts regarding the nature of man, theological ethics, the relationship between man and God, etc.—as well as the basis of heresies. But, I will keep this answer brief. The Hebrew words suggest we are made in God’s “image” or form, “after our likeness” or similitude or model. We are in God’s likeness—the imago dei—but how? John (4:24) writes that “God is a Spirit” or, as more recent translations have it, “God is spirit.” The Spirit of God is mentioned as early as Gen 1:2 in the Bible, and in many other places thereafter. Hence it seems likely that the claim that we are made in the image or form of God is to say that our spirits, or souls, or minds, or characters were made in some fashion like God’s. It is not hard to find ways in which this might be true: God is represented as having a free will, with the ability to make plans and form purposes, as we do; of having a mind, thoughts, and reasons, as we do; and of having assorted emotions, including love and anger, as we do. Moreover, in the same sentence, God says he would give man dominion over other living beings; so a common suggestion is that we resemble God in that we have this “dominion,” although in a much narrower domain. Finally, we are also supposed to be like God in that we are can be evaluated morally, as righteous or sinful. Of course, since God is perfectly righteous, it follows that in Adam’s fall, man’s nature became less like God’s, insofar as man became sinful; so also, in our ultimate redemption and rebirth, according to the New Testament, the imago dei in us will be more fully restored.

Could the Gen 1:26 “image of God” be a physical, rather than spiritual, image?

In other words, could God have a physical body which ours resembles? Perhaps, perhaps not, although this might have been the first thing that the mere words would have brought to mind to the original reader. After all, God is portrayed in the Pentateuch as having an appearance, e.g., a face, which it is deadly for a man to see, and which Moses was forbidden to see, though he could see God’s back. Moreover, we are told over and over that God appeared in various theophanies, i.e., bodily or physical forms, such as Abraham’s visitor, Jacob’s wrestling partner, the burning bush, and the shekhina, i.e., the physically appearing “glory” or presence of God in and about the tabernacle. Most importantly, there is God’s appearance in the form of Jesus. But as God is primarily spirit, the way in which we are in his image is likely also spiritual. It is possible that our “new creation” bodies will be like the perfect, glorified body of the risen Christ, but that is not how we are, now, in the image of God. But one thing we can certainly infer from the variety of theophanies: God does not have any one physical manifestation, hence cannot be identified with any of them. Hence our bodies could at best resemble one of his theophanies, not all of them.

Is original man (Gen 1:29) said to be vegetarian?

It might seem so, but the matter is not altogether clear. Although the God does not specifically forbid the eating of meat, plants and their fruit are the only food that is clearly mentioned before Abel sacrificed the firstlings of his flock (Gen 4:4). As Abel seemed to be a meat-eater; he raised sheep and set aside the fat for God. But this is puzzling, because if eating meat became acceptable immediately after the Fall, God would have said so in Gen 1:29, and a bit later when he describes “the herb of the field” (Gen 3:18) that he would henceforth eat. Cain’s descendant Jabal is called father of “such as have cattle.” (Gen 4:20) Noah is said to taken seven (probably, seven pair) of the various animals described as “clean” (Gen 7:2); the food laws (later articulated in Leviticus) clarify that clean animals were those acceptable to eat. Still, God first explicitly describes the eating of meat to Noah, generations later, when he says, “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you” (Gen 9:3). See below for discussion of that. Finally, consider carefully that God mentions man’s “dominion over” the animal world twice (1:26, 1:28), and that would have been thought to include eating animals; animal meat would have been a blessing. So it is hard to say and I am inclined to think early man did eat animals, at least after the Fall.

Are animals originally said to be herbivorous (Gen 1:30)?

It seems so. The fact that animals are, of course, carnivorous, you would think it would bear specifically mentioning that the first animals were not so, if that were the point of saying they ate plants. But perhaps saying only that they ate plans was commonly understood, at the time, to mean that animals at only plants (this is a logical fallacy, but it could be an understood implication). Besides, key texts in Rom. 8:18-25 as well as Isaiah 11:6 and 65:25 suggest that on the recreated New Earth, animals will live in peace (as herbivores). So it seems creation at first was absolutely free of death and hence no animals were eaten, and that in the new creation, wiped clean of all sin, there will again be no death, not even of animals. If this were the case, then perhaps the original condition of the creation was equally idyllic. In any case, the difficulty here is that there is there is no scientific evidence that vicious carnivorous predators like lions and eagles ever ate plants; they have sharp teeth (or beaks) and claws (or talons) in order to capture and hold their prey. Why should animals be “punished” by changing their diet in this way as a response by God to man’s sin?

So were animals immortal, like man, before the Fall?

Perhaps, but this seems doubtful. For one thing, they did not eat of the Tree of Life, which seems to be the best explanation of why Adam was said to be offered to live forever. Death would come from Adam only after eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, promised at Gen 2:17: “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” But it does not say that animals did not die previous to this, and at no point does any Bible verse explicitly link Adam’s sin with the introduction of animal death. Some point to Rom. 5:12 as indicating that Adam’s sin introduced death to the animal world: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin”. But the same sentence concludes: “and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” It says nothing specifically about animals, and “death by sin” is too vague to hang a whole doctrine upon: obviously, it could mean only “death of man by sin,” since that is the context. The same problem afflicts 1 Cor. 15:22-23: the remark “in Adam all die” leaves “all” with a vague domain of application: I would be inclined to think it means “all men,” not “all living beings.” After all, later in that same chapter’s argument, the redemption for that original sin is said to make resurrection possible, and that certainly does not include the resurrection of animals.

If “everything” God had made was “very good” (Gen 1:31) was it perfect?

It depends on what you mean by “perfect.” After all, the serpent was in the Garden, ready to tempt Adam and Eve, and even if they had not yet sinned, they possessed both the freedom and the willfulness that enabled the Fall. More to the point, Adam and Eve were like innocent children, and innocent children, however morally pure and indeed holy they might be, are not fully formed and are hence complete in that (quite distinct) sense. In other words, there are at least two senses of the word “perfect”: (a) beyond moral reproach and (b) incapable of any sort of improvement. God’s initial creations were perfect in the sense of (a), but not (b); after all, each day of creation represents an improvement over the last. This is not to say that it was preferable that Adam and Eve lost their innocence and became more sophisticated. Indeed, God is often contemptuous and wrathful toward man’s pretensions to wisdom and power (as in God’s reaction to the Tower of Babel in Gen 11:1-9). But it is a matter for God himself, and perhaps for debate in philosophical theology, whether in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21-22) we will be in a “more perfect” state, being far more mature than Adam, but also having sinned and having had our sins wiped clean by Jesus.