Perhaps it can be more fruitful to begin discussing what Genesis 1 is by considering what it is not. Genesis 1 is not a guide on how to create your cosmos. This first chapter of the Bible is about many things, but it is clearly not presenting a scientific treatise, not even in antiquity. This is made all the more clear when we consider that it is decidedly lacking in any sort of mechanistic detail.
In Genesis 1 God creates by fiat, that is by declaration. “Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.” The waters and the earth similarly bring forth living creatures and we are told that, after a brief conversation, “God created humankind in his image.” What we do not find is any description of how all this occurs. (Granted, Genesis 2 has God getting his hands dirty, literally, but we will deal with that another day.)
It is not simply in comparison with a modern book on the origins of the universe, but many other ancient near eastern origin myths have great detail about how the heavens and the earth were formed. Genesis is conspicuous in not recounting in great detail where or how this material world came about. It is similarly silent about the origins of God (other passages in the Bible would support the concept that there is none, God has always existed) or about other divine beings (בני האלהים). This silence is not, I think, the result of chance, rather it is part of a purposeful agenda to underscore that the origin of everything is God. The answer to how or why is always simply, “God.”
You have no doubt already guessed what conclusions I would draw from this literary reading of Genesis 1. If we try and read Genesis 1 in such a way that modern scientific discoveries are made to fit into its narrative (eons for days and so on) we are missing the point of the narrative. Genesis 1 does not bother itself with the details so that we won’t bother ourselves with the details. Instead we must pull our vision back and look at the larger picture presented. And when we do we find a picture that has been crafted and created by God, that is orderly, and that is good.
And that is where I will begin tomorrow.