Genesis 1: Concluding Thoughts

November 5, 2009 — 1 Comment

[This post is part of the Genesis series]

Because of chapter divisions, I’m not going to actually dig too much into to Day 7 here, although we should at least finish the narrative before moving on.

Day Seven

I find John Walton’s summary of the state of things prior to Day 7 to be helpful, especially in light of viewing the creation of the universe as emphasizing the establishing of functions and order, rather than just bare material creating.

Here’s the quote (from The Lost World of Genesis One):

In days four to six, the functionaries of the cosmos are installed in their appropriate positions and given their appropriate roles. Using the company analogy, they are assigned their offices, told to whom they will report, and thus given an idea of their place in the company. Their workday is determined by the clock, and they are expected to be productive. Foremen have been put in place, and the plant is now ready for operation. But before the company is ready to operate, the owner is going to arrive and move into his office. (pg. 71)

We will come back to this point at the end of chapter 2, but it is interesting on the front end to note that deities generally in the ANE only take up office in temples. Now consider the text of Day 7:

The heavens and the earth were completed with everything that was in them. By the seventh day God finished the work that he had been doing (Asa), and he ceased (Shabat) on the seventh day all the work that he had been doing (Asa). God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it he ceased (Shabat) all the work that he had been doing (Asa) in creation.

I included the Hebrew verbs for you, to see how the idea of resting here in relation to work is not necessary one of ceasing from activity completely. What was the work God had been doing? He had been appointing functionaries and ordering the materials of the universe. Once that was done, God didn’t stop working and is now leisurely resting off in heaven somewhere. Rather, God is engaged in ruling his creation without any obstacles, as he sits on his throne in heaven (analogous in Walton’s quote about sitting in his office managing the affairs of the company).

Some of this was intended to be accomplished through his representative, the physical image of Himself that he placed on earth. This is not the sole meaning of the Imago Dei (image of God) but it is certainly included within it. For God to place an image of Himself in the garden was to not produce a physical depiction of what He looks like, but rather was to have a physical manifestation of His personal presence, and thus be a vehicle for His activities on earth.

We’ll return to this later when we unpack the metaphysical significance of being created in the image of God, but a brief comment seemed in order.

Conclusion of Genesis 1 Narrative

I think in some measure, it is helpful here to emphasize what I am not saying:

  • I am not saying that evolution is more or less plausible by removing the science from Genesis 1.
  • Also, I am not denying a historical-literal-grammatical interpretation of the text in favor of a more allegorical or symbolic one.
  • I am not denying that God created materially the heavens and the earth and all that is in them.
  • I am not denying the presence of material creation in Genesis 1.
  • I am not undermining inerrancy or inspiration by pointing out parallels in the ANE background that Moses might have used in authoring Genesis 1.

Here though are some points to be made about this kind of understanding of Genesis 1:

  • The philosophy underlying evolution is negated by Genesis 1:1, however, this says nothing about the potential age of the earth, or the process by which our modern species have come to be. Given the immense diversity of life that we now see, and if we take Noah’s Ark as factual, then everything we have now can potentially be traced back to a single pair of ancestor animals for its species. Evolution on a micro level does happen, which Darwin helped bring to the table. However, on the macro level, there is no evidence of say a modern kangaroo and a modern tree frog sharing a common ancestor, which is exactly what individuals like Richard Dawkins will argue for (you can read more on that here).
  • Rather than denying a historical-literal-grammatical interpretation, I am arguing for actually taking seriously the historical and the grammatical rather than fixating on the literal like most interpreters of Genesis are prone to do. In order to interpret it historically, one needs to know the historical background, the contemporary literature at that time, and the cognitive environment of the original author and his audience. Understanding all this, that the Israelites (and the rest of the ANE) had a radically different cosmic geography, wrote about origins in a non-scientific fashion, lacking a strictly historical chronological ordering of events, and conceived of existence in terms of function, purpose, and naming is necessary to understand Moses’ intentions in Genesis 1.
  • As for the grammatical, everyone is reliant on someone who understands Hebrew grammar to unpack the OT for you. You can learn it yourself, or depend on someone who already has, but those are the only two options. The Holy Spirit can illumine the spiritual truth for you, but I am not aware of a case of the Spirit illuminating the background culture (or the grammar and syntax, for that matter) without conscious effort on the interpreters part. As such, you can spiritually grasp the point of Genesis 1 (God made and rules everything, and you should worship him as such) without understanding the cognitive backdrop of the text. But you can’t interpret it at the level that most people attempt to, unless you understand more of the original context and language.
  • While Genesis 1:1 stands as a rather clear affirmation that God created the world ex nihilo (out of nothing), the Hebrew “bara” does not mean that on its own. That is to say the context gives the word that nuance, and even within the text of Genesis 1, it only appears outside v.1 three times. Once in relation to the giant sea creatures, and then twice in relation to man. Were these the only two beings directly then created ex nihilo?
  • In the case of man, you might be tempted to say yes, but remember what happens in Genesis 2, man is not created ex nihilo, but it fashioned out of dirt and then given a spirit. The creation of man as an entity was certainly by divine fiat (by God’s spoken word), but even that does not necessarily equal creation out of nothing. Once again, it is not the material aspect that is in view, but the creative power of God to establish functions, order, and exercise power and dominion over everything.

The bottom line, and this is what is hard for some to swallow, is that we do not know in a literal sense how God made everything. We know who created (Yahweh) and why he created (to provide a dwelling for fellowship with man and to display his glory), but the Bible is not meant to illumine how or when in the way that we want it to. Certainly some aspects of creation were made out of nothing, for there was a time when all that existed was the Triune God, and then there was a time when there was something else. We do not know when exactly that took place, or exactly how it took place, but we know that it did.

Genesis 1 then serves as an inspired piece of literature, written by Moses depicting God’s creative activity in a manner that is not scientific and is not a strict chronological historical account of exactly how everything took place. A quote from Scott Horrell’s class notes for ST103 (here at DTS) might be helpful:

Like all biblical authors, God inspired Moses in light of the language and thought forms of his culture(s) and education. Yet while incorporating certain pagan imagery, Moses was directed by God to speak against distorted cosmologies and false deities so highly revered by the sophisticated cultures of his day. Moses was inspired by God to speak of primal creation, or original “very goodness” of Adam and Eve’s creation, and the fall perpetrated by the Serpent of old that broke human fellowship with the Creator. This same God breathed language continues throughout the Old Testament and continues on in the New.” (emphasis original)

This really all we are getting at here. Don’t read Genesis 1 expecting it to answer the questions you bring to it. Don’t expect to find a scientific basis there to refute evolution (because it is not a scientific argument anyway) and most of all, don’t read it without pondering what is meant by what the text itself clearly affirms. That God created everything in the universe and is sovereign over all of it. You as a human are representing God on the earth, either accurately or inaccurately. If you worship this God as you were originally intended to do, you will have fellowship with and him and reflect His presence in the world. If you refuse…well…we’re getting a couple of chapters ahead now aren’t we?

Nate

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

One response to Genesis 1: Concluding Thoughts

  1. Seeing imago dei in terms of your function-oriented ANE worldview is a pretty cool idea. I’m looking forward to what you have to say on imago dei. I’ll save further comments on that until then.
    And “As such, you can spiritually grasp the point of Genesis 1 (God made and rules everything, and you should worship him as such) without understanding the cognitive backdrop of the text” would probably apply to any part of the Bible. Spiritually, any part of the Bible should lead to that point, or at least to the worship part, without needing any background. Might be an interesting purpose statement for a commentary. Or premise for a blog series.

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