Creation and Worldview (RJS)

I received a book from the publisher last week, Science, Creation and the Bible: Reconciling Rival Theories of Origins by Richard F. Carlson and Tremper Longman III. (Actually, the publisher sent it to Scot in December and Scot passed it along last week.) This book provides another angle on the question of creation and the intent of the creation narratives in Genesis. Richard Carlson is a research physicist at the University of Redlands in Redlands California. Tremper Longman III is an old testament scholar, the Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. The book is short and readable. It complements Denis Lamoureux’s thinking as we discussed in the long series on Evolutionary Creation, but with some different insights and distinctions. I am going to put up two posts on this book – the first on creation in scripture and the second on the proposal Carlson and Longman make for the interpretation of the creation narratives in Genesis 1-2.

Chapter 4 of Carlson and Longman’s book looks at the portrayal of creation in Isaiah 40, Job 38-41, and Psalms 8, 33, 74, 104, 145, and 148. Chapter 5 turns to creation in the New Testament in John 1, Romans 1, Romans 8, Colossians 1, and Hebrews 1. These passages are integral to the interpretation of Genesis 1,2. Given that scripture is inspired by God, one should not, they claim, interpret the Genesis creation narratives in isolation from the rest of scripture.

The creation Psalms express worship of God as Creator in a form consistent with the longer creation passages in Genesis, Isaiah, and Job. The ancient cosmology or ancient views of the method of creation are incidental to the expression of worship to God as the creator.  The other creation passages, those in Isaiah, Job, and the New Testament will be considered in more detail below. The question I would like to consider is quite simple: What does scripture teach about creation – and how is creation used in scripture. More specifically:

How do the various references to creation in scripture help determine the appropriate interpretation of Genesis 1-2?

Isaiah 40:12-31, written during the Babylonian exile according to Longman and Carlson, presents ideas about creation in the context of rhetorical questions about the power of God and his ability to deliver his people from the Babylonians. According to Carlson and Longman:

The central message of Isaiah 40:12-31 is that God has the ability to carry out his promises to his people. The passage focuses on God and his relation to creation, to history, to pagan “deities” and to his people.

To summarize, Isaiah addresses the greatest difficulty faced up to that time by the people of Israel, that of the Babylonian exile. He did this through posing and then answering a series of rhetorical questions by appealing to YHWH as the creator, controller, sustainer, and wisdom of all creation. (p. 81)

Job 38-41. The use of creation in Job is worth considering carefully. The book of Job considers profound questions about the origin of suffering, the relationship of suffering to the guilt or innocence of the one who suffers, and the appropriate response to suffering. Job cries out to God and God responds to Job by reference to creation, to his hand in creation and to the mystery and paradox of creation.

In referring to the cosmic order and the animal creation, God does not simply give Job some scientific information. Instead, God asks Job to consider the mystery and complexity of the created order that God himself fashioned, and to learn important principles from that. The point is that the natural order of the universe parallels the moral order in many ways, some of the natural order being beyond human understanding. Som aspects seem hideous, futile, wasteful, or fearsome, but all represent the work of a wise God who intentionally made the cosmos in the way it is for his own purpose. (p. 87)

In 38:1-40:2 God speaks of the wonders and mysteries of his creation. He speaks of nine kinds of animals, chosen seemingly at random, but ranging from useful to fearsome to silly.

God points out to Job that all features of the cosmos and all animals are the result of his creation, all part of his deliberate order for the universe. If Job understands this, then can Job also accept the fact that at least some cases of human suffering arise simply from the unfathomable wisdom of God in terms of the overall plan of creation, a wisdom beyond human understanding? (p. 88)

Even the Behemoth and Leviathan, symbols of chaos, are part of God’s creation, and God is in control. In response Job worships and acknowledges that he is inadequate to understand. In the text God refers to creation to answer Job in his crisis of faith. The answer is not that God made a good creation and mankind messed it up. The answer is that the creation we see is God’s good plan, and that includes everything from the awesome, to the fearsome, to the useful, to the foolish, including the silly ostrich … “Because God has made her forget wisdom, And has not given her a share of understanding.

The New Testament adds to the understanding of creation – but the intent, with the possible exception of Romans 8, is to reflect on Jesus as agent in creating and sustaining the world. Jesus was in the beginning, all things came into being through him, he upholds all things and he is active in redemption. The New Testament view of creation is thoroughly Christ-centered, not Christ as the solution to a problem, but Christ as the one who formed and sustains all.

[God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. Hebrews 1:2

He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.  John 1:2-3

For by Him all things were created, … all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  Col 1:16-17

This is a powerful addition and extension of the Old Testament creation narratives, but it is consistent with the way creation is referenced in the Old Testament. Now though, the power is shown to be through Jesus Christ.

Some thoughts. This compilation of creation references in scripture paint an interesting picture. In fact, they paint a picture of creation that seems to be at odds with the typical expression of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. In particular the reference to creation in the response by God to Job does not lay blame at the foot of mankind. Rather creation, with its mysteries, its paradoxes, and its seemingly pointless suffering is all part of God’s creation. While the idea of a human fall is consistent – the fall is not a cosmic reordering. This, I would say, causes one to think about the complaint that acceptance of evolution paints creation as red in tooth and claw. The book of Job provides no reason to think that this was not, or could not be, part of God’s creative plan.

The second aspect that sticks out here is the centrality of Christ in creation as the early church wrestled with the revelation given them in the incarnation, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The conviction of the early church was not that Jesus was the solution to a problem, but that Jesus was the one through whom and by whom all came into being. Jesus was the  radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his nature (from Heb 1:3). The view of Christ crucified preached in much of our church just doesn’t seem to go deep enough.

What do you think?

Is the reference to creation in the book of Job an important component of our overall understanding of God, his role as creator, and his creation?

How do the NT passages on creation change the picture?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

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  • J.L. Schafer

    “The conviction of the early church was not that Jesus was the solution to a problem, but that Jesus was the one through whom and by whom all came into being. Jesus was the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his nature (from Heb 1:3). The view of Christ crucified preached in much of our church just doesn’t seem to go deep enough.”

    Yes, yes, yes.

  • dopderbeck

    This is a really excellent book. Tremper Longman is a wonderful scholar and the book is very accessible. Highly recommended.

    And yes, I think it’s important to consider the whole of the Bible’s varied and beautifully textured witness concerning creation into account.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Job and Psalms are poetical books, and the passage in Isaiah is cast in poetical form. OTOH, whatever genre we take Genesis to be, it is decidedly not set as Hebrew poetry. Should the creation passage in Genesis be taken grounded in the poetry of Job, Psalms and Isaiah? Or should it not be taken the other way around, with the poetical passages being grounded in the Genesis text?

    Consider, for example, the American Revolution. We have the historical accounts and there are also poems written about it. Certainly the poems can tell us some things about what the American Revolution means, but usually in more abstracted forms. But if they were not grounded in the historical realities of the revolution, they would be nothing more than philosophical musings or wishful thinkings.

    So poetry can tell us about the meaning of certain events, but they are not necessarily definitive accounts about what those events are as a matter of history.

  • Charlie Clauss

    Interesting fragment …”with the exception of Romans 8…”

    Job, and a more positive view of the complexity of Creation, will need to be wedded to Romans 8′s view that Creation is waiting to be “set free from its bondage to decay.”

  • rjs

    Charlie,

    The original post says “with the possible exception of Romans 8” I don’t think that this is an exception actually, but it requires much more discussion. Romans 8 certainly isn’t a statement of Christ as the one through whom all is made. Rather it is a statement about the redemption of the creation through Christ … set free from bondage should be read in context of Job and Isaiah as well as Genesis – not with a story constructed from an interpretation of Genesis 3 and Romans 5:12 in isolation from all else.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Romans 8 should be read in light of Romans 5:12, which is a much more immediate context than Psalms, Job or Isaiah. Inasmuch as Romans 8 deals specifically with creation, it should not be excepted from consideration with other creation texts, particularly if one of the aspects being considered has to do with the Fall (which is part of the question in the opening post).

  • rjs

    Jeff,

    Carlson and Longman interpret Romans 8 in terms of curse and redemption, with the curse referring back to Genesis 3 and humanity’s sin. Redemption is cosmic, and redemption is through Christ. In this sense it is not a creation text as much as a text that describes the current state and the hope for the future.

    They also connect it with John 3:16 and God loving the world – which uses the word cosmos. Again redemption is cosmic.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Romans 8 expressly pertains to the creation; not to the creation event, but to what was created in that event in Genesis 1 and 2. In speaking of it being delivered from the bondage of corruption, it is an expression of the fall of creation that took place in Genesis 3. Yes, redemption is cosmic, and not merely about mankind, because the fall was cosmic, and not merely about mankind.

    Though Genesis 3 is not about the acts of creation, it should not be isolated from the discussion, because it is important in explaining how the creation came to be as it is. Therefore, Romans 8, in reflecting the fall, is an important passage for the overall understanding on creation. It is as worthy of consideration as John 1, Romans 1, Colossians 1 and Hebrews 1, because the Jesus who created the cosmos is the same Jesus who is redeeming it from the bondage into which it fell.

  • rjs

    Jeff,

    Longman and Carlson affirm the reality of a fall without taking the depiction of the fall in Gen. 3 as a literal historical account of the process. Personally I do as well – and the fact that Lamoureux seemed to dismiss this without serious consideration was one of the features of his book that I found troublesome. I tried to get some discussion of this in the post on the BioLogos statement (A Statement on Science, Faith, and Human Origins) but the discussion didn’t go far. It will come back again in future posts I am sure.

  • Travis Greene

    Jeff,

    I don’t think your metaphor of Genesis as some kind of “definitive historical account” like a history textbook on the American revolution, with Psalms and Isaiah and Job as “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”, is very helpful or accurate. Genesis may not exactly be poetry, but it’s not exactly prose either, and certainly isn’t history by anything like the way we use that word. I don’t think we should over-privilege Genesis or the other creation accounts, but read them all in tandem, and yes, in conversation with what the natural sciences can tell us.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    Whether Genesis 3 is a literal account was not the point I had in mind. My point was that,if the creation account is meant to tell us how the world came to be as it is today, then the fall is part of that. Inasmuch as Romans 8 speaks of creation (what has been created, rather than the act of creation) being “delivered from the bondage of corruption,” that suggests to me that, however the world was created and however Genesis 1 is to be taken, the creation was not initially in bondage to corruption, but that something cataclysmic has happened since the beginning which brought the creation into bondage to corruption. Biblically, I locate that in the account of the fall in Genesis 3. Whether that is to be taken literally or figuratively, I believe that it refers to an event that happened somehow. Of course, I, also, was troubled by Lamoureux’s dismissal of the reality of the fall, but I am glad to know that Longman and Carlson affirm it.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    My point, Travis, is that Genesis 1-2 is not at all Hebrew poetry. It is a very different form of literature from the poetical books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon). It is prose, although exactly what kind of prose or proses is a different question (e.g. genealogies, chronicles, or history, though not in the modern manner). We need to be careful that we do not impose our own modern Western ideas of poetry and its conventions on an ancient Eastern text. Hebrew poetry may be much more figurative than chronicles or genealogies, so we need to be careful that we do not stretch the latter all out of shape by taking everything as figurative.

  • Charlie Clauss

    I should refrain from “drive by blog comment posts.”

    I was just struck by the reference to Romans 8 (the comment in its origional context had nothing to do with where my mind went). My point: the discussion about Job pointing to a more positive view of the “current” state of creation must be balanced with a view such as Romans 8 that points to the current state of Creation being in some way broken.

    I was reacting against this comment:
    “In fact, they paint a picture of creation that seems to be at odds with the typical expression of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. In particular the reference to creation in the response by God to Job does not lay blame at the foot of mankind. Rather creation, with its mysteries, its paradoxes, and its seemingly pointless suffering is all part of God’s creation. While the idea of a human fall is consistent – the fall is not a cosmic reordering.”

    I am very interested in a fuller narrative, one that gets away from the narrow individualism of much Evangelical discourse. And Romans 8 certainly points to a Redemption that is “cosmic.” But if Redemption is cosmic, does it not follow that the “problem” is cosmic?

  • John W Frye

    While Genesis 1 may not be poetry comparable to Psalms, Song of Songs, etc, it is undeniably a narrative work of art. U. Cassuto’s analysis of the structure leaves the exegete as breathless as a musician contemplating Bach. You can find this in *The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch: Eight Lectures* by U. Cassuto (translated from the Hebrew by Israel Abrahams).

    The author of Gen 1 (and beyond) was a poetic/literary genius within the ANE mindset and with Hebrew language.

  • http://www.TheFaithLog.com Jeff Doles

    I’m not sure the ancient Hebrews would have considered Genesis as a “work of art.” Such expressions are more of a modern metaphor that gets applied to any number of things that are not necessarily produced as art.

  • http://hamiltonmj1983.wordpress.com Matthew Hamilton

    I actually have been posting a lot on how to interpret the creation story and the story of Adam and Eve. See my blog – hamiltonmj1983.wordpress.com – for more on my view, and I also have a few questions posted that I would love for you all to answer, please and thank you!


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