I’ve begun a new series looking at the book of Genesis. This series will be shaped around the new commentary by Tremper Longman III on Genesis in the Story of God Series, but will also use his short book How to Read Genesis (HRG) along with the commentaries by John Walton (The NIV Application Commentary Genesis) and Bill Arnold (Genesis (New Cambridge Bible Commentary)). When we begin the first chapter of Genesis however, there are a wide range of other books we can bring into the discussion as well. John Walton’s Lost World of Genesis One heads the list, accompanied by C. John Collins Genesis 1-4 and John Sailhammer’s Genesis Unbound among many others we could include.
There is broad agreement that Genesis 1 is a theological history – that is, it intends to tell of the creation and formation of the world. It does so in a stylized literary fashion that uses figurative language. It is not a scientific account of creation. Some will argue that it says nothing about the origin of matter (this being a topic not of importance to the original ancient Israelite audience) but rather describes the origin for form, function, and order. Tremper Longman thinks it does relate creation from nothing (i.e. the origin of matter) but this would impact only the first verse, and doesn’t have any material impact on the overall interpretation.
Genesis 1 is written in the cultural environment of the ancient Near East, to address the questions and concerns raised by this environment. It was not and is not intended to address modern scientific questions. That the form and function of the world was brought forth from a primordial chaotic sea was a common assumption in the ancient Near East and this is seen in Genesis 1. Other elements of ancient cosmology are seen in the text as well (the vault of the sky for example). More important is what is not seen in the text. God alone is creator. The world was not formed in a violent conflict with other deities. There is no pantheon of gods. The sun, moon and stars are creations, not divine entities. Considering the role that idolatry plays in the history of Israel, this is a rather important point.
It is a beautiful passage, and a fantastic way to start the story of Israel. It is worth looking at the passage in its entirety.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.
And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.
And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.
And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
Live the Story. The Story of God commentaries look specifically at the impact of the passage for us today. Longman brings out seven points.
- God is creator and we are creatures. There is nothing that stands as God’s equal or peer. Forgetting this distinction between Creator and creature is the heart of idolatry. The sun, moon, and stars are not divine. Human rulers are not divine. Man made images are not divine.
- God is sovereign, self-sufficient, and supreme. God is also involved and remains involved.
- Gender and sexuality are part of creation (but not part of the Creator). Both men and women are created in the image of God, reflecting divine glory, and commanded to fill and rule the earth. Longman also notes that God is not male. While it is convenient to use a male pronoun, “maleness” is not a divine attribute. Scripture uses female metaphors at times and this is not heretical. (Calling God “she” would not be heretical either – although it is unnecessarily combative in our culture.)
- Creation is good.
- God consecrates the seventh day and makes it holy, although the humans are not commanded to observe the Sabbath in Genesis. From this Longman suggests that the command to observe the Sabbath was for Israel, but does not apply to Church. “Christ fulfills the Sabbath. No longer is there a single “holy” day, but all days are holy, given to God. No longer is Sabbath observance a matter of law.” (p. 41)
- Christ is the very image of God. The faithful human (fully human and fully divine). “Humans are called to be come a new creature in Christ and thus ‘to be like God in true righteousness and holiness'” (Eph 4:24). (p. 42)
- All humans are created in the image of God.
Those we love, dislike, annoy us, bring us joy, – all are created in the image of God and should be treated with our deepest respect and concern. Those of all races, both genders, different sexual orientations, professions and occupations, rich and poor – all reflect God’s glory and represent his presence in the world. (p. 44)
The image of God is given to humanity as a whole, not selectively to some humans while being withheld from others. This shapes the biblical and Christian ethical framework.
What impact should Genesis 1 have for Christians today?
Where is the primary message?
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