The Message of Genesis 1 in a Single Picture

The Message of Genesis 1 in a Single Picture June 13, 2018

When Moses taught Genesis 1, he wasn’t thinking to himself, “Hmm. What would Darwin say?” Most people will concede, “Yes, I know the purpose of Genesis 1 is not to refute evolution or the Big Bang.” In practice, however, they routinely use the chapter for the sake of apologetics at the expense of its message.

The Purpose of Creation

In China, like elsewhere, believers and non-believers debate the meaning of the Bible’s opening account. I personally think most of these discussions have little value. They are so filled with speculation and devoid of exegesis that it’s difficult to say, “It is good.” How many conversations begin in Genesis 1 only then to devolve into debates about scientific theories about which few are experts?

What gets lost in the process? The purpose God had for inspiring the creation account in the first place.

Rather than dispute the age of the earth or some “gap theory” interpretation, let’s consider what the text itself intends to convey to us and its original audience. Even if someone disagrees with John Walton’s conclusions, his comments about the ancient near eastern background of Genesis is helpful.

What’s more, he highlights a number of features in the text that theologians have observed for centuries. Even if one thinks Genesis refers to 7 24-hour days, scholars acknowledge a distinct literary structure. I’ll skip most of the nitty-gritty details and point to a few major theological takeaways.

The video below illustrates several of these conclusions.

Genesis Paints a Picture

Genesis 1(–2) depicts the world as God’s Temple, his sanctuary.[1] In Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology, Walton summarizes,

“[T]he seven-day structure of Genesis 1 reflects the intention of the author to present creation of the cosmos in terms of the inauguration of a cosmic temple. As in a temple inauguration, which in its core elements is the initiating of sacred space and its commensurate ritual functions, …. The entire cosmos is viewed as a temple designed to function on behalf of humanity; and when God takes up his rest in this cosmic temple, it “comes into (functional) existence” (real existence in ancient thinking) by virtue of his presence.” (p. 190)

The theme of “ruling” pervades the text, as in Gen 1:16 (x2), 18, 1:26, 28. Ultimately, the chapter exalts God as the world’s sovereign King.

Inside this cosmic temple, God’s places his image, humanity, who function like priest-kings who are called “to work it and keep it” (2:15). Humanity is to be a kingdom of priests.

Genesis 1 contains so many fundamental aspects of the Bible’s theology and message. And yet, we often skip over or minimize it.

The video above provides a simple picture to remember the message of Genesis 1. If you don’t have a phone or computer with you, no problem. You can draw the shapes (e.g., triangle = temple, sanctuary) and stick figures (e.g., people, animals) to symbolize the main contours of the Story.

[1] Temples and sanctuaries were typically depicted as gardens in the ancient world.

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