Sunday, September 9, 2012

Through the Bible, Week Two

Creation and Humanity

This discussion will take two or more posts.   As we saw last week, Genesis One is more about the Creator than creation.  It is a monotheistic polemic that places all things- in six sequential days of creative activity - under the order of God's loving will.  At the apex of this order stands the creation of humanity, on the sixth day.  The pagan world which surrounded Israel would often make idols of the objects created in days one through five, which according to this picture of reality is an inversion of superiority.  Humanity is the only divine 'image-bearer" in creation and thus the only object worthy of sacred recognition (but not worship).

Genesis Two is an alternate account of creation which expands substantially on the sixth day of creation, the creation of humanity as male and female.  Whereas Genesis one portrays the creation of male and female as a fiat, simultaneous and fully equal, Genesis two elaborates on this act of creation.  There is great scholarly energy exercised over the differences between Genesis one and two which places much emphasis on the differences.  These differences are usually attributed to different sources and authorial intent.  Though the differences are surely there and not to be flattened out, it is also important to see that they belong together as complementary visions of creation.  Genesis one portrays creation from a vertical, transcendent perspective.  The primary actor is "Elohim" the high, transcendent God of the Hebrews.  Genesis two is from a horizontal,  immanent perspective.  "Yahweh" the LORD, is the primary actor.  Genesis one is the work of the ultimate God.  Genesis two is the work of the intimate God.  Creation and the character of God are too rich and multi-dimensional to be captured in one perspective.  So the first act of the Bible - creation and especially the creation of humanity - is repeated with variation. 

Repeated with variation is a key literary device of the Bible.  And this repitition works both at the macro-level and micro-level.  I will briefly illustrate

1.  Macro-level:  The history of Israel is told in the primary history of Genesis through 2 Kings.  It is then repeated with variation in Chronicles, a secondary history with its own unique perspective and purpose.  One detects the same repeating of primary history in the New Testament.  John's Gospel is a repeat with variation  of the primary history of Jesus in Matthew, Mark and Luke ( and these three comprise a common perspective with variation, thus known as the "synoptic" - similiar view - Gospels).

2. Micro-level: We have three sister-bride stories in Genesis, two are about Abraham and Sarah and one is about Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 12, 20 and 26, respectively).  The repetition is a way of underscoring emphasis and importance, making sure the reader gets the lesson of the narrative.  The variation, though, signifies nuance and meaning of its own.

 What we have is another "rule for reading" the Bible.   Repitition with variation is one of the Bible's signals, teaching us what is important to the Bible.  It is a way of developing the plot and the characters within the plot.  It is a primary way the Bible suggest there is a surplus of meaning in the Biblical story, one that cannot be captured in one perspective.  And differences in those perspectives are not to intimidate us but rather serve to invite us into the kind of relationship with God that demands our fullest attention and our deepest commitments in order to participate in the purposes for which the Bible was written.


  1. Tory+,
    Greetings from Africa where I'm really enjoying your blog. I'm looking forward to being able to get my hands on a copy of Stott's book and digging into it too, as soon as some visitors arrive next month bringing mail & packages.

    I found your explanation of the differences in the Genesis 1 & Genesis 2 narratives to be extremely helpful, particularly your words "Creation and the character of God are too rich and multi-dimensional to be captured in one perspective.

    FANTASTIC!! That explains a lot of the "repetition" of Scripture - the 4 gospel accounts, Kings & Chronicles, etc., and will be a very useful line for me to use with some of those I teach Scripture to here, who often find the differences in the gospels confusing.

    Praying for God's rich blessing on your sabbatical time, and for restoration & strength for Elizabeth and your whole family. And keeping Truro much in prayer too. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts on Scripture via the blog. It's a blessing!

    Karen B.

    1. Thanks Karen. This is year I am trying to help our folks see how scripture itself teaches how to read Abraham Heschel says.

      Think of this is a blog antidote; the best way to correct bad exegesis so to demonstrate good exegesis (or at least try to do so)!

      Thanks for all the prayers from Africa. Elizabeth's brain surgery was very successful, evidenced by a good and steady recovery.

      Truro loves you.