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Home > Bible Studies > BibleJourney > Genesis > Issue 6

BibleJourney: Genesis

Issue 6

ISSN 1535-5187

Only One God. Genesis 1.3-2.4a
by Winn Griffin, D.Min.

Observing the Stuff

Substitutes
We have substitutes for almost everything today. Substitute sugar and substitute fat are two that come to mind. We are a generation not unlike any other generation; we love to substitute something lesser for something more. We are no different that the ancient world in this manner. Their biggest substitute was other gods for Yahweh. This was just as true of the Jews as any other nation in their infancy as well as in their maturity.

We live in the Western world today with a delusion that our world is somehow "Christian" or somehow natural when it comes to other gods. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our society is as thoroughly pagan as the ancient world was pagan. There are idols galore. But, we think that because we don't have some molded image sitting on our mantel that we bow down and worship that we don't have any idols to be rid of. When we begin to worship anything that God has created instead of the God who created, we are in jeopardy of worshipping an idol.

The point of Genesis 1.1-2.4a is that there is only one God to be worshipped. He is it! As a new nation, just delivered from the land of Egypt [ Map ], they were in great need to understand that the God of their forefathers who had delivered them was, in fact, the only God that they should worship.

These thoughts are not usually in our mind when we open Scripture to its first pages and begin to read the story of Creation in Genesis 1.1-2.4a. We are more apt to think that we are to discover how God created the earth. This was not the driving question among the Hebrews as it is in our own day.

The Scopes Trial in a previous generation, century, and millennium for that matter, turned twentieth-century Christians into a war with science. Darwin became its chief dialogical partner. So against what Darwin taught, Christians reached out into the Bible to combat it. Making Genesis 1.1-2.4a an argument against Darwinism and teaching it as a scientific fact was not and is not the focus of this first story of Scripture. The first storyteller, Moses, and the hearers of the story, Israel in the wilderness, did not have privy to Darwin's theory. His theory was not part of their mindset.

A Thought about the god of Science
Modern science and the first chapter of Genesis are answering different questions. Science wants to know the answer to one question: "How did this happen?" The story in Genesis is interested in answering the question: "Who created the world?' Science has become a god of the modern world that tempts us to believe that "how" is the only valid question to be asked. The beginning stories in Genesis were not written to handle the issues that were raised by twentieth and twenty-first century science. It was told and written by an ancient to handle the issues of his day. As an example: the ancient worldview believed that mankind was just simply an afterthought that the gods were not happy about. In contrast to this ancient belief, the storyteller of the creation narrative asserts that humankind (man), male and female, was the goal of God's creation. The ancient author goes about deconstructing the polytheistic belief system and replacing it with a monotheistic one. It is our task as modern readers to concentrate on the scene into which this bit of storytelling came and not waste time trying to solve some scientific issue that is foreign to the purpose of the story.

A Present Quandary
We get caught in a quagmire between our need to have meaning and what it meant to the first teller of the story and his listeners. Since science and especially Darwin was not a part of the original storytellers or listener's mindset, we must look elsewhere for the meaning of the story.

With a plurality of gods to worship, God's intention through Moses was to let his children know that he was the creator of the world in which they lived and the gods that they would be called on to worship were not really gods at all. The idea that there was only one God and it was he who created the world is what separates the Old Testament faith from its ancient Near Eastern counterparts.

BackStory
In a time far, far, away, much different from ours, the children of God (Israel) were surrounded with a lifestyle of polytheism. Polytheism was a belief system in the ancient world that there were many gods to be worshipped. The ancient world believed that there was a pantheon of gods who were responsible for the creation of the world. Israel lived among these ancient beliefs.

God had recently delivered Israel from a land with plentiful gods, including the belief that the Pharaoh was himself a god. The Hebrews sat at the foot of Mt. Sinai, a newly redeemed people of God. At Mt Sinai, God, through his servant Moses, gave them instructions that would turn their heads toward him and away from polytheism.

Their destination, the land of promise, was also overrunning with polytheism. So there they sat having been delivered from a land filled with polytheism, headed to a land filled with a belief in many gods.

It was during this period of time that Moses first revealed the creation account that we read in Genesis 1.1-2.4a. Thus, to understand Genesis the way these first people would have heard it is to hear it against a backdrop of polytheism. God was strongly urging his newly redeemed children to understand that there was really only one God that they were to serve. He had even given them a covenant stipulation to that effect (Exodus 20.2a).

If there had been public schools among the ancient Hebrews in the wilderness, the burning question of debate would have surrounded monotheism (one God) and polytheism (many gods). Questions surely would not have been around creation and evolution, which is an issue that certain Americans, who now live thousands of years later in the midst of a scientific worldview, might imagine it to be.

Interpreting the Stuff

Genesis 1.3-2.4a
We discussed the first two verses in our previous issue. Let's begin by seeing the overall structure of 1.3-2.4a. To convey meaning to an audience, Biblical storytellers and writers used certain structural schemes that help them communicate the message they were delivering. In the creation story is given such a structure. The storyteller constructed his story in seven parts that correspond to the six containers of creation and one container of rest. In the first six time periods, God orders his world out of chaos. The structure is as follows:

Forming

Filling

Day 1

Light (and darkness)

Day 4

Light Holders
(sun and moon)

Day 2

Sky and Sea

Day 5

Fish and Birds

Day 3

Earth and Vegetation

Day 6

Animals and Man
(male and female)

God's creation on the first three creative containers accommodated what was to be created on the last three days.

Each of the first six creative containers has the same internal structural design. Each container is like a creative chant.

  1. And God said (an introduction to each container of creation)
  2. Let there be (the creative word)
  3. And it was so (the fulfillment of the creative word)
  4. God called (Name giving)
  5. And God saw that it was good (a divine commendation)
  6. And there was evening, and there was morning-… (Conclusion of container)

It is not difficult to see that this story by its structure would tell Israel that their God was a God who brought perceivable order out of chaos. Of course, God's order was in contrast to the gods of the ancient mind, who did things haphazardly or as an afterthought.

The Six Acts of Creation
Day One: Genesis 1.3-5. And God said destroyed the primeval cosmic silence and signaled the birth of a new order. God said means that God thought or willed and signified that he is wholly independent of his creation. In each of the creative containers, God dismissed two gods within polytheism. The intent of the storyteller of this little story is to demonstrate that God is the creator even of those things that their society may have thought to be gods. So, on this first day, the gods of light and darkness are dismissed. God called placed him in the position of power over the object that was named. In the ancient world the one who gave a name had power over the object named. What about time? Should the twenty-four hour days of creation be taken literally? One might ask how there could be a day of twenty-four hours before the sun and moon were present to determine days, which did not occur until Day Four.

Day Two: Genesis 1.6-8. In the second container of creation, God dismissed two more gods of the ancient world, the gods of sky and sea. Remember that the intent of the author is to present his material to be recited for ease of remembrance, as well as training the Israelites that monotheism, not polytheism, was their inheritance.

Day Three: Genesis 1.9-13. In the third creation container, the earth gods and gods of vegetation were booted. Hesiod was a contemporary writer with Homer. In his Theogony, he writes about the generation of the gods. The family tree of the gods was: In the beginning was Chaos, and from Chaos came Earth (Gaia) and Heaven. In the 1960s James Lovelock, a British Chemist specializing in the atmospheric sciences, revived the old primeval goddess Gaia, suggesting that the earth is alive, a living organism. They suggest that the earth is able to to self-regulate essential characteristics of its environment, such as the average temperature, the salinity of the oceans, and the mixture of gases (such as oxygen and carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere.

Pantheism is an ancient religion. In today's world those who practice Taoism and Universalism are pantheists. Pantheists accept and embrace life, the body, and the earth, but do not believe in any supernatural deity. Being a pantheist was not an option for the ancient Hebrew (and I might say for the Christian either).

Day Four: Genesis 1.14-19. The sun, moon, and star gods are now dismissed. We should take note that the author did not call these gods by their names, but referred to them as the greater and lesser lights. By doing so, he removed their divinity. To speak the name of the god was to give it its divine authority.

Day Five: Genesis 1.20-23. The fifth day of creation brought the dismissal of the fish and foul gods.

Day Six: Genesis 1.24-31. The last repository of creation disposed of human male and female gods such as pharaohs, kings, and heroes who were believed to be gods. God created man (adam) male and female. God created man in his image. This phrase may indicate that God created humankind to be a community. While our culture places a high value on individualism, the ancient Hebrew culture was being trained to place a high value on community. This theme certainly continues in the New Testament with the many metaphors for the Church, like the Body of Christ. Even after the fall, Scripture can still say that man is in God's image (Gen. 9.6). Genesis 1.28 makes it clear that God intended Adam and Eve to have children in their sinless state. He commanded them to be fruitful and increase. God invented human sexuality within the framework of marriage (see Gen. 2) for both procreation and enjoyment. Sexual expression is a joyful affirmation of a married couple's intimacy. What God had created and said was very good, pleased him. We could substitute the words exceedingly good as an appropriate picture for the evaluation of humankind. On each day of creation another set of gods was smashed and in their place was a pronounced creation of the one and only God.

Note. Gen 1.26. The Creation of Mankind (male and female)
Four things could be noted about the passage in which the creation of humankind is told.

  1. Man is made in the image of God. In the ancient world an image was believed to carry the essence of that which it represented. An idol image of a deity was used in the worship of that deity because it contained the deity's essence, not because it looked the same as the deity. The deity's work was believed to be accomplished through the idol. It is through the image of God (his community) that he intends to accomplish his work in the world. Also, in this passage the word us refers to the angels in the heavenly council (Psalm 82.1; 89.7) that made up the community in which God was the creator.
  2. Traditionally, New Testament believers have thought the us of this passage to refer to the Trinity. While this is a possible fuller interpretation with New Testament in hand, it was not the primary meaning of the words from the mouth of Moses. It seems his intent was to declare that Israel, like God, needed to be concerned about being in community, because that was the purpose of God for creating male and female as a community, to bear his essence and to do his work in the world he had created.
  3. The community that God created was to be his representatives on earth to "rule…over all the earth." The concept of "rule" may be a command to become the agent of God's Kingdom in the world for the sake of the world.
  4. The male and female creation created by God as a community would produce community. They were to be "fruitful and increase in number." Sexual intimacy plays an important part in God's created plan. In the ancient world there was worry about the population growth. The ancients told of their gods preparing plagues, famines, floods, miscarriages, etc., to curb human growth. The God of Israel, however, wanted them to understand that growth was to be seen as a blessing, not something to be blotted out. Sex is to be seen as an important part of God's good creation (Gen 1.31)

While food was primarily plants and fruit, the intent is not to teach that in creation God intended everyone to be vegetarian. Its only meaning is that God provided them with food. In Mesopotamian mythology the gods created mankind to provide them with food, while the creation story demonstrates that, in fact, it is the other way around. It is God who feeds mankind.

The Day of Rest
Day Seven: Genesis 2.1-4a. On this day, God rested. Surely, we do not think that the God of the universe grew tired and needed a day off. In the culture of the day the people would often act out what they wanted the gods to do. God simply reverses this action and models for his children what he would like them to do. Day Seven is another blast against polytheism and a victory for monotheism.

Numbers
Numbers in Scripture are often quality instead of quantity. In this story against polytheism this is true. There are two sets of gods disposed of each day, which totals twelve, a number of completion for the ancient Hebrew. The story has seven parts. Seven is another number of completion and perfection. What did this mean for them? The creation of God is perfect and complete. He and only he was the creator. It certainly has the same meaning for us all these thousands of years later.

Doin' the Stuff!

It is always important to apply what you have learned. Pause at this point and ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to meditate on and put into practice some or all of the following.

  • How many of the twelve polytheistic gods do you still serve?
  • Create something that helps you explain visually one of the creative acts of God.
BibleHandbook: Resourse Stuff!

Read the following Dictionary Articles from Easton's Bible Dictionary, or the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Easton's is about a century old, therefore, some of the information is not current with newer Bible Dictionaries. ISBE is about seventy-five years old. You might read the articles off-line in a number of different Bible Dictionaries. If you do not own a Bible Dictionary, I would recommend New Bible Dictionary 3rd Edition. If you like lots of color pictures, try The Revell Bible Dictionary now out of print but still can be ordered from amazon.com. One of these should suit your personal needs.

Genesis

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Copyright © 2002, Winn Griffin. All rights reserved. BibleJourney: An Almost Weekly Bible Study is a service of SBL Ministries. Unless otherwise stated, scripture quotations are from the International Standard Version (ISV) of the Bible®. Copyright © 2001 by The ISV Foundation, 2200 N. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, CA 92705-7016. Used by permission of Davidson Press, Inc. All rights reserved internationally.

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