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Home > Bible Studies > BibleJourney > Genesis > Issue 7

BibleJourney: Genesis

Issue 7

ISSN 1535-5187

Questions and Answers. Genesis 1.1-2.4a
by Winn Griffin, D.Min.

Observing the Stuff

In our last study two studies we looked at the first story of Genesis (1.1-2; 1.3-4a). Therein we looked at the text against its background of Israel, God's newly redeemed people, at Mt. Sinai where it is likely that they began to hear all the stories (Genesis 1-11) from Moses.

  • In this study we will overview some of the teaching of this first story. We will ask the following questions:
  • What does this story teach about God?
  • What does this story teach about humankind?
  • What might this story teach us about how God relates to his people and how they are to relate to him?
  • What does the story tell us about how we as the people of God are to relate to each other?
Interpreting the Stuff

Asking the Right Questions
It is important to ask questions of any Bible text that we read or study. When you think that you have a right answer but the question is wrong, the answer will also be wrong. When we ask the right questions, we learn best. All of you who are reading this text are products of what you have learned in the past. The modern Christian has been led to believe that he or she is to use Scripture to prove to the infidel that the Bible is correct. So we read Scripture so that we can gain more ammunition to help us in our ongoing fight with those "outside" the faith. We might pause to reflect that Scripture really doesn't need our protection. Scripture doesn't need to be proved. However, we do need to know how to live Scripture in our personal and communal daily lives. We don't become believers in Jesus just to get a one-way ticket to heaven and then live like the rest of the pagan world until we die. When we stop to think about it, there is a huge disconnect between Sunday church and Monday life. Becoming a believer means that our mission is to expose the world to the image and character of God.

To prevail in this awesome task, we must rearrange our way of thinking and reading Scripture. It is my opinion that you can, with the proper background context, catch the same meaning that the stories had to their first hearers.

To catch this meaning, we have presented the background and thoughts about meaning in the previous two studies (Gen. 1.1-2; 1.3-2.4a). Now let's look at some meaningful questions that may help us think about how to live out this story from Genesis 1.

First, let's ask what the story teaches us about God. Next, let's ask what the story teaches about humankind. Then, we can ask what it might teach us about how God relates to his people and how they are to relate to him. Finally, we can ask what the story tells us about how we as the people of God are to relate to each other.

Question Mark

What does this story teach us about God?

There are several impressions or pictures of God in this story: There is one God to worship, not many. God is seen as creator, communicator, as one who brings order out of chaos, and as a builder of community.

There is Only One God
Standing at the foot of Mt. Sinai, Israel, this newly redeemed people of God, were hearing the story of God's creation for the very first time against the backdrop of polytheism. They knew some of the ancient stories about the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, but he was just one of the many god stories available to be believed in the ancient world of polytheism. But now, their experience of deliverance demanded that they learn about the Creator God, and that he was the only real and trustworthy God whom Israel should worship.

Even the first stipulation of the covenant given to these redeemed people was a forthright statement of this very issue: "You shall have no other gods except me" (Exodus 20.2). So these first words of story in Scripture were told to let Israel know that the God who had rescued them from bondage was the God of their forefathers and the only God they should worship. Moses told the story of creation to help Israel know that God is the good creator of the entire universe and to help them stop their belief in the many gods who were believed to have created the universe. Another important thought for them to comprehend was that as the creator of the universe, he was free to give them any part of it that he chose. He created it and it was his to give. This same God who had delivered them had given Abraham their father the promise of land and they were the people for whom God had promised to inherit this land.

God is Creator
The uniqueness and sovereignty of God emerges from the very opening words of Genesis. The storyteller speaks of God as the only God who created the heavens and earth and that there are no other deities that can challenge his right to create. There are no other deities who helped him in speaking the world into existence. From the origin of space-time, only God exists and acts. This first story in Genesis announced to Israel that there is only one God and he is related to the universe that he created.

This story's insistence on monotheism is a chief difference between the story of creation and other creation stories of the ancient world. Genesis stands alone in claiming that a single God created everything that exists. In the ancient world folks were led to believe that there were gods who were specific gods of regions. The story of one God challenged this belief system suggesting that God was not limited to nature or region. He has jurisdiction over all created things and people. He has no rivals.

Again, I must remind you as a modern reader that this opening section of Genesis is not a scientific account of how creation occurred. It is rather a theological section and was first told to help these newly redeemed people of God to change their beliefs about who created the world. It is a majestic place to begin the story of God. God created. In our story, the word create (bara) is used of the heavens and the earth (v. 2) , the great sea monsters and living creatures v. 21), and of humankind (v. 27). This word (bara) is used through the Old Testament exclusively for divine activity (a fact that would not have been known by the first hearers). The choice of this verb in the story is to emphasize a uniquely divine act. In Hebrew the subject of bara is invariably and solely God. The emphasis of bara is on initiation. The storyteller's choice of words would shape Israel's understanding of God as they were being instructed in the wilderness.

Because God created the world, it belongs to him and he gets to decide what happens in it. The redeemed Israel at Sinai needed to comprehend this truth because they were created to inherit part of the world that was promised to their forefathers.

It may be stated that God has created all the resources in his creation for humankind to continue to create. We are by nature creative people.

God is Communicator (a speaking God)
God is a speaking God. This is not assumed in the stories of the Old Testament. He spoke the world into existence. In the next story of the garden he comes to humankind and talks on a regular basis. He spoke and he speaks. A recent advertising campaign had slogans like:

  • We need to talk-God
  • What part of "Thou Shalt Not..." didn't you understand? —God
  • Will the road you're on get you to my place? —God
  • Big bang theory, you've got to be kidding. —God
  • Do you have any idea where you're going? —God

These and other advertising slogans like them demonstrate a continued belief that God still speaks in our culture and that we might want to give a try at listening.

In the early chapters of Exodus (the foreground of the story of Sinai) God is seen as one who speaks. An illustration from Exodus 1.1-19.2 where the translated phrases the Lord said, appears thirty-seven times, God said, appears four times, and the Lord spoke, appears two times. The hearers of this first story in Genesis had experienced a "talking" God. So it was no surprise that Moses told the story of a God who spoke with phrases like and God said, let there be, and God called. These are explicit words to teach that God is a speaking God.

It may be worthy to note that in the continuing story of God in the Old Testament (and the New Testament as well) that he continues to speak.

In order to hear him speak in this modern world, it might be well to turn down the world's volume. To do so meditate on this poem: God Speaks to Man which has a direct relationship to Psalms 46.10.

God is a Builder of Community
The creation of humankind (Adam and Eve) is the beginning of another story about the building of community. The idea of community is filled out in the next story (Genesis 2-3). It cannot be overstated that from the beginning that God's creation has its apex in the creation of community, a community that reflected his own image who would be his agent in his created world by bearing his image. This idea about God was in contrast with the gods of the ancient mindset who created humankind as workers to bring them pleasure.

Question Mark

What the story teaches about humankind?

As we begin to look at our second question, we will take some of the same concepts from question one and converse with them.

There is Only One God
God wants his creation to understand that he and he alone is God. Our lives have grown away from his intentions of being our God and we have the fallen tendency to create for ourselves other gods to which we are willing to give our allegiance. We are pagan to the core with all kinds of polytheistic tendencies such as racial purity, nationalism, our standard of living, social issues, ambition, wealth, pleasure, and health, among others. Against these pagan tendencies the message of Genesis 1.1-2.4a is simple and clear. There is only one God and we need to put all our gods away and turn our attention and allegiance to him as the God who created the universe in which we live. Only this Creator God can bring ultimate satisfaction and security of life.

God is Creator
On one level we have replaced creativity with the Enlightenment's rational thought. Those of you with artistic imagination, who have been ridiculed for being artistic in this rational world, whose artistic gift is not acceptable, need to hear the freeing message of Genesis 1.1-2.4a. God is creator. Quit thinking of creativity as a "waste of time" and let the creativity of God flow through you. It is not rational to believe that the one who created the world would not instill some of his creative ability in his creation. Go ahead, express his creativity and let the world see the image of God in you.

God is Communicator (a speaking God)It is unfortunate that some Christians believe that God only speaks through the pages of Scripture. So now that he has a best selling book, he no longer talks. Somewhat ridiculous if you ask me. Yes, he does communicate with his children through the stories that are found in Scripture. But, this is not the only way in which he will communicate. Our Enlightened rational side is very mistrusting of people who believe that they hear directly from God. Why is it that hearing from God directly is so surprising to us? Surely God didn't go to bed at the end of the fourth century and wake up mute in the fifth century. Scripture pictures God speaking from its opening pages to its closing pages. Our mission, if we choose to accept it, is to get our antennas fixed so we can tune into what he is saying.

God is One Who Brings Order
Until chaos can be heard in a conversation as good, order cannot happen. It is, after all, out of chaos that God brought order. Some things never change. He still brings order from chaos today. We need to rethink our understanding of order as some rational idea of everything fitted into a row or a column or in a circle. There are hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of shapes that are orderly. Think about this: there is a game called "Shape to Shape: Creative Pattern Puzzle. There are only fourteen puzzle pieces and sixty different images with over 25,000 ways to arrange the pieces inside the puzzle frame. Yes, humankind needs to have order, but the playing box that God has designed for us is much larger than we want to admit or even play in. Let God bring order to your life. Just don't be surprised if his order in no way fits your conception of order.

God is a Builder of Community
"No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent…" so wrote John Donne in 1624. He surely caught a glimpse that deep in the breast of humankind there lies a spirit to be part of a community. Why? God created it to be so. Our cultural selective value of individualism runs counter to what God created in us. Could this be why there is so much tension and frustration in today's society? We seek for what we were not created to be! This first story told its first hearers and us that humankind will only achieve its highest potential when it gives in to God's creative forces and separates itself from the culture's selective position.

Question Mark

What might this story teach us about how God relates to his people and how they are to relate to him?

Again we take the thoughts of our other conversation and continue.

There is Only One God
Relationship is vertical before it is horizontal. This is the main part of this story. A person cannot have several so-called vertical relationships. You can't serve any other God but the one you chose to serve. From your vertical relationship all other relationships flow. When your vertical relationship with God is not working, all your horizontal relationships begin to fall apart. This one Creator God relates directly to his creation. Our response is to put aside all our gods and our relationship to them and focus on relating to the Creator God.

God is Creator
A simple thought: since God is creator and he created us, we should respond by being creative. Everyone can create. If for some reason you have been taught that you are not creative, ask God to restore what has been broken in your life.

God is Communicator (a speaking God)
God loves to talk. Humankind loves to talk. It would be great if we learned to talk to the Creator of the world with the ease that we speak to each other. And greater yet, that we actually expected him to speak back to us in a voice that we understand. Not just in commands. Not just answers to our repeated requests, but in friendly conversation with him just like you would talk to your best friend. Go ahead! Give him a try.

God is One Who Brings Order
As we stated above: let God bring his order to your life. But don't be surprised if it is not some rigid "mandate."

God is a Builder of Community
What's the use of continuing to try individualism (a curse of the Modern Enlightened world)? You will just continue to be frustrated. You can't be an island unto yourself. It just doesn't work that way. You were not made to live that way. God created us to live in community. As he is community, we are to be community. You can only be the greatest individual that you can be as you live in close relationship in a community.

Question Mark

What does the story tell us about how we as the people of God are to relate to each other?

Finally, our last question.

There is Only One God
Wouldn't it be great if we helped each other identify the "other gods" in our lives? What would that be like? How would that work? We have heard too many horror stories and have become gun shy. All the time God is waiting in line to help us help each other find and expel our other gods.

God is Creator
When was the last time you were creative? Who have you encouraged to become creative? Try to get your thoughts around the idea that we are created to be creative agents of God to demonstrate his image to the world. Would it be great if we loosed the creative powers to all the members of God's community and not only those who sit in senior places?

God is Communicator (a speaking God)
This story teaches us that we have a responsibility to speak and to teach others. Not in harsh, unapproving tones and words. Not in abusive and regulatory language, but in speech which brings freedom and life.

God is One Who Brings Order
We must allow the order that God provides for a person's life to blossom and bloom and not superimpose our order or structure into their lives.

God is a Builder of Community
True relationships happen in community. Deep fears are alleviated in community. Healing occurs in community. Life develops in community. Our highest potential to be the people that God created us to be takes place in community.

Toward The New Testament

There is Only One God
The worship of other gods did not cease in the Old Testament. It is a problem of the ages that still infects us today. Their idols were different than ours, but we have ours just the same. They worshiped their cultural gods and sexuality. They called them different things, but the course of worship is the same. In the church today we are more pagan than some of those who are in the world. We have idols of position, property, and power. The message of Genesis 1.1-2.4a is clear as a bell: stop worshiping other gods. There is only one God who is truly worthy of worship. This God identified himself with Jesus in the New Testament story. It is allegiance to him that brings his image to the lost world. Christianity is not about getting saved and receiving some kind of barcode that successfully scanned will allow us into heaven. Heaven is not the goal. Imagebearing to the world of the one and only God as seen in Jesus is the goal.

God as Builder of Community
The heartthrob of God from his opening words was to have community with his creation. From Adam and Eve to Abraham to Israel to the Church, God has determined to have a people who would bear his image to his world. A missional church is simply an outflow of the movement of God from the beginning. The goal was to have a people who would bless the nations, i.e., the world.

The Relationship between Genesis and John
New Testament writers usually agree that the opening of the Gospel of John is drawn from the opening verses of Genesis. (However, there is no direct quotation.) It is oblivious that the opening phrase of John 1.1 is based on the opening phrase of Genesis 1. When Genesis 1 talks about light as something natural, John speaks of light as something eternal. He told his readers that the Word was the agent in creation and an indispensable element in creation. That without the Word (Jesus) nothing that is would have been.

The Relationship of Genesis 1 and Paul
Paul describes the ministry of Jesus in creation in Colossians 1.15-20. There he says that Jesus is "the image of the invisible God." Humanity was the climax of creation and was created in God's image (Col. 1.27-28). Jesus, then, is the perfect image of God in human form. He was truly human. He was what humanity was created to be like. If we want to understand what God is like, then we need to understand what Jesus is like, and by that I don't mean the mild-mannered Jesus of popular Christianity. Jesus came to reveal to humankind the image of God that had been lost in the fall. Next, Paul shares that Jesus is unique over creation in that "by him all things were created." The words "were created" (a passive verb) indicate that God is Creator, while "by him" (Jesus) indicates that Jesus was the instrument.

The Relationship of Genesis 1.26 and New Testament Language
Many passages found in the New Testament allude to Genesis 1.26 even though they do not quote it exactly. The following are some of them:

It is important for the New Testament believer to come face to face with the idea that he or she was to become for the world "true humanity," what Jesus had become for Israel.

The Relationship of Genesis 1.27 and Matthew and Mark
In Mark, the first Gospel written, and in Matthew, there is the story in which the Pharisees came to Jesus and quizzed him about divorce. Mark's account suggests that the issue may have been the permissibility of divorce, while Matthew's account suggests that the issue was the grounds for divorce. This is most likely because Mark's audience needed to have a different problem solved than Matthew's audience. Since the Old Testament passage found in Deuteronomy 24.1-4 permitted divorce that was instituted by the husband, the question may not have been about the legality of divorce, but rather on what grounds divorce was permissible.

Jesus' response does not address the proposed issue at all. Rather, he referenced Genesis 1.27 and challenged the Pharisees to consider God's original purpose in the creation of humankind as male and female. While the Pharisees wanted to know how they could terminate a marriage, Jesus emphasized why a marriage should be initiated and perpetuated.

The Relationship of Genesis 2.2 with Hebrews 4.4
The text of Hebrews 4.4 is close to the Septuagint (LXX) rendering. The point that the author of Hebrews was making was that just as God had rested, his creation (children) should have an opportunity to share in rest. The rest promised in the Psalms (Hebrews 4.3 is quoting 95.11) is a share in the sabbath of God's own rest that followed the creation narrative in Genesis 1. It is clear that today's reader should not think of the sabbath-rest of God as a rest from activity that resulted in inactivity. Scripture makes it crystal clear that God continued to direct and maintain his creation (Psalm 104; John 5.17). The image of rest is one of freedom from toil and struggle so that humankind can enjoy with God the satisfaction and perfection of his work in creation.

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.

  • Tell or retell a story to your children that caused the emotion you may have had to the stuff that God created.
  • Create something that helps you explain visually one of the creative acts of God.
  • Now let your child(ren) create something that visually explains one of the creative acts of God. Let the child(ren) summarize what she or he has learned about God by this creative experience.
  • Read Psalm 104.1-5, 33-34 and note the emotion of the psalmist as he reflects on creation.
  • Respond to God as creator by thanking him for his creation of you.
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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