Notes for First Installment of Bible Study on Genesis – Genesis 1:1-2:4a

So, here is the first installment of the actual bible study on Genesis.  First of all read Genesis1:1-19 in several different versions.  (If you haven’t read or listened to my post on Translations, you might want to do that first.)  If you don’t have hard copy of different translations, you can find online versions at:   http://www.biblestudytools.com/http://www.biblegateway.com/ , http://www.catholic.org/bible/ , http://net.bible.org/ .    I particularly suggest, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the New International Version (NIV), the Common English Bible (CEB – very new), and the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB).  If you can find a copy of the Jewish Publication Society English translation of the Hebrew Bible (otherwise called the TANAKH) then that would be worthwhile to read as well.

Genesis actually contains two versions of the creation story.  The first is found in Gen 1:1 – 2:4a.  In Historical-Critical terms, it is from the priestly tradition.  In some ways it is similar to the Babylonian creation story called the Enuma Elish. (if you are really interested, click here: http://www.ancient.eu.com/article/225/) However, there are also some major differences in the two stories.  In the Enuma Elish, creation happens through conflict and violence.  In the Genesis creation story, creation takes place through the spoken word of God.

What I think is amazing about Genesis 1 is that it was probably written while the Israelites were in exile in Babylon.  They watched the yearly festivals of the powerful Babylonians celebrated the Babylonian creation myths.  Yet, even though the Israelites were a small group of people that had been overcome by the Babylonians, they had the audacity and faith to say, “Our God is not just more powerful than your God; our God is the only  God and the creator of the whole universe.  Most people would have said that the Israelite God had been overcome as well, but not these people!  We can’t even begin to imagine the boldness of that claim, today.  But whoever wrote down this story of creation had an amazing faith.

 Gen 1:1 – 2:4a

From the priestly tradition; a concern with order.  Looks similar to the Enuma Elish, the Babylonian creation story.

1:1       “When God began to create . . .”

1:2       images of chaos, confusion, emptiness, waste “tohu wevohu”  See Isaiah 34:11;

NRS Isaiah 34:11 But the hawk and the hedgehog shall possess it; the owl and the raven shall live in it. He shall stretch the line of confusion over it, and the plummet of chaos over its nobles.

NRS Isaiah 40:17 All the nations are as nothing before him; they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

See also Jer 4:23

“The earth was chaos and confusion”

Wind from God – not so much the spirit hovering as a “god-awful” wind blowing the water around.

The darkness ( hoshek) is that same darkness that comes upon the land of Egypt during the last plague.

NRS Exodus 10:21 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven so that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be felt.”

This is the darkness of chaos that only the light of God can overcome.

NRS Psalm 18:28 It is you who light my lamp; the LORD, my God, lights up my darkness.

NRS Proverbs 2:13 who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness,

1:3       We see here that creation is through the word, (see John 1:1-18)

Full of verbs: God speaks, sees, separates and calls

In Gen 2 we will see that the man acting in the image of God as he is the one who calls each animal by name, just as God calls each part of creation by name

1:4       Note the goodness of creation, “tov” means not just “good” but also “right, appropriate, fortunate, agreeable”  Creation is redemption, saving the world from chaos.

1:6-8    The Hebrew view of the world, indeed the view of the world held by all Ancient Near Eastern peoples –  was that there were literally waters above and water below, the earth rests on pillars that might be shaken by the sea monsters

This is the view reflected in the creation texts in Genesis and elsewhere in the bible.

This doesn’t make the stories wrong or untrue, it just means that God spoke the language of the people to whom the stories were first given.  The particular cosmology isn’t the point of the story, however, and we shouldn’t get too caught up in it.  The text transcends the cosmology.

In the first three days, God has made the basic structure of the earth and heavens.  We now have earth, water, light, dark, and food.  Finally God sets up the seasons – creates time, as it were.

An interesting note:  God has to make the firmament and the lights – explicitly.  1:14-18  The sun, moon and stars are not deities, but are themselves works of creation; therefore they are not named.

And now God is happy with the basic structure and moves on to life of greater complexity.  God makes swarming things and the great sea monsters.  I think this last bit is a way of reassuring people who were quite nervous about the sea, that even the monsters of the deep, which some worship as gods, are simply another part of God’s creation.  Therefore they are not to be feared.

1:21  The “great sea monsters” here are made by God. If you want other references to the sea monsters (sometimes called dragons or snakes) look at a few of these passages:

Gen. 1:21

Exod. 7:9

Exod. 7:10

Exod. 7:12

Deut. 32:33

Job 7:12

Ps. 74:13

Ps. 91:13

Ps. 148:7

Isa. 27:1

Isa. 51:9

Jer. 51:34

Ezek. 29:3

Ezek. 32:2

1:26  God  creates “in our image”

Each thing is created after its kind; humanity is created after its kind-the image of God.

1:27

NRS Genesis 1:27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

1:28 God’s blessing

Important points about Genesis 1:26-31

Why does God say let “us” make humankind in “our” image?

Four potential answers:

  1.  The royal we.  God is speaking as the great ruler/creator.
  2. God could be speaking to the divine court; we see this divine court in books like Job and Isaiah.
  3. God is speaking as the Trinity.  This is a Christian view imported into the text.
  4. The one I think most likely – when God creates human beings God is creating as a relational God.  Even if you don’t think that the Hebrew text is explicitly speaking about the Trinity, God still seems to be speaking as one whose nature is relational.  Therefore, when God creates humans, God creates them as a relationship – male and female.  Both are in the image of God.  Both are needed for the image of God.

Once God has created humans, God gives them a command: be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, have dominion.

So let’s think about what it means to be made in the image of God:

  1. We are made in relationship, for relationship.
  2. We are made to be fruitful, creative – as God is creative.  Originally fruitfulness was in the tilling of the ground for men, the bearing of children for women.  But Paul, in Galatians, talks about the fruits of the Spirit.  That gives us a new understanding of what it means to be fruitful.
  3. We are made to have dominion.  We are stewards under the High King, not rulers on our own.  The  words indicate that it will be difficult to bring fruitfulness out of the earth.

Humankind is not the “pinnacle of creation” – that is true of the Sabbath.  That is what creation is headed towards.

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