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Genesis 1 Commentary

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  1. 1. Session 11 How Did We Get Here … and Why? Commentary1 The Point- The universe is here because God spoke it into existence. The Bible Meets Life - How we view the origins of the universe colors everything else about our worldview. Did everything start with a speck of dust, or a big bang? Is the universe the creative work of an intelligent being? Or, is there some mixture of these two approaches? The Bible points us to an all-powerful, personal Creator. The Passage - Genesis 1:1-3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 26-27. The Setting - Genesis is the Book of Beginnings, and this account starts with the beginning of creation. God created the universe by His own creative power, and He deemed good every aspect of what He created. GOD’S CREATION GOAL: DOMINION, BLESSING, AND RELATIONSHIP (GEN 1:1-2:25) Primeval history describes the accounts of the creation, the fall, the flood, the tower of Babel, and the distribution of the human race. It embraces all those facets of human experience that led up to and necessitated the call of Abraham to covenant service to the Lord. The two accounts of creation (1:1—2:3 and 2:4-25) are designed respectively to demonstrate the all-wise and allpowerful sovereignty of God (first account) and His special creation of humanity to rule for Him over all other created things (second account). Though the creation stories are fundamentally theological and not scientific, nothing in them is contradicted by modern scientific understanding. Genesis insists that all the forms of life were created "after their kind" (1:11-12, 21, 24-25); that is, they did not evolve across species lines. Most importantly, the man and the woman were created as "the image of God" (1:26). In other words, humanity was created to represent God on the earth and to rule over all things in His name (1:26-28). God‟s desire was to bless humanity and to enjoy relationship with them. How we view the origins of the universe colors everything else about our worldview. Did everything start with a speck of dust, or a big bang? Is the universe the creative work of an intelligent being? Or is there some mixture of these two approaches? 1 Compiled by John R. Wible from combined sources. No claim is made to copyright in any materials. 1|Page
  2. 2. The Creation Story. It has long troubled me that there are conflicting stories of the Creation. In the past, this fact causes me to wonder if the one we have in the Bible is the “right” one.2 Our commentator gives some examples of creation stories or “myths.” Professor McClain in the “Additional Reading,” infra. states, These stories are often referred to as myths. A generally accepted definition of a myth would be “a story about gods or supernatural beings.”1 Such a definition suggests an absence of true stories about supernatural beings. A better definition of myth would be a “traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.” I like his definition of “myth” because it allows the Judeo-Christian Creation story to be more than a myth. It is a story given by God to inform the early Hebrews, as they were, and us, as we are, of the truth asserted therein. I would, however point out that though completely true in every sense of the word; it is a story, written in story form. It is not a scientific statement, though it does not contradict modern science. Further, it is not in detail. I suppose the detail would be limitless to the point that the human mind could not comprehend it. Professor McClain cites two example creation stories, one from Mesopotamia and one from Egypt. Why these two? Because they are the earliest, of which man has record. You have probably not heard of the Eridu Genesis, but you may have heard of a later form of it the Epic of Gilgamesh in which the Noahic character, Utanapishtim, survives in a flood. Gilgamesh is one of his descendants who goes on a quest and meets the snake who causes bad things to happen. The Greeks also had a story about the flood, as did the Egyptians cited by Professor McClain. Other cultures had such myths, the Northern Russian peoples and the Native Americans of the Americas. Suffice it say that many, if not most cultures have creation myths. I find reassuring three things reassuring. First, it is not odd that a society would have a creation myth given man‟s universal quest for answering the question of “where did we come from.” What would be odd would be that a culture did not have a creation story. Secondly, none is as well preserved, as complete or as, frankly, plausible as the Creation story of the Bible. 2 I assert without equivocation at the outset, the “we do.” 2|Page
  3. 3. Thirdly, only the Biblical account adequately answers the question not of how God or the gods, created the universe, but how He created it ex nihilo, out of nothing. Only truly God could make something out of nothing. Nobody else sufficiently answers that question. May I also assert that Most cultures record both a creation story and a “great flood” because those things really happened? It is obvious that somebody created the universe and us. Further, even science, sometimes the enemy of the Bible when improperly used, has to admit that the fossil record shows that there was in the distant past a great cataclysmic flood that covered the Earth or at least the most of it. Again, not to ask this question would not be “human.” For us, God explains it. All we have to do is ask the right question, not what but Whom? Humanity has been asking the huge “how” and “why” questions as long as we have been around. The Bible has the answer that some still refuse to believe. We and all of creation exist because of God‟s powerful words. And whether you believe the truth of the Bible or not, it points us to an all-powerful, personal Creator and Savior—in the person of God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit. Here is what He said. Genesis 1:1-3,6,9,11,14,20. 1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. ................................... 6 Then God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters, separating water from water.” .................................... 9 Then God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. .................................... 11 Then God said, “Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.” And it was so. .................................... 14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will serve as signs for festivals and for days and years. .................................... 3|Page
  4. 4. 20 Then God said, “Let the water swarm with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” KEY WORDS: Formless and empty (v. 2)—Could be translated shapeless and void. There was neither shape nor content. How did we get here, and why? Evolution claims the universe began with a big bang, a “quantum singularity,” then began to expand. This explosion of matter and energy was a random cataclysmic event that led to a limitless series of random events with planets cooling and falling in around suns, bacteria springing to life and evolving into more complex life forms. One thing led to another, until one day an ape stood upright and began to walk on two legs. Evolution portrays people as the result of countless random accidents. We are animals, nothing more. If that is how we got here, then there is no reason why. If we are merely the result of a purposeless process that only favored survivability, then life has no real meaning or purpose. In fact, the end result of such a view of humanity‟s beginnings is chaos. The denial of God and the animalization of people led to not one but two world wars in the last century. In addition, atheistic evolution led directly to communism, and in the twentieth century, Communist governments killed more than 100 million of their own people, far more than the death toll of World Wars I and II combined. Surprisingly, many people who consider themselves thinkers willingly embrace this hopeless and chaotic view of reality. Thankfully there is another view, a time-tested explanation of how we got here and why. And this view brings order out of chaos and hope to both the creation and those who live in it. Unlike evolution, the Bible says the universe is here because God spoke. How did we get here? In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. In the beginning of what, the universe? The Hebrew actually reads, “In beginning, God created.  …” God, who is, who was, and who is to come (Rev. 1:8), in beginning the universe, started everything else moving. Was there a big bang? If there was, then God orchestrated it! An ancient creation myth features a god killing gods, and the victor utilizing the remains of his victims to make the heavens and the earth. The Bible, on the other hand, says God created the world out of nothing. Bara, translated created, described the work of a carpenter who might use wood to make a chair. However, the form of bara found in Genesis 1 is only used in the Bible to describe God‟s creative activity, and never identifies material when He creates. God is the one who can make something out of nothing. A humorous story demonstrates the difference between how God creates and how we create. A scientist approached God and said, “Listen, we‟ve decided we no longer need you. Nowadays, we can extract stem cells, clone people, transplant hearts, and create all kinds of things once considered miraculous.” God patiently heard him out, then said, “All right, to see whether or not you still need Me, why don‟t we have a little man-making contest!” “Okay, great!” the scientist said. “Now, we‟re going to do this just like I did back in the old days with Adam,” God said. “That‟s fine,” replied the scientist and he bent down to scoop up a handful of dirt. 4|Page
  5. 5. “Just a minute!” God said, shaking His head in disapproval. “To do it like I did, you have to make your own dirt.” We may be able to clone rabbits and cows, but God is the only one who can make something out of nothing. Some scientists tell us that after a big bang, when the universe began to settle down, future planets were little more than balls of hot gases and molten rock that eventually were pulled together by gravity and then began to cool. The Genesis account gives us this record—after the heavens were created, the earth was formless and empty, shapeless and void. And in the midst of this cosmic chaos were the watery depths, sometimes translated “the deep.” The ancient Hebrews were never great sailors. They viewed the great sea with fear, so the deep became a symbol of chaos. And there, the Spirit of God was hovering over chaotic waters. Hovering translates a Hebrew word that means to vibrate or to stir. God was getting ready to bring order out of “the deep.” According to the Babylonian creation myth, a god had to fight a battle like a gigantic warrior and had to kill his enemy in order to have the stuff he needed to make the universe. But all the One True God had to do was speak into the darkness, “Let there be light,” and light sprang into being. Was this the beginning of light shining in the universe, or was it the first time light had shown upon our formless world? That is a twenty-first century question the ancient Hebrew would not have asked, preferring answers of faith rather than such speculations. Put another way, modern science wants to know how the world was made, but the ancient Hebrew was only concerned about who made it—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If scientific theories start to make us nervous, we need to remember that though they can guess about how it was done, God inspired the biblical writers to tell us who did it—and why. And thus ended the first day. On the subsequent days of creation, God progressively brought order out of chaos, molding and shaping the shapeless and empty world like a giant ball of wax. On the morning of day two (v. 6), God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters, separating water from water.” Expanse refers to something that has been hammered or beaten into a round shape, like a copper bowl. What an amazing image: God forced the waters apart, pushing them up above the earth, driving chaos back, and bringing order. On day three (v. 9), God commanded, “Let the water under the sky be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear.” The waters of chaos were driven back even further. God instructed the oceans where they could and could not go. Wisdom declared it was present when God established the heavens, laid out the horizon beyond the ocean, placed the skies above, caused fountains of the ocean to gush out, set limits for the sea, and laid out the foundations of the earth (Prov. 8:27-29). Do you get the feeling God was working toward something special? Toward the end of day three (v. 11), God said, “Let the earth produce vegetation.” Up to this point, God worked upon creation, molding it and shaping it according to His plan. Here, however, He worked through creation. He commanded the earth to produce, and His power worked through creation to bring forth plants and fruit trees. Some philosophers have argued that God created the world as a closed system, that is, He built it but does not intrude upon it. Here we see God at work in His creation and working through His creation upon His creation. 5|Page
  6. 6. God is always at work in His creation. Crops, fruit trees, warm sunshine, and life-giving rains all reflect a loving Creator. A mother can bandage her son‟s skinned knee or a surgeon can set a broken bone, but it is God‟s power working in God‟s creation that brings healing. On day four (v. 14), God created lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night and to mark the passing of seasons and years. Time began on day one of creation. What we need to see here is that God created time, and therefore He owns time and we do not. The Bible says that there is an occasion for everything, including a time for every activity under heaven (Eccl. 3:1). And Moses prayed, “Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts” (Ps. 90:12). God owns time, we do not, so we need to make the most of the time God affords us (Eph. 5:16). On day five (v. 20), God created animal life. First, He made the land, then He made the plants for food, and only then did He make birds, fish, and land animals. What about evolution? Did you know that in all of the fossil record, there is no evidence of an evolutionary jump from a less complicated species to a more complicated species? There is no half fish, half land animal. There is no half lizard, half bird. There is no missing link. Actually, the fossil record supports the Genesis account, for the fossil record reflects that suddenly new species just materialize, as though God said, “Let there be …”, and something new appeared. Genesis 1:26-27 26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” 27 So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female. Key Word: Image (v. 26)—People were created “in the image of God” (v. 27), indicating how they are like God and distinct from animals. Yet Genesis does not specify details. Bible students suggest our spiritual nature, moral capacity, reasoning ability, immortality, and so forth as being what makes us be in God‟s image. Like the final fifteen minutes of a TV mystery movie, where the reasons are explained and the mystery is solved, day six dawns with God saying something dramatically different. “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” Why did God create the heavens and the earth? Why did He drive the waters of chaos into the cages of the sea to bring forth dry land? Why did He create the animals? That He might have a setting for His highest creation—humanity! “They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, and all the earth.” Why are we here? To enjoy the world and to rule the world that God created. The word rule implies both conquest and caring; we take it over and we take care of it. I have heard people claim that the Bible is just one more ancient document among a host of ancient documents, just one among many and no different in form or message. Nothing could be further from the truth, and nowhere does the Bible stand apart from other ancient documents more than at this very point in the story. In the Enuma Elish (Babylonian/Mesopotamian creation myth), Marduk made people out of the 6|Page
  7. 7. blood of his slain enemy‟s husband. He needed blood to create people, so Marduk killed Tiamat‟s consort to get the spare parts. But consider why Marduk made people—to serve the gods as their slaves, so the gods could take it easy! Men and women were created almost as an afterthought to stand on the corners and watch for an opportunity to serve the gods while the gods celebrated Marduk‟s victory over Tiamat. Genesis, on the other hand, says that God created humanity to be the kings and queens of creation! And people are not just simply a higher form of animal. On the contrary, people are God‟s crowning achievement in creation. Not only that, but people were made in God‟s image, a word that might be used to describe a son who is the spitting image of his father. We are also made in God‟s likeness, a less precise word than image. It stresses a similarity to God, but we most definitely are not God. So God created (bara) people out of nothing to be like God. And interestingly, the image of God includes male and female. God is so diverse and so big that both men and women are needed to reflect the likeness of God. Much has been written about how people are like God. Perhaps the fact that we are male and female is the greatest clue to what it means. Men and women complement each other, together reflect the image of God, and frequently find their greatest joy in relating to each other. Perhaps the image of God is about being able to relate to each other and ultimately to God in a loving and creative way. And speaking of what God is really like, the attentive reader may have noticed something surprising in verse two. “The Spirit of God” was moving about over the turbulent waters of chaos. Who or what is the Spirit of God? Then in verse 26 the mystery deepens. “Let Us make man in Our image.” To whom is God speaking? To the angels? Surely the created cannot help the Creator create. Was God employing something called the royal plural, in which rulers through the ages have referred to themselves as “we” or “us”? That is unlikely, for throughout Scripture, the kings of Israel and Judah were never portrayed speaking with a royal plural. Is there more than one God? We know that is not true, for over and over God declared, “I am Yahweh, and there is no other; there is no God but Me. I will strengthen you, though you do not know Me, so that all may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is no one but Me. I am Yahweh, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make success and create disaster; I, Yahweh, do all these things” (Isa. 45:5-7). Just who is This Creator who speaks in the plural but declares He is one God? We have to wait for the New Testament to come out to get our answers. Shortly after our creation, we thumbed our noses at God, so God forced us by a flaming sword and a dangerous angel to leave the garden of Eden for good. The rest of the Old Testament tells the story of how God kept reaching out to His creation while we kept running away. How will God save a people who do not seem to want to be saved? In the New Testament we learn that “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Who is the Son? He is God too. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created” (John 1:1-3). God is Father, God is Son, and God is Holy Spirit. Jesus said in Matthew 28:19 that we are to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit who was involved in creation is still at work in the world today. In fact, when a person turns to God by trusting in Jesus‟ sacrifice for salvation, the person receives the Holy Spirit, “who is in you, whom you have from God” (1 Cor. 6:19). And the Spirit who was involved in the creation of the world works a new creation in every believer. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). 7|Page
  8. 8. How did we get here … and why? Genesis 1 tells us God spoke the world into existence, then placed us in the world as His kings and queens, created in His image, to administer it. In the New Testament, we learn that our ultimate purpose is to be recreated into the image of Christ. We are to become like Him who has overcome the sins that resulted in our loss of the garden of Eden that we might ultimately reign with Christ in heaven forevermore. “They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. Night will no longer exist, and people will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:4-5). Live It Out. In order to grasp our purpose, we must understand that God created the universe and everything in it—including us! Our hope and God‟s ultimate purpose for us are found in the gospel: Jesus died for our sins on the cross in order to reconcile us to God. The truth of creation directs us to the truth of redemption. We are here to worship and serve Him. As you think about how to go forward this week with what God has taught you in this session, consider at least one of these application steps: Read chapter 1 of Genesis. Notice the phrases Then God said; And, it was so. Each day this week, thank God for creating all things, including you. Reject the temptation to think that older people are less useful to God. Perhaps you can‟t do all the things you used to do. God knows. Ask God what you can do now, no matter how simple it may seem, to show His love and glory. Make a list of 3-5 things He reveals. Then thank Him for revealing this purpose for you. Invite several friends over for a time of fellowship and sharing about how God‟s purpose has been revealed in your lives. Share your testimonies with your pastor, and offer to share with the church your stories of how God‟s purpose is revealed in a long life dedicated to the Lord Jesus. DIGGING DEEPER: Formless and empty—These two words are used in Genesis 1:2 to describe the condition in the beginning. The King James Version has “without form and void.” Two ways of interpreting what this means are (1) that there was an earlier creation that somehow was destroyed and (2) that this was only the early stage of God‟s creative work before He accomplished what is found in the rest of Genesis 1. Without form, and void—These words, placed together as they are in verse 2, express one concept—chaos. Some Bible teachers, believing God did not create chaos, think these words refer to what the earth had become because of the fall of Satan and that they do not reflect the way God first created the world. Others see these worlds as describing the initial phase of the creative process, a creative process described throughout Genesis 1. Initially the earth had no form but appears to have been a watery mass. Neither was it filled with anything. However, in creation, God gave the earth form and fullness. 8|Page
  9. 9. Image—An image is something that resembles something else. The word is used in Genesis 1:26 to describe God creating human beings in His image. The word image in verse 26 can be understood as a representative figure, a resemblance, or a copy. The concept of image would play an important role in Israel‟s history and in its worship. The people would be tempted to make an image that represented God or some element of His nature. At least once they succumbed to the temptation (Ex. 32). The temptation was intensified by the fact that Israel‟s neighbors fashioned imagoes that they used in worship. The Israelites has seen images in Egypt and would have been exposed to other images in Canaan. Humankind in God‟s creative plan did not need to possess an image of God because they were an image, having been made “in the image of God” (v. 27). Image and likeness (v. 26) may refer to the moral sensibilities, intellectual capabilities, emotional composition, volitional freedom, and relational ability unique to human beings compared to other living beings. Certainly nothing about the essence or character of God could be captured in images of wood and stone, which were forbidden by the law (Ex. 20:4). However, something of God can be identified or known in the humanity He created. The fullest image of God is in Jesus Christ (John 14:7-11; Phil. 2:5-11). IMAGERY: Figurative language. Scripture prefers to convey truths by pictorial representations rather than through abstract language. Scripture abounds in word-pictures for God, God‟s people, and their experience of salvation. The challenge of theology (“talk about God”) is to express truths about God in human language. Scripture itself witnesses the difficulty of this task, “To whom will you liken me, and make me equal, and compare me that we may be like” (Isa. 46:5). The living God is not to be equated with any one manageable image. Idolatry is essentially the attempt to reduce God to an image or label. The multiplicity of Old Testament literary images for God serves as a corrective of human attempts to box God in. Some images for God are inanimate: stone (Gen. 49:24); fortress (2 Sam. 22:2); fountain of living waters (Jer. 2:13). There is little danger of confusing God with such images. Other images of God are personal: father (Mal. 1:6); husband (Hos. 2:16); shepherd (Ps. 23:1); judge, lawgiver, and king (Isa. 33:22); teacher (Isa. 28:26); healer (Jer. 30:17); warrior (Ex. 15:1, 3); and farmer (Isa. 5:2-7). With such personal images, the danger of confusing “God is like” with “God is” is real. A challenging corrective is offered by the less familiar feminine images for God, for example, that of a mother bird sheltering her young (Ruth 2:12; Ps. 17:8). Also suggestive of a mother‟s tenderness are the images of carrying a child from birth (Isa. 46:3), teaching a child to walk (Hos. 11:3), child feeding (Hos. 11:4), and child rearing (Isa. 1:2). In His parables, Jesus continued the Old Testament practice of using vivid images for God: a shepherd seeking one lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7); a woman seeking one lost coin (Luke 15:8-10); a father waiting patiently for the return of one son and taking the initiative to reconcile the other (Luke 15:11-32). Images are also used to teach who Jesus the Christ is: word (John 1:1); light (John 8:12); bread and wine (Matt. 26:2629); vine (John 15:1); the way (John 14:6). 9|Page
  10. 10. Imagery is also used to depict the people of God and their experience of salvation. The Old Testament pictures God‟s people as a faithless wife (Jer. 3:20); a wild vine (Jer. 2:21); a wild donkey in heat (Jer. 2:24); God‟s beloved (Jer. 11:15); God‟s bride (Jer. 2:2); God‟s servant (Jer. 30:10); and God‟s son (Hos. 11:1). New Testament images include: light (Matt. 5:14); salt (Matt. 5:13); vine branches (John 15:5); a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17); God‟s temple (1 Cor. 3:16); and a royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9; compare Ex. 19:6). Images for salvation are drawn from all walks of life: the law courts (Rom. 7:3; Heb. 9:16-17); slave market (Titus 2:14); marketplace (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23); and the family (Rom. 8:17, 23). The multiplicity of images again witnesses the rich experience of God‟s people. CRE·ATE: verb krē-ˈāt, ˈkrēˈ ► to make or produce (something) ► to cause (something new) to - exist ► to cause (a particular situation) to exist ► to produce (something new, such as a work of art) by using your talents and imagination: cre·at·ed cre·at·ing As a transitive verb: 1: to bring into existence <God created the heaven and the earth — Genesis 1:1(Authorized Version)> 2: a. to invest with a new form, office, or rank <was created a lieutenant> b. to produce or bring about by a course of action or behavior <her arrival created a terrible fuss> <create new jobs> 3: cause, occasion <famine creates high food prices> 4: a. to produce through imaginative skill <create a painting> b. design <creates dresses> As an intransitive verb: 1: to make or bring into existence something new 2: to set up a scoring opportunity in basketball <create off the dribble> ADDITIONAL READING Creation In Ancient Near Eastern Thought By T. Van McClain, professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, Northeast Campus, Schenectady, New York. “WHY DO I EXIST and how did the world begin?” Those questions have always perplexed man. Without divine revelation, man is left to speculate for himself about his creation and purpose in this world. Apparently most if not all cultures have provided stories designed to answer these questions. These stories are often referred to as myths. A generally accepted definition of a myth would be “a story about gods or supernatural beings.”1 Such a definition suggests an absence of true stories about supernatural beings. 10 | P a g e
  11. 11. A better definition of myth would be a “traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.”2 The earliest civilizations that left written materials were Sumerian and Egyptian. One of the earliest creation accounts is from Sumer and is called the “Eridu Genesis.” Eridu was one of the earliest known cities in southern Mesopotamia. The fragments of this creation account date to about 1600 BC. The mother goddess Nintur was portrayed as instrumental in the creation of mankind; she said, “May they [the people] come and build cities and cult places, that I may cool myself in their shade.”3 Humans being created to serve the gods was a common theme in Mesopotamian and Egyptian myths. The “Epic of Atra-khasis,” a Babylonian creation story dated to the seventeenth century BC, records that the gods were unhappy, because “the toil of the gods was great, the work was heavy, the distress was much.”4 The solution of this problem was for the goddess Nintu (referred to as Nintur in Sumeria), to create humanity. The goddess said, “I have removed your heavy work, I have imposed your toil on man.”5 This seemed to be a good solution, until humankind became too noisy. Enlil, one of the chief gods, then said, “The noise of humankind [has become too intense for me, with their uproar] I am deprived of sleep.”6 The myth tells that eventually the gods caused a flood to destroy all mankind, except Atra-khasis. The god Enki told Atra-khasis to build a boat to save his life.7 The “Epic of Atra-khasis” explained the creation of humanity as the work of the goddess Nintu and involved the slaughter of a god named We-ila, whose blood was then mixed with clay. Nintu (also called “Mami”) then uttered an incantation and used the clay to produce seven males and seven females. There is no borrowing of any of this material by Moses in the Genesis creation account. Nintu‟s creation of man by clay is nothing like the creation of man from the dust of the ground recorded in Genesis. Of course, the “Epic of Atra-khasis” does mention a great flood. It was a flood of total destruction, except for Atra-khasis and those with him in his boat. Nintu came to regret causing the flood saying, “How did I, with them, command total destruction?”9 Genesis accurately records God flooding the earth. Many ancient cultures retained some knowledge of a great flood and incorporated it into their myths. The few similarities between the Genesis account of the flood and the flood account in the “Epic of Atra-khasis” pale, however, in comparison to the differences. The Epic of Atra-khasis reveals supposed deities who made bad decisions and came to recognize their mistakes. The biblical account of the flood indicates that God was completely righteous in bringing a flood upon the earth. While the similarities of ancient Near Eastern creation myths with the creation account in the Book of Genesis are interesting, the differences between these accounts are striking. The Book of Genesis places man at the apex of God‟s creation; humanity is made in the image of God; and he is placed in authority over the garden. Mesopotamian accounts of creation make mankind the servants of the gods, so the gods do not have to work so hard. The cause of the flood in the biblical account is humanity‟s sinfulness; the Mesopotamian accounts attribute the flood to the arbitrary and capricious nature of the gods.10 11 | P a g e
  12. 12. Many other striking differences are also present, leading one scholar to write, “It is difficult to discuss comparisons between Israelite and Mesopotamian literature concerning creation of the cosmos because the disparity is so marked.”11 Although Egyptian creation myths have some occasional similarities to the biblical account of creation, many striking differences are evident. The existing text of the Egyptian creation story called “The Theology of Memphis” dates to 700 BC; the original text likely dates to about 2700 BC. The story contains the statement that by the work of the god Ptah “all the divine order really came into being through what the heart thought and the tongue commanded.”12 Such a statement is reminiscent of the Genesis creation account where God spoke the world into existence. However, beyond that similarity the Egyptian creation story is radically different. “The Theology of Memphis” depicts the god Ptah as first crating the Ennead, which perhaps was a council of gods (who were then, involved in further creative acts). How these gods came into being is described differently in different texts. “His [Ptah‟s] Ennead is before him in (the form of) teeth and lips. That is (the equivalent of ) the semen and the hands of Atum. Whereas the Ennead of Atum came into being by his semen and his fingers, the Ennead (of Ptah), however, is the teeth and lips in his mouth, which pronounced the name of everything.”13 Such a crude depiction of creation diverges starkly from the biblical account. God did not create lesser deities who then created even lesser things. Rather, God created all things, forming humanity specially in His own image. The Egyptian myths are not the only ones that contain crude and vulgar actions on the part of the gods. The Sumerian myth that supposedly tells about a loss of paradise is named “Enki and Ninhursag.”14 Some scholars have suggested that the story is not really about a loss of paradise, but that the place named Dilmun in the story is “a virginal and inchoate place, lacking life, fresh water, and human culture.”15 In the story, Enki, the god of wisdom, incestuously fathered a series of goddesses. He first had relations with Ninhursag, then with their daughter Ninmu, then with Ninkurra, his daughter with Ninmu, and so forth.16 Nowhere in the story is there any hint of any immorality on the part of the god Enki. The Book of Genesis does record incestuous relationships, like that of Lot with his daughters, but such events are clearly indicated as being immoral. An Akkadian account of creation, the “Enuma Elish,” also known as the “Epic of Creation,” dates to the eleventh century BC.17 The most notable similarity between it and the Genesis account of creation is the mention of two spheres of water in Genesis created by God, and the mention of Marduk splitting the carcass of the dead goddess Tiamat into two halves, with on half constituting the earth and the other the sky. Furthermore, the name Tiamat is linguistically related to the Hebrew word tehom, the “deep.” Yet, any minor similarities are greatly dwarfed by the great disparity between the accounts. According to one modern scholar the theory that the Babylonian Marduk could create the heavens and earth by splitting the dragon goddess Tiamat into two halves is so preposterous that “no one but a lunatic under the influence of hashish could ever arrive at the theory.”18 12 | P a g e
  13. 13. The Babylonian myth of the creation of heaven and earth resulting from the splitting of a divine being‟s carcass is indeed ridiculous, but so is the claim of some modern scientists such as Francis Crick that life began on earth as a result of directed pan-spermia, the dissemination of microorganisms by extraterrestrials using spaceships. Ancient people would probably also find other aspects of evolutionary theory to be laughable. As Phillip E. Johnson wrote,” Those (evolutionists) who are tempted to ridicule directed pan-spermia should restrain themselves, because Crick‟s extraterrestrials are no more invisible than the universe of ancestors that earth-bound Darwinist have to invoke.”19 Without divine revelation, mankind is left to his own devices to try to explain the existence of the universe and his place in it. Some similarities between the Genesis account of creation and the creation myths should be expected. Israel shared much of the same culture as that of the Egyptians and Mesopotamians. If the Israelites were aware of the religious claims of those who lived around them, then they possible knew some of the myths of those religions. Clearly, however, none of those myths made their way into the biblical account of creation. The differences are too vast. The gods of the Mesopotamians and Egyptians of the ancient Near East did not deserve worship. Humanity in those creation myths appear to have more wisdom and morality than the gods. The true God revealed in Scripture is vastly different from those gods, and He is indeed worthy of worship In God’s Image By Harold R. Mosley, assistant professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, Louisiana. AS SHE OBSERVED MY INFANT DAUGHTER, my friend said to me, “She looks exactly like you.” Those words would make any father proud. Such things are often said about a new baby as family and friends converge on the hospital to welcome the new arrival. Children do resemble their mother or father in many ways. They are the image of their parents. We can easily understand what is meant by the assertion “He is the image of his father” or “She looks like her mother.” Not so easily understood, however, is the statement in Genesis 1:26. “And God said, „Let us make man1 in our image, according to our likeness, and they will have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.‟”2 In what way are human being created in God‟s image? No simple answers are available. The assertion that human beings are created in God‟s image or likeness is found in three different passages: Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1; and 9:6. The passages relate the importance of human beings as possessing “the image of God.” None of these passages, however, explains what is meant by the phrase. As such, the interpreter is left with a somewhat ambiguous notion of what God‟s image implies. Theologians long have pondered the meaning with no full assurance as to a certain answer. All is not lost, however. 13 | P a g e
  14. 14. Even though we may not be able to understand fully all the implications of what is involved in the phrase, we can glean some important insights into the significance of mankind being created “in the image of God.” The passages themselves offer some clues as to how we are created in God‟s image. Clues to Interpretation. Two Hebrew words are generally translated into English as “image” and “likeness.” A study of these words helps us understand some possible implications intended by the biblical writer. The word translated “image” is the Hebrew tselem. This word can refer to a physical representation of something (such as an idol)3 or it may indicate a more abstract meaning.4 The Hebrew word translated “likeness” is demut, which carries the meaning “to be like.” This word occurs often in Ezekiel‟s visions of God.5 In his description of the glory of God, Ezekiel never said he actually saw God. Rather, he was a “likeness” or a “representation” of God. The indication of likeness need not be in physical appearance.6 The two words “image” and “likeness” function as synonyms, and as such, no major distinction need be applied to them. This is shown by the fact that the words appear to be used interchangeably in Genesis 5:1 and 9:6. The Hebrew words provide only a vague and general idea as to meaning. Both words can indicate a likeness in some physical appearance, but both words can also imply a more abstract idea of similarity. Thus, the words do not give the expression “image of God” a clear meaning. The surrounding contexts in which the phrase appears also provide some clues concerning the meaning. In Genesis 1:26-27, the image of God clearly connects with the dominion that human beings are to exercise over creation. “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness, and they will have dominion . . .” The passage plainly implies that the image of God in human beings relates in some way to the dominion mankind will have over the created realm. Genesis 9:1-7, although not stated as clearly, also joins mankind‟s responsibility of dominion with the possession of image of God. Both Genesis 1:26-27 and 9:1-7 mention the fish, birds, beasts (or cattle), and creeping things. Obviously 9:1-7 intends to reflect the idea of dominion over creation in the same way that is intended in 1:26-27. Although the passage in Genesis 5:1-2 does not specifically mention dominion, the blessing referred to in that passage may well reflect the blessing of 1:28, that is, the blessing of dominion. Obviously the image of God in human beings has some connection with the function of having dominion over the earth. Varying Interpretations. Different scholars have presented varying opinions as to what constitutes the “image of God” in mankind. One early church opinion distinguished between the word “image” and the word “likeness.” The “image” referred to a person‟s correspondence to God in spiritual attributes. The “image” was said to remain after the fall into sin while the “likeness” was lost upon sin‟s entry into the human realm.7 In this view, the ability to reason distinguishes mankind from the other created beings. Such a clear distinction between “image” and “likeness,” however, is not certain from the passages. 14 | P a g e
  15. 15. A few interpreters have ventured to argue for a physical resemblance between God and human beings. Certainly the Hebrew words in the passages would allow for such a possibility. The fact that God is defined as being “spirit,”8 however, must dictate a cautionary approach to any dogmatic assertion in this area. Interestingly, other ancient Near Eastern cultures also had a concept of mankind possessing the image of God. Only the kings received the distinction of being in God‟s image in the other cultures. In Mesopotamia the kings were representatives of the patron deities and were considered to be “sons” adopted by the gods as vice-regents.9 Egyptian theology also viewed the pharaohs as divine. One inscription of the Egyptian pharaoh Amen-hotep III depicts the Egyptian deity Amon-Re calling the pharaoh “my son” and “my living image.”10 The other cultures actually viewed the kings as deities. Israel‟s theology never gave any hint of such a possibility. Scripture always clearly distinguishes between Israel‟s kings as God‟s representatives and God as the only God there is. Some interpreters focus on the aspect of human beings exercising the function of dominion over creation.11 This view sees human beings as representing God‟s presence in the world. Conquering kings in the ancient would often erected statues or images of themselves in subdued territories to show their sovereignty over those conquered lands. In a similar manner, God‟s image in human beings functions to show God‟s authority over creation. Mankind is not sovereign. Rather, human beings represent the sovereign Lord of creation. Human beings serve as stewards of God‟s creation, using its resources but responsible to God for the use or abuse of those resources. Still other interpreters see God‟s image in mankind as the ability to relate to God in a personal way. This relationship is unique among the creatures of the earth. Scripture never so much as hints at the possibility that fish, birds, or any other beast can share an intimate relationship with God. Only human beings enjoy this capacity. The fellowship of Adam and Eve with God in the garden of Eden shows this ability. In fact, God desired throughout both the Old and the New Testaments to bring human beings into a relationship with Himself. The image of God, for all it may imply, certainly includes the capacity to relate to God. The image of God survived the fall into sin. Even after the judgment of the flood, mankind still possessed God‟s image in Genesis 9:1-7. Sin‟s abuse may have marred and disfigured that image, but we today still have the imprint of God‟s image on us. To Have Dominion Over All The Earth By Bryce Sandlin, professor of Bible and Hebrew, Howard Payne University, Brownwood, Texas. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF GENESIS 1:26 T0 2:3 for the environmental and ecologic concerns of today is recognized rather generally by those who study the roots of the present crisis. In fact, the passage long has been of interest in the study of the implications of Scripture for cultural concerns. 15 | P a g e
  16. 16. Philo, a Jewish philosopher of the first century, spent much effort relating the passage, especially 1:28, to the culture of his day.1 Joseph Rickaby, a nineteenth-century Catholic moralist based his views of the manner in which people should think of and use animals on the passage and found in the dominion theme justification for all but the “wanton” use of animals.2 It generally is agreed that at least one of the causes of our present ecologic crisis is to be found in a particular understanding of this and related biblical passages, against which there has been an absence of sustained Christian criticism. The purpose here is to present a perspective of the dominion theme that brings the abuse of the environment and the self-centered use of natural and human resources into focus in the light of the deeper implications of this passage and other Old Testament teachings. Genesis 1:26—2:3 is the climax of an exquisitely fashioned literary unit that is very precise in its description of creation. The larger passage 1:1—2:3, begins with a comprehensive statement that embraces the entire chapter. All subsequent statements basically move along the line that is given in the first verse of the chapter: everything was created by God and there was no creative power apart from Him. Within this description of creation is an ascending line expressing the relationship of creation to the Creator. Not all of creation has the same place before God. Farthest from God is plant life, which has a direct relationship to the earth. The animals are nearer. At the end of this succession are “human beings,” and they are directly responsible to God. The world is oriented toward humanity, and in people it has its purest direct relation to God. People are created in the image of God. The purpose of God‟s image is the real intent of the passage. There is less said about the image itself than about the task which the image makes possible—the domination of the world. The commission to rule is the consequence of the image, that is, that for which humanity is capable because of God. The practice of kings erecting images of themselves in distant quarter of their empires where they could not appear personally is a parallel to God erecting His image in persons in His kingdom. Humans are only God‟s representatives to maintain and enforce His claim to dominion over the earth. “The decisive thing about man‟s similarity to God, therefore, is his function in the non-human world.”3 Seen in its context, the dominion theme is the climax of the ascending line of likeness to God, with people as the nearest and having the responsibility to exercise God‟s rule over all other aspects of creation. Likeness and responsibility to God are emphasized in being created in the image of God, and likeness to the other animals is indicated by the food they share. In verses 29-30 human food is to be the same as that of the other animals. As people and animals were created on the same day, they are to partake of the same food. The exercise of dominion over animals does not include the useless shedding of their blood. “This word of God, therefore, also means, a limitation in the human right of dominion.”4 16 | P a g e
  17. 17. This arrangement, with people exercising God‟s dominion over the natural world and environment, and at the same time belonging to nature, is a well-balanced provision for the good of all creation, including persons. In verse 31 “God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” This statement refers more to the wonderful purposefulness and harmony of creation than to its beauty. The concluding phrase could be translated “ . . . it was completely perfect.” As the Sabbath was the climax of the week in Judaism, so the climax of the creation week was the “rest” of God. Chapter 2:1-3 often is interpreted as the establishing of the Sabbath as a day of rest for the people of Israel, but the verses have far greater significance. The verses emphasize, first, that the world is no longer in the process of being created. God finished His work of creation and turned the care and protection of it over to humans, His image. God then “blessed” the day of rest, “sanctified” it, and thereby expressed His concern for the world. “Thus Genesis 2:1ff. speaks about the preparation of the exalted saving good for the world and man.”5 The “rest” God took established His intention that all creation takes time for rejuvenation, and the institution of the Sabbath in the life of Israel was meant to be an expression of that intention. Concern for domesticated animals was also a major consideration in the purpose of the Sabbath (Deut. 5:1415). The motivation cause for keeping the Sabbath came in verse 15: “remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out . . . “ (RSV). Although the motivation was theological, the humanitarian quality of the practice was just beneath the surface because the memory of their own servitude was to provoke compassion for others who had fallen into the same lot. The sabbatical year and the year of jubilee, obviously extensions of the Sabbath idea, further limited dominion of the earth and taught concern for environment and life. Leviticus 25 details the proper observance of the sabbatical year and the jubilee. According to this passage the main feature of the sabbatical year was the cessation of working the land for food purposes. Exodus 21:1-6 emphasizes the freeing of slaves. Deuteronomy required the cancellation of debts. If this was an absolute cancellation, lending money as a business transaction would never have been practiced in Israel; it would only have been an offer of assistance to the needy. “The sabbatical year laws appear to be the most radical social legislation prior to the twentieth century.”6 The year of jubilee had characteristics of its own, but the laws for the sabbatical year applied to the jubilee as well. The year of jubilee began with the sounding of the loud trumpet on the Day of Atonement, thereby proclaiming “liberty” to all the inhabitants of the land. Liberty was the hallmark of jubilee, as emphasized in Ezekiel 46:17, where it is called the “year of liberty.” An important aspect of liberty was the returning of land that had been sold during the years since the last jubilee to the original owners or to their descendants. If the land were not returned to the newly freed slaves, they could find themselves compelled to enter bondage again. The aim of the jubilee was the restoration of the position as if was of old—free persons living on free land. 17 | P a g e
  18. 18. In other words, the jubilee legislation concerning the land and liberty was a perpetual land reform program that guaranteed the equitable distribution of the land. There can be no mistaking the emphasis on humane concerns and the proper use of the land. Humanity‟s dominion over the land was not considered to be absolute, but was limited by the legislation regarding Sabbath, sabbatical year, and year of jubilee. The principle of jubilee as stated in Leviticus 25:17, “for I am the Lord your God,” declares that jubilee was grounded in the person and character of God. God is identified three times in Leviticus 25 as the one who “brought you forth out of the land of Egypt.” The strong implication was that God‟s historical activity involved coming to the aid of the oppressed and setting them free, and that the land and Israel both belonged to God. A second principle of jubilee was to view the poor as brothers and sisters. The phrase, “if your brother becomes poor” (RSV), occurs four times in Leviticus 25, where it means fellow citizens. “This means, therefore, that the Israelites were not just to look after their immediate families.”7 It particularly should be noted that it makes no difference how the poor became poor, whether through misfortune or Laziness. Jubilee was based on the theological truth that ownership of the land was not absolute, that it was given to Israelites as a stewardship. God was the owner, and the individual head of a family His overseer. God wanted the country to remain equally divided among His people, as was the case in the days of Joshua. The land itself was to have rest, the implication being that when Israel treated the land with respect it would respond in kind. Finally, humanity‟s dominion over the earth must be seen in the light of “the web of life,”8 a web involving all of creation in mutual relationship and dependency, coming very close to the modern concept of “ecology.” That this web is “good” in all its parts was indicated in the tightly knit account of creation in Genesis 1, with every “thread” of the web existing in its own right, decreed so by the word of God. The creation account in Genesis 1—2 speaks eloquently of life in the natural world, the basic necessities for life, and the space in which to live “ . . . as an endowment that is always preordered and given together with life itself.”9 Genesis 1—2 reflects a perception of a basic connection and the condition of existence. Because the Old Testament worldview of humanity and nature are linked closely in a divine order from which persons cannot extract themselves and act independently of that order, the dominion of humanity is limited to what can be done without harm to the remaining parts of the order. The creation hymn in Psalm 104 emphasizes humanity‟s involvement in the natural order of things, especially verses 27-30. Natural life and the fulfillment of life is not at the disposal of the living thing; life is a gift, an event conferred, upon which everything is dependent. People are elementally dependent for their existence, their environment, and the length of their natural lives. For people today the world is the material and potential for human activity, and the result is a “manipulation reduction of all life, including man, to the level of objects.10 In contrast, the psalmist sees it as a gift of Yahweh the Creator who offers life and lifespan, living room, and the provision of life‟s necessities to all living things. 18 | P a g e