Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"The First Week"

As I've already mentioned, I'm currently reading Genesis for a couple of different projects. One those is for Crossings, the church with which my family and I worship and minister. For this project, I'm reading Genesis and dividing the text into 12–25 segments that "will preach." As I get to this "divying up" of the text, I'll post my comments here.

Genesis 1.1–2.4b:

I would use this passage to introduce the entire series on Genesis and focus on the ways that this creation account (the first of two, of course) is the anchor of the Genesis narrative in particular, of the biblical narrative more generally, and of a theo-centric conception of history at the broadest level. Some very basic observations, most of which I’m shamelessly stealing from other, brighter lights:
  1. The notice in Gen. 1.2 that “the earth was a formless void” presents the problem to which the rest of the account is the solution. On days 1–3 (1.3–13) God (אלהים; elohim) solves the problem of formlessness by bringing order and structure to the heavens and the earth; on days 4–6 (1.14–31) he solves the problem of voidness by populating crea-tion with good things at every stage (1.18, 21, 25, 31; cf. Matthew 7.11).

  2. There is also something interesting going on with the “image of God” emphasis of 1.26–31, and especially as that emphasis is paired with the notice of authority/stewardship given from God and over creation (the prepositions are important here). Remember that all the nations of the earth worship images of gods while the descendents of Abraham are commanded not to create any image of their God YHWH (cf. Exod. 20.4–6). I wonder if that proscription against idols/images is as much anthropological as it is theological. That is, the problem with graven images is not simply that they fail to understand that God cannot be reduced to a statue or figurine of a bird or an alligator or a many-breasted woman. In addition to this, the problem with graven images is that they fail to understand that humanity itself is the image of God and receives honor from the created order as God’s representative and steward over creation (cf. Psa. 8). Recognizing humanity’s place as the crown of creation is not a way of honoring humanity and dethroning God; rather, this recognition honors God, whose image we are. But when God’s image bows before a humanly fashioned image, it demeans both God and his image (humanity) and reverses the hierarchical order inscribed into the fabric of creation itself (note that this is precisely the problem that arises in Gen. 3 when the serpent [beneath humanity] charms the woman [beneath the man], and all three rebel against God and are punished.

  3. The notice at 2.4a, that “These are the generations [תולדות; tōldōt; LXX = ἡ βιβλος; hē biblos] of the heavens and the earth when they were created,” brings the first creation account to a close. Genesis 1.1–2.4a is a self-contained literary unit that is independent of the creation account in 2.4b–25. More importantly, I think, the first creation account is emphatically about creation and its relation to the Creator God. I think pt. 2, above, is perhaps the main point of this account. Thus, Gen. 1.1–2.4a primarily makes the point that all of creation, including humanity, is the Lord’s; “[the] humankind” [האדם; ha’adam; 1.27] that God created — in both its male and female expressions (1.27) — both worship God as their creator and reign over creation as his surrogate. As we will see, the second creation account, by way of contrast, is explicitly anthropocentric.

There are, of course, many New Testament themes and ideas we could incorporate here. John obviously picks up on the Septuagintal reading of Gen. 1.1 [ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ θεὸς; en arkhē epoiēsen ho theos] in the Prologue to his gospel: Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος [En arkhē ēn ho logos; John 1.1]. The mention of logos reflects a popular Jewish understanding of the Genesis tradition that God spoke creation into existence.

Paul, too, picks up on these very ideas in Col. 1.15–20. Notice that in Col. 1.15 Christ is the image of the invisible God. On first glance this appears to displace humanity as the focal point at which creation has access to its creator, and perhaps this is the point. But I wonder if the point, rather, is not to displace humanity as God’s image but to portray Christ as the epitome of humanity. Not just the perfect human but the quintessential human. Christ, the human-est human there ever was, both offers perfect worship to his Father and mediates perfectly between creature and Creator. This latter point is supported, I think, by the second half of the hymn: In Col. 1.18, where Christ is now not “image of God” but “head of the church,” the “access point” function of the “image of God” between God and creation is emphasized. As “head of the church” Christ leads the church, defines its existence and guarantees its future. Of course, “church” here isn’t specifically a religious institution; when Paul calls Christ the “head of the church” he is identifying Christ as the “head of all humanity” (cf. Col. 1.20). The church, then, is that body of people who have experienced the connection (“reconciliation”) with God that is mediated through Christ. Notice how well this fits with Crossings’ vision: “Helping people find their way back to God.”

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