This is what we talked about last night...
As we continue our discussion of the question "Where did the Bible come from?" we decided to talk about critical ways of reading the Bible. These critical approaches provide us different lenses through which we view scripture. They help us ask questions about its history, literary form, sources, and editors. For a list of the different critical approaches we looked, and a description of each one, at please check out http://www.theopedia.com/biblical-criticism.
We then began to dig into Genesis 1:1-2:3. We decided to start with Genesis because as Terrance Fretheim said, “Genesis stands at the beginning because creation is such a fundamental theological category for the rest of the canon. God’s continuing blessing and ordering work at every level is creational.” When reading the Bible critically it is important to ask questions. Who wrote this book? What is the purpose of this book? Answering these questions may help us to interpret the text with the appropriate context.
Who wrote Genesis?
Traditionally, the authorship of Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) have been attributed to Moses. When we critically read the Bible though we recognize that it doesn't make a lot of sense for Moses to have written it. There is information spanning hundreds of years, Moses is written about in the third person, writing style and vocabulary change, and there is information about Moses death and the time after his death. Biblical scholars began to notice certain patterns with the style of writing and as a result came to the conclusion that different authors contributed to the writing of the Pentateuch.
What is the purpose of Genesis?
The purpose of Genesis, as is the purpose with all scripture, is to tell us something about God. When we begin to read scripture we have to remember what its purpose is. The Bible is not a science book, or a history book, it is a book about God. The authors of Genesis had to use our limited language in order to describe, and point to our ultimate God.
The First Creation Story
We started by looking at the first creation story, that's right, there are two creation stories in Genesis. In Genesis 1 we see a God who creates an ordered universe, who speaks and things come into existence, who creates everything ex nihilo, or out of nothing. There are other creation stories being told by other ancient near eastern religions (the Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans). Some of these other creation stories share common themes or structure to the Genesis story but we do see some interesting things in the Genesis creation that are unique to it compared to other creation stories. In Genesis we see an absence of explicit Israelite political interests, the lack of a theogony (God Genealogy) and a conflict among the other gods, the absence of interest in the primeval chaos, the prevailing monotheism, and the high value given human beings.
The first creation story (Genesis 1:1-2:3) makes some very high theological claims about God. God is so powerful he just speaks and things exist. God declares that creation is good. God saves humanity to be created last and then calls them "very good." God creates the sun, moon, and stars (elements of worship in other religions).
The Big Point
How did the author know the order in which things happen? Was the world created in 7 days? How old is the earth? These are common questions we ask when looking at the creation stories in Genesis but they may be the wrong questions. Could the earth have been made in 7 days? Maybe, I wasn't at creation, God is all powerful, and God's timing is not always the same as our timing. But I think the more important question to ask is, what does this creation story tell us about God? It tells us that we worship a God who creates, a God who can speak and things take place, a God who ordered our universe, who declares creation good, and created us in his image. It tells us about the God we worship, and draws us in to learn more about him and to worship him.
The homework for this week is to read Genesis 2:4-25 in two different translations.