Affirm God’s Good Plan

Explore the Bible Series

December 2, 2007

 

Background Passage: Genesis 1:1-2:25

Lesson Passage: Genesis 1:26-28.31; 2:15-18, 21-25

 

Introduction: The Book of Genesis is the soil out which the rest of the Bible grows.  The roots of the entire Bible, in all its wondrous splendor, grow firmly from this majestic book of antiquity.  The three Western monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) trace their beginnings to the events recorded in Genesis; therefore, nearly a third of the earth’s population finds some spiritual and theological significance in this ancient document.

 

Genesis addresses at least four major themes:

1. Cosmology: No book of antiquity presents a more straightforward, majestic account of the creation and early development of the world.  Several ancient documents, of course, contain creation narratives, but none match the simplicity, clarity, and dignity of Genesis.  The text certainly has the ring of historical narrative, and, if the reader interprets some of this material allegorically, he/she must provide some reasonable framework to distinguish the historical from the allegorical. According to Genesis, God created a good and glorious universe and placed the human race into a perfect, unblemished world.

      2.  The problem of evil: The presence of evil in God’s perfect world presents Christians with one of the great perplexities of life.  If, indeed, God created a perfect world, how did the created order degenerate into this moral morass?  Genesis clearly gives an explanatory model for the problem of evil, again, in the context of clear historical narrative.

  1. The establishment of the Abrahamic Covenant: According to Genesis, God created a remedy for man’s unseemly fall into sin.  The instrument of redemption is the plan of grace, rooted in the covenant God established with the patriarch Abraham.  The Bible, Old and New Testaments alike, place great emphasis on the Abrahamic Covenant.
  2. The origin of national Israel: The story of the Old Testament centers on God’s dealings with the Jewish people; indeed, one might conclude that the Old Testament is the story of the ancient Jewish people and relationship with Jehovah.

 

Authorship: Ancient Jewish scholars affirmed the Mosaic authorship of the Book of Genesis, and, for 1700 years, Christians agreed with the Jewish assessment.  About 250 years ago some scholars, influenced by the literary theories of the Enlightenment, began to question the traditional view.  During the Nineteenth Century the Higher Critical School concluded that Genesis was a composite work, written over several centuries, by a myriad of editors.  In all probability, Moses was the primary author of the Pentateuch; however, Moses may well have used extant oral tradition and written materials to compile these books.  Furthermore, it seems unlikely that Moses wrote all of the Pentateuch.  For instance, few would insist that Moses wrote the account of his own death and burial (See Deuteronomy 34:1-12). Nevertheless, it seems reasonable to affirm the essential Mosaic content of the first five books of the Bible.

 

Outline of the Background Passage:

 

I.                   The Creation Narrative (1:1-2:9): Scholars differ on their views of the nature of this narrative.  Some have concluded that these chapters record two independent accounts of creation.  The first portion of the text focuses on the seven days of creation (including the day of rest on day seven).  The second portion, beginning with Genesis 2:4, these scholars claim, records a divergent, independent account of creation that contradicts the first narrative at several points.  Other authorities acknowledge the difference between these two sections, but they see the second account as a complementary expansion of the first narrative.  While I respect the labors of those scholars who hold to the first view, the second model seems most plausible to me.

A.    The seven days of creation (1:1-2:3): How should Christian understand the word “day” in Chapter One?  “Young Earth” adherents insist on interpreting this word literally, and, of course, find themselves at odds with those who affirm the scientific consensus that the earth is very old (several billions years).  This problem cannot receive adequate treatment in a brief outline format like this. Please consult a good commentary like Ken Matthew’s work for a useful discussion of this subject (The New American Commentary: Genesis 1-11:26).

1.      The pattern of the seven days of creation: Matthews points out a six-fold pattern of the material regarding creation.

(a). “God said”

(b). command given

(c). the fact of creation

(d). God’s evaluation

(e). the boundaries of the created element

(f). the naming

                                2. The seven days of creation

                                       (a). light and the separation of darkness and light

                                       (b). the firmament

                                       (c). the dry land and vegetation

                                       (d). the sun and the moon

                                       (e). aquatic creatures and birds

                                       (f). land animals and mankind, male and female

                                       (g). day of rest                                                                                                                           

                   B. The special creation of man (2:4-7): God, according to this text, formed Adam from the elements of the Earth, and breathed life into the man.  The first chapter revealed that God made male and female, and this paragraph describes the particulars of the Lord’s special creation of man.

   

 

 

II.                The Earth as God Created It (2:10-25)

A.    The Garden of Eden (2:8-17): God planted a beautiful garden and assigned Adam to tend it.  Four rivers bordered the garden: Pishon, Gihon (both of these rivers are unknown today), the Tigris and the Euphrates.  God commanded Adam to tend the garden, and the Lord gave he man full benefit of the fruits of Eden.  However, God placed one restriction on Adam; the man was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Death, according to the Lord’s command, would attend disobedience to his prohibition.

B.     The creation of woman (2:18-25): God gave Adam the privilege of naming the animals, but the man did not find a suitable companion among the beasts of the earth.  As a special creative act, God fashioned the woman from the rib of Adam.  By this action, God sanctified marriage between and man and a woman.

 

Observations from the Text:

 

1.      Whatever position one takes on the “Old Earth”/”New Earth” debate, the Bible remains clear in its assertion that God created the universe.  Matter is not eternal, and God set the motions of matter, time and space in order.

2.      God created man in his own image.  This truth distinguishes mankind from all the other creatures and explains the God-consciousness that is endemic to human beings.  Atheism, therefore, is a learned response and denies the most essential element of one’s humanity.  Furthermore, since God made mankind in his own image, all racism denies the most fundamental aspect of the human personality.  It should be noted that modern DNA research, as I understand it, demonstrates that all of mankind descended from a common ancestry.

3.      God created the world a perfect, holy, and happy place.  Evil is an intruder in the world that God fashioned. 

4.      Man, as God fashioned him, shared in the blessed goodness of creation: however, God’s prohibition concerning the tree implies that man possessed free will to choose between obedience and rebellion. 

 

A personal word: Thoughtful Christians have often struggled with aspects of the first two chapters of Genesis.  Of course, all Christians agree that God created the world, but the near-unanimous voice of science certainly challenges traditional interpretations of the text.  History teaches us that professing Christians have, at times, demonstrated a dismal tendency to reject various scientific hypotheses, hypotheses that all educated people readily accept today.  On the other hand, scientific hypotheses remain somewhat fluid and transient, and those who hold to the scientific method realize that new discoveries may render obsolete their present theories.  Perhaps we all should acknowledge that this passage deals with great mysteries, mysteries that should provoke continued study of the Scriptures and science; however, these mysteries should also produce genuine humility in all who consider these profound issues.  Please understand, I do not question the Scriptures, but I do, for good reason, have some suspicions about our interpretation of the Bible. The Scriptures are reliable, but I have a healthy distrust of assigning equal reliability to my interpretive models.

 

As many of you know, I earn my living in a vibrant academic community.  Some Christians have a settled distrust of academics in general and scientists in particular; however, I have found great encouragement among my colleagues.  I find that my science colleagues possess an admirable desire to know the truth, and they encourage healthy dialog with scholars from other disciplines, including their history colleague who has a great love for the Bible.  Two of my biology colleagues are evangelicals, and I admire their valiant efforts to wed their scientific understanding to their genuine faith.  I respect that effort.  Peter Kreeft has said that persons who set science and faith at odds are fools.  Perhaps I would chose less strident words, but, it seems to me that Kreeft has a point. May the Lord help us all to promote humble, edifying dialog in the interest of the truth, and may we all glory in the mysteries of the God who set the world in order.