When we read Genesis 1–11, one important observation to make is the way Moses related Noah to Adam, and the covenant with Noah (i.e., his “second creation”) to God’s first creation. Helping us see the intentions of Moses, Peter Gentry outlines seven ways Genesis 8–9 recapitulate Genesis 1–2. Noticing these literary markers helps us read the Bible and understand the message of Genesis 1–11.
Few places in Scripture are more important, more debated, or more theologically-rich than Genesis 1–11. As to their importance, they introduce the Bible to God and his purposes in the world; as to debate, they were polemical from the start, as Moses wrote these chapters to combat other creation stories in the ancient Near East; and as to theology, these eleven chapters introduce nearly every doctrine found in the rest of Scripture.
It is to this last point, the theological message of Genesis 1–11, that I want to address. Affirming the historicity of God’s direct creation of mankind on the sixth day, it seems the best way to read these chapters is as a poetical—dare I say, fantastical—introduction of Israel to the God of Creation, who happens to be their covenant Lord.
Thus, as Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen rightly assess, citing the earlier observation of Gerhard von Rad (Genesis: A Commentary, 46): “The creation story is so rich in meaning that ‘it cannot be easily over-interpreted theologically'” (The Drama of Scripture, 28). Indeed, from the creation of the world to its subsequent recreation after the Flood, the first eleven chapters of Genesis are seminal ground for all that will grow up in the rest of Scripture. For the careful biblical theologian, these chapters are worth a life-long study, and what follows are simply seed-thoughts that can and should be traced back to the beginning. Continue reading
Since Julius Wellhausen suggested that the first five books were not written by Moses, there has been an endless discussion between biblical scholars about the first eleven chapters of Genesis. Some have suggested that it is a compilation document written over time from the various viewpoints of various redactors. For others, its poetic form proves that it is mythological account of creation, on par with other pagan etiologies. However, following the likes of G. K. Beale, it seems best to see any interaction between Moses and other ancient Near Eastern religions (and there certainly was familiarity and interaction) as polemical attempts to esteem Yahweh-Elohim as the sovereign creator of all things.
There are many reasons for affirming the historical nature of Genesis 1-11 and the singular authorship of Moses, but perhaps one of the most awe-inspiring is the literary arrangement of Genesis 1–11. Borrowing from the observations of others, let me suggest two suggestive patterns in Genesis 1-11 that show how carefully Moses, schooled in Egypt and inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote a record of Creation, Fall, Judgment, Salvation, and New Creation. Continue reading
Common grace. It is a term and idea that is helpful and necessary for understanding God’s relationship with a fallen world. Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology defines common grace as “the grace of God by which he gives people innumerable blessings that are not part of salvation.”
However, it is more than just non-salvific blessings. It is also the restraint of sin in the world. So, in their treatment of common grace, J. van Genderen, W.H. Velema (Concise Reformed Dogmatics) maintain that common grace: (1) postpones full punishment for sin, (2) bridles the effects of the curse on nature and humanity, and (3) endows creatures made in God’s image to experience the richness and fullness of God’s world.
This week, I found another helpful articulation of all that God did in the very beginning to “bridle the effects of the curse on nature and humanity.” Writing about God’s relationship with fallen humanity, Willem Van Gemeren lists seven ways that God works to restrain sin. Each of these are explicated in the first 11 chapters of Genesis.
“God’s fatherly concern and love for his creation is also evidenced by his restraining the power of sin in the world. In [Genesis] 3, 6, and 11, he (1) put ‘enmity’ between man and evil (3:15); (2) caused human beings to become occupied with their creaturely existence (vv. 16-19); (3) decreed a natural end to human physical existence (v. 19b); (4) expelled Adam and Eve from the garden so as to keep them from another offense; (5) reduced the human life span to 120 years (6:3); (6) instituted responsibility, justice, and the law of retaliation (vv. 5-6); and (7) broke up the solidarity of humankind by the introduction of languages (11:1-9)” (Van Gemeren, The Progress of Redemption, 86).
In all these ways, God sovereignly restrained the collective power and productivity of mankind. God’s lovingkindness is not only seen in salvation; it is also seen in his sovereign rule over sinful humanity. He has preserved the world in such a way as to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth (Matt 24:14; Acts 1:8).
May we give thanks to God for his saving grace, but may we also learn to worship him for his common grace. And may we see how God’s common grace in the world is a means by which we can enter into conversation and dialogue with others about God’s saving grace.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss
Today I preached Genesis 1-11: “In the Beginning: Creation, Corruption, and Christ.” I love this section of Scripture because it is pregnant with so many themes that are developed in the rest of the Bible. For instance, you can see the whole pattern of Creation-Fall-Redemption-New Creation if you pay careful attention to the literary structures of the passage. The Gospel of Genesis by Warren Gage is an excellent resource to help outline these themes. So is Bruce Waltke’s illuminating outline below (An Old Testament Theology [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007], 307-08).
What Gage and Waltke show is how Genesis 1-11 teaches us to read the rest of the Bible. The explicit metanarrative in Scripture moves from Creation to New Creation, falling with sin, rising with Christ. Notice how in the outline below that Noah and Abraham come as Christ-figures who anticipate the greater rest (Matt 11:28) and the fulfillment of all the promises (2 Cor 1:20).
Creation: Genesis 1:1 – 6:8
A Creation out of chaotic water with divine blessing (1:1-2:3)
B Sin involving nakedness, seeing/covering nakedness; curse (2:4-3:24)
C Division of humanity into the people of God and the enemies of God (3:15-4:16)
D No descendents of sinful of murdered younger, righteous Abel (4:8)
E Descendents of sinful Cain: builds a city (4:17-24)
F Descendents of chosen son Seth: ten generations to Noah (5:1-32)
G Downfall: unlawful unions – men & women / marriage (6:1-4)
H Brief introduction to a faithful savior: Noah (6:5-8)
Re-Creation: Genesis 6:9-11:32
A’ Creation out of chaotic water with divine blessing (6:9-9:19)
B’ Sin involving nakedness, seeing/covering nakedness; curse (9:20-23)
C’ Division of humanity into the people of God and the enemies of God (9:24-27)
D’ Descendents of younger, righteous Japheth (10:1-5)
E’ Descendents of sinful son Ham: builds multiple cities (10:6-20)
F’ Descendents of chosen son Shem: ten generations to Terah (10:21-32)
G’ Downfall: unlawful union – men / government (11:1-9)
H’ Brief introduction to a faithful savior, Abram (11:27-32)
Our God is worthy of infinite praise for he is patient with sinners and perfect in his wisdom to bring salvation in his Son from eternity past to eternity future. With Paul we sing: “Oh, the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Genesis 1-11 is an astounding passage that flickers with the light of God, light that will only grow brighter as the Scriptures continue until the light of the world comes to dwell with man (John 1:1-14).
Soli Deo Gloria, dss