Somewhere Between History and Fantasy: Read(ing) Genesis 1–11 Theologically

greg-rakozy-38802Few 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 Scripture28). 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

Eschatology from the Start (Genesis 1:28)

Genesis 1:28 “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

God created a permanent order of creation. But he also intended a development in which man would play a central role. Because Adam failed and fell into sin, Christ came as the last Adam to achieve dominion (see 1 Cor. 15:22, 45–49Eph. 1:21–22). (ESV Study Biblep. 2635).

Where does eschatology begin? Or better, when does it begin?

Typically, when we think of eschatology, our minds race towards Revelation with a stop in Daniel, Zechariah, and Matthew 24-25 along the way. Often, eschatology, “the study of last things,” is understood narrowly, as those events which will transpire at the end of the age.  Hence, eschatology is about the second coming of Christ, the rapture, the millenium, and the order of these things—sometimes with prophecy charts included.

It is true, there is a kind of narrow eschatology that focuses on what will happen at the end, but there is another variety of eschatology—a more biblical kind (I would argue)—that begins in the beginning.  In fact, this eschatology can be seen in Genesis 1, even before the fall. Continue reading

The Gospel of Genesis (Review)

Warren Austin Gage, The Gospel of Genesis: Studies in Protology and Eschatology (Winona Lake, IN: Carpenter Books, 1984). 

If you like Gregory Beale, Meredith Kline, and William Dumbrell, then you will like Warren Austin Gage.  Advocating typology, predictive prophecy, and God’s sovereign designs over history, Dr. Gage, Old Testament professor at Knox Theological Seminary, constructs a compelling case for biblical protology in his illuminating little book, The Gospel of Genesis.

Packed with biblical allusions and intertextual connections, Gage demonstrates how the first seven chapters of Genesis set a pattern that is picked up throughout the rest of the Bible.  The pattern is five-fold and corresponds with five major doctrinal loci: God, Man, Sin, Redemption (individual and corporate), and Judgment (5).  Speaking of these protological structures, he writes:

The thesis of this chapter [which goes on to outline the rest of the book] is that the chronicle of prediluvian history (Genesis 1-7) is composed of five theologically fundamental narratives, each of which finds consecutive, synthetic parallel in the history (and prophecy) of the postdiluvian world.  Consequently, by understanding the historical movement initiated in early Genesis, we may discern the relationship between the beginning and the ending of biblical history (9).

Fleshing out his thesis, Gage shows in chapters 3-7 how Moses lays out the archtypal storyline in Genesis 1-7: 

  1. YHWH’s speaks the cosmos into existence, the six days of work followed by the Sabbath rest stamps on creation a divine pattern for life on the earth (1:1-2:3);
  2. The triune God creates Adam and Eve in his image and commissions them as vice-regents over the earth (1:26-31; 2:4ff); this is followed by the their covenant-breaking, disobedient fall (3:1-14);
  3. The sovereign judge of the universe pronounces a curse on all creation, but with the redemptive promise that a serpent-crushing seed would come to save his people (3:15-19)
  4. Community and ecclesiology (i.e. the gathering of men) begins with the establishment of two lines of men–the sons of Cain and the sons of Seth– which parallel the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman (3:15; 4:1ff); and
  5. God’s retributive justice is manifested in the watery judgment of the earth and all its evil inhabitants.  Here, God’s wrath destroys all those living in flagrant unrighteousness, yet this ‘day of the Lord’ YHWH saves a remnant of people (Moses et al) from whom he will establish a new humanity (6:1ff). 

This pattern, Gage argues, sets the pattern for biblical history, and where space permits, he shows how Abraham, David, and Jesus fulfill these patterns in later history.  But making his case even stronger, Gage also shows how in the days of Noah, this five-fold cycle is reduplicated (Gen. 8-11).  Much like Irenaeus’ vision of Christ’s work of recapitulation, Gage shows how these patterns in history are not accidental, but rather intentional.  As Isaiah 46:9-10 says of YHWH, “For I am God, and there is no other’ I am God, and there is not one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.”  This is what he calls “protology”–the study of first things. 

Now, if you accept this reading of Genesis 1-7, it admittedly impacts the entire way that you read Scripture.  Over against theological systems like Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology, which derive their interpretive methods from dogmatic considerations derived from later revelation (and church history), a protological/eschatological reading of the Biblical narrative is much more inductive.  It argues for a cyclical reading of God’s redemption and revelation that finds its key within the Scriptures itself.  Accordingly, this approach is helpful for ‘getting a feel’ for the big picture in redemptive history; however, like any system of interpretation, it might force the reader using this schema to misinterpret or bend biblical data for the sake of the pattern. 

Certainly, responses to Gage may very.  There will be “literalists” who would charge Gage with allegory, speculative typology, and spurious biblical connections.  For instance, his acceptance of a chiastic pattern in biblical theology makes his presentation of history very orderly and economic, perhaps too unified.  But to those who make such a case, it may be asked, “What kind of history should we expect from the maker of heaven and earth, the sovereign over history, the author of our salvation?”  Everything about God commends order, structure, symmetry, and divine intentionality.  So it would make sense that God would structure all of history according to his eternal plans of glorifying Himself by saving sinnners. 

With that said, it could be conceded that some of his interpretive moves and interconnections may not warranted, but that does not make illegitimate his overarching thesis.  These criticisms are more a matter of isolated passages, and not interpretive method.  On the whole, I think Gage’s argument stands up.  It provides a helpful rubric for reading the Bible, starting with Genesis and moving towards the climax of history in the two advents of Jesus Christ.   It commends a high view of inspiration and scriptural authority.  It moves all things to find their end in Christ, and it compels the biblical reader to see what God has been and is now doing.  In my estimation, it is a very helpful approach to understanding and applying biblical theology on a macro-scale.

For more on the subject of protology see J.V. Fesko, Last Things First; on recapitulation: Irenaeus, Against Heresies; on reading the Bible as it presents itself: Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology; and on the connection between Genesis and Revelation: G.K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss