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Gen 1:1-2:4a

Genesis 1:1-2:4a

Background to the Book of Genesis
Literary: Genesis is a fascinating book which begins with two creation accounts of the world in Gen 1-3, continues with stories about humanity in general through to the end of Gen 11 before we come to the specific journeys of Abraham. Gen 1-11 is often referred to as universal history or primeval history and is applicable to all of humanity. The genealogies enable Abraham to be descended from Adam and Eve. Indeed, another purpose of the genealogies is to divide these eleven chapters as follows into a 5-fold division:

Gen 2:4a heaven and earth - these are the generations of the heavens and the earth ...
Gen 5:1 ff Adam - This is the book of the generations of Adam.
Gen 6:9 Noah - And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth
Gen 10:1 Noah’s 3 sons - These are the generations of the sons of Noah. ...
Gen 11:10 Shem - These are the descendants of Shem ...

Besides the suggested division above, scholars have proposed different recurring literary patterns such as sin, speech, punishment - Gen 1-3, 4, 6-9,11 (Westermann) in Gen 1-11: von Rad includes forgiveness: sin, speech, forgiveness, punishment: Clines rejects a theme of sin-speech-mitigation-punishment because it does not contain the genealogies which he sees as a recurring motif and suggests: spread of sin - spread of grace. Whether one wants to go along with any of the above suggestions about the literary divisions or patterns in Gen 1-11, there is almost unanimous agreement that there is a tightly formed literary pattern and we are meant to be read it as a unity. Creation of the world and humans is torn apart when the relationship between God and humans is told in Gen 3 and between humans and humans in Gen 4. One of the literary patterns which may be considered to not only be present in Gen 1-11, but extend through into the remainder of the book of Genesis is that connected with the command in Gen 1:28 - ‘be fruitful and multiply’. Not only does the phrase occur in a number of places, but the lists of genealogies show that indeed the people have been fruitful and multiplied - Gen 5, 10, 11. The genealogies continue in Gen 12-50 at particular points: Gen 25:12 (These are the generations of Ishmael), Gen 25:19 (These are the generations of Isaac), Gen 36:1, (These are the generations of Esau), Gen 37:2 (These are the generations of Jacob). The genealogies not only show that God's command in Gen 1:28 has been followed, but the promises to Abraham in Gen 12:1-3, Gen 15:5 have come true. That is, Abram will have many descendants and become a great nation. At the point where each of the genealogies are listed we have the story of that person in the following chapters. Abraham in Gen 11:27-25:18: Jacob in Gen 25:19-36:43: Joseph, Judah and Jacob's family in Gen 37:1-50:26. There are a number of covenants mentioned in the Book of Genesis all of which come into the category of unconditional or promissory. Unlike the condition covenant in Exod 19 in which God seeks a response of obedience from the people, the covenants in Genesis are based on first person pronouncements by God. In Gen 9 it is an universal covenant with all living creatures, but once we move into Gen 12 the covenants are specific to Abraham and his descendants. the relationship has been set up from creation when humans were created to be in special relationship with God (Gen 1:26-27).

Attempts have been made since the 18th century to explain such things as: a different word used for God -Yahwist or Elohim: multiple versions of the same story = Abraham’s pretence, Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-18, 26:6-16: repetition within the same story = Gen 6:5-7, 11-12: contradictions - for example, Exod 20:24 gives permission to offer sacrifices at numerous altars v Deut 12:13-14 which forbids this and restricts sacrifice to one place only or Gen 7:17 in which the flood remains for 40 days v Gen 7:24 in which the flood remains for 150 days and other examples. The classic theory suggests that the Pentateuch has a number of written sources as well as the early oral traditions which account for the sort of differences mentioned above. In Gen 1-11 there is the Priestly source which can be seen in Gen1:1-2:4a, 6:9-22, some verses in Gen 7-8, 9:1-17, 10:1-7, 11:10-27 and the remaining texts come from the Yahwistic source. Some characteristics of what is know as the 'P' source are: the use of the Hebrew term toledoth/generations, the writing is sophisticated and often in a liturgical style (Gen1:1-2:4a), in the creation account God speaks and it happens, humans are made in the image of God, the covenant is unconditional and can be made with the animals, and an abiding concern to state numbers and years. The Yahwistic source uses myths and sagas to tell the story, God and animals speak (anthropomorphic), the world is very small (Gen 2:10-14) compared with the universal world of the 'P' source (Gen 1:1-2:4a).

Historical: (History within the text) Gen 12-50 tells the stories about Abram and his descendants as they move from Haran into the land of Canaan and begin wandering around the land and then into Egypt. These stories began as oral traditions passed down within the tribes long before they became part of the written tradition. It is the way many cultures remember their history, but in the Western world we became influenced by the enlightened definition of 'history' which understood 'history' as written facts from an objective viewpoint. This has caused many scholars to debate whether the Patriarchs can be proven to be true people through archaeological means. Other scholars say that this is not possible and therefore they cannot be historical people. If this argument was applied to Bedouin tribes or Australian Aboriginal people we deny them any history. History as oral tradition passed down is the history of a people, and does not need to be justified by Western values. The people are portrayed as very human with all their faults and strengths - they lie, deceive, steal, test God, they have courage, journey into the unknown, seek God, question God and are obedient. These traits apply to men and women, and many of the women (Sarah, Rebecca, Tamar) play a significant role in the working out of the promises of God. I encourage people to read these stories for themselves.

Context of Gen 1:1-2:4a
This reading is the first of the creation accounts which needs to be read along with Gen 2:4b-3:24 to gain the full theological message. Gen1:1-2:4a is set out in a liturgical style and is very sophisticated with God speaking creation into being. This story of creation has many similarities to the story in Gen 2:4b-3:24, for example, God creates, humans have a special relationship with God, and the earth provides food for humans and animals. Some major differences are the universal world versus a small defined area (Gen 2:10-14), God breathes into the nostrils of humans (Gen 2:7) rather that the spirit over the whole earth (Gen 1:2), humans are to till and keep the earth (Gen 2:15) rather than have dominion over it (Gen 1:26). A major aspect of the Gen 2:4b contains the story of human's disobedience and their desire to be like God. If this creation story had been omitted we would bereft of the theological explanation of human disobedience and desire to be like God. After the story of humans breaking the relationship with God we read of humans breaking the relationship between one another, this time caused through jealousy (Gen 4). So this pattern of God creating, human's disobeying, followed by punishment, and then God's willingness to heal the breach becomes the pattern which Israel follows for the generations to come.

Insights/Message Gen 1:1-2:4a
Literary structure:This account has an obvious seven day structure: Day 1 = Light. Day 2 = Waters/Firmament. Day 3 = Dry Land / Vegetation. Day 4 = Luminaries. Day 5 = Fish and Birds. Day 6 = Land animals/People/ Vegetation for food (Fretheim:342). Day 7 = Rest. The chapter begins with the creation of 'heavens and earth' and the 'heavens and earth' were completed in Gen 2:1. What is enclosed in this repetition are the details of who was the Creator, and the description of what was created. The Hebrew word 'bara' which means 'he created', only ever has God as the subject, which separates the abilities of humans who cannot 'bara' from God (Scullion:23). God begins the whole universe with creation of light and humanity is the final part of the creative activity. This order is the opposite to the account in Gen 2:4b-3:24 . So one account has humans as the fulfillment and the other has humans as the first thing created. The pattern is quite tight with God speaking creation into being and it happens immediately (vv.3,6,9,11,14,20,24,26,29), followed by the pronouncement that it is good. The use of the Hebrew Jussive - "let there be ..." is much softer that some of the direct commands we find later in the Scriptures, and appears to be in consultation with all the elements. The Hebrew word for wind is the same as that used for spirit (ruach) and like the word spoken is indicative of God's presence in the act of creation. The sun and the moon are not named when they are created, but are referred to as the 'greater light' and 'lesser light ' (v.16), which asserts Yahweh as the only God. As well as creating, God makes, separates, blesses, gathers, sets, gives, sees and finally rests. The intensity of the verbs both gives a pattern and force to the description of creation. The task given to humans in vv. 26 and 28 is to 'have dominion' over every living thing and 'fill the earth and subdue it'. Freithem suggests the meaning of dominion (Heb - rada) should be understood as care giving not exploiting (Fretheim:346), and subdue (Heb - kabas) focuses on the hard task of cultivating the earth. If one looks up a Hebrew lexicon the meanings given for 'dominion' are centred around 'rule over' and 'prevail against'. It is difficult to accept Fretheim's interpretation. 'To subdue ' carries with it the meanings of, 'to bring into bondage, to oppress or to force'. The repetition of God resting on the seventh day in Gen 2:2-3 (3x) emphasises the importance of the Sabbath.

Message / Theology:The use of 'bara' (Hebrew= create) is making the point that God is the one who is behind creation. Humans cannot 'bara': they can form or make, but not create. Some scholars want to speak of a doctrine of creation 'ex nihilo', which means God created out of nothing. However, while there is no discernible shape there appears to be waters over which the spirit of God moves and God creates order out of chaos. The issue of creation out of nothing became a problem when the Hebrew and Hellenistic came together in the 4 BCE (Scullion:16). The repetition of the refrain, "And God saw that it was good" emphasises that this creation is supreme and approved by God. The omission to name the sun and moon could be quite deliberate in order to demonstrate that there was only one God who was Creator of the universe. This was especially important when the Israelites were living in cultures which proclaimed many gods. Some cultures worshipped the sun and moon as gods and the avoidance of naming them not only takes away any power, but virtually suggests they don't exist. This statement about a monotheistic God is challenging any other beliefs about gods. God is portrayed as both transcendent in that the Word expresses the divine intent and at the same time God is a part of the creative deed (Fretheim: 343).

God makes humans in 'our image' (Gen1:26), a term which has puzzled scholars for centuries with no definitive answer. It is a high view of humanity especially with the unique naming of 'male and female he created them' (v.27). No other creation story names the genders in the same way and this creation story has no suggestion of subordination of one to another. If female and male are made in the image of God, it affirms the dignity and worth of both equally. Humans are given the responsibility both, to populate the world, and to have dominion over the animals and subdue the earth. From the discussion above we know in our time exactly what the consequences are from this sort of attitude to the earth. The world is in crisis because of the exploitation of animals and the earth. The world up until the industrial revolution worked the land with primitive tools which could not do the damage we are involved in at the present time. It is only in recent decades that the Church has been challenged to look again at these commands and interpret them anew in light of the machinery/technology that we have available now. In creation God gave humans power which can be used for good or bad in the world and we are called to live out responsible use and care of the earth's resources in view of the needs of the whole world.

The seventh day will be a holy day because God rested and this has been part of the Jewish and Christian tradition. It has played a crucial role in maintaining identify for the Jews in exile and Diaspora. The Sabbath is when the community comes together and remembers their past in order to give hope and vision for the future. Christians are in the same situation in a world with it many influences and enticements away from God, and unless they meet as community and know their past and visions for the future they will lose their identity. God blesses the humans and the Sabbath which accentuates the importance of keeping it holy.

The Bible begins with a testimony to the universal activity of God and not the birth of Israel which is why the New Testament does not need make any statements about God as Creator. This is proclaimed so clearly at the at the start of the canon there is no need to repeat it. Indeed, it assumes it. Brueggemann says: xxxxx"'The blessed world is indeed the world that God intended. Delighting in the creation, God will neither abandon it nor withdraw its permit of freedom (Brueggemann:37)

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Mth 28:16-20, these words may allude to the Dan 7:14 which uses the title. 'Son of Man' and to whom all authority in heaven and on earth is given. It may also be a further typology of Moses in which Jesus goes to a mountain to speak with his disciples as does Moses at the end of theri lives.

Resources/Worship for Gen 1:1-2:4a
Worship:   I have heard a colleague say that Ps 8 is a commentary on the creation accounts. It makes a wonderful affirmation with which to begin a service of worship. Gen 1 could be read with different voices for the different aspects of creation. For example, a new voice for each section which begins with the words, "Let there be ...", and a narrator for the other parts.

Resources: Commentaries

The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the book.

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

Brenner, Athalya, ed. A Feminist companion to Genesis. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993.
———. ed. Genesis. Feminist companion to the Bible (Second Series), 1. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.
Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. Int. Atlanta, Ga.: John Knox 1982.
Coats, George W. Genesis, with an Introduction to Narrative Literature. FOTL. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1983.
Davies, Philip R., and David J. A. Clines, eds. The world of Genesis: Persons, Places, Perspectives. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.
Fretheim,Terrence E. “The Book of Genesis: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections.” In The New Interpreter’s Bible. Vol 1. Abingdon: Nashville, 1994.
Hamilton,Victor P. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1–17. NICOT. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1990.
———. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18–50. NICOT, Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1995

Hess, Richard S., and David Toshio Tsumura, eds. I Studied Inscriptions from before the Flood: Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic Approaches to Genesis 1-11. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1994.
Moberly, R. W. L. Genesis 12-50. OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992.
Rogerson, J. W. Genesis 1-11, OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1996.
Scullion, John J. Genesis: A Commentary for Students, Teachers, and Preachers. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1992.
Waltke, Bruce K., and Cathi J. Fredricks. Genesis: A Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, c2001. Call Number: 222.11077 W237g
Wenham,Gordon J. Genesis 1-15. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987.
———. Genesis 16-50. WBC. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1994.
Westermann, Claus. Genesis: A Practical Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1987.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: 

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