Bible Study - Genesis One I
Release Date: 09/14/2023
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After summarizing the Orthodox approach to scripture, Fr. Anthony begins a verse by verse examination of Genesis One. We made it up to "Image and Likeness!"
We have to read texts according to their purpose and scope. The purpose of the Bible is to describe the economy of our salvation (i.e. mankind’s sin, Christ/Messiah as our savior).
The Bible is inspired; God spoke through prophets and scribes who automatically presented His revelations in their own language, with their own symbols, and in a way that their immediate audiences would understand.
Our worldview (our language, symbols, and stories) is very different from those of the prophets, scribes, and their immediate audience; mirror-imaging can lead to incorrect understandings of the Bible, God, and His plan for us.
Genesis One (read the first four days using Septuagint and Hebrew translations; pause to make points).
1. In [the] beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void [Tohu wa bohu]; and darkness was on the face of the deep. 2. And the Spirit of God [!] was hovering over the face of the waters [where did they come from?] 3. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light [!]. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day [?], and the darkness He called Night [?]. So the evening and the morning were the first day [liturgical time!].
6 Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” 7 Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. 8 And God called the firmament Heaven [use of ancient cosmology does not need to be explained away or excused; the explanation is functional, not astronomical/geographical!] . So the evening and the morning were the second day.
9 Then God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. 10 And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. And God saw that it was good.[imagery of the Nile – agricultural, miraculous, dependable]
11 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind [we’ll explore this “according to its kind later; order is important in the temple!], whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so. 12 And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 So the evening and the morning were the third day.
14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. 16 Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night [why the ambigious language? De-divinization of creation!]. He made the stars also. 17 God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 So the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
- Although there are similarities with the creation myths of surrounding nations, the contrasts are stark; the Hebrews are given a new way of understand God and the world.
- E.g. The Enuma Elish (Babylon, at least 7th century BC) has Marduk overcoming chaos (personified in Tiamat); he then creates the heaven and earth by splitting her.
- In the Genesis creation account, creation is demythologized (e.g. deep/chaos, sun, stars). These sorts of things show up later, but the creation account is kept pristine so as to make the distinction between Creator and creation clear.
- There is a pattern (7 days, 7 “it was good’s”; things are “according to their kind”) that speaks not just to poetry, but to liturgical use.
- Speaking of liturgy, note that evening is the beginning of the day (as with Vespers).
- You can imagine this being chanted/sung the way we do Psalm 103 at Vespers (creation!).
- Creation is spoken into being. See also the Gospel of John 1 (“In the beginning was the Word…”) and Amos 8 (fear a famine of the Word). Also see C.S. Lewis The Magician’s Nephew.
- We know that creation is ex nihilo (from nothing), but that is not necessarily being asserted here (although many say it is).
- This is not a description of a factory of creation (i.e. the “how” of creation), but a functional creation (purpose and meaning).
Some Examples of the Functional Creation
- Day One: The creation of time.
- Day Two: Room for people to live. Weather.
- Day Three: Production of food.
St. Augustine, One the Literal Interpretation of Genesis 3:10.
Scripture called heaven and earth that formless matter of the universe, which was changed into formed and beautiful natures by God’s ineffable command.… This heaven and earth, which were confused and mixed up, were suited to receive forms from God their maker.
Basil the Great; Hexaemeron 1.5.
It appears, indeed, that even before this world an order of things existed of which our mind can form an idea but of which we can say nothing, because it is too lofty a subject for men who are but beginners and are still babes in knowledge. The birth of the world was preceded by a condition of things suitable for the exercise of supernatural powers, outstripping the limits of time, eternal and infinite. The Creator and Demiurge of the universe perfected his works in it, spiritual light for the happiness of all who love the Lord, intellectual and invisible natures, all the orderly arrangement of pure intelligences who are beyond the reach of our mind and of whom we cannot even discover the names.
I mean, this is an extraordinary thing, Genesis 1 … things don’t quite come in the right order. I mean, it’s striking that it begins with energy for light, “Let there be light.” It’s striking that life starts in the waters and moves onto the land.
But of course … the sun and moon and stars only come on the fourth day. And of course, there wouldn’t be any life without the stars, because that’s where they make the raw material for life. So that isn’t right. And we believe that one of the reasons, we believe in theology, one of the reasons why the sun, moon and stars come downstream, so to speak, is that the writer is wanting to say the sun and the moon aren’t deities. They’re not to be worshipped….
They are creatures just like everything else. And that shows us that what we’re reading is a theologically oriented thing and not a scientifically oriented thing. I mean, you have to figure out, when you read something and you want to read it respectfully, you have to figure out what it is you’re reading. Is it poetry or is it prose? If you read poetry and think it’s prose, you will make the most astonishing mistakes. [And Genesis 1…] is much more like a poem than like prose. And that’s, in a sense, the sadness of the “creationist” so-called position, that these people who are really wanting to be respectful to scripture are, I think, ironically, being disrespectful, because they’re not using it in the right way.
Walton, J. H. (pp. 49–50).
The creation account in Genesis 1 can then be seen to begin with no functions rather than with no material. At this point, however, it is important to establish what we mean when we talk of functions… In the ancient world, function was not the result of material properties, but the result of purpose. The sun looks down on all and is associated with the god of justice. It functions as a marker for time and seasons. When the ancient texts talk about how something functions in an ordered system, the system under discussion is not a cosmic or ecological system. It is a system inhabited by beings…In the Old Testament God has no needs and focuses functionality around people. We will see increasing evidence of this understanding as we move through the remainder of Genesis 1. Consequently, functionality cannot exist without people in the picture. In Genesis people are not put in place until day six, but functionality is established with their needs and situation in mind.
Major Points for Discussion
Who is God (i.e. what does “Elohim” mean?). Elohim is a plural noun that can either describe beings from the/a spiritual realm (e.g. gods, angels, maybe even ghosts) or the One Uncreated God (it’s obvious which one it is by grammatical context).
What does “according to its kind” mean? It is not an attack on science. Here’s a gem of a quote from St. Augustine’s tract against Felix the Manichean (quoted here);
In the Gospel we do not read that the Lord said: I send you the Holy Spirit so that He might teach you all about the course of the sun and the moon. The Lord wanted to make Christians, not astronomers. You learn at school all the useful things you need to know about nature. It is true that Christ said that the Holy Spirit will come to lead us into all truth, but He is not speaking there about the course of the sun and the moon. If you think that knowledge about these things belongs to the truth that Christ promised through the Holy Spirit, then I ask you: how many stars are there? I say that such things do not belong to Christian teaching…whereas you affirm that this teaching includes knowledge about how the world was made and what takes place in the world.
The point being made is that 1) there is an order to creation that is logical (and created through the Logos!) and 2) the multitude of creation reflects God’s glory and purpose. God led the Hebrews to make seeing things “according to their kind a virtuous instinct. What do we lose when we don’t?
Who is God talking to when He says “Let US make man…”? Different explanations. Could be the “Royal We” (not likely). Could be the Heavenly Hosts (i.e. the Divine Council). The main explanation (because we read in the light of Christ) is the Trinity.
What is “The Image of God”? Lots of good answers (ask for some). At the very least, it means that we re-present God in creation (just as Christ does as the New Adam; “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Colossians 1:15).
What is the “Likeness of God”? Again, many good answers. The usual one is that it is His purity and holiness (theosis). This is something we have to grow into (more on that once we talk more about mankind).
Enjoy the show!