Reflections on Genesis 1 – Background
June 6, 2011 37 Comments
I recently realized that our men’s class hadn’t studied a single Old Testament book in depth in at least five years. So last night we started a class on Genesis and from time to time I want to share some reflections that come out of preparing to teach that class.
First there is the title. Our title “Genesis” comes from the Greek Old Testament (aka Septuagint) and means “origins.” The Hebrews were far more innovative in creating titles for their books than that. They just took the first word in Genesis and made it the title. That word means “In the beginning.” Genesis is a book of origins. It explains the origin of people, the world, sin and redemption, the Hebrew nation (not to be confused with Gator nation) and last how God’s people ended up in Egypt. There is one origin that is left out and that is the origin of God. Unlink the other ancient religions the God of the Hebrews had no beginning or end.
Then there is the issue of time. Genesis presupposes that God is without beginning or end. Time doesn’t even appear to be an issue until the fourth day when God made the sun, moon and stars to designate set periods of time. The issue of seven days doesn’t seem to be so much an explanation of how long creation took more so that there was order to it and that it grew out of God’s creative speech in a certain order. The first 12 chapters spans thousands (or millions of years depending on your point of view) but the last 39 chapters is really about one family spanning a few hundred years at best.
Genesis never tells us who wrote it. It is anonymous. The Pentateuch is referred to as the “Law of Moses” in several places in the OT including Joshua 1:7-8 and 2 Chronicles 25:4. Jesus refers to Moses being the author (Mtt 19:7, Mark 7:10). So we assume that Moses was the primary author of Genesis-Deuteronomy. However, we know there are certain passage that did not come from Moses (see Numbers 12:3 & Deut 34). That is not earth shattering and should not be a stumbling flock to our faith. It is also not an issue when it comes to acceptance as inspired scripture. Genesis through Deuteronomy are still useful for building and informing our faith regardless of the process in which it was completed in the form we have today.
People have wondered where the world came from since the beginning of time. Many have attempted to answer that question by telling stories of their own to give explanation to what they see around them in the world. Many of the cultures surrounding God’s people in the ancient world had their stories. One of the most prominent creation stories was the Babylonian creation story Enuma Elish. Without getting into too many details their story says that matter was pre-existent. The gods were created and created more gods. They got disgruntled and battled it out. The result was Marduk, one of the elder gods, was killed and his body split in two. One half was made into the heavens and the other half made the earth. Mankind was created out of dust and demon blood (really a great beginning to our story…right?). What you end up with are “gods” that look and act a whole lot like people.
One thing I love about our story as Christians is that it is so unlike any other competing story about the super natural or eternal life out there. Yes there are some similarities in teaching with other religions but when you look at the broad theology of both testaments there is nothing else out there quite like it. So the Genesis creation story becomes that much fuller when you hold it up alongside the competing stories of their day and so does the rest of scripture. God is sovereign. He is not vying for power or in competition with anyone else for authority. God speaks and it happens. But He is also willing to set aside his immortality, take on flesh, and show us how to live. He confronted sin and death in a gruelling death match that lasts less than 48 hours (late Friday through early Sunday) and paved the way for us to live life as it was intended to be lived, eternal.