Category Archive: Bible – OT – Genesis

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October 14, 2016

The Dominion Couple

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis,Family :: Link :: Print

To whom did God give the mandate to fill the earth and subdue it and to have dominion over the creatures? Did he give that mandate to Adam and Woman together or did he give it to Adam specifically? The latter, says Douglas Wilson in Reforming Marriage. (I blogged about this yesterday, but having read further in the book, I found more worth discussing on this subject.)

The Lord had created Adam and given him a task (Gen. 2:15). In addition to taking care of the Garden of Eden, Adam was also to multiply and replenish the earth. There was an obvious need for a helper as he could not multiply the species all by himself. The task assigned to him was that of exercising dominion over the earth; in order to accomplish this task many descendants were needed. But in addition to the obvious help of making Adam fruitful, Eve was also to accompany him in his vocation and assist him in it (p. 29, emphasis added).

Again and again, this paragraph indicates that the task of filling the earth and “exercising dominion over the earth” was given to Adam. Adam is to be fruitful and, because he can’t do that by himself, he needs a helper, namely Eve. Adam is to exercise dominion over the earth and, because that’s too big of a task to do by himself, he needs the offspring that he can have only with Eve’s help and he needs her “to accompany him in his vocation and assist him in it.” But make no mistake, on this reading, it is his vocation (not her’s).

Only one verse is cited in this paragraph, namely Genesis 2:15 (“And YHWH God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to serve and guard it”). This was the task given to Adam, as the first sentence of this paragraph says. It was given to Adam before Woman was created.

But the next sentence moves past this specific task to talk about another task — the mandate given in Genesis 1: 28 — and it speaks about this task as if this task too was given specifically to Adam. But as I pointed out yesterday, that’s not what Genesis 1:28 says. Rather, it says that “God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'”

The task of being fruitful and multiplying wasn’t given to Adam specifically but to Adam and Woman together. It’s not that he is to be fruitful and she helps him be fruitful; rather, they are to be fruitful. The task of subduing the earth and having dominion over the critters wasn’t given to Adam specifically but to Adam and Woman together. It’s her calling, her mandate, her task just as much as it is his. God blessed them both and he blessed them together with this calling in the world.

Wilson’s approach to the cultural mandate of Genesis 1 continues to affect what he writes on subsequent pages:

This creation order means that all husbands are called to a particular task…. Their wives are called to the role of aiding and supporting them in their calling…. Under God, he is defined by the work to which he is called, while she is defined by the man to whom she is called (p. 30).

I’m not persuaded that each man is “called to a particular task,” that one man might be called to be a farmer and another might be called to be a teacher and another might be called to be a baker and yet another might be called to be a plumber. While that idea has a long historical pedigree, I don’t find it in Scripture.

But leave that aside for now. On Wilson’s view, only the husband has this calling to a task. The wife, on the other hand, is not called to a task; she is called to a man, namely, her husband. Her involvement in a task is indirect: by “aiding and supporting” him — or, as Wilson said of Eve earlier, “accompany[ing] him in his vocation and assist[ing] him in it.”

It’s not clear whether “accompany[ing] him in his vocation and assist[ing] him in it” requires a plumber’s wife to be a plumber’s assistant. In fact, it’s not clear at all what it would mean for a woman to “accompany” her husband “in his vocation.” But it is clear that on Wilson’s view, the vocation or task are the man’s, not the woman’s. Again, this is not what Genesis 1 says.

Note too that while Wilson is speaking specifically of husbands and wives here, what he says has implications for single women and widows. Are women, single or otherwise, never called to a task — or at least, never called to a task outside the home  Is a single woman simply waiting to be called to a man  If she, while single, pursues an occupation — becomes a teacher or a doctor or a restaurant manager, let’s say — is that just a job she does but, no matter how well she does it and how much she enjoys it, not a vocation or not a direct engagement in the Genesis 1 mandate?

Where does the Bible teach that a man “is defined by the work to which he is called” but a woman (or, specifically, a wife) “is defined by the man to whom she is called”? Isn’t a man also called to a wife  May a woman not be called to some work?  Of course, they are. In Genesis 1, Scripture makes clear that men and women are called to work; in Genesis 2, Scripture makes clear that men and women are called to their spouses (Gen 2:24: “ Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife”).

On the next page, Wilson goes on:

In no way does this mean that women are not competent in many of the tasks they do. A crescent wrench can be used to pound in nails, but that is not what a crescent wrench is for  There are some tasks detached from the home in which women do outstanding work. But just because someone is able to do a job does not mean that he is called by God to the task. A wife can do many tasks in the home and find fulfillment in doing them. Her husband, confronted with the same job, would be able to do it, but it is like eating gravel for him. He finds no fulfillment; he is not called to the task in the same way she is (p. 31).

Now we find that both husband and wife are called to tasks, but the tasks are in two realms: “tasks detached from the home” and “tasks in the home.” Women can “do outstanding work” in “some tasks detached from the home,” but they are not “called by God to the task.  On the other hand, a husband can do a task in the home but “he is not called to the task in the same way she is.”

This breakdown of tasks is presented here without Scriptural support but (apparently) as a matter of common sense. But it doesn’t seem like common sense to me.

What are these “tasks in the home” that a wife can find fulfillment in but a man cannot? Doing the dishes? Mopping the floor? Changing diapers? Cooking a meal (unless it’s outside on the grill or some “manly” food, like bacon or elk steak)? Wilson doesn’t say.

Do all wives find fulfillment in all of these tasks? Isn’t folding the fourth load of laundry in a single day or cleaning up the children’s room for the second time in a week ever like “eating gravel” for a wife? Do all husbands find no fulfillment in any of these tasks? If a man really enjoys doing the dishes, does that make him less manly? What if he likes baking cookies? Should someone let him know that that’s like using a crescent wrench to  pound in nails, that that’s not what he’s for?

And how valid is the parallel implied here?

A husband can do a task in the home but without enjoyment or fulfillment.

A woman can do “outstanding work” outside the home (implied: but without enjoyment or fulfillment).

Isn’t it the case that, just as some husbands enjoy some tasks in the home and find great fulfillment in them, so some women enjoy some tasks in jobs outside the home and find great fulfillment in them? For that matter, don’t almost all jobs entail some aspects that are satisfying and others that aren’t, regardless of whether those jobs are at home or outside the home, done by men or done by women?

In spite of the use of the word “task” now to describe what the woman has in the home, it is clear that on Wilson’s view wives — or women in general: both “women” and “wives” are used in this paragraph — do not have a vocation, a calling, a task “detached from the home.” Taken with what Wilson says earlier, it would seem that the wife’s role as “helper” involves being called to a man and serving him primarily by doing tasks in the home, especially the tasks that are “like eating gravel” for her husband.

But Genesis 1 and 2 say nothing of the sort. Again: the mandate to fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the creatures — the mandate which is also God’s blessing given to his image — is given to Adam and Woman. Both are God’s image. Both are blessed. Both have this calling. Single men and single women, married men and married women are equally called to tasks in the world. It is not Adam’s blessing (mediated through him to Eve). And it is not Adam’s mandate (performed with Eve’s assistance). It is their blessing, their mandate, carried out through their various tasks.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:55 pm | Discuss (0)
October 13, 2016

Helper & Helpee?

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis,Marriage,Theology - Liturgical,Theology - Pastoral :: Link :: Print

In Reforming Marriage, Douglas Wilson quotes Genesis 2:18 (“It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him”) and 1 Corinthians 11:9 (“Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man”) and then draws this conclusion:

As a result of the creation order, men and women are oriented to one another differently. They need one another, but they need one another differently. The man needs the help; the woman needs to help. Marriage was created by God to provide companionship in the labor of dominion. The cultural mandate, the requirement to fill and subdue the earth, is still in force, and a husband cannot fulfill this portion of the task in isolation. He needs a companion suitable for him in the work to which God has called him. He is called to the work and must receive help from her.  She is called to the work through ministering to him. He is oriented to the task, and she is oriented to him (p. 19).

I’ve read this book several times and have used it in premarital counseling, but as I read it this afternoon this passage stood out to me and a bunch of questions came to mind.

Are we to think here of men and women, in general, or only of a husband and his wife? Presumably it is the latter. Though the opening sentence speaks of “men and women,” it goes on to speak of how they are “oriented to one another,” and in the context that would be in marriage. Still, it is possible to (mis!)read the next sentence (“The man needs the help; the woman needs to help”) as if it were speaking about every man and every woman, as if women exist to help men. One could wish the wording were clearer to guard against that misreading, but a close reading does suggest to me that Wilson has in mind only husbands and wives.

Still, some questions remain. Is it true that husbands need to be helped and women need to help, and not the other way round? Is Genesis 2 making a blanket statement about husbands and wives, teaching us that the husband is to do the work and needs help in doing it, while the wife is only to assist in the work as her husband’s helper? Does a wife never do the “the labor of dominion” directly, but instead takes part in it only “through ministering to” her husband? May she not be involved in some “labor of dominion” that is distinct from her husband’s particular labor, that she does without ministering to him? Is the husband not to be oriented to her? Is she not in any way oriented to the task (or even to a task that is not her husband’s task)? Is this orientation thing an either/or, either an orientation toward work or an orientation to a spouse? Can it not in some way be both?

Surely “the labor of dominion” in Genesis 1 includes procreation. The command-blessing there is “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” That, as Wilson says on the next page, is something a man cannot do on his own. But is procreation something that the husband does with the assistance of his wife? Is she only helping him do his task of being fruitful and multiplying? Is she involved in procreation only “through ministering to him”? Is he “oriented to the task” of procreation, while “she is oriented to him”?

On the contrary. In the Bible, the mandate given as a blessing in Genesis 1 is given only after the creation of Woman (that is, chronologically after what is reported to us in Genesis 2) and is given to both Adam and Woman:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:26-28).

Both of them are created in God’s image. Both of them, male and female, are blessed. To both of them God gives the mandate to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it, to have dominion over the fish and birds and animals. There is no hint here that this mandate is given to the man, with his wife in only a helping role. She receives the mandate too.  She is to be fruitful and multiply as much as he is, and they take part in this calling together. He helps her and she helps him. He receives her help and she receives his help.

What is true of procreation, of being fruitful and multiplying, is true of the other aspects of this mandate, subduing the earth and having dominion over the creatures. As James Jordan has written, “The cultural mandate is given equally to men and women (Gen. 1:28). In cultural life, the man is to help the woman as much as the woman helps the man.”

It is not only that “The man needs the help; the woman needs to help.” It is also that “The woman needs the help; the man needs to help.” Both the husband and the wife are involved in carrying out the mandate God gave, and both need each other’s help in various ways.

What about Genesis 2, then? Doesn’t God say that he is making the woman to be a “helper comparable to” Adam?  It certainly does. But a helper with what?

In Reforming Marriage, Wilson links the help with the “labor of dominion,” but that isn’t mentioned in the context in Genesis 2. At the time God created the woman, the cultural mandate had not yet been given; it wasn’t given, according to Genesis 1, until after the woman was created and then it was given to them both. What about procreation? Again, nothing is mentioned about that in Genesis 2.

One might think more generally of companionship. After all, God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” There is a certain sort of companionship, a certain sort of help, that the wife gives to her husband, a kind of help that he cannot receive from another man or from one of the animals, a kind of help for which he needs someone similar but different, fully human and “comparable to him” but not exactly the same.

That’s true enough. But note, too, the flow of events in Genesis 2. God created Adam first and then created the Garden and put Adam into the Garden to serve it and to guard it, tasks that are later associated with the work of priests. The Garden is God’s sanctuary, the place where God will meet with his people. Adam does not have dominion over it and is not going to subdue it. It is not Adam’s Garden but God’s, and Adam is in it as a priest, a palace servant, commissioned to serve and guard it. That priestly task is given to Adam, along with the gift of all the trees of the Garden (including, obviously, the Tree of Life) and with the warning not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Only at that point does God say that it is not good for the man to be alone and that he needs “a helper comparable to him.” If we are to associate the Woman’s role as “helper” here with any task given to Adam, it is not the task of dominion or of procreation or of cultural development, the tasks that hadn’t been given yet, but the priestly task, the task of serving and guarding the Garden, the task of worship and care for God’s sanctuary  — and that’s how Paul applies the creation order in 1 Timothy 2: not to all of life, not to cultural work or the “labor of dominion” but to the sphere of liturgy and worship (see the provocative discussion here; my link does not, of course, necessarily imply agreement with everything in this article).

Genesis 2, then, is not talking generally about men and women or husbands and wives and doesn’t indicate that husbands are to be oriented toward their work, while their wives are to be oriented toward them and help them in their work. It’s talking, rather, about a specific sphere, a specific sort of work and help in that work. But the broader mandate, the mandate to fill and subdue and rule the world, God gave to men and women, husbands and wives, alike. Each works, each needs help in many ways, each gives help.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:25 pm | Discuss (0)
January 25, 2013

Rebekah Veiled (Gen 24:64-66)

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis :: Link :: Print

In Genesis 24, Abraham’s servant has traveled to Mesopotamia to bring back a bride for Isaac.  At the end of the chapter, Rebekah, traveling with the servant, sees Isaac walking in the field and asks the servant who he is.  On hearing the answer, Rebekah then veils herself.  Why?

It’s certainly not the case that women in that day wore veils at all times, or even at times when they were around men.  After all, Rebekah has been traveling unveiled with Abraham’s servant up till now.  It is only when she sees her future husband that she covers herself with the veil.  She is veiled with regard to him, and that seems to symbolize that they are not yet one flesh.  There is a barrier between them; they cannot yet be face to face.

But why does Rebekah veil herself at this particular point in time?

In the story of Jacob and Leah and Rachel, though the text doesn’t mention it, it seems as if Leah must have been veiled on the wedding day or else Jacob would have recognized that she wasn’t Rachel.  But surely we aren’t to think that for the entire seven years that Jacob served for Rachel leading up to this wedding day, she was veiled.  Sure, she was his future wife.  But there’s no reason to think he didn’t see her face to face.  Rather, it makes sense that she wore the veil — or rather, Leah-pretending-to-be-Rachel, wore the veil — only on the wedding day, only during the hours leading up to the wedding.

If so, that would suggest that when Rebekah veils herself on seeing Isaac in the distance, she is doing so, not only in anticipation of the wedding, but in anticipation that the wedding is going to happen that very day.  She is not planning to veil herself for the next few weeks until some future wedding day.  She is not anticipating a period of courtship, of “getting to know one another.”  Just as she was willing to leave her home for the promised land the morning after Abraham’s servant arrived, so she is ready to get married instantly, without delay to the promised seed. She has agreed to marry Isaac and she is ready for the wedding today.  That’s faith.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:10 pm | Discuss (0)
December 29, 2012

Eunuchs

Category: Bible - NT - Mark,Bible - OT - Genesis,Bible - OT - Isaiah :: Link :: Print

Isaiah 56 describes the good news of coming salvation in terms of the inclusion of eunuchs in the house of God.  Formerly, they were excluded from the assembly of Yahweh; they could not draw near to God (Deut 23:1).  But why were they excluded?

As with many other exclusions from the assembly — for instance, the exclusion of those who have an emission or who have touched someone who is dead — the reason is symbolic, symbolic of something in the Old Creation so that when Christ comes and we enter the New Creation these exclusions no longer apply.  Death results from sin, and if you touch someone dead it spreads so that you yourself are symbolically dead, and you may not bring that stench of death-as-a-result-of-man’s-sin into God’s presence.  So too with the eunuch.

What is a eunuch?  A eunuch is a man who is physically unable to beget, a man who by reason of damage to his organs of generation barren and fruitless.  His fruitlessness symbolizes those who do not bear fruit to God’s glory, and, as Jesus teaches, those who do not bear fruit will be cut off and burned (John 15).

But now associate that with Mark 11:12ff. and the cursing of the fig tree.  In my previous blog entry, I noted that Jesus, in his temple action, quotes from Isaiah 56 about his house becoming a house of prayer for all nations.  This is not a statement about how it was always supposed to be, but about the salvation that was still future in Isaiah’s day.  And Jesus makes it clear that that time of salvation is now here.  But the context in Isaiah 56 also talks about the eunuch who is not to see himself as a withered tree.  The fig tree that represents the fruitless temple and those who take refuge in it withers under Jesus’ curse, but when Jesus comes, eunuchs are no longer fruitless; they may enter God’s house and have a fruit better than sons and daughters and a name that will never die.

One step further: What’s the first reference to fig trees in the Bible?  Genesis 3, where Adam and Woman sew fig leaves into garments with which they hide their genitals from each other.  (Not from God: When he comes, they want something bigger to hide behind and so they hide behind the trees of the Garden.)  Specifically, then, the first appearance of fig leaves is as garments that cover the source of man and woman’s fruitfulness.

The temple and those who use it as their hideout have fig leaves but no fruitfulness toward God.  They are Adam and Woman, covering their fruitlessness.  But Jesus exposes their fruitlessness.  They are eunuchs who are banned from His house.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:18 pm | Discuss (0)
December 21, 2012

Isn’t Jesus’ Love Enough?

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis,Marriage :: Link :: Print

This morning, I read most of Justin Buzzard’s little book, Date Your Wife: A Husband’s Guide.  The title is somewhat misleading — very little of the book is really about having a “date” with your wife — and I have some quibbles about certain aspects of the content (religion vs. Christianity), but there’s some good, practical, and gospel-grounded stuff here.  I could say more, but this isn’t a book review and I have something else on my mind.

The foreword to the book is by Tullian Tchividjian and it contains a line that made me raise my eyebrows.  Here it is in context:

I enjoy receiving love from my wife.  I’m ecstatic when Kim loves me and expresses affection toward me.  Something in me comes alive when she does that.  But I’ve learned this freeing truth: I don’t need that love, because in Jesus I receive all the love I need.  This in turn liberates me to love her without apprehension or condition.  I get to revel in her enjoyment of my love without needing anything from her in return.  I get love from Jesus so that I can give love to her (10-11).

The line in question is in the middle of that paragraph: “I don’t need that love” — the love of a wife — “because in Jesus I receive all the love I need.”  At first, that sounds right.  Jesus is all we need, isn’t he?  If we have him, we have everything.  Doesn’t Paul say “For me to live is Christ”?

And yet here’s what raises a question in my mind.  In the beginning, on the sixth day, God creates Adam from the dust of the ground and breathes the Spirit into his nostrils and Adam becomes a living soul.  God then plants a garden in Eden and puts Adam into it.  This is not Adam’s garden; it is God’s garden, God’s sanctuary, and Adam is there as a priest to tend and guard it (language associated with priests later in Scripture).  God speaks to Adam and gives him permission to eat from every tree in God’s garden, with the exception of one.

But then God says something that ought to surprise us more than it does: “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”  How was Adam alone?  Didn’t he have fellowship with God?  Of course he did!  Isn’t that fellowship enough?  Apparently not.  Shouldn’t Adam have said “I don’t need a wife (or her love or anything from her) because I have God (and His love) and that’s enough to meet all my needs”?  No. Adam had fellowship with God, but he also needed a wife.  And he needed a wife, not an angel, not an animal, but also not a male buddy or a female friend; he needed a wife, someone who was bound together with him, one flesh with him.

Of course, Jesus’ love for us is the foundation of all our blessings.  Certainly Jesus’ love empowers a man to love his wife, even when she isn’t lovely or isn’t loving him in return.  But a man who has Jesus and in him has fellowship with God still needs other people.  It is not good for him to be alone.  And it’s right for him to say to his wife, “I need you.”

Posted by John Barach @ 2:33 pm | Discuss (5)
December 14, 2010

Eye and Ear: Philosophy and Revelation

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis,Ethics,Theology :: Link :: Print

In his The Beginning of Wisdom, Leon Kass argues that the Bible is not just “not a work of philosophy”; rather, it is actually

antiphilosophical, and deliberately so.  Religion and piety are one thing, philosophy and inquiry another.  The latter seek wisdom looking to nature and relying on unaided human reason; the former offer wisdom based on divine revelation and relying on prophecy (3).

Kass sees a relationship between this distinction and the distinction between the sense of sight and the sense of hearing.  Philosophy, according to Plato and Aristotle, starts with wonder and wonder is provoked by sight:

It is especially those natural wonders manifest to sight — for example, the changing phases of the moon or the wandering motions of the sun and planets through the zodiac — that prompt the search for wisdom: “for of all the senses, sight most of all makes us know something and reveals many distinctions” [Aristotle, Metaphysics, 982a22-29] (3).

But the Bible, unlike philosophy, begins with hearing, not sight:

For the Bible, in contrast, the beginning of wisdom comes not from wonder but from awe and reverence, and the goal is not understanding for its own sake but rather a righteous and holy life.  True, the Psalmist sings that “the heavens declare the glory of God and the sky proclaims His handiwork.”  But “the beginning of wisdom is the fear [awe; reverence] of the Lord, and good understanding comes to all who practice it.”  The path to wisdom and happiness lies not through wondrous sights seen by the eye but through awesome command heard by the ear….  Not the attractive, beautiful, ceaselessly circling, and seemingly imperishable heavenly bodies, but the awe-inspiring, sublime, ceaselessly demanding, and imperishable divine covenant and commandments provide the core of biblical wisdom.  The wisdom of Jerusalem is not the wisdom of Athens (3-4).

There is, of course, much more that could be said about philosophy and revelation as two competing paths to wisdom.

One might wonder if Aristotle’s view of philosophy is really determinative for all philosophy.  Aristotle says here that philosophy starts with seeing (though he himself, famously, stated that women have fewer teeth than men [HA 2.3.501b19-21], which suggests that his theory didn’t proceed from seeing at all).  But leave Aristotle aside.  What about other philosophers?  What about Descartes?  Surely not all philosophizing starts with sight and with wonder.

One might also ask if these two paths must compete, if one must necessarily choose.  After all, the “wisdom” that Aristotle is speaking of has to do with figuring out what we would call “astronomy,” not with the sort of wisdom we think of in connection with day-to-day living here on earth.

Scripture is not antiphilosophical in this sense: it does not oppose learning about the natural world by examining it — that is, by looking at it with our eyes.  God sees what He has made and evaluates it in Genesis 1, and from then on, sight in the Bible has to do with judgment.  God expects Adam and all his descendants to see the world (which is why He gave us eyes) and to make judgments about it, to learn how it works, and to learn wisdom from it.  Adam, for instance, might have learned what fruits are especially delicious by observing how the birds or animals flocked to those particular trees.

It seems to me, too, that Kass is partially right when he argues, along these lines, that we cannot learn how we ought to behave by watching the animals.  Few animals are monogamous, but God designed man and woman to marry (Gen. 2).  But on the other hand, the Proverbs, which surely are all about learning wisdom, instruct the sluggard to go to the ant to learn how to work (Prov. 6:6).  Here the sluggard is to observe — to see — and thereby to learn wisdom about how he is to live.

Nevertheless, this passage in Kass did intrigue me because it seems to me that there is a difference between seeing and hearing, between sight (where the seer is in control) and hearing (where the hearer cedes authority and control to the one making the sound, the speaker).  When it comes to wisdom, we are not to do “what is right in our own eyes” (i.e., make our own independent judgments about things, let alone judgments based simply on sight) but rather we are to live “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Hearing is primary because we are not autonomous; only when we submit to the Word are we enabled to see and judge correctly.  Hearing-wisdom comes first; seeing-wisdom follows.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:08 pm | Discuss (1)
September 16, 2009

Why Six Days?

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis :: Link :: Print

God had no reason to make the world in six days, except as a pattern for His image, man, to follow  — James B. Jordan, Through New Eyes, 11.

All too often, when we look at Genesis 1, we see it simply as a story about how the world was created.  It’s background for the rest of the story, and so it is important for that reason.  It is also something about which we debate.  Perhaps the first thing that comes to our minds today when we think of Genesis 1 is controversy: creation vs. evolution, literal chronological six-day creation vs. the framework hypothesis, and so forth.

Those debates are not unimportant, but we do Genesis 1 a diservice when we reduce it to a topic for debate or see it simply as background.  God did not have to create the world in six days.  He could have created it at once, already structured and populated and lit up the way it was at the end of Day 6.  But instead He didn’t.  He created with “problems” built in — dark, unstructured, unpopulated — and then spent six days fixing those “problems.”  Why?  If we don’t ask that question, we haven’t yet begun to see the importance of Genesis 1.

The theme of the Bible is not simply redemption.  In fact, that becomes an important theme only in Genesis 3.  But from Genesis 1 on, we have another prominent theme, the theme of maturation.  God creates the world and then works with it, maturing it, making it more and more like heaven: lit up, structured, populated.

But that process isn’t complete by the end of Day 6: God tells man to be fruitful and multiply, thereby indicating that the completion of the heavenization of the world is a task given to man.  As Jordan says,“Man is to labor to take the raw material of the earth and remodel it according to the heavenly blueprint: ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’” (Through New Eyes, 42).  And therefore what God does in the six days is designed to teach us wisdom about our own work.

And even if we get distracted by controversies or, for some other reason, fail to see this theme clearly in Genesis 1, we recognize it implicitly.  After all, it’s the basis of our own seven-day week.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:41 pm | Discuss (0)
September 10, 2008

The Light of the Reformation?

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis :: Link :: Print

In the comments on the previous entry, someone pointed me to this quotation from the Reformation Study Bible on Genesis 11:10-26:

As is common in ancient genealogies, it is apparent that this genealogy contains gaps. It if were precisely sequential, the events of chs. 9-11 would cover less than three centuries, all of Abraham’s ancestors would have been still living when he was born, and Shem would outlive Abraham by fourteen years. The purpose of this genealogy is to record the advances of the messianic line.

Given that I wrote a fairly lengthy couple of responses, I thought it might be helpful to move that material up here as a main entry.

In my response, I’m drawing (heavily, I might add) on James Jordan’s The Theology of Biblical Chronology and From Creation to Solomon (Studies in Biblical Chronology 1 and 2).  The latter opens with an essay an essay interacting with the arguments of Francis Schaeffer, B. B. Warfield, and William Green on the subject of the chronologies in Genesis 5 and 11, on which, I suspect, the author of that note in the Reformation Study Bible is drawing.

1. As is common in ancient genealogies, it is apparent that this genealogy contains gaps. 

Notice that the RSB approaches this question from the standpoint of “ancient genealogies,” not directly from the standpoint of Scripture itself.  But so what if “ancient genealogies” do contain gaps? How does that make it “apparent” that this genealogy contains gaps? So far, the quotation provides no proof of gaps.

2. It if were precisely sequential, the events of chs. 9-11 would cover less than three centuries, all of Abraham’s ancestors would have been still living when he was born, and Shem would outlive Abraham by fourteen years.

So? Apparently we’re supposed to take this statement as some sort of reductio ad absurdum: because we think it’s absurd that Abraham’s ancestors would still have been living when he was born, we must conclude that there are gaps in the genealogy.  But why should we think that it is absurd for Abraham’s ancestors to have been living when Abraham was born? What is strange about that?

3. The purpose of this genealogy is to record the advances of the messianic line.

It sounds as if (following Warfield and Green?) the RSB is suggesting that this passage can have only one purpose and, if that purpose is “to record the advances of the messianic line,” then the passage cannot also intend to give us an accurate chronology of this period.  But there’s no reason to believe that a passage of Scripture has only one purpose.

Those are all the “arguments” the RSB puts forward for not taking Genesis 11 (or, for that matter, Genesis 5) as an accurate chronology.  Not one of them is compelling.  But we can press further:

4.  The RSB note keeps talking about the “genealogy.”  But a genealogy and a chronology are two different things. They happen to go together here, but they are distinct.

Even if there are gaps in the genealogy here, even if “X begot Y” can be applied broadly enough so that X could really be the grandfather or great-grandfather of Y, so what? Genesis 5 and 11 still tell us how old X was when Y was born and how many years X lived after Y was born. Whether Y was X’s son or grandson or great-grandson doesn’t matter for the chronology.

Jordan’s charge of gnosticism, it seems to me, still sticks. The gnosticism here comes in this form: “The purpose of these passages is not to give us accurate dates, a reliable chronology. It is only to give us something else (e.g., a history of the advances of the messianic line).”  The gnosticism is the belief that we can discount the chronology and still cling to the message of the text, as if the chronology isn’t part of that message.

One more thought: It unfitting that this note was found in the Reformation Study Bible, which purports to be “bringing the light of the Reformation to Scripture” (an unfortunate slogan, that! — as if poor Scripture is dark until the Reformation begins to shine some light on it).

I say it is unfitting because the Reformers themselves wouldn’t have agreed at all with such a statement.  Martin Luther wrote:

But Noah saw his descendants up to the tenth generation. He died when Abraham hwas about fifty-eight years old. Shem lived about thirty-five years after Abraham. Shem therefore lived with Isaac about 110 years and with Esau and Jacob about fifty years. It must have been a very blessed Church that was directed for so long a time by so many patriarchs who lived together for so many years” (Commentary on Genesis, p. 199).

Luther is wrong about the dates, but the quotation shows that he doesn’t believe there are gaps in the chronology.

Calvin writes: “The world … has not yet attained six thousand years” (Institutes I.14.1). Elsewhere he talks of those who mock the Bible’s teaching on predestination, the Trinity, and biblical chronology: “They will not refrain from guffaws when they are informed that but little more than five thousand years have passed since the creation of the universe” (III.21.4). And, in his commentary on Daniel, Calvin recommends Oecolampadius’s work on biblical chronology.

Archbishop Ussher famously developed a chronology of the world, which is sometimes ridiculed, but he wasn’t alone in holding to the accuracy of the biblical chronologies. Similar views were held by John Owen, Matthew Henry, and, more recently, C. F. Keil and Geerhardus Vos.

That is “the light of the Reformation,” and it isn’t shining here in the Reformation Study Bible‘s comment at all.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:51 pm | Discuss (16)
September 5, 2008

Evangelical Gnosticism vs. History

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis :: Link :: Print

If downgrading the material world is one part of the gnostic tendency in evangelicalism, a tendency to eternalize time is the other.  The Bible is filled with chronological information, and it clearly presents an unbroken chronology from the creation of the world to the Babylonian exile.  Nobody in the Church ever questioned this until the late nineteenth century.  It has become commonplace now, however, to hear that the Bible is not really concerned with chronology, that there are “gaps” in the biblical chronology as it stands, and so forth.  Indeed, the nineteenth century became an age of gap theories as far as evangelicals were concerned: Gaps were inserted between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2, into the chronologies of Genesis 5 and 11, into the chronologies of the kinds of Israel and Judah, and into the seventy weeks of years in Daniel 9.  Such a cavalier approach to a text that abounds in detailed chronological information is only possible when men have already begun to think that chronology and history are not all that terribly important. — James B. Jordan, Creation in Six Days, p. 76.

Posted by John Barach @ 8:54 pm | Discuss (3)
September 4, 2008

Brueggemann on Lamech

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis :: Link :: Print

How strange is this?  Here’s a chunk of Walter Brueggemann’s commentary on Genesis 5:

Worth noting is the attitude and presentation of Lamech here (vv. 28-31), quite a contrast to the vengeful man of 4:23-24.  While the contrasting presentation of the same man may be explained on grounds of different sources, it is important that this two-sidedness is preserved in the tradition.  Lamech prefigures the tendency we all know of trying to serve two masters (Matt. 6:24); in his case, self-security (4:23-24) and the vision of uncursed earth (5:29) (p. 69, emphasis added).

Why in the world does Brueggemann think that the Lamech in Genesis 5 is the same guy as the Lamech in Genesis 4?  According to the text of Scripture itself, Genesis 4’s Lamech is a descendent of Cain, while Genesis 5’s Lamech is the descendent of Seth.  I suppose with some genealogical jiujistu you might be able to construct some way for them to be the same person, but why?

It’s far more fruitful to notice the similarities between these two Lamechs and to compare and contrast them.  Not only do they share the same name, but they are both associated with the number seven: Cain’s Lamech is the seventh from Adam and he speaks of a vengeance that involves multiples of seven; Seth’s Lamech lives seven and seventy and seven hundred years.  But what a difference in character: the one a violent and self-reliant man, but the other hoping in God’s promise of rest through the seed, the son.

I’ve heard people recommend Brueggemann from time to time, but my opinion of him as an exegete has reached a new low.  Anyone read the rest of this commentary?  Any reason to keep it?

Posted by John Barach @ 10:19 pm | Discuss (0)
October 10, 2007

Types

Category: Bible,Bible - OT - Genesis,Hermeneutics :: Link :: Print

It’s come to my attention that there are some people who teach that we shouldn’t identify something in the Old Testament as a type of Christ unless the New Testament makes that identification explicit.  So it’s okay to say that the rock in the wilderness was a type of Christ because Paul says so in 1 Corinthians 10.  But it’s not okay to say that the story of Joseph is a type of Christ because the New Testament never says so, even though it should be clear to any Christian reading Genesis that Joseph is rejected by his brothers, goes down to the pit, rises again in glory, ascends to the throne at the right hand of the king, is reconciled to his brothers, and ends up feeding the world, so that all the nations are blessed in him.  In spite of how much that sounds like Christ, this view says, the New Testament doesn’t say explicitly that Joseph is a type of Christ and therefore we shouldn’t either.

Here’s a question I have for such people: When God says in Genesis 3:15 that the seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent, do you think that’s talking about Christ’s victory over Satan?  Surely the answer would be “Yes.”  I don’t think that’s the only thing that promise refers to.  It includes other victories over enemies, other crushings of the heads of serpents, such as Jael’s crushing the head of Sisera or David’s crushing the head of Goliath.  But surely that promise ultimately points to Christ’s victory over Satan, the crushing of Satan’s head.

But where does the New Testament ever make that typology explicit?  There are certainly passages which talk about Christ triumphing over Satan (e.g., Col. 2:15), but they don’t allude to Genesis 3:15.  In Revelation 12:9, we hear about the “great dragon,” who is “that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan,” but even here we don’t hear that Christ crushed his head.  Instead, we’re told that war broke out and Michael won the victory and cast the serpent to the earth.

The only fairly clear allusion to Genesis 3:15 that I can think of in the New Testament is in Romans 16:20: “And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly.”  But here it’s the church which has Satan crushed under its feet.  Granted, the church is the body of Christ, and so this may be (and I think is) a fulfillment of Genesis 3:15, but it certainly doesn’t state explicitly that Genesis 3:15 is speaking about Christ.

Furthermore, the only explicit connection to Genesis 3:15 here in Romans 16 might be the term “crush.”  After all, Genesis 3:15 says nothing about feet, and Romans 16:20 says nothing about the serpent, its head, or its bruising of someone’s heel.  In fact, you’ll search the entire New Testament and never once find any reference to the serpent bruising someone’s heel, let alone Christ’s heel.

If you can find another passage in the New Testament that explicitly indicates that the seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15 is a type of Christ, please point me to it.  But I don’t think there is one. 

On the principle of the people I mentioned in the opening paragraph, then, we may not say that Genesis 3:15 is speaking of Christ.  But surely it is.  And just as surely, then, the principle must be wrong.  If it is the case that we may not identify something as a type unless the New Testament does, then Genesis 3:15 doesn’t speak of Christ.  If Genesis 3:15 does speak of Christ, then we may indeed draw typological connections even if the New Testament doesn’t.

Posted by John Barach @ 12:41 pm | Discuss (14)
September 11, 2007

Beast, Woman, & Man

Category: Bible - NT - Romans,Bible - OT - Genesis :: Link :: Print

In a footnote in The Gospel in Genesis (p. 101n6), Warren Austin Gage points out that when Paul traces the revelation of God’s wrath against ungodliness in Romans 1:18-32, he follows the order of God’s judgments in Genesis 3:14-19: first the beast (Rom. 1:23, 25; Gen. 3:14-15), then the woman (Rom. 1:26; Gen. 3:16), and finally the man (Rom. 1:27ff.; Gen. 3:17-19).

Posted by John Barach @ 2:27 pm | Discuss (1)

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