2.2 – A Creation Story Like No Other (20 min video)
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Well, welcome back to our second lecture. This week we’re going to begin to take a look at how Genesis is a unique story, how it’s very different from other stories, uh, whether it be other pagan stories, other ancient near stories. And we’ll actually be seeing this all year long as we take a look at other mythology. But, uh, I actually found the writings of a great Jewish commentator, Nahum Sarna, to be extremely helpful. In fact, I’ll open with a quote of his, uh, this is from his commentary on Genesis and written in true Hebrew fashion, not that I can read Hebrew.
He has plenty of English here as well. Uh, but it, it reads from what we would consider the back of a book towards the front. But of course, this is the front of a book if you are a Hebrew reader. But he says this, he says the story of creation or cosmology that opens the book of Genesis. It differs from all other such accounts that were current among the peoples of the ancient world. Its lack of interest in the realm of heaven and its economy. And words in depicting primeval chaos. They’re uncharacteristic of this genre of literature that scripts and Genesis deal solely with what lies beneath the celestial realm. And still the narration is marked by compactness, solemnity and dignity. It was very important ’cause there is this idea that Moses was essentially taking other stories and just reworking them, just kind of copying them. But his whole point, Sarno’s whole point here, is that Genesis is a very different story. Lemme give you an example of this. He writes further on down. He says, one of the difference differences, actually I can just tell you about this, is that in most of the other stories, it mostly focuses on the heavenly realms, specifically the realm of the gods.
And it usually has some kind of warfare or strife between the gods. And it’s out of that warfare and out of that strife, especially in Mesopotamian or ancient near Eastern tales, that you have a creation. So the creation doesn’t come out of a loving crater who creates ’cause he wants to, the creation usually comes out of suffering. It usually comes out of death, in fact. So right away we see that genesis is something different. Another issue that’s different, something we’ve already talked about is that in all the other stories, it’s assumed that something about the universe, something about matter or energy itself, that those things are eternal, that those things have always, always been.
There’s not this beginning of matter and time and space as we know it. In fact, one of the primary stories from ancient Mesopotamia that we can look at is called the Enuma a leash. Uh, this was a story of ancient Babylon that for one is curious because it doesn’t actually begin with the creation of time like Genesis does. Instead, it says that on a certain day, the gods began to actually create. So it gives us the idea that time is already eternal. Time is something that already the gods are subject to, whereas we take it as a statement of theology based upon the scriptures that God is outside of time.
It’s something that he actually made. Therefore, it is a creature of sorts, you could say. But the curious thing too about the Enuma leash is that when Marduke creates man, and there are multiple versions of the story, but in in one such tale we’re told that he creates a man so that man can bear the god’s burden so that the gods may rest. In other words, uh, man is someone who’s created not by a loving God, who wants to make man to be in fellowship with man, but instead man is created because the Gods want servants.
They want someone to actually, uh, actually serve them and do the work for them so they can rest because they are tired. In other words, you see things that are very different here. Another curious thing about the enum, a leash and all of the other tales is that the universe in matter appear to be eternal. They appear to be infinite in some ways. Sometimes this matter sometimes is energy, but in either way, they have those incommunicable attributes of God. We can see this in modern science. When we take a look for example, at the famous quote by Carl Sagan who said that the cosmos, the universe is all that is or was or ever will be.
He is taking the very definition of who God is, and he is applying it to the universe. This is why we have that theory that all matter and all energy came from the Big Bang, which was described as an infinitely small, dense and hot energy source that was incredibly tiny.
It was infinitely infinitesimally small, you could even say. So what it does is it gives us the idea which would be in line with Genesis, that there is a beginning, two things, but it also creates a new problem because then you have to ask the question, where does this singularity, this thing that exploded and became the big bing?
Where does that thing, that thing that has all energy, that has all matter, that has everything that became everything? Where does that actually come from? And typically the response is that, well, it just happened, or some atheist or even so bold to say, well, it arose out of nothing, which Is a logical And scientific impossibility.
One thing that’s clear about This Is it has no purpose. If that is Actually the source of Everything in the universe, then the universe itself and our own lives, by definition have no purpose. Francis Schaeffer commenting on similar ideas, he said That if you give up Creation as space time, if you give up creation as historic Reality, if You say it didn’t really actually happen at a certain point in time, or you say it’s kind of just not connected to anything, it may just be the Big bang. And he says, All that is left is What Simon Whale called the un creativeness. It is not something that does not exist, but it just stands there. It’s Autonomous. It’s by Itself, it’s without Solutions, and it’s without answers. In contrast to This, we have A very different picture with the creation and genesis because we’ve Already talked about the theology Of God. One thing that we have not yet talked about Is the fact that God is Triune the fact that He is One God Who also has three Persons, and that as Trinity, God Has perfect Community.
He has perfect love, he already has perfect Relationship with himself. It’s a very important part Because we see that he creates Willingly. He does not create out of any perceived loneliness because he’s already perfect, He’s already holy, And he already Has Relationship with himself. We get clues to this, Uh, in places like John chapter 17, verse 24, where Jesus makes it very clear that he has been loved since before the foundation of the world.
Earlier in the same chapter, He asked, uh, God the Father, to glorify Him with the glory That he had before the Creation of the World.
And Ephesians one we’re told That God chose Us in Jesus Before The foundation of the world. And in one Peter one, we are told that The death of Jesus was Ordained before the foundation of The World. In other words, we have A God who has already Planned everything from all time, apparently from before the creation of the world, the creation of time itself, But we also have a Personal God.
Uh, Schaeffer points out that this means that God Creates out of Love. In fact, he says, quote that love and communication, they are intrinsic To what has always Been. This is a very compelling reason for believing the Genesis account that there’s not only purpose to the universe, But there’s actually Love and communication because these things were made by a loving and communicating God, a God Who Had perfect love and communication in himself.
And because they are created out of his own desire to create them, they’re created freely from all matter energy, space, time, and history. They are created, uh, to actually reflect this characteristic of God. Just like a created work reflects the characteristics of an artist DeSana, who I quote earlier. He says this about the Genesis account of creation and how it’s different than all others. He says, for the first time in the religious history of the Near East, you could probably say this about all over the world. He says, God is conceived as being entirely free of temporal. That’s like here in space, and I’m sorry, that’s actually time and also spatial dimension, meaning that we have a story that shows a God who is independent from his creation. And you just don’t find that in the other ancient tales, the eight oldest tales that we still have record of. So in other words, because you see this creation being separate from him, it’s created willingly and it reflects his love and so forth. That’s why we can see the creation is actually good because of that and because of the fact of course, that God says it is good repeatedly throughout Genesis one.
Another curious thing that we’ll take a look at is the very beginning, uh, of Genesis. That, that, that first verse in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. It’s an interesting verse because it uses for, for the word God. There it uses the Hebrew word, Elohim. It’s a word that means simply God. It’s not yet a personal name of his like say, Yahweh is or like say Jesus will be. But it emphasizes his power. It emphasizes his transcendence, his holy otherness, things we talked about in the last lecture. But the curious word to look at at the very beginning is that word bera sheath, which means in the beginning, this is an important word because it shows us it’s the beginning of everything. As I already mentioned to you, it’s the beginning of time, of space, of matter, of history. It’s even the beginning of the idea of a nothingness, something that we see right there in the Genesis account. When we hear that the earth is formless in void, it’s very important that we understand that we don’t before the creation, you don’t have God, you know, back in time doing something or hanging out in some space. Time and space themselves were created by him. That, again, very different than the Babylonian stories. But then of course we have this other word used here called, uh, barrah. Barrah means to create. And we’re gonna see that it has interesting, other, other interesting words that come from it. We’ll talk about that in later lectures. Actually they’re lessons even. But this is a very, uh, curious word because for one, it’s only used with God as the subject, meaning he’s the one who’s actually doing the creating. And it’s used exclusively in Genesis one. One to show that he creates all matter energy, space, time, and history. It’s used again on day five of creation when he creates the very first, uh, animal or conscious life. And it’s used again for day six. In fact, it’s used four times to describe the creation of man. In other words, this is a word that kind of increases in its frequency as we head to the, the climax of the creation week with the creation of man and then the rest that actually follows it.
But another thing we look at in terms of understanding how genesis is a unique creation is a Latin term that’s been used to describe what’s going on here, and then as the term x nihilo, which means out of nothing. In fact, if we take a look at Hebrew’s chapter 11, verse three, we hear by faith we perceive that the universe was created by the word of God. So the things which are seen were not made of the things which appear. We’re also told in John one that all things were made through the word, which is Jesus. And without him, nothing was made that was made. In other words, he makes everything out of nothing. He makes everything out of the things, uh, which are not normally in appearance, the things that are not of this world or of matter as we actually know it.
Herman Bink commenting on this, he said, the creation is properly said to be ex nihilo out of nothing. Thus preserving the distinction and essence between the creator who himself is beyond all time and matter and the world and the contingency of the world and his dependence on God.
In fact, the world entirely depends upon God actually creating it, and also based upon Colossians three, keeping it together. Creation also means Herman Bian goes on that time has a beginning. Only God is eternal As creatures we are necessarily in time. That’s a doctrine of creation. A doctrine of creation, he says is one of the foundational building blocks of a biblical and Christian worldview. It helps us properly understand who we are and also who God himself actually is. Another curious thing that we have about the creation weak is we have something that seems to be a very deliberate pattern. You of course have in terms of the creation story. You have the fact that everything is made in seven days. Now, as Augusta pointed out, in fact, Augustine actually thought that maybe God created everything instantaneously, and this was just a, uh, literary, literary structure.
We’ll, we’ll talk about how it’s actual history in a moment and especially in a later, uh, later lecture. But one thing I do wanna point out right now at this point is that it does have a, a very deliberate structure, especially in the use of sevens.
It’s one of the things that makes Genesis, the creation story specifically so marvelous, is that it does have a very deliberate, very intentional literary purpose and structure behind.
In fact, I’ll just read to you, um, Alberto Cassuto great commentator on Genesis. He says this about some of the sevens. He says, for example, the terms light, and they, they are found in all seven times in the first paragraph of Genesis one, and they are seven references to light.
In the fourth paragraph, water is mentioned seven times in the course of paragraphs two and three in the fifth and sixth paragraphs, forms of the word haya, which means living or beast occur seven times the expression.
It was good appears seven times. The first verse has seven words. The second verse contains 14 words twice times seven. In the seventh paragraph, which deals with the seventh day there occur the following three consecutive sentences, each of which consists of seven words and contains in the middle the expression the seventh day.
Anyway, he goes on from there. It’s all of these different examples. The point is this, and that’s all, that’s all the Hebrew structure by the way, not the English. The whole point is this. It has a very deliberate structure and purpose to it. So it’s something to keep in mind as we consider what genesis and the creation story actually is. It is literary. It is something that that almost even has a mythic quality to it. But the same time, the way that it is actually written is it’s written as an actual history. Robert Alter, who, uh, provides a great commentary on how to understand biblical narrative, he has this to say about, uh, the God of Israel and how he actually communicates and how, uh, the Old Testament is primarily history.
I’ll just read it to you. He says, the God of Israel as so often has been observed is above all the God of history. The working out of his purposes in history is a process that compels the attention of the Hebrew imagination, which has thus led to the most vital interest in the concrete and differential character of historical events.
In other words, as filled with symbolism at Genesis one. One is like the names of Adam and Eve, for example, which again we’ll talk about later, or the fact that the garden is patterned after the temple. Actually talk about that at a much later lesson and things like that. So you have symbolism, you have patterns in all of these things, but you still have a history. You still have something that actually reads like a historical narrative. It’s not simply what we might loosely call poetic. In fact, the entire style of Genesis one through 11 is not indie any fundamentally difference as Douglas Kelly, than the structure or the, the narrative of Genesis 12 through 50, which deals with Abraham and the other patriarchs.
He actually says that all of it uses the Hebrew narrative marker, which is called the imperfect wa consecutive. Don’t worry about having to know that. The point is this, the very Hebrew itself is written like a narrative and is written to be actually seen as history. This is why you see throughout the New Testament, you see everyone from Luke to Paul to Jesus himself, referring back to characters like Adam and Eve as actual historical characters.
So the Bible is primarily a history, and as I’ve already mentioned to you multiple times now, our faith is primarily based upon historical events. Events like the creation, but events especially like the incarnation of Christ, the crucifixion, the resurrection. These are at the bedrock of what we believe, not simply a list of dos and don’ts. That’s why, for example, throughout Genesis, and we’ll take a look at this later too, you see it’s a book divided up by genealogy, something called the Toad Dots. So this gives us a very unique kind of writing that you just don’t see like this in the rest of the ancient world, at least the world that was contemporary, uh, to Genesis or perhaps the writing of Genesis in the days of Moses.
So see, here’s the deal. If we don’t take these first 11 chapters of Genesis or the first two chapters of Genesis as history, then it begs the question, where do we actually begin to see the scripture as being a recording of factual and historical events?
This is a big deal because all of the big questions about who we are, about where we came from, about what our story is and where we are going, they’re all found right here in Genesis. And if you throw out the historical reality of it, you end up with a whole new series of questions, which you’ll see can go in wildly different, uh, wildly different ways and different ways of thinking. But that of course is for our next lecture.