The Purpose of Biblical Creation: Separating the Wheat From the Chaff
Thousands of years after the first two chapters of the Bible were written, these passages are still very relevant to us today. With the advent of the Theory of Evolution, a great debate has been unyielding for over 150 years. Through discussion, debate, propaganda, board of education meetings, court cases, and news reports, both sides of this issue have been unrelenting. Recently, it seems that both sides are convinced of the imminent downfall of the opposing position. So for all we know this may continue for another 150 years before reaching a final conclusion.
However, even in light of all of this discussion, it is of great importance that we take a step back and realize that this is not the central issue of the first two chapters of Genesis. Describing the mode of creation is not the primary role of this passage. Though the topic of creation/evolution is important, we must first do our best to understand the message that Moses was trying to relay to the Israelites by including this passage in the rest of the historical accounts of Genesis.
At first glance, the creation account may seem to stick out like a sore thumb. It seems to be a strange addition to the story of Genesis which is primarily focused on the history of God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants.
The key to understanding this passage is to look at its greater context in Moses’ writings. Just as Jesus is the most important part of the Bible, the most important part of Moses’ writings was the Covenant that God made with the Israelites on Mt. Sinai. People sometimes refer to this as the axis of the pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) because everything else turns on this event. Everything before Mt. Sinai can be understood in its leading to that point and everything after can be understood as the process and effects of that covenant. When we look at the creation account through the greater context of the Sinai covenant, we see the key points of creation come to light.
Because this is the first writing of the Jewish people, it was important for Moses to establish some basic concepts that would find a climax on Mt. Sinai. The first of which was to establish who God was. Genesis 1 establishes the foundation of a monotheistic religion. There is no other god but God Himself and all that was created came from Him. We can also see the foundations to our understanding of God’s power. It is God who has the power to create the universe and nothing exists apart from His act of creation. God is a being who cares about the value of His creation and declares that the earth and its inhabitants are “good.” In Genesis 1, we also find that God is a personal being who relates to his creation following the initial creative act.
The second concept that Moses establishes in Genesis 1 is who we are as humans. We are created beings without an existence or soul outside of the creative act of God. We are the workmanship of God and He may do with us as He pleases. It is important to realize that we are secondary beings. We tend to forget this in our individualistic culture. We tend to think about what is best for us, but God did not create us for our own good. When compared together, our needs and desires take a back seat to God’s. What brings glory to God takes priority over the well-being of any individual human.
That’s not to say that our position among creation is insignificant. God has placed us above the rest of creation. We have both authority over and responsibility for the creation.
Just as everything else is, the land is established as God’s creation. Although we are placed in charge of the land, it is God who holds ownership. At the end of the day, we answer to Him for how we care for the land. More importantly though, we see that God’s ultimate authority over the land as its creator means that He can give and take the land from people as He sees fit.
These three concepts are set as a foundation to the pentateuch, which is further developed and finally comes to a climax at the Sinai covenant. When the foundational concepts are set in place, then we are able to understand God’s place in the covenant with the people of Israel. We are able to understand the place of the Israelites as the covenant people and the authority of God to offer the promised land to the Israelites.
When we look back at the creation account in order to study its content and apply it to modern controversies, we must realize that this is a secondary issue. We should study Genesis in order to better understand our place in this controversy, but our position must never compromise the foundational concepts for which the passage was written.
A new series on Genesis, its interpretation, and the controversy over evolution is launched with this article. Each Monday a new component will be explored by our theologically diverse group of writers.
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