Wednesday, August 21, 2013

From first day to fourth day

1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 
1) It's often said that Gen 1 takes God's existence for granted. There's no effort to prove his existence. That's true, but misleading. The narrative audience for Genesis is the Exodus-generation. The Exodus-generation witnessed firsthand how God miraculously delivered them from Egypt and sustained them in the wilderness.
2) Gramatically speaking, there are basically two ways to construe Gen 1:1-3:
i) You can construe v1 as a statement of absolute creation. Nothing preexisted God. God made the world at the beginning of time. Time and space take their point of origin in God's creative fiat (v1). 
In addition, v1 marks the first creative fiat. That's the initial phase of the six-day creative process. 
ii) Conversely, you can construe v1 as a temporal clause (viz., "When God began to create"). By the same token, you can construe v1 as a topic sentence prologue which summarizes the creative process. On that view, v1 stands outside the six-day creative process. In addition, creation doesn't begin until v3. God is terraforming a preexistent earth, with preexistent waters. God is the finisher rather than the Creator. 
One argument for the second interpretation is that, in normal usage, the merism (heaven and earth) refers to the world as a finished product. However, it would be fallacious to read that back onto Gen 1:1. It normally refers to the world as a finished product because that's the status quo once God made the world. But that's premature at this preliminary stage of creation. 
3) Although both these interpretations are grammatically viable options, both interpretations aren't theologically viable options. Interpretation (ii) would make this a fairly pagan creation account. It wouldn't clearly distinguish this from pagan cosmogonies. 
There's a reason why pagan creation myths take preexisting matter for granted. That's because, in heathenism, matter is ultimate. Nature is ultimate. The gods themselves are the product of an antecedent natural process. 
In addition, as one scholar notes:
Since the "earth" commands the attention of the whole report in vv3-31, are we to believe that the account gives no word on the origins of its focal topic when it is the very subject of origins that drives the narrative (Mathews 1996)?
Once again, we need to keep in mind the narrative audience for Gen 1. That would be the Exodus-generation. They were liberated from Egypt. Egypt was an influential source of paganism. Gen 1 stands in contrast to pagan cosmogonies. The one true God of Israel stands in contrast to the gods of the pagan pantheon. The God of Israel has no antecedents or coexistents.  As one scholar puts it:
For the first time in the religious history of the Near East, God is conceived as being entirely free of temporal and spatial dimensions (Sarna 1989).
To be sure, liberals don't think the ostensible setting of the Pentateuch reflects the actual date of composition. They think the narrator has archaized the present. But even if the setting were a historical fiction, the ostensible narrative audience is still the interpretive frame of reference. 
Of course, Christians ought to believe the self-witness of the text. 
2 The earth was without form and void
This describes the primordial state of the earth when God made it on the first day. At this stage, the earth is barren and desolate. Lifeless and inhospitable. There's nothing "chaotic" in this description. 
and darkness
Darkness is not a preexisting something, but a negative state. The absence of something position. The absence of light.
Gen 1 lays great emphasis on the light/dark, day/night motif. For a reader who lived in preelectric times, what was the significance of light and dark, day and night?

i) Darkness evokes fear and apprehension. For one thing, there were dangerous nocturnal predators (e.g. Ps 104:20-22).

ii) Likewise, you could get lost in the dark. That might easily happen to those who had to travel on foot (e.g. Jn 12:35).

iii) Apropos (ii), a day was a unit of distance. How far you could travel by foot in a day (e.g. Gen 30:36; 31:23; Exod 3:18; Num 10:33; 11:31; 33:8). 

iv) Conversely, the major sources of light were sunlight and firelight. In that respect there’s probably an intertextual connection between sunlight and agriculture (Gen 1:148:22). Sunlight was necessary for farming, and farming was necessary for food and wine. Keep in mind that wine was often substitute for water in a dry climate.

v) The Pentateuch also describes certain types of sacred fire, light, or firelight. There’s the Shekinah, the burning bush, the pillar of fire, the perpetual flame (for burnt offerings), and divine lightning that consumes offerings. These reflect the presence of God or the revelation of God. The accent on light in Gen 1 sets the stage for these examples.

vi) In the ancient world, certain celestial phenomena were interpreted as omens (signs, portents, prodigies).

was over the face of the deep.
The surface of the primordial earth was submerged in water.
And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
i) This involves puns and mixed metaphors. The Hebrew designation (ruach) can mean wind, breath, or spirit. The narrator is exploiting the polyvalent connotations of the word (Averbeck 2005):
i) "Wind," as a natural metaphor which goes with water. Without dry land, there's nothing to constrain wave action. 
ii) "Breath" is a natural metaphor for the spoken word. That suits God speaking the world into existence.
iii) In addition, "breath" is a synecdoche for biological life. When organisms die, they "expire." 
This foreshadows God's creation of Adam, in the next chapter.
iv) The agency of God's Spirit in making the world foreshadows his agency in making the tabernacle (Exod 31:3). 
v) "Hovering" is a protective, avian metaphor, which foreshadows God's provision for the wilderness generation (Deut 32:11-14). 

vi) Apropos (v), this may be a theophany that trades on ancient Near Eastern iconography, representing the winged solar disk (Niehaus 1995). 
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 
This probably foreshadows types of sacred light in Exodus, such as the pillar of fire, the burning bush, and the menorah. 
5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.
In the creation account (Gen 1-2), "day" (yom) has three different senses:
i) Daylight or the daylight hours, in contrast to night.
ii) A solar day.
iii) An idiomatic synonym for "when" (e.g. 2:4; 5:1).
Days aren't simply units of time, but units of light. It's easy for modern readers to overlook that fact because we're accustomed to artificial lighting. We regulate our lives by technology. But natural lighting would be far more significant to an ancient reader. 
And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
"Evening and morning" means dusk and dawn, sundown and sunup. They demarcate daytime from nighttime. The diurnal cycle is already in place on the first day of creation–which presumes a functioning solar system. 
6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. 8 And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
This is just a distinction between rainwater (above) and lakes, rivers, ponds, oases, and the sea (below). Although some scholars think the Hebrews believed in a three-story universe, ancient Hebrews were perfectly capable of seeing rainclouds emit precipitation. 
9 And 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 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
i) This alludes to mountain formation. As land rises, the water lowers. Coastlines are borderlines between surf and turf. 
Theoretically, if the process were miraculously reversed, that would flood the earth. No additional water would be required to submerge the earth. Seawater would be sufficient, if natural barriers like mountains and hills were breached. And if the process (mountain formation) were miraculously repeated, that would be a drainage mechanism for the flood waters. 
ii) Some scholars think the ancient Near Easterners believed there was only one continent, encircled by one ocean. However, ancient mariners were in a position to discover other land masses. 
iii) The "earth" has more than one sense. Global or local, depending on the context. It can denote the "planet," or the surface of the earth, or the "land" is a localized sense. 
11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
This illustrates the interplay between miracle and providence, primary and secondary causality. God's initial fiat creates the conditions for a system of second causes. He creates the fruit trees from scratch, but once they exist they have the internal capacity to reproduce on their own.
The imagery may be influenced by the way vegetation seems to explode out of nowhere when the desert is inundated by a flash flood from a cloud burst. Something the wilderness generation had occasion to observe. 
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
i) On the face of it, the fourth day is out of sequence. For the diurnal cycle is already functioning as of day one. As a matter of common experience, the narrator (and his audience) knew that daylight normally comes from sunlight. So this is probably a deliberate anachronism. To that degree, the creation account is nonsequential. As one scholar puts it:
These two days are not related to each other chronologically but that they refer to the same event–the creation of the sun. Indeed, this wool seem to be implied in 1:17-18 where it is stated that God set the sun "in the expanse of the sky…to separate light from darkness" (the latter phrase, in fact, is quoted directly from 1:4). In other words, we are told in Genesis 1:4 that God separated light from darkness and in 1:18 how he did it (Youngblood 1999).
ii) This is likely intended to foreshadow the tabernacle. The "expanse" is analogous to the ceiling of the tabernacle, while celestial luminaries are analogous to the menorah. Put another way, the narrator is using architectural metaphors to prefigure the tabernacle. Alert the reader to similarities between the natural world and the tabernacle as a sacred microcosm of the world (cf. Beale 2008; Hodge 2011).
iii) "Seasons" could refer to agricultural cycles, holidays, or both. 
iv) The narrator demythologizes celestial luminaries. In paganism, these were gods. That gave rise to astromancy. But in Gen 1, the celestial luminaries are demoted to creatures of the one true God. 
v) On the syntax of day four, see Collins.
Averbeck, R. "The Holy Spirit in the Hebrew Bible and Its Connections to the New Testament, M. Sawyer & D. Wallace, eds. Who's Afraid of the Holy Spirit (BSP 2005), 23-25.

Beale, G. K. The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism (Crossway 2008), chaps. 6-7. 

Collins, J. Genesis 1–4 (P&R 2006), 56-58.
Hodge, B. C. Revisiting the Days of Genesis (Wipf & Stock), 56-67.
Mathews, K. Genesis 1–11:26 (Broadman 1996), 142. 

Niehaus, J. God at Sinai (Zondervan 1995), 150-53.
Sarna, N. The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis (JPS 1989), 5.
Youngblood, R. The Book of Genesis: An Introductory Commentary (Wipf & Stock, 2nd ed., 1999), 27.