Friday, August 23, 2013

Very good

20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 
Unlike paganism, which divinizes nature by ascribing spontaneous generation to the four elements, the initial production of aquatic life requires a divine command (Cf. Exod 7:3).  
21 So God created the great sea creatures
What do the "great sea creatures" refer to?
i) Some scholars think they refer to marine creatures like sharks, whales, and giant squid. One problem with that identification is that ancient Israelites weren't a seafaring people, so that wouldn't be relevant or even intelligible to the original audience.
ii) As emancipated Egyptian slaves, they might be painfully familiar with Nile crocodiles. Technically speaking, those are freshwater rather than marine species. But the narrator may not be concerned with that distinction. Nile crocodiles are huge ambush predators and notorious man-eaters. The experience would be unforgettable. In Bible times, the habitat of crocodiles extended to Palestine and Mesopotamia (Blaiklock 1983).
There is a species of crocodile (the saltwater or estuarine crocodile) that's at home in both inland freshwater and coastal marine habitats. Yet its distribution lies outside the Mideast. But its distribution may have been more extensive in earlier times. 
However, the plural suggests a wider reference than one kind of "sea creature." Which brings us to another interpretation:
iii) Other scholars think this is an allusion to mythical sea-monsters or "chaos monsters." If so, that's an example of Scripture's polemical theology, where Scripture polemicizes against pagan concepts. In this case, it would be cutting them down to size. In paganism, the chaos monsters are godlike beasts that threaten to unhinge the natural order. Animate forces that wreak havoc with the natural order, unless they are contained. They rival the gods. 
If that's what Genesis is alluding to, then by placing them within the creation account, the narrator demythologizes them (just as he demythologized the celestial luminaries) by reducing them to mere creatures, however impressive, but utterly subservient to God. On one interpretation, Job 40-41 is an expanded example of polemicizing against chaos monsters. There are other fleeting references in Scripture (Ps 74:13-14; 104:25-26; Isa 27:1; 51:9). 
 and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
In what sense is the creation said to be "good"? God is commending his own actions. Whatever God does is good because he does it, whether in creation or providence. 
This also affirms the goodness of the material world. Matter isn't evil. Physical existence isn't imprisonment. 
 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.26 Then God said, “Let us make man
What's the significance of the first person plural? 
i) The traditional Christian explanation is a Trinitarian interpretation. God is talking to himself, but since God is Trinitarian, introspection has a plural dimension.
The problem with that explanation is that it's too theologically advanced for the original audience. At this introductory stage of progressive revelation, they lack the necessary background for that reference to be intelligible. However, I think the Trinitarian interpretation has a grain of truth. I'll return to it momentarily. 
ii) Some scholars think this is a rhetorical device: interior monologue. The narrator depicts God in the act of self-deliberation.
In general, there's nothing wrong with that explanation. There are biblical examples of interior monologue (e.g. 1 Sam 27:1; Ps 42:5). However, even though that might explain the first-person form, it fails to explain the plural form. Yet it's the plural form that calls for explanation.
In fact, we have examples of divine interior monologue in Genesis (Gen 2:18; 18:17). But there the narrator employs the singular form.  
iii) Another explanation that's become popular in modern scholarly circles is that God is addressing the angelic heavenly court. That's an attractive proposal, and it may be correct, but there are problems:
Gen 1 is notably silent on the creation of angels. So Gen 1 hasn't laid a foundation for that referent. It would be very abrupt to assume an allusion to the heavenly court when Gen 1 hasn't even said anything about the existence or origin of angels. 
In fairness, one might defend the angelical interpretation by noting that the context of Gen 1 includes the entire Pentateuch. Certainly the Pentateuch mentions angels. Indeed, there are several references to angels in Genesis alone.
On the other hand, there's nothing in the Pentateuch that clearly refers to the angelical heavenly court. Those all occur outside the Pentateuch. Perhaps the closest we come to it is "Jacob's ladder." 
Since, moreover, Gen 1 is a creation account, if angels are the point of reference for God's plural address, I think we'd still expect the creation of angels to be mentioned. Gen 1 does explain some things in reference to other things, but it does so by building on earlier fiats. God is said to make one thing at an earlier stage, and that, in turn, is a point of reference for a later development. 
iv) In Gen 1, there are arguably two divine agents in play: God and God's Spirit. In Scripture, "spirits" are personal agents, and the "Spirit of God" is a divine agent. So, in context, it would make sense if this is a dialogue between God and God's Spirit. This isn't fully Trinitarian, but it's a first step in that direction. 
Some might be tempted to include God's word. However, in Gen 1, God's word isn't presented as a personal agent. Rather, God is a speaker. 
The notion that God's word is a personal agent will, of course, be developed in the course of Scripture, but we're not yet at that point. 
 in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
Man is the "image" of God in the sense of God's representative and viceregent on earth. 
27 So God created man in his own image,    in the image of God he created him;    male and female he created them.

Gen 1 is heteronormative. Transgender and homosexuality are decadent aberrations. 

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Based on vv29-30 and 9:3, some Christians think all animals were originally herbivores. But there are problems with that interpretation:
i) The wording is permissive, not proscriptive. It doesn't prohibit carnivory. Rather, it speaks to divine provision. 
ii) We should avoid a false dichotomy between carnivory and herbivory. Both carnivores and herbivores depend on flora to survive. Herbivores eat plants while carnivores eat other carnivores or (especially) herbivores. So carnivores are equally dependent on flora. It's just a distinction between direct and indirect dependence.
iii) The language is hyperbolic, since some vegetation is inedible.
iv) It singles out wild animals, ignoring livestock. 
v) It singles out land animals, ignoring aquatic creatures. But many aquatic creatures are carnivorous or hematophagous, viz. sharks, orcas,  lampreys, piranha, barracuda, jellyfish, sea snakes, moray eels, tiger fish, vampire fish. 
vi) Apropos (v), some creatures straddle ecological zones. How would the narrator classify semiaquatic creatures like ducks, frogs, otters, turtles, anacondas, seals, crocodiles? How would their diet fit in? 
vii) The passage ignores carnivorous or hematophagous bats and insects, viz. ticks, fleas, mosquitoes, dragonflies, centipedes, vampire bats.
viii) The narrator uses taxonomic nomenclature that normally denotes wild plants. If the passage is prohibitive, that would place a ban on farming. Were Adam and Eve not allowed to farm the land? Likewise, if the passage is taken to forbid meat-eating, then does it also forbid horticulture? Would it be sinful for Adam and Eve to cultivate seedless grapes and watermelons?  
ix) Gen 1 is an account of origins. It describes creatures which would be familiar to a reader living after the fall and after the flood. 
Many predators are specially designed to capture and consume prey, while prey are often designed to elude capture. If, however, all creatures were initially herbivorous, then the origin of many major lifeforms took place at a later date. 
x) Judging by the taxonomic nomenclature, Gen 9:3 probably refers to hunting game species in particular rather than a meat diet in general (Walton 2001).
2 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
i) The traditional chapter break is an editorial mistake. Most scholars think the pericope extends from Gen 1:1-2:3. 
ii) In what sense is God said to rest? 
a) It means cessation from creation. He's done making the world. That's a finished product. 
b) "Rest" is a loaded word. "Rest" is chosen because that word connotes the Sabbath. Foreshadows the Sabbath. More than foreshadows: this is the prototypal and archetypal Sabbath. 
c) It also evokes the cosmic temple motif. A temple is the "house of God." After completing the temple, God takes up residence (as it were). So "rest" in this context doesn't imply inactivity, but activity. God is no longer active in the construction phase because that's over with. God is now active in the world, because there is a world for God to be active in. A theater of divine action. 
Of course, this doesn't mean the physical world is literally God's dwelling-place. We're dealing with a theological metaphor. 
iii) I think that also explains the absence of the diurnal refrain ("dusk and dawn"). Some scholars take this to mean the seventh day is endless, but I think it simply means day seven breaks the cycle of the divine workweek.  And it terminates divine action in that regard. 
In fact, the diurnal refrain after each day and between each day already signifies divine rest, for the interval between dusk and dawn is nighttime (whereas the interval between dawn and dusk is daytime). The difference is that on days 1-5, God completes a day's work, whereas–on day 6, God completes a week's work. That represents a complete cessation of God's creative labors, unlike the temporary breaks on days 1-5. 
In addition, God's creation workweek is unrepeatable whereas man's work week is repeatable, precisely because God's unique action sets the pattern for man. 
Far from being continuous, it's discontinuous–for the sabbath is a buffer between the last workweek and the next workweek. By definition, it's "set apart" from other days. But the sabbath is ended by the resumption of the workweek. The creation account doesn't go that far since the point of the creation account is to explain the origin of the cycle. Once the cycle is in place, it will repeat itself. Periodicity is implied by the goal of the process. 
To say it's endless due to the absence of the diurnal refrain would prove to much, for that would also mean it has no inception as well as no termination. No dawn or dusk. But that's more than proponents wish to claim for the seventh day. 
Blaiklock, E. M. "Crocodile," The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology (Zondervan 1983), 140.
Walton, J. Genesis (Zondervan 2001), 342-43.