How are we as Christians to look at the massive volume of material that is offered by the various publishing houses of the multiplicity of denominations and the independent publishers, each touting their publications as essential for a correct understanding and application of the Bible to life and to “church” in this day? Add to this the multiplied “mountain” that is offered on the internet and the sheer volume is staggering. And yes, I am with what I write and post adding my own “drop in the bucket” to the veritable ocean of ink and/or pixels!
Some of it is placed out there in the hope of selling books or literature for a profit. Some is offered out of the egotism of the writer. Some is there to try and defend or justify the right of the group behind it to exist and to claim the interest and support of readers. Some is put before the public in the hopes of making proselytes into whatever religious institution is behind it. There are all kinds of reasons for publishing – some of them are even legitimately offered out of a desire to help people to better understand the Bible and Christianity.
Where should we begin to understand what God really has in mind for us? To me, it is obvious that the place to start is at the beginning. The book of Genesis is foundational to an adequate understanding of what is expected of man in this age (or in any age, for that matter). The first several chapters of Genesis are critical to an adequate understanding of God’s purpose for man even to this day. Indeed, understanding He has a purpose for the entire creation and what it is must begin with an understanding of this portion of the divine revelation.
But instead of understanding the first several chapters of Genesis as being foundational, they are made the focus of debate between science and the Bible. The thought is that if one does not look at the creation account as interpreted by certain people (literalists, fundamentalists) that he or she does not believe the Bible. The conflict arises because the conclusions of science do not support the fundamentalists’ interpretation that science must be wrong. Then we turn right around and largely ignore the significance of these books for us from that point on.
The consequence of this controversy has been that Christianity has been seen as being opposed to science and is anti-learning. On the other hand, science and scientists are painted with a broad brush as being atheistic and anti-Bible.
I don’t want to get into that argument just here. But I will observe that since God is the creator of all things, there is no discrepancy between what the Bible actually teaches and what science has proven to be true. He is the “author” of both the “book” of nature and the Bible and since God cannot lie, whatever has been proven to be true in terms of the creation (nature) was made true because God was behind it. Nature and the Bible both reveal God. There is a limitation to both, but when interpreted correctly, there is no discrepancy. Nature cannot reveal God’s will for man and the Bible does not reveal the particulars of science.
My concern here is with understanding what is really taught in the Bible regarding creation. When God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1, 2), what purpose or purposes did He have in mind? Was the Biblical account of creation in Genesis just informational? Or was it intended to be formative and directional? In other words, is it authoritative for us today?
If Genesis 1-2 is merely informative of the fact that everything that exists got here because of God’s creative activity and we must believe it in order to properly believe in God – and nothing more – then it is not authoritative to us today. As some argue, we cannot base our practice on what we find in Genesis. That view makes the opening chapters of the Bible merely a statement of facts to be believed but without requiring anything of us in the present age.
Before we attempt to examine what I believe to be some of the imperatives placed upon the human race because of the position God put man in at the beginning – and which, I believe, still apply to us – it will be necessary to trace the Biblical concept of creation/new creation. It is not only interesting that this motif is a recurrent theme throughout the scriptures, but it raises the question of what is our responsibility in light of this teaching? Is there any response called for because of what is taught here? If we were to interpret the Bible in light of this creation/new creation theme (which runs throughout the Bible), how would that affect how we as Christians might live. How would it affect how we “do church?”
Genesis one affirms not only the fact that God created all things, but is written in order that man might understand the purpose for which all things were created. Otherwise why is it there? We could establish the truth of what we are saying here by looking at Genesis 1 by itself, but the apostle Paul summarizes the matter quite well in this text which speaks of the creative agency of Christ and of the purpose of the creation itself.
Colossians 1:15-20 “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
In these verses the apostle affirms not only that God through Christ created all things, but that all things created were created for Him. This shows us that creation is not anthropocentric (made for man), but is theocentric (made for God). Furthermore, by the same power with which all things were created all these things are presently upheld or perpetuated. The same One who upholds all things is the One who rules over that creation.
The entire creation, heavens and earth, were made to be the dwelling place of God. They were created to function as God designed them as indicated by His repeated pronouncement of them being “good” at the end of several of the acts of creation. Designed and created by God, the whole creation worked together harmoniously. That is, in fact, what He still desires for His creation and the ultimate end of it all. Paul said that in His wisdom God was “…making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:8-10)
At the end of the six days of creation God was said to have “rested” in that finished creation. Comparing this term with other documents from the Ancient Near East (ANE) it is seen to mean that God took up residence in His creation. This was the word used by other peoples to describe their “gods” being placed in their finished temples. Together, this means that God began to function as the ruler in His temple and over His creation.
Man was given a place of honor in the creation. He was made co-ruler with God over creation. Gods words at the creation of man introduces this thought.
Genesis 1:26-28 Then God said, “Let us make man 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.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
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.”
But more about this in the next post.
Co-authored with Bill Van Dyke, Ph.D, Give Me Liberty: Restoring the Spirit of Jubilee examines the mission of Christ as viewed from the fulfillment of Jubilee and how legalism robs the church community of the joy Jubilee brings.
A Better Way is an exploration and critique of the traditional method of determining Bible authority and suggestions for a better approach to understanding the Bible.