Archives For Genesis

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Nothing like this had ever happened before. In the beginning, there was God. And nothing else. Not an empty space and an endlessly ticking clock. Just nothing. No space. No time. Space and time are included under the heading of “the heavens and the earth.” In the beginning, God. And that’s it.

Let It BeAnd then the Maker began to make. One powerful word at a time. For six days, God continued to say this tiny word: “yehi,” “let there be.” The word is tiny, but powerful. This little word was not earth-shattering, it was earth-generating. Every single thing you’ve ever seen, or heard of, or even dreamt of was spoken into existence in those six days.[1]

This rhythm of verbal creation is punctuated by the repeated refrain, “It was good! It was good! It was very good!”

Creation is an act of the Creator. And it’s incredibly good. Thus far God has created through words: a poem written in stone and wood and soil and skies and living beings.

Orion Nebula

But in Genesis 2, God goes beyond speaking. Now he begins to “form” (v. 7). God is now digging his fingers into the dust that he spoke and forming it into a statue. This statue will become the inspiration for every statue of a human being every created, and it far exceeds them all—even Michelangelo’s David. But God is not done creating. After he “forms” he “breathes” (v. 7), and the breath that shaped the word-creation of all the stuff we’ve ever known now breathe-creates human life. God exhales into the nostrils of his statue and humanity takes its first breath.

God now takes one more creative step; this time he “plants” (v. 8). He plants a garden—not a raw wilderness or an unorganized jungle, but a specifically shaped garden. Speaking, forming, breathing, and planting God brings into existence the world we know. From absolutely nothing, the Creator creates his creation.

Given this creative context, we probably shouldn’t be surprised at the first job God gave to Adam. God created, then decided to make something like him, something “in his image and likeness” (1:26–27). So what did the Creator create this image-bearing creation to do?

Create!

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15)

Once he finished making the world, the Maker made a maker. Adam and Eve were specifically placed within the garden to “work it” (which means exactly what you’d think) and “keep it” (which means to preserve it and take care of it).

It wasn’t enough for God to make paradise, he wanted paradise to continue to be made. To be further developed. God’s creation wasn’t bad (“It was good!”), but it wasn’t finished. The Creator finished his creative activities in the beginning by creating a creator to act according to the example of the Creator.

So now, thousands of years and millions of creators later, we find ourselves standing here, on this same spoken earth, in this planted garden, as these formed and breathed human beings. And the job description remains. Created to create. Look at the world around you and see what the Creator’s creators have done. Some of it is magnificent. Some of it is horrifying. Some of it reflects the Creator. Some of it defies him. But we stand as creators, bearing the likeness of the Creator, creating in the not yet finished creation.

The Artist in His Studio (Rembrandt)

“The Artist in His Studio” by Rembrandt

 

So what will we make? Too many Christians—who bear the image of the Creator to an unimaginable extent—have hidden away from the task of creating. It’s too hard, too dangerous, too dark, too embarrassing, too defiling, too degrading, too physical, too artsy. Too many Christians have hidden in pews or buried themselves in doctrine, as if those things are somehow antithetical to creativity. Too few of the Creator’s Christian creators have created.

Christianity actually has a rich history in this area. We have created works of staggering beauty. We have shaped our world to a profound extent. Yet who would argue that the Creator’s creators are creating as they should, all they should, where they should?

In the beginning, the Maker made a maker, and he placed us here to make this world the kind of place he wants it to be. Wherever we stand on God’s good earth, may we dirty our hands in the stuff God made and make something good and true and beautiful.

 

 


 

[1] Of course, there are many things that human beings would make out of the original things that God made; I’ll make that point next.

This entry is part 3 of 8 in the seriesHomosexuality, the Bible, and the Church

Last Tuesday was our third class for “Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church,” and we continued to study what the Old Testament says about homosexuality.

First, we briefly looked at Genesis 1-2 to identify its relevance for the debate. Put simply: Does Genesis 1-2 show that a valid marriage is essentially heterosexual, or is heterosexual marriage simply the typical, though not essential, form of a valid marriage?

We quickly brushed aside the “God created Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve” argument, since it ignores many aspects of the actual text. For instance, Eve was considered to be a suitable helper for Adam (Gen 2:20, godhatesshrimp222), but was that because she was a female (and not a male) or because she was a human (and not an animal; see 2:19)? Does the “one flesh” statement (2:24) refer to their biological complementarity, or to a new “kinship bond”? And is sex only valid if it has the potential to procreate? This, of course, would rule out homosexual sex. But it would also rule out contraceptives, sex in old age, and the sexual validity of infertile couples.

As you might be able to tell, some of our interpretive options necessarily rule out homosexual marriage, while others could allow for it. My point wasn’t to solve these questions, but to show that Genesis 1-2 doesn’t clearly end the discussion about what validates marital union. We need to look at the overarching biblical theology of gender, sex, and marriage, along with other passages that explicitly mention homosexual activity. Which is why we focused most of our evening on two verses in Leviticus:

Lev 18:22 “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”

Lev 20:13 “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”

We began by observing several basic points about these verses. First, the statements are unqualified and absolute. That is, they don’t seem to talk about a specific form of gay sex (e.g. wartime rape, incest). Second, the verses use generic gender categories: male and female. They don’t only prohibit men from having sex with boys or with slaves, for example. Third, both verses use basic sexual terminology—the verb “to lie with.” Most often in Scripture, such terms refer to consensual sex, rather than, say, rape. For instance, Deut 22:22 condemns both man and woman for having an affair. Why? Because it was consensual. But Deut 22:25 only condemns the man because he “seizes” another man’s wife and “lies with her.” The verb “seize” connotes coercive sex, while “lie with” with no other qualifiers most often refers to consensual sex. Leviticus 18 and 20 only use the verb “to lie with.” And lastly, both parties are condemned in Leviticus 20:13, suggesting that the sex-act was mutual.

lee

Justin Lee

Now, some people have argued that Leviticus 18 and 20 are probably talking about male cult prostitution—men who had sex with other men out of devotion to a pagan deity. Justin Lee, for instance, leans toward this view in his book Torn (a book which I really like, BTW, and have assigned to my students). In fact, much of his analysis of what the Bible says about gay sex rests on the probability that Leviticus 18 and 20 are talking about cult prostitution.

However, not only does Lee misrepresent his primary source, Robert Gagnon (see Gagnon’s responses HERE and HERE), but he assumes the existence of an institution that most scholars now believe never existed; see Lynn Budin’s aptly titled book, The Myth of Sacred Prostitution in Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). Even if there was such an institution as cultic prostitution in the ancient world, Leviticus 18 and 20 don’t use words related to this (probably mythical) practice (e.g. the Hebrew qadesh or qadeshim). The cult prostitution view has little credibility.

The most popular and persuasive counter argument for the traditional understanding of Leviticus 18 and 20 is that Christians are totally fine with eating catfish, wearing mixed clothing, and other things forbidden by Leviticus. Why, then, do they still observe the prohibitions against gay sex?

Instead of summing up this counter-argument, I let Matthew Vines do it himself. No, he wasn’t a guest speaker—unfortunately. Rather, we showed a clip of his lecture that went viral on YouTube last year. Vines is a gay Christian and he took a two year leave from college to study what the Bible actually says about homosexuality. This sermon represents the fruit of his findings and has been hailed as the most devastating critique of the traditional view of homosexuality.Vines

What I wanted the class to see first hand is that there are at least some gay Christians who are not sacrificing the Bible on the altar of sexual orientation. Rather, they are basing their views on the inerrant, authoritative word of God. And it’s because of, not in spite of, their view of God’s word that they believe that God does not prohibit monogamous, consensual, loving gay unions.

In any case, after working through Vines’ compelling argument, there are several things that don’t seem very accurate about his interpretation of Leviticus 18 and 20 (my response will only make sense if you first watch the 10 min section linked above).

First, Acts doesn’t actually say that the entire law is no longer applicable for Gentile Christians. In fact, Acts 15:20 says explicitly that Gentiles are to refrain from “sexual immorality” (porneia). This is an umbrella term that very well could include all the sexual prohibitions in Leviticus 18:6-23. At the very least, I’d need to be shown that porneia does not include homosexual sex. In any case, Vines’ doesn’t mention this important verse in his discussion of Acts 15.

Second, Leviticus 18-20 is a distinct literary unit. And the vast majority of the commands in this section are universally binding; they talk about things that are intrinsically good or evil and are not culturally bound.

Third, Vines does not represent the evidence very well when he talks about the Hebrew term “abomination.” Contrary to Vines, the Hebrew word does not occur in Leviticus 11. In fact, the Hebrew term toevot (“abominations” plural) only occurs 4 times in Leviticus 18:26, 27, 29, 30, and 2 times in the singular (toevah) to refer to the homosexual acts in 18:22 and 20:13. Now, Vines is correct that the term is used in Deut 14:3 of unclean animals, but most often toevah refers to things like murder, theft, lying, oppressing the poor, etc., things that are intrinsically evil. Not every time, but most of the time. Vines makes it sound like the word only refers to outdated purity laws that separated Israel from the nations. But he only points out uses of the word that support this view and ignores the rest—which are many—that work against his view.

Lastly, and most importantly, Paul seems to draw upon Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 when he coins the Greek word arsenokoites in 1 Cor 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:10. This would suggest that the gay sex prohibitions in Leviticus 18 and 20 are still relevant for believers since they were repeated in the New Testament.

I hope this post doesn’t come off as impersonal and clinical. I don’t mean it to be. And if you’ve followed my other blogs on this topic you’ll see that I’m trying hard not to treat homosexuality as just an academic question about Hebrew words. But as I told my class, we have to both befriend people who are LGBT (get to know names and faces and stories) and rigorously study what the Bible says about same sex relations. In this last class, we focused on the latter.

Next class, we’re going to have a couple guest speakers who will help us with the former. Stay tuned! You won’t want to miss it.

Let There Be Light

Mark Beuving —  July 8, 2013 — 1 Comment
This entry is part 1 of 5 in the seriesThe Light of the World

Light BulbIn our modern world, darkness is weak and temporary. Anywhere we go, we simply flip a switch and there is light. We can travel anywhere at any time of the night by simply switching on our headlights and lighting our path. We have streetlights to keep our parking lots and streets lit all night. We have flashlights so small they fit on our key rings. We even have apps to turn our smart phones into flashlights. And my personal favorite: we have the clapper for those situations where we can’t muster the strength to travel the three steps between the couch and the light switch. (Apparently you can get a remote control for your clapper as well. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Maybe it makes the clapping sound for you so you don’t have to overexert yourself…)

But think back to the very beginning. The first words that God spoke in creation were “Let there be light!” Immediately before this, the world was formless and void, and darkness covered the face of the earth. Then God spoke a word, and light flooded the earth, scattering the darkness. It’s an impressive picture.

John picks up on this imagery as he begins his gospel. Other gospels (Matthew and Luke) begin with genealogies and Christmas stories, but John begins his gospel where Genesis begins: “in the beginning.” And John echoes the Genesis account of light appearing amidst darkness:

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:4-5, 9)

In Genesis, God speaks a word and the darkness scatters. In John, God speaks a Son, whom John calls “the Word,” and the darkness scatters. John’s presentation of Jesus as the light of the world is striking. It’s profound. Just as our world began with a flash of light that dispelled the darkness, so the gospel begins with Jesus as the light which overcomes all of the darkness of the world.

This imagery of the light entering the darkness and refusing to be overcome sets the tone for John’s gospel. In essence, this prologue to the gospel tells the story in miniature. It’s a cosmic version of the tale John is about to tell. All of the stories, sermons, and conversations that John will record for us will come together to say this same thing: Jesus is the light that entered the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome the light. Just the opposite. This light came into the world and gave light to everyone.

In the next post, I’ll look at Jesus stunning statement that picks up on this same theme: “I am the light of the world!”

 

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