The Account of Creation and Its Relation to the Biblical Storyline

The Account of Creation and Its Relation to the Biblical Storyline

What, one may ask legitimately, is the relation of Genesis 1–11 to Genesis 12–50, to the rest of the Torah, to the rest of the Old Testament, or to the rest of the Bible? The latter questions assume, of course, the existence or possibility of a single plot structure running through the assorted collection of books we call the Bible. Is Genesis 1–11 just the “primeval history” that we have to get out of the way before the real story starts with Abraham in Genesis 12? Some Christians approach putting the Bible together this way.

My thesis in this brief piece is that all of our foundations for life and living are found in the biblical teaching on creation, especially as delineated in Genesis 1–3. From the account of creation, we see that God rules sovereignly over all his works as King. He establishes his rule, moreover, in a bond or relationship of love, loyalty, spirit, and trust with humans. Not surprisingly, then, one of the central themes of the Old Testament is kingdom through covenant.[1]

The Image of God as a King in Covenant with God

The foundation for kingdom through covenant is laid by the creation of humans as the image of God. Genesis 1:27–28 actually deals with two topics by means of a chiasm or literary sandwich:

(A) in the image of God he created him

(B) male and female he created them

(B´) be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth

(A´) and subdue it and rule over the fish/birds/animals

After the general statement in verse 27a that God created humanity in his image, we have in verse 27b a couple of important footnotes. The fact that humanity is constituted as male and female prepares us for the command to be fruitful, and the fact that humanity is the divine image prepares us for the command to rule over the creatures. Thus, while binary sexual differentiation is the basis for procreation enabling humans to increase in number (the B elements in the chiasm), our status as God’s image is expressed in subduing and ruling (the A elements). Note that our identity as God’s image is expressed as we rule creation on God’s behalf. This identity does not require bearing children, nor is biological gender a necessary aspect of our ability to function as God’s image. Rather, the image of God correlates to men and women ruling over creation.

Careful analysis of the terms “likeness” and “image” in the Hebrew scriptures shows that these words speak of kinship and kingship. Likeness focuses on our relation to God as his obedient sons and daughters while image focuses on the way we represent God to the rest of his creation. These would have been understood as covenantal relationships since family language is invoked to describe covenants in the Bible and ancient Near East. Note as well that according to the grammar of the original text, ruling over the creatures in v. 26b is a result of creating man in the divine image. So, the image has to do with the core of our being and status and is not only or simply functional.[2]

Most occurrences of the word “image” denote a physical statue. Accordingly, mankind is set in the midst of creation as God’s statue. He is evidence that God is the Lord of creation. Mankind exerts his rule not in arbitrary despotism but as a responsible agent, as God’s steward. His duty to rule is not autonomous; it is a copy of the divine king who sits in glory. Hence the concept of the kingdom of God is found on the first page of the Bible.

From the First Adam to the Second

Adam begins to rule the world under God by naming everything created on the earth just as God ruled by naming everything created in the heavens. This understanding of the divine image fits the background of the ancient Near East where the setting up of the king’s statue was the equivalent to the proclamation of his domination over the area in which the statue was erected.

When the descendants of the first man and woman fill the earth with chaos and social violence flowing from the breaking of the covenant by Adam and Eve, God destroys all creatures by a flood and preserves a pair of each kind. God makes a new start with Noah and he is given Adam’s covenant and mandate (comp. Genesis 1:27–29 with 9:1–7). When the family of Noah ends up confused and scattered over the face of the earth because of the curse of Babel in Genesis 11, God chooses Abraham and his family in Genesis 12 to inherit the role of Adam and Eve.

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