Out of Nothing, Something

INTRODUCTION

Many modern approaches to Genesis begin with the length of the days and the age of the earth as a foundational principle of interpretation or as the main interpretative point of the passage. In other words, the modern interpreter, using a scientific presupposition, declares that Genesis 1-2 is primarily a scientific text. However, the text of Genesis 1:1-2:3 does not particularly highlight issues regarding length of days or the age of the earth. Rather, the emphasis is on the Lord God as the Creator of all things visible and invisible. It is apparent on a cursory reading of the text that it emphasizes God the Creator who is distinct from creation. In addition, and beyond a cursory reading, the text acts as a polemic against scientism, pantheism, Gnosticism, eternal matter, and meaninglessness. God introduces and identifies Himself as the only Creator and the One to whom all glory, honor, and worship should be given. Thus, this chapter calls us to know the Lord in order to glorify and worship the Creator who made all things from nothing by the Word of His mouth. This type of praise is frequent through the Scriptures (e.g., Ps. 33:6-9; 148:5-6; Rev. 4:11). In the context of refuting St. Augustine’s instantaneous creation view, John Calvin, in his commentary on Genesis, writes, “We slightingly pass over the infinite glory of God, which here shines forth; whence arises this but from our excessive dulness [sic.] in considering his greatness? In the meantime, the vanity of our minds carries us away elsewhere” (Commentary Upon the Book of Genesis, 78).

 God is the Primary Interest

To read Genesis 1:1-2:3 with a primary interest other than God is to misread this chapter. The term God (Hebrew, Elohim) is used thirty-five times, averaging about one time per verse. The literary pattern woven throughout also emphasizes God: And God said…and God made or called…and God saw. Since God was at the beginning, the reader must acknowledge that God existed prior to any created thing and that He is not part of the creation; He is the sovereign ruler over it. Although there is a debate as to the use of Elohim (a Hebrew plural noun), I believe it is safe to identify a veiled reference to the Triune God. It is apparent in the text that God the Father is acting in conjunction with God the Spirit (v.2); moreover, the New Testament is plain in identifying Jesus Christ as active in, even the instrument of, as well as the sustainer of creation (John 1:1-5; Colossians 1:15-17, and Hebrews 1:1-4).

Furthermore, God creates all invisible and visible things. In this account, two Hebrew words are used: asa, which is usually rendered ‘make’ and bara, which is usually rendered ‘create, especially from nothing by God’. In two of the Hebrew verb constructions (called stems, here Qal and Niphil), bara is usually used of God only in relation to His creation (e.g., Isa. 40:26, 28), where bara connotes either the creation of things (most instances) or situations (Isa. 45:7-8). First, God creates or makes all things visible: the earth and all things on or above it. Thus, God’s creative act rules out a pantheistic worldview since God is neither a part of the creation nor is creation an emanation of God. This distinctness between God and creation is important to make and keep as we will see in a future post.

Although it is not apparent in the text, the Bible is clear that God created all invisible things as well (Col. 1:15-17). A look at a few other Scripture passages indicates that the ‘heavens’ mentioned in Genesis 1:1 and 2:1 is the invisible realm where the angelic host reside. Nehemiah 9:5-6 (and Proverbs 8; 2 Chronicles 18:18; Psalm 103:20-21; 148:2) makes this distinction – “heaven of heavens, with their entire host and the earth.” That God made invisible and visible things, declaring them good (Gen. 1:31), strikes against Gnosticism which seeks for separation of spirit and matter and considers matter inherently evil.

Not only does this chapter call the reader to give praise, glory and honor to the Creator and Sovereign Lord of all things visible and invisible, but also it stands as a polemic against pagan philosophies. Paul tells the Colossians to not be captured by philosophy or empty deceit (Col. 2:8). Considering this chapter as scientific in nature, the reader misses the point the polemic against pagan philosophies. The chapter serves as polemic (an argument against something) against scientism (science can explain all phenomena), pantheism (god is all things or all things emanate from god), Gnosticism/dualism (matter is inherently evil while spirit is inherently good), and that matter is eternal. Both ancient and modern people hold to these philosophies which Genesis 1 seeks to refute.

Lastly, the Creator gives meaning to history and a consummation to the future. The passing of time and events has meaning for all of creation. Time and history are moving toward a consummation. Even non-believers seem to understand this as they often remark that everything has a purpose. Inherently, man understands that life has meaning. This movement with meaning is illustrated by the prophet Isaiah in the last part of his book (40-66). Isaiah moves the reader from God’s creative acts (46:10; 48:12) to His redemptive acts (e.g., 53) to the final re-creative acts of a new heavens and earth (65-66). Truly we can say of the Creator that He works all things together for our good.

Conclusion

Genesis 1:1-2:3 magnifies the Lord God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, of things visible and invisible. Glorify the Creator who has done this and confess with the Church, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible (Nicene Creed, paragraph 1).

Introducing Genesis in Blog Posts

This is the genesis of what I hope to be a long-running, continuous series of posts. To correspond with my current Sunday evening sermon series in Genesis, I would like to make a series of blog posts. My aim is to post a summary of the sermon with appropriate application, go deeper into issues not covered in the sermon, and explore people and actions in a deeper manner. By doing these things, I can explore the history of redemption as it unfolds in Genesis both in word and print. The task of preaching or teaching through a book like Genesis is daunting given the hot-button issues of creation as well as some of the strange behavior by the patriarchs. The blog posts will aid me in this task so that I can further elucidate passages by going a bit deeper in explanation or pointing to further reading. I will attempt to answer legitimate questions to the best of my ability. I hope that this undertaking will help you as you seek to hear and apply the Word of God. So, feel free to comment or ask questions in response to the posts.

Spurgeon, the Bible, and the Blood of Martyrs

175px-Charles_Haddon_Spurgeon_by_Alexander_MelvilleBy the time Charles Spurgeon was 22 years old, his preaching ministry in London was enormously successful, and with that success came controversies of various kinds throughout his life.  The first serious public controversy he dealt with was over a small hymnbook named, "The Rivulet," published in 1855 by Thomas Lynch.  Soon after its publication the hymnbook's theology was criticized for being contrary to evangelical religion, and Spurgeon himself saw the hymnbook as an affront to the biblical gospel.  The controversy soon faded, but Spurgeon's sermons, of course, live on.  During that controversy Spurgeon preached a message on 1 Timothy 3:15, "the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth," and here Spurgeon makes a compelling appeal for pastors and churches to stand firm in the truth of God's Word. He opens the sermon saying:

This is a day of strife, a day of division, a time of war and fighting between professing Christians.  God be thanked for it!  Far better that it should be so than that the false calm shall any longer exert its fatal spell over us.

What follows is a powerful appeal to the Church to remember its vital calling to defend the truth at all costs.  As I read this sermon, I couldn't help but think about how important Spurgeon's message is for today's church, where so often biblical doctrine, theology, and truth have taken a backseat to lesser ends.  So this evening I thank God for Spurgeon, but more importantly, for the eternal Word, and for the Church, which is a "pillar and buttress of truth."  May we heed Spurgeon's words well...

Remember how your fathers, in times gone by, defended God's truth, and blush, ye cowards, who are afraid to maintain it!  Remember that our Bible is a blood-stained book; the blood of martyrs is on the Bible, the blood of translators and confessors.  The pool of holy baptism, in which many of you have been baptized, is a blood-stained pool: full many have had to die for the vindication of that baptism which is "the answer of a good conscience toward God."  The doctrines which we preach to you are doctrines that have been baptized in blood, swords have been drawn to slay the confessors of them; and there is not a truth which has not been sealed by them at the stake, or the block, or far away on the lofty mountains, where they have been slain by hundreds.  It is but a little duty we have to discharge compared with theirs.  They were called to maintain the truth when they had to die for it; you only have to maintain the truth when taunt and jeer, ignominious names and contemptuous epithets are all you have to endure for it.  What!  Do you expect easy lives?  While some have led through seas of blood, and have fought to win the prize, are you wearied with a slight skirmish on dry land?  What would you do if God should suffer persecuting days to overtake you?  O craven spirits, ye would flee away, and disown your profession!  Be ye the pillar and ground of the truth.  Let the blood of martyrs, let the voices of confessors, speak to you.  Remember how they held fast the truth, how they preserved it, and handed it down to us from generation to generation; and by their noble example, I beseech you, be steadfast and faithful, tread valiantly and firmly in their steps, acquit yourselves like men, like men of God, I implore you!  Shall we not have some champions, in these times, who will deal sternly with heresies for the love of the truth, men who will stand like rocks in the center of the sea, so that, when all others shake, they stand invulnerable and invincible?  Thou who art tossed about by every wind of doctrine, farewell; I own thee not till God shall give thee grace to stand firm for his truth, and not to be ashamed o fhim nor of his words in this evil generation.

And all that, over a little hymnbook.

O, for more champions of truth, like Spurgeon, today!

The ESV Study Bible

The much anticipated ESV Study Bible has arrived (see introductory video below).  From my own perusal through it, it seems it will be a tremendously helpful resource for anyone interested in serious study of God's Word. Although not explicitly "Reformed" (such as Ligonier Ministries' The Reformation Study Bible), it will fit well on the shelf of any Reformed believer as it affirms a covenantal understanding of Scripture and the sovereignty of God over all things, including the salvation of men.

For example, the notes on Ephesians 1:4 say:

He chose us in him means that the Father chose Christians in the Son (Christ), and this took place in eternity past, before the foundation of the world.  This indicates that for all eternity the Father has had the role of leading and directing among the persons of the Trinity, even though Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in deity and attributes.  God's initiative in redeeming the believer from sin and death was not an arbitrary or whimsical decision but something God had planned all along "in Christ."  Since God chose his people in his love, they can take no credit for their salvation.  God was determined to have them as his own.

You'll find a solid covenantal perspective in the introductory article, Overview of the Bible: A Survey of the History of Salvation, written by Vern S. Poythress.

One other note on the Bible - it's big.  Really big.  Almost 3,000 pages.

This bible will be a tremendous resource for all Christians and I heartily recommend it.

"What god is Great Like Our God?" - Trembling in Fear and in Joy Before the Lord

One of the Scripture passages I've been working on memorizing recently is Psalm 77:13-14 in which the question is asked, "What god is great like our God?"  This question is answered by the Psalmist as he goes on to describe the greatness of the Lord.  One reason given why God is great - because even the waters are afraid of him and the deep trembles upon sight of him (Ps. 77:16). I have to admit, whenever I have an opportunity to stand at the ocean's edge I'm always struck by it's raw power.  Even the smallest of the ocean's waves is strong enough to carry me helplessly along, and the largest of its waves can bring absolute devastation.  The ocean is mighty and is rightly to be feared, but even "the deep" is not so mighty that it does not tremble before God.

If nothing else, the knowledge that even the ocean trembles before God causes me to tremble all the more before him, both in fear because his way is holy (Ps. 77:13) and in joy because in his might he has redeemed his people (Ps. 77:15).  What God is great like our God?