Friday, January 10, 2014

OT #3: The Creation

Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #3: The Creation

You can read my lesson #3 from 2010 here:

The Creation, a Prologue

According to Bible scholars, Genesis 1 was written by an ancient person/group named the Priest (P), while Genesis 2 was written by the Jahwist (J). These stories were not specifically written as a modern history or scientific description of creation, but as a prologue.  Israel was being recreated as a nation in the days of Moses.  As they left Egypt, they needed their own history that would show them to be an ancient group.  God provided them with a prologue, so they could show the Canaanites in the new land they were entering that they were an ancient people, with a lineage going all the way back to Adam.

Scholar Gerhard Von Rad notes,

The two presentations (Genesis 1 and 2) are alike in that they have as their chief end, though doing it in very different ways, the creation of man, that is, mankind as male and female-with the result that the rest of the world is ordered around them as the chief work of Jahweh in Creation. (Old Testament Theology, pg 141).
We shall find as we go through the Old Testament that the main theme is the story of God saving his main creation.  This will be seen from different viewpoints, as there are many symbolic creation stories in the Old Testament, or new beginnings: the Flood, the Abrahamic Covenant, Moses and the Exodus, the reign of King David, etc.  Each of these is a saving moment, where Jahweh provides salvation to his people, and a reason for their existence.  For Mormons, we can add other new beginnings, including the Restoration.

 It all begins "In the beginning."

Other Creation stories
While the lesson discusses the teachings on the Creation, primarily focused on the Book of Moses, we need to recognize that in the Bible alone are at least 3 or 4 versions of the Creation story, and the Books of Moses and Abraham give us additional story lines. While most of these are very similar, some are very different from one another. What are we to learn from this?  That the specifics of a historical Creation are not the important thing.  What is important is that God is the Creator and did create the earth.

Whether the earth's creation occurred in 6 twenty-four hour periods or billions of years, is really immaterial. For the ancient Hebrews (which includes Abraham and Moses), their view of history and science were very different from our modern understanding. If an ancient prophet saw every particle of the earth, does that mean every bit of sand, atom, quark?  Would an ancient prophet understand an atom or quark?  Would an ancient prophet understand Big Bang theories, etc?

Isaiah believed and referenced the Babylyonian/Canaanite creation story, where God had to fight the dragon Leviathan/Rahab in order to overcome Chaos. Old Testament scholar Gerhard Von Rad noted:

...a dramatic struggle of Jahweh (Jehovah) with the powers of Chaos. In this concept a new element is presupposed-a blatant enmity of Chaos towards God. Psalms 46:3 and 89:9 speak of Chaos' inordinate pride. But Jahweh rebuked Chaos (Psalms 104:7), he smote it terribly (Ps 74:13f), and forced these powers to go down underneath the earth, so that they now sleep in the depths of Creation: they could possibly be reawakened (Job 3:8), but God has set a guard over them (Job 7:12)....Jahweh's opponent is hypostasised as a mythical person to such an extent (he is called Rahab or Leviathan, Is 51:9f, Psalm 89:11) that one could be well nigh tempted to regard these texts as implying a cosmological dualism. In comparison with Genesis I, even the elements in this concept which Israel took over are remarkable for their strongly mythological form. (Old Testament Theology, pp 150-151).

Another version of the Creation is that of God creating all things through Wisdom.  In the scriptures, Wisdom is viewed as the wife of God, the Tree of Life, and the creative power of God.  The Bible's Wisdom literature (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, etc.) discuss Wisdom in conjunction with the Creation (Psalm 104:5-24, Job 26:3-10, 38:2-7).  In Proverbs 8, we read:

I wisdom dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions.  The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.
 Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am understanding; I have strength.... The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.  When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water.  Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth:  While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world.  When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth:  When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep:  When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth:  Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;  Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.  Now therefore hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways. (Proverbs 8:12-32).
So, we have a variety of Creation stories, all with at least some minor differences.  What should we learn from it? That the ancient Hebrews were not focused on historical or scientific methods or evidence, but sought to understand their relationship with God.  Genesis 1 is different from the story of Wisdom or Leviathan (at least in some respects), simply because different prophets were seeking to understand Creation from a different perspective, from a different time period, from a different cultural aspect, and with a different purpose to what they wanted to teach.  Because of the symbolism involved, whether any or all of the events are "true" in a historical sense, the important issue is what we learn from Creation, and our relationship with our Creator.

Man in God's Image

In a world where most Christians believe that God is an unknowable spirit, we find something different about God in the Old Testament.  Gerhard Von Rad explained:

Actually, Israel conceived even Jahweh himself as having human form. But the way of putting it which we use runs in precisely the wrong direction, according to Old Testament ideas, for, according to the ideas of Jahwism, it cannot be said that Israel regarded God anthropomorphically (man-like), but the reverse, that she considered man as theomorphic (God-like). (Old Testament Theology, pg 145).
Here, the concept of Mormonism that man can become God is present in the concept that God made man in his own image.  In speaking of God, we sometimes mistakenly say that God is in man's image, which (as Von Rad notes) is going in the wrong direction.

Creation and Redemption

For Israel, Creation and Redemption go hand in hand. Von Rad again noted:

Jahweh created the world. But he created Israel too. In Isaiah 51:9f, the two creative works are almost made to coincide. The prophet apostrophises the creation of the world, but at the same time he speaks of Israel's redemption from Egypt. For hardly has he spoken about the driving back of the waters, in the language of the mythical struggle with the dragon of Chaos, than he jumps to the miracle at the Red Sea, where Jahweh again held the waters back "for the redeemed to pass through." Here creation and redemption almost coincide, and can almost be looked on as the one act of dramatic divine saving action in the picture of the struggle with the dragon of Chaos. The situation is just the same in Psalms 77:17ff....(Old Testament Theology, pp 137-8).
The earth was created for mankind.  Creation was the first great act by God, so that we may exist in mortality.  God's second great act is that of the Redemption, without which, creation would be meaningless.  It is the first great step in mankind becoming like God.


Old Testament Theology, Volume 1, The Theology of Israel's Historical Traditions; Gerhard Von Rad, ISBN: 0-06-068930-7

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