How the Bible Begins


The following material is shamelessly taken from pages 44-47 of The Pentateuch by Terence E. Fretheim. This is an important book for understanding how to read the Old Testament in its original context. Fretheim also gives us ways of seeing how this book of Jewish and Christian origins can be relevant and meaningful to subsequent generations of readers. It is a technical book, written for seminary students, but it is well worth putting in the investment.

Chapters 1-11 of Genesis are the key to properly figuring out the overall strategy intended by the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible).
The strategy of the writer is to catch up the reader up into a universal frame of reference. (It is not just the nation of Israel, but rather the entire creation that is affected by the promises to Abraham.)

How Images of God as Creator work in Genesis 1-11 (p. 44-47)

    1) The way the story is told reflects the actual order of the divine activity in the world. God was working long before Israel came into being or Moses articulated what creation is about.
    2) It gives God’s actual engagement with the world greater importance than human knowledge of that activity.
    3) The story in 1-11 parallels each person’s experience of God’s activity. God’s promissory and redemptive activity does not occur in a vacuum, but in a context shaped by the life-giving and life-enhancing work of the creator. God’s work in creation is necessary for there to be a people whom God can redeem and a context within which they can live well. For example, the growth of Israel in Egypt is seen as a fulfillment of God’s word in creation (Exod. 1:7, Gen. 1:28).
    4) Most of God’s activity in Gen. 1 involves the creation of that which is other than human; indeed, God involves the nonhuman in creative activity (1:11, 20, 22, 24). Even more, the human and nonhuman orders are deeply integrated, so that, for example, human sin has devastating effects on the nonhuman world. Moreover, the nonhuman creatures are caught up in God’s saving work (6:19-7:3), God’s remembering (8:1), and God’s promising (9:10). Readers of the rest of the Pentateuch should be attuned to the important place of the nonhuman in God’s economy.
    5) God’s redemption of Israel is intended to serve the creation in its entirety. This universal mission informs more of what the Pentateuch is about than has been commonly recognized. (Gen 12:1-3) All families of the world are under God’s purview.

God the God who Chooses (elects)

    1) Electing is set in universal terms as a basic way in which God chooses to work in the world. God chooses Abel instead of Cain and Noah to save the world. God elects for the purpose of preserving the creation by keeping it alive. God chooses the younger over the older quite frequently (against what was culturally acceptable at the time).
    2) Even Israel’s election is for the sake of the world. God’s initially exclusive move in choosing Abraham/Israel is for the sake of a maximally inclusive end. Translation: The narrow choice of one man results in bringing all of humanity back to God.

Far from being a book that shows a wrathful God always condemning human sin, Genesis sets forth a God who is merciful. This is a God who judges in ways that allow for the continuation of humanity in his assigned role as ruler over the creation in spite of the obvious unfitness humanity has demonstrated for the role. God’s purpose is redemption back to the dignity and responsibility He assigned for humankind in order to bring all of creation to its intended beauty and harmony.

A major implication is that Christians really should be mindful of the relationship between human and non-human creatures in the world. We need to see our role as the saving humanity from sin in order to save the creation from the destructiveness of our sin. A Christianity that turns its nose up at “saving the whales” is probably not a very healthy Christianity at all.

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About John Valade

I facilitate and teach in Wascana Fellowship. I have been married to Wanda since 1984. M.Div. from Briercrest Seminary, SK in 2011 and B.R.E. Canadian Bible College (now Ambrose University College) in 2000.
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One Response to How the Bible Begins

  1. Pingback: Why Are We Here? « Mymoss’s Weblog

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