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January 11, 2012Missiology

Study Bible Shorts: The Uniqueness of the Genesis Creation Story

On Wednesdays in 2012, I will be running a series of articles from some of the study Bibles that B&H publishes. While the authors will not necessarily be interacting on the blog, in the comments section you can interact with their ideas. I will also be giving away a free HCSB Study Bible to a commenter each week. I hope you find these articles as enjoyable and informative as I do.

Since this is a new feature here on the site, it needs a name. So this week's study Bible will go to the commenter who provides us with the winning name for these posts. Leave your entry in the comments below.

The week's article is excerpted from the HCSB Study Bible and deals with the creation account we find in Genesis. In case you missed it, LifeWay Research released some new findings on creation, evolution, and the old earth/new earth debate earlier this week.

While there are many similarities between parts of Genesis and ancient Near Eastern (ANE) myths, there are also fundamental differences. These are seen especially in the significantly different views of the Creator and creation. Five features in particular distinguish the biblical creation account and perspective. So distinctive theologically is the biblical teaching from that of Israel's neighbors that it is best explained as the result of divine revelation, not the imagination or "religious genius" of the biblical author.

The Identity of God

The basic identity of God as revealed in Genesis is distinct from all other ANE conceptions. The Lord God did not have an origin and did not have a female counterpart. In fact, Genesis does not present any kind of theogony (origin of the gods). God simply always existed. The concept of fertility was a common explanation among the ancients for how the world was created. It was believed that gods and goddesses joined in sexual union and thus produced the world, just as man and woman can come together to create a child. Israel's God, however, was revealed to be asexual, neither male nor female. According to other ANE religions the world (or parts of it, like the sun) was a divine "Thou," whereas in Genesis the world was revealed to be an "it," a non-supernatural reality brought into existence by a supernatural God.

No Rival Gods

While polytheistic views dominated the ANE, Genesis revealed that God has no divine rivals. A common explanation for creation among the ancients was that an epic battle had raged between creator gods and anti- creation deities. Ultimately, the creator god overcame the anti-creation forces/gods, in some cases using the slain bodies of their enemies to make the stuff of the world. In Genesis there is no rival opposing the Creator. All creation obeyed the voice of God, as expressed in the recurring phrase, "and it was so" (1:7).

Creation out of nothing

In Genesis the Creator by inherent authority as Sovereign Lord spoke creation into a functional, well-ordered existence. There was no eternal pre-created matter, such as was believed in the ancient myths. Genesis says God spoke all things into origination. This does not mean He uttered words that possessed inherent magical powers. Rather, the irrevocable power of God's creation words was grounded in the authority of God Himself. Unlike the nature deities whose existence was limited to the world system, God existed before creation and above creation. Also, creation was not the emanation of divine person or power. It was separate from Him, a new reality subject to His will.

The Value of Humanity

In Genesis the Creator bestowed special value on humanity. Human beings in the ANE view were not indispensable to the operation of the world, whereas in Genesis they were essential as its chief caretakers. The Lord blessed humanity, assigning man and woman the responsibility to propagate and to rule over the earth (1:26-28). ANE myths explained the purpose of humanity as servants who met the servile interests of the gods. The Bible elevates the person and role of humans who were "crowned . . . with glory and honor" (Ps 8:5), made in the divine image. God prepared the resplendent Garden of Eden for humanity, giving humanity meaningful work and purpose (Gn 2:8-18). Also, Genesis presents the first humanity as individuals who were the progenitors of the human race.

The Sabbath

In Genesis the Creator provided the seventh day as a holy day of rest and celebration (2:1-3), which was later memorialized in Israel's Sabbath (Ex 20:8-11). The Sabbath was unique to Israel, not tied to the movement of the stars, such as in the ancient preoccupation with astrology. The Lord was revealed as Master of the material universe and of time. All creation was invited to join in the knowledge of God and in the worship of Him as Creator and Sustainer of all things.

Kenneth A. Mathews, Ph.D.

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Study Bible Shorts: The Uniqueness of the Genesis Creation Story