Saturday, 21 January 2012

In the Beginning 4

I've gone through the first creation account in Genesis, but haven't really looked at the theology we can get from it. It looks rather like the stories told by other Near Eastern peoples of the time, but at the same time we can see how it's evolved, from the conflict between God and the Chaos Monster which we glimpse in Psalm 74, to a position where great sea monsters are now a detail, created by God along with everything else.

Any careful reading of the Bible will show beliefs evolving, and that's an important lesson. They're not set in stone for all time. Similarly, these stories have to be read in the context of their own time and their own culture, if they're to be understood. They don't relate to our modern scientific worldview at all, and if we read them as though they are, we're likely to end up with a nonsense like young-Earth creationism.

The great difference between this and the creation narratives of other peoples is that it makes God wholly and solely responsible for creation. Without him, there would be nothing but the primal watery chaos. No being exists without his command; there is no earlier chaos monster. It's there in earlier Israelite belief, but by the time Genesis 1 was written - I suspect some time after the Exile - God has grown considerably, and the monster has shrunk to a mere creation. The result is a picture of creation which is still relevant to our modern belief system.

I can never quite make up my mind whether trinitarian Christianity is a form of absolute monotheism or not, but if not, it's pretty close to it. We believe that God is unique, the only uncreated being, intrinsically different from anything in creation. The Israelites were a long way from this; they believed in many Elohim, divine or heavenly beings, of whom one was God. Much of the Old Testament was written be people who believed in many gods, only one of whom could legitimately be worshipped by Israelites, but the author of Genesis 1 has moved beyond that. Like the author of 2 Isaiah, he believes in a single God, who he portrays as uniquely creative. He may be one among many Elohim, but he's a bigger and better version than the rest. It's sufficiently like our monotheism to pass, even if we have to pretend that the 'us' of 1:26 refers to the Trinity, not the heavenly host. It remains useful as witness to a belief in a creator God who we share with the ancient authors and editors of the text.

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