Genesis and Christian Theology


Genesis and Christian Theology contributes significantly to the renewed convergence of biblical studies and systematic theology -- two disciplines whose relational disconnect has adversely affected not only the academy but also the church as a whole. In this book twenty-one noted scholars consider the fascinating ancient book of Genesis in dialogue with historical and contemporary theological reflection. Their essays offer new vistas on familiar texts, reawakening past debates ...
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Genesis and Christian Theology contributes significantly to the renewed convergence of biblical studies and systematic theology -- two disciplines whose relational disconnect has adversely affected not only the academy but also the church as a whole. In this book twenty-one noted scholars consider the fascinating ancient book of Genesis in dialogue with historical and contemporary theological reflection. Their essays offer new vistas on familiar texts, reawakening past debates and challenging modern clichés.

Contributors:Gary A. Anderson Knut Backhaus Richard Bauckham Pascal Daniel Bazzell William P. Brown Stephen B. Chapman Ellen T. Charry Matthew Drever Mark W. Elliott David Fergusson Brandon Frick Trevor Hart Walter J. Houston Christoph Levin Nathan MacDonald Eric Daryl Meyer R. Walter L. Moberly Michael S. Northcott Karla Pollmann R. R. Reno Timothy J. Stone

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802867254
  • Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 4/3/2012
  • Pages: 365
  • Sales rank: 728,495
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Nathan MacDonald is reader in Old Testament at the University of St. Andrews and leader of the Sofja-Kovalevskaja research team at the University of G�ttingen.

Mark W. Elliott is senior lecturer in church history at the University of St. Andrews.

Grant Macaskill is lecturer in New Testament at the University of St. Andrews.

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Genesis and Christian Theology

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2012 Nathan MacDonald, Mark W. Elliott, and Grant Macaskill
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8028-6725-4

Chapter One

Manifest Diversity: The Presence of God in Genesis

William P. Brown

What constitutes a bona fide account of God's presence in Scripture? Clearly something more than a Wortbericht, a report of divine discourse. A theophany account must refer in some fashion to God's actual appearance. Related to the literary issue is a theological matter: Where is God located in such accounts? Does God remain outside the created order, occasionally breaking in to bless or to disrupt? Or, to take the other extreme, does God's presence fill or permeate the world (see, e.g., Ps. 72:19; Isa. 6:3; cf. 11:9)? Biblical tradition gives no single answer. In addition, what about the consequences of God's manifest presence? There are, on the one hand, the god-awful theophanies that trigger cosmic tremors. On the other hand, three "men" come to visit Abraham one hot afternoon and eat with him, God being among them. The variety of ways God appears in the Hebrew Scriptures is nothing short of staggering.

The book of Genesis offers its own select array of divine-human encounters. But to establish a basis of comparison, I want to leap briefly beyond Genesis to note a few of the more dramatic examples of divine presence in the Hebrew Bible. The most prominent is God's appearance on Mount Sinai. Though Exodus 19 is a convoluted text from a literary standpoint, it shares a consistency of tone and theme: holy fear and fascination. There is nothing casual or mundane about Israel's encounter with God on the mountain; the account is filled with images of terror and transcendence. This mountaintop theophany requires stringent preparations: the people are consecrated and boundaries are established. God's holy presence tolerates no contact with the impure. Sex is prohibited (v. 15), and touching the mountain is proscribed (vv. 12-13). On the third day, cloud and smoke envelop the mountain accompanied by thunder, earthquake, and shofar blasts. Deuteronomy recalls the mountain as "ablaze with fire to the heart of heaven, shrouded in darkness, cloud, and gloom" (Deut. 4:11). Only Moses and later Aaron are allowed to ascend to the top, where God has descended "in fire" (Exod. 19:18-20).

On the mountain God's presence is made manifest in both sound and visual fury, but the latter serves the former. The fury sets the stage for God's verbal address to all Israel, the Decalogue (Exod. 20:1-17; Deut. 4:13), and the sound establishes its own commanding presence. According to Deuteronomy, only the voice is perceived, albeit a voice "out of the fire" (Deut. 4:12, 15), a voice that the gathered people can withstand only so long. According to one ancient testimony, not only did the Israelites gather at the foothills of Sinai to hear the thunderous voice of God, they saw it! The Old Greek of Exodus 20:18a reads, "And all the people saw the voice," which departs from the plural rendering of the direct object in the MT ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) usually taken to refer to lightning bolts. But regardless of how one reconstructs the Exodus text, God's presence at Sinai/Horeb is described as terrifyingly transcendent, requiring the people to stand at a distance and be purified. Displayed in god-awful glory, holiness takes a front seat at Sinai.

Jump ahead to Elijah and his sojourn at Horeb in 1 Kings 19. Elijah's encounter with God has all the elements of another Sinaitic encounter: earth-shattering wind, earthquake, and fire (vv. 11-12; cf. Exod. 33:22). But, as the text makes clear, God was not present in any of these natural, destructive phenomena. Instead, a hush falls ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), followed by a voice (1 Kgs. 19:12-13). Elijah must come out of his cave to hear it, covering his face with a mantle (v. 13). God commands the prophet with a new commission (vv. 15-16).

One could also consider Isaiah's encounter with the enthroned God in the temple (Isa. 6:1-4). Here God's presence, accompanied by the thunderous acclamations of the seraphim, is visibly palpable. The prophet sees the temple's inner sanctum burst open with the hem of God's robe filling the nave. This dramatic scene has, according to the singing seraphim, a cosmic parallel: God's glory fills the entire world (v. 3). As for the prophet, God's presence so fills him with dread (v. 5) that he must be ritually cleansed (vv. 6-8). As in the case of Elijah at Horeb, God's voice takes center stage to commission the prophet (vv. 8-13).

Perhaps these three accounts are sufficient for our base of comparison, though onemust not overlookMoses' encounter with the burning bush, also at Horeb, "the mountain of God" (Exod. 3:1). Moses is instructed to take off his sandals (v. 5; cf. Josh. 5:15) and receives God's most personal yet elusive name: I AM([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], Exod. 3:14-15; cf. 6:2-3; 33:19). There is also the central account of YHWH passing before Moses on Sinai after the Israelites have broken covenant. Moses requests that he be shown YHWH's glory (33:18-19). In response, Moses is granted a theophany that, again, is indelibly marked by divine discourse (v. 19). Nevertheless, he must be protected; he must not see YHWH's face, lest he die (vv. 20-23). Shielded by God's hand, Moses is permitted to see only YHWH's "back" (v. 23). The renewal of the covenant that immediately follows is accompanied by YHWH descending in a cloud and passing before Moses for yet another solemn proclamation, one that reaches the theological summit of the Pentateuch (34:5-7). And, last but not least, one cannot forget the remarkable covenantal meal shared on Sinai by Moses, Aaron and his sons, seventy "elders," and "the God of Israel" (24:9-11). There they behold God (without dying), and the base upon which God stands is vividly described as a gleaming "plate of lapis lazuli" (v. 10).

From this brief, incomplete survey, we find that each account depicts in richly dramatic ways God's dread-filled, self-disclosing presence, whether on a mountain or within the temple. Such scenes are filled with marvelous special effects, as any ten-year-old would agree. Not so in Genesis, however. No pyrotechnics are featured, not even a descending cloud. Examples of God's presence in Genesis cannot hold a candle, or smoking fire pot (Gen. 15:17), to Sinai's blazing mountain and Zion's smoke-filled sanctum. When the narrators of Genesis report, for example, that "YHWH appeared," the focus is predominantly on the substance of what God says rather than on the substance of God's presence. As is often noted, "holy" is not part of the theophanic vocabulary of Genesis, to which one could also add the word "glory" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). Notwithstanding two notable exceptions, there is by and large a distinct matter-of-factness that characterizes the accounts, a certain casualness, and in at least one striking case, a casualness with a vengeance. The Genesis theophanies are extraordinarily ordinary. Genesis 12:7 is representative: "Then YHWH appeared ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) to Abram, and said, 'To your seed I will give this land.' So there he built an altar to YHWH, who had appeared to him." One could cite other stripped-down examples of divine manifestation: 17:1; 26:2, 24-25; 35:9-10. In all these cases, the Deity's "appearance" is simply reported, with divine discourse taking center stage. Nothing more happens except in certain cases where the patriarch builds an altar, or plants a tree (21:33), so that God's name can be worshipfully invoked (13:4; cf. 4:26).

The Priestly covenant account in Genesis 17 adds one small detail: Abram falls on his face as God speaks (17:3). This reference, which narratively does nothing more than interrupt God's discourse, does acknowledge in its own small way the weightiness of God's presence. But, as is typical of most accounts in Genesis, the narrator dwells not on the palpable but on the verbal. Why, then, this strange matter-of-factness that pervades most of the theophanies in the ancestral narratives? On the one hand, the Genesis narrators insist that these episodes are more than simply Wortberichte, for they are frequently introduced with the near formulaic statement, "YHWH/God appeared to PN." Bona fide theophanies they are. On the other hand, nothing, or nothing much, of the numinous is conveyed. In Genesis it appears that God travels lightly, freed from the heavy baggage of divine "glory," perhaps so as not to steal Sinai's thunder or diffuse, for that matter, the tabernacle's impenetrable cloud (see Exod. 40:34-35). These "ordinary" theophanies can be added to the list of other unorthodox elements (unorthodox, that is, in comparison to Mosaic Yahwism) that characterize the so-called religion of the patriarchs, prompting R.W. L.Moberly to call the ancestral narratives of Genesis the "Old Testament of the Old Testament."

Theophanies in Miniature

Now for the more exceptional examples, five particular accounts in Genesis that render a fuller, or at least more complex, picture of divine presence: Genesis 15:7-21 (YHWH's covenant with Abram); 18:1-15 (Abraham hosts three strangers at Mamre); 16:7-14 (Hagar at Beer-lahai-roi); 28:10-22 (Jacob at Bethel); and perhaps strangest of all, 32:22-32 (Jacob at the Jabbok). Nevertheless, they remain "small-scale manifestations" of God's presence. I present them in order of increasing numinosity.

God among Three Persons

The first, then, is Genesis 18, which begins with the typically terse theophanic introduction, "YHWH appeared." Divine manifestation occurs "by the oaks of Mamre" (v. 1; see vv. 4, 8), a site where the patriarch had earlier built an altar after receiving the divine promise of land (13:14-18). This time, however, contrary to most other episodes in Genesis, the narrator divulges what Abraham actually saw. Dramatically introduced by the interjectory particle [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] — perhaps best translated as voilà! — Abraham sees "three men standing near him" (18:2). So begins the fabled tale of Abraham's hospitality and the announcement of Sarah's giving birth. The first word that comes out of Abraham's mouth has been the subject of much discussion: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in MT (kyrie in the Old Greek; Domine in the Vulgate), the formal address to God, which would be unique in Genesis. Most scholars, however, repoint the word as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "my lord," indicating that Abraham does not recognize God in the group. E. A. Speiser, followed by others, sees Abraham identifying one among the three as the leader and speaking specifically to him in v. 3 and then to the others out of courtesy in v. 4. The Samaritan Pentateuch, however, maintains a plural reading throughout the verse, including Abraham's initial word of address. The MT, by contrast, alternates between singular and plural forms throughout the chapter: singular in vv. 1, 3, 10-15, 17-21, 22b-33; plural in vv. 2, 4-9, 16, 22a. Similar shifts occur in the subsequent chapter on Lot and the two [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] or divine messengers (19:2, 17-18). Is Abraham entertaining God unawares (cf. Heb. 13:2)?

More telling is the other side of the unfolding dialogue. The strangers speak as one until v. 10. Together they accept Abraham's invitation (v. 5), together they eat (v. 8), and, perhaps strangest of all, they speak in consort when inquiring of Sarah's whereabouts (v. 9). Only one, however, promises to return "when Sarah bears a son" (v. 10). The transition from the many to the one does not call attention to itself with the blaring of trumpets; it is marked simply by a shift in verbal inflection: from [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("they said") to [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("he said" [vv. 9-10]). But divine identity is not fully unveiled until v. 13: "YHWH said to Abraham, 'Why did Sarah laugh ...?'" The inquiry is followed by a rhetorical question: "Is anything too difficult for YHWH?" (v. 14). Thereafter a new episode unfolds in which the "men" set out for Sodom (vv. 16, 22), while YHWH remains with Abraham to deliberate over the city's fate (vv. 16-33).

The narrator of this strange tale proves to be a master of subtlety, if not ambiguity. It is unclear whether Abraham recognizes YHWH among the strangers. That the "men" speak and eat together suggests that YHWH is indistinguishable from the other [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] until v. 10. Divinity emerges from the discourse. Verse 10 thus lifts the veil, and the speaker's identity is fully confirmed in v. 13. The narrative gradually builds to an unveiling of divine identity from "three men" to "one" to YHWH. No shock of recognition, however, is registered on the part of Abraham. Sarah's role, however, is another matter: upon realizing the stranger's divine status, she registers fear. The transition from laughter to fear parallels YHWH's self-disclosure (vv. 10-14). But as for Abraham's reaction, the narrative is silent. God's presence remains casual throughout, beginning with a degree of concealment. YHWH's appearance to Abraham is consistently less than a full appearance. Here we find a very humanlike Deity pondering which course of action to take with Abraham concerning the "outcry" against Sodom and Gomorrah (vv. 17-33).

The two remaining "men" are referred to as divine messengers ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) in the following chapter (19:1) and later as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("destroyers," v. 13). Yet they again find themselves eating an evening meal at Lot's house in Sodom (v. 3) and are later referred to as "men" (vv. 8, 10, 12; see the tight interchange in vv. 15-16). Lot addresses them as "my lords" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], v. 2; cf. v. 18 in pausal form). However divine these "men" are, they cannot pass up an invitation and a good meal before exercising their superhuman powers.

Seeing Is Believing: The Deity at the Well

The theophany recounted in Genesis 16:7-14 is, likewise, casually ambiguous, for it is declared only in retrospect and begins with a figure other than the Deity. Hagar's flight from Sarah's harsh treatment takes her into the wilderness, where she is "found" by the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] beside a desert spring (v. 7). Nothing, however, is said of the messenger's appearance; only his words are recounted, four times no less. Each verse of the messenger's discourse is introduced with [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("and he said," vv. 8-11), culminating with the promise of a son, whose name, Ishmael, is itself testimony to God's hearing (vv. 11-12), as dramatically attested in the Elohist's counterpart to the Yahwist's account (21:17).

In 16:13-14, however, the focus shifts abruptly to God's seeing. In response to the child's naming by God, Hagar provides her own set of names. She first names the God whom she has encountered through the medium of the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], "God of seeing/sight." She then names the location of her encounter: "The Well of the Living One Who Sees Me" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). The emphasis falls upon the Deity's power of sight, as evidenced in God's response to Hagar's plight. Lamentably, the clause between these two naming reports is textually uncertain. Literally it reads: "for she said, 'Have I really seen here after the one who has seen me?'" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], v. 13b). This seemingly obscure clause has prompted a widely accepted reconstruction, proposed first by Julius Wellhausen, which renders the clause to read, "Have I really seen God and lived?" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). The difference is considerable. Is Hagar awestruck over having seen God and survived (cf. Exod. 33:20), or is she marveling over the fact that she could still see after having been seen by God? I propose that Hagar's question is simply elliptical: "Have I really seen (God) here after (his) seeing me?" Apart from this curious clause, the subject of seeing is God, in parallel with the God who hears. Given the ambiguity of Hagar's question, the narrative straddles the line between theophany and mere divine discourse. It is as if Hagar were asking, "Was this really a theophany?" Indeed, with the emphasis placed on the God who finds and sees Hagar, this concealed theophany is more an "anthrophany," more the case of Hagar appearing in God's sight than the reverse! In any case, the narrative progresses from the messenger to the Deity, from the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] to YHWH and El, another case of the Deity's manifestation in miniature.

The Wrestling Match: God's Obscure Presence at Peniel

A far stranger account of a retrospective theophany in Genesis is found in the story of Jacob at Jabbok (32:22-32 [MT 23-33]). God's presence this time takes place under the cover of darkness. The narrative is a redaction of two non-Priestly sources, whose combined effect renders a story filled with irony, ambiguity, and paradox. Despite the narrative's succinct style, Gerhard von Rad notes its "spaciousness in content." More pointedly, Stephen Geller acknowledges the text's "pregnant ambiguity," which "allows intimations of all possible answers" to the question of the wrestler's identity.

Jacob's encounter with God at the Jabbok begins with an [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("man") in the night (v. 25). But the story and its background begin much earlier. The Jabbok episode is nested within the larger narrative of Jacob's homeward-bound journey and his impending encounter with Esau. The scene opens with a poignant parting between Jacob and Laban (32:1). Jacob is set on his way only to be suddenly met by "the messengers of God" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), to which he exclaims, "This is God's camp/company" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). But apparently Jacob sees double, for he calls the place [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("Two Camps/ Companies"; v. 3). Does the name indicate Jacob's camp and God's camp or suggest that God has two camps? The text does not clarify the matter. The dual name does, however, anticipate an element in the scene that follows (vv. 3-13a), which begins with Jacob sending his own messengers ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) to Esau (v. 4). They return with news that Esau is coming to meet him along with a veritable army. Panicked, Jacob strategically divides his own retinue "into two companies" ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], v. 8).


Excerpted from Genesis and Christian Theology Copyright © 2012 by Nathan MacDonald, Mark W. Elliott, and Grant Macaskill. Excerpted by permission of William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Abbreviations ix

Introduction xiii

Genesis and Salvation History

Manifest Diversity: The Presence of God in Genesis William P. Brown 3

Beginning with the Ending R. R. Reno 26

The Akedah in Canonical and Artistic Perspective Gary A. Anderson 43

Joseph in the Likeness of Adam: Narrative Echoes of the Fall Timothy J. Stone 62

"Before Abraham Was, I Am": The Book of Genesis and the Genesis of Christology Knut Backhaus 74

Genesis 2-3: A Case of Inner-Biblical Interpretation Christoph Levin 85

Genesis and Divine-Human Relations

Gregory of Nyssa on Language, Naming God's Creatures, and the Desire of the Discursive Animal Eric Daryl Meyer 103

Image, Identity, and Embodiment: Augustine's Interpretation of the Human Person in Genesis 1-2 Matthew Drever 117

Poetry and Theology in Milton's Paradise Lost Trevor Hart 129

Sex or Violence? Thinking Again with Genesis about Fall and Original Sin Walter J. Houston 140

Genesis and the Natural World

Interpreting the Story of Creation: A Case- Study in the Dialogue between Theology and Science David Fergusson 155

Humans, Animals, and the Environment in Genesis 1-3 Richard Bauckham 175

Reading Genesis in Borneo: Work, Guardianship, and Companion Animals in Genesis 2 Michael S. Northcott 190

Covenantal Ecology: The Inseparability of Covenant and Creation in the Book of Genesis Brandon Frick 204

"And Without Thorn the Rose"? Augustine's Interpretations of Genesis 3:18 and the Intellectual Tradition Karla Pollmann 216

Toward a Creational Perspective on Poverty: Genesis 1:26-28, Image of God, and Its Missiological Implications Pascal Daniel Bazzell 228

Genesis and the People of God

Did God Choose the Patriarchs? Reading for Election in the Book of Genesis Nathan MacDonald 245

Rebekah's Twins: Augustine on Election in Genesis Ellen T. Charry 267

Abraham and Aeneas: Genesis as Israel's Foundation Story R. Walter L. Moberly 287

Genesis and Human Society: The Learning and Teaching People of God Mark W. Elliott 306

Food, Famine and the Nations: A Canonical Approach to Genesis Stephen B. Chapman 323

Index of Names 334

Index of Scriptures 338

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