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Zondervan Bible Commentary: One-Volume Illustrated Edition
ZondervanCopyright © 2007 F. F. Bruce
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H. L. Ellison (Chapters 1-11) and D. F. Payne (Chapters 12-50)
Genesis is the first part of the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses. These are, however, regarded by the Jews as essentially one book, the division being originally for the sake of convenience. In the earlier days of writing it would have been very difficult to include the five books of the Law (Heb. Tôrah, literally, Instruction) in one scroll for technical reasons. Traditionally the five sections are called in Heb. by the opening word, here Beresit; Genesis is the transliteration of the Gk. name used in LXX i.e. Origin.
Certain portions of the Pentateuch are expressly attributed to Moses, e.g. Exod. 17:14; 24:3-7; Dt. 31:24 f., but as a whole it is anonymous, and except in Deuteronomy, in his farewell address (chs. 1-11), the first person is not used for Moses. Historically, the use of the Pentateuch by the Samaritans makes it very difficult to place its present form later than the death of Solomon, when the North separated from Judah. Unless Mosaic authorship is rejected for a priori reasons, the simplest attitude is to regard Moses as responsible for the choice of the material, without affirming that he need have written it down himself. Certain portions were clearly passed down orally, whenever they may have been written down. A very few portions must have received their present form after the time of Moses.
There are those who maintain that most of the material of Genesis existed in writing before the time of Moses. Some base this on the theory that 'this is the account of' (2:4; 5:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1, 9; 37:2), variously rendered by NIV, is a colophon, or identifying phrase, of the type found on Mesopotamian clay tablets, marking the conclusion of a section, and that therefore these sections existed already on such tablets. However attractive this view, it faces major problems (cf. Kidner, pp. 23 f.). Then there is the view that Joseph produced a first edition of Genesis. He could have, but there is no scrap of evidence that he did. The genealogies at any rate, and probably ch. 14, could well have existed in writing at a pre-Mosaic date. However the information was preserved, it seems wisest to regard the choice and arrangement of the material as the work of one man, viz. Moses.
The Structure and Purpose of Genesis
Genesis consists of two closely linked books. In chs. 1-11 we have the beginnings of man's history, in which we are told all that need be known to understand God's purposes of salvation; in chs. 12-50 we are told of the beginnings of Israel. But what we are given is virtually only salvation history (Heilsgeschichte, cf. Theology of the OT, p. 65). Even as the first book gives a minimum outline, so it is in the second, which is concerned mainly with the primacy of faith and of individual response. The genealogies serve a dual purpose. They stress the unity of mankind in his sin and failure, and that none fall outside God's care and grace. This means that in the truest sense the main purpose of Genesis is the revelation of the character and purposes of God and of man's fallen state.
The Main Problems of Genesis
More than any other book of the Bible Gen. 1-11 raises problems, which demand a high degree of secular knowledge and a series of special treatises for their answers, if indeed man with his limited knowledge can find them. This contribution to the understanding of Genesis is written from the standpoint that a true grasp of its message is not dependent on scientific knowledge. While the writer has his views on many of these points, he has sought not to obtrude his views, for it would be intolerable pride on his part to do so, especially as he is no authority on most of the issues involved. So the textual comments will for the most part be confined to elucidating the meaning of the Hebrew text. For those wishing limited extra information the Additional Notes in Kidner will be found most valuable. In addition J. Byrt has recently given us a well-balanced and informed survey of the main issues.
A warning is, however, in place. It is right and proper that those with scientific training should seek light on the secrets of nature and man's past from the Scriptures as well as from the evidence of the physical universe. They are both the work of the same God, and ultimately cannot be in conflict. But it must never be assumed that this information, incomplete by its very nature, and always liable to be modified as science advances, is a true understanding of the Scriptures and their purpose. We must never think that this world's wisdom and knowledge give a believer an advantage in the understanding of God's revelation, nor that ignorance is an aid to spirituality.
There are here five main problems:
(i) The Relationship of Gen. 1 and 2. The commentary follows the commonly held view that the two chapters are looking at the same event, viz. the creation of man, from different points of view. There are those, however, who consider that these chapters are to be read consecutively with a considerable interval of time between them. This has recently been argued with much learning by E. K. V. Pearce.
(ii) Gen. 1 and Science. The commentary accepts that recent scientific research gives a picture that approximates to the order given in Gen. 1, and mentions only the main exceptions.
(iii) Evolution. Beyond drawing attention to the various verbs used to describe God's creative activity, the means used by Him are not considered, whether by special creation throughout, or by a God-guided evolution interspersed with creative acts. The Heb. is compatible with both views.
(iv) The Meaning of Day. In spite of the great deal written by some on the subject, it seems to be impossible to fix the meaning of 'day' (yom) with certainty in Gen. 1. While it could mean twenty-four hours, yet equally the whole creative act is one day in 2:4 (Heb.), and in various statements about God's activity it is clearly a period. In either case, if the (unprovable) theory of days of revelation is correct (cf. commentary on ch. 1), the controversy ceases to have meaning.
(v) Does Gen. 1:2 Indicate a Reversion to Chaos? The view, often called the gap theory, that Gen. 1:2 indicates a gap between God's original creation and the creating of what now is, first became popular last century as an attempt to reconcile the view of a six-day creation and the existence of the fossils in the geological strata, which seemed to suggest very long periods of time. Quite apart from intrinsic difficulties (cf. Ramm, pp. 119-156), the Heb. of 1:2 will not bear the meaning forced on it by this theory (see commentary). Today this view is being increasingly abandoned by those who wish to harmonize Genesis with the geological record in favour of the view that the strata and their fossils were laid down by the Flood.
B. The Flood
Until fairly recently the main sphere of controversy was whether the Flood was worldwide or confined to the area inhabited by man. Basically it involved theories of inspiration, for physical evidence was too scanty for a convincing answer. More recently, so especially Whitcomb and Morris, the view has been advanced that the Flood was of cosmic proportions and that the waterlaid strata with their associated fossils are due to it. The Bible has nothing conclusive to say on the subject, and the arguments on both sides are based mainly on a selective use of the available evidence.
C. The Antiquity of Man
Man, as he is pictured in Gen. 4, can be traced back with reasonable confidence to the Paleolithic, i.e. at the end of the last ice age, about 8,000 B.C., but the palaeontologist claims to have found traces of homo sapiens, i.e. man as we know him, in the Paleolithic period. Without expressing any opinion on this highly technical and controversial subject, it must be pointed out that not physical form or possible intellect but the essentially spiritual image and likeness of God made Adam true man.
For the Jew the year beginning in October 1976 was 5737 from the creation, while in the 17th century Archbishop James Ussher calculated that the creation must have been in 4004 B.C. There have been other estimates as well, which have based themselves purely on the statements of the Bible. In recent years, however, archaeology has been able to establish a chronology for the ancient Near East, which is accurate to a few years as far back as 2000 B.C. Before that the margin of error increases, but when the first wall of Jericho is dated by the radio-carbon method at something before 7000 B.C. this will be accurate to within a few centuries. There is ample evidence, that except where the text shows signs of corruption, the figures given are correct, but we cannot use them to construct a coherent chronological system, so this will not be attempted.
The Text of Genesis
As is the case throughout the Pentateuch the text of Genesis is very well preserved. In most of the cases where NIV, RSV and NEB depart from the MT, it is evident from the LXX and Samaritan editions that words have accidentally dropped from Heb.
I. The Beginnings of Man (1:1-11:32)
Whatever view is taken of the relationship of the two accounts of creation (Introduction, The Main Problems of Genesis, A(i)), it is clear that the former is written from God's standpoint, while man is the centre of the latter. While the former leads up to the creation of man, its climax is God's satisfaction as expressed in the Sabbath. In the latter the climax is man's satisfaction as he finds his completion in the woman. It is only a priori considerations that will cause us to doubt that the latter has come down to us essentially from Adam himself; the former is obviously direct revelation.
i (a) Creation from God's standpoint (1:1-2:3) The suggestion that Gen. 1 is derived from Sumerian or Akkadian mythology, shows only how the refusal to accept revelation drives men to folly. No suggestion is made as to how all the gross polytheism was eliminated from poems like Enuma elish (DOTT, pp. 5-13, or A. Heidel, The Babylonian Genesis) and in the process an order of creation was laid down, unique in ancient literature, and not imagined by any outside the Hebrew tradition until modern times. To whom the revelation was given, we do not know. If we supply the name of Moses, it is merely because we know none more fitting. It is also impossible to say whether the revelation was purely verbal or mainly visual. There is much to be said for the latter view, which could mean that the seven days were days of revelation, but it must be insisted that this view, like any other, is unprovable.
The chapter begins with the simple statement 'In the beginning God created (bara') the heavens and the earth'. As in Jn 1:1 there is no definite article with 'beginning'; the revelation is concerned solely with this world and as much of space as is intimately connected with it, 'the heavens and the earth'. While we are obviously intended to infer that whatever may have come earlier, such as the creation of angelic beings, was equally the sole work of God, the story, as throughout the Bible, confines itself to the area of human experience and activity (cf. Dt. 32:8).
The translation offered by NEB, GNB, RSVmg, Speiser and many moderns goes back to mediaeval Jewish commentators and is grammatically possible. It is, however, most unlikely that a chapter written in the lapidary style of Gen. 1 would start with such an involved sentence.
The verb rendered 'created' (bara'), found 44 times in OT, is used only for God's activity and denotes 'the production of something fundamentally new, by the exercise of a sovereign originative power, altogether transcending that possessed by man' (Driver); it contains 'the idea both of complete effortlessness and creatio ex nihilo, since it is never connected with any statement of the material' (von Rad). It is used in 1:21, 27 of the introduction of a new principle in the work of creation. While the opening verse may be intended as an introduction to the narrative as a whole, it is more likely that it refers to the inception of the creative process.
It has been argued by men of very different outlooks that we cannot conceive of the creation of chaos-'formless and empty'-appeal being often made to Isa. 45:18. Many have used this argument to justify translating, 'and the earth became without form and void', cf. NIVmg, thus implying the destruction of the original creation, but this rendering flies in the face of Heb. syntax. In fact the use of 'chaos' rather prejudges the argument. When the building material of the earth came into being, only the eye of God could discern its ultimate purpose. By His Spirit He was sorting it out (v. 2). There is little to commend 'a mighty wind' (NEB, Speiser, von Rad); in the relatively few poetic passages where 'God' is used as a superlative, the context normally makes it clear. The sense is excellently given by 'the power of God' (GNB). The word for 'deep' (te'hôm) is linked by most with Tiamat, the goddess of chaos in Babylonian mythology. This is probable, but Israel's prophets were so convinced of Yahweh's omnipotence that they never hesitated to use old mythological terms as dead metaphors.
The First Day (1:3-5)
Light is one of God's outstanding attributes (Jn 1:4 f.; 1 Jn 1:5; 2 C. 4:6). No suggestion is made as to where the light came from or how the darkness could coexist with it (cf. Jn 1:5). The darkness persists within the area allotted to it by God, until at the consummation night disappears (Rev. 21:25; 22:5). The fact that the light but not the darkness is commended shows that God's method in creation involves the gradual elimination of the imperfect. This is also indicated by the order 'evening ... morning' (v. 5), pointing to growing development from the less to the more perfect. The later Jewish method of reckoning the beginning of a day from sunset will have been derived from Gen. 1 and not the other way round.
3. And God said: what is said should express the speaker's thought and will (cf. Jn 1:1 ff.). This was felt especially in Heb., where dabar signifies both a word and the thing named. For God there is no gap between thought, word and result.
4. the light was good (Heb. tôb): we are apt to use 'good' to express our acceptance; when it is applied to God's judgment, it means conformity to His will. The light was exactly as He intended it to be.
The Second Day (1:6-9)
The separation of the atmosphere from the world. For an adequate understanding, it must be remembered that Heb. has no word for gas, a relatively modern coining. 6. vault 'Expanse' is an attractive rendering of ramqîa'; the AV 'firmament' is more Latin than English (it derives from the Vulg.), and 'vault' (NEB, JB) and 'dome' (GNB) are only interpretations. Isa. 40:22 shows that the OT does not necessarily think of a solid vault. Here (v. 7) and in vv. 16, 21 ('created'), 25, we have God's making along with His speaking. The most natural explanation would seem to be that it refers to God's further activity working on something that had come into existence by His command. This would leave room for a God-willed and guided development in that which He had brought into being. There is no divine commendation of the work of the second day, presumably because its work was completed on the third day.
The Third Day (1:9-13)
The emergence of dry land. 11. vegetation: 'grass' (AV, RV) includes the most primitive forms of plant growth; hence Speiser 'Let the earth burst forth with growth'.
Excerpted from Zondervan Bible Commentary: One-Volume Illustrated Edition Copyright © 2007 by F. F. Bruce. Excerpted by permission.
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