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NIV Bible Companion A Basic Commentary on the Old and New Testaments
By Alister E. McGrath
Zondervan Copyright © 1997 Zondervan
All right reserved. ISBN: 0-310-20547-6
With the book of Genesis, the curtain lifts over the stage of world history. As the book unfolds, its readers will begin to learn about the great story of God's redemption of his people. Just as an operatic overture will introduce the themes of the opera to its waiting audience, so Genesis introduces its readers to the great themes that will dominate Scripture. We learn of God's creation of the world and of its rebellion against him. We learn of God's decision to restore his creation to fellowship with him and of his calling of a people to serve him and bring this good news to the ends of the earth. In short, Genesis sets the scene for the great drama of redemption that forms the subject of Scripture.
GENESIS 1:1 - 2:3
The First Creation Account
1:1-25 The Beginning. The title of this book means "origins," and it is hence no surprise that Genesis deals with the origins of humanity, especially its relationship to the God who created it. There are two accounts of the creation of the world, each told from different perspectives and with different points of focus. The first creation account in Genesis 1:1-2:3 opens with its famous declaration that God created the heavens and the earth (1:1). Everything has its origins from God. During the six days of creation, everything that is now a familiar part of the world is surveyed and declared to owe its existence to a sovereign act of creation on the part of God.
The account of the creation of the sun, moon, and stars is of special interest. For many ancient peoples, these heavenly bodies represented divine or supernatural powers and were the object of worship and superstition. Genesis puts them firmly in their place: they are parts of God's creation and thus subject to his power. They should not be worshiped and need not be feared. God has authority and dominion over them. No part of God's creation is to be worshiped, for the entire creation is the work of the creator God himself, and he only is to be worshiped.
In a powerful series of affirmations, Genesis declares the goodness of God's creation (1:4, 10, 18, 21). The work of creation is brought to a close with the affirmation that it is "very good" (1:31), perhaps referring to humanity as the climax of the work of creation or to the completion of this work as a whole. The theme of the goodness of creation is of central importance. The origin of sin is not due to God, but to the rebellion of his creation against him. The only thing that Genesis explicitly declares not to be good is Adam's loneliness (2:18). Yet even this is remedied immediately, through the creation of woman.
1:26-31 Humanity Created in the Image of God. The creation of humanity is of special importance. The first creation account places the creation of humanity at the end of God's work of creation (1:26-27). This is the high point of creation in which the only creature to bear the image of the creator God is introduced. The passage just cited is unusual in that it opens with something like a fanfare, a declaration that something major is about to take place. It is clear that humanity is meant to be seen as the summit of God's creative action and power. The Hebrew word often translated "man" is here to be understood as humanity in general, rather than as a male human being in particular.
Humanity, male and female, is created in the image or likeness of God (1:26-27). What does this mean? Two ideas may be noted as being of particular importance. First, being created in the image of God implies a likeness between God and humanity. There is the basis of a relationship here at the origins of the human race. To be made in God's image is to be created with the potential to relate to God personally. Humanity alone, out of all of God's good creation, has the distinctive possibility of being able to enter into a mutual relationship with its creator.
Second, the image of God suggests his ownership and authority over his creation. In the ancient world, kings often set up images of themselves throughout their lands in order to assert their authority over them. (There is an important reference to this practice in the book of Daniel, which relates how King Nebuchadnezzar set up a golden image of himself at Babylon that he commanded to be worshiped, Da 3:1-6.) Being made in the image of God is an assertion of God's ultimate authority over his creation and a reminder that all human beings are ultimately responsible to God.
2:1-3 God Rests. The first creation account concludes by declaring that God rested on the seventh day (2:2). This does not mean that God was physically tired; it is simply an affirmation that his work of creation was completed. Nothing remained to be done. This theme of rest will recur throughout Scripture. Just as God rested from his work of creation, so his people should rest from their labors on the seventh day (2:3). The Sabbath rest is thus an important reminder of God's work and affords an opportunity to reflect on his work of creation and redemption. The image of rest also becomes an image of the salvation God offers his people after they have served him in this life (Rev 14:13).
GENESIS 2:4 - 25
The Second Creation Account
2:47 The Breath of Life Breathed Into Humanity. The second creation account (2:4-25) takes a different form from the first account, yet makes many of the same points. The second account opens with the creation of humanity (2:7), affirming that humanity is the most important aspect of the creation. It is made absolutely clear that human life is totally dependent upon God. The reference to God breathing the "breath of life" into humanity (2:7) is of particular importance in that it both emphasizes the God-given origins of life and also anticipates the important life-giving role of the Holy Spirit. (The Hebrew term ruach can mean "spirit," "wind," or "breath," pointing to the close connections between these ideas.) It is only when God breathes upon humanity that it comes to life.
2:8-17 The Garden of Eden. We are now introduced to the celebrated Garden of Eden (2:8) into which the man is placed. This garden is described in glowing terms (2:9-14). It is not something that humanity has created. Rather, it is something that God has created and entrusted to humanity. Man is placed in this wonderful garden "to work it and take care of it" (2:15). The man's responsibility is that of being a steward of God's good creation. This delegated authority extends to the animals and birds. Genesis notes that the man was allowed to give names to "all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field" (2:20). (In the ancient world, naming someone or something was an assertion of authority over that person or thing. Parents named their children as an expression of authority over them.) Humanity does not own the garden and all that is in it, but is simply placed in it and asked to care for it. Yet, as will become clear only too soon, the man fails totally in this responsibility.
2:18-25 Woman Is Created. The first Genesis creation account could give rise to the impression that male and female are simply alternative versions of humanity without necessarily possessing any distinctive characteristics. The second Genesis creation account adds another important insight: male and female are created to complement one another:
The Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him" (2:18).
For some people, speaking of the female as a "helper" may seem to imply that the female is subordinate to the male. Yet according to Genesis 1 and 2, the female was created, not to serve the male, but to serve with the male. Male and female are entrusted with the task of being stewards of God's good creation. It must be remembered that God himself is referred to as a helper at several points in the Old Testament!
This is an extremely important passage. Up to now, God had pronounced his creation to be good. Notice how the refrain "and God saw that it was good" recurs in Genesis 1. But now God declares that an aspect of his creation is not good. A humanity without distinction between the sexes is seen as inadequate. The creation of male and female thus produces a complementarity within creation. The Hebrew word translated "suitable" implies a correspondence between male and female. Their complementarity is an inbuilt aspect of creation. Male and female are distinct and are meant to be distinct. Yet both bear the image of God, and both are charged with being stewards of God's creation.
This point is brought out clearly later in this chapter, when Genesis speaks of the male being "united" to the female:
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh (2:24).
This passage clearly refers to a committed personal relationship between the male and the female and their union together in emotional and physical love. The passage explicitly uses the Hebrew words for male and female, making it unambiguously clear that sexual differences within humanity are to be seen as a good and God-given thing.
It is often pointed out that there are similarities between the Genesis accounts of creation and some of the other creation stories of the ancient Near East. Yet an important point should be noted here. Genesis 2 presents us with an account of the creation of woman that has no real parallel in any such story.
GENESIS 3:1 - 24
3:1-5 The Serpent Deceives. Having given two complementary accounts of how the world came into being, Genesis now moves on to deal with the origins of sin. How could God's good creation turn into something fallen and sinful, requiring redemption? The answer is provided by Genesis 3, which gives a vivid and powerful account of the rebellion of humanity against its creator. Adam and Eve are treated as representatives of the human race as a whole as they seek to break free from the authority of their creator.
The story of the Fall opens with the man and the woman enjoying close fellowship with God and with one another in the Garden of Eden. It will not last. The figure of the serpent is introduced (3:1), possibly as a symbol either of Satan or of the lure of worldly wisdom and power. Part of the serpent's strategy is to misrepresent God (3:1). Did God really say that Adam and Eve were not to eat of the fruit of that special tree? The woman's reply is also interesting. While the serpent calls God's word into question, the woman adds to it (3:3): the command not to touch the tree in the middle of the garden was not part of God's original command.
But the real power of the serpent's approach lies in offering them the tantalizing possibility of being "like God" (3:4). The thought of being immortal and divine has been a constant temptation to humanity throughout its long history. The man and the woman do not want to be told by God what is right and what is wrong. They want to make their own rules. They come to believe that God is trying to keep them in their place by withholding vital information from them. And so they disobey their creator.
3:6-15 Man and Woman Disobey God. Once their disobedience has been discovered, both the man and the woman try to place the blame on someone else. The man blames the woman; the woman blames the serpent (3:12-13). The woman is deceived first, and she subsequently deceives the man. The passage indicates that God places the primary responsibility for the disobedience on the man, rather than the woman. It is not clear how important the order of this deception is. However, the passage is quite clear on one point: both were deceived, and both consented to the deception. It is quite proper to argue that they were deceived in different ways and at different times. Nevertheless, the passage makes it clear that both were deceived.
3:16-20 Relationships With God and Between Man and Woman Are Disrupted. The result of man and woman's disobedience is clear. The relationship between God and humanity is disrupted. The original intimate relationship of trust is destroyed and is replaced by one of hostility and suspicion. Notice also how the original intimate and cooperative relationship between the man and woman is shattered. Mutual recrimination makes its appearance. The command to reproduce remains, yet now childbearing will be a painful matter (3:16). The command to tend God's creation remains, yet this will now be a painful and tedious matter. In both cases, an existing task that is good and part of God's intention for his creation-that is, manual labor (3:19) and the bearing of children-become difficult. Work was originally intended to be something pleasurable and enjoyable. It now becomes a burden.
A new theme, which appears to be a direct result of the Fall, now makes its appearance: the domination of the female by the male. There is no explicit statement anywhere in Genesis 1 or 2 to the effect that woman was intended or created to be subordinate to man. The theme of complementarity dominates the first two chapters of Genesis. But as a result of the Fall, this situation changes drastically:
To the woman he said,
"I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you" (3:16).
As a result of the Fall, man will "rule over" woman. There are two main ways of understanding this development.
1. Subordination (that is to say, males "lording it over" or ruling females) is a direct result of the Fall. As such, it is one aspect of the influence of sin in the world and is to be regarded as something that is not itself God's will for his creation and is thus to be opposed by Christians. The female has become subservient and the male dominant as a consequence of the entry of sin into the world. Thus it is significant that Adam does not name Eve (3:20) until after the Fall, suggesting that the authority over her that this implies did not exist before the Fall.
2. A particular form of subordination is a direct result of the Fall-namely, subordination based on force or oppression. According to this view, woman is naturally subordinate to man in some sense of the word; the new element introduced by the Fall is that this subordination was enforced or imposed by unacceptable means.
The second position has some points in its favor. For example, the Hebrew verb here translated as "rule" has overtones of domination. There are Hebrew words for the right kind of subordination and the wrong kind of subordination. The word used here points to the new element being not the idea of domination itself, but the kind of domination that results. An additional consideration is the context in which this verse is located.
Excerpted from NIV Bible Companion by Alister E. McGrath Copyright © 1997 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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