Reading Genesis 1:1 Missionally
What does a missional hermeneutic or a missional approach to reading Scripture look like? Here are a few thoughts about how one may profitably read Genesis 1:1 through the lens of missional hermeneutics.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and earth.” So reads the opening sentence of the First Testament. The first two chapters of the Bible unfold God’s creative activity and offer a snapshot of God’s plans and intentions for Creation. Genesis 1:1 is crucial for a couple of reasons. First, it affirms that there is an active personal deity behind all that is. The creation is not the result of an impersonal force or forces. It is not an accident or the result of some cosmic battle between gods. God (Heb elohim) will later be identified specifically as Israel’s covenant God known as the LORD (Heb Yhwh). Second, though Genesis 1:1-2:3 explicitly challenges the theology of the creation stories of Israel’s neighbors, it remains staunchly international in focus and in scope. It is vital to make the simple observation that Israel’s Scripture opens with its more generic name for God (Heb elohim). In Hebrew, this noun is ambiguous in form and referent. It is a plural noun and can be translated “gods.” But in the context of the Scriptures of Israel, the plural form is deployed with Israel’s god as the clear referent. It is not until Genesis 2:4 that the reader of the Bible encounters God’s personal and relational name—Yahweh (typically rendered LORD in our English translations). There the form is Yahweh Elohim (the LORD God). In other words, Genesis 2:4 links explicitly elohim of Genesis 1:1 with the personal name of Israel’s God that was revealed to Moses at the time of the Exodus (Exodus 3 and 6). Why is this important? I think that it points to the missional intent of the Scriptures. If the Bible opened “In the beginning Yahweh created the heaven and the earth”, this claim (though completely true) forces the reader to react to Israel’s claim that its god Yahweh is the Creator. Instead, the Bible opens with 35 recurrences of elohim before one encounters Yhwh in 2:4. Notice the power and wisdom of this word selection. Genesis 1:1-2:3 audaciously argues for a solitary and powerful Creator, but refuses to name the deity. The opening of the Bible demands only a belief in God or gods as the precondition for reading its pages. It allows the narrative to shape the reader’s understanding of God. Last, it affirms that the created world, all that is, is separate from God. Rocks and trees are not divine. Dogs and cats are not divine. Women and men are not divine. The environment may be beautiful but it is not god. From the opening verse of the Bible, the reader encounters a transcendent deity who stands over creation as Lord and King of Creation. This is all present in merely the opening verse.
What do you think?
© 2010 Brian D. Russell