Reading the Bible 3: Genesis 1:1-2:4a

We begin our reading of Genesis with the story of creation Gen 1:1-2:4a where the 2:4a portion of the last verse is “This is the history of the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created”.

One thing today’s passage demonstrates nicely is that the division of the Bible into chapters is fairly arbitrary and has more to do with creating roughly similar sized sections of text to serve as easy reference markers rather than logically contained units. Today’s passage is a logically complete story and yet it consists of the entire first chapter plus the first three and a half verses of chapter two.

Examining the toledoth colophon, we see that the tablet basis of this section would have been entitled “the [toledoth] of the heavens and of the earth” and that the tablet is dated to “when they were created”. Absent is the formula’s typical inclusion of an author or tablet owner. Thus, it would seem that the indicated author is the only possible observer of the events described: God Himself.

Returning to the first verse, straight off the bat, we find something of interest lurking in the original Hebrew. The word that is translated here as ‘God’ is elohim. The first thing to note is that elohim is the plural form of eloah which is the poetic or emphatic form of el roughly meaning “mighty one”. This plural word elohim is the word that we see translated as ‘God’ throughout this entire passage – indeed almost every reference to ‘God’ (as opposed to ‘god’ or ‘God of X’) in the Old Testament is to this word elohim which occurs over 2500 times.

I point out the plural nature of elohim because sometimes people will try to argue that this word really should be translated as ‘gods’ and that this is a suppressed sign of a supposed origin of Hebrew monotheism in polytheism. Such arguments are based upon either ignorance of Hebrew grammar or an overriding desire to find evidence for the a priori assumption that monotheism evolved from polytheism rather than the other way around. While elohim may be plural, it is almost always paired with singular verbs and singular adjectives indicating that the plural is not a plural of number but a plural of majesty or excellence. In the very few cases where elohim is translated as ‘God’ in association with adjectives and verbs that are plural, there are quite reasonable explanations that do not rely upon conjuring up a monotheist conspiracy. Here’s a series of three essays that dig into the details:  Elohim: Plural or Singular Part I, Part II, and Part III.

The second essay referenced above also touches upon another issue that surfaces in today’s passage. In verse 1:26a we have: “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness'”. Here, the verb paired with elohim is singular indicating the majestic plural rather than a numerical plural. Also, in verse 1:27, we have “God created man in his own image” and again the verb indicates singular. So to whom then is God referring or  speaking when He says ‘us’ and ‘our’? The consensus is that God is employing the “royal we”, speaking to His heavenly court surrounded by His angels, or doing both. Some writers suggest that this an early hint at the doctrine of the trinity, but I find the other explanation more likely.

I’ll briefly touch upon the matter of how I understand this story. There are various conflicting schools of thought among believers ranging from the more literal approach to the more figurative. I’ve seen good and bad arguments from all across the board – often from the same source. Honestly, I’m not exactly sure where my own understanding lies as I’ve changed positions over the years shifting in different directions based upon further exposure to various evidence and lines of reason and haven’t really found myself stabilizing. I currently lean towards the theory that this tablet was written by Moses from a series of seven prophetic visions of God’s creation of the universe and that God’s intent is a theological statement of His supremacy over the creation in contrast to competing contemporary creation accounts that involved complex battles between gods where heaven, the sea, the sun, and the moon were all divine participants rather than mere creations.

Regardless of the interpretation of the passage, it has many interesting literary aspects such as the pattern of each day beginning with God first decreeing what He will do, then doing it, and finally declaring the result good. The first three days describe the creation of forms through separation, and the next three days parallel the first three by filling their corresponding forms. There is definite emphasis on the final result of God’s creation being very good.

What Most People Think

The verdict of the “world” on a public character, as well as on moral worth in general and its opposite, like the public opinion of the “world” on other matters, represents only too often the verdict or the opinion of class prejudice and ignorance. It is, in fact, a fairly safe plan to ascertain for oneself “what most people think” on such questions, and then assume the opposite to be true. The result is a good working hypothesis, which remains, of course, to be possibly modified or even abandoned by subsequent investigation, but which is generally the nearest approach to truth we can make in the absence of the requisite knowledge for forming an unbiased judgment.

-Ernest Belfort Bax

Why Christians Should Not Vote Republican Part I: Abortion

Many Christians in America align themselves with the Republican party. Once upon a time, I was among their number, but after a renewed commitment to my faith, I found that the more I studied and understood my faith, the more my old conservative ideology crumbled away. Today, I am convinced that the Republican party and its values are far from the values that God would have us embrace and that Republicans and many Christian leaders in America today have more in common with the Pharisees than with Jesus.

90 percent of the time, when you ask a Christian why he or she votes Republican you will find that a big factor is that he or she finds voting for a politician who supports abortion unconscionable. I’ve been there myself as a fellow pro-life Christian and know that the intentions are honorable, but the sad truth is that the issue of abortion is simply a political football in American politics. While Christian voters pat themselves on the back for pulling the Republican lever election after election, nothing has changed to stop the deaths of millions of unborn children every year and nothing will if Christians keep allowing themselves to be manipulated by politicians.

Consider that it has been over 30 years since Roe v. Wade, and we are no closer to overturning that decision today. More importantly, Republicans have had control of all three branches of government for six of the last eight years. From 2000 to 2006, we had a Republican majority in Congress, a Republican President, and 7 Republican appointed judges out of the 9 justices on the Supreme Court. And yet, no legislation was ever passed to challenge Roe v. Wade.

Instead of making excuses for the Republicans, we need to call a spade a spade: the abortion issue is a wonderful carrot to dangle in front of Christians to get their vote every election cycle, and the Republican party sees no reason to take that carrot off the table any time soon. Keeping things the way they are is a win-win because it keeps the Christian vote coming in while preventing the Republicans from experiencing the serious political damage that they should expect from any serious attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade. A majority of Americans support Roe v. Wade and have supported it ever since 1973 with little fluctuation. While sad, it is the reality that we face, and the Republican party is not going to risk turning off so many voters for the benefit of a voting block that they can evidently keep in their pocket with little more than lip service.

So where does that leave us if we admit that Christian voters are being manipulated for political gain?

Well, for starters, we need to realistically look at the limites of electoral politics. As indicated above, no political party is going to have the political capital to legislate the overturning of Roe v. Wade any time soon. When it comes to government actions, we are left with embracing policies that can reduce the number of abortions performed.

It so happens that policies that fight poverty supported by the Democratic party (and other left-leaning parties such as the Green Party and independents like Ralph Nader) and opposed by the Republican party can reduce the number of abortions because many woman get abortions out of a sense that they will not be able to financially support a child. Easing the economic strain of low-wage earners, making child-care accessible to single mothers for work and for school, and ensuring that all people can receive decent health care – these moral and Biblical issues of standing up for the poor while fully worthy as issues in their own right have the virtue of reducing the conditions that tempt people into getting abortions.

So if you are a Christian, consider voting next time for a candidate whose policies will better honor God’s concern for the poor and thereby better combat abortions, instead of voting for an empty promise.