My view of humankind is that we were created by God! This was/is the view of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 19:4). Genesis 1:26-28 is where we go find who we are and how God purposed us to live (as and in His image). But in light of Jesus of Nazareth who has been glorified by God as the Lord Jesus Christ we learn that humanity’s first phase of existence was mortal and that God had always purposed to bring us to immortal glory (cf. Colossian 1:15-16; 1 Corinthians 15:20—58, passim).
At some time back in our history we rejected God, His love and goodness and chose to go our own way (Romans 1:18—32; Acts 14:16) and created gods and goddesses in our own image. These creations that rose out of our desperation and our growing wickedness became our lords and they required that we live in their image. In modern times we modern people rejected these gods and their names and took it upon ourselves to provide all we need and want but though the names Mars and Ares are gone we still worship War which requires and brings about destruction. There’s still Aphrodite, Sekhmet, Isis, Artemis and Fortuna and Tyche and the rest though the ‘wise’ sneer at such things; the way we sneer at ‘demons’ and Satan and yet daily we witness the demonic and satanic behavior of individuals and nations. IF the terms, “Satan” and “demonic” are simply terms to be dismissed as ignorance the demonic behavior of humans cannot be denied. The Genesis record speaks to all that. A little more on this later.
How should we read the creation narrative of Genesis?
I have no interest here in the debate about who or how many wrote or contributed to the production of the book of Genesis. Nor do I care about the date of the ‘final form’ of the Genesis Jesus read (which is the one we read). He based a killing argument on Genesis 1:26-27 and quoted from 2:24. See Matthew 19:6-8.
I’m offering no theory of inspiration. Before you know it, such issues have us all over the planet and the text before us is lost due to the debate.
Nor am I interested in the latest fashion in the literary critical world! I’m not ignorant but I’m not qualified; but even if I were, this would not be the place to enter the discussion. I’m writing for people like myself who trust Paul, Peter, John, James, Luke and the rest of the entire company of writers and compilers of the Holy Scriptures. We believe that their teaching, gathering together and canonizing of the Scriptures was superintended by the Holy Spirit who, Jesus said, would guide His People via specially commissioned witnesses, prophets and prophetesses (cf. John 16:13-14; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 11:5; 14:3, 5, 29-32; Acts 2:16-18; 21:9; Ephesians 2:10-20; 4:7-16). I’ll say a little more about that later.
We’re intelligent enough to understand and embrace the obvious and to seriously doubt the bizarre-sounding. Many of us are wise enough to allow those with the debating spirit to go their own way (cf. 1Timothy 1: 4: 2Timothy 2:14-16; Titus 3:10; 1 Corinthians 11:16). We can’t forever allow people with their numberless interpretative strategies to set the agenda for us.
For my purpose here I’m not even interested in questions such as: “Are we to understand literally all that’s in these three chapters?” Should we take some of it ‘literally’ and some not? Should we read it as a story-formed telling of the truth about humanity’s beginning or as an historical record of “exactly what happened”? Is it a combination of the two? I’m not saying these questions don’t matter—I’m saying they aren’t what I’m interested in here.
GENESIS VERSUS various ancient MYTHICAL STORIES told in egypt, Sumer, Assyria, Babylon and the modern myths of the modern west
The Birth & Evolution & Longevity of the gods
We need to “get” this—the entire Biblical Witness is the Story of GOD AGAINST THE GODS. It tells the truth that the gods don’t exist! It tells the truth about universal self-deception of the human family and of the war of ‘the gods’ here on this planet. At some point we rejected GOD who created us and purposed for us only life and glory and we got Death and shame. We rejected our identity as being created by GOD (the Genesis Story) and we created a new identity. As Romans 1:18-23 tells it. Once we rejected GOD we created a new identity and came to say we were created by Atum or Ptah or Ea or Marduk, choosing our goddesses and gods depending on when and where and how we lived.
We began to worship the realities that made life possible (sun, sea, rain, soil, earth, sky, vegetation and such). These physical realities were more than what we saw, heard and felt; there was power in them, invisible power that affected human existence.
These powers were stronger or weaker depending on how much we depended on them. There was no local limit to the sun that reigned over the entire world, there could be no human life without the earth providing, there was death, a dark mystery, there was spring and summer with harvest and winter with death of vegetation and their coming alive again, there was the moon that ruled the night when the sun went down to rest. There were powers that worked together and others that opposed one another. There were gods and goddesses so closely connected that they were thought to be husbands, wives, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons and brothers. Kings were characteristically called ‘sons of god.’ Even the ‘good‘ powers (the life producing and sustaining ones) could be ‘bad’ (destructive—the sun, the storms, the rain, the earth withholding its blessings) and there were powers that could hardly be thought ever to be ‘good’. These powers were personalized and that was an advance. One can plead with or bribe an angry ‘person’ or praise one but you can do nothing with a ‘force’. Names were given, animals became the representation of the gods and goddesses, houses were built for the gods where the worshipers could meet them to praise them or to abjectly apologize for failures. Idols were built that were often just representations and at other times the god would take up residence in them. It was no surprising development when powerful humans who were conceived as a great blessing to the people under them were seen as sons or daughters of the gods and sometimes the embodiment of the god him or herself. An academy of priests and prophets and servants of the gods developed. These knew what the various gods wanted, why they were angry or pleased, what had to be done to make things right. They promoted the cult, the building of shrines, temples and the celebrations associated with these places and of course they proclaimed the intimate link between a current king or emperor and the gods. Will Durant, the noted historian, dryly commented that the gods were found profitable and so they multiplied.
Now, in the West, many in the scientific academy have whittled the pantheon down to a single goddess. Roman and Greek polytheists gave her the name of Fortuna or Tyche but these modern scientists call her CHANCE. They’ve gone even further. We humans—well, a special group of wise and wonderful humans—have made it clear that they are in control of ‘chance’ and will before long do more than that. We are our own redeemers—now we are the gods. Maybe two years ago (2017) I listened to Michio Kaku, the noted physicist and cosmologist, saying, “Before long we will become the gods we used to fear.” * We still haven’t got the Genesis 1—3 truth!
We insist we didn’t introduce the cosmic mess but we can and will cure it. That shows we haven’t got the message of Genesis 11 either! “Let us make…let us build…so that we won’t be…”Our arrogance and insolence remains and we still ‘Babel’ on about putting men or women on Mars to find out how life here on Earth evolved. We put men on the moon and then threaten to blitz our enemies on earth from the heavens. In the West we jeer at the old gods and now rejoice in warring, competing and self-serving gods; cultural gods in finance, medicine, science, politics, courts and technology. We even call our entertainers and sports celebrities “gods” and they shape us the worshipers. Cure the mess? Mythology is as much at home in the ‘modern’ world as it was in the ancient.
In ancient times the nations would make images of the gods and goddesses and set them up in special places (temples, shrines) where the worshipers could go and meet them. They were men and women, they were animals of all kinds, figures have human and half animal, half woman and half man or half human. These were their images of the gods and goddesses. Genesis tells us that God made all things and they reproduced after their own kind. Genesis tells us that God made mortals, humans (not immortals) and that He made them “in His image” and placed them not in temples to be worshiped but rather to reflect to rejoice and reflect Him in their creativity (1:28 & 5:3) and life together.
Israel’s own polytheistic and idolatrous background (cf. Josiah 24:2, 14, 23 with entire context) was given deeper roots while they lived as slaves in Egypt and that shaping remained as a besetting sin to Israel despite the fact that Yahweh had arrived on the scene and exposed the entire polytheistic and idolatrous culture to be sinful foolishness. Exodus 12:12; 15:11; Numbers 33:4; 1 Samuel 6:5-6 illustrate.
The Plagues were the visible, tangible proof that the gods were not gods but the creation of deceived humanity. Now Israel is delivered out of Egypt and they will be heading for Canaan. There and along the way they would meet up with various forms of polytheism including Baalism. God, by Moses, gave the nation the Genesis narrative and has this to say to Israel: in Leviticus 18:1-5 :
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances. You shall observe My judgments and keep My ordinances, to walk in them: I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.”
The entire world being built on faith in the ancient gods the nations, societies and empires were shaped by that faith (as is the case in the modern world). Their laws, policies, national and international, personal and societal and the religious systems built around and about this faith were determined by these human creations (gods)—see and reflect on Psalm 82. Genesis is the truth Israel was to rejoice in and herald to the world, bringing light and salvation to the nations (cf. Micah 4:1-2; Isaiah 2:1-4; 40:12-26; 42:5-9; 44:6-8 and to end of chapter; 45:1-7, 14-25; 47:1, 12-15; 48:1,5; 49:-6, Jeremiah 5:12, passim).
It’s true! It is true that GOD hates oppression in all its forms. The Exodus is probably the central OT event called on to make that point—and it does that! Psalmists and prophets recall it again and again, but they most often use the Exodus to call Israel from apostasy or to confirm Israel’s faith in GOD in contrast to all other gods. Liberation theologians use it to say God hates oppression and so should we! Prophets said we should commit to GOD and reject the gods for GOD is the GOD of all gods. The Exodus is about the faithfulness of GOD who made promises to the entire human family when He made a covenant to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 2:24). Exodus wasn’t only about suffering Israel, it was about an alienated world and the GOD who was working to reconcile a Sin-smitten world with HIM the one true God.
The people who saw the plagues, God’s act of liberation, are all dead now! An entire generation of them died in the wilderness alienated from the God who brought them out of slavery (cf. Hebrews 3 and 4:1-2). This happened because their physical liberation from slavery, squalor, social despair didn’t liberate them from the gods!
* Kaku speaks of his discovering ‘God’ but though it sounds like, say, Christian theism, if I’ve understood him correctly it’s pantheism, of the Spinoza and Einstein brand. The word ‘God’ is being used in a non-personal sense to cover the order and beauty of the universe. Another theoretical physicist, joint winner of the Nobel Prize in research in elementary particles, derides all talk of ‘God’ as ‘religious coloration’ and doesn’t understand why his peers use it r rather than simply dispense with all of it.