A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

The Macrostructure of Paul’s epistle to the Romans

Romans, as one of the most oft debated books of the Bible, suffers from a plethora of interpretations that can often times confuse the would be Bible Student more than inform. While I feel there are many reasons for this. In principle, I think tactics to try to understand Romans fall generally under the very broad frameworks that expand beyond the book of Romans (such as Paul’s theology, the grand Biblical narrative, etc.) or to the minutiae of the text of Roman’s. The former doesn’t really take Roman’s on its own terms; the latter struggles with making sense of everything. Thus, while discerning a macrostructure in Romans entails pulling both from the details within the text and from the larger story that transcends the epistle, I feel that a focus on the structure on the letter to the Romans is the most optimal way to get into the thought of Romans.

One fatal mistake I feel in understanding Romans in the tendency of people familiar with rhetoric to outline the thesis as simply Romans 1:16-17. This treats the topic of God’s wrath in 1:18, with a similar structure to v. 17, as simply a secondary point that is not really at the heart of the Gospel. Instead, I think it is more appropriate to take 1:16-18 as a whole as Paul’s overarching thesis, where God’s wrath is in fact an integral part of the power of the Gospel and Paul’s argument.

Given that, I think that Paul’s argues in reverse ordering, arguing about God’s wrath, then God’s righteousness, and then God’s power in the Gospel. The breakdown is as follows:

Romans 1:19-3:20 – The Wrath of God

Romans 3:21-5:21 – The Righteousness of God

Romans 6:1-8:39 – The Power of God

Furthermore, the discussion of God’s wrath serves as necessary to demonstrate the revelation of God’s righteousness in the following section. Both ideas also, with more emphasis given to the latter, becomes important in the final section on God’s power. In other words, God’s works from two particular points of revelation, God’s punishment of the sinful world and the righteousness of God in Christ to develop an general view of soteriology and eschatology in chapters 6-8.

One caution needs to be added. These argument while universal, are not focused upon timeless, abstract, spiritual realities. Instead, it is focused upon the very particular reality of God being the God of Israel, and yet somehow also being God of the Gentiles (perhaps even a “mystery” as to how this universality works out). Therefore, there is a particular Jewish flavor in Paul’s statements, but it is a movement towards a more universal view of God’s relationship to the world, while preserving the Jewish particularity. Thus, the discussion on nomos in chapters 7 and 8 is about Torah.

While painting a broad overview of God’s wrath, righteousness, and salvation, Paul quickly sidestepped some objections littered through chapters 1-8, particularly concentrated in chapters 3, 6, and 7. All those objections seems to be rooted in Israel’s historic relationship with God. Having developed a broadened view, Paul must use his conclusions drawn through 1-8 in discussing Israel’s history and future more specifically to show that his interpretation does not make God unfaithful. Broadly speaking, each chapter focuses has one of the three themes as its focus:

Romans 9 – God’s wrath in relationship to Israel

Romans 10 – God’s righteousness in relationship to Israel

Romans 11 – God’s power in relationship to Israel

One might say that Romans 9-11 is Paul’s attempt to validate his statement of “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” in 1:16 of the thesis. However, I am currently mixed on that point as 9-11 seems to be focused centrally on Israel, whereas the discussion of Gentiles seems to be a minor and overlooked point till the middle of chapter 11.

Finally, as Paul moves into chapters 12-15, he gets into what is known as the ethical section. What is most characteristic about this section is the relative lack of language that is particular to Israel’s distinct culture and life, after Paul spent 11 chapters make repeated references to various parts of Israel’s life, such as the patriarchs and the Torah. It seems more broad and general, as if Paul is speaking in a universal way.

Comparing the three sections with each other, Paul seems to be moving towards a general view of soteriology in Romans 1-8, but is engaged in the Jewish particularity. Romans 9-11 is steeped in that particularity and there is relatively little development of God’s universal work until the end of the section. Finally, 12-15 is broad and universal with only scant reference to Jewish particularity.

With having that flow of thought and focus in mind, I believe that the meaning of Paul’s letter to the Romans will become more apparent when the purpose of Paul’s communication is discerned, which I will write on in another post.

December 27, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

The Limitations and Proper Usage of Rhetorical Criticism

In preparation for what I hope to be a continuing series of posts (much as my friend Michael Halcomb has done with the Gospel of Mark) on my most studied book of the Bible, Romans, I am going to be doing a few preliminary posts on some issues that I feel need some addressing separately.

Before I go diving into a piece by piece study of Romans. Considering my education up to this point, perhaps the most fitting point to start is on the topic of Rhetorical Criticism based upon my exposure to and engagement with the work of Ben Witherington. Here goes for only my second real research paper ever in the field of Biblical Studies.

Thanks to Michael for the info on Scribd. Makes things a whole lot easier! And now I changed my notes to those blessed footnotes instead of those wretched, God-forsaken endnotes.

February 1, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 2 Comments

“The marginalization of creation”

Fretheim in his introduction to God and World in the Old Testament begins with:

The importance of creation has often been underestimated by church and academcy. Indeed, we can speak of the “marginalization of creation” in biblical and theological student over the course of muich of the twentieth century (and before). [p. ix]

This indicates part of Fretheim’s purpose in this book, to articulate a creation theology that can serve as the foundation for understanding the rest of hte Old Testament (and, implicitly, a creation theology that is not rife with fundamentalist attitudes toward the Creation narratives, as there have been creation theologies provided, though more focused upon battles with science than actual theology). Salvation history has gotten the bulk of the attention and focus in theology. Later, Fretheim goes on to give a list of historical trajectories for the marginalization of creation theology, such as the focus on salvation history, the focus of the creation narratives with Canaanite mythology, etc, all of which I think are valid to some degree. However, I think there are causes that reach to the root of the situation that explain many of the reasons Fretheim gives for creations lack of respect in the church and academy.

There are few things that contribute heavily to the way we have concieved of theology at the cost of creational thinking. First is the structure of our Biblical canons as Christians. Words such as salvation, redemption has a much more central role in the New Testament texts than words that relate to creation. Given the normative nature of religious texts and of the New Testament for Christians, greater exposure to certain words naturally lead to greater emhpasis on the ideas and theologies related to those words. Furthermore, the association of Christ with redemption, with relative little direct associaton to creation, serves to only create a further disparity as “Jesus texts” will naturally play a great theological role for Christians. Creation, just by looking at the number of direct references, can be said to be on the margins of thought in the Bible, especially in the New Testament (though, by margins, I am refering to human cognitions, not the framework for Biblical theology “behind the text.”). So while creation may be the first thing in the Biblical canon, and by doing so provides a framework to understand what follows, creation thought works in the background. In other words, it might be essential for Biblical understand, but it is not easy to get from reading the Bible.

Furthermore, there is also a sociological trend that biases us away from aspects of creation and nature. In an agricultural world where many people directly work the land, ideas about the world itself plays a more central role in individual thought. But as there are fewer individuals needed to work the land and more needed to organize people and things, or to developed a general understanding of all the experiences in this world, we move away from more earthly and concrete thought, towards the more abstract and “heavenly.” Hence, Gnosticism rooted in the Hellenistic philosophical world, which was a major influence in cities and not rural, agricultural areas, disparged the natural world and moved towards the heavenly and abstract. In the present day world, having excised itself of pagan thought that was somewhat latent in Gnosticism (though perhaps less so than the polytheistic culture it resided in), still retains the same principle. Salvation for many Christians is abut getting into heaven, concieved of a spiritual paradise. Science focuses upon natural laws that are not experienced or seen. While I am not saying that abstract thinking is bad (if I did, I would be speaking against myself!), it does create a bias towards broad, unexperienced principles or ideas (notice the Platonic influence with the word “idea”) and away from tangible experiences that would be majorly agricultural to a society that has to focus more time upon that. Early civilization (including Isreal) was more agricultural, whereas later civilization became more urban. With Christianity becomingas a urban movement with Paul’s mission to the Gentiles, it itself would think in the same way, and thus affect language and reason. This is not to say that the New Testament is in error with its emphasis, only that it would speak less of tangible creation and Gods’ relation to it, and more of futuristic and spiritual salvation and redemption and God’s role in that.

Our bias is more systematic from the Scriptures we considered as normative and our own societal life. For a more agricultural society, they could perhaps more naturally see the creation aspects of Biblical theology and taken Genesis 1-2 as a framework for what follows in the narrative, whereas a more urbanized society will be more apt to pass over it. Thus us Biblical interpreters have to be more cognizant of this “bias” (though not to say this bias must lead to error) in the Biblical canon as a whole and our own life experiences, which we use to interpret the Bible.

August 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment

Exodus 14 and Genesis 1:2

I recently purchased the book God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation by Terence E. Fretheim from my seminary’s bookstore. While I am only 94 pages in it, I have a feeling it will be a read I heartily recommend for everyone at all interested in Old Testament theology and/or Creation theology as the first few pages have set the framework which, if the author fulfills my expectations, that can have massive implications for Old Testament theology in general.

Anyways, in light of my renewed interest in Genesis and hope to engage Freitham’s ideas soon, I figure a new set of posts on Old Testament views of creation will set the context in which I can fully engage with Fretheim’s work.

One thing of particular note is the relationship between the Creation narrative of Genesis 1 and of the the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus 14. The imagery and language of the two bare some interesting parallels: “formless and void” and “wilderness”, “darkness” in both narratives, “Spirit/wind of God” and a “strong east wind”, “waters” and “sea.” Not to mention there are further possible parallels beyond just Genesis 1:2. The first thing God does in the Creation narrative is to make light, and in response to the darkness that comes upon the Israelites at the Red Sea, the pillar of cloud that gives lights to the Israelites. Also, the world in creation is not hospitable for life and it formed into a world full of blessing, just as Israel was going from a land that was inhospitable to them to “a good, broad land… flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8; note that same Hebrew word for “good” is used here and in Genesis 1). In addition, there is the splitting of the sea so that dry land arises for the Israelites to cross, just as God made the dry land on the third day.

The multiple possible parallels are probably more than coincidence, but rather speak to the fact that Creation is viewed in the terms and concepts of the Exodus, or vice versa (or even, that they are helped for the understanding for each other). If the Creaton and Exodus narrative are related, there is some further implications for interpretation of the first Creation narrative.

Firstly, the rather mundane statements such as “it was so” that follow the word of God may be more than a simple statement that what God spoke happened. Instead of it speaking positively about the extent to God’s powers, it may be seen as speaking negatively against any hypothetical powers that might could conflict with God in saying that there was no opposition to God’s desire for creation. In the Exodus narrative, the tenth plague of darkness (a reversal of creation?) is an attack against not only Egypt but its sun god Ra. If Ra existed and was powerful, there could have been resistance, but there was none to speak of. YHWH simply brought darkness upon Egypt, with seemingly no resistance.

Furthermore, YHWH’s victory over Egypt established himself as King. Likewise, the same concept could be applied to the creation narrative and seeing God as victorious over an inhospitable place (although, there is a need to refrain from calling it a evil in a idealogical, moral sense), and then exemplifying his reign by making humanity in the image of Himself, which carries possible connotations of royalty. That can be likened to Israel embracing the same ideals and beahviors of YHWH, such as having limits such as the Sabbath to exploitative work and practicing it just as YHWH did (all of which can be summarized in the statement “you shall be holy, for I am YHWH your God”; Leviticus 19:2)

Perhaps an insight is also available into how ruach, Hebrew for wind, came to be associated with the Spirit of God. With wind being the means by which God parted the Red Sea, such an central event could inspire an association with wind and God’s actiity in the world, at which point it is one short jump over to ruach being used to refer to God’s Spirit. Maybe this also means that to translated ruach in Genesis 1:2 as either Spirit or wind leaves a vital aspect out which the creators of the narrative would have seen.

Some of these relations may be stretching the relationship between the two narratives too far. However, I am of the opinion that viewing Creation in terms of the Exodus narrative is the way to go. And indeed, if the Exodus is historically accurate (and I believe it is) and the Creation narrative was formulated sometime relatively soon afterwards, at least to some degree, then it would make sense for the defining moment inIsrael’s history and relationship to YHWH to provide a framework for describing and understandign creation.

August 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Revisiting the question “Did Paul think the Torah had failed?”

A while back, I wrote a post on whether Paul in Romans though the Torah had “failed” or not. While much of what I said previously I still think stands, I feel it is proper to add more of a substantive answer that can also give us a peak into the relationship between Old and New Testament.

I would answer the question with “Yes, but…” In Romans 5:20, Paul describes the increase of sin when the law entered (taking the hina clause as describe a result, and not purpose). If the seemingly obvious purpose of the Law was to regulate human behavior and move them towards holiness (an important aspect of the Torah), then it did indeed fail to accomplish that purpose. The book of Judges itself shows how idolatry in Israel was rampant, despite the prohibition against it in the Decalogue. Paul goes on to attempt to demonstrate, how with the Torah in place, sin actually increased in Romans 7:5-6. His answer is that the Torah actually had the reverse effect of what it was intended for, that it aroused sinful passions, not deadened them.

If Paul’s answer wasn’t in any way negative in regards to the Torah’s effects, then he would probably have not felt any compulsion to address the hypothetical objection of 7:7 (“Is the law sin?”). Paul’s negative view on the Torah forces him to give an apologetic defense of his view to fellow Jewish brethren. If Paul had no view of failure or negativity towards the Torah tiself, then what occasions Romans 7:7?

But it is in Romans 7 where the “but” part of the answer begins to form. His concluson is that “The Torah is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (7:12).  He makes a differentiation between the sinful passions and and the Torah. To put into different terms, the essense of the Torah itself was not the problem. However when put into the world of sin, it failed to restrain evil, but instead fostered in the increase of evil. There were other factors involved that derailed the Torah’s purpose, most particularly death (also represented be flesh, conveying mortality).

Nevertheless, this apologetic defense still leaves the Torah as failing its purpose, as it was incomplete to perform the task at hand. However, Paul is not content to simply throw away the Torah, as he so emphatically proclaims in Romans 3:31. How then can he still place value upon the Torah that failed?

The answer is had in finding a solution to the problems that derailed the Torah’s purpose. Paul’s literary cry of desperation in 7:24 seeks the solutionto the problem of the mortal body, to which the answer is Jesus. Moving into 8:3, Paul proclaims the condemnation of “sin in the flesh” (keeping in mind the connotations of mortality in the usage of sarx) that leads to (again, taking the hina clause as a result clause) “the righteous requirement of the Torah might be fulfilled” (8:4). It is at this point that Paul’s view on the Torah is revealed. It is a failure on its own, but as it is joined with Jesus (the one who was raised from the dead) and the Spirit (who raised Jesus and will raise us from the dead) it achieves its purpose.

This interpretation doesn’t allow for either of the extreme answers regarding the question of the relationship between the Torah and the Old Covenant with Jesus and the New Covenant. Both the idea that the Old is superceded by the new (frequently leading to antinominianism), and that the New is merely a continuation of the Old is and subject to the Old (treading the path towards legalism) are both rejected with a few Greek letters. If the Torah was superceded,  then 8:4 makes little sense. If Jesus and Paul’s message was subject to the constraints of the Torah, then how could it possibly solve the problems that plagued the Torah’s goal?

The relationship between the Torah and Jesus is that He completes where the Torah lacks (compare with plerwsai in Matthew 5:17). To be more specific, I would say that message and gospel of Christ acts as a balance with the Torah, to delegitimize extreme interpretations of the Torah by itself and to provide the necessary “stuff” (like a trust in the defeat of death in resurrection) to make obedience to proper Torah interpretations possible. In Paul’s terms, the Torah provided knowledge of sin but not necessarily knowledge of what is righteous, whereas many of Israel derived righteous deeds from the Torah (Romans 10:3, Phillipians 3:9) and thus made extreme interpretations necessary (and doubly impossible).

Our view of Jesus then isn’t in laying down a distinctly new path. Rather, he offers a corrective. To borrow from on of Ken Collin’s books on John Wesley, Jesus provides the path of “holy love.” Holiness is to be in tension with love, with the Old Testament emphasized holiness (although not excluding love), whereas Jesus brings love into the picture to correct the extremities of particular interpetations of the holiness aspect. However, Jesus is not getting rid of the old aspects of holiness and saying that “love is all that matters,” but rather that holiness that was already present in Israel must be brought into tension with compassion, forgiveness, and mercy. Thus, neither legalism (holiness to its extreme) nor antinomianism (using love as a pretense to reject any specific moral and ethical considerations) work within the Christian faith.

August 13, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 21 Comments

Creation and God as an Artist

In the Creation narrative of Genesis 1:1-2:3, there is more going on than just a bare recounting of the order of creation. In the narrative, God is being portrayed as an arist, or more specifically a potter working with a lump of clay. Genesis 1:2 refers to the earth as being “formless”, as if the earth is a lump of clay that has yet to be formed. And then, after various parts of creation have been added, such as the light, God sees it as “good.” When God completes creation with the making of humanity, it is called “very good.” It is as if God had an image beforehand of what he wanted, and then at each stage saw that it looked like a portion of what he wanted, and then God finally completed his work of art on the sixth day. Then, the seventh day was taken as a day of rest, one might say to enjoy what he had created.

Incidentally, the second creation narrative also sees God as an artist, as he makes man from the dust of the ground, or clay, along with the other animals. Which shows there is a close relationship between the supposedly two differentsources for the first and second creation narratives.

Furthermore, if the creation narratives implicitly portray God as a potter, they can be related (especially the second one) to Isaiah’s and Jeremiah’s reference to God as a potter. But yet, the lack of explicit reference in creation past making man and the animals from dust doesn’t allow for an immediate transfer of the idea to Isaiah and Jeremiah, but that there likely another source that either expounded upon the creation narratives that then helped form the ideas of Isaiah and Jeremiah, or the reverse.

April 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 2 Comments

Genesis 6:1-8, the sons of God, and the breakdown of ancient sexual conduct

There is a particuarly mythic view of Genesis chapter 6 in regards to the ever controversial “sons of God” and “daughters of men” in which the “sons of God” are angelic beings who broke the division made between angels and humanity and bore children through females. This is due to the comparison with Job 1:6 and 2:1 where it used in reference to angelic beings, of which Satan (or the accuser) belongs to. While this might be the case, this makes a fundamental assumption that there was no change in meaning from the authoring of Genesis 6:2 and Job 1:6, 2:1. However, it is possible that there was an evolution of the phrase where from the first meaning, it adapted a second, related usage.

Quite literally, Genesis 6:2 and Job 1:6, 2:1 refers to “sons of the gods.” But as Elohim is used to refer to the one entity YHWH, to take it as the “sons of God” is perfectly acceptable translation. But it may not be justified, especially in the case of Genesis 6:2. In analyzing the different protions of Genesis, as source criticism has made note of, there is a tendency for certain passages to use Elohim to refer to the person we would refer to as God, and YHWH in others (with Genesis 2-3 being a notable exception). Genesis 6:1-8 happens to be a passages where YHWH is used. Now, YHWH is used extensively in the narrative of Job 1 and 2, but Elohim is also used and used in such a way that it is difficult to seperate the passages to use YHWH and Elohim to form two layers, one of which an editor added to the other (see Job 1:20-22).

With Genesis 6:1-8 being an otherwise exclusively YHWH passage (Although there is only a small sample size), it might seem appropriate to take ben_haelohim as “sons of the gods” instead of referring to the being of YHWH. One can take this quite literally as children of other deities, which retains a mythological interpretation of the passage but utterly belies the narrative of Genesis that does not speak of gods other than YHWH being active. Another option is to see the phrase as a title of kingly authority derived from religious claims, just as the Psalm 2 attributed to David makes a claim that he is a son of YHWH (Psalm 2:7). This option need not legitimate the “gods” whom supposedly authorize certain rulers, but it could have been a phrase that came in time to simply be attributed to rulers.

When analyzing the narrative further, the noteworthy dilemma isn’t necessarily the sons of Elohim procreating with thes daughters of men. Rather, the necessity to clarify that the wives the sons of Elohim took was “whomever they chose.” This phrase may imply that they were authoritarian in their pursuit of women. It could be that either they forcibly took women as their wives, or they ignored any social custom in which the father would “give” the daughter in marriage. Regardless, the central issue here is perhaps an improper usage of power for the purpose of procreation. Its narrative context definitely implied a proper sexual ethic (although it is never explicitly given in Genesis). In Genesis 1, the male and female are called to be fruitful and multiply. Abraham, in relation to the promise of his descendants, is called upon by God to circumcise his male sexual organ, implying there is a proper sexual conduct that Abraham was committing to. Furthermore, we see the multiple problems that are caused by Abraham’s and Sarah’s attempt to to have a child through Hagar, along with Jacob with Leah and Rachel. Thus, it would fit the theme of Genesis 6 to be focused not upon the breaking of a barrier between the “spiritual” and the physical, but rather that it is a violation of a proper sexual ethic.

This interpretation would make better sense of the reason YHWH purposed to destroy creation as He had formed it. If people were to play a pivotal role in exercising dominion (though not in a authoritarian or consumptionist sense) over the earth, including the animals, then it would be necessary for men and women to reproduce in order to bring about other human individuals who can help accomplish God’s design. But if the sexual ethic is somehow violated for the purpose of unjustified power over persons instead of the command power over creation, then humanity’s purpose was not to be fulfilled. Indeed, there is the abrogation of a sexual boundaries in Genesis 6:1-8, but there is also the mention that these children were somehow related to the Nephilim mentioned in verse 4 and there is mention of “them” (does it refer to the Nephilim or the children, if they are different?) being powerful men. In which case, if men weren’t fulfilling their purpose in ruling over creation, but instead exercising dominion more over each other, then the animals would not be “guided” properly and God’s whole creation purpose is thrown for a loop.

That Genesis 6:1-8 is related to God’s creation is clear by the declaration that YHWH “regretted that He made man on the earth” (6:6). But the link is strengthed by the usage of the adjective “evil” (6:5,) being the opposite of the “very good”  creation God had made after the creation of man (1:3). In other words, the humanity, whom God made with a purpose, was now opposing and rejecting their God ordained vocation and replacing it with a rule over each other.

April 24, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

The God says/God makes duplication in Genesis 1

In Genesis 1:6-7, 14-16, 20-21, 24-25, and 26-27, there is an apparent duplication in the narrative. On the one hand, you see God making a command for something be come into being. Then, what follows is a statement that God made/created said thing. If the purpose of the Genesis was to give an account of the events in creation, referring to God’s speech is perhaps a bit superfluous as the description of the making/creating is sufficient to give an account the creation of the earth and all that was in it.

However, as I have argued, I think part of the backdrop is that one being named Elohim in fact encompasses all the other El‘s. So for Elohim both to command and to do, it represents a unity of Elohim that does not rely on other beings in order to accomplish his will. There is no need for other El‘s to create the heaven’s, the earth, and all that is in them, as Elohim can accomplish that. But secondly, it is an affirmation of Elohim‘s sovereignty that he was not simply fulfilling the will of another being, but that Elohim himself is sovereign.

April 19, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

The image of God, the Old Testament, and monotheism

One of the interesting aspects within Old Testament and Christian theology is the concept of the image of God in the creation narrative (Genesis 1:27-28). However, a particular oddity about this part of the narrative is that it is not a category that is used in the patriarchal narratives and after. Its influence is primarily within the pre-patriarchal narrative (Genesis 1-11). This is particularly intriguing in light of the fact that other aspects of God’s creation of humanity play a role throughout the Torah and onwards, such as the command to be fruitful and multiply, the command to fill the earth (for Israel, its primary fulfillment is in filling the land of Canaan), the concept of creation, the sabbath reast, etc. But for some reason, the image of God didn’t make the cut.

Now as I argued previously, the image of God represents a multiplicity in a unity of one. So Elohim is one entity (perhaps this gives new understanding of “YHWH is one” in Deuteronomy 6:4). Likewise humanity is to be a plurality as one (Note the second creation narrative that establish the man and woman become “one flesh” in Genesis 2:24). However, this unity was destroyed in the Babel narrative by God (Genesis 11:6). But after the narrative, there is no mention of the image of God, or similarity in language and concepts (as in the  Babel narrative).

On the one hand, one can interpret the absence as due to the lack of God’s image present in humankind after Babel. However, following the Babel narrative, Abraham is spoken of being a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:1-3). With the image of God being related to the creation of the reproductive couple of male and female (and thus becoming united/one), and blessing with being fruitful and multiplying, it is not as if the patriarchal narrative has forgotten the purpose contain withing being in the image of God. One can even say, Abraham’s being a blessing is meant to portray the restoration of the lost unity in a way. But the language of “image” is lacking, and so is the concept of many being one. In all likelihood then, that absence is not due to a lack of God’s image in the world, because one might expect an explicit trust of restoration if the Genesis narrative views the image of God as destroyed.

Rather, I think the change in language reflects an evolution in the thought of God, that fits within the history of religions approach. However, unlike some approaches that assume the Torah and the rest of the Tanakh is a late result of the evolution of religious thought, the Torah in fact exhibits the evolution of thought as the narrative progresses forward. If I am right about “the image of God” being understood as a plurality in a unity, then it may reveal an early development of Jewish monotheism, that is less polemical that later develops of Israel’s monotheistic belief (a change from what I wrote in an earlier post where I believe the creation narrative had a polemic to it).

This early monotheism would see the many gods as in fact being all parts of the same one being. One could not speak of this being simply as “El” at this point in time, because the connotation of El was not a sovereign being (unlike our usage of “God” today), but simply one being amongst many. Hence, the early narrative feels it necessary to speak of this one being in the plural (but yet frequently with singular verbs) in order to emphasize the power that would not be conveyed by the singular. With this broad understanding of Elohim that includes the many different El‘s, it would also be natural for the narrative to appropriate the many mythological narratives within its understanding of Elohim and history. Thus there are similarities between parts of Genesis 1-11 with other religious myths such as the Enuma Elish and Gilgamesh religious (although, there are differences and Genesis need not have borrowed directly from those stories we do have), in which the stories have been appropriated as being the work of this united Elohim, also known as YHWH.

However, the plurality as a unity is a logical deduction (although, this does not mean it was not divinely inspired, as the door is still open that revelation was the catalyst for this) that places its emphasis on the oneness more so than the plurality (hence Elohim acts with singular verbs). The tension between many and one would have been forgotten, and the oneness would have become more emphasized with a total loss of the plural aspect. Hence, the more classical form of Jewish monotheism (although not Christian monotheism, of the one being a plurality). As such, the “image of God” language and concept could not have been assimilated into the newer form of monotheism.

So Genesis 1-11 reflects a more universal religious belief that integrates all the concepts of the different El‘s into one entityYHWH Elohim (as spoken of in Genesis 2-3). Whereas Genesis 12 onwards reflects a more developed (or even developing?) monotheism that Israel appropriates to describe their past, present, and future. The first would reflect Israel’s belief in YHWH without having developed a thorough self-identity other than its relation to YHWH, whereas in the latter Israel has identified itself as a people particularly called by God to live in a particular land (indicating a shift from the “fill and subdue the earth” to more particularly, the land of Canaan). And despite the more universal tone of Genesis 1-11, it still has a particular Jewishness to it as it talks about God’s sabbath, which would echo the third of the Ten Commandments.

April 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments

Genesis 1-11, the image of God, and the plural Elohim

First off, I will be only intermittently posting on this blog till school gets out. Fewer viewers in the end, but the main purpose of this blog is to articulate my ideas more so than obtain an audience.

Over the past few weeks I have been doing study outside of my seminary work on the Old Testament, while reading authors such as Von Rad and Brueggemann. However, of particular interest to me is Genesis 1-11, due to the article in the JBL’s Winter 2008 article Shattering the Image of God by John T. Strong. While I do not agree totally with the article, of particular interest for me was seeing the Tower of Babel narrative as being understood in light of the image of God.

The image of God definitely plays a role within the Genesis narrative, especially early on. But the question as to what it means has received varied answers, many times reflected the views of the day more so than the intent of the text. As to my opinion, the way Genesis 1-11 is built, I think it in part reflects the many being united as one. In the Tower of Babel narrative, the language of the people follows the format of God’s declaration of creating humanity in his image in Genesis 1:16, the cohortive plural. God recognizes these people operating as one, and thus serves to divide them through the confusion of their language. As Strong notes, this is “in effect, smashing the [image of God] to pieces” (p. 628).

Multiplicity in the people is implied as being in the image of God. They were called to fill and subdue the earth, they were called to reproduce as a necessary consequence of filling and subduing the land, and humanity was made as male and female, as a the means for reproduction. Without there being many persons, they could not “rule” over the creation God had made.

And yet, there is a sense of unity implied by the image of God also. In making adam (used in this context not as the person Adam nor an individual, as 1:27 makes evident), the singular noun (compare with the singular nouns of the groups of animals, although they are frequently translated as plural) does not allow for the interpretation that each individual is itself in the image of God. That may be the case, but that would not conform the text at hand. Rather, this species was to be in God’s image. So a sense of unity in working together is probably conveyed by the text. Hence, this needed unity in God’s image perhaps explains why the image of God is evoked as support for capital punishment against murderers, who essentially would break up said unity.

So, I would contend the image of God conveying a multiplicity being one. Which I think coheres with the nature of the creator called Elohim, the plural for El (“god”). I am aware that some grammars refer to the plural here as the plural of majesty, but I think there is something more going on here. The narrative seems to have a polemical nature to it. For instance, Genesis 4:1 can be see as attributing Eve’s fertility to Yahweh, as if this was a counterclaim to a fertility god or goddess. Also, the inclusion of the serpent (nahash) has echoes of the Canaanite god Yam, who was also named Nahar and portrayed as a serpent (although, of the sea to be exact). Also, Elohim was used by the Cannaanites to refer to their pantheon of gods, but yet the Genesis narrative identifies Elohim with one named YHWH. Hence, the second creation narrative starting in 2:3 joins Elohim with YHWH.

My contention is that the creator is identified with the plural Elohim, to attribute all the powers of the gods within the Canaanite religion within one entity, such as the power of providing fertility and also over all the different animals, over the sea, and over the land. If that is the case, the narrative portrays the multiplicity as one. Therefore, Elohim can have verbs attributed to him that are both singular and plural. Thus, to be made in the image of God would mean to be a multiplicity working together as one. Therefore, in Genesis 3:22 the individual Adam (“the man”) is referred to being like “one of us.” The individual corresponds to a singular within YHWH Elohim.

Now if this sounds like a defense of the reading of classical Trinitarianism within the Genesis narrative, it isn’t. If Genesis 1 and on serves as a polemic against the multiple gods in attributing the many powers within one, it does not speak for a Trinitarian unity (of course, not against it either). Trintitarianism sees the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as three sharing the same one substance (ousia), with the multiplicity being in the three persons (hupostases). On the other hand, the Genesis narrative has the multiple powers within one. To fit the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit directly into Elohim of Genesis 1, one would have to say that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three different, distinct powers united as one. Not only does that reject classic Trinitarianism, but it is grossly anachronistic.

March 13, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment