|Topic: Genesis||Type: Book||Author: Edward J. Young|
The Interpretation of Genesis 1:2 - Criticism
In the recent interest devoted to mythology and its relation to the Bible the first chapter of Genesis has not been neglected 1[Cf. Brevard S. Childs: Myth and Reality in the Old Testament, 1960. This work gives a good bibliography. Attention may also be directed to the informative article by Lester Wikström: "Till frågan om begreppet myt" in Svensk Exegetisk Årsbok, XVI, 1952, pp. 66-80]. In particular the second verse has received considerable attention. It will be our purpose in this article to ascertain what relationship, if any, the second verse of Genesis sustains to mythology and also to present a positive interpretation and explanation of the verse.
Recent Studies of Genesis 1:2
That we may arrive at the correct interpretation of Genesis 1:2 it will be well first of all to consider certain recent expositions in which attention is paid to mythology and its supposed relationship to the verse. As an introduction to the subject we may consider the remarks of Rabast.Karlheinz Rabast, whose recent death is a severe blow to biblical scholarship, was a pastor at the Martin Luther Church in Dresden and the author of an excellent commentary on the first eleven chapters of Genesis. He wrote as a Bible believer, and rejected the documentary hypothesis in a very clear cut and decisive fashion 2[Karlheinz Rabast: Die Genesis, 1951, pp. 15-29]. His work is filled with useful comments and he makes genuinely significant and useful contributions to the interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis. Rabast rejects the "Restitution Hypothesis" which would posit a long interval of time between verses one and two giving as his reason that it is unlikely that the Scripture would pass over such a great catastrophe in silence when it mentions in this context many comparatively less important matters 3["Für diese theosophische Erweiterung liegt aber kein Grund vor, und es ist von vornherein unwahrscheinlich, dass eine so wichtige und wesentliche Tatsache gleichsam zwischen den Zeilen stehen sollte, während andere verhältnismässig nebensächliche Dinge in demselben Zusammenhang breit und ausführlich geschildert werden" (op. cit., p. 46)]. According to Rabast, verse two does not describe any original or chaotic or raw material of the Earth, but rather presents a background without existence, the indescribable Nothing. Nothing, however, asserts Rabast, cannot be described in words. In order therefore, to describe this Nothing, the writer of Genesis used old mythological formulations and expressions. Indeed, the verse itself may be characterized as a veritable mythological treasure house 4[The phrase "eine wahre mythologische Schatzkammer" appears in Gunkels commentary (p. 103) where it is attributed to Schwally, Archiv für Religionswissenschaft, IX, 169. I have not seen this last mentioned work]. According to differing conceptions of ancient mythology the world arose from a waste and desolation or from an original sea or from darkness or from an original egg. In Genesis these primitive and often conflicting representations could be employed because they no longer possessed their mythological character. We need not endeavor, therefore, to demythologize the Bible, because the Bible has already been demythologized. Here in the second verse of Genesis are fragments of a foreign world-view which now serve a greater concept than ever before. They serve to describe the existence-less Nothing from which God forms His creation 5["Um dieses Nichts zu beschreiben, werden alte mythologische Formulierungen und Ausdrücke verwendet" (op. cit., p. 46). Rabast quotes a passage from Zimmerli in which the latter seeks to show that, just as an Arabian construction in Palmyra has used Roman pillars and the El Azhar mosque in Cairo whole rows of Roman columns, so in Genesis 1:2 fragments of a foreign world-view have been incorporated. The passage is from Walther Zimmerli: Die Urgeschichte, Zurich, 1943]. Rabast, therefore, would paraphrase the thought of the second verse as follows: "In the beginning was Nothing, and over this Nothing hovered the Spirit of God. The cosmos did not arise from a chaos, but from a Nothing .... Nothing, however, cannot come from nothing, unless there is a miracle, and it is this miracle of creation which is set forth here." 6["Am Anfang war ein Nichts, und über diesem Nichts schwebte der Geist Gottes. Nicht aus einem Chaos entstand der Kosmos, sondern aus dem Nichts! . . . Aus einem Nichts kann aber nichts werden, oder es muss ein Wunder geschehen, und um dieses Wunder der Schöpfung handelt es sich hier" (op. cit., p. 47)]. It is a miracle which God alone can perform, and this he does through his Word.
In his interpretation of verse two Rabast is not alone among modern scholars. Nevertheless, there are serious objections to his view, and these must be considered. In passing we may note a logical inconsistency in Rabasts presentation of the argument. If it is true, as he asserts, that the Nothing is indescribable and cannot be described in words, then it is passing strange that verse two is thought to be a description of Nothing. This is irrationalism such as characterizes much recent discussion of the early chapters of Genesis.It is also well to ask why the mention of ancient mythological elements should be considered a description of Nothing. Some of these elements are found in the Babylonian account of creation, the so-called Enuma Elish, and there is no evidence that in that document they are intended to describe or portray Nothing. In fact, what characterizes this work is that it does not present a true doctrine of creation ex nihilo but rather begins with the assumption that matter is aleady at hand. It is true that Enuma Elish posits a time when Heaven and Earth had not been formed, but when Tiamat, Mummu and Apsu existed together, apparently without any beginning. Furthermore there also appears a fatalism to which all, gods and men alike, are subject. Whatever may be said about the Enuma Elish, it is certain that no doctrine of absolute creation is to be found in it, and no attempt to describe a Nothing 7[As an introduction to the study of the Babylonian creation account, see Anton Deimel S. I.: "Enuma Eli" und Hexaëmeron, Rome, 1934. His comment at this point is pertinent, "Erst nachdem die beiden Urprinzipien Abzu-Tiamat von ihren Söhnen getötet sind, können ihre Kadaver, aus deren Bestandteilen die Welt von den beiden Weltbaumeistern umgeformt wird, als Chaos aufgefasst werden. Hier ist aber zu beachten, dass wir ohne die klare Stelle der hl. Schrift und anderer ausserbabylonischer Quellen wohl kaum je auf den Gedanken gekommen wären, in den Kadavern von Abzu-Tiamat Personifikationen des Weltchaos zu suchen" (p. 84)]. If then in the sources in which these ancient mythological elements are originally found there is no connection with Nothing, what warrant have we for assuming that when they are combined in Genesis they describe Nothing?
Again, had it been the intention of the writer to use verse two for the purpose suggested by Rabast, we should have expected some indication of that purpose. If Moses had intended to describe Nothing, why did he not use language more suitable for his task? Why, instead, does he in so emphatic a manner immediately draw attention to the Earth? It is not Nothing which forms the subiect matter of the second verse, but the Earth. All the language of this verse is suitable to describe the Earth, but not the "indescribable" Nothing. If Moses had intended to do what Rabast claims, we should have expected some indication of that fact.
The language of Genesis 1:2 is for the most part found elsewhere in the Bible in passages where its meaning is perfectly clear. And in these other passages the words are not used to describe Nothing. This becomes apparent from a consideration of Isaiah 45:18 in which passage the purpose of creating the world is given. According to Isaiah 45:18, God did not create the world to be a desolation or an uninhabitable place, but to be inhabited. The meaning is not, "God did not create the world to be a Nothing". Isaiah does not make a disjunction between Nothing on the one hand and an inhabitable world on the other. In this passage the word wht is obviously a description of the world after it has been created. To be a desolation, however, was not the purpose for which God created it. Isaiah does not mean that after its creation the world was a Nothing. And inasmuch as such a meaning is impossible in Isaiah 45:18, it is likewise impossible in Genesis 1:2, which also refers to an Earth that has already been created.Perhaps the most significant interpretation of Genesis to appear in recent years is found in the work of Gerhard von Rad. Von Rad holds that the first chapter of Genesis contains the essence of priestly knowledge in concentrated form. It is doctrine which has grown up and become enriched over many long years, and it is precisely well measured and carefully thought out. It is to be taken exactly as it stands 8["Diese Sätze sind theologisch nicht leicht zu überinterpretieren!" (Gerhard von Rad: Das erste Buch Mose, 1952, p. 36)].
The first of the theological specifications with which we have to deal, says von Rad, is the statement about the original chaotic condition of the Earth. The priestly writing comes to this subject with a row of concepts that were familiar to it. One of these is the phrase <yhla jwrwhich von Rad renders, "Gottessturm", i. e., a fearful storm. This expression in particular, he thinks, belongs to the description of the chaotic and does not yet lead to the thought of creation, inasmuch as in the following context no result is attributed to the action expressed by the participle 9[Von Rad appeals to Daniel 7:2 in support of his interpretation. But this appeal is not justifiable. In Daniel the sea is introduced symbolically in a vision which is not the case in Genesis. The sea in Daniel (amy and not <wht) is a symbol of the Earth or mankind (DAN 7:17). The winds are the four cardinal winds, which God employs to stir up humanity. In other words the events which occur upon this Earth are the result of the working of heavenly forces. In Daniel the winds burst forth upon the great sea; they do not merely blow over it. Vergils well known lines illustrate the same thing that is found in Daniel
[. . . ac venti, velut agmine facto,
qua data porta, ruunt et terras turbine perflant.
incubuere mari totumque a sedibus imis
una Eurusque Notusque ruunt creberque procellis
Africus et vastos volvunt ad litora fluctus (Aeneid, 1:82 ff.).
[There is nothing in Genesis 1:2 comparable to this "breaking forth" of the winds (cf. Young: The Prophecy of Daniel, Grand Rapids, 1957)].
In our text, so the argument continues, the actual mythical meaning has been completely lost. Hence, we must even reject the assumption that in order to make clearer the chaotic condition of the original material the priestly writing had to employ foreign and half-mythological conceptions. These expressions have long since lost their mythical character and have become stereotyped. Von Rad rightly rejects the view of the relationship between Genesis one and the Babylonian accounts which characterized the advocates of the "Babel-Bibel" controversy.Verse two, therefore, according to von Rad, speaks not only of a condition which was actually present in the beginning of time, but it also points to a possibility that might recur. Behind the creation of all things lies the abyss of formlessness, and into this abyss all that is created stands ready again to fall. It is belief in the doctrine of creation which must prevent man from falling back again 10["Dass hinter allem Geschaffenen der Abgrund der Gestaltlosigkeit liegt, dass ferner alles Geschaffene ständig bereit ist, im Abgrund des Gestaltlosen zu versinken, dass also das Chaotische schlechthin die Bedrohung alles Geschaffenen bedeutet, das ist eine Urerfahrung des Menschen und eine ständige Anfechtung seines Glaubens. An ihr musste sich der Schöpfungsglaube bewähren" (von Rad: op. cit., p. 38). This consideration is not derived from the text by exegesis. In the first chapter of Genesis there is not the slightest hint of the possibility of a return to "chaos" anymore than of a return, for example, to the condition of "the third day"]. The polarity which is expressed in the first chapter is therefore not that of nothing as over against creation, but rather that of chaos and cosmos. The thought of creation from nothing is found in verse one, but the remainder of the chapter stresses the contrast between formlessness or chaos and the completed, well-ordered universe, the cosmos. Hence, concludes von Rad, there is good reason for verse one preceding verse two. Karl Barth also has written in recent times on the second verse of Genesis 11[Die Kirchliche Dogmatik, III/1 Die Lehre von der Schöpfung, Zollikon-Zürich, 1945, pp. 111-121]. Does this verse, he asks, speak of the informitas materiae, the rudis indigestaque moles as an actual (whether founded in itself or willed and established by God), original and raw condition of the world? If that is the case, he argues, there is a dilemma, for if the condition described in verse two is not an independent existence apart from God, it must be Gods creation. If, on the other hand, it is not Gods creation, it must be an actuality independent of God and His work. If, however, neither of these is correct there is no dilemma, and there is a third way out 12["Aber eben das ist die Frage, ob v 2 von der informitas materiae, von der rudis indigestaque moles tatsächlich als von einem (sei es in sich selbst begründeten, sei es von Gott gewollten und gesetzten) wirklichen (im Sinn der nach v 3 f. geschaffenen Dinge wirklich zu nennenden) Ur- und Rohzustand der Welt geredet wird. Nur wenn das der Fall ist, besteht jenes Dilemma. Wenn das nicht der Fall ist, dann besteht jenes Dilemma nur scheinbar, dann gibt es hier tatsächlich ein Drittes" (op. cit., p. 114)]. Before proceeding, however, to give this third position Barth makes a few remarks about the nature of verse two. He agrees with Gunkel that the verse describes the chaos, which is out of accord with what was stated in the first verse, and also with what follows 13[Op. cit., p. 114. Barth thinks that the words whbw wht could have had no positive meaning for the Israelitish-Jewish language and reflection, but were merely personifications of the abominable. "Die Erde als tohu und bohu ist die Erde, die als solche nichts ist, die ihren Schöpfer verhöhnt und die auch für den Himmel über ihr nur eine Beleidigung, eine Bedrohung mit derselben Nichtigkeit sein kann" (op. cit., p. 115). <wht, because it is indefinite, and used as a proper name, reminds us that originally it designated a mythical, personified being. Barth thinks that in formal connection with the Babylonian tradition the element of water is treated as the principle which is absolutely opposed to the creation of God in its abundance and despotism (op. cit., p. 115). Where the biblical evidence for such a statement occurs, I do not know. From this original flood, thinks Barth, nothing can nor will become good (p. 116). [The darkness is taken by Barth as that in which there is no recognition nor objectivity. It can in no sense be regarded as also a potentially positive substance (p. 117). Nothing good can come out of darkness. It should be noted, however, in opposition to what Barth writes, that God gives a name to the darkness, just as He does to the light. Both are therefore good and well-pleasing to Him; both are created, although the express creation of the darkness, as of other objects in verse two, is not stated, and both serve His purpose of forming the day. [Barth rightly rejects the interpretation of jwr as "wind", and thinks that the representation is that of a hovering bird moving its wings, and that this bird will brood. Hence, we are close to the old picture of a world egg (op. cit., p. 118). This spirit belongs to the essence and character of the world of abomination (Greuelwelt), which would have condemned the spirit to the weakness of a hovering or brooding bird. This passive, contemplative role is not that of the true God (op. cit., p. 119)]. Hence, the writer could only oppose it and interpret it in malam partem. With respect to the dilemma, Barth asserts that we are not compelled either to accept the one position or the other. There is no talk here, he thinks, about an original, raw condition of the Earth, only the original and raw condition of the evil, of sin, apostasy and all its results. There is thought of the possibility which God, as He comes to creation, passes by, just as a human creator in choosing one particular work, rejects others, leaving them unfulfilled behind him. Verse three, in which God speaks, shows that the work which He chooses is that of the Heaven and the Earth. Verse two, on the other hand, sets forth a condition of the world about which Gods Word has not spoken; it is a condition that does without the Word of God. The verse speaks of the Nothing, which is rendered nothing by Gods act of creation. The Spirit of God, a divine power, cannot make good this loss, for it is not Gods Word, but can only bring the loss more glaringly into the light 14[Barth describes the Spirit as "eine göttliche Kraft, die nun doch gerade nicht die des schöpferischen Wortes ist, kann diesen Mangel nicht gut machen, kann ihn vielmehr nur noch greller ins Licht stellen" (op. cit., p. 119)]. Without Gods Word, says Barth, the world does not have existence nor essentiality nor the goodness of the creature which is later described as the creature of the Word of God and so the true creature. What is left to us in verse two is a picture of the world, negated and rejected, passed over and left behind. Because this world in its absurd manner is completely different from the world willed and created by God, because it is actual as the world of the non-existing, the essenceless, the through and through non-good, because it was only too well known to the writer and to the whole biblical witness as the shadow, which as a matter of fact rests on the willed and created world of God, it is here mentioned. What is described in verse two is not the original, raw condition but the past of the actual cosmos which was created by Gods Word 15[In this paragraph I have sought to give a summary of Barths thought as it is expressed in op. cit., pp. 119 f.]. It is thus described as obsolete, for God has passed it by. Only the shadow of this hayetha (i. e., the Earth was) can lie on the cosmos which was really created by God. And this shadow can only exist when Gods Word and the actual choice and actual work of God, and so the actuality of the cosmos itself, are forgotten. In loving what God hates, the creature can bring back this previous condition. When men do this God, on His part, can repent of having created them and bring about the flood. This is so, because the creature in his differentiation from God is not Against God but Non-God. By misusing his freedom man can look back and bring back the past, so that that past can become a present and a future to what it opposes. That is the risk which God has taken upon Himself in the venture of creation. Genesis 1:2 speaks from the "Old", that according to 2 Corinthians 5:17 has passed away radically in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It says that the chaos, looked at not from the new but from the old creation, is really the old, passed-by existence of this world 16[This is a brief summary of Barths comments (op. cit., pp. 120 f.)]. It would appear that there are certain similarities between the position of Rabast and that of Barth. Both in their interpretations have quite evidently been somewhat influenced by Zimmerli 17[It would seem that Barth has also been deeply influenced by Gunkel. Barths views cannot be derived from the text as it stands. Gunkels divisive criticism, however, seems to make room for an exposition such as that of Barth. Gunkel writes, "Vielmehr ist zuzugeben, dass hier ein innerer Widerspruch vorliegt, der aber geschichtlich zu verstehen ist: der Stoff von v. 2 gehört zu den vom Judentum vorgefundenen Elementen, v. 1 ist vom Judentum selbst hinzugefügt. Dass P eine solche Schilderung des Chaos aufnehmen konnte, zeigt, dass auch er den Gedanken einer creatio ex nihilo (2 MAK 7:28; HBR 11:3) noch nicht deutlich erfasst hatte" (Die Genesis, Göttingen, 1922, p. 103)]. Both hold that the second verse of Genesis is a description of Nothing. At this point, however, the similarity really ceases. Rabast comes to this interpretation upon exegetical grounds. He believes that the writer, by means of his use of old mythological expressions, really intended to set forth a description of Nothing. With this conclusion the present writer is unable to agree. He has already set forth certain objections to it. At the same time it must be acknowledged that Rabast has intended to do full justice to proper exegesis in arriving at his conclusion. On the basis of what may legitimately be called exegetical considerations he arrives at the position which he adopts. That position, we think, is erroneous, but we do acknowledge that Rabast has sought to follow an exegetical procedure.
With Barth, however, the case is quite different. With Barth, at least as far as the consideration of Genesis 1:2 is concerned, exegesis plays quite a minor role. It is true that Barth does engage in exegetical procedure (see his discussion on pp. 114-119by far the most valuable part of his treatment). Had he done only this, we would have no quarrel with his procedure. But he does far more. Having once exegetically established a meaning for his text, Barth now proceeds to impose upon that text an interpretation which is wholly foreign to the Bible.We may perhaps, to a point, understand this interpretation if we note that Barth holds that the creation is Geschichte but not historical Geschichte 18[Note particularly the following statement: "Die ganze Geschichte ohne Ausnahme ist insofern immer auch unhistorisch, von der ganzen Geschichte kann insofern immer nur unhistorisch berichtet werden, als in der ganzen Geschichte Gottes Schöpfung weitergeht, als die ganze Geschichte in allen ihren Bewegungen, Verhältnissen und Gestalten immer auch eine Komponente hat, in der sie unmittelbar zu Gott, in der sie unmittelbare göttliche Setzung ist" (op. cit., pp. 84 f.). For an exposition of the underlying philosophy cf. C. Van Til: The New Modernism, Philadelphia, 1946]. History, says Barth, is objective, because accessible and perceivable by men. But the creation is not history and no history of it can be given ("und kann es von ihr auch keine Historie geben", op. cit., p. 84). It can therefore only be unhistorical Geschichte and only unhistorical history writing (Geschichtsschreibung) can deal with it.
It will not be our purpose to attempt an exposition of Barths usage of the terms Geschichte and Historie. What it is precisely that Barth has in mind by the term Geschichte is difficult to determine. It is not so difficult, however, to discover what he does not have in mind by that term. It would seem that when Barth places the creation account in the realm of Geschichte he is in actual fact denying that Genesis one is a reliable and factual account of what actually transpired.It may not be out of place at this juncture to ask what history is. In answering the question we would hold that history does, of course, include the study of matters accessible to the human mind for investigation, but it may also include matters which the unaided human mind cannot investigate, but concerning which God has revealed information. Unaided, for example, the human mind cannot study the creation, but it is legitimate to hold that God can reveal certain information about the creation. Man can study this information and upon the basis of his study can make true statements concerning the creation. The study of this revealed material is as truly the study of history as is the study of Caesars accounts of ancient Gaul. We may Therefore, indeed, we must, approach the first chapter of Genesis as a reliable historical document, trustworthy in all its statements because its contents have been communicated to us by God 19[The defense of this position will be found in Thy Word Is Truth, Grand Rapids, 1957]. It goes without saying that, unaided, Moses could not have made an investigation of the creation and come to the conclusion that the events which he related in Genesis one actually happened as they are there recorded 20[The Mosaic authorship of Genesis is herein assumed. It is an assumption supported by Scripture and best explains the many problems involved in the question of the authorship of Genesis. It does not preclude the possibility that, in writing Genesis, Moses may have employed previously existing documents. For a cogent defense of Mosaic authorship cf. Oswald T. Allis: The Five Books of Moses, Philadelphia, 1949]. But does it follow that God Himself could not have revealed to Moses those events, and that Gods Spirit could not have superintended the recording of those events so that the final written product was an accurate accout of what had actually transpired? Barth says not a word about this possibility, for were he to do so, he would have to reject the idea that the creation account is Geschichte and not Historie. Granted that man, inasmuch as he is himself something created, could not have investigated the creation on his own, we may nevertheless assert that God revealed the account to Moses who wrote it down. The account, there, is historical. The study of history is simply the study of those things which have actually taken place, whether the historian has come to their knowledge by means of his own investigation or whether information concerning them has been revealed by almighty God. It is this point which we must remember when discussing Barths interpretation. By his usage of the word Geschichte, does Barth intend us to understand that the events recorded in the first chapter of the Bible actually took place as Scripture asserts that they did? This question, we believe, must be answered in the negative 21[Barth remarks explicitly, "entzieht sich ihre geschichtliche Wirklichkeit aller historischen Beobachtung und Berichterstattung und kann sie auch in den biblischen Schöpfungsgeschichten nur in Form reiner Sage bezeugt werden" (op. cit., p. 44). This is to deny genuine special revelation. Why cannot the all-powerful God communicate truth in propositional form to man concerning the the creation? If He cannot do this, He is not all-powerful, not the God of Scripture. Barth really makes God to be limited by man. From the fact that creation is not historically observable by man it does not follow that God is limited to witnessing to the creation only in pure saga. Again, "Die biblische Schöpfungsgeschichte aber ist, entsprechend dem singulären Charakter ihres Gegenstandes, reine Sage, so wie esbeides als Ausnahme von der Regelan anderen Stellen der Bibel auch reine und als solche kaum ernstlich anzufechtende Historie gibt" (op. cit., p. 89)]. What Barth writes is not particularly easy to follow, but there seems to be no evidence that he regards the events recorded in Genesis one as actually having occurred. These events, consequently, are not historical. To assign them to a realm labelled Geschichte, is in reality to deny that they ever took place. What Barth discusses in his comments on Genesis 1:2 is not the condition of the physical Earth as it actually was at a certain time. What Barth does, it would seem, is to take the language of Genesis 1:2 and use it as a vehicle for the expression of certain ideas. His remarks are to be understood upon the basis of a particular philosophical background. Was there ever a time, it is pertinent to ask, when this particular Earth on which we live was in precisely that condition described in Genesis 1:2? That question Barth would probably regard as irrelevant 22["Und nun sind wir doch wohl in der Lage, auf jenes Dilemma: ob in v 2 von einem in sich selbst begründeten oder von einem von Gott gewollten und gesetzten Ur- und Rohzustand der Welt die Rede sei? einergemassen belehrt zurückzublicken. Wir antworten: weder von Einen noch vom Anderen!" (op. cit., p. 119)]. His interest lies elsewhere. Indeed, we have mentioned Barths comments on Genesis not because they have made a contribution to exegesis or to the genuine elucidation of the text, but merely because they are in the forefront of discussion at the present time.
In the works considered thus far there has been an emphasis upon the point of view that mythological elements are to be found in Genesis 1:2. In what manner, however, are we to interpret these supposed elements? Have we really arrived at a solution when we merely assert that the writer employed as much mythological material as suited his purpose but that he actually rejected its original significance? Is there not a better way of approaching the subject, one that is more truly Scriptural?
Moses and MythologyIf we come to the Bible with the supposition [Van Tillian-? - aal] that it is the trustworthy Word of God, we shall be inclined to take seriously what the Bible itself has to say about the entire account of creation. May it not be that God spoke to Adam concerning the creation and that Adam taught the revealed truth on this subject to his children? With the entrance of sin into the world the human race became divided. There was the line of Seth, the line of promise, and there was also the line of Cain. Among the Sethites the truth would have been handed down from generation to generation. The same would probably be true among the Cainites. Oral transmission, however, is no guarantee of accurate transmittal. Even among the promised line, there would be the danger of corruption unless the tradition was somehow preserved and protected. Even in the line of promise there was the danger that the truth might be perverted and in time even become unrecognizable. It was necessary that the truth concerning creation should be written down that the church might possess that truth in an uncorrupted form. The man whom God chose to perform this task was, we believe, Moses. But how did Moses learn the truth which he expressed in Genesis one? Obviously he could not have learned it first-hand. But there were other means of learning this truth. It may be that Moses had access to written documents which were at his disposal. It may also be that he was acquainted with oral tradition. If, however, we approach this question Scripturally we will be compelled to the conclusion that the author of Genesis one was a holy man who was borne by the Holy Spirit. That is to say, God, in his povidence, prepared by training and education the particular man whom he desired to write the first chapter of the Bible, and when that man set to the work of writing he was superintended by the Spirit of God with the result that what he wrote was what the Spirit of God desired him to write. If he did employ ancient documents he was protected and guided in his use of them so that he chose from them only what God desired him to employ. In this process of writing, he was no mere automaton, but a responsible writer. Although superintended by the Spirit, he used his own judgment and made a genuine choice and selection of material. The resultant writing, therefore, was Scripture, trustworthy Scripture, indeed, infallible Scripture. It is this answer to which we must come if we permit ourselves to be guided by what the Bible has to say concerning itself [Emphasis added - aal].
Indeed, it is only on the basis of the Christian theism presented in the Bible that the whole question of the authorship of Genesis one can have validity. If we reject the explicit testimony of the Bible to itself we are left to the free play of of our imagination. We may then toy with invalid and irrational ideas such as the one that is so widespread today. namely, that it is impossible to express creation in words but only in terms of myth. But in dallying with such thoughts we are removing ourselves from the truth.
The facts of creation, we have suggested, were probably handed down from father to son. And if among the promised line error may soon have been fused with truth before the truth was finally preserved through inscripturation, what may we say of the line of Cain? Certainly in this line error would have had free play. Superstition would soon have entered in and obscured the truth. This is the reason why among many peoples we find accounts of creation bearing some relation to what is recorded in Genesis one. Among the various nations and peoples of Earth the truth would indeed have been handed down, but it would have been a grossly garbled truth, one encrusted with layers of superstition. Hence, in almost all cosmogonies there are certain elements of truth itself, namely, the formal resemblances which these cosmogonies sustain to the contents of Genesis one.
How did Moses employ the material which was at his disposal? Did he find readily available mythological sources upon which he could draw as he desired? Let us consider this question more precisely with respect to Genesis 1:2. When he wished to make reference to the abyss, he employed the word <wht. Indeed, it is difficult to see what other word he could have used. At the same time, he may have been conscious that this word, at least in its sound, bore a resemblance to the name of the goddess of the Babylonian epic. He used the word, however, in such a way that it was free of any mythological connotations which it might have borne elsewhere in the ancient world. He made it serve to bring to the readers mind the great deep or ocean, and this he did in such a way as to exclude from the readers mind any thought of superstition or polytheism. In so employing the word, was Moses consciously rejecting mythology? Possibly so, but possibly he was not even thinking of mythology. He may have been merely employing the one word in the language which best expressed his thought, irrespective of whether that word might have had different connotations for other peoples. It is not difficult to ascertain what Moses meant by the word. His writing makes it clear that the <wht is not a goddess. Whatever connotations the word may have summoned before the minds of others, as Moses employs it in Genesis it indicates the abyss or the great ocean.
The same might be said for each of the words and phrases found in the verse. They are not necessarily demythologized words or phrases, but are clear-cut Hebrew words which express the positive thought that there was a time when man could not live upon the Earth. Other peoples and other nations may have used these same words, or at least words that were somewhat similar to them, for the purpose of expressing myths or grotesque cosmogonies. With Moses, however, these words have long since lost whatever such associations they might have had with the peoples of other nations. This is not to say that they represent Moses conscious rejection of mythology; it is merely to say that they were current in Hebrew and were suitable for Moses purposes.
We may compare our modern usage of the names of the days of the week. When we speak of Wednesday or Thursday, for example, we are not consciously rejecting an old mythology. We do not consciously think of Wodans day or Thors day. Whatever old mythological connotations may have once adhered to these words are long since forgotten. In the course of time mere habit and custom may have led to the inclusion of these words in the language. If, therefore, some two or three thousand years from now a historian should assert that the usage of these names of the days of the week in the English language represented our antipathy to mythology, he would be in error. It would not even be correct to assert that we knew the existence of the old Norse mythology and consciously rejected it, for many modern users of the names of the weekdays have no idea of the original meaning of those names.
May not the same have been true in the case of Moses? May he not have used the vocabulary that was at his disposal and was best adapted to express the truth he wished to set forth? We are not really warranted in speaking of Genesis 1:2 as a treasure house of mythological expressions any more than we are warranted in speaking of the names of the days of the week in English as a group of mythological expressions. What Moses has written does not reveal in any particularly clear manner a rejection of ancient mythology, but it does state what Moses wished it to state, namely, the condition in which this Earth existed until God uttered the command that light should spring into existence.
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This Page Last Updated: 12/25/98 A. Allison Lewis firstname.lastname@example.org