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In my last blog, How I Study Genesis, I discussed how I approach Genesis and the assumptions and expectations I have when I do so. But I have been asked what I get in a macro and micro level from it. So I thought I would bore you (or maybe frustrate you) with an answer to that question.
I think many today are down in the weeds when it comes to studying Genesis. And that comes across with the question that assumes both a macro and micro level of revelation from the text. While I do see limited benefit from verse by verse and word by word study, I think it often is more of a distraction than a help.
As I said in my prior blog, the creation accounts in Genesis is a brief introduction to a lengthy book that itself is an introduction to the Torah. It isn't that there is nothing to learn from it, but we can't expect the same level of detail we have from the chapters and chapters followed by more chapters of the encounter with God at Mt Sinai. So, for me, the macro view is probably going to be broader than most people would tend to put it in the circles that I discuss in.
For me, this isn't a case of precise and clear words building logical points in each verse. I see this communication of broad truths at a high level. Chapter 1 introduces us to God. Chapter 2 introduces us to the man that He made in His image and established a covenant relationship with. Chapters 3-4 tell us that we wrecked that. These stories are the building blocks for the information to come. And it is these broad theological truths that are authoritative and infallible, not necessarily the minute and precise cosmological and geographic elements within the stories.
To me, the details of Genesis 1 are like the details of the Good Samaritan story. The exact details are not the real point. The truth communicated with the story doesn't even depend on it being actual history. It really wouldn't change much if we found out that it was a parable or a modification to a common story of the day. Its purpose is not historical precision.
If I were forced to take it more minute than a chapter/story level, I would say that Chapter 1's big picture is about God, and the elements of the story are primarily about His provision and sovereignty. He is over all of creation, and the elements in the creation are there for man, not something that man is subject to. He is responsible for the air, sea, and land and all that is in them. In specific, He is responsible for all the kinds of animals and plants that a Jewish shepherd or farmer is familiar with.
A secondary theme is that of building a temple or place for Him to inhabit and dwell with man. This is what ties in with the overall theme of the Torah. Our supremely sovereign God created us and our world as a place where He could create a relationship with the people of Israel and their direct ancestors. He is special and they are special. He is faithful, they are not. But He is forgiving.
And it is this theme that really sets early Genesis apart from the beliefs of the other cultures around them. It is the new revelation that is given in the context of what people already believed or “knew”. Its purpose is not to teach that background context. And that background “everyone already knows that” stuff is not what the original audience would have been expecting. New teaching or new revelation might start with some basic summary stuff of a common shared foundational understanding, but then NEW stuff is built off of that. And that is why the earlier you get into the introduction of a book that itself if an introduction, the more broad of a summary kind of foundation it becomes. The further you get into the Torah, the more the point becomes the detail level stuff.
Unfortunately, our modern eyes tend to glaze over with the later level of detail (all those laws and such), and we tend to flip Genesis and the Torah on its head making the opening summary the climax of the story and the pinnacle of precise detail that can be studied down in the weeds at a verb tense and word root level for some spiritual truth. And, to me, that totally distorts the intent and context and distorts it into what WE want it to be, not what it was intended to meet the expectations of those it was original written to.
In short, I don’t think we can get infinitely deep in examining the details and trying to pull a lot of physical or historical information from it. In fact, when we TRY to do that, we get into all kinds of issues where the details, if expected to be taken at face value, reflect the cosmological beliefs of the day, not reality. So we are best by not even going there. If we say that THAT is what is being taught, it leads to serious issues.
So what I end up believing the text to be teaching is the broad-brush stuff that most of us would probably agree with. The Devil (and Ken Ham) are in the details of early Genesis, but that isn’t the point. It’s intent was to lay a broad foundation for further teaching and to do so in a way that differentiated the God of Israel and the People of Israel from anything around it.