BY AUSTIN HESS, Pastoral Intern for Oakwood Presbyterian
The Biblical Narrative: Creation
Pennsylvania was beginning to come out of its first rounds of lockdowns. I started biking regularly again. Saundra and I had adjusted to working from home together. One Monday morning, I heard the lovely beep of a fresh pot of coffee finishing its brew at 8:00 am on the dot. I punched in for the day and headed for the steps. I hit the first step, the second step, the … last step? The first thing I remember hearing was my wife saying, “Uh, I gotta go, I think my husband just fell down the steps.”
The pain was excruciating. She rushed me to the hospital and they whisked me away to a room to be processed. (I still hadn’t had my morning coffee yet). They then took X-rays of my foot. My nurse said she couldn’t see anything from the scan, but sent it for a second opinion. So we waited (and a friend who worked at the hospital brought me coffee... blessed is he).
Finally, the second opinion came back. I had broken my navicular bone. What’s that bone? Well, it’s the tiniest bone on top of your foot. Yet, it holds together all the tendons. There are also two blood vessels on it that supply all the blood for your foot. Professional soccer players regularly break this bone. But me…I broke it falling down the steps. (My nurse said she had only seen this break once, 13 years ago. I guess you can say I’m a professional?) So started months of physical therapy and recovery and there went my summer of biking.
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We all love a good story. And perhaps, that’s why we enjoy reading the Bible so much. It contains love stories, battle reports, biographies, testimonies, people calling bears from the forest to slay a bunch of kids who called him bald (it’s true—2 Kings 2:23-25).
However, the Bible is not just a collection of stories. It is held together by one ultimate story: God’s redemptive work to redeem His creation from sin. In this series, I would like to walk us through the three-part narrative of God’s redemptive work: creation, fall, and redemption1—and what it means for our study of God’s Word and our life together at Oakwood. We’ll begin in this post where the Bible begins: creation.
Most of us could open our Bibles and within seconds be at the creation account found in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. Being at the beginning of our Bibles,2 it tells us how all things came to be out of nothing, by the power of God’s Word, in the space of six days, and all very good (WSC 9). While it’s easy to gloss over these chapters because we’ve read them for the millionth time, these chapters provide the foundation for how we read the rest of Scripture. They aren’t meant to be read in isolation, but with the rest of Scripture.
Reading Creation in the Bible
Summary: In the beginning, there was nothing except the one God dwelling in three persons (Genesis 1:1, 2).3 They created all things in the space of six days (Genesis 1:3-31) and rested from their work on the seventh day (Genesis 2:1-3). However, on the sixth day, God created humanity, male and female—Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:26-31, Genesis 2:4-25). He charged them with their first command: they were to be garden keepers (Genesis 1:28). Now, when I say that, you may be thinking of people working hard weeding, planting flowers, and cultivating produce. But, that’s only part of the image. As we read in Genesis 1:26, 27, humanity reflected God in both their nature and their actions. That means Adam and Eve were supposed to cultivate the full potential of this garden—of creation—by exploring, researching, and creating. Finally, a constant refrain heard throughout this portion of Scripture is that “God saw that it was good.” God did not create junk, and He did not create anything in its fallen condition. At one point in time, all things were good.
Reading Creation: Genesis was written for the ancient Israelites, probably as they sojourned through the wilderness and began to inhabit their promised land. No doubt, as they encountered other pagan nations, they would have begun to hear of their religions and how their gods created them. One popular myth they would’ve heard would be the Enuma Elish. In this myth, sub-gods regularly fought each other for power and authority. Marduk challenged Tiamut who ruled over the sea, which represented violence. Marduk wins the battle, tears apart Tiamut, and the earth is made from her blood. Since Marduk was able to prove his superiority, he created humanity to serve Him and his leisure. Most ancient near-eastern origin stories recount a similar story.4 God, through Moses, wrote the true creation story—that He had made all things, not out of violence, but out of peace; not to assert dominance over other gods, because He was the true God; not for humanity to indulge Him, but to further His creative work. They needed this story to know who their God was, how they came to Him, and what they’re supposed to do in their new land.
Concerning the Fall. As we’ll get to in our next post, the fall radically distorted everything. Sin infected every part of God’s good creation, including us. Creation no longer flourished in the way God originally designed, but suffered under the weight of sin. The commands God originally gave Adam and Eve became even harder to keep. Things were simply no longer the way they were supposed to be. So much so, that God would send His Son thousands of years later to redeem all creation and His people from their sin and misery.
Reading History: As we read the rest of the Old Testament, we read of the people of God continually trying to inhabit their promised land—as their first parents were supposed to inhabit the Garden of Eden. At certain times, they were more successful in cultivating the resources of the Promised Land and following God’s law. At other times, the land vomited them out into exile for their sins and rebellion against God’s commands. Their new land was supposed to be their garden of Eden—and the temple provided that reminder. However, they continually fell for the same sins that ensnared Adam and Eve.
Reading Jesus: But then Jesus appears on the scene and, as we’ll discuss in our final post, He comes to right the wrongs of our sin and misery. He comes to begin to make real what Adam and Eve were supposed to do: establish God’s kingdom on this earth through the cultivation of what He has given them. Jesus is intimately concerned with restoring creation because He was there in the beginning and created all things (John 1:1-3). Therefore, one of the final commands that He gives to His disciples post-resurrection is what we call the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). The Great Commission further clarifies how God’s people are to carry out His original commands in the Cultural Mandate in Genesis 1:26-28. God’s people are to continue cultivating the potential of His creation, but in light of the redemptive work of Jesus, as they go out and proclaim this good news to all creation.
Reading Revelation: Finally, as we look to Revelation, we no longer see a garden. We no longer see a people struggling to inhabit a land and make it their home. Rather, we see God finalizing His reign on this earth and we will dwell in His city forever. We see the future of what creation was supposed to be headed towards before sin derailed these plans. We’re stuck in the middle—exiled from the Garden, but on a pilgrimage to the City. We’re carrying out the original commands, while also looking forward to the ultimate rest from our labors.
Applying Creation Together
We may have learned to use these beginning chapters of Genesis in an apologetic fashion—disproving evolutionists of their faulty evidence and worldview. Or perhaps, we’ve used these chapters as the foundational understanding of marriage. While both of these uses are legitimate, I want to propose a third purpose possible overriding purpose of these chapters: creating things.
The first act we read of God is Him creating something out of nothing. While the way we create is not identical to God (we cannot create something out of nothing), we mirror His creative ability (we create something out of something else). Practically, this looks like actually creating gardens or exercising dominion over animals through domestication or using them for farming. However, as we read in these chapters, it more broadly looks like cultivating the potential of others or things in our spheres of influence. For example, it could be writing that computer code that helps our company complete a major project or for a client. It could look like raising our children to know the Lord and guiding them through life. It could look like taking care of our physically or mentally handicapped children. It could look like gathering people together over a meal and enjoying fellowship or hunting to provide food for others. Teaching undergraduate or graduate students our discipline or supporting faculty in that endeavor. Adopting a pup from a rescue. It could be counseling someone through their grief and pain. Essentially, anything that furthers the goodness of God’s creation and helps His people and His creation flourish can be an application from these chapters.
Now, you may be asking, “But if the world is sinful and God is going to destroy it all in the last days, why bother?” While this is a common reaction, I think we’re one step ahead of where we should be. God created everything good. While sin has severely distorted all things and God will redeem all things, he will not start His creation over. Creation did not sin, we subjected it to sin. While it suffers from our act, Peter writes in 2 Peter 3:10 that “the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!” Without going into all the exegetical details of this passage, the imagery Peter is communicating is the idea of a precious metal being refined by fire. When you have gold, there are impurities mixed in with it. By superheating it, and turning it into liquid, the impure metals sink to the bottom, and the pure metal rises. Just so with creation—it will be so refined and purified that it will look similar to what God created, but also drastically different. As such, our cultural achievements will be carried into the new creation and refined by God to endure forever and be improved upon.
In this post, we explored the basics of the narrative structure of Scripture by specifically focusing on creation. We briefly explored how creation impacts our reading of the rest of Scripture and how it applies to our life together. In the next blog post, we will explore the disastrous impact the fall had, how it impacts our reading of Scripture, and our sin and misery.
Further Resources for Study, Reflection, and Application
- Bartholomew, Craig G., and Michael W. Goheen. The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014. A six-part explanation of the narrative of Scripture that goes into more detail about the biblical narrative.
- Nichols, Stephen J. Welcome to the Story: Reading, Loving, and Living God’s Word. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011. A brief 4 part introduction to the basic narrative of Scripture.
- Williams, Michael D. Far as the Curse Is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption. Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 2005. A detailed walkthrough of the narrative of Scripture was written by my former seminary professor of systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary.
- Wolters, Albert M. Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005. A companion volume to Bartholomew and Goheen where it helps construct a biblical worldview based on the biblical narrative and its implications.
1 There are different schemes you may have heard about. You may have heard of the creation, fall, redemption, and recreation (of consummation) framework. I’ll explain more of why I chose the three-part framework in the final post.
2 In fact, Genesis comes from the Greek γενεσις, which means origin.
3 Although too broad for this post, during this time the Father, the Son, and the Spirit decreed all of human history in what is called among Presbyterians and Reformed the covenant of redemption.
4 Gregory Perry, “Genesis,” CTS 100 Bible Content Overview (class lecture, Covenant Theological Seminary, Saint Louis, MO).