Origins in Ancient and Modern Societies

This post is a follow up to the earlier post concerning the creation debate between Nye and Ham. I mentioned in that post how I planned on posting something about the origins according to the Bible. In our modern society, we are perplexed by how things work. We have countless scientists, engineers, mathematicians, etc working on countless issues not only trying to tell us how things work, but how we can improve their performance. This “how” centered culture has influenced how Christians read their Bibles, particularly Genesis 1. However, we sometimes struggle to remember that Genesis 1 was not written in the “modern” period. The Bible originates from a vastly different world. It is to that world we now turn briefly.

Genesis is not the only literary document from the ancient world that sought to explain man’s existence. Genesis, like the other ancient Near Eastern texts, finds itself concerned with something different than our modern culture. Where today we read Genesis 1 like literal blueprints of exactly what God did each 24 hour day (in other words, “how” God created), Genesis is concerned with purpose (“why”). Genesis is not entirely unique when you understand the other creation accounts. This is not to say, however, the Bible is simply one more cosmology. Rather, while the big picture is shared (on some level), the details are markedly different. Genesis 1 speaks of one God who needed nothing to create. In the Enuma Elish, a dead goddess and her conspirator (Kingu) rebelled against other gods. When they were killed, their remains became the material from which the universe and mankind came.

That same document tells why man was created. Do you want to know why? To be the slaves of the gods. See, the gods were tired of doing physical labor. So, they made man. The Enuma Elish is not the only ancient Near Eastern document that describes man as a slave of the gods. This is quite different from the Bible. Not only is there one God (not a pantheon of gods) who is independently all-sufficient, but also man is created for the unique purpose of being God’s vice-regents. Think about this. What happens when certain people are viewed as less than human, as slaves? Think of the issues in our own country. Think of the Kulak class in Russia. Think of the Holocaust. Think of the US and the eugenics movement in early 20th century medicine. When people are viewed as less significant than others, the strong will take advantage, and even eliminate the lower class. Yet, what does the Bible emphatically teach at the outset? Man, because he is created in God’s very image, is intrinsically valuable. Man is worthy of life and respect because he is in the image of God.

Man was given a purpose. Man was to serve God by ruling God’s creation for his glory and the good of the created order. This is really, I think, what lies at the heart of the creation narrative. Genesis 1 is not so concerned with how the universe was made, and how long it took. Rather, it explains something we humans desperately want to know. Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? Genesis is about purpose. Purpose can only come from purpose-giver! Genesis 1 introduces you to the supreme God (the only God) who is sufficient for bringing the entire cosmos into being not by killing another god or goddess (because they don’t exist), but simply by speaking. This God doesn’t just create and let it go, but creates man to care for the earth as God’s vice-regent. Then, God doesn’t leave man, but fellowships with him. Wow!

The origins debate often forgets we must read texts in context. The context of the Bible is a world of different explanations of “why” we are here. The Bible gives the true account. We are here as God’s vice regents, to serve hi and his creation for his glory and the created world’s good. The origins debate sometimes misses the essential question of Scripture, “Why?”, and instead super imposes the modern “how.” To best read the Bible, readers need to enter the world (and worldview) of Scripture.

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