"Creation Texts" in Scripture: Guidelines and Findings
G. Gibbs, PhD
This study was written in response to a several discussions
at and between MEESC meetings concerning foundations of
creation found in Scripture. The following is the
beginning of a discussion looking at Creation Texts in Scripture.
There is a need to do more than just write ad hoc pieces
for lectionary texts. We do better to look at the
big picture, at least have in mind an outline of major creation
texts, and keep before us the major issues in biblical interpretation.
You are invited to join the discussion with reflections,
thoughts, and other concerns that this article may raise
in your spiritual and ecological journeys.
In my last interim ministry we had the custom of gathering
after the worship service for some discussion and "Q and
A" between pastor and people. At one of those events a very
determined lady insisted that all we need is the Bible.
She insisted that the link between her as individual reader
and the biblical text must be direct, immediate, and not
influenced by interpretation or theology.
She put to me the rhetorical question (to be answered in
the negative, her attitude insisted) why anybody (me in
particular) needed theologians, commentaries or scholars.
She was not open to my answer: "We need to hear what others
think about the biblical text, others inside the Church
and others outside the Church, because the Bible was not
given to you or to me or to any other individual alone.
The Bible arose within and for human experience, and was
(and is) given to the community of God's People, gathered
in synagogue and Church. It is not my book, nor your
book, but our book, the book of God's People."
(I did not get into issues of inspiration, which we had
discussed on another occasion.)
It is impossible, moreover, to read anything without in
that very act having started the process of interpretation.
Reading, even by that dear soul in her silent solitude,
is itself an act of interpretation. When laity read
scripture in worship services, their inflections or lack
thereof, their pauses and emphases or lack thereof, their
"body English," their careful attentiveness to the text
or lack thereof, any and all of these begin the interpreting
process before the homilist (preacher) starts the sermon.
As a consequence some ministers prefer to read for the congregation
the text from which they will preach.
There are many paths of interpretation, as the field of
"hermeneutics" attests [Greek verb hermeneuein means
"to interpret"]. As if that were not complicated enough,
in recent decades there has developed what many call "a
crisis of biblical authority." You get a glimpse of
vigorous hermeneutical discussions, for instance, in recent
issues of the journal Interpretation: A Journal of Bible
and Theology, which cope with that crisis and explore
options in interpretation. [See October
1990, "The Nature and Use of Scripture"; October
1998, "Living With Scripture"; October 2000, "Reading
the Bible Today"; January 2002, "Scripture and
Theology"; October 2002, "Teaching the Bible Today."
That journal is available at Union
Theological Seminary, 3401 Brook Road, Richmond, VA
To say the least, interpretation is the work not of any
one person but of a whole community, and indeed of many
communities. For many of us the primary context of
interpretation is the Church and the ancient Judaism from
which it arose. [A prominent example of
this view is Brevard S. Childs, Biblical Theology of
the Old and New Testaments: Theological Reflection on the
Christian Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993).]
It is not my purpose to survey that mountain of hermeneutical
material. Such surveys abound elsewhere. Instead,
I want to do two things. First, I outline in about
5 pages some of the most consequential guidelines that
have informed my writing for this website's "reflections"
on lectionary texts. Second, I list some findings
about major texts that, as it seems to us at MEESC, speak
directly about the creation and either directly or indirectly
about the relation of God's People (and all humanity)
to the material world around us (plants, animals, land,
air, water, the cosmic totality).
What follows is the personal statement of someone who has
been both participant and observer in communities of hermeneutical
inquiry for more than half a century in many different contexts:
on Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and secular campuses; in
this country, Canada, and Europe; both in local churches
and in national and international scholarly societies of
which I have been a member; in writings for audiences that
vary from readers of local newspapers to specialists who
peruse journals; in classrooms where I led studies of Latin,
interdisciplinary Humanities, theology, biblical studies
(both general and detailed), and continuing education courses
for pastors (both Protestant and Catholic).
There are limitations as well as strengths in that life
journey of interpretation. Valuable perspectives for reading
scripture may come from the business world, the military,
a third world context, advanced studies in economics or
diplomacy or psychology, work in science or one of the performing
arts or food production. I regard it a limitation that I
am not able to interpret in depth either the Bible or ecology
from such perspectives. My ignorance in these and other
matters could immobilize me were it not for others who will
continually, as they have in the past, share with me their
special knowledge and unique experience. [An
excellent statement of "the contemporary situation" in hermeneutics
is in Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament
(Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1997), pp. 61-114. After 9/11/01
and the reacting sea change that the Bush administration
has inaugurated, "the new political situation" within which
our interpretations proceed, and to which Brueggemann alludes,
is newer still.] The preceding discussion leads to
the first guideline that has helped my writing for you:
(1) First, any promising path of interpretation is a community
effort. My path cannot be solitary. I am not
in solitary confinement, and I have no need to read the
Bible as if I were. As a seminary professor said to me decades
ago, we begin where God's grace has placed us, which
is within the community of God's People. Furthermore,
others know more than I do in every area I have ever entered.
I feel the need to consult their expertise, and check my
findings against theirs.
You the reader are entitled, as a matter of my respect
for you, to more than my subjective impressions about what
a text says to us today. More valuable than that to you
is a report from me about what other authoritative voices
have said about the text in question. These voices
come from both inside and outside the Church. Though
the Church does not have the only "say" about meaning, I
feel obligated to consult what others within the Church
(one holy catholic and apostolic) have concluded about what
a text has meant to them. Frequently Church interpreters
have followed the principle that "scripture is its own interpreter,"
which emphasizes the unity in the Bible's message,
and which inquires whether some other biblical text(s) help(s)
us to understand the text in question.
Additional to the Church, there are other communities of
interpretation (such as classical studies, linguistics,
or archaeology) that often shed light on biblical texts.
For example, if there is extra-canonical evidence (outside
the Bible) that sheds light on how a biblical text functioned
within its document, or further light from synchronous non-biblical
texts on what an expression in a biblical text meant, then
such objective information would help us to see some of
the possibilities of meaning that are given to us by the
To be sure, some experts in interpretation emphasize "reader
response" (Edgar McKnight), the history of a text's
"effects" on new meanings in new situations (Ulrich Luz),
and other factors in interpretation that raise questions
whether meaning exists within, or is "given by", the text.
Before we move a bit in their direction, there is a second
(2) Second, the text as a literary document has its own
reality, its own character, which remains "out there" after
I have read and interpreted it. That text in all its
specificity will still exist after my death for the next
generations of readers to explore. I take seriously
that the text (as best we have it by careful reconstruction
from the various ancient manuscripts that still exist) has
the words it has, and no others, the grammar (or lack thereof)
that it has, the literary context in which it was placed
(whether by the document's author or by some later
"interpolator"), the historical situation out of which it
arose and/or to which it spoke (including the social character
of any community that likely was its audience), and any
other characteristics that have shaped the text as text.
On the other hand, I have heard a presbytery executive
pontificate heatedly that he would not support any historical/literary
interpretation of scripture that upset a congregation.
Many others have reacted against the best efforts of literary
critics, linguists, historians and other scholars to sleuth
out what the particulars of a text could contribute to our
common life in both Church and State. This reaction has
been, in the judgment of others of us, overdone. It
is difficult to see what authoritative message the Bible
as a whole, or any biblical text in particular, can have
for Church or society if it has no distinctive character
and no unchangeable components (words, grammar, context,
etc.). Consequently my interpretation tries to attend to
the text as it stands (its words, context, grammar, social
situation, and the like). I approach the text with both
microscope and telescope, both atomisticly (through detailed
exegesis) and synthetically (theologically and, if appropriate,
Though the matter deserves a separate discussion, the nature
of the Bible is part of the reality of any given biblical
text. But what is its nature, how do we sort out the
different theologies within it, yet discover "canonical"
unity within its disparate materials that emanated across
a millennium? How does a given text function within
its document, and how does that document function within
the whole Bible? Such issues are "in the air," and
do not settle into conclusions of mathematical precision.
Suffice it for now that I refer to the distinction, as in
Karl Barth's thought, between the living Word (Jesus
Christ), the written Word (Scripture), and the preached
Word (which presupposes the first two). Proclaimed
words look through that written Word to find the living
Word, and the latter is the basis of our faith. Scripture
does not contain God. It points toward God.
Further, scripture is seminal in that it does not end discussions
so much as initiate them.
(3) Third, interpretation is a process of interaction between
reader(s) and text. The historical-critical method,
indispensable as it is, has its limitations. What I see
in the text depends heavily on two factors: not only the
literary "givens" in the text, but also such factors in
my background as my being a 21st
Century North American male person who was born in 1930
in North Carolina within the so-called "Southern" Presbyterian
Church. The influence of the observer on the observed
appears here no less than in philosophy of science. [T.
S. Kuhn, Carl G. Hempel, and Michael Polanyi explore this
"Meaning" arises from dynamic interaction between the text
and the communities and cultures to which I belong.
Meaning does not arrive hermetically sealed within the text,
for it depends in part on the lenses we use in reading.
One ineluctable lens is provided by our social and economic
location. Whether we are indigenous or immigrant,
rich or poor colors our reading. Another lens that
we cannot escape comes in our psychological "make-up" or
"Gestalt." Such lenses remain, no matter how skilled
we may become in literary criticism, form criticism, redaction
criticism, and the like. Accordingly, it is my job
as a communicator, whether by writing or speaking, to encourage
open attitudes of receptivity and joyful exploration as
well as critically perceptive discernment.
Occasionally a community unequipped with tools of literary
investigation nonetheless has attitudes of receptivity and
openness that "pay off" with valuable insights. "Base
communities" in Latin and Central America, for instance,
may have "third world" perspectives (from the economic bottom)
that open "first world" eyes to discover both "liberation
theology" within biblical texts, and the blinders that wealth
and power impose. Socio-economic location here
occasions "the preferential option" of the poor, dispossessed,
and marginalized to perceive in the text what we had failed
"Reading scripture is a difficult art that requires imagination."
A group of 15 scholars and pastors, convened over a period
of four years (1998-2002) at the Center of Theological Inquiry
in Princeton, N.J., so concluded. Their "nine theses
[and questions] on interpreting scripture" describe that
difficult art and the imagination that forms it. [Ellen
F. Davis and Richard B. Hays, "Beyond criticism: Learning
to read the Bible again," Christian Century 121 #8
(April 20, 2004), 23-27. Cf. their The Art of Reading
Scripture (Eerdmans, 2004.]
(4) Fourth, biblical interpretation is a spiritual undertaking,
and it is that (so to speak) "in, with, and under" our mental
activities. If I am not spiritually prepared to perceive
what a text may offer, then I cannot do so. The more
spiritual preparation we have, the more we can receive;
and the less prepared we are, even less can we receive:
"Then pay attention how you listen," said Jesus after he
gave the parable of the sower (Luke 8:18 NRSV), "for to
those who have, more will be given; and from those who do
not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away."
[Powerfully speaking to this point is Walter
Brueggemann, Interpretation and Obedience: From Faithful
Reading to Faithful Living (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991).]
Jesus' parables make sense (the kind he means, anyway)
only to those who "have ears to hear" or eyes to "perceive"
(Mark 4:9, 12), and who are privy to "the secret of the
kingdom of God" (Mark 4:11). That's a tall order,
and it begins with me in my effort to comprehend and convey
what meanings may arise between a text and those readers
of the text for whom I write about those meanings.
However tall that order is, there remains this reality for
faith: the same Spirit who was there at the Creation, at
Jesus' baptism (and yours and mine), and who was there with
the writers of biblical texts, remains alive and well among
us who read those texts within communities of the Spirit.
However varied our backgrounds and spiritual conditioning,
the one Spirit offers to interpreters some continuity in
the origin, transmission, reception, and reading of biblical
texts, and within the "canon' as a whole.
Interpretation that is led by the Spirit takes place within
the Church, but not exclusively so, for the Spirit like
the wind "blows where it chooses" (John 3:8; Greek word
pneuma meaning both wind and spirit). The presence of the
Spirit, though often hidden, enables us to keep hope alive
within a culture that is in spiritual crisis. The battle
against terrorist tactics claims front and center attention
of peoples the world over. Our preoccupation with
terrible instantaneous acts of destruction has set aside
ecological issues, care for the creation, even care for
human health. That preoccupation has been capitalized
upon by those who have planned and enacted a sea change
in American life, thereby causing consternation and anxiety
with ripple effects around the globe.
Nevertheless, in the midst of all this, Creator Spirit
aims toward "new creation" and the cosmic transformation
that brings renewal and fresh start to all persons, human
communities, and ecological communities (Romans 8:18ff.).
An interpreter is obligated to try to discern what this
ubiquitous Spirit says to the churches in this age of anxiety
and denial, and then the community to whom the interpreter
speaks or writes will continue the discernment and respond
as effectively as they can.
(5) Fifth, before I turn toward some of our findings about
"creation in Scripture," it is apropos in this context to
make the following two caveats: first, about "eisegesis"
(reading one's own wants and views into the text), and second,
about rigidity (whether theological or cultural).
Certainly we will gain nothing by forcing the evidence,
by "eisegeting," or by reading into biblical texts a reference
to creation or to environmental ethics that is clearly not
present in the text. Nobody would be persuaded by
such a procedure, and the cause of environmental ethics
would not be well served. "Spam" is no more welcome here
than in our email. When I first heard about MEESC's effort
to write ecologically relevant comments on the whole Episcopal
Lectionary (all 3 "cycles"), I had great concern about how
that could rightly be done. Would we always be careful
not to impose "our" message on the lectionary?
On the other hand, the Creator and creation and the relation
of God's People to both are prominent motifs in biblical
literature. If personal testimony may be permitted,
my quest to recover within biblical literature both creation
and the relation of humanity to it began long before ecology
and environmental ethics became a popular theme. Study
of christological bases of Christian anthropology, as Karl
Barth had disclosed them (Church Dogmatics III/2
especially), had already by 1955-58 begun to open up for
me the integral link between creation and redemption, the
latter being a theme that I recovered in the Pauline writings
in a dissertation that became a monograph published in 1971
by E. J. Brill in Leiden, the Netherlands.
It is clear to me, as a consequence, that there are abundant
resources within the scriptures of Judaism and Christianity
for developing not only environmental ethics but also the
more complicated details of "eco-justice." That clarity
has been strongly supported by the findings of others in
biblical and theological circles, but also in other fields.
For example, without yet having seen Lynn White, Jr's charge
that the historical roots of our ecological crisis are to
be found in Judaism and Christianity, a historian of ideas
at the University of California in Berkeley, namely Clarence
J. Glacken, found contrary evidence. Glacken devotes
a chapter to "God, Man, and Nature in Judeo-Christian Theology"
(pp. 150-68), he appreciates St. Francis' emphasis on "communion
with nature" (p. 214), and he finds in Jewish and Christian
theology as well as elsewhere a concept ("teleology") which
was and is an indispensable source for the development of
ecology. Stated another way, he finds in teleology
the effort to "create a holistic concept of nature" on the
basis of "a designed earth" that has "a unity which was
the achievement of an artisan-creator" (p. 707).
[Glacken, Traces on the Rhodian Shore: Nature and Culture in
Western Thought from Ancient Times to the End of the Eighteenth
Century (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press,
1973 reprint of 1967); and White, "The Historical Roots
of Our Ecological Crisis," Science, vol. 135, pp.
1203-07 (March 10, 1967]
It is precisely because I do not want to read ecological
concerns into biblical texts that I use the tools of historical
and literary research, and keep aware of the sorts of guidelines
outlined above. Whether any comment on the lectionary
texts has been faithful, fair, and accurate to the text
remains for others to assess.
(6) Sixth, interpretation requires openness to new discovery,
the unexpected, even "the strange new world of the Bible"
(K. Barth). Rigidity (a fundamental spiritual malaise),
on the other hand, has in our culture often prevented persons
and church bodies from affirming environmental stewardship
as an indispensable part of biblical ethics. Some
of that rigidity has been rooted in theological presuppositions,
and some in cultural conditioning.
In March 1968, for example,
The Scottish Journal of Theology published my article
that surveyed persistent theological tendencies to set creation
over against redemption, or to subordinate creation to redemption.
Notice that the article was a theological exercise to recover
what theology and the Bible say about creation and the relation
of God's People to the creation. I did not write it to boost
the cause of ecology, for ecology was hardly yet on the
public scene, except for Rachel Carson's 1962 book Silent
Those theological tendencies
still influence how some readers interpret "creation texts."
For one thing, there has been so much emphasis on individual
justification by faith that in many circles the social structures
of human life have been neglected, and even more so have
the bonds between God, the material world, and humanity
been neglected. That is more the situation in the Western
Church (Protestant especially, but also to some extent Catholic)
than in either the Eastern Orthodox Church, which has always
maintained a cosmic perspective on Christ's work, or Judaism,
which has rich ecological awareness. [On
the latter, for instance, see Rabbi Hayim G. Perelmuter,
"'Do Not Destroy'#150Ecology in the Fabric of Judaism,"
in Fragomeni and Pawlikowski (Eds.), The Ecological Challenge:
Ethical, Liturgical, and Spiritual Responses (Collegeville,
MN: A Michael Glazier Book published by The Liturgical Press,
1994), pp. 129-38.]
Cultural conditioning is the source of other resistances
to environmental stewardship. For instance, some have
driven a wedge between ecology and economy.
["The Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship"
is an example of that rightwing reaction to ecological consciousness
within the Church.] The contention is that solutions
to pollution imperil the wages of workers as well as corporate
profits. The cost of conservation, say these "conservatives,"
is too high for the economy to bear! Near-term capital
formation trumps the creation's future existence.
They contend further that, in any case, science is unclear
about whether global warming (or climate change) is actually
occurring; or, if it is happening, then whether the causes
are significantly human remains, they say, unproven.
The extensive scientific consensus that the globe has been
heated by human activity is thereby swept aside. Many
folks in our churches have been influenced by such ideologically
driven claims that abound in the popular press. Under
that influence they are highly resistant to reports about
the presence of environmental or ecological ethics within
the Bible, and even more resistant to recent attempts to
recover and to expand upon ecological theology. But
reports we have, some findings we offer, and to those we
now turn in brief outline.
The seeds and roots, even the concepts and practices, of
ecological consciousness and eco-justice are abundantly
present within the scriptures of both Judaism and Christianity.
That conclusion is supported by direct, explicit statements
including: vocabulary for the world and all that is in it,
creation sagas, God's covenant with creation, worship of
God the Creator, affirmations of faith in Christ as Mediator
of Creation, Christological hymns, Jesus' baptism as not
only a Trinitarian but also a cosmic event. Other
texts, some of which lack explicit reference to the creation,
contribute to both eco-justice and environmental ethics
as they describe the kind of humanity that "images" God
and thereby becomes safe for the world.
Vocabulary for the Creator,
the creation, and the various creatures is extensive in
biblical literature. Concordances summarize the occurrences
of these words. The concrete earthiness of the Bible as
a whole, and of individual "books" within it, stands out
clearly in such words. Frequently the careful reader will
also find that the context of these words points to the
interconnections between God, humanity, and creation. Adam
(human being) formed out of adamah (ground, soil),
trees, waters, springs, green pastures, clouds, rainbows,
mists, plains, mountains, evenings, mornings, earth, seas,
birds, fish, cattle, wild animals, creeping things, seed,
fruit, herbs, gardens, deserts, fig leaves, thorns, thistles,
flocks, sheep, oxen, camels, donkeys, floods, olive branches,
ravens, doves, blood, flesh on and on such words
Careful attention to "creation vocabulary" may yield surprising
results. Take the word "mountain," for example, and
observe how mountains are related to humans and to God.
Several scholars have made studies of mountains in biblical
literature. The word har (usual word for mountain)
occurs 520 times in the Hebrew scripture, reports one researcher.
Terence Donaldson studied mountain topography in Matthew,
all the way from the mount of temptation to the mountain
of the Great Commission, with 4 mountains in between (Jesus
on the Mountain: A study in Matthean Theology; Sheffield,
England: JSOT Press, 1985). These mountain stories provide
order to Matthew's gospel, as this scholar sees it.
They show Jesus taking people to the geographical edge and
to hostile landscapes where they can better see the limits
to old ways of living, and there be invited through hope
across the edge into new "territory." [See
Belden C. Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring
Desert and Mountain Spirituality (New York and Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 45 and throughout.]
Some of us still today relate to mountain and desert wildernesses
in the same way, finding in a "geography of abandonment"
sources of spiritual insight into the big questions "how
much can you give up?," and "how much can you love?" (Lane,
(2) Second, two creation sagas and a story of covenant
with creation meet us at the start of Genesis, the book
of "origins." Both sagas differ from literal
accounts or on-site reports, and display their "prehistorical"
or mythic character. (Myth is pictographic or narrative
truth, not misrepresentation of reality.). These sagas,
and all first eleven chapters of Genesis, describe the creation
as being valued by God the Creator quite apart from its
usefulness for humanity. The covenantal relation that
the Creator initiated with the creation is the central point.
[A covenant, unlike a contract, is not between
two sovereign parties.]
That covenantal relation is especially clear in the short
story about the covenant with Noah which is no less a covenant
"with every living creature that is with you, the birds,
the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with
you" (9:8ff). The earth and all flesh, which at creation
were deemed "good," receive covenant as guarantee of God's
faithfulness even though humanity has become faithless:
"I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall
all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never
again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth" (9:11).
God's "bow in the clouds" is "a sign of the covenant between
me and the earth" (9:13).
If a hunter's bow is hung up at rest on the wall, then
he is no longer intent on death. God's bow being hung
up at rest on clouds that are departing with their "arrows"
(lightning) is a sign that the wrathful drive toward death
has ended. Life is now affirmed: "As long as the earth
endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and
winter, day and night, shall not cease" (8:22). God's
"never again" to the flood of chaos and death, and his promise
of life and peace to the creation, are reflected in prophetic
writings, as we shall see. For instance, Isaiah
54:9-10 contrasts the "never again" of "the waters of Noah"
with "my covenant of peace" that is guaranteed by God's
But let us return to the two
creation sagas. Preconditioning of the interpreter, but
not the stories themselves, has led some readers to search
for contrasts between scientific findings and these creation
stories, also some readers to insist on literalism (as in
the 7 literal 24-hour "days"). But the ancients were more
sophisticated than to restrict all their thinking and writing
to literal expressions. Further, no scientist writes in
the way that these Genesis texts were written. To compare
such different writings as saga and scientific treatise
is worse than comparing apples and oranges. "It is more
like trying to compare oranges and orangutans." [Conrad
Hyers, The Meaning of
Creation: Genesis and Modern Science; Atlanta: John
Knox, 1984, p. 31. I recommend this book.]
Genesis is theological writing, not scientific. A necessary
unavoidable conflict between evolution and creation is consequently
not in the cards. The creation stories are about the Creator's
dealings with the cosmic totality, humanity included, but
without becoming anthropocentric. As H. Paul Santmire has
commented, Genesis 1 and 2 "need to be read, not simply
within the personal context of our salvation, but within
a universal context that encompasses the 'last things'
and 'all things.'" ["The Genesis
Creation Narratives Revisited: Themes for a Global Age,"
in Interpretation 45/4 (October 1991), p. 366.
He also offers on the basis of these texts some quite useful
guidelines for theological reflection about "global issues
of justice and environment."]
A second issue in these sagas is humanity's "dominion"
over other creatures. That dominion is itself a creature's
work, a work that entails special responsibility (not privilege)
and accountability to the Creator. The word "dominion" belongs
in this saga to the writer's thought-world, not to our culture's
preconditioning definition of dominion. Just as there
is no tyranny, for instance, in God's "dominion" as the
Shepherd King (see Ezekiel 34), so likewise there is no
tyranny allowed to humanity who was created to respect and
maintain the sovereign order that God brings to all creation.
Humanity is also created, according to this story, in "the
image" of God, but tyrannical rule cannot image the God
whose dominion nurtures nature with "my covenant of peace."
It is not "in the image of God" to murder (Gen. 9:6), nor
was Seth called to violence against his father Adam, in
whose image and likeness he was born (Gen. 5:3). Only
when humanity images God may they have dominion in ways
that do not destroy the creation. [The
relation between image and dominion is consequential: "since
man is in the image of God, let him have dominion," as James
Barr comments (p. 61): "Man and Nature: The Ecological Controversy
and the Old Testament," in David and Eileen Spring (eds.),
Ecology and Religion in History (Harper Torchbook,
1974), pp. 48-75.]
These creation sagas and story,
in the fourth place, take evil quite seriously, though they
do not explain its origin or nature. But evil lurks there
repeatedly: in the destructive "never again" that God left
behind, in the chaotic "face of the deep" that preceded
God's creative act (Gen. 1:2); also in the death that God
did not want to befall humanity (Adam, Gen. 2:17), the loneliness
that is "not good" for "the man" (Gen. 2:18), and the shame
that guilt would bring (Gen. 2:25); further in the second
creation saga's sequel (Gen. 2:4b-4:26) which portrays multiple
alienations developing when humanity does not reflect the
character of God (alienations between Adam and Eve, between
them and the material world, between them and God, between
the two brothers Cain and Abel). [The "counter-creation
force" that puts "creation in jeopardy" is a theme in Brueggemann,
Theology of the Old Testament (1997), pp. 534-43.
Holocaust and terrorism continue that chaotic effort to
concordance in MEESC's
website, locates my comments on the first creation story
and on Genesis 9:8ff. I recommend especially Walter Brueggemann's
book on Genesis in the Interpretation commentary
series (Atlanta: John Knox, 1982). If you have interest
in comparative religions, you might consult the collections
of texts by Mircea Eliade, Gods, Goddesses, and Myths
of Creation (Harper & Row, 1974.]
(3) Third, worship attests interconnections between
the Creator and the creation including humanity. The
Psalter, first hymnbook of God's People, emphasizes
the bonds between God, world, and humanity. Its 5 sections,
corresponding to the 5 books of the Pentateuch, all conclude
with acclamation to "the Lord" over creation and covenant
community alike (Psalm 41:13; 72:18-20; 89:52; 106:48; 150:1-6,
the latter concluding the Psalter). "Praise God in
his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament" (Ps.
To praise God whether in the sanctuary or under the stars
is to acclaim the Creator of both cosmos and humanity.
"The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament
proclaims his handiwork" (Ps. 19). "When I look at
your heavens..., what are human beings that you are
mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet
you have made them a little lower than God..." (Ps.
8:3-5). The "dominion" of humanity "over the works
of your hands" (Ps. 8:6) is put again, as in the Priestly
first creation story of Genesis, at the service of the "Lord,
our Sovereign" (8:9). Dominion, both God's and ours,
carries no connotation of arbitrary recklessness.
Though humanity images God, we humans are not "like God"
(Genesis 3), for we "know that the Lord is God. It
is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and
the sheep of his pasture" (Ps. 100:3). Psalm 136 gives thanks
to the Lord, "for his steadfast love endures forever," a
statement that is repeated 26 times by the congregation.
During all the tumult of international relations, the tottering
of great empires at the edge of the abyss, and desolations
on the earth, nonetheless "the Lord of hosts is with us."
"Be still," therefore, "and know that I am God! I am exalted
among the nations, I am exalted in the earth" (Ps. 46, the
inspiration for Luther's "Mighty Fortress").
The Royal Psalms (2, 18, 20, 21, 45, 61, 72, 89, 90, 132),
so named for their usefulness at coronations or royal weddings,
look forward to an ideal future king whose universal dominion
would echo or mirror the universality of God's ordering
rule. An important motif in these psalms declares
that God's faithful sovereignty over the creation evidences
how constant is God's covenant faithfulness to the people
of David: "The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours;
The north and the south#150you created them; ...Happy
are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O Lord,
in the light of your countenance" (89:11-15).
As in the first creation saga of Genesis, according to
which the creation of order displaced a dark formless chaos,
so in Psalm 74:12ff the act of creation holds in check
the mysterious uncreated powers of chaos. The creation
excludes, and does not include, chaotic forces of evil.
That construal leaves unexplained the origin of evil, and
the whole Bible nowhere explains the mystery of evil.
Though never explained, evil's actuality is never denied.
References to Leviathan, Tiamat, 666, Satan, the Accuser,
the Beast, and many more symbols abound, leaving no doubt
about the persistence and threat to creation that characterize
Nevertheless, the two hope-filled creation sagas and hymns
of praise to the Creator focus on God's will and works in
the world. Praise of the Creator rejects both speculation
about the origin of evil and phenomenology of the creatures.
At the end of the Bible this praise, sustained by Israel
and Church, will bring us into the presence of "a new heaven
and a new earth" (Rev. 21:1) already hoped for by II Isaiah
(65:17ff). There is continuity between creation and
new creation, between beginning and end, between creation
and redemption. God's purpose of salvation for people is
matched by "salvation in the earth" (Ps. 74:12ff; cf. also
Psalms 47, 91, 93-99).
Psalm 104, a hymn to Creator God, "is perhaps the fullest
rendition of creation faith in the Old Testament."
[Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament (1997), p. 155]
The creation of the heavens (vv. 2-4) and the earth (vv.
5-9) is followed by God's care for the earth and all its
inhabitants, human and animal alike (vv. 10-18), all that
while the months and days continue under God's direction
(vv. 19-23) and all living beings continually depend from
day to day on their Creator (vv. 24-30). "May my meditation
be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord" (v. 34).
The psalm concludes with the prayerful hope that all creation
will be returned to its primeval state before any evil came
into it (v. 35).
Creation is, as Karl Barth
formulated it, "the external basis of the covenant" ["äusserer
Grund des Bundes," in Die Kirchliche Dogmatik III/1
(Die Lehre von der Schöpfung), p. 103; Zollikon-Zuerich:
Evangelischer Verlag AG, 1947]. "The history of this
covenant is just as much the goal of the creation as the
creation itself is the beginning of this history." [Ibid.,
p. 44, my translation since I do not have the published
English translation. Brevard Childs, Biblical Theology...,
p. 386 thinks that Barth's "formulation...is certainly to
be sustained." The lectionary concordance at the MEESC
website, will direct you to my brief comments on Psalms
8, 23, 29, 33, 37:1-18, 66, 68:1-20, 78, 78, 95, 96, 111,
118:19-29, 148, 150.]
(4) Fourth, creation traditions figure prominently in prophetic
literature, most of all in Second Isaiah [Isaiah
is in two parts (Chs. 1-39, and 40-66) written by different
authors in and for separate situations.] God
is not only the source of all knowledge and wisdom (Is.
10:13f; cf. Job 38-39, Prov. 8:22-31), according to this
prophet's tradition, but also the Creator of the waters,
the heavens, the dust of the earth, the mountains, and hills
(Is. 10:12). Concerning the God of Israel II Isiaiah
proclaims: "Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends
of the earth" (Is. 40:28).
Idolatry has no basis in reality, for the Lord of Israel
is the Creator of heaven and earth (Is. 45:9-23).
When this Lord created the universe "he did not create it
a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!" (45:18).
Not chaos, but community; not falsehood but "truth," not
unrighteousness but "right" (45:19), are what the Lord continually
God's creative work did not stop. It continues from
the start of it all on through today into the new creation.
[Reynolds Price, Three Gospels (NYC:
Simon & Schuster, 1996), p. 135, begins the Fourth Gospel:
"At the start was the Word."] God the Creator today
uses water and plants to help "the poor and needy,"
thereby enacting justice "so that all may see and know...that
the Holy One of Israel has created it" (Is. 41:17-20).
That kind of justice is eco- justice, as will soon be evident
Whether Israel came to faith in the Creator after first
knowing God as her Redeemer, as many claim, in any case
for II Isaiah no less than for the Priestly author(s) of
Genesis 1, the work of creation is not a dispensable afterthought
of redemption, but rather an expression of God's grace from
the outset. "Do not fear," he says to the barren widow
(Israel), "for your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts
is his name; the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the
God of the whole earth he is called" (Is. 54:4f).
The One who "laid the foundation of the earth" and "spread
out the heavens" is who "your Redeemer, the Holy One of
Israel" is (Is. 48:13, 17).
The mountains where God's kind of "peace" (Shalom) is announced
will now "Listen!" for the victorious return of God to Zion
which "all the ends of the earth shall see" (52:7-10).
When the disfigured and tortured Suffering Servant is exalted
by God immediately after that return, there can be no doubt
what is the pattern and paradigm of our life together in
both creation and community. [See
the 4 Servant songs in II Isaiah: 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-11;
52:13-53:12.] Lest anyone doubt this, look at the
kind of fasting God requires:
It is not the faux "fasting" that serves one's own interest
and oppresses "all your workers." "Such fasting as
you do today will not make your voice heard on high" (Is.
58:3f). "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose
the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free...? Is it not to
share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless
poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them...?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, [and] the
glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you
shall call, and the Lord will answer" (58:6-9).
When God's justice comes into our society, and God's freedom
spreads out into human community, there are consequences
also for the whole creation. When "the spirit from
on high is poured out on us," said the First Isaiah, then
the creation also receives blessing as the wilderness becomes
a fruitful field or a forest. "Then justice will dwell
in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful
field," and that will be the "peace" (Is.32:15-17) of restoration
to healthful wholeness. Humanity's peace is diminished,
then, when wilderness and field are robbed of God's justice
and righteousness. That concept is prominent in today's
sensibility of eco-justice.
Restoration and salvation, far from being individualistic
concepts, are for II Isaiah filled with social and ecological
meaning (as emphasized in chapters 60-62). "For as
the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes
what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause
righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations"
(61:11). When salvation comes to Israel, then: "They
shall be called, 'The Holy People, the Redeemed of
the Lord,' and you shall be called 'Sought Out, A
City Not Forsaken'" (62:12).
(5) A fifth set of "creation texts" exists in Wisdom
literature, the theology of which had wide influence
on both early and later levels of the Old Testament. [See
Brevard Childs, Biblical Theology..., p. 116.]
God's creative intention is carried out by the wisdom of
skillful action that brings into being the cosmic totality.
The Hebrew word hochma is translated in the Septuagint
(Greek translation of Hebrew Scripture) by the Greek word
sophia, both expressing sagacity and the skill to
bring into practical reality what is thought. (The famous
"Re-imagining" conference of some years ago made much of
the feminine noun Sophia as an expression of the
feminine side of God.)
Wisdom as Mediator of creation
figures prominently within the Hebrew Scripture at Proverbs
8:22-31 and implicitly in Job 28 and 38-41, and in both
the Wisdom of Solomon and Ecclesiasticus (= Wisdom of Jesus
Son of Sirach) within the Apocrypha. In Proverbs 1, 8, and
9 Wisdom appears as a personified instructor who wants to
bring life to a young man (8:35), thereby saving him from
an alluring prostitute (7:10ff) who brings death. But from
where did this Wisdom come? "The Lord created me at the
beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning
of the earth" (8:22-23). Before the mountains, before the
hills, before the heavens "I was there, when he [the Lord
God] drew a circle on the face of the deep, ... when he
marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside
him, like a master worker, ... rejoicing in his inhabited
world and delighting in the human race" (8:27, 29-31).
Clearly, then, the wisdom of human piety (not the wisdom
of the wise, as in I Cor. 1:19 and Is. 29:14) draws from
that creative (and nearly personified) Wisdom of God which,
like a skilled carpenter at the service of the divine architect,
sees quickly what must be done and how, then carries out
the Architect's creative plan.
Job 28 does not see Wisdom as Mediator of creation, but
it does hymn the inaccessibility of wisdom. We find
silver, gold, precious stones, iron, and copper by digging
down into the earth through our mines. But we cannot
find Wisdom: "Mortals do not know the way to it, and it
is not found in the land of the living. The deep says,
'It is not in me,' and the sea says, 'It is
not with me'" (28:13-14). God alone knows the way
to transcendent Wisdom, so God says to humanity about accessible
immanent wisdom: "Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom;
and to depart from evil is understanding" (28:28).
After 3 cycles of debates between Job and his three friends
(3-27, 29-37), during which the mystery of suffering overwhelms
any attempts at theodicy, there then comes the response
of God the Lord. That response consists of 3 chapters
of questions hurled at Job one after the other (38-41).
One gets the impression that the Lord had not been listening,
for when "the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind" the
response begins at the far edges of the creation, and shows
no signs of pastoral care. "Who is this that darkens
counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins
like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to
me" (38:1-3). Then come the questions fast as a machine
"Where were you when I laid
the foundation of the earth? ...Have you entered into the
springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Where is the way into the dwelling of light, and where is
the place of darkness? ...Have you entered into the storehouses
of the snow? ... Has the rain a father, or who has begotten
the drops of dew? ... Do you know when the mountain goats
give birth? ... Do you give the horse its might? Do you
clothe its neck with mane? ... Is it by your wisdom that
the hawk soars, and spreads its wings toward the south?
... Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? ...Will
you even put me in the wrong? ... Can you draw out Leviathan
[that sea-monster of chaos] with a fishhook?" At that Job
answers: "I have uttered what I did not understand, things
too wonderful for me, which I did not know" (42:3).
The grandeur of God's creative power does, after all, have
a pastoral purpose. It is the only response to suffering
that can and does make a difference when people really suffer.
When at night we are in perplexity on a darkened lake and
can find no way to reach home, we have to hope for a distant
light by which to guide our way. Distance is what
God offers, saving distance, the distance of all creation
laid out before us to guide us as does the North Star.
Only from that distance can we take readings of our own
location in reference to reality and the Creator of it all.
The Wisdom of Solomon, which presents Jewish learning
as superior to Greek philosophy, uses in the service of
Jewish piety the technical terms of Platonic thought about
the creation. The relation of a person to Wisdom (again
being God's Wisdom) is like that of a lover to his beloved:
"I loved her and sought her from my youth, I desired to
take her for my bride, and became enamored of her beauty"
(8:2). "Wisdom, the active cause of all things," is
richer than all riches. Nothing is more practically
"effective" than Lady Wisdom, the "fashioner of what exists"
Just as Wisdom was God's helpmate in creating the cosmic
totality, so Wisdom is now humanity's helpmate in exercising
dominion: "Wisdom protected the first-formed father
of the world, when he alone had been created; she delivered
him from his transgression, and gave him strength to rule
all things" (8:1-2). God loves "all things that exist"
(11:24) and, were it not for idolatry of fire and wind and
stars and sun and moon (13:2-3), humanity could see God
in all things: "For from the greatness and beauty of created
things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator."
Perhaps idolatry arises when people "go astray while seeking
God and desiring to find him" (13:5-6).
Sirach opens in praise of wisdom as having divine origin:
"All wisdom is from the Lord; and with him it remains forever.
...Wisdom was created before all other things" (1:1,
4). The famous poem in praise of Wisdom (24) shows
her search for a resting place as she "covered the earth
like a mist," and as in her loneliness she "compassed the
vault of heaven and traversed the depths of the abyss" (24:3,
5). Then "my Creator chose the place for my tent,"
says Wisdom: "thus in the beloved city he gave me a resting
place, and in Jerusalem was my domain" (24:8, 11).
The Lord in his Wisdom then goes on to care for the creation
in detail: a cedar in Lebanon, a cypress atop Mount Hermon,
choice myrrh, a terebinth (24:13-17). Accordingly,
the work of creation continues into the living history of
both nature and humanity.
(6) A sixth set of "creation texts" exists in the Pauline
letters. The cosmic Christology of this apostle
seems so far removed, some think, from the Jesus whom the
gospels present that theories have proposed that Paul must
have employed concepts from beyond monotheistic Judaism.
Others of us object: first, that there is high Christology
also in the gospels; and second, there is so much continuity
from motifs in Hebrew Scripture (such as we have seen here)
to Pauline cosmic Christology that little use of non-Judaic
sources by Paul (the former Pharisee) seems probable.
In my view, Paul's thought about the relation between creation
and redemption began in his perception of the lordship of
Christ, and that came very soon after the birth of the Church
at Pentecost. Cosmic Christology is integral to faith
in Jesus as Lord, then, and does not represent a later subsidiary
development of the Church's faith.
[This view agrees very much with C. F. D. Moule, The
Origin of Christology (London: Cambridge University
Press, 1977), pp. 1-10.]
The texts to be examined here are (though other texts are
also relevant to creation): Romans 5:12-21 (Adam/Christ
analogy); Romans 8:19-23, 38-39 (cosmic liturgy); I Cor.
8:6 (early confession of faith); Ephesians 1:3-14 (meditative
hymn or liturgical prose); Philippians 2:6-11 (Christological
Hymn); and Colossians 1:15-20 (Christological Hymn).
Colossians may not have been authored by Paul, and Ephesians
probably was not, but both build on what Paul certainly
wrote and carry forward his major emphases, adding new terms
and thoughts as they go. As such they rightly belong
to the Pauline collection (corpus Paulinum).
Space limitation does not permit equal treatment of all
I Cor. 8:6. "I
Cor. 8:6 represents an unquestioned article of faith according
to which the relation between creation and redemption was
a normative part of the earliest Church's proclamation."
[John G. Gibbs, Creation and Redemption:
A Study in Pauline Theology (Leiden, Netherlands: E.
J. Brill, 1971), p. 59] This short confession of
faith is tightly constructed around 3 prepositions (from,
for, through): "For us there is one God, the Father, from
whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord,
Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom
we exist." God is both Creator ("from") of all things, and
the Destiny ("for") of God's People. Jesus Christ the Lord
is Mediator ("through") of both creation ("all things")
and redemption ("we").
All this is not speculation for the fun of it. In
fact, were it not for the issue of whether to eat meat that
had been sacrificed to idols (8:1), we might not have this
confession of faith, for Paul referred to it by way of saying
in effect: "Sure, we all know that there is only One God,
as our confession of faith states, but that knowledge does
not absolve us of the duty to love even those who reject
the meat because of its connection to idolatry." Cosmic
Christology in the service of pastoral care!
The Adam-Christ analogy of
Rom. 5:12-21 and I Cor. 15:21ff, 45ff implies, as
Paul's use of it makes clear, an intrinsic connection between
the creation of humans and their redemption (or re-creation).
The emphasis of this text is on the continuum between Christ
and all humanity. Paul finds humanity's true nature in Christ.
[Gibbs, p. 136] This Adam/Christ
analogy supports Paul's pastoral assurance (in Rom. 5:1-11)
that Christ's redemptive work is effective for all humanity.
Though the creation is not mentioned, the implications for
environmental ethics are markedly more positive and hopeful
on the basis of a human nature that is fully realized in
Christ the Lord than on the cynical basis of our being "only
human" when we pollute land, water, and air, and threaten
with genetic manipulation the integrity of species. According
to our faith, "the reality is" the blessed opposite of our
culture's regnant and cynical definitions of human reality.
The "cosmic liturgy" of Rom.
8:19ff, 38f assures Christians that present suffering will
be consummated in glory (cf. 8:17). How? Because the Lord
within them is Lord over the creation, then nothing can
separate them from the love of God. Of greatest import for
any creation theology are the relations between God, creation,
children of God, and Christ Jesus our Lord. "... For the
creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the
children of God" (8:19). There is "hope that the creation
itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will
obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor
pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves,
who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly
while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies"
(8:20-23). That is the cosmic situation within which nothing
can separate us from "the love of God in Christ Jesus our
Lord" (8:39). All Paul's writing reaches its high point
in Romans 8:19-39.
Paul again employs cosmic Christology
for a pastoral purpose when he uses a hymn (Philippians
2:6-11) to encourage his hearers (since his letters were
read aloud in the congregation) as follows: "Let each of
you look not to your own interests, but to the interests
of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ
Jesus...," and then the hymn follows. The first part of
this hymn (2:6-8) is devoted to the downward movement of
the incarnation, and then the second part (2:9-11) looks
to the exaltation of Jesus in the resurrection. It is in
that second part that the cosmic status of Jesus Christ
as Lord appears: "and [God] gave him the name that is above
every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should
bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth..." The
divine splendor was made manifest only in deepest identification
with humanity and all creation. "The relation between God
and the world comes to a focal point in the history, from
humiliation to exaltation, of the one who is made to be
Lord over all things, and under whom the Philippians are
to carry forward God's redemptive purpose in this world."
[Gibbs, p. 137]
The second Christological hymn more directly addresses the
relation between creation and redemption by showing the
relations between Christ and creation (Col. 1:15-17), also
between Christ and the Church (1:18), and by affirming that
Creator and Redeemer are one (1:19-20). The One who "is
before all things" is the "beloved Son" (1:13) in whom "all
things hold together" (1:17). The hymn uses five major "titles"
in description of "the beloved Son" (image, first-born,
head, the beginning, the fullness), each of which is best
understood on the basis of its Greek word. [Cf.
Gibbs, pp. 102-09] It is beyond the scope of this
paper to demonstrate, but I report that the whole of section
1:3 #151 2:7 is one long circular movement of thought which
begins with thanksgiving in the Colossian situation, and
returns (after prayer, the hymn's confession of faith, and
the apostle's own experience) to the same point of thanksgiving.
Accordingly, the hymn is integral to that one complex thought
which serves the pastoral purpose of combating asceticism
(2:21, 23), certain ritual practices (2:16), and certain
useless erroneous speculations (not clear to the modern
reader) about the cosmos (2:8, 20). Whatever the provenance
of this hymn may have been, its cosmic meaning so well suited
the author's purpose that he quoted it approvingly in the
effort to correct an error at Colossae which was causing
definite damage within the congregation. Here again
the cosmic work of Christ was essential to pastoral ministry
in the Pauline tradition.
Eph. 1:3-14. The theme of Ephesians is the
purpose of God through Christ, who is the head of both the
Community (Church) and the Creation. The "mystery"
of God's will is here made known (not hidden as in concurrent
mystery religions) as an inclusive "plan for the fullness
of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven
and things on earth" (1:9-10). Cosmic Christology
is emphasized already in the doxology of thankful praise
(1:3-14) that commences immediately after the salutation
Reconciliation in the Church
(1:11-14) is not the whole "plan," for redemption is at
work also in the creation entire (1:9-10), and both are
works of God's grace (1:8-9, 14). "If there is a Christian
'mystery,' according to Ephesians, it is a mystery about
this world rather than some other world, for it concerns
the fulfillment of the meaning of human history...and the
unity of 'things in heaven and things on earth.' There is
no opposition between creation and the redemptive purpose,
no subordination of creation to a redeemed or 'spiritual'
existence, but the interaction between creation and redemption
'in him' who is 'our Lord Jesus Christ.'"
[Gibbs, p. 126] Further, there is no separate heavenly
place in tension with this world, for during our residence
in the world of space-time we are also placed by God "in
the heavenlies [one Greek word] ...
in Christ" (1:3-4).
(7) John 1:1-18 A major creation text is,
in the seventh place, the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel
(John 1:1-18). Here is one of the most elevated
statements in all religious literature. Likely it
was composed after the gospel was written in order to introduce
in a succinct summary the meaning of the gospel that follows.
"In the beginning," followed by symbols of creation, light,
and darkness (1:1-2), takes us back to Genesis and the first
creation saga, except that this is the time before creation
(cf. 17:5), which comes later (1:3).
The structure of the Prologue has been extensively researched,
for it is difficult to determine, but Raymond E. Brown has
"with great hesitancy" suggested the following useful possibility:
The Word with God (1:1-2) is followed by The Word and Creation
(1:3-5), with verses 6-9 about John the Baptist added, then
comes The Word in the World (1:10-12b), and the Community's
Share in the Word (1:14,16). [Brown, The Gospel According
to John 1-12: Anchor Bible, vol. 29; N.Y.: Doubleday,
1966; p. 22]
Of particular interest for a theology of creation is 1:3-5:
"All things came into being through him, and without him
not one thing came into being. What has come into
being in him was life, and the life was the light of all
people. The light shines in the darkness, and the
darkness did not overcome it."
Also of greatest significance for the whole creation is
that "the Word became flesh" (1:14), the incarnation occurred.
There is no cosmic dualism, no "bad" creation, and no "remote
control" of the world by God through a descending ladder
of "demiurges," as certain Gnostics held. The Creator
is committed to care of the creation to such an extent that
"the word became flesh and lived among us," a concept altogether
new (and unacceptable) to Judaism.
"The Word" is our inadequate
translation of the Greek word logos, which includes not
only "the word of the Lord" but also the Wisdom (Sophia)
that was and is "with" God, concepts we have previously
met in our introductory tour of Hebrew thought about Creator
and creation. The Word is more than speech giving expression
to thought, for "through" the Word "all things came into
being" (1:3), so the Word also acts. [C.
H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel
(Cambridge: CUP, 1960), p. 295]
Life is what "came into being
in him," and that life was "the light" (not light in general)
that "the darkness" did not overwhelm. (Was that the darkness
of sin in Genesis 3, as the one past action specified in
the Greek verb "did not overcome" suggests?) Notice the
movement from "All things [the fullness of creation] came
into being through him" to the life that "was the light
of all people." As in the Pauline texts, so here the bonds
between the Creator, the Christ (here as Logos),
the creation entire, and humanity are maintained.
Finally, after all that,
we have only just begun (This writer's "beginning" is all
I can contribute right now, and it remains for readers to
move forward in their own way to make progress on such matters
as I mention here.). It remains to dig deeper into each
of these texts, marking carefully the different types of
literature they represent, then extend our inquiry into
other texts that qualify as "creation texts." There is much
more creation material in the Apocrypha, in the prophets,
in the book of Psalms, and in Apocalyptic literature (such
as the book of Revelation), as well as some texts in Hebrews.
[Some assistance is available in concordances,
though the concepts involved are expressed in words additional
to "creation" and "Creator." Cf. John R. Kohlenberger, III,
The NRSV Concordance Unabridged (Grand Rapids, MI:
Continually I am finding more
creation texts. Only weeks ago, for instance, the cosmic
context of Jesus' baptism surfaced before me not only as
given expression in later Church theology, but also as apparent
within the biblical texts. [Cf. Kilian McDonnell,
The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan: The Trinitarian and
Cosmic Order of Salvation (Collegeville, MN: A Michael
Glazier Book by The Liturgical Press, 1996), especially
pp. ix #151 19 for the biblical texts. Beyond biblical texts,
we need to come to terms with what Father Kilian calls "a
species of symbolic logic that goes beyond conceptualization"
and that includes within it a "reflective participatory
approach" (p. 187) to the baptism.]
The scope of our concerns about
the creation includes eco-justice, a matter to which we
have made only passing allusions. We need, then, to inquire
further of the biblical materials what helps there may be
there for working out an ecological ethics that is focused
on justice#150justice for all creatures, justice for earth-air-water,
justice for all peoples in the context of (or if possible,
beyond?) globalization, justice that balances ecology and
economy. [For starters, one might consult
such books as Daniel C. Maguire, The Moral Core of Judaism
and Christianity (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1993);
Karen Lebacqz, Justice in an Unjust World: Foundations
for a Christian Approach to Justice (Minneapolis, MN:
There remain biblical texts that say nothing about the
creation, but plenty about what kinds of people we must
be to become safe for the world. For instance, the
hymn in Philippians 2:6-11, which has a cosmic reference
in its second stanza, more profoundly speaks about "the
mind" that was "in Christ Jesus" and that needs to be also
in us. Some folks object to use of that text under
any ecological heading, but they miss the point: Who
we are among ourselves is who we are in the environment.
How we treat one another is how we also treat the world
around us. The mind of Christ, which wants to permeate
our minds, is our guide for ecological consciousness and
It remains further to think
synthetically, draw together recurring themes and motifs,
and work through the various scriptural theologies toward
the development of a unitary biblical theology of creation.
[Cf. Brueggemann, Theology of the Old
Testament (1997), pp. 145-64, 528-51; Childs, Biblical
Theology..., pp. 107-18, 384-412, 452-84; Klaus Koch,
The Rediscovery of Apocalyptic (Studies in Biblical
Theology, Second Series, Vol. 22; Naperville, Ill.:
Alec R. Allenson, 1970); J. C. Beker, Paul's Apocalyptic
Gospel (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982)]
Then we return to the world
in which we live, its ecological crisis, the grave misunderstandings
between the nations of Islam and the West, threats and acts
of terrorism, the sea change in American culture since 2000,
the rise of fundamentalist influences within the Church,
and begin to make correlations and comparisons between the
biblical worlds and our own. The relation between scripture
and our situation can only be dialogic. Scripture is seminal,
we have said, in that it more often initiates conversation
than ends it. So we take back to scripture our questions
even as we listen to the questions it poses to us in our
situation within Church, Creation, Culture, and State.
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