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Minnesota Episcopal
Environmental
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Episcopal Church in Minnesota

"Creation Texts" in Scripture: Guidelines and Findings
by John G. Gibbs, PhD

NOTE: 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 23227.]

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).]

Purpose:

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:

Basic Guidelines

(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 text.

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 guideline:

(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, also christologically).

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 phenomenon.]

"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 to see.

"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 Spring.

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.

Some Findings

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 pile up.

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, p. 230).

(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 "steadfast love."

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 undo creation.]

[The lectionary 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. 150:1).

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 chaotic evil.

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 creates.

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 (Is. 58:6-59:21).

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 gun:

"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" (8:5-6).

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 these texts.

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]

Col. 1:15-20. 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 (1:1-2).

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: Zondervan, 1991).]

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: Augsburg, 1987.]

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 behavior.

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.

Notes:

This article is listed as one of the articles used in support of faith community discussions about the movie The Great Warming.

You are invited to read a related discussion on "Genesis 8:21-22 in the Climate Change Debate"

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John G. Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, attended Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN, when he originally wrote this study in September 2004. He and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs, any MEESC member, or our Webverger or send a letter to:

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