"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
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
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).]
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
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
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 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
(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
(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,
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.
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
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.]
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
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,
(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"
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.
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,
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"
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'"
(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
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),
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
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
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
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.
This article is listed as one of the articles used
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