1.3 Literary Composition and Meaning30
This essay cannot compete with the scholarship or linguistic expertise of a work like that of Gordon Wenham's Genesis 1-15, so it sets out to advert to features that a number of modern commentators tend to overlook.
Secondly, this section takes together the two elements of Literary Composition and Meaning.
This is because the discussion has already indicated that there is an intimate relationship between the natural meaning of the Hebrew and the necessity of reading it analogically: a divine action is expressed in human terms.
This leads to a reading that is both coherent in terms of the opening text itself and coherent in terms of its function as a prologue to the work as a whole31.
1.3a 'God created the heavens and the earth' is a conclusion
The central point of this essay is therefore the constant evidence that chapter one of Genesis is a philosophical text32.
This text is an argument that begins with a conclusion: 'God created the heavens and the earth' (Gn 1: 1)33.
Thus the context of the first line of Genesis is at least the question raised by the Exodus: Who is the God (Ex 3: 13-15) Who is fulfilling His promise to multiply Abraham's descendents (Gen 13: 16), Who is delivering them from four hundred years of slavery (Gen 14: 13-14) and Who is planting them in the land He promised them.
Therein lies the question.
If a people have proceeded from Abraham, then where did Abraham come from: what was his history?
Into what line of divine promises, if any, do the promises to Abraham belong?
And if there are patriarchs, what is the beginning of the patriarchal line?
In other words, it is true that 'The book of Genesis describes in turn the origin of the universe, of mankind, and of the ancestors of the nation of Israel.
Indeed, [that] the focus narrows progressively throughout the book.'34
But the reason for this order of content is not only because it 'puts the patriarchs into their cosmic context.'35, it is also because this order of contents answers the fundamental question to which all questions of beginning tend: with what did the history of Adam (cf. Gn 5: 1) begin; indeed, from what did everything begin?
1.3b No absolute origin to what is visible and invisible in other cosmologies
Now given the tendency of early thinkers to consider that 'only bodies we can sense exist, [but] that ... such bodies [are] uncaused'36, then it follows that it is radically original to conceive of Elohim as a God Who gave an absolute beginning to the existence of 'the heavens and the earth': a beginning as intimately concerned with the details of creation as it was indicative of the unparalled power of the Creator.
By contrast, Aristotle and the Academy 'declared that in describing the world's formation they were merely doing so for the purposes of exposition, in order to understand the universe, without supposing that it ever really came into existence [De Caelo, 279 b33]'37.
Similarly, the various poetic accounts38 which are considered 'contemporary' to Genesis deal not with a beginning to the universe per se, but with a sequence of development without an actual beginning: a point of view a number of biblical commentators claim to find in these opening words of Genesis39.
In other words, it is more than plausible that there is a polemical character to Genesis, chapter one, which entails that it is deliberately rejecting other cosmologies40.
But what is also evident is that from the statement of the conclusion, that 'God created the heavens and the earth' (Gn 1: 1), there is a text which proceeds to give the reason why it is God Who is the Creator of the heavens and the earth.
For having taken up the theme that God is the cause of the history of salvation, it is natural to ask: is the God of salvation history (Ex 3: 14-15) the author of the universe?
Is there a divine cause to the existence of the universe: all that is seen and unseen?
If God is the God who creates the people of God, then did this same God create the 'heavens and the earth'?
For just as a people have a historical origin, so it follows that everything else has an origin: man; animal and plant life; and the existence and structure of the heavens and the earth.
Therefore if God is the 'cause'41 of every kind of good development, creature and characteristic of reality, then it follows that, just as each 'part' of the whole has an original beginning from a creative act of God, the whole itself has an original beginning from a creative action of God.
1.3c How to translate Bereshit bara Elohim
Taking up the question of how to understand the action of God as Creator, we begin with the question of how to translate bereshit; and trying to understand the action of God at the beginning, discloses the relationship between this and "subsequent moments" of divine creativity.
For if the opening words are rendered: 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth', then this gives the impression that creation is accomplished in a single act; and if creation is accomplished in a single act then why does the verb sequence42 which follows upon it give the impression, on the whole, that what is begun is intended to continue indefinitely?
In other words, the actual intention of the author is not just to give a beginning to the action of creation - but to give the impression that the act of beginning is inseparable from sustaining, just as the development of what is begun is inseparable from the end to which it is ordered (cf. Gn 1: 11-12).
Furthermore, not only does 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth' give the impression that the universe is completed, but it also distances 'the beginning' from God.
This is because 'In the beginning' does not tell us the precise relationship between the 'beginning' and the God Who is Creator.
By contrast, 'In beginning, God created ... ', gives a dramatic announcement that time begins with the action of God: that the fundamental datum is the action of God from which there is a beginning to what is created.
This is one of the fundamentally original conclusions of the Hebrew author of Genesis 1: 1.
Now the simple perfect is the tense in which the first action of God is rendered: God created.
"In principle, the forms of the verb called 'simple' ... indicate the action of a verb at a particular time (present, past, or future) without any of the implications about previous or subsequent continuity (or lack of it) which would be conveyed by an auxiliary"43.
Secondly, according to another linguist44, the simple past can entail a certain uncertainty: is the action which is past, continuing or completed?
In other words, the simple past leaves unspecified whether or not the past action is complete (he had said) or whether it is progressive (he was saying).
Thus, and presuming a certain correspondence between the simple past in both English45 and Hebrew46, the use of bara or he [God] created, is for two reasons an apt tense for the first creative act of God.
It indicates an action 'without any of the implications about previous or subsequent continuity (or lack of it)'; and yet it leaves open the possibility that the action once begun is also continuing: an aspect of the creative action which the Hebrew verb structure picks up and develops47.
So the simple past tense is an apt tense for indicating an act of creation which has no intrinsic relationship to a time that precedes it; and thus, in this sense, the simple past is an apt tense for signifying the beginning of time: a time which is no less marked by change and development as it is by a beginning which extends indefinitely into the future day of rest.
This being the case, bereshit confirms the emphasis of this aspect of the verb bara on the beginning of the action of creation, on the moment without precedent.
There is a literary aspect to the opening words of Genesis which confirms in its own way the intention of the author to give an account of an absolute beginning to the 'heavens and the earth.'
This is the fact that the text opens with an announcement of an action: 'In beginning, God created'.
In other words there is a kind of literary imitation in the opening words of Genesis, of the act of God from which all creation begins.
Furthermore, every subsequent act of God makes 'flesh' an announced intention to create or to make something.
Thus, by contrast, the lack of this announcement in the opening line further emphasises the fact of creation proceeding from an act of God, just as the first words of Genesis begin without introduction, "from nothing", an account of God's act of creation.
Similarly, just as every subsequent act of God effects what it intends, so does this give the impression that the 'heavens and the earth' stood forth the moment God intended them to exist: 'For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood forth' (Ps 33: 9)48.
1.3d Degrees of existence
The meditation on this act of creation then dwells on the nature of the earth which has been created: it is formless, void, a darkness49 over a deep and in the presence of a "mothering" Spirit or Breath of God.
In his Confessions, St. Augustine of Hippo says: 'Thou createdst heaven and earth; things of two sorts: one near Thee, the other near to nothing; one, to which Thou alone shouldest be superior; the other, to which nothing should be inferior'50.
So we can see that this state of the earth is as it were the first degree of existence: the simplist form of existence to stand out from non-existence.
And if by contrast the 'heavens' are the fullest form of existence in that this plurality entails the heaven in which the angels are present to God, then between these two poles of existence we have the complete scale of existence: of the good given by God in giving a thing to exist.
In other words the Hebrew author is as concrete, in a sense, as the author of the Enuma elish; but whereas the author of Genesis posits a beginning, the author of the Enuma elish posits an inconclusive series of changes of one thing into another.
The author of Genesis is, however, at once positive and negative in his use of the concrete.
For Genesis at once asserts that the earth exists and that the earth is formless, void, a darkness and in the presence of a "mothering" Spirit of God.
Therefore the earth is in the very first instant of being begun and is, therefore, completely undeveloped, even if connected to the source of life as to the source of movement and potential for development.
But the earth is at the same time as completely undeveloped and as dependent on God for that development as it was for being brought to exist.
For what better way to demonstrate creation from nothing than to argue that just as what develops, is developed from what began, so it took an act of God to effect from nothing that first state of undeveloped existence.
1.3e (i) The relationship between origin and kind of "creature"
We see that the 'firmanent', which God called 'Heaven' (Gn 1: 8) and the 'dry land', which God called 'Earth' (1: 10) and the waters, which God called 'Seas', are originated from the earth, indeed the watery earth which 'stood forth' (Ps 33: 9) from the first act of creation (Gn 1: 1-2).
This account of their origin, where heaven, earth and seas are here understood to be parts of the visible universe, takes its literary length from the requirements of showing that they proceed from a single source, "the earth", which was the second of the "two" entities which originated from the first creative act of God: 'God created the heavens and the earth' (Gn 1: 1).
We see, too, that it is only after God has given the common origin of the sky, the sea and the earth and then completely distinguished each from the other, that He sees this particular aspect of His work is 'good' (Gn 1: 10).
After God has distinguished the visible earth, the heavens and the seas, He then proceeds to create each variety of creature according to which environment it inhabits.
But He does this according to its kind and place of origin.
The earth yields 'vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind' (Gn 1: 12).
God then sees that it is 'good' (ibid).
The heavens are then filled with a variety of lights 'to separate the day from the night', to be for 'signs' and the marking of time (Gn 1: 14) and to give 'light upon the earth' (Gn 1: 15).
'And saw that it was good' (Gn 1: 18).
The waters brought forth 'the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind.
And God saw that it was good' (Gn 1: 21).
It is interesting to note that the sky is not the place of origin of the birds and winged creatures.
The author then returns to the earth as to that from which other kinds of living creature are brought forth: 'And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind.
And God saw that it was good' (Gn 1: 25).
It is at this point that God proposes to 'make man in our image' (Gn 1: 26).
Having gone from vegetation from the earth to lights in the sky, from what grows to what marks time, the author then proceeds to the varieties of living creatures: first swimming and flying creatures from the water and then everything which goes upon the ground from the ground.
Thus a number of things strike the reader about the creation of man, 'male and female he created them' (Gn 1: 27).
The origin of man is as directly from God as it is different from the origin of other creatures.
This signifies the inescapable relationship of the origin of man from the creative act of God.
At this point the Hebrew text uses the verb to create three times in one verse.
This also gives a point of departure for the creation of Adam and Eve in chapter two of Genesis, in that the author then takes up the more complex question of the composition of man.
The point about man's origin being different is made precisely by the abrupt discontinuity in the hithertoo detailed pattern of origins: of the detailed relationship between the kind of substance and the kind of creature that came from it.
The force of contrast is therefore employed to full effect at the creation of man.
Man issues as dramatically from the creative word of God as the heavens and the earth are made from nothing; indeed, man is, in one sense, made from nothing: 'look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed.
Thus also mankind comes into being' (2 Mac 7: 28).
So God originates the unity of man, male and female, as directly from Himself as other things are originated from earth or water.
Man is 'male and female.'
The various Hebrew references to gender are now brought into focus; and what appears as sudden in the English is not so sudden in the Hebrew.
The 'heavens', shamayim, is a masculine noun and the 'earth', eretz, is a feminine noun.
Therefore, in the prominent position of verse one of Genesis, not only do the 'heavens and the earth' denote all that God created, but all that God created is as it were gendered.
Furthermore, both the noun for God Who is doing the creating, Elohim, and the third person singular of the verb bara, are masculine; and as if to give a complementary contrast to this, the 'sign' of gender is then expressed in the complex divine name, Ruach Elohim, where Ruach is a feminine noun and Elohim is a masculine noun.
There is, too, the feminine gender of the participle51 which names the activity of Ruach Elohim in relation to the masculinity of hamayim, the waters; and it is one of the characteristics of the "earth" (Gn 1: 1), which is a feminine noun, to be in this watery state (Gn 1: 2).
Thus there is a kind of implication that the generativity of the earth (Gn 1: 12), and the waters (Gn 1: 20) which emerge from this fundamental state, are deeply connected to the relationship between the "mothering" Ruach Elohim and the foundational waters of the earth (Gn 1: 2).
Furthermore, gender is not an additional characteristic of the creatures God has created52, but it is a characteristic that is not drawn out until the creation of man, male and female.
This literary device therefore draws attention to gender as applied to man made in the image of God.
In contrast to Gregory of Nyssa, who holds that 'nothing corresponds in the divine archetype [to the division of man into male and female]'53, it can therefore be asserted that the biblical account draws out a particular emphasis between the gender of man, male and female, and the fact that he is created in the image of God.
The divine approbration of the making of man is also different.
It is not as specific as having made a creature and then observing that it was good.
On the contrary, man is good in the context of the whole which God has created: 'And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good' (Gn 1: 31).
Gordon Wenham makes an invaluable observation on the significance of the phrase that God creates each creature according to their types: [min] '"type"....The implication, though not stated, is clear: what God has distinguished and created distinct, man ought not to confuse (Lev 19: 19; Deut 22: 9-11).'
The fact, however, that the divine approbation does not follow until each work of God is completed, suggests that this is indeed the point of God saying that He 'saw it was good'.
In other words the text goes further than Wenham observes it to do.
For it requires an act of God to change one kind of life into another; and in so far as God has acted in creating the kinds of life He has, He has "given" the variety of life He is going to give.
Wenham says further on: 'the OT in describing how our world came to be is at the same time suggesting a moral stance to be adopted toward the natural order.
Things are the way they are because God made it so, and men and women should accept his decree'54.
1.3e (ii) Chapter two details the creation of man, male and female
It is on the basis of this relationship between 'origin' and 'kind' that we find a purpose in the complementary diversity of the first two accounts of God's creative activity.
For the second account takes up what is uncharacteristically left out in the first account: an account of the formation of man.
The first account displays the transcendent majesty55 of God as originator of the unity-in-diversity of creation, while at the same time it also states an inseparable immanence of the presence of God to His creation.
This is seen in the contrast between God as creating the heavens and the earth and this creative act bringing the earth to exist in the "mothering" presence of Ruach Elohim (Gn 1: 2).
The majesty and immanence of God are both expressed in the creation of man.
For man is created in the image of God.
Thus he stands as creature to his Creator because he is made by God; but man also stands to his Creator as capable of relationship because he is made in the image of the God Who made him.
But there is no detail to the making or creating of man in this first account, as if the author has held it back because it serves to introduce the second stage of his account of human origin.
Thus the second account develops the theme of God's presence to man.
It does this by unfolding the "vocation" of God (cf. Is 43: 1) in the fashioning of man from the earth and the building of Eve out of his rib; indeed, the "vocation" of God to form man, male and female, in the image of God.
For there is a difference between giving a vocation to man to be in the image of God (Gn 1: 26) and undertaking for man, as it were, the accomplishing of that end.
Furthermore, the vocation of God to form man is not only expressed in the "outward" fashioning of his body but also in the giving of the 'breath of life' (Gn 2: 7).
Thus there is not only a complexity to man's constitution but also to God's act of constituting man.
At the same time as this account shows us the presence of God to man, it also shows us that the majesty of God is present in the magnificently soverign certainty with which He fashions the man and the woman: He consults no one but Himself (Is 44: 24).
In contrast to chapter one, chapter two of Genesis gives the creation of man as taking place before the creation of plants and animals.
This makes man a witness to these acts of divine creativity.
Thus there emerges a contrast between two observations.
There is man's 'natural' ability to know the plants and animals, whose origin he has "witnessed", and there is the difficulty he has of knowing the absolute beginning of the 'heavens and the earth' and the origin of man male and female, neither of which he has witnessed.
Or to put it differently, the origin of the whole created order or of man in particular, are origins which are particularly inseparable from the identity and power of the Creator.
Thus a complex point is being made about the necessity of knowing God if one is to know the nature of man from his "cause" and the cause of creation as a whole.
Even if it cannot be discussed more fully here, it can at least be observed in passing that the biblical account of the relationship between knowing the cause of a thing and knowing that thing, gives us the positive "coin" to Aristotle's claim that not knowing the cause of a thing entails a certain incompleteness to knowing that thing56.
This discussion has now given us the following Scriptural reason to identify the cause of man in particular and creation as a whole: the recognition that if man does not know God then he can neither know himself nor the origin of all that is created.
This makes the following point more biblical than it first seems.
The Second Vatican Council's document, The Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, says: 'once God is forgotten, the creature is lost sight of as well'57.
1.3f The two ends of light and darkness
In keeping with the view that this is a philosophical presentation, in concrete terms, of the doctrine that follows from looking at the heavens and the earth and recognizing 'that God did not make them out of things that existed.
Thus also mankind comes into being' (2 Mac: 7: 28).
It follows that there is a metaphysical point to be made about the ultimate destination of all that is created: there is the destiny of the light of life (Gn 1: 3) or the destiny of the darkness (Gn 1: 4) of death (cf. Deut 30: 15; Wis 3).
As it says in Isaiah, God is the one Who is capable of 'declaring the end from the beginning' (Is 46: 10).
Thus in one sense the nature of the light as good (Gen 1: 4) is in contrast to the darkness that remains.
Now a created good of which light is a natural symbol is wisdom.
Not the wisdom which is the 'breath which is the power of God' (Wis 7: 25) and which is 'more mobile than any motion' (Wis 7: 24), and which naturally takes our thoughts to the Ruach Elohim of Genesis 1: 2.
But the wisdom which is created: 'The beginning of wisdom is the most sincere desire for instruction' (Wis 6: 17); and 'the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom' (Wis 6: 20).
For what does not possess the capacity for the illumination of wisdom acts as a 'sign' of the darkness of one who, while possessing that capacity for wisdom, yet does not exercise it (cf. Wis 4: 18-19).
For sheol is a place from which there is no praise of God (cf. Ps 6: 5) and does appear to be connected to a certain state of the earth.
Although it is possible that the earth stands to sheol as door, rather than that of place to state (cf. Nm 16: 30-34).
A feature of this text to take account of, too, is that the earth is not named earth until verse ten of Genesis chapter one; and thus it is possible that what passes for the earth at the head of verse two (Gn 1: 2), is in fact a more fundamental state from which the visible heaven and the visible earth proceed.
So the darkness which is referred to at that point (Gn 1: 2) possesses a positive metaphysical meaning.
The darkness, however, is not good as the light is good.
But the darkness is made and named by God and is, therefore, a kind of good: the destination of the spiritually dead: of those who will not let wisdom lead them to life everlasting (cf. Wis 1: 14; and Rm 8: 14); indeed, just as the heaven of God is the true fullness of being, so the darkness of spiritual death is the "deepest" form of the "positive" existence of being: the place in which the good of a rational existence is as deprived of the perfection of the grace of God as it is possible to be.
Putting the discussion more simply, the creation of light, a light which extends up to the darkness, gives the impression that 'light' stands for the "grace" of God.
The darkness which remains is named by God and therefore recognized to possess a particular identity.
For just as 'light' signifies one kind of relationship to the Power of God present over creation, so darkness signifies a different relationship to that same presence of God: a relationship as "negative" as the other is "positive" : a hell in contrast to the graced earth and the perfection of heaven.
This kind of meaning is eminently suited to the "natural qualities" of light and dark, both of which are equally 'light' to God: 'for darkness is as light with thee' (Ps 139: 11).
For just as bright sunlight illuminates the detail and splendor of creation, particularly as it plays on water, so does darkness obscure the difference between things and entail a certain "implosion" of significance: a kind of inward development analogous to what collapses into a "dark hole"58.
Thus there is a question implicit in this account of things: on what did the author base his "imagination" of the natural impossibility of light co-existing with a separate, previously created darkness?
Did not Moses witness God's power to subject Egypt to darkness while leaving His people in the light?
For it says in Exodus: 'So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt ... but all the people of Israel had light where they dwelt' (Ex 10: 22-23).
1.3g Time and destiny
How does this discussion on "light" as a good, in such contrast to the existence of darkness from which is it radically distinguished, fit into the biblical context of an account of the first day?
Firstly, it fits as a first instance of giving both the beginning and the end of something.
The light is both given a beginning and contrasted with the darkness.
The darkness, as it is contrasted with the light, is shown to have a meaning which is that of a level or type of being which is the 'deep' in its radical "distance" from the fullness of being which is the heaven of God.
But the light, by virtue of the contrast with the darkness, is also an end: the end of light is contrasted to the end of darkness.
For light is the opposite of darkness and stands to it, as it were, as 'end': as that which has fully come to be in contrast to that which has just stood out from nothingness59.
Thus everything that exists, according to the kind of existence it has, traces back to the beginning like arrows fired from the same place; and yet the arrows that trace a different path from their common point of departure will converge at their target.
Secondly, as it was said earlier, just as there is an action of God which originates the beginning of time, so actions of God creating, distinguishing the light and naming it day, develop creation and denote the dimension of time which is that of making known the plan of God.
In other words, just as Creation itself is the archetypal action of God, so that action has a beginning, a duration and an end: creation has a beginning, a period of development, and an end, just as a week has a beginning, days of its development and an end in the day of rest.
So one of the truths necessary for our salvation is that creation and redemption are acts of God which reveal each other: creation reveals an unprecendented power of God to create from nothing; and redemption is the history of the human experience of that power of God to create from the nothing of human sinfulness60.
So the God in Whom we hope for our salvation is the God in Whom it is rational to hope - because this is the God Who created 'the heavens and the earth' and Who is, in the history of human experience, the One Who alone has the power to deliver man from the slavery of sin.
So what the Creator-God did for creation in generating existence out of no pre-existing thing, He can do for us61 by accomplishing the plan with which He began: even if His own plan of our creation is now to be accomplished in a new plan of our redemption.
1.3h The related themes of Light, Spirit and Christ
Space does not permit a discussion of the relationship between the Breath or Power of God, the Word of God and the Creator-God.
Nor is it possible to take up the intricate relationship between the fact that 'There exists in every man a beginning of knowledge in the light of his agent mind'62, the fact that in Christ 'was life, and the life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it' (Jn 1: 4-5), and the fact that the city of God 'has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb' (Rev 21: 23).
Nor the fact that the Breath of God (cf. Wis 7: 25) is a 'reflection of eternal light' (Wis 7: 26), 'more beautiful than the sun' (Wis 7: 29).
Yet one can say this: on the one hand there is a distinction between created grace and the created light of human understanding, and the uncreated splendor of God Who is light; and on the other hand there is the common nature of the Breath of God, She Who is 'more beautiful than the sun' and the Son of God Who is the 'light of the world' (Jn 8: 12).
Furthermore there is, then, the relationship of the Son of God Who is the 'lamp' and the Spirit of God Who is the light which is born on that lampstand: the one described by Scripture as 'she [who] passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God' (Wis 7: 27); and there is the union of what is created with what is uncreated in the mystery of the redemptive sacrifice of the Lamb and the birth of His bride, the sacramental Church.
1.3i 'Origin' as understood of man and God
Reflecting upon the more detailed account of the making of Adam and Eve, in conjunction with the relationship of the Breath of God to the Word of God, gives rise to the perception that the first chapter of Genesis gives different origins to different things.
This takes us to a key feature in these first verses of Genesis, which is that while the whole of creation has a single beginning, there are as many particular beginnings as there are kinds of "creature"63 created (cf. Wis 1: 14).
In other words there is a significance to how each "creature" is created: it indicates that creature's "kind".
It is therefore just as significant that Adam is fashioned from the ground and receives the Breath of God as it is that Eve is built up from a rib which is taken from him while he slept.
Similarly we can recognize a distinction between the Breath of God as an 'emanation of the glory of the Almighty' (Wis 7: 25) and the analogy of generation implied in the phrase Son of God.
Furthermore, there is a certain parallel between the fact that Eve is a woman and "proceeds" from the side of the sleeping Adam, his sleep indicating how 'deep' a mystery this origin of Eve actually is, and the 'emanation' of wisdom64 from the 'glory of the Almighty'; and that same parallel is evident, too, in the relationship of Adam's origin from the ground and from the Breath of God, and the origin of the 'Son of God' (Lk 1: 35), the only begotten of the Father, from the Father and the Holy Spirit.
1.3j(i) The being and action of God
In the first chapter of Genesis we find that there are as many origins to things as there are varieties of creation.
In other words, the author of Genesis gives us the text that he does, because he saw that the unity-in-diversity of God's creation is as integral to his account of the unity-in-diversity of God's act of creation, as the action of God follows, that is, manifests the being of God (cf. Ex 3: 13-17 and 33: 19-33; and especially Nm 12:865)66.
Thus the text demands that it would take at least the experience and abilities of a man like Moses to write Genesis 1: 1-5 and beyond.
For while the biblical author leaves what are taken by Christian commentators to be 'traces' of the "action" of the persons of the Blessed Trinity, what he says makes sense as an analogical account of a divine action: an action at once a unity-in-diversity.
Thus we see that the biblical author has given us an initial act of God which he has delineated in terms of three elements.
The first is not a word but an act of creation: 'God created the heavens and the earth' (Gn 1: 1).
The second is that the act of creation brings 'the heavens and the earth' to exist in the "mothering" presence of the Spirit of God.
Thirdly: it is not until the first word is uttured that what exists, while actual, is actually what it is intended to be.
For this it requires formation 'through' the Word of God.
Thus the author, while not necessarily implying three divine Persons, has enumerated three fundmental aspects of one act of creation: giving existence to life as the most basic movement in the universe; giving the Power of God as both a type of origin and "mothering" of that life; and giving the Word of God which gives each thing to exist in its particular kind of life.
Again this is summed up succinctly in the first line of Genesis: 'the heavens and the earth' are given a living existence; they are given a word which defines what they are; and they are begun: a beginning which is subsequently shown to entail development according to kind.
So the "earth" is developed into the physical heavens and the earth, thereby showing that they are different aspects of the one universe; and the "heavens" (of Genesis 1: 1), while it is implied that it is developed according to its kind (cf. 2. Cor. 12: 2), is not described further at this point.
For it befits the purpose of a book of beginnings to give the end briefly and the beginning and its development in detail.
So the "heavens" are given, on this reading, as the final end of all, whereas the earth is given as the beginning; and thus from the second verse onwards what unfolds is the meaning and the development of the "earth".
Furthermore, considering what is created from the point of view of its single origin from a creative act of God reveals the unity of what is created to be indicative of the unity of the One creating.
This is not to preclude the many points that have been made concerning the diversity of what is created pointing to their origin in God as the Blessed Trinity; rather, it is to reflect on the preocupation of the author with the question of the unity of creation reflecting the unity of God (cf. Deut 6: 4).
But it has to be said that there are a number of literary features which make it impossible to preclude a "background" complexity to the identity of God.
There are three types of divine name, united by a common name: Elohim, Ruach Elohim and Yahweh Elohim.
This feeds into the complexity out of which it comes that man is made 'male and female.'
On the one hand 'the heavens and the earth' are created by a masculine God, Elohim; and on the other hand, the generativity of the earth's water and earth appears to be an activity which participates in the action of the Ruach Elohim (feminine plus masculine noun).
This is more explicit in the dialogue67 which characterises God's creation by word: "Let there be light" (Gn 1: 3): as if God is addressing "someone."
For the English jussive, a verb conveying a command confident of being executed68, conveys a Hebrew jussive69.
This element of dialogue is also present in the divine approbration that what is made is good.
For it is as if God, Who utters the word of command, is then seeing that what is made is good: as if the goodness it possesses is in some sense the work of "another."
In other words, it is as if the Creator is also a witness to the action of "another" or "others" with Whom He works.
In addition, bearing in mind the relationship between God and the 'good' of what He has made, a relationship which also pertains to the Spirit or Power of God (Gn 1: 2) and the different aspects of it discussed at different points throughout this chapter, then there is the inescapable conclusion that God imparts a 'pregnant' participation of His own goodness to creation: a graced goodness which is dynamically ordered to the perfection of Adam and Eve: as if they are put in possession of what, if they act in accord with it, will progress their possession of the blessing of God (Gn 1: 28).
1.3j(ii) Life from "Life"
When considering the kinds of "creature" created, it can be noted that there is a three tier order: the original 'waters' of the earth yield, by divine fiat, the sky, the earth and the seas; and then the seas and the earth, again by divine fiat, yield birds and sea creatures and animals; and then there is a kind of "moment" of divine reflection and the relationship of creation to the Creator is made explicit: "Let us make man in our image..." (Gn 1: 26).
Each development from the beginning, which itself required a divine act of creation, requires a divine intervention; indeed, one kind of life "leads" to another kind of life, provided that there is a divine act which effects the transformation of the lower to the higher kind.
On the assumption that the original 'waters' of the earth (Gn 1: 2) stand analogically for a basic "life" state of the earth, a first kind of life in that 'waters' are generally in some kind of slight perpetual movement, it follows that just as this kind of life came from the original creative act of God, so all subsequent creative acts of God are acts which develop and diversify this basic kind of life.
In other words, it follows from all this that just as each act of God produces a variety of life forms, so just as life form is developed from life form through successive acts of God, so life proceeds from God as from the 'living God' (cf. Deut 5: 2670); and man, while appearing to be an exception which contradicts the rule, is actually an exception which confirms the rule.
For although God makes man more directly from Himself, by so doing He makes more obvious the relationship in question.
For from God's modelling human life on the mystery of divine "life" comes the living man, male and female.
Furthermore, in the second, detailed account of the making of man, we see the first kind of life taken up from the earth, modelled in a way that imitates the second kind of life, the creatures of the earth and so "imitating" biological life, but then it is animated by a breath of God which as it were takes up the whole life of man into a new, third kind of life which proceeds more directly from the mouth and breath of God.
Thus type of life is fundamental to type of creature; indeed, kind of life seems to be the axis on which the thought of the biblical author is turning.
From an act of God which "begets" a kind of life which is indistinguishable from movement, through successive acts of God which bring to exist biological kinds of life, the author brings us to a "divine" kind of life which takes up the others and at the same time derives more directly from God as to its origin and kind.
Thus: just as life comes from life by an act of God, so by an act of God created life comes from the 'living God'.
Therefore there arises the following, Scriptural argument: the mystery of the 'living God' is the sole cause of the unity-in-diversity of created life.
||Cf. A. Vanhoye, Structure and Message of the Epistle to the Hebrews, translated by J. Swetnam ( Roma: Editrice Pontifico Istitutio Biblico, 1989 ) for an example of an approach which stands to this essay as a remote inspiration.
||And the work as whole can function on a number of levels: the prologue from I: 1 up to but not including 5:1; the Pentateuch; the Old Testament; and finally the New Testament.
||Given that the extent to which thought is prominently philosophical in intention is difficult to reduce to a particular type of narrative, there is no attempt to say here where it ceases to be philosophical.
For even a history of events is written according to a principle of exposition which, in this case, is a demonstration of the power of God which makes that history a history of salvation.
||While Cardinal Ratzinger does not put it this way, yet he does say: Scripture's 'purpose ultimately would be to say one thing: God created the world.', p. 5 of 'In the Beginning...' : A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, translated by B. Ramsey, Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1990.
||Wenham, Genesis, Introduction p. xxi.
||Wenham, Genesis, Introduction p. xxii.
||I, 44, 2.
||Frederick Copleston. A History of Philosophy: Vol I: Greece and Rome.
(The Bellarmine Series IX). N.p.: Burns Oates and Washbourne Ltd., 1946, p. 248.
||Cf. e.g. The Enuma elish on p. 38 of Bruce Vawter's Genesis: A New Reading, London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1977.
||E. g. Vawter, Genesis, pp. 38-40.
||Cf. Wenham, Genesis, p. 9.
||Cf. I, 44, 2.
||While the first finite verb is bara, to create (in fact the third person masculine perfect, he created [Gn 1: 1]), the following creations by divine word make use of a different type of verb form.
It is not just that the verb for 'and (then) God said' (Gn 1: 3) is an imperfect form of amar, to say, as against the perfect bara, to create.
There are in fact two additional points to consider.
Firstly: the verb 'to say' is converted, that is to say that while it is in the imperfect "future" tense it is, in addition, in a converted form of that tense such that the action is understood to 'take on the tense value of the perfect' (Lambdin, p. 108).
The second point is that there are a variety of verbs in this converted form (with the notable exceptions of two further instances of the perfect, bara, at Gn 1: 27) and this is in one sense regarded as typical of Hebrew narrative.
But, according to Wenham, this sequence of converted imperfects engenders an impression of past 'continuity' (Reply to question on this point, Ad hoc Hebrew language lecture, University of Gloucestershire, 2002).
||An excerpt from a letter from Dr. Jeremy H. Marshall, Associate Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford (22/09/02), in reply to my questions about the English simple tenses.
||Conversation with Martin Higgins, 13/3/02.
||In response to the objection that discussions on English Grammar are irrelevent to the interpretation of a Hebrew text, the following can be said: the more one understands the language of grammar the more it opens up the possibilities of meaning.
||Lambdin, p. 38.
||This is the classic sequence of a past narrative form which consists of various elements, but particularly that of the imperfect plus waw-conversive (or consecutive) which, according to Gordon Wenham, creates a continuity in the sequence of past actions; and going beyond this point, or perhaps drawing out a philosophical implication of it with respect to time: this linking of verbs in the past, particularly in chapter one of Genesis, engenders an impression of a certain kind of historical integrity to the first moment and development of creation: a kind of unity of moment which transcends the necessarily sequential account of things characteristic of time ordered programs.
||Cf. also Wenham, pp. 17-18.
||Cf. 'In Hebrew tohu and bohu "trackless waste and emptiness".
With the 'darkness over the deep', the 'wind' and the 'waters', these negative images formed the basis for the later concept of creation ex nihilo' (Gn 1: 2, footnote c of the New Jerusalem Bible).
While I accept that trackless waste, emptiness and darkness are negative images, indeed of immense significance in that they signify that what exists exists as undeveloped, it does not follow that 'deep', 'wind' and 'waters' are either negative or negative in the same way.
||St. Augustine, Confessions: Book XII, 7, p. 101 of Great Books of the Western World, London: Encyclopedia Britanica, edited by R. M. Hutchins, 1952.
||This is discussed more fully in the footnote to this word in section 1.2 Translation.
||Cf. also Gn 6: 20.
||On the Formation of Man, ch. 16 (P.G. xliv, 181-5), p. 230 of Henri de Lubac's Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man, translated by L.C. Sheppard 1950, London: Burns and Oates, 1962.
||Wenham, p. 21.
||Wenham, p. 15: Elohim 'implies that God is sovereign creator of the whole universe, not just Israel's personal God (H. Ringgren, TDOT I: 267-84; W. H. Schmidt, THWAT I: 153-67).'
||Copleston, A History of Philosophy: Vol I: Greece and Rome, p. 306.
||Gaudium et Spes, art 36.
||This is not to suppose that the author of Genesis thought in terms of a modern 'black hole', a 'hole' in which the gravity is so great that not even light escapes it, yet there is a certain fundamental image of darkness at this point in that there is a distinction between a light that is 'first' to be born and everywhere and yet there is one place where it is not: the 'place' of darkness.
||This answers the contradiction to which Gerhard von Rad adverts, although he finds a different solution: 'the notion of a created chaos is itself a contradiction; nevertheless, one must remember that the text touches things which in any case lie beyond human imagination' p. 48 of Genesis: A Commentary, London: SCM, third revised edition, 1972.
||Cf. Is 40: 23; 41: 11-12; and 41: 24: 'Behold, you are nothing, and your work is nought; an abomination is he who chooses you.'
||Catechism of the Catholic Church, art. 298.
||I, 117, 1.
||"Creature" is here used in a broad sense to designate any kind of created thing: creation as a whole or any part of it.
||Wisdom is "she" (Wis 6: 12 etc) and the Ruach of Ruach Elohim (Gn 1: 2) is a feminine noun.
||Nm 12: 8 'With him [Moses] I speak mouth to mouth, clearly ... and he beholds the form of the Lord'.
Thus there is the possibility that the anthropomorphism of Genesis 1-2 is not simply a matter of a received tradition which Moses or others edited, but that the very 'form' and 'dialogue' so characteristic of God in these chapters is inspired by Moses's experience of beholding the 'form' of God and indeed talking to him.
||Scholastic tag: action follows, that is, manifests being.
||While not discussing the Hebrew, Michael Schmaus says: 'The life of God is dialogical'; and 'he conceives of and desires it [creation] only as a reflection of his own dialogical life.', p. 86 of Dogma 2: God and Creation, London: Sheed and Ward, 1969.
||M. Higgins, conversation (12/03/02).
||Cf. Wenham, p. 3: '3 masc sg juss [hayah] "to be".'
||Again we see a fundamental presupposition of Genesis emerging from the lived experience of Moses and the people of God.