Creation was meant to be a place of provision and protection. That’s what the ordering of the six days of creation communicates. But Genesis 1:1-2:3 sets in motion a big idea that drives the whole biblical story from beginning to end. The temple theme is rooted in the seven day structure of creation and opens up the possibility that the author did not use “days” to express length of time, but rather to set up the all important temple metaphor as the lens through which we understand the creation narrative.
The Next Three Posts
I’ve decided to cover this topic in three separate posts in order to keep it simple and clear. In this post I’ll talk about the two short segments of text (Gen 1:1 and 2:1-3) that are our current focus. Why are they separate from the six days, how do they work together? We’ll find another important aspect of symmetry in the text.
In the second post I’ll talk about temples in the ancient Near East (ANE). For people in the ANE, the temple was an ever present picture of how they related to their god(s) in every day life. Worship for them was not a Sunday morning affair. Worship for them determined the success or failure of every aspect of life. Since Moses draws on the temple concept as a way of relating to God in the creation account, we’ll need to start here in order to carefully parse out what Moses is and is not claiming.
Finally, in the third post, I’ll bring together the ideas of the first two posts and show that Moses is trying to make one important point. Creation is a temple. That is an earth shaking revelation but we won’t be able to understand just how earth shaking until we’ve gone through the first two posts.
After all of this, we should be able to see that not only is the creation of Gen 1 not necessarily in chronological order (see the first post), but that the six days of creation plus rest on the seventh are there to create the temple imagery in the text and are not necessarily making any claims about creative acts taking place at a particular time in history or in the span of six, 24-hour days.
Let’s Begin by Reading Through the Proper Lens
In the previous post on the Gen 1 creation account we looked just at the six days of creation in Gen 1:2-31 and we said we would leave Gen 1:1 (the title of the creation account) and Gen 2:1-3 (the seventh day-the day of rest) for a separate post. But is there any really good reason for treating these texts separately?
Two of These Things are Not Like the Others
I’ve already pointed out that Gen 1:2-31 is typical Hebrew narrative from a grammatical-syntactical point of view. There is an introductory sentence (Now the earth was formless…) that gives us basic background information that sets the action of the narrative in motion in verse 3 (And God said). Genesis 1:1 stands outside of this typical Hebrew narrative structure. In my opinion, it serves as a title or summary of all that follows.
Even the seventh day, the day of rest in Gen 2:1-3, is quite different from the other six days. This seventh day does not demonstrate any structural similarity to the six days of creative activity. It doesn’t begin “And God said,” and it doesn’t end, “and there was evening and there was morning” like every other day does. Of course, most obviously, there is no creative activity. God did not create rest on the seventh day and he doesn’t declare anything good. So, like the first verse, this seventh day is outside the structure of the six days of creative activity.
More Symmetry in the Creation Account
Not only do these two segments of text stand apart from the six days of creative activity, but people have noticed they have something in common.
Genesis 1:1 has four major parts. Here they are in the order they appear in Hebrew:
If you take away “in the beginning” and then look at the seventh day in Gen 2:1-3, you’ll see that all three basic elements from Gen 1:1 appear. It gets more interesting than that, actually, because the three appear in reverse order:
That’s interesting, but does it mean anything? Yes, it certainly does. In the last post I pointed out that symmetry is a way of conserving or communicating meaning. By repeating these key phrases in reverse order the author has created a beautiful symmetry around the six days of creation. This kind of symmetry is typical in Hebrew literature and it has a name—it’s an inclusio. An inclusio typically serves two functions. First, it marks the boundaries of the text. This text begins in Gen 1:1 and ends with Gen 2:1-2. Simple as that. The second function is more important for us to consider because often times, an inclusio serves as an interpretive filter through which we read the main portion of text that lies inside.
OK There’s an Inclusio—What Does that Mean?
It’s one thing to spot an inclusio and say we need to read the whole text through its lens. But what exactly does that mean here? In order to see just what effect this feature has on our reading we need to take a step back and look at temples in the ancient Near East. That will help us put the pieces of this puzzle together.
The Evangelical’s Creation Conundrum: Navigating the Scylla and the Charybdis of Science and Scripture
- The Evangelical’s Creation Conundrum: Navigating the Scylla and the Charybdis
- Designed for Order: The ANE Wisdom Worldview
- The Fear of Yahweh is the Beginning of Wisdom: The Israelite Wisdom Worldview
- Consilience: The Unity of Science and Scripture in the Matrix of Wisdom
- Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, How I Wonder When You Are
- The Structural Symmetry of the Six Days of Creation
- Creation is a Temple: Reading Creation through the Proper Interpretive Lens
- Creation is a Temple: The Temple as a Meme in the Ancient Near East and Genesis 1
- Creation is a Temple: Moses’ Brilliant Literary and Theological Move in Genesis 1
- When a Day Might not be a Day
- Reading Genesis 1 as Literature and the Three Problems it Creates for Evangelicals
- How Can a Text like Genesis 1 be Both History and Literature?
- Did the Church Really Get This Text Wrong for Two Thousand Years?
- The Paradox of Perspicuity: How Would a Regular Person Ever Understand Genesis 1 This Way?