Rightly Dividing

What Not to Believe

Photo thanks to keyphotographics

Genesis 1:1 frames our beliefs about God in such a way that certain other beliefs are necessarily ruled out. As various commentators indicate, the creation account precludes:

  • Atheism, the belief that there is no god. Verse 1 assumes God’s existence. There is no proof provided, or apparently necessary. It is taken for granted. I guess the point is, only a fool would say there is no God (Psalm 14:1). God exists.
  • Polytheism, the belief that there are many gods. Verse 1 makes plain that there are not multiple gods responsible for the universe as the result of of their petty fights. He is one God.
  • Pantheism, the belief that god is part of creation. Verse 1 reveals that God is distinct from His creation
  • Dualism, the belief that both good and evil are eternal and have been battling forever. Verse 1 reveals that only God was around, therefore, only good was around.
  • And while we’re at it, verse 2 (and the rest of the Bible) rules out Deism, the belief that God created and then doesn’t intervene after.

Genesis 1:1 frames our beliefs about God in such a way that certain other beliefs are necessarily ruled out. As various commentators indicate, the creation account precludes:

In just ten English words (seven Hebrew words), Genesis 1:1 reveals that God exists, that God is one God, that God is separate from creation, and that He made somethings out of nothing. The origin of the universe is attributed to the only ever-existent, omnipotent, proactive, and purposeful Elohim.

That means our world is not an evolutionary result of chance, random variation, stray molecules, or willy-nilly gods. Genesis 1:1 shows God’s initiative (He moved first), independence (God moved apart from external influence) intention (God created with purpose), and intelligence (God created with creativity and order).

However, not everyone takes Genesis 1:1 and the rest of chapter one as truth. Is it because there isn’t enough evidence? Is it because the information is unclear? Is it because Moses seems like he’s speculating or making up a fairy tale? No. Moses treats this as pure history (as does the rest of the Bible, like Exodus 20:11; 31:17; Psalm 8; 104; Matthew 19:4-6; 2 Peter 3:5; Hebrews 11:3-4). God’s creation of the heavens and earth is not something to be proven, it is something to be believed. That is exactly the point in Hebrews 11:3.

By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

Creation is an issue of faith. The revelation of intelligent design, from an initiating, powerful God as the first cause is there to be believed. You will never argue someone into creationism. They have all the information and evidence they need (see Romans 1:18-23). What they don’t have is faith.

If you get verse 1 right, you’re on the road to get right the rest of the Bible. If you understand that one, sovereign, initiating God created everything and controls it all, then you understand that you owe your every breath to Him. We are all a part of His story. This isn’t an academic exercise, it is an adoration exercise.

Comments (copied)

Trinian said September 29, 2008 at 12:05 pm:

Very nice. In college especially you get a lot of lectures about different creation stories and how the biblical account has pulled (stolen) elements from surrounding cultures – trying to show that it is not a novel or unique story. What you have outlined here is four important points that make a clear distinction between God’s account of creation and any other civilization’s story. Sure they may all talk about waters and serpents and such, but when you look at the foundation as you have, the unique distinctions are clear. The foundation of the transcendent and imminent eternal God is completely unique and clearly shown even in the first chapter of the Word.

And I don’t think you can ever overstate the importance of the intention of God in His creation. Isaiah 45 restates it well – [the Lord] Who formed the earth and made it, who has established it, who did not create it in vain, who formed it to be inhabited. There’s just no way we can (rightly) conclude that it just sort of happened this way, or that God is making it up as He goes along. He made it, and He made it for a very specific purpose with a very intentional plan.

As for the creation being an issue of faith, absolutely – and it’s the kind of faith that Christ praises most often; not the sort that believes unequivocally in something it can’t see or understand, but the kind that looks at the physical and observable evidence and then by faith connects that evidence with an unseen and holy God (resulting in action, of course). Looking forward to more!

SKH said September 29, 2008 at 1:17 pm


Thanks for the comment. Maybe half of the fifteen or so commentaries I read in preparation suggested that Moses had at least read, if not borrowed from, other cosmogonies. Only one, that I recall, suggested that the other creation accounts borrowed from or were written polemically against Genesis. Oh our doubting age.

Interesting that you quoted Isaiah 45:18. That passage is the verse used by Gap theorists, suggesting that the tohu va bohu in Genesis 1:2 must have come after the earth’s deterioration (due to the fall of Satan or something) since Isaiah claims God did not create it “empty.” I indicated here that Isaiah is writing about God’s purpose in creation whereas Moses is writing about the process.

And finally, did I get the paragraph breaks in the right places?

Trinian said September 30, 2008 at 4:06 pm:

Funny how presuppositions work. I’m working on a lesson including that chapter, and I never would have come up with that interpretation just from reading the passage. It just seemed obvious that the word (whether it be void, empty, in vain, without purpose, etc) refers directly to the following statement that it was going to be inhabited.

If you’re going to start reading this passage with the kind of semantic viewpoint that you brought up – that God could not have created an “empty” world – then God had to have created a world instantly populated by people since Isaiah clearly defines “not empty” as “inhabited”. It’s ludicrous and makes God a liar for 5 days – unless His purpose for creating the world was for it to not be void, rather than being His Day 1 blueprint.

Just curious, are there any commentaries that would deny that Moses had read pagan cosmogonies? And yet so many books seem to jump from this scandalous “know about” theory to “constructed from” without probing anywhere further than similar symbolism.

Leila Bowers said October 2, 2008 at 10:18 pm:

I have never understood how academics use commonality in myths to prove they are all false. Logically, if all societies have a story about the flood, a dying god, creation, etc., wouldn’t that lead an intelligent person to assume they must all be rooted in one truth that has been distorted though various cultures over time? Wouldn’t it reveal there WAS a creation and a flood, and even in broken and pagan myths, the echoes of the concept of Messiah that Eve and Adam must have dimly understood and passed down to their children, down to their children, etc.?

I have heard the hypothesis that with the Tower of Babel not only did God confuse the languages, but also divided the people, perhaps linking with the theory of Continental Drift. Thus, the different mutations and similarities amongst world myths.

Phil said October 3, 2008 at 7:22 pm:

@Leila, it’s quite true that “an intelligent person” could conclude that these other faiths are mere variants of one primitive faith. But not everyone would agree that this one foundational faith is Christianity as we know it.

I really hate to sound like an agnostic, but where do we get the idea that “evolution” and God are incompatible? When making such attacks we should probably be more careful with our language and use the term “Darwinism” rather than the all-encompassing “evolution,” unless we intend to rule out any possibility of God being a driving force in macroevolution. We can’t take Genesis’ lack of scientific detail to mean that such details were not present: there is no mention of atoms in Genesis, but from scientific observations we can confirm their existence. Do we throw out the science, or adjust our reading of Genesis?

SKH said October 3, 2008 at 8:48 pm:


I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, that you are playing the devil’s advocate, because otherwise, this may be the least intelligent and most accommodating thing I’ve ever heard you say.

Sure not everyone agrees that the “one foundational” faith is Christianity, or better yet, the worship of Yahweh. It is also true that not everyone believes that Jesus is the Lord and Savior, or that the Bible is God’s Word, so on and so forth. What “everyone” agrees on is not what we’re after, ever.

As for evolution and God being incompatible, I would ask you to explain where the Bible talks about evolution of any kind. Really. For my part, I do intend to rule out any and all possibility of “God being a driving force in macroevolution,” because the Bible could not be more obvious that when God “said,” “it was so.” That means it wasn’t so after thousands or millions of years. It wasn’t so after thousands or millions of mutations that crossed taxonomic groups (since everything reproduced “according to its kind” and since no such fossil records exist, or for that matter could have existed if death came in Genesis 3 when Adam sinned [which Paul also confirmed in Romans 5]).

We don’t have to throw out science, but we do throw out conjecture as far and as fast as we can. Atoms can be discovered, sure. But no type of evolution (or Darwinism or what have you) has been or will be discovered, theistic or naturalistic. If you want unproven and unprovable, unobserved and undiscoverable, guesses for “science,” you can have it, right after you redefine “science.”

Phil said October 4, 2008 at 10:28 am:

Ok, my love of excessive wordage has detracted from what I meant to say. Basically, I was just hoping to confirm whether or not you really did intend to rule out all forms of evolution. I personally remain open to theistic evolution, and I don’t think it detracts at all from God’s role in creation. If anything, I believe it magnifies his supremacy as an intelligent and powerful force, orchestrating the formation of minute structures which we haven’t even begun to understand. True, the Bible doesn’t explicitly mention evolution of any kind. I’m at a bit of a disadvantage here since I haven’t studied any Hebrew, but I might ask if “it was so” denotes immediacy in the original language.

If your goal is to encourage healthy discussion of a still unsettled topic, I hope we can continue to exchange our views, being mindful that we’re both Christians and that the ultimate purpose of our discussion is to glorify Him. I don’t think such a discussion is possible, however, if we have the attitude that the other’s views are unintelligent and not worthy of consideration. Whether or not you would admit it, your affirmations about Genesis are as much conjecture as are mine, and I haven’t thrown them out yet. If they weren’t, Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan might be firebrand theists by now.

Leila Bowers said October 5, 2008 at 7:08 pm:

Phil – I grew up a Christian and fought evolution all the way through public school (I remember asking my 8th grade teacher where the space came from). My father is an anthropologist, so I was well armed, and was also firmly a theistic evolutionist throughout college. I encourage you to listen to the sermon I’m sure SKH will post from this Sunday. Also, a pivotal read for me was Jonathan’s Sarfati’s “Refuting Compromise.” It is an outstanding treatment from a primarily Biblical but also scientific perspective. Considering the man is a genius, it is a meaty and excellent text, and was the main force (other than my husband) in my converting to six-day Creation.

It really came down to this: Evolution is based on death and mutation. There is no way around that. Now, if you believe that death and decay and disability only came about after the Fall, because of Adam’s sin, per Romans 5, then it is absolutely impossible for God to have used evolution, in any form, to create the heavens, the earth, and everything on the earth. Moreover, as one who used to argue “the means don’t matter, as long as God did it,” I have realized it does matter – A LOT. How you treat Genesis 1 determines how you treat the rest of the Bible – what is literal and what is not. If you can treat Genesis 1 as an allegory, let’s say, or just “poetic writing,” then what keeps you from making the Exodus, Jonah, Elijah, and even Christ allegorical? You are on a very slippery slope when you take God-breathed, inerrant text and attempt to make it fit with man-centered, flawed philosophy or science (and that’s even conceding that Evolution has anything at all to do with science).

Phil said October 6, 2008 at 12:58 pm:

Leila, thank you first of all for putting up with my comment with such graceful patience and not becoming defensive. Re your 8th grade comment, I should point out that evolution is not synonymous with the Big Bang, although they do tend to flow neatly into each other. All I’ll say is that neither the Big Bang nor evolution make any attempt to explain where that initial singularity came from — I think religion can keep that one.

I do understand some of the reasons why people would prefer a literal interpretation of Genesis. Admittedly I haven’t heard all that there is to be said about it, so I’m very curious to look into that further. Since I don’t take the Bible to be as literal as some fundamentalists would, I remain open to differing views of Genesis and, as you put it well, “the means don’t matter, as long as God did it.” Don’t misunderstand, I’m not nearly that flippant about the creation account, but at this point my goal is to remain open on such a subjective topic that I don’t think can be so easily settled. A naive “black and white” view of Genesis simply won’t do in my opinion. Although the Bible is indeed inerrant, our interpretation of it is not. People can claim to preach or study “directly from the Bible,” but their interpretive set is invariably going to affect how they read it. While I’m sure we share the same fundamental views on what I’ll term more “basic” principles of Christianity, I think we have a lot more work to do with Genesis.

Leila Bowers said October 6, 2008 at 9:16 pm:

Phil – I encourage you then to pursue your curiosity and keep studying and digging deeper! Only the Word can convict, grow, and, as it were, prove its own “black and whiteness.”

I don’t think Genesis is in any way subjective – inerrant truth cannot coincide with subjectivity. Use the Bible to prove the Bible. An instance of this would be Sarfati, who commits a massive chapter in his book to the use of “yom,” the Hebrew word for “day.” Nowhere in the entire Bible does a definite adjective (i.e. “first,” “second,” etc.) + “yom” NOT equal a literal 24-hour period. That means it has to be a literal day, per the Bible (not subjective interpretation – the fact of the Hebrew language).

Finally, I don’t think we agree on “basic” claims of Christianity if you don’t believe death entered the world because of Adam’s sin. I believe that God created the world and it was good – no death, no decay, no mutation, no disability, no sin. Then, because of Adam’s sin, we fell and both spiritual and physical death entered God’s perfect creation (and we suddenly needed a Savior). This is why we have an entire Old Testament, Abraham, the Exodus, the Law, and the Prophets. They all point to Christ – if you don’t believe in original sin, there is no need for Christ to walk on this planet, and if no need for Christ to walk, teach, suffer, die, and rise again, then no Christianity.

So, if you believe that God could have used death and mutation to create a perfect world, and death didn’t enter the world via Adam’s sin, then we don’t have the same faith, because if God can use death, then He created it and introduced it to the World – we are not, then, sinners, and we have no need of Christ. That’s a pretty big basic element of Christianity.

Trinian said October 13, 2008 at 10:44 am:

Oh man, I’m missing out here… Phil, I’m grateful for your replies. It’s rare to find someone on the internet with your mindset who doesn’t immediately become hostile when challenged, so I’d like to take some advantage of that before you disappear back into the mist of the interweb to ask you a few questions that I’ve been curious about for some time. And please, for all of these, give me your honest beliefs and opinions.

First, certainly it cannot be argued that from your position you have essentially stated that Genesis (or this portion at least) is not the ultimate source of truth concerning the subject that it discusses – the creation of the universe and its inhabitants – and by this I mean that any data it gives us you believe must be considered in the overriding context of the available scientific theories of our time. Do you feel that in doing this that you have in any way placed God’s revelation as subservient to human understanding? If the answer is “no, not at all” and you believe that you can conclude evolution-like concepts or anything that would lead to a non-6-day schedule of creation where sin and death are present during the creative process from God’s revelation itself as the ultimate non-subservient source, I would be very interested to know.

Second, if however, the answer is yes and God’s revelation of how He accomplished His creation must comply with our understanding of the world around us, then my next question is what parts of the Bible do you believe are the ultimate sources of knowledge about the subjects they discuss, subservient to no human complaint, disagreement, or ideal? What makes these portions of God’s revealed inerrant scripture different from those portions that are not?

Third, this last question I’m stealing from SKH, since he made me so curious about it on Saturday… Please re-read Genesis 1-2 (I’m trusting you to do this) and answer the following hypothetical question: If God through Abraham wanted to convey that He had created the world in 6 literal days, what kind of word or phrase could He have used that He didn’t already that would have made that point clearer?

Again, thank you for your clear, honest answers.

Enjoying the Process

Starting at the Beginning

A couple months ago I was having breakfast with some of the one28 staff men. Our conversation turned toward the subject of past one28 graduates, and in particular, the current spiritual state of those students. There are, as anyone might suspect, some students continuing to walk with Christ who are closer to Him than ever. There are other students who have given every appearance of walking away from Christ.

As we talked that morning, we wondered out loud if we as men, as a staff, and as a ministry, were doing everything we possibly could to prepare our graduates for the life outside of and beyond one28.

Of course, one28 is only a small part of a student’s development. A student’s family makes the biggest difference. The opportunities and education they get at whatever school they attend plays a large role. Many additional influences shape a student’s life as well. But the question still remains: are we maximizing our influence to prepare students for life after one28? In other words, are we doing everything we can to present every student complete in Christ?

The question has not been altogether off the radar over the last few years. When we tweaked small groups and had senior’s teach on Wednesdays and retooled snow retreat and studied soli Deo glori in the 04-05 “Year of the ‘S'” we had the question in mind. When we prayed for abounding love in 05-06, enlisting Jonathan Edwards’ help to get our heads out of broken cisterns and raise our affections we had the question in mind. When we looked only to Christ in 06-07 with Spurgeon, and when we played for keeps last year through Ecclesiastes and a snow retreat aimed at guarding the heart and had the staff teach through biblical manhood and womanhood, we had in mind our part to prepare young people for following Christ.

In one sense, we’re going to build on each of the previous years, since all of those themes have a proper place. But in another sense, we’re going to take a big step back this year, and start at the beginning. After all,

  • you can’t get old without being born
  • you can’t build walls that will stand unless you begin by laying a solid foundation
  • you can’t eat ripe fruit unless you begin by planting the tree
  • you can’t cross the finish line unless you start at the beginning

That’s the 2008-09 theme: Starting at the Beginning. And we’re going to start at the beginning in a few different ways.


On Sundays were going to study Genesis. Genesis may be the best and most relevant book in all the Bible to prepare us to think about our place in the world, to frame our beliefs about family and history and morality from the ground up. Genesis is the book of beginnings, especially as we study the early chapters of God’s story of redemption. We will study the beginning of everything so that students will be prepared for anything.

Rightly | Dividing

Then we’re going to do a Saturday seminar on how to study the Bible. God’s Word is the beginning of our understanding of truth. God’s Word builds us up, equips us for every good work, and helps young men keep their way pure. One of the most valuable things we can do, then, to help prepare students, is to give them tools to understand God’s book for themselves. If we want to succeed and make our way prosperous, we’ve got to start at the beginning with Scripture.


We’re also going to focus on service this year like never before. If we want to please God, we’ve got to serve. If we want to be a blessing to our families, now as a young persons, and later as a spouse or parent, we’ve got to serve. And if we want to lead others, we must follow Jesus’ example of servanthood. This generation seeks to be served and be given to. But that mindset must not to be the case for us in one28. In small groups and as a ministry, we’re going to provide opportunities and make a concentrated push to start at the beginning with service.


We’re going to ask the senior guys to teach most Wednesdays again this year. In a lot of ways, students leading students makes the biggest difference in the ground war of making disciples. When students lead, particularly the guy students, the health of our ministry is off the charts. When senior guys step up, that sets the tone and pace. We want our guys to be strong, and we want our senior guys to start at the beginning by leading as servants.

Snow Retreat

And finally, there’s snow retreat. I can’t unwrap the 09SR theme for another month or so, but I promise, it is going to challenge everyone to start at the beginning.

Now all that is exciting, at least to me. But it is worthless for students unless they come up to the starting line with us. If they don’t participate, if they don’t let Genesis lay a foundation for their thinking, or take advantage of service opportunities and the Bible study seminar and the senior Wednesdays and the 09SR, they will not be prepared and will not be more Christlike by the end of the year.

That means some students need to repent. Loving oneself or one’s sin or the things of the world will keep anyone from growing. A person in sin needs to clear the plate, confess sin and turn from it. He or she needs to start at the beginning. So here we stand, kicking off another school year. We are starting at the beginning. Start with us.

Enjoying the Process

Monkeys in My Backyard

The following is not a joke. The Professor saw this poster on the wall at our local community college and “obtained” a copy for me. All I did was snap a photo and crop out the teacher’s contact information at the bottom. Again, there was no monkey business on my part regarding either the background image or any of the text. Feel free to click on the picture for a larger version.

Every Thumb's Width

Wilson Thinks Out Loud about Palin

I have told numerous people in the past couple weeks that they should read Doug Wilson’s posts on Sarah Palin. Whether you agree with his answers or not, the questions he’s raised are good ones. I tried to summarize the links with the idea that it might help you prioritize your click-tab reading.

Prior to Palin’s Speech at the RNC:

  • Kinda Spooky When You Think About It. “[R]emember that in the Bible Deborah was the dame who upstaged a fellow named Barak. Kinda spooky when you think about it.” Bottom line: Palin brings appeal back to the Republican party and to the Presidential campaign.
  • Cons and Pros on Palin. Framing the big issues, with acknowledgement that at the very least, Palin does threaten the leftist agenda.
  • And Another Thing…. A teenage pregnancy in the family certainly says something, but we might not know exactly what.
  • John Knox and Sarah Palin. Knox’s The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women can not be used against Palin.
  • Making Karl Rove Look Like a Piker. Why we should assume McCain’s advisors did proper vetting.
  • Palin Comparison. Palin’s potentially harmful, or beneficial, role-model to Christian young women.

Post Palin’s Speech at the RNC:

  • Secret Love Child of a Hot Dog Vendor. Perhaps Palin’s biggest negative is that she thinks highly of McCain. But like her or not, she is a game-changer.
  • An Epistemological Pileup. “The idea that women should be excluded from civil office, period, is an exegetical question, and one that I believe that can be settled because of the perspicuity of Scripture.” He also points out it has yet to be proven whether she can take care of her kids and do the VP job.
  • John Has Slain His Thousands. The potential that God has raised up Sarah Palin at such a time as this for knocking down feminism and abortion.
  • Babe-raham Lincoln. Tensions and questions about whether Palin’s politics are a reversal toward the right direction, or only slowing us down on the wrong way.
  • Two Marks of Deliverance. God’s deliverance is always different and surprising. Palin may fit into those shoes.
  • Sarah Palin, Candidate of Peace?. How Palin’s energy policy leads to peace, even though her foreign policy may need work.
  • The Single-File Column to Nowhere. The fact that God uses a woman doesn’t always and necessarily mean that all the men are wimps.
  • The Creation Order and Sarah. Biblical principles do not equal biblical legislation, so we can still endorse general patterns while leaving room for exceptions.
  • The Lipstick Affair. Palin isn’t the pig, but she has gotten into Obama’s head.
  • Barak was a Great Warrior. The difference between absolutism and non-sinful exceptions. Here’s the answer to why one woman in office doesn’t necessarily make us all feminists.
  • The Politics of Blood. Why the McCain/Palin pro-life policy is worth supporting, even though their foreign policy may be less than desirable.
  • Democrats of the Shining Dawn. More on what the creation order means concerning women in office. Short answer: it’s alright as an anomaly, not a normalcy.
  • * UPDATE [11:32AM September 27]: A Slow-Moving Pharaoh. Clarifying why slower destruction is not deliverance, as well as noting the problems with both urban feminism and a certain kind of homeschooling feminism.

It’s difficult to keep pace with Wilson’s prolificity, so I realize he may have posted three more articles while I compiled this list. I’ll try to append applicable new posts as they appear.

Every Thumb's Width

Ethics for a Can of Worms

As I said last week, failing to understand God’s created order makes for all kinds of futility. Then we received our hard copy of Credenda/Agenda (Summer 2008, Vol. 20 Issue 2) and were greeted by the following news briefs.

A report in April prepared by an ethics committee for the Swiss government has determined that plants have “inherent worth” and that human beings have no right to wield “absolute ownership” over aforementioned plants. Cases must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Arbitrarily picking a wildflower would be unethical, while a farmer mowing his field would be okay. We are glad that’s settled.

An appeal has been filed in the European Court of Human Rights located (for those who are curious) in Strasbourg, France, in which the appeal court is being asked to declare that Matthew, a 26-year-old chimp, is a person. This will just open up a can of worms, and if we open up a can of worms then somebody will want them to be all declared persons. And how do we count animal years to determine voting privileges?

These are just a couple examples of what happens when foolish hearts are darkened (Romans 1:18-23).

Lies Teens Believe

My Middle Name Is Fun

Dave Cleland continues his torrid posting with today’s, Our Youth Ministry is no Fun! Here’s a taste:

Students who love Jesus expect more than fun when they come to church….They come to church to be encouraged, admonished and taught the word of God. They are looking for a place where they can pray together, sing together and fellowship together. Those who seek to make their youth ministry fun often do so at the expense of Christian teens.

But make no mistake, Dave is fun.

Rightly Dividing

Framing a Generation

There may be no better book in the Bible to confront our culture’s current issues than the book of Genesis. Our generation’s confusion about the roles of men and women is precarious, as is our understanding of marriage and family. We are a people thirsty for identity and purpose, yet our generation may be the emptiest ever. We are distressed about the condition of our planet, afraid we’ll wreck it or nuke it and deplete all our natural resources, so we campaign to save the whales and save the planet by thinking green. We argue about men descending from monkeys while simultaneously trying to build up their self-esteem. Personal and national standards of morality are weak, if existent at all. We are uncertain and unhopeful about the future, or simply unthinking and apathetic towards it.

We are disconnected. We are disconnected from each other. We are disengaged from dreams and drive and determination. We are dissociated from history and heritage. Most of all, we’re disconnected from God. So we are isolated and aimless. We have little, if any, structure of conviction to stabilize us. We are a wandering, wicked, formless generation disconnected from any story.

We need Genesis. In the book of Genesis, Moses tells the story of creation, of life, of humanity, and of God’s people. He doesn’t simply report the historical facts, he frames our entire way of looking at the world. Moses records the story of our ancestors, their relationships and their experiences, their triumphs and their defeats, their strengths and their defects, their rebellion and God’s faithfulness. More than that, he reveals the beginning of God’s eternal story of redemption through generations.

To tell this story, Moses built the book of Genesis on a pronounced literary structure. After a prologue/introduction in 1:1-2:3, the first seven days of creation, Moses weaves together 10 sections, all starting with the heading “These are the generations of X.”

The key word is “generations.” It is the Hebrew word toledot (‏תּוֹלֵדוֹת). The word refers to that which is born or produced, in other words, the historical result. Half of the generation formulas in Genesis initiate a genealogy, a simple list of descendants owing their origin to the head figure (5:1; 10:1; 11:10; 25:12; 36:1). Those family trees establish historical context and credibility.

The other half of generation formulas, however, introduce more than lineage, they launch into “the story of X.” For example, “this is the story of” creation (2:4), the flood (6:9), Abraham’s life (11:27), Jacob’s life (25:19), and Joseph’s life (37:2). Moses uses this phrase to frame the narratives of Genesis.

The illustration of framing is probably obvious to most of us. When we frame a picture or painting, we mount the painting with borders that protect and typically accentuate it. When we frame a house, we shape the footprint and the floor-plan and create structural stability. In a figurative sense, we frame an argument or debate by directing attention on a particular issue and constructing boundaries so the participants know what is out of bounds.

So Moses framed the broad outline (the Roman numerals) of Genesis by generations. But through the story of ancient generations, he also builds the framework our generation needs for interpreting our observations and experiences, for responding to moral questions and hot button topics, and for what it means to live in relationship with fellow creatures and with our Creator.

This is why we need to study Genesis. In the book of Genesis, God–through Moses–builds and defines and supports and sets in place exactly some of the most necessary truths for framing any generation, including our own. Genesis gives six studs that frame our beliefs.

  1. Genesis frames our beliefs about HUMANITY.
  2. Genesis frames our beliefs about FAMILY.
  3. Genesis frames our beliefs about SOCIETY.
  4. Genesis frames our beliefs about HISTORY.
  5. Genesis frames our beliefs about MORALITY.
  6. Genesis frames our beliefs about THEOLOGY.

One of the words thrown around during any study of Genesis is “worldview.” Genesis frames and defines our perspective and way of thinking about life on earth.

By framing our beliefs about humanity, family, society, history, morality, and theology, we learn who we are and what we’re to do, we learn where and when we do it, and how and why we do it.

What we think about elections and laws, our convictions about abortion, our attitude toward modesty (and clothing, it’s origin and purpose), our perspective on calling and vocation, our appreciation of marriage and family and kids, our approach toward art and culture, our position on the environment and global warming and tree-hugging, our outlook on the past and hope for the future, and our attitude toward science, are all framed by how we understand Genesis.

Moses framed Genesis by telling God’s story in generations to define and support his generation of God’s people. Genesis does the same for our generation, and frames our worldview and God-view. Genesis has divine, inerrant answers for every current cultural debate and international conflict. May God increase the convictions and confidence of His people in this generation, building them up and framing their beliefs according to His story in Genesis.

Rightly Dividing

Catching Genesis

This Sunday I start my teaching trek through Genesis in one28. I already sense the thrill of paddling to catch the wave, but likewise sense the fear that at any moment the wave may upend me and pound me into the rocks.

Photo thanks to Roy’s World

I am excited about Genesis because it is (obviously) the explanation of the beginning of almost everything. Genesis casts God’s light of revelation on why we exist and what He made us to do. Not only that, any study in the Old Testament compliments the standard fare of current evangelical exposition. More time in OT study also lets me continue to work on my Hebrew, in which there is significant room to excel still more. I look forward to the challenge of accurately interpreting narrative and trying to communicate the story in a way consistent with the genre. And more than anything else, I’m eager to catch the gravity of the Creator/creature distinction and why we as image-bearers should be both head-bowed before Him and heads-up in fulfilling His mandate.

On the other hand, I am fearful to begin Genesis because I suspect it will take a lot of rear-in-the-seat time just to scratch the surface of the book. I haven’t spent much previous effort studying narrative and even less time preaching it. If insight is “the product of intensive, headache-producing meditation” (From John Piper’s chapter, “Brothers, Let Us Query the Text” in Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, 75) then I may need some Costco size bottles of Tylenol in my attempt to subdue Genesis. I hope to move through the book quickly, but not too quickly. I want to show how it frames our present-day story, without missing the historical-providential-redemptive, all-by-itself importance of the text itself.

And apart from all those things, I’m afraid I may also be confronted with my failure to enjoy the bounty God has provided for men in vegetables. (Prior to the fall, men ate vegetables only, and somehow this was no quandary for the first couple living in paradise. So if there is something to enjoy about living in a Genesis 3 world, eating meat must make the list.)