Ancient Theologians weigh in on Genesis: Basil’s reflections on creation (part 1)

Anyone that has read through the first few chapters of Genesis and reflects on them will at some point struggle with how to interpret and handle the account of creation with what they know of the universe. These difficulties are not limited to readers living in the modern age of science, but have puzzled people throughout every age.

The opening statement of Genesis is very clear. God is the Creator. The Apostle’s Creed and the Nicaean Creed both affirm that basic tenet of theology. However, almost every other aspect of the creation account has been met with numerous approaches and ideas about what the original authors, redactors and God, Himself, meant. Various proposals have been explored and debated as long as the account has existed. These discussions reveal fundamentally different ideas about what the relationship between theology and science should be as well as what hermeneutical method should be used to determine the meaning of a passage.

Even if one sought to understand the account as the original readers might the question remains: is the account an allegory or a historical narrative? Was the author’s goal to provide a scientifically accurate description of the material origin of the universe or was the intent to describe what the function the objects in creation serve? Is it possible the account used the cosmology of the original audience as a framework to present theological truths?

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Have you understood the Expanse? How the Lord might answer Job today

At the end of the epic poem Job the Lord answers the main character Job with a series of questions that help establish his perspective on his Creator.

Have you understood the expanse of the earth? Tell Me, if you know all this.

Job 38:18 (NASB95)

In chapters 40 and 41 he asks Job to consider the Behemoth and the Leviathan which seem to be large creatures that we could equate with “pre-historic” dinosaurs like the Brachiosaurus and the Mosasaurus (made famous in Jurassic Park).

In the intervening millennia, we may not be able to behold the Behemoth nor the Leviathan as it seems Job was. However, we have been afforded the great privilege of living during a time of great discoveries about the universe. What we are able to behold is perhaps even more incredible than these creatures were.

Living in the Bronze Age, Job would have had a very limited understanding of the universe. For most of mankind’s existence the universe was viewed as a relatively small place with the earth at the center surrounded by the sun, moon and stars. This general understanding prevailed (under the models proposed by Aristotle and Ptolemy) until the 17th century. Did you know that it wasn’t until the early 20th century that we were able to establish that the universe was larger than the Milky Way galaxy? With incredible advances in telescopes and the ability to send probes into space we are able to see and study the universe in ways unimaginable even 100 years ago.

This got me thinking. How might the Lord respond to a person today that struggles with the problems of evil, justice and the vastness of the universe. This exploration relies on various scriptures and replaces the Behemoth and the Leviathan with some of the majestic images from the farthest reaches of the universe.

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What is the Expanse?

No not the sci-fi series on Syfy and Amazon Prime Video that is based on the books by James S.A. Corey. But the matter created on day 2 in the Genesis account.

In Genesis 1:6 (NASB20) we read:

Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”

Depending on your translation the Hebrew word rāqîa may be translated as “expanse” (NASB, NET, ESV, Holman), “firmament” (KJV, NKJV) or “vault” (NIV). The NLT translates the word as “space”.

In order to understand what the expanse is we will read through the rest of the Genesis account. Examining the account and listing out what the text says about the entity that was created on day two. We will focus on both its description and function.

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