The Manifold Beauty of Genesis One, Gregg Davidson & Kenneth J. Turner. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2021.
Summary: An layered approach to the meaning of Genesis 1, focusing on what this reveals about God and God’s intentions for the flourishing of his creation and the human beings created in God’s image.
Genesis 1 is often the focus of controversy over scientific theories of origins and how to reconcile these with the biblical account. The two authors of this book, a geologist and an Old Testament professor, think that in doing so, we miss the richness of this account, and more than that the glory of God and the wonder of God’s creation. More than that, they contend that this account is so meaning laden that it may only be fully grasped in a layered approach that approaches scripture from different angles or through different lenses. They defend the idea that this multi-layered approach is both consistent with biblical inerrancy and sound hermeneutics, arising as it does from exegesis of Genesis 1 itself.
They identify seven layers to which they devote a chapter to elaborate. The layers are:
- Song. Many have noted the poetic character of Genesis 1, yet it defies poetic forms known elsewhere in scripture. The authors note the formlessness of creation and how days 1-3 give it form, and they note the emptiness of creation and how days 4-6 fill what God has given form. Noting all the repeated language in the days, they contend that this well may have been a sung account in which the beauty of the text reflects the beauty of the Maker.
- Analogy. The form of a week of seven days, of work conceived, executed, and appraised, the bringing of order from disorder, and the rest on the seventh day serves as an analogy that teaches us the goodness of work, that celebrates creativity, and serves as the basis for keeping the sabbath rest.
- Polemic. Genesis 1 is polemic. It shows there is no god like the LORD. The LORD has no backstory, no company of gods. Creation by intent and not accident. God sustains humans; they do not sustain him.
- Covenant. While the word is not used, the framework of covenant is evident: a suzerain-vassal, a royal land grant, blessings and curses, and loss of the land grant for disobedience.
- Temple. They note the many parallels with other Ancient Near East texts of gods and their temples in the language of Genesis: a garden on a mountain facing eastward, cherubim that guard the entrance, the tree of life (lampstand), the tree of knowledge, the mentions of lands with gold and gemstones, the source of rivers, and most of all, a place of God’s dwelling.
- Calendar. In addition to the creation week structure, the mention of the luminaries in day four to be “for signs and appointed times,” and “for days and for years.” This look forward to the yearly calendar of festivals that follow planting and harvest and commemorate the great events of the Exodus.
- Land. The land prepared for the first couple and lost, anticipate the land promises to Israel, their fulfillment, and the land lost in exile, and the hope of restoration.
Many of these layers are both rich in themselves and anticipatory of future works of God. The authors admit that not all the arguments for a particular layer are strong, but the cumulative case for the layers is. For me, the argument for “calendar” seemed the most tenuous, and yet not without basis.
I’ve long believed that to teach any important biblical truth, you have to start with the early chapters of Genesis. This book underscores this truth by demonstrating how so much that we see in the scriptures is evident in one or another of the layers of Genesis. The authors uncover rich treasures in Genesis that have nothing to do with origin controversies and everything to do with God and God’s ways. Manifold beauty indeed!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.