Plurality, Plurivocity, Particularity: Observations on Preaching Biblical Creation Accounts Part 1

Good preaching emerges where the theological horizon of biblical text and the theological horizon of community (parish, locale, nation, globe) come together.1

Necessary for preaching, then, is the exegesis and theological interpretation of both biblical text and community, both in their own particularity. 

As we scan the horizons of our contemporary world, there are at least two issues generating increasing interest in religious perspectives on the creation of the cosmos:

  • The growing tide of concern for the sustainability of the planet, the stewardship of its resources, and just care for all peoples.  This is an issue of growing concern globally across the Church ecumenical and among the world’s major religions. 
  • The creation/evolution debate2 is more local in that it is largely confined to the United States of America. 
    At the heart of both examples is the interface of science and religion, and for Christians the authority of Scripture.

Addressing the particularities of these two issues and the broader question of the relation between science and religion is not the purpose of this little essay.  Rather, my purpose is to focus on creation texts in Scripture and preaching thereon.  Admittedly, my perspective as a Lutheran biblical scholar and theologian within the broader Protestant and Western Traditions of the Global Church is that the authority of Scripture is a given. 

Scripture is the written Word of God that both testifies to and is normed by the Eternal Word Incarnate and Crucified.  With this understanding of Scriptural authority comes the theological necessity of taking Scripture seriously, specifically for the care of the Church’s proclamation.

What follow are a few observations that may assist preachers in engaging the creation texts of the Bible for the purpose of proclamation.

As one who has worked intimately with ancient creation stories, both in and outside the Bible3,  I am often struck by the popular misconception that Genesis 1 is the creation story of the bible to the neglect of the range of creation texts in Scripture — neglect that ultimately disregards the authority of Scripture.

When we look to Scripture, the simple fact is that there are a number of different creation accounts.  Here are a few examples:

  • The first creation account (Genesis 1:1-2.4a) in which God speaks the cosmos and time into being and order — a story which includes the creation of man and woman in the image of God (1:27) and culminates in the creation of the Sabbath (2:3).
  • The second creation account (Genesis 2:4b-25) in which the LORD God by a bit of trial and error creates human relationship culminating in the etiology of marriage (2:24)4.
  • Within one psalm’s praise of the LORD (Psalm 33), the heavens are made by the word of the LORD and the heavenly hosts by the LORD’s breath; the sea gathered and the celestial deeps placed in storehouses (verses 6-7).
  • Another psalm’s prayer (Psalm 74.12-17), “Yet God my King is from of old,” introduces an account of creation whereby God creates by dividing the sea, crushing the heads of the chaos monster, Leviathan, establishing the moon and sun, and ordering the earth.
  • Yet another psalm’s praise (Psalm 104) speaks of the LORD, “wrapped in light as with a garment,” (verse 2) who stretches out the heavens, makes the clouds his chariot (verse 3), sets the foundation of the earth (verse 5), makes all things in wisdom (verse 24), including the Leviathan, who appears as a pet (verse 26). 
  • Hearing Wisdom-personified sing of herself (Proverbs 8)5,  we hear of her place as first among all that the LORD created (verses 22-26) and her place beside the Lord as amon (verse 30) — variously understood as master worker (NRSV), craftsman (NIV), confidant (JPS), sage6.   Wisdom witnesses the Lord creating by drawing a circle on the face of the deep, making firm the skies, establishing the fountains of the celestial deep, limiting the sea, and marking the foundations of the earth (verses 27b-29).
  • Throughout Deutero-Isaiah (chapters 40-55), the LORD’s creative and redemptive activity are both central and intimately intertwined throughout7. This creative activity includes laying the foundation of the earth and spreading out the heavens (48:13, also 44:24), and in an unrivaled statement of monotheism forming light and creating darkness, making peace and creating evil (45:7).
  • The prologue to the Gospel of John tells a story of creation, whereby all creation comes into being though the Eternal Word (verses 1-5), incarnate in Jesus Christ (verse 14). 
  • In the Christ Hymn in Colossians, Jesus Christ is heralded as the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation in whom all things visible and invisible were created, and the firstborn of the dead — the one who is pleased reconcile all things to himself (1:15-20).
    While not a complete list, the marked differences in these Scriptural accounts are meant to highlight the simple fact that there are multiple creation accounts in Scripture – a simple fact that necessarily complicates the picture of creation in Scripture.

When preaching from these texts, it is therefore integral to the authority of Scripture to have the more complicated overall picture in mind. 

1What H.-G. Gadamer, Truth and Method (2nd revised ed.; New York: Continuum, 1996), speaks of as “the fusion of horizons.” (306)
2Admittedly, “debate” in many instances of this encounter is misnomer.
3S. D. Giere, A New Glimpse of Day One: An Intertextual History of Genesis 1.1-5 in Hebrew and Greek Texts up to 200 CE (PhD Thesis, University of St. Andrews, 2006).
4One could include the whole of Genesis 2:4b-11:32 of which 2:4b-25 is the first segment. A pivotal verse for such an argument is, “This is the list of the descendants of Adam” (Gen 5:1a), per Simeon ben ‘Azzai, a prominent tanna of 2nd c. CE Judaism.
5Similarly, Proverbs 3:13-26, Sirach 24, etc.
6R. J. Clifford, Creation Accounts in the Ancient Near East and in the Bible (CBQMS 26; Washington, D.C.: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1994) 183.
7C. Westermann, Isaiah 40-66 (OTL; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969) 25.