Plurality, Plurivocity, Particularity: Observations on Preaching Biblical Creation Accounts Part 2

One result of keeping the range of creation accounts in view is recognition of the plurivocity of Scripture regarding the creation of the cosmos.

Indeed, the common thread throughout all of these creation texts is that God is the creator of the cosmos — the sole source of life.  At the same time, the stories of God’s creative activity are many.  Scripture speaks with a plurality of voices on the creation of the cosmos — a plurality illustrated in part by the differences highlighted in the list above.

It is disingenuous to the nature of Scripture, then, to harmonize or to reduce what Scripture says about creation to a single account.  Indeed, there may be accounts that have held more weight and garnered more attention throughout the history of the Church, Genesis 1 and 2 being such texts.  Likewise, I myself have made the theological argument that for Christians the primary creation text, if there is to be one, is John 1.  Neither road, however, is acceptable if it harmonizes the many voices about creation in Scripture.

The plurivocity of biblical creation accounts also includes recognition that these texts are influenced by a range of Ancient Near Eastern creation accounts from Egypt to Mesopotamia.  The influence of other religious stories is clearer in some texts than in others, but almost across the board creation accounts in the bible are intersections of peoples, languages, cultures, and stories.

One reason to have this intersection in mind is that it reflects a comfort with plurivocity, which is inherent in Scripture though not altogether familiar or comfortable for many today.  As Richard J. Clifford, writing on the plurality of creation accounts in the Ancient Near East, observes, “Ancient Near Easterners apparently did not expect a single coherent account, tolerating instead difference versions of the beginning of the world.”1 Taking Scripture seriously means at least acknowledging the plurivocity of accounts in Scripture itself.

At the same time, all the creation accounts in their own particularity testify to and articulate that the God of Israel is the creator of the cosmos.

1R. J. Clifford, Creation Accounts in the Ancient Near East and in the Bible (CBQMS 26; Washington, D.C.: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1994) 15.