Plurality, Plurivocity, Particularity: Observations on Preaching Biblical Creation Accounts Part 3

The preacher by nature of her/his call to the ministry of the Church is bound to take seriously this particularity of biblical texts out of respect for the authority of Scripture and in care for the Church’s proclamation.

While this is no different with creation texts than with any other text in Scripture, the tendency to harmonize creation accounts is at least as prominent as the tendency to harmonize Gospel accounts.  It is important, therefore, to be mindful of each text’s particularity.

Take for example Job 38, a creation account not mentioned above but which appears twice in the Revised Common Lectionary.1 Chapter thirty-eight starts the LORD’s first response to Job2,  and the Lord’s response is an interrogation meant to illustrate the difference between Creator and creature.  What is described in 38:4-38 by way of these questions is an altogether different picture of creation than in the more familiar Genesis 1. 

The LORD’s first line of questioning provides an example: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding.  Who determined its measurements — surely you know!  Or who stretched the line upon it?  On what were its bases sunk, or who laid the cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”3  

The language used here is not of creation by speech or fiat.  It is more akin to that of a divine builder with ruler and chalk line in hand and with the stars and heavenly “sons of God” as witnesses.  The theological horizon of this particular question in Job 38 suggests a hands-on creative activity with the knowledge of a master craftsman who takes what is available and builds the world.  The initial question, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?,” expects a certain answer that cannot but separate creature from Creator. 

Returning to the beginning…  Good preaching emerges where the theological horizon of biblical text and the theological horizon of community come together.  Contemporary issues increasingly will draw our attention to creation accounts in Scripture.  For the sake of the authority of Scripture and for good preaching, it remains important to take seriously the plurality of accounts in Scripture, the plurivocity of the whole, and particularity of each.

1(1) Job 38:1-7 [34-41] — Semi-continuous reading for Proper 24 [29] & (2) Job 38:1-11 — Proper 7 [12] both in Year B.
2The whole of which is 38:1-39:30.
3Job 38.4-7, NRSV. See also Proverbs 30:4.