Revisiting Genesis: A Commentary on selective readings in Genesis
God, the Divine Lover, the Self-Sufficient One, the Infinite One, Omnipotent One, Omnipresent and Omniscient One, Elohim, the Creator, Owner of Heaven and Earth, wants for nothing and lacks nothing. God is complete.
Yet, God’s yearning to share the power of love knew no bounds. For love to be love, it must be expressed. God’s supernatural divine love is expressed in God Self.
But how to convey such profound concepts when they are beyond human comprehension? We have no words that are adequate and yet we have to use them. We are trying to define that which is beyond concepts and whatever words we use they limit and constrict our understanding.
Clearly, the problem is language, then and now, in naming un-nameable and having to resort to human ideas which are not only imperfect but limited to time and culture. Once we accept this, we need not feel apprehensive about opening our mind to new perceptions. We can begin to read the biblical text afresh and allow new creative thoughts to emerge and take shape. We can even find new ways to describe God and what Genesis can convey beyond the traditional interpretation.
Genesis chapter one is the account of creation. The ideas it conveys are immense and we are immediately cast into the role of interpreter. Those who wrote did the best they could but that’s only the beginning, not the end.
Toward the close of chapter one, we read simply, ‘male and female, created He them’. This confines the human species into two fixed sexes. It does not allow personal gender identification. Further, the interpretation, ‘created HE them’, immediately imposes onto the creator’s divine image male identification.
Genesis chapter two is confusing as it appears a repeat, albeit in another version, of chapter one. Various hypotheses have been suggested to explain this. For example, that the texts known as J and P, are two accounts but from distinctive backgrounds which have been brought together. However, I am not following this line of thought in my commentary here.
The traditional marriage union as the relationship between a woman and man finds its biblical origins here in the chapter’s latter verses. All of the above can affect the allegorical interpretation of Scripture. It is also critical we bear in mind the phenomenon of ‘translator’s bias’, particularly when reading the bible as a woman.
From the above, we can see some ways in which ongoing translation and interpretation has had its effect. Those who originally wrote reflect the human experience of their times. The translators, interpreters and commentators following them were a product of the cultural narrative in which they lived. These differences are reflected today in our accepted mores in the way scripture is taught. Finally, the effect of these deeply entrenched values and ideas go beyond the church
This means, today’s preachers and teachers do their best to teach Genesis from all of the above challenges of language, and an understanding of a Trinitarian God. When we read the bible, we have to bear in mind how far we have come with the development of Christianity and our understanding of God. It is easy to make the mistake of reading about the early biblical characters and forget that monotheism, for example, was not a given but rather, a developed concept. Abraham and Sarah did not have a developed theology about God any more than we, and the revelation is ongoing.
The early decipherers of the bible could not step outside of the culture and society in which they lived any more than we can. The problem we face is that bias has not been corrected. It is carried forward into today’s translations and commentaries. However, recognising that we are constrained by both history and our own limited thinking will hopefully spur us on to question, examine, and consider.
As believers we need the courage and energy to open our minds to new thoughts and concepts; to give time to allow our thinking, and thereby our understanding and believing, to change. Not only will our image of God expand but also the wonder of God’s relationship with us.
The Apostle Paul writing to the Church prays ‘…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being planted, like a tree, say, which you must first throw down deep roots into the love God has for you and shown you by sending Jesus to die for you, this is called being ‘rooted and grounded in love’. I pray that you may do everything in your ability, the power, to make sense of this, with all the saints, to understand what is the capacity of your mind, to understand the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of God, and to know beyond the knowledge you can gather through listening to others or reading or other’s teaching you about God’s love, but to know and experience the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. In this way by actively exercising your faith by putting into daily practice the teachings of Jesus, you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3 17-19 RBW Paraphrase)
We are limited to the time in which we live and the human modelling we have created by which we attempt to define spiritual concepts. We are squeezed and constrained by our own life experiences and our understanding of human relationships.
To the best of our ability let us not limit God. Let us pray Paul’s prayer above with him. Let us open our hearts and minds to learn more. Let us never get to the place where we believe we have arrived. There is so much more.