Book Reviews

Book Review: The Manifold Beauty of Genesis One (Davidson/Turner)

Gregg Davidson (the Chair of Geology & Geological Engineering at the University of Mississippi) and Kenneth Turner (professor of Old Testament and biblical languages at Toccoa Falls College) have come out with a new book on how to understand Genesis 1. Instead of picking on the bad views and championing their view as “the One Interpretation to Rule Them All,” they present a multi-layered approach to understanding Genesis 1 (4).

Just as Isaiah presents his readers with the Messiah as a future conquering king (Isa 9), a gentle healer (Isa 42), and a propitiatory sacrifice (Isa 52–53), the authors present seven complimentary angles from which we can read Genesis 1. This isn’t an all-or-nothing approach. You don’t have to agree with every detail or even every perspective. But hopefully this book will help you to see the beauty of this difficult chapter. The authors answer two objections for each view at the end of each chapter.

The authors give an example of the differences between Matthew and Luke’s genealogies of Jesus. Matthew and Luke both used literary devices understood by their original audience. It is important to remember that the biblical writers wrote for us, but they wrote to their own audiences. Their nuances and methods would have been naturally understood by the original audiences, but we must work to understand these nuances and methods today. Matthew and Luke structured their genealogies to be easily memorized and to challenge theological error. They also understood that numbers were symbolic. In regards to Genesis 1, one highlight is how the number 7 and its multiples are found throughout the chapter:

  • there are seven days of creation,
  • verse 1 consists of seven Hebrew words,
  • verse 2 consists of fourteen Hebrew words,
  • Gen. 2:1–3 is made up of thirty-five words,
  • certain phrases occur in multiples of seven (from Gen 1:1–2:3):
    • “it was so” (7x)
    • “it was good” (7x)
    • God (35x, in Hebrew, that is)
    • firmament/heaven and earth (7x each—I wish verses would have been given here because I come up with different numbers).

The Layers

  1. Song—Genesis 1 is a unique literary genre with wordplay and poetic features, but not enough to make it a poem. It has an inherent structure. Genesis 1:2 tells us the world was tohu wabohu, “formless and empty.” In the first three days God forms the world, making the realms in which things will live. In the next three days he fills the realms, making them no longer empty.
  2. Analogy—The Sabbath commandment in Exodus 20:8–11 teaches Israel to consider the creation week as a model of work and rest. In Genesis 1, God is represented as a farmer. Dividing his divine work into day and night illustrates a work week for Israel.   Just like God, when Israel entered the promised land they would need to create order out of disorder, they could be creative, and they could rest.
  3. Polemic—The creation story found in Genesis shows Yahweh to be the lone true God. The authors provide a table comparing and contrasting Genesis 1 with Enuma Elish (Babylon) and Egyptian myths. Yahweh, the one god, has no origin, and he created mankind with which to commune. Creation was no accident, and we are not his slaves
  4. Covenant—Yahweh made a covenant with both humans and the earth. As the great Suzerain, Yahweh made a covenant with Adam and Eve. He placed Adam in the garden, giving him a plot of land that was his. God’s presence was there, but when the couple sinned they were exiled—cast out of the garden away from God. The authors also argue that God had made a covenant with nature, and it still shows forth God’s glory. The corruption we see in nature is what we experience apart from God’s protection. (See Matt Harmon’s Rebels and Exiles or Michael Morales’ Exodus Old and New or Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?; see also Daniel Block’s new Covenant, and Gentry and Wellum’s Kingdom Through Covenant). 
  5. Temple—The Garden of Eden was where Gods presence was located—it was the first “temple.” This temple had priests—Adam and Eve—who were to guard God’s house from unclean things (see Num 3:7–8; 8:25–26). There are parallels between the garden and the tabernacle/temple, such as that they both face east, both contained cherubim, both mention containing good and precious gemstones, and more. The authors then look at the new heavens and earth and show how they were are the fulfillment of Eden. (See Greg Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission or God Dwells Among Us)
  6. Calendar—The days of creation are a miniature of the agricultural year, reminding Israel of their times of worship and celebration feasts (an example is found in Exodus 20:8–11). Many dates found within the Pentateuch serve a liturgical purpose rather than a journalistic chronology (132). Dates “align with the Hebrew agricultural calendar” (133). Genesis 1:14 tells us that the lights in the sky were “for signs and festivals” and for “days and years”—sacred festive times and ordinary times. (See Michael Lefebvre’s The Liturgy of Creation). 
  7. Land—Genesis 1–2 parallels Israel’s story. “The themes and history of Israel as a nation are all present in the microcosm of Eden” (144). We see that the land of Canaan is important (for it is God’s land which he gives to his people to worship him), as well as a covenant relationship with Adam/Israel, the certainty of both human failure and divine restoration. Returning to the promised land is like returning to Eden. Israel, like Adam, disobeyed God and were exiled out of the land. (See also Ben Gladd’s From Adam and Israel to the Church). 

Just as Leonardo da Vinci used layers in his paintings, we shouldn’t doubt that God can use layers to express beauty in his Word. In their conclusion, the authors summarize each view and how they point us to Jesus. The authors also note that no one needs to know every possible layer “in order to understand its central theological themes of God’s authorship and sovereignty over this creation, his relationship with humans as his image-bearers, separation from God because of sin, and the need for  divine intervention and redemption” (173).

The book ends with two appendices. Appendix 1 covers the topic of animal death before the first sin in the garden of Eden; Appendix 2 provides excerpts from ancient Near Eastern origin myths.

Recommended?

If you’re a pastor, teacher, or layperson, this book is highly recommended. It will help you understand and  have a greater sense of the majesty and complexity of Genesis 1. But, especially if you are unfamiliar with the ideas presented here, this book will open up Genesis 1 to you. It is more than a chapter about how the one God made everything (which is true) and that we descended from Adam and Eve who lived however many (many many many) years ago.

These seven layers aren’t dependent on any particular understanding of science and the origins of the universe. That is because the Bible does not share that interest. “Genesis 1 is about God and his kingdom,” not about how old the earth is, or how life went from Adam and Eve to Noah to the Tower of Babel. While some good science up as the arbiter of truth, Christians do not need to concede. The Bible is not meant to teach us the science behind the creation of the world, but the character of our gracious God and his plan to rescue his sinful people.

Lagniappe

  • Authors: Gregg Davidson & Kenneth J. Turner
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Kregel Academic (November 16, 2021)

Buy it from Amazon or Kregel Academic!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Kregel Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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