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Duc Trung VU Genesis 1

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Unit Title: Entering the World of the Old Testament:
Survey & Method
Unit Code: BA1000Y
Undergraduate Unit
Credit Points:
18 Points
Assessment Task 1:
Write an exegesis of Genesis 1:1–2:4a (1300 words)
Student ID:
2nd Semester 2019
The chapter 1:1-2:4a of Genesis is a significant text which has strong influences on the
history of humans. This essay will focus on the exegetical aspect of the text to find out the
message that the text really conveys.
Text criticism
This exegesis is based on the Harper Collins Study Bible (NRSV) with the textual variant
as follows:
Vv.1:1: When God began to create or In the beginning God created
Vv.1:2: While the spirit of God or while a mighty wind
Vv.1:26: Humankind in Hebrew is Adam
And over all the wild animals of the earth: other ancient text reads “and over all
the earth.”
Vv. 1:27: Heb him
Source criticism
This chapter is usually attributed to Priestly tradition.1 The first reason is that the text
emphasizes God’s majesty and the order of creation. In addition, the generic name of God in this
chapter is always and only referred as “‫ֹלהים‬
ִ ֱ‫ ”א‬rather than “‫יהוה‬.” Thirdly, the text also
emphasizes the lawful perspective. Verse 2:3 highlights the sacred time of the seventh day which
is revealed later to Moses as a sign of the Sinai covenant (Ex 31: 12-17). Observing the Sabbath
is significant for exiled people because it is an act of announcing their belief in God and rejecting
other gods.2 Fourthly, another distinctive character is that the text is concerned about the identity
of God’s people. They are different because the God they worship is the Creator of the whole
Gerhard von Rad, Genesis : A Commentary, Old Testament Library (London: SCM Press, 1961), 47.
Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta, GA:
John Knox Press, 1982), 35.
universe, not just the sun or the moon or even seamonsters – the common deities of the
neighbouring nations.
Futhermore, Walter Brueggenmann points out that the text is addressed to the exiled
people around the sixth century B.C. To be more specific, its function is to be a ground for faith
in the God of Israel when the experience of exile in Babylon seems to deny God’s transcendent
power. Against the belief of the Babylonian religion, the text declares firmly that the God of
Israel is the Lord of all life and “Yahweh still watches over his creation and will bring it back to
Overall, these theological issues indicate the author belongs to Israel’s priestly Holiness
Form criticism
Genre: Geogre W.Coats calls this chapter the primeval saga which provides a narrative
report of creation events.5 However, Clause Westermann argues that the text contains a fusion of
prose and poetry. It is a report or narrative about the Creation and it is also a poetic text because
its language is metered and rhythmic as a result of constantly recurring phrases.6 Similarly,
Water Brueggenmann considers Gen 1-2:4a as a poetic narrative and insists that the text is used
in liturgy. 7 In my opinion, I prefer the opinions of Brueggenmann and Westermann to call Gen
1:1-2:4a a rhythmic poetic narrative.
Structure: The text begins with asserting that the premise of all biblical faith is about
God’s creation (vv. 1-2). In particular, God is the creator of the whole universe. Then follow a
Brueggemann, Genesis, 24-25.
Bill T. Arnold, Genesis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 30.
George W.Coats, Genesis with an Introduction to Narrative Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), 44.
Claus Westermann, Genesis 1~11 : A Commentary trans. John J.Scullion S.J. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing
House, 1987), 90-91.
Brueggemann, Genesis, 22.
long section covering six days of creation (vv.3-31). This section can be divided into three subsections: Three separations (vv.1:3-10), four other creations (vv.1:11-25) and the creation of the
human race (vv.1:26-31). Finally, the institution of the Sabbath (vv.2.1-4a) culminates the whole
process of creation.8
Sitz im leben: In the oral stage, the creation narrative was narrated and handed down as
individual stories. In the second stage, the narrative had a new setting as a solemn overture of the
priestly work. It functions as a hymn. It might be recited on occasions such as the rites of passage
or cultic festivals.9
Mood: The repetition of phrases creates a solemn atmosphere for the text. The flow of
development through seven days makes the readers feel the intensity of creation. To some extent,
it can be compared to a drama. The text is organized to express the order and majesty of God and
God’s creation.
Literary Criticism
This chapter is a prologue of Genesis and it lays a solid foundation for the Pentateuch and
the whole Bible as well. In particular, it belongs to the primeval narratives of chapters 1-11
which present a universal backdrop to the history of Israel. Chapter 1-2:4a is followed by another
narrative about creation (2:4b-3:24). Those creation narratives are two complementary portrayals
of creation.
The meaning of the text
Verse 1:1-2: In the beginning
Brueggemann, Genesis, 29-35.
Westermann, Genesis 1~11 : A Commentary ,91-93.
The opening words of Genesis lay a solid foundation for understanding the origin of the
universe and God’s relationship with humankind. The phrase “in the beginning” translating from
the phrase “ ‫ֹלהים‬
ִ ֱ‫ בָּ ָּרא א‬,‫אשית‬
ִ ‫ ” ְּב ֵר‬leads to the traditional idea of creatio ex nihio ( creation out of
nothing.”10 However, the Hebrew syntax does not support this idea. Simply, the phrase is
understood as “when God began to create.”11
Verse 1:3-10: Three separations
The order of time and space comes from three acts of separation: the alternation of day
and night (vv.1:3-5), the creation of the firmament (vv.1:6-8) and the division of water and land
(vv.1.9-10). Light, the first-born of creation, is created by God’s effective word. The separations
make it possible for creatures to live on the earth.
Verse 1:11-25: Four other creations
The purpose of the author is not to describe how creation occurs but to convey the
fundamental idea that: the whole universe is created by God’s hand. For example, the sun and
moon are important deities of the ancient Near East, however, the use of phrases “greater light”
and “lesser light” indicates that they are merely physical objects of God’s creation. 12 It is
noticeable that on the fifth day, God declares a blessing for the first time (vv.1:22).
Verse 1:26-31: The human race
The last and climactic act of God’s creation is in creating the human race. It starts
solemnly with God’s decision: “Let us make humankind in our image.” The plural “us” refers to
Westermann, Genesis 1~11 : A Commentary, 93.
Rad, Genesis : A Commentary, 51.
Arnold, Genesis, 42-43.
the lesser deities which are described in other biblical texts.13 The Hebrew word “‫ ”אךם‬is a
collective noun and literally equals to “humankind.”14
Verse 2:1-4a: The seventh day, God’s rest
The seventh day is sacred because God rests from work on that day. Through the
sanctification of the Sabbath, people can refresh and commemorate God’s rest as a sign of the
As shown above, chapter 1:1-2:4a is a poetic narrative which functions as a story about
God’s creation or a liturgical song. However, its purpose is not to explain how the world is
created but to convey the key notion: God is the creator of the whole world. God created
everything and humankind is the highest point of God’s creation.
Claus Westermann, Genesis : A Practical Commentary, Text and Interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: William B.
Eerdmans, 1987), 11.
Rad, Genesis : A Commentary, 57.
Primary source:
Hendel Ronald. “Genesis.” In The Harper Collins Study Bible, 2nd ed., edited by Harold W.
Attridge, 3-82. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006.
Secondary source:
Arnold, Bill T. Genesis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and
Preaching. Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1982.
Coats, George W. Genesis with an Introduction to Narrative Literature. Grand Rapids, MI:
Eerdmans, 1983.
Rad, Gerhard von. Genesis : A Commentary. Old Testament Library. London: SCM Press, 1961.
Westermann, Claus. Genesis 1~11 : A Commentary Translated by John J.Scullion S.J.
Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1987.
———. Genesis : A Practical Commentary. Text and Interpretation. Grand Rapids, MI: William
B. Eerdmans, 1987.
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