Chapter 1. The Primeval Prologue: Relationships in Worship

Chapter 1


God. No word provokes more feelings. In today's culture, few words have more definitions. Even an individual can struggle internally with the word, as the theoretical definition is quite different from the practical one. No doubt this is because how one defines "God" delineates who we ourselves are and because it is easier to be a certain type of person in theory than it is in practice. Perhaps the real problem is that our definitions are too often theoretical instead of practical—outgrowths of knowledge about God, rather than the knowledge of God. Is it any wonder that churches struggle with worship? Tozer stated half a century ago, "We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church." Worship has been defined in the introduction as the ascription of worth and a relational phenomenon between the created and the Creator that finds expression in both specific events and lifestyle commitments. If this is true, then the understanding one has of God will, in turn, be the heart of one's understanding and expressions of worship.

Thus it is not surprising that the biblical record begins with a universal focus on the nature of God and His relationship with all humanity. In the primeval prologue (Gen 1-11), one encounters texts that paint the grandeur of God with colors unimagined and with insights few could expect. These texts introduce humanity to a God who is not only transcendent, but also immanent; a God who is not only powerful, but also personal; and a God who is not only austere, but also relational. The wonder of a God who can overwhelm our categories and yet be a part of our formulations in a meaningful way truly is the starting point of worship.

The Creator and the Created: The "Confession" of Genesis 1

The first chapter of the Bible is perhaps the most debated single chapter in all of Scripture. From the nature of the first verse to the general questions that arise in relating this text to modern science, a person could make a career studying this one chapter. Yet for all the pontificating and study of the text that goes on, more often than not interpreters lose the main purpose in their attempts to either defend or dissuade. This is not to say that the various discussions concerning this chapter are unhelpful, only that it is advisable from time to time to simply step back and look at why it is there in the first place—to create a vision of the grandeur of our God.

As previously pointed out, one of the fundamental questions of correctly interpreting a text resides in the proper identification of its genre. By identifying the genre of a text, the reader is able to more readily understand its purposes and forms of expression as the author intended them to be read and understood. Such an approach is not only logical but also extremely helpful in answering questions and correcting errors. But a problem is created when the genre is not readily identifiable, and such is the case with Genesis 1. While the overwhelming majority of interpreters reject its identification as pure narrative, they are less successful in agreeing what the form actually is. These scholars are not motivated by a desire to run away from the issues of conflict with modern science or to turn the text into something less than history. Rather, the author's careful use of certain stylistic features, organization of the days in corresponding relationship of sphere with occupant, and apparent interaction with the contents of other ancient Near Eastern texts drive these observations.

Although it was fashionable in previous generations to talk about the dependence of the Genesis writer on his Babylonian and Egyptian counterparts for his cosmogony, numerous studies have demonstrated that the similarities can hardly be defined as borrowing and are better described as correction by means of polemic. This relationship of texts that manifests itself in both reflection and transformation marks some of the most striking forms of communicating God's greatness anywhere in the Bible. The opening verses portray a God who is not at war with the seas, but who demonstrates control over them merely by His presence. The sun and the moon, viewed as gods by much of the ancient world, are relegated to mere objects when Moses dares to call them merely "greater light and lesser light" (Gen 1:14) rather than addressing them as šemeš and yārēaḥ. To read that the biblical writer—within a world ensnared by polytheism and myth—has made the audacious claims of God's singularity and power in such a simple yet profound way is to be introduced again to the transformational nature of a relationship with the Creator of the world.

In the end, where are we left regarding the genre of Genesis 1? The passage clearly tells a story, though not in a form even comparable to the chapters that follow. There is certainly a didactic purpose in its structure, repetitions, and language. The text is also evidently covenantal in force and essence. Such a conclusion lends itself strongly to the supposition that the first chapter of Genesis is a liturgical work of some sort that finds purpose within the worship of Israel. Perhaps identifying it as liturgical poetry that functions as a confession is the best approach to its genre category because it admits its liturgical and didactic purpose yet maintains its historical reflection. In any case, that the biblical record begins with a text designed to incite, inform, and increase worship is telling in and of itself.

The Creator Has Spoken to His Creation

The starting point for discussions regarding God's attributes ought to be the aspects He himself emphasizes. A major conception of the Judeo-Christian worldview is the notion that there is a God and He has revealed Himself to us. This revelation not only begins here in Genesis 1, but is in fact emphasized. It is axiomatic that, when interpreting a text, it is the verbs that emphasize the concepts disclosed by the writer. It might be surprising, however, to discover that in Genesis 1 the primary verbs are not centered in creating or making, but rather in speaking. The text is clearly advocating an understanding and perception of God centered on the idea that He communicates with His creation. Man does not have to wander around in darkness wondering what kind of God he serves or owes allegiance to; Yahweh has communicated, and the traits He communicates are worthy of worship.

The Creator Is Lord of His Creation

The discussion above has already alluded to the power of God, but that power is central to the observations of chapter 1 and so deserves further elucidation here. The power of God manifests itself in two distinctive ways: His method of creation and His power over the sea. The method of creation has been the source of considerable debate, centered specifically on the verb bārāʾ. Among the aspects that scholars generally agree on are that God alone functions as the subject of this verb and that there are never materials mentioned when it is used. But the idea that the word demands creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing) is somewhat less settled. The classical commentators almost universally suggested that bārāʾ demands a position of creatio ex nihilo, and one can still find some modern commentators willing to take this position. Unfortunately, an exclusive definition of bārāʾ in these terms is untenable. Rather, the word emphasizes the effortless creativity of a sovereign God to whom creation owes its very existence and all its worship.

Modern readers may miss the significance of God's power over the sea demonstrated in this chapter (Gen 1:2, 6-10), but it expresses a conception of eminence unparalleled in the texts of the ancient Near East. In many myths of the ancient world, the gods are said to struggle with the waters. Marduk struggled with Tiamat in order to achieve ascendancy in the Enuma Elish. Baal yearly had to battle the sea in order to bring about renewal to the land. The gods of the Gilgamesh Epic are said to have "cowered like dogs" before the waters of their flood and fled to the highest heaven. It seems that for the ancients, the sea represented that unknown and unconquered aspect of life that haunted their dreams and made their imaginations run wild (perhaps similar to modern views of deep space). In the face of such terror, Yahweh revealed Himself as unrivaled and unchallenged, even by the sea itself. Neither the waters themselves (Gen 1:2, 6-10, Exod 14:15-31; 15:8; Job 38:8-11; Ps 77:16-20 [Hb. 77:17-21]) nor the great monsters in the sea (Job 41:1-34; Ps 74:12-15, 89:9-10; Isa 51:9) ever challenge or threaten Israel's God. Objects and beings, which threaten other so-called gods, are merely an instrument in Yahweh's hands or an object with which He does as He pleases.

The Creator Provides for His Creation

A God of such power is certainly an inspiring revelation. But left by itself, such a realization might lead toward a perspective of Him driven more by a stifling fear than a liberating awe. The passage does not stop with this revelation since it moves into a reflection that this God is also a God of abounding provision for His creation. As mentioned above, Genesis 1 reveals a correspondence between days one and four, days two and five, and days three and six, in which the first set lists the creation of a sphere of habitation and the second the inhabitant of that sphere. Though this ordering may be nothing more than a form of Hebrew parallelism, perhaps it is also a reflection about God's provision—namely, that God does not place a requirement on His creation for which He has not already made provision. One might argue that the same relationship can be ascertained for the chapter as a whole in how it relates to v. 1.

The relationship of v. 1 to the rest of the chapter has been the subject of considerable debate. While most evangelical scholars agree that v. 1 is an independent main clause, they argue about how exactly it relates to v. 2, v. 3, and the rest of the chapter. This is not simply a question of semantics since the answer can have far-reaching theological implications. One approach argues that the independent clause of v. 1 serves as a title to the chapter or as a description of what follows.

Those who support this view generally make three positive arguments for it. First, it can be argued that the words "the heavens and the earth" form a merism meaning "everything," and the statement describes a finished work of creation in its final form; therefore, it must be a title describing all that follows. Second, since the passage is to be understood as a genealogy of sorts as noted by the closing phrase in Gen 2:4a, the summary statement at the beginning is to be expected. Finally, if v. 1 describes a creative activity prior to day one, the seven-day structure is lost.

In response to these arguments, the following observations need to be made. Regarding the merism of v. 1, Wenham successfully argues that given the special nature of the passage as the first account and event, it is quite feasible that the construction here denotes only totality, rather than organization. Concerning the relationship of the passage to other genealogies, such a relationship can hardly be said to be certain since few scholars would place chapter 1 within such a literary family and since the passage ends in 2:3, not 2:4a. Finally, the creative activity of v. 1 need only break the seven-day pattern if it falls outside of the first day. It is perfectly reasonable to interpret the event in relationship to the first day—thus preserving the clear pattern of the text.

Theologically, the most disturbing problem with a position that makes v. 1 a title is that it begins the chapter with preexistent matter. That is, if v. 2 begins the account, one is left without knowledge of where the formless and void earth originated. It would seem strange, however, for the writer to go to the lengths he takes to argue for the singularity of God and yet be so careless in the opening, thus allowing the possibility of something being coexistent with God "in the beginning." Furthermore, as Wenham points out in alluding to Gunkel, if v. 1 is a title, how can it be considered accurate for the title to say that God created the earth when according to v. 2 it was already in existence?

One more notable issue with the view that Gen 1:1 expresses a creative act developed further in v. 2 and following is the interpretation of Isaiah's statement that God did not create chaos (tōhû, "emptiness, wasteland," Isa 45:18). Some argue that this verse does not allow for God to create a chaotic or unfinished world, but rather one that was complete and total. The word tōhû is the same word as in Gen 1:2 for the status of the earth at the beginning. Again, unless one is willing to posit a blatant contradiction between the two passages or argue that the world arrived at its status in v. 2 outside of God's creative activity or against His will, one has to observe that the Isa 45:18 statement that "God did not create the world tōhû" expresses something other than the earth's nature at creation. Rather, Isa 45:18 must refer to its purpose—the earth was not created to be empty but to be inhabited.

If v. 1 does indeed represent the first creative activity of God in relation to His creation, it represents yet another example of His provision of a suitable environment and then placement of inhabitants in that environment. Such a provision, rather than simply being expressed in the relationships spanning the specific days, is characteristic of the entirety of creation. God created "the heavens and the earth" empty and unproductive and then proceeded to fill this realm with life and inhabitants. This supposition removes much of the negative connotations created by earlier interpretations and instead insists on a wholly good creation from beginning to end, a creation founded in the provision and love of a God who expresses grace even before the fall (more on this below).

The Creator Relates to His Creation

The first chapter of Genesis not only describes certain divine attributes, but it also informs us of the fundamental relationships that will characterize the rest of the biblical story. As mentioned above, Fretheim has successfully illustrated that the God of the OT is indeed a relational God. He relates to Himself, His heavenly attendants, and His earthly creation. The manner in which He does the first of these is somewhat debated as far as how much of it is revealed in the OT. This book's introduction expressed a warning regarding the danger of losing the truth that God is a God of history and viewing His revelation outside time and space. Therefore, it seems necessary to examine the plurality of the Hebrew word for God (ʾĕlōhîm) and the plural pronoun used in Gen 1:26 in order to gain further insights into what the writer is trying to say about the Creator.

Concerning the Hebrew word for "God" (ʾĕlōhîm), Christians tend to see it as a reference to the Trinity. This view grows out of the surety that the Trinity is an eternal reality and the fact that the word ʾĕlōhîm is formally plural though it occurs with a singular verb—hence, a three-yet-one reality. Unfortunately, there is little to support this hypothesis beyond the tangential coincidence of verbal agreement, so that there are few scholars who would identify such as a marker of the Trinity. Indeed, there are other words that take a plural form and yet use a singular verb or which are plural merely for grammatical reasons. As such, there is little evidence to recommend that the form is advocating a Trinity to a people for whom such an idea would have been impossible to conceive of at best and for whom it might have been theologically dangerous. To people who struggled with rejecting polytheism in favor of monotheism, the teaching of the plurality of God would likely have resulted in a dogmatic polytheism.

The matter of the plural pronoun "us" in Gen 1:26 is a somewhat more difficult issue to address. The fact that the rûaḥ ʾĕlōhîm ("Spirit of God") has already been introduced in v. 2 at least opens the door to the possibility of God's self-deliberation with his Spirit, a revelation very close to Trinitarian in essence. The problem with this supposition is that other uses of the first person plural pronoun in God's speeches do not have a connection with His Spirit, so the connection may only be coincidental. Secondly, the possibility of translating rûaḥ ʾĕlōhîm as "wind from God" or "breath of God," rather than "Spirit of God," cannot be excluded, which would be thoroughly devastating to this position. Finally, the problem of the people's polytheism pointed out above would also apply to such a revelation as this. In short, while the Trinitarian explanation cannot be absolutely excluded here as it can with the plural ʾĕlōhîm, it clearly does carry some problematic baggage with it.

Other suggestions have been made concerning God's use of the plural verb. One proposal, which has gained favor with many, views it as a type of self-deliberation, an expression of self-exhortation. This view has the benefit of not requiring an outside referent and also highlights that each event involved is of substantial significance, but it is problematic in that it may not fit the context of subsequent uses of the plural (especially Gen 3:22). Perhaps the most common viewpoint held among scholars today is that God is conferring with His heavenly court—a "plural of deliberation." The commonly raised objection that the divine court (often identified as angels) does not have creative powers is answered in light of the revelation that God alone creates (Gen 1:27), and nothing more is implied here than an announcement of great importance for all to pay attention. This position is clearly the one that seems most appropriate in light of the original author and audience, but one needs to protect the viewpoint of the divine author as well. Therefore, it is appropriate to point out that the language is sufficiently broad so that it preserves a revelation consistent with and suitable to the concept of the Trinity without necessarily teaching it. Furthermore, it must be stated that Jesus and the Spirit were indeed involved in creation (Prov 8:22; Isa 40:13; Col 1:15-20).

Whether one holds to the self-deliberative understanding or the idea that God is addressing His heavenly court in Gen 1:26, the fact that He is a relational God is inescapable. The importance of such a conclusion should not be underestimated. Discovering that God is relational means that He is not solely self-interested, that one is called to have a relationship with Him, and that one who is created in His image realizes he was created for relationship.

To be created in the image of God is an often discussed but also often undervalued feature in both our own self-understanding and in relation to the nature of worship. Genesis 1:27 highlights the fact that it is a significant event: "So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female." Here in this one verse, the distinctively important verb bārāʾ is encountered three of the six times it appears in the chapter. Hebrew writers often use repetition rhetorically to emphasize a point or draw attention to a particular truth. Such a usage coupled with God's consideration of His activity in v. 26 creates the sense of pause and tension. The picture is one of regular progression through the activity of creation continuing until this moment when God says, "Stop! Everyone pay attention. I am about to do something here unlike anything you could have imagined." Indeed, the text definitely highlights the beginning of a relationship with God that will be closer than anything that has previously existed.

But what exactly is the nature of this relationship? What does it mean to be created in the image of God? It has become fashionable to draw conclusions about this issue within one of two perceptions. The image either denotes a characteristic (essence) of God demonstrated in humanity, or it is meant to suggest a status or function that man performs or fills in God's plan for creation. Among those opting for the essence interpretation, man as a spiritual and intellectual being who is capable of self-awareness, reason, and spirituality is the most common approach. The status or function interpretation is usually divided among matters that relate almost totally to self, matters that relate solely to God, and matters of being an agent between God and the rest of creation. Such lines of distinction about the image of God seem a little ambitious to say the least. Of course, one could take the extreme minimalist position that the terms do not have any sort of definitive meaning and were simply designed to express that humans are not animals. But a more prudent course would be to look at the context to determine if multiple truths exist in the text.

The link to man's relationships (both male and female and as lord over the rest of creation) in the context and the possible rendering of the waw in "and let them have dominion" as "so that they have dominion" indicate that the use of the term "image of God" is at least functional in terms of how we serve God and His creation. Its use probably originated as a polemic against the concepts of humanity in much of the thought of surrounding nations. That is, whereas other peoples perceived only one individual as the earthly marker of their god (the king), the biblical perspective is that all of humanity gets this image of God. Man is clearly distinguished from God as creature, and yet he is called to reflect Him to each other and to the rest of creation. This conclusion requires that there is an intention regarding man's essence as well.

Perhaps the best place to begin an examination of the aspect of the image descriptions that relate to the essence of humanity is in the words "image" (ṣelem) and "likeness" (dĕmût). Both of these words are most often used in relation to idols. Clines has argued cogently that "likeness" expands and sharpens "image" so that the force of the sentence is that man is created as God's image or representative, and "likeness" brings in the reality that man is also representational in the sense that he possesses elements of God in how he relates to the world and to each other. That is, man is a likeness kind of image. This conclusion is supported by the archaeological discovery of a statue of King Hadduiti of Guzana (eighth century bc) in northeast Syria. This statue contains an inscription (distinctive only to it and the biblical text) that links the words "image" and "likeness" in one phrase. Furthermore, it clarifies that the intention of such usage is that the image will serve in the king's place to make him present even when he is absent. That these two Hebrew words have a clear parallel in antiquity makes it highly likely that the biblical writer was suggesting something about our appearance in creation as representations of God, while still maintaining the truth that we are in fact not God.

The relationship of our being created in the image of God to the ancient practice of a king placing his statue throughout his kingdom as his representation is at least a possible, if not probable, intention in the biblical teaching. This perspective carries significant theological implications pertaining to worship. The inescapable correlation that must be drawn between God's act here and His prohibition in the second commandment (Exod 20:4-6) should fill us with both wonder and humility. The prohibition of the second commandment ensures that God would never be wholly defined by anything here on earth, primarily because nothing on earth can begin to portray His nature. The fact that He would take the steps here to grant us that magnificent privilege and sobering responsibility is beyond description (see Ps 8). Consequently, man has a charge to reflect God's nature to each other and to the world in the way we live our lives. The connections throughout the primeval prologue to this concept link it to all aspects of life: sexuality (Gen 1:27-28—"male and female" and "be fruitful, multiply"); familial (Gen 5:3—"fathered a child in His likeness, according to His image"); judicial/societal (Gen 9:6—"Whoever sheds man's blood, his blood will be shed by man, for God made man in His image"); and vocational (Gen 1:28—"fill the earth, and subdue it"). Thus, the challenge of reflecting God is all encompassing; it is not limited to religious situations but to every aspect of life. This passage reveals the first biblical reference to the interdependence of service and worship and elevates every other story throughout the Bible because God has invested Himself in humanity. Ultimately, it calls us to worship because—although there is a sense in which all creation can praise Him (see Ps 148)—we are specially designed for that very purpose.

Genesis 1 is a precious chapter in the lives of God's people as we recognize our place in this world and the core expressions of our relationship with our Creator. That the creation event itself is the source of worship events is evident throughout Scripture (see Pss 8, 29, 74, 89, 104, 148), but the creation event also has a significant impact on worship as a lifestyle. Indeed, losing a creationist worldview can have far-reaching implications for how life is lived before God and each other. The passage leaves us full of hope and assured of God's ultimate purpose. As Fretheim writes, "The recurrent litany that God has created everything good stands as a beacon regarding the nature of God's creative work and God's intentions for creation."

Barriers of Alienation and Portals of Grace (Genesis 2-11)

Genesis 2 starts a new adventure in the life of humanity and its relationship with God. This is not to suggest that one is dealing with a totally different story in this text. Rather, Genesis 2 represents the recounting of the creation of man and woman in a more concrete manner than in Genesis 1 as a means of relating differing propositions about man's relationship to God and himself. In contrast to the stark grandeur of mankind's existence and status in Genesis 1, the second chapter introduces us to a vulnerability that at once emphasizes our need for God and each other. Man here is formed from the clay, reminiscent of the pottery that Israel would use every day and that was susceptible to breaking (see Job 4:19, 10:9, 13:12; Isa 45:9; 64:8). In this chapter, the good creation of God is identified as having an aspect that relates its limitedness and dependence on God, even in the pre-fallen state. The fragile status of man implicit in his being from the dust reveals an intimacy in God's relationship with man that is as important a truth as anything illustrated in Genesis 1. Indeed, man's finiteness, juxtaposed with God's provision, serves well as a vehicle for introducing the relational concepts of alienation and gracious redemption that are the focus of the remainder of the primeval prologue.

The Essential Needs of Man Met By God

At the risk of understatement, no human need is as acute as the need for God. The second chapter of Genesis addresses this matter by painting a picture of Yahweh that is intimate and passionate. Like the image language in chapter 1, Genesis 2 relates the fact that God and man are distinctively connected in a relational bond resulting from God's investment of Himself in mankind. When God breathes life into man in Gen 2:7, the "breath" is not the expected rûaḥ but instead the nĕšāmâ. This term refers to something only Yahweh and man possess and something only they share. The fact that it brings "life" to the man is not a circumstantial connection Moses made but at once expresses both our special status before God and our utter dependence on Him for all that makes one alive.

Moses continued his emphasis a little later when he wrote, "The Lord God caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food… The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it" (Gen 2:9, 15). The abundance of God's gift is evident. The twofold description of the trees results in little doubt that what God was granting man here was, as the previous chapter states, "very good" (1:31). God made this garden available to man without any merit on man's part, perhaps indicating the first statement of grace in the Bible. Since grace precedes the fall, this has significant implications for our understanding of both grace and our need for it. Although grace would certainly include the notion of God's provision for mankind in connection with his lostness and his need for salvation, it goes beyond this to relate the fact that mankind has always needed God for his survival and existence. Man does not simply need God to redeem him and restore him; man simply and plainly needs God. This is a lesson that a self-absorbed humanity needs to hear—whether it is the ancient world influenced by Mesopotamia, or the present characterized by a misguided confidence in human potential. As Wenham explains, "Genesis is flatly contradicting the humanistic optimism of Mesopotamia [and today's world]: humanity's situation in its view is hopeless without divine mercy."

Even the matter of life itself prior to the fall rests on God's provision. The notable access to "the tree of life" (Gen 2:9, 16) before the fall and the restriction from it afterward suggest that life and its continuance is a gift from God. This observation is not intended to broach the topic of immortality at the level of the philosophical structures surrounding the immortality of the soul. Such categories are beyond the focus of the biblical writers. Since access is not restricted before the fall, the tree of life is more than simply symbolic and seems to have served a function regarding man's happiness and possibly even his wisdom (Prov 3:18). This is not to understate its life-giving properties (Gen 3:22); rather, it is simply saying that in a pre-fall setting, giving life could hardly have been its emphasis. Therefore, the presence of the tree should be understood as God's provision of life and serves the function in the garden of pointing man to the fact that he owes his existence to God. Indeed, both life and abundant life have always been the domain and prerogative of God to grant (see John 10:10). That He gives it so freely here should again expand our recognition and praise of God for life itself since His activity in that regard is not merely reactive to sin, for it has always been present.

As the great provider of mankind's need of both Himself and of life, God establishes principles by which both of those ends might best be achieved. God placed in the center of the garden the symbol of His lordship over humanity and the measure by which man's recognition of the same is found. God's prohibition against eating from "the tree of knowledge of good and evil" (2:17) should not be divorced from the other elements of the garden. The fact that the tree of knowledge was placed in the center alongside the tree of life suggests a necessary tension that must exist between God's provision and man's recognition of it. For how can man truly understand the nature of God's provision apart from the truth that God is Lord and man is not? The option of autonomy versus dependence that God places before man serves the purpose of clarifying that the provision of God in the garden was not solely for man's purposes, but so that man might rightfully and worshipfully relate to God.

The idea that the tree of knowledge represents the capacity of man to decide for himself what is beneficial and harmful and therefore represents his selection of autonomy over dependence on God is all but a foregone conclusion in much evangelical scholarship today. These interpretations are largely built on the idea that one must draw conclusions about the nature of the knowledge accessed through the tree that would be consistent with the description of the immediate results of eating the fruit of the tree (Gen 3:7) and that the knowledge does, in fact, make them like God (3:22). That the man and woman went from being "naked" yet without "shame" (2:25) to knowing "they were naked" and covering themselves (3:7) need not have sexual connotations. The lack of clothing and shame before the fall could have connotations of openness to vulnerability without a knowledge of failure. The effect of the fall, then, is to open their eyes to the fact that whereas before they were in unity, successfully coexisting and under the protection of God, their decision to claim their own autonomy has left them divided, a failure, and outside of God's provision, now vulnerable to the world around them. This event highlights a possible motivation for the biblical writers in their emphasis on right interaction in one's human relationships before one can truly worship God (see Amos 5:4-15; Matt 5:21-24)—the two relationships are intertwined in expression and limited in each by our capacity to love.

The above conclusion brings to mind yet another need and relationship of man that Genesis 2 makes explicit and that God provides—community. In the middle of the chapter stands a statement that is unexpected and significant: "It is not good." In the midst of this intimate relationship between the man and God, in the midst of this glorious paradise abundantly created by God for man, God recognizes something that is unacceptable. God states that it is not good that man is alone. And while the primary thrust of this passage is clearly an introduction to the biblical perspective on marriage, the implications go beyond this to involve every human on earth as each attempts to relate to God and live in a state of worship—man was not made to be alone. What is most striking about God's statement is that within us there is a built-in need that God Himself has chosen not to fill. Yet He did not leave us to our own devices in this regard, for He has made provision for our need again with His wonderfully creative ingenuity. The idea sometimes expressed that one can simply worship God in solitude and not take time for the corporate setting is incompatible with this basic relational revelation and with God's clear instructions elsewhere. The detrimental effects of the fall did not alleviate this need, nor did it diminish a community's capacity to encourage us in times of difficulty and to enhance a worship event (Heb 10:25).

The Essential Struggles of Man Faced By God

The fall introduced the basic struggles of humanity that impact our capacity for worship. The conversation between the woman and the serpent represents a type of theologizing that is detrimental to the fundamental aspects of worship because it damages a key component in that (or any) relationship—the component of trust. Several theologians have illustrated that the conversation recorded in Gen 3:1-7 represents an unhealthy approach to theology because it is a conversation about God that leaves Him out of the discourse. Perhaps Brueggemann has put it best: "The new mode of discourse here warns that theological talk which seeks to analyze and objectify matters of faithfulness is dangerous enterprise." The "hermeneutic of suspicion" that characterizes so much of scholarship and that has infiltrated the church is a dangerous undertaking because it undermines the principle of trust. When we as creatures begin to view God and His revelation through the lens of doubt and suspicion, it becomes easy not only to question the content of the message but the intent as well.

But we should also be wary on the other side of the equation, for the woman's quotation of God's revelation about the tree faithfully reports His instructions but then goes on to add her own barrier, "You must not eat it or touch it" (Gen 3:3). This first expression of legalism in the text, where she sets up her own boundaries of behavior, presumably to protect herself, is as dangerous to worship as any doubts raised in the throes of suspicion. For this type of behavior places us over God's revelation, and it is true that the person who can add to God's word will be all too ready to reject it as the source of authority in the end. When man modifies God's revelation for our own purposes, we ultimately hurt our relationship with Him. This is true because taking away from his revelation limits our understanding of His ability to meet crucial needs; whereas adding something displaces Him from the throne and places ourselves upon it. Anything less in our suppositions limits our understanding of His ability to meet crucial needs; anything more displaces Him from the throne and places ourselves on it. The serpent's lie and the human's desire is an affront to the mysteries of God that are responsible for so much of the awe that leads to worship. Though it seems a human characteristic to desire extension beyond who we are and what we can do, there are boundaries we were never meant to cross.

When the man and woman broached the barriers established by God, they brought consequences of alienation that had to be addressed by the Creator who Himself is relational and made humanity relational as well. This relational tension set up a paradigm that could easily go the route of either escapism (life does not matter because God will fix everything) or fatalism (life does not matter because we are all doomed). Instead, the story of human history recorded in Scripture calls us to realism (life matters because pain is real) and hopefulness (life matters because God is not finished with us). This tension is aptly referred to by Brueggemann as "the strange resistance of the world and the deep resolve of the Creator." This conception of God's investment in humanity is not an easy believism or a cheap grace, but a hard fought recognition of the struggle that epitomizes relationships in the post-fall world—especially the relationship between God and man. God will not relinquish either His right to rule or His commitment to humanity, so each act of treason by us will be met with a proper balance of judgment and grace.

The relationship between judgment and grace as a theme of Genesis 1-11 has been a matter of development in thought over the past several decades. Clines has identified the feature that each act of sin in the successive narratives in these chapters increased in scope, to which God responded with equally increasing expressions of grace and judgment. A question arises, however, in regard to the presence of mitigation related to the Babel narrative. While Clines suggests the possibility that the mitigation rests in the table of nations (Gen 10), it seems more probable that the mitigation is in fact absent from the narrative for purposes of forcing the original readers to ask a crucial question: Where is the grace? The answer, of course, is found not in the primeval prologue but in Genesis 12, when God called Abraham to be a blessing to the nations. By implication, Israel would be led to the conclusion that, as children of Abraham, Israel's mandate was to be a response of grace to a world divided—one more step in the resolve of the Creator. Worship as lifestyle and as event is an outgrowth of our response to God's mercy that helps us as faith descendants of Abraham find our place in God's activities of grace in a rebellious world. Indeed, this interplay of the worship of the true God, with His desire for us to serve as portals of grace, is the fount from which the essential element of missions in the Church flows.

The Essential Purpose of Man Given By God

The first extended story of man following the fall is one of worship. Cain and Abel brought offerings from the produce of their work, and so they apparently were designed to express thankfulness to God. The story does not offer any introduction or explanation of where they learned this method of worship, and it seems at least a possibility that this is the point. If the events of Genesis 1-2 have demonstrated anything, it is that worship is not something that is demanded; it is something that grows out of the relationship between God and humans as our essential purpose. Worship cannot be a half-hearted experience.

The reason for God's favor toward Abel's offering and His disfavor toward Cain's is not that Abel's offering involved blood, since Mosaic law would permit such an offering (minhâ) to consist of grain (see Leviticus 2). Rather, the difference seems to reside in the descriptions of the two offerings—Cain gave only some of the land's produce, while Abel gave some of the first born of his flock (Gen 4:3-4). As Waltke has written, "[Cain] looks religious, but in his heart he is not totally dependent on God, childlike, or grateful." Cain's angry response and God's rejoinder, "If you do right, won't you be accepted? (Gen 4:7)," again link the event of worship with the person's life—they are inseparable. Cain was instructed in the paths of righteousness, but he refused to journey down them. This journey down the wrong path is the necessary outcome for those whose worship is half-hearted and not truly sacrificial. Worship was never to be relegated to second place.

These barriers of sin and portals of grace lead one to the conclusion that our essential purpose on earth is a life including both worship and missions. These two activities are described as a singular purpose in order not to draw too stark a distinction between them, but rather to suggest an inseparable link between the two. Indeed, the climactic exchange at Babel between man and God in these narratives of sin and grace seems to highlight God's intentions for bringing missions and worship together as two aspects of one essential reality. The command in this passage was to "fill the earth" as an expression of worship (Gen. 9:1). By way of negative example, the people of Babel saw in their tower an opportunity for self-deification; they expressed worship of self in rejecting God's mandate. Therefore, one can see that we worship God best when we scatter to a world that needs the message of grace in accordance with His divine commands (Matt 28:18-20).

Relationships in the NT

It is often said that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship. Though this statement has often become a stale aphorism with little real power behind it, the NT clearly emphasizes the features of relationship in its pages and tenets. From the reflections of Jesus as the image of God in the Gospels to the presence of the tree of life in the last chapter of Revelation, the NT echoes the features of relationships presented in the primeval prologue of Genesis. Relationships both lay the foundation for our self-identity and move us away from a disengaged introspection to an other- (and Other-) centered engagement in worship as event and as lifestyle.

God's Clearest Communication: Jesus as the Word and Image of God

"In the beginning was the Word" (John 1:1). So opens the fourth Gospel, reflecting the immanent relationship between the creation text of Genesis 1 and the ministry and work of Jesus Christ. As mentioned above, one of the fundamental revelations about the creation account is that God is a God who communicates with His creation. To observe that Jesus is the Word (logos) is at once to say something about how well He communicates who God is and also to observe His position as Lord of creation.

The NT writers were not lax in illustrating either of these truths. Jesus is the perfect revelation of the Father and the final word spoken to Creation (Heb 1:1-3). John stated that everything was created "through Him" and "apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created" (John 1:3), and Paul declared that Christ is the absolute Lord over everything because he Himself is the beginning (Col 1:15-20). Such passages indicate that the theology of creation was used as a fundamental explanation of God's relationship with man through Jesus. This truth is expanded further with the allusions to Christ as the image of God (2 Cor 4:4, Col 1:15). Christ is more than we are as the image of God, yet the connection between us and God—that we are in His image—suggests much about who we should be as Christians.

God's Mandates for Our Relationships: Christians as the Image of God

This image language is applied to Christians in expansive and important ways. In Eph 4:23-24 Paul states, "You are being renewed in the spirit of your minds; you put on the new man, the one created according to God's likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth" (emphasis added). These words reappropriate the image that, though never lost, was damaged by the fall, and they explain that Christ has formed us to function as a community the way humanity did in the garden. Is it any wonder then that the writer of Hebrews concludes his letter with an expressed interplay of fellowship with man and fellowship with God (Heb 13:1-6)? The advocacy of our imaging God to the world becomes most acute when the image is said to be restored and we take onto ourselves the name Christian. What does our lifestyle worship say about who God is to the world that we are called to serve?

Our relationship to humanity affects not only the way we take part in lifestyle worship, but also worship as event. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus called for a heightened level of response to the world for those who would call themselves worshippers of the Father (Matt 5:3-12, commonly called "The Beatitudes"). He reminded us about Cain when He connected a trip to the altar with broken relationships between brothers (5:23-24). Likewise, Jesus linked the forgiveness God offers us to the forgiveness we offer others (5:38-48). Subsequent NT writers also emphasized both of these features (Col 3:3; Jas 2:8-9; Jude 11).

God's Answers to Our Need: Babel and Pentecost

The Christ event altered human history forever. In it the resolve of the Creator finds its ultimate response to the resistance of the creation. This not only brings hope in atonement (a matter to be examined in the next chapter), but it resolves the alienation in relationships between humans. Paul's powerful statement in Gal 3:28—"There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus"—is often the passage that individuals reference first when dealing with issues of resolved alienation. But it is an event in the opening chapters of Acts that most directly speaks to the significant division man brought on himself in the final story of the primeval prologue.

The recognition of the relationship between the tower of Babel narrative and the events of Pentecost goes back at least to Augustine. He wrote,

If pride caused diversities of tongues, Christ's humility has united these diversities in one. The Church is now bringing together what that tower had sundered. Of one tongue there were made many; marvel not: this was the doing of pride. Of many tongues there is made one; marvel not: this was the doing of charity.

God's actions at Pentecost overcame the division caused by mankind's rebellion. Notably, the promise to Abraham as the factor mitigating Babel, as suggested above, finds its fulfillment here among his progeny—in the One who departed and sent the Spirit and in the people gathered together for worship. This reversal, however, is no simple exchange of unity for division. For in the activities of Pentecost the ultimate obedience to God's demand to "fill the earth" and the requisite scattering so often ignored in the Babel story finds its completion. Whereas God scattered them in confusion before, he now scatters them in a newfound unity in Christ—a clear wedding of the matters of worship and mission that characterizes our relationship to God and man.

God's Eternal Provision: The Tree of Life

It was suggested above that the tree of life indicates the gift of abundant life from God. This draws one to a conclusion about such endowment and sustenance that expands God's provision beyond simply the reactive to a gifting that has always been present. It should not be surprising, then, that when entering the heavenly realm, where sin and sorrow are left behind, that the apostle John returned to the presence and image of the tree (Rev 22:1-5). Indeed, it ought to be a humbling realization that our heavenly state will also reflect God's provision and our need. As in Eden, man is not beyond his need of God, and as in Eden God does not restrict full access to His provision. How much more must we realize dependence on God and thankfulness for such provision in this life experienced between the two trees.


As with any relationship, there has to be a beginning. Beginnings in relationships often carry awkwardness as each party learns essential facts about the other. The difference with the primary relationship identified in the biblical text between God and man is that one of the parties already knows the other intimately and has a considerable advantage in position and power over the other. The awkwardness, then, exists only on our side as we attempt to adjust to a reality that is well beyond ourselves. Fortunately, God did not leave that journey to our devices—indeed, when we attempt such, it only leads to failure—for He expresses Himself with clarity and ingenuity. How wondrous it is that God condescended to creation so He could reveal Himself, and in doing so He opened Himself up to considerable pain—all the more so since He knew what was coming.

The first eleven chapters of Genesis alone provide accounts of numerous types of relationships. The relationship of man to himself is best understood when glimpsed through the lens of how our Creator would have us see ourselves. The relationship of humans with other humans displays both an unmitigated expression of need for each other and an unavoidable capacity to hurt each other. Perhaps the latter is so true because the first exists. Finally, the primary relationship of God to humanity expresses a connectedness that is both patent and unexpected. It is this relationship that defines the direction of history and theology. It is this relationship that moves the tensions of the narratives. And it is this relationship that creates both the impetus and nature of worship. Therefore, it is to this relationship that the discussion turns and finds further definition in the foundations of worship expressed in the remainder of the Pentateuch.