Connections 06.11.17: Creation Celebration

Genesis 1:1-5, 26-31; 2:1-4a

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday on the Christian calendar.

The lectionary’s two New Testament readings for this Sunday both refer to the three persons of the Trinity. Paul’s blessing in 2 Corinthians 13:13 says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” In his commission to his disciples, Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …” (Mt 28:19).

The Genesis reading in our lesson text, which is excerpted from the lectionary first reading (Gen 1:1-2:4a), does not mention the three persons of the Trinity. Even if we stretch our interpretive imaginations so that “God” refers to the Father and “a wind from God” (1:1) to the Holy Spirit, the text nowhere mentions the Son.

So I’m not sure why Genesis 1:1-2:4a is the first lectionary reading for Trinity Sunday. The answer may lie in the part about God creating humanity, where God says, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness …” (1:26a; emphasis added).

“Us.” “Our.” God refers to God’s self with plural pronouns. “Therefore,” some might say (and have said), “this is an early reference to the Trinity. God uses first person plural pronouns because God is referring to God’s self as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

That’s not likely. Truth be told, the Old Testament writers give no indication of even thinking about the possibility of God as Trinity. The most likely explanation for the first person plural pronouns in Genesis 1 is the concept of the heavenly court that is found in the Old Testament (see Isaiah 6 and Job 1–2). So when God says “Let us,” God probably means God and the members of the heavenly court. Another possibility is that God is using the “royal we” (also known as the plural of majesty).

I estimate that there’s a .0000000001% chance that Genesis 1 means to say that God the Holy Trinity created the universe.

But I’m 100% certain that God the Holy Trinity created the universe. I say that as a Christian for whom Old and New Testaments together are Scripture. The New Testament certainly understands that the Son was involved in creation (see Jn 1:3; Col 1:15-16). I also say it as one who respects the early theologians who tried to figure out what it means for God to be Holy Trinity.

I hope you’ll join me in affirming that God the Holy Trinity created everything that is. I also hope you’ll join me in refusing to make Genesis 1:1–2:4a say something it doesn’t say.

There’s a way in which it makes a lot of sense to talk about creation and the Trinity on the same Sunday. We should try our best, with the help of the Spirit, scientists, and theologians to understand creation. We should try our best, with the help of the Spirit and theologians (I may be wrong, but I don’t think scientists can assist us here) to understand the Trinity.

But maybe, when you get right down to it, we’re better served to let the Spirit and our poets (among whom the writer or writers of Gen 1:1–2:4a is included) help us celebrate creation and celebrate God as Holy Trinity.

Sometimes we need to just sit back, be amazed, and say, “That’s beautiful.”

In the 1997 film Contact, which is based on a 1985 book by astronomer and cosmologist Carl Sagan, Jodie Foster plays astronomer Dr. Eleanor Arroway. She uses alien-designed technology to travel to—well, to somewhere: to another part of the universe or to a different universe, maybe. Wherever she goes, when she gets there, she peers from her craft at the wonder of it all and says, “They should have sent a poet.”

I’m grateful for all scientists can tell us about creation.

But I’m really glad that God sent a poet.

Discussion

1. What is the significance of God bringing order to the chaos? How can this encourage us?
2. What does it mean for humanity to be made in God’s image? How do we live out this identity? How could we better do so?
3. What does it mean for humanity to have dominion over other living things? What are our responsibilities? Are we meeting them?
4. What about creation may have caused it to look “very good” (1:31) to God?
5. How can we participate in God’s blessing of the seventh day?

Reference Shelf

1:26-31. Humankind in the image and likeness of God. Humankind translates Hebrew adam, literally “a human”; here it is not a personal name. The Hebrew word is for P grammatically but not semantically gender-specific. Its meaning clearly embraces both female and male; P states this here and even more explicitly later, in Gen 5:2. Translation of the Hebrew term by humankind is intended to preserve the inclusive meaning.

In our image, according to our likeness (v. 26) is an example of hendiadys—two words used to express a single notion. For P image and likeness are not two separate or distinguishable qualities but are seen as interchangeable (cf. v. 27 with 5:1). On the one hand humankind is related to the animal world—created on the same day (1:24-25) or sharing the same blessing of life (1:22, 28)—on the other hand, humans are set above the other creatures (vv. 26-28) and likened to the creator. In the human being nature and spirit intersect.

The assertion of humanity’s dominion over all other living creatures has been misunderstood by some as human arrogance on the part of the Genesis writers and as having provided in later times a justification for humanity’s increasingly destructive behavior toward the earth’s ecology. The assertion that dominion over the creatures has been delegated to humankind is simply descriptive of humanity’s actual and obvious situation in the world. It is scarcely a claim to privilege; rather, it is a sober statement of human responsibility for the world and its life, to be ignored only with peril to the world and humankind alike. Inherent to this perspective is human freedom seen as a responsible instrument for the stewardship of life rather than a license for its exploitation.

The particular placement of male and female in apposition with the image of God (v. 27) suggests that relationships between the sexes are not only a metaphor but also a particular testing ground for the “godlikeness” at the heart of human existence in the world (cf. Trible 1978, 12–23).

Like all language about God, this language is metaphorical. While it points toward God, it does not warrant the conclusion that God contains male and female elements any more than would metaphors for deity elsewhere in the OT warrant the notion that God is part faunal and floral (e.g., Hos 13:8; 14:8).

What v. 27c does suggest is that humans are relational beings, not merely a race of individuals. The imago dei (image of God) applies not to humanity in the abstract but to actual sexual persons, political persons, family persons, artistic persons, craftpersons, good citizens, outlaws, and everyone. Human sin and error do not remove this image but are judged by it.

It cannot be merely coincidental that here (elsewhere in the OT only rarely; cf. Gen 3:22; Isa 6:8) God is represented as speaking in the first person plural: Let us make… in our image, according to our likeness. The language and imagery is that of a divine council in heaven (Ps 82:1; cf. 1 Kgs 22:19-22; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7).

Thus the relational or societal notion of the image of God in human beings is paralleled by another relational metaphor—the deity conceived of in terms of a “celestial society.” The Christian metaphor of the Trinity—“one God in three persons”—is not promulgated in Gen 1:26, but neither is it inconsistent with it.

Bruce T. Dahlberg, “Genesis,” Mercer Commentary on the Bible (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1995), 92.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at MichaelRuffin.com. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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