Time in Genesis 1
September 9, 2019

In a brief discussion of Genesis 1 in his Reading Genesis Well, C. John Collins summarizes the "illocution or rhetorical force" of the passage. What's the author trying to persuade his readers about?

The narrative, he says, "shapes for Israel their vision of the good human life, as participating in a community that aspired to imitate God" (165). It's showing God doesn't create by conflict with some contrary force, like Marduk fighting Tiamat to form the sky (166).

By showing that God creates like a craftsman, the account "leads the audience to admire the work as an achievement" (167).

The text is also a brief for henotheism, if not monotheism. There's no indication whether or not other gods exist, but if they do, they don't have much to do. Elohim is subject of virtually all the verbs in the passage. He's the "actor" who "has all the initiative, and his speech yields its inevitable results from a compliant world." That reinforced God's ownership and lordship over the world (167-8).

Genesis 1, in short, seeks to persuade its readers to honor the living Creator God, and showing how He differs from all pretenders.

All very sound and helpful. But Collins sidelines questions about what the text might tells us about time, or God's relation to it.

He reprises his argument that the days of Genesis 1 are God's workdays, analogous to human workdays (162-3). But analogy isn't identity. Since the literary presentation is "analogical," we cannot be certain whether it carries "implications about what we might call the 'referential sequence'" (165). That is, we can seek to conform our work and rest to God's work and rest without knowing that the literary sequence of days corresponds in time to our sequence of workdays.

He also appeals to the unfinished character of the Sabbath: "since the divine Sabbath does not correspond in length and character to a human Sabbath, we need not concern ourselves with the exact relationship of this work week to a human work week" (163). That's an odd argument. As Collins recognizes, the Sabbath differs from the other days in not having an end-note. So why does the Sabbath then become paradigmatic for the other days, which are marked as ended?

To be fair, Collins has addressed the "days of Genesis 1" issue at length elsewhere. But the questions I want to raise isn't directly solely at Collins. He's only the occasion for it.

One question is: How do we pick and choose which parts of Genesis 1 to take more or less literally and which not? Collins says Genesis 1 depicts God's as a craftsman. Of course that's only an analogy. God's crafting may be like, but it's also very unlike our crafting. So why is "God as craftsman" a piece of theology, when "God did X within the time period of a day" isn't?

A second question follows: Robert Jenson says that "immunity to time" is a virtual definition of deity for ancient religion. One of the most distinctive truths of the Bible is that the living God acts within, and even enters, our time, without becoming a "prisoner" of time or ceasing to be Lord of time.

Given that: If the author of Genesis 1 wants to communicate God's difference from the gods of the nations, shouldn't we expect him to communicate something about God's relation to time? And, given that Genesis contains a variety of temporal terms and indicators, doesn't it seem this is just what he did?

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