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Taking the Bible Seriously IV: “Genesis”

Date: 28/08/2016/Speaker: Rev Miak Siew

Slides: available at


Last week Pauline started her sermon asking “when you pick up the Bible, how do you usually make sense of the words that are in it? Do you read it mostly from your perspective, your experience, your vantage point and make sense of God from there? Or do you begin by first understanding God’s perspective and story, and then you see how your story fits into God’s much bigger story and plan?”

She had a wonderful diagram showing that “if we tend to start from just our experiences or stories, our perspective of God can become very limited and skewed. There are bigger arcs of hope, faith, love that can help us gain a deeper perspective about our lives as we see how we are but a small part of the bigger story of God.”

Today as we look at the book of Genesis, we see the story of Israel embedded in that larger picture.

In the Jewish tradition, the first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible – the Torah or the Pentateuch, is named by their opening words. The first Hebrew word in Genesis is Bereshit, “In the Beginning.”

Genesis is about beginnings and/or origins. We can start the story with “in the beginning”, and we can also start it with “Once upon a time”

What is Genesis?

Some people read Gen 1-11 more general and mythical. The stories of creation, the Cain and Abel, of Noah, of the flood, of the tower of Babel appear more allegorical, more myths than actual historic events.

Gen 12-50, the stories of the ancestors of Israel come with more concrete cultural details and therefore appear more “historical,” Yet, there is no evidence outside Genesis to demonstrate that they happened as narrated.

In the introduction to Genesis in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible – Theodore Hiebert writes:”

Although it is not possible to verify the actual events narrated in Genesis from what is now known about ancient Near Eastern history, these stories do reflect the realities of the actual Israelite world in which its authors lived: Its cosmologies, its cultural values, its social structures and customs, its internal and external political relationships, and its religious rituals and beliefs. For the authors, the stories of Genesis describe the origin of these realities of their own worlds. The Yahwist and Elohist is the world of the monarchy of Israel (1000-800BCE) when Israel sought to describe its place and purpose on earth and in the ancient Near East. The world of the Priestly writer is the world of exile and restoration, when Israel sought to reconstruct its life and beliefs (587-500 BCE), though some place P earlier during the monarchy.

Genesis is to address the innate human curiosity about origins. But any account of origins has much more behind it than historical curiosity.

Such accounts, by describing origins, make claims about the basic nature or character of things. By describing the way God brought into being the first plants, the first animals, the first human beings, the relationship between the sexes, the first family, and the earliest ancestors of Israel and of its neighbours, these accounts define the innate nature and character of these realities.

Thus accounts of beginnings do not only explain, they authorize and legitimate the realities brought into being in their narratives. Since things were made this way, things are this way.

Or put it in a simpler way:

How things came to be

How things are

How things should be