Getting into the detail of Genesis 1-4
Of the making of books [on Genesis 1-4] there is much. As I've been wrestling with the text I've found this one particularly helpful – it's C John Collins Genesis 1-4, A linguistic, literary and theological commentary, published by P&R. I like it a lot. It's fairly technical – lots of Hebrew, for example, but still comprehensible to someone who's Hebrew is not much to brag about. There was a recent exchange of views over at Reformation21 about his latest book, Did Adam and Eve really exist? That might have put you off. It needn't. Notwithstanding the merits or otherwise of the review, that's a different book. (I also like very much Collins Science and Faith).
It has to be said, of course, that any commentary on these first few chapters, comes with the author's preconceptions about the nature of creation (days, age etc). There are no unbiased commentaries, in this sense. I don't always find myself agreeing with Collins, but it's testament to this volume that I still have found it immensely helpful. Not so easy to get hold of in UK, but worth searching out.
Men or people?
I have noticed that in our conservative evangelical circles we often refer to humankind generically as “man”. We speak of “God and man” or “man’s deepest problem” and so on. We mean to refer to human beings without restriction of gender. But in our culture the words “man” and “men” no longer refer to human beings in this way. Language has changed its meaning, and as soon as we utter these words, many of our audience begin to wonder why we have excluded the women from what we are about to say.
We gratuitously alienate our hearers, who think we are being chauvinistic when in fact we are just being dated in our use of language.
It is true that there are times when the words “man” and “men” are still necessary, such as in Genesis 1 and 2, where the text plays on the double meaning of “Adam” (the first male human being) and “humankind” in ways that highlight the creational priority of males over females. But these times are relatively few.
Mostly I think we are being thoughtless rather than theological. I have begun encouraging our students at Cornhill to speak of “human beings”, “humankind”, “men and women”, “people”, “a person” and so on. We may feel reluctant to do this, worrying that we are capitulating to political correctness; personally I think we should swallow our misgivings, avoid offending people and communicate to our audience of human beings in ways that men and women understand.
Getting the right answer the wrong way
Does it matter if you get to the right answer the wrong way? I think it does. Let me explain.
This weekend I'm preaching on Genesis 2.4-25. There's a huge amount there, and there's plenty of ink spilled. There are also some very obvious things to say – like, for example, that there are NOT two creation accounts. We know this because Jesus, in Matthew 19.3-5 draws from both in the same breath. However, I got a little stuck on Genesis 4.7
The LORD God…breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
Now, there's some obvious NT work that needs to be done – not least 1 Corinthians 15.45 (where, according to Dick Gaffin, the word "spirit" should be capitalised – only the HCSB does this). But my interest was piqued by the number of popular level commentators who point out, again and again, that Gen 4.7 could be translated, "…became a living soul." This is evidence, so it goes, that mankind is super special and is different from the animal kingdom. He has a soul.
All sounds neat, don't it, Mister? Except that it's exactly the same way the animals are described in chapter 1 (Gen 1.24). And though the land produced the animals, they ultimately got their life from God. But the answer is actually right. We know, reading the creation account (singular) in Gen 1-2 that mankind is special. Moreover we know that to be true just from Gen 2 for other reasons – for example it is only mankind for whom this procedure of giving life is mentioned here. So, it's easy to get to the right answer by the wrong method. And this is why it matters:
- there's no guarantee that you will ever get to the right answer unless you are faithful to the text and use the method. OK, it worked here. But somewhere else, it will not work and you'll end up with the wrong answer
- if this is the kind of thing you need to include in a sermon (and there's no need to particularly) then you will not only be using a wrong approach yourself, but you will be teaching it to others
- in this particular case, the tendency is to elevate a slightly gnostic view of the text (I worked out this clever thing) with a much more basic approach – what does, for example, 1 Cor 15 say about it.
So, yep. The right answer from the right approach is always what we pursue.
Almost as soon as the EMA is finished, we're off to Hothorpe and the summer wives conference begins. This is for wives of ministers in the first few years of ministry. It's normally a sunny, happy, useful time as wives spend time together under God's word and afternoon's relaxing, refreshing and recharging. This year I'm leading three sessions on Numbers (including the amazing women collectively known as Zelophehad's daughters). Carolyn Ash is teaching alongside. We have 8 or 9 senior women to come and assist leading seminars, prayer groups and available for 1-2-1 help. Hothorpe is a great central location with lots of space and comfort. We have a few spaces left, so do think about coming to join us. More information here.
PS sorry if you're trying to book onto the EMA but there is no space left on Wednesday. We have one or two spaces left on Thursday and Friday.
John Dickson at Spring Younger Ministers
We've now got the video up for John Dickson's three talks (each about an hour). Fascinating stuff – and his enthusiasm is infectious…
I shed a tear. You may too.
I'm not ashamed to say that yesterday two things brought a lump to my throat and a little tear to my eye (not a full blown blub, you understand):
- Elections in Egypt. I saw a lady queuing to vote being interviewed on the BBC. "How long have you been waiting?" asked the reporter. Quick as a flash, she replied, "About 30 years." This is a significant moment in Egyptian politics/history and Christians and churches must be praying, not least because the outcome (known in about two weeks) could have significant impact on gospel witness in that historic country. Make sure you are praying this Sunday…
- A newsletter from friends in South Asia. They have gone for 18 months to learn the language and culture so they can minister to the large Diaspora back here in London. They've been gone 8 or 9 months and I miss them. But what brought a tear to my eye is that in this honest newsletter they admitted that they are all (kids too) desperately homesick. They're determined to keep going, but it's hard. Ministry is hard. If you went into ministry thinking otherwise, then you're a fool. We can get seduced by the fact that ministers in this country have been well looked after (relatively speaking) for the last few hundred years. And, praise God, there are still kind and generous donors who make sure ministers are cared for. But it is not the norm around the world, and it is certainly not the spiritual norm anywhere. Ministry is suffering, and if you don't feel it, perhaps you ought to pause and ask yourself, "What, exactly, am I doing wrong…?"
Credo, spaghetti and swords
I always find Credo magazine a stimulating read. And, for the misguided (!) amongst our readership, it doesn't wear its credo-baptist credentials on its sleeve too much. Latest issue is here. I thought Greg Gilbert had some particularly insightful things to say about preaching through Ezekiel:
Get a good handle on the structure of the book. Most Christians tend to think about Old Testament books—especially the prophets—as just a mash-up of various images and poems that aren’t really going anywhere or doing anything as a whole. It’s like a bowl of judgment spaghetti with a few Messianic meatballs thrown in here and there! But that’s a wholly inaccurate view of them. The prophetic books are more like swords than spaghetti. They have a weight, a shape, a point, and a thrust. They’re doing something, and they all have a tight—and sometimes brilliant!—structure to them. Spend the time necessary to drill that structure into your mind, and you’ll have a much better time studying and teaching them because you’ll know where you are in the “argument” or “story” of the book. Second, look for the Messiah! He’s there in every book and in every passage, sometimes even in places you don’t expect him. If you keep in mind the whole story of the Bible and how it all moves like a river toward Jesus, you won’t be so prone to get lost in moralism.
Younger Ministers 2012 -David Cook
David Cook's three sessions on preaching based on Acts were great. The last session, in particular, was gold dust and even if you skip the other two is worth downloading. The audio is online here or you can watch him through the medium of video….
Cornhill Summer School: 2-6 July 2012
Our Cornhill Summer School is filling up. This is a week of learning for anybody involved in teaching the Bible and those who want to learn how to do so. Click here for more information. It's great for students in your church or for those who do occasional preaching or teaching. The school is hosted by Christopher Ash with input from all of us here in the office. All those who come say they leave refreshed, enthused and equipped to teach the Bible to others. Who, in your church, would benefit?
Sorry seems to be the hardest word. Try a little restitution.
Have you noticed how difficult some people find it to say 'sorry'? Take Joey Barton. I know. I must. It was a thrilling end to the Premier League last Sunday – perhaps there's not been anything like it since that great day in 1989 when my team won the title against all the odds. The matches had it all – including a sending off. Joey Barton (for it is he) is a thug. I don't think, legally, I can get into trouble for that. He has, after all, served a jail sentence for assault. Yesterday his team (QPR) did better without him after he was sent off for an elbow to Tevez, a knee in the back for someone else and a head butt on Kompany. Any of those three would have earned him a red card on their own.
His initial response seemed to be indifference. He didn't, he tweeted, give a ****. All that mattered was that QPR stayed up (i.e. were not relegated). The news today is that Joey is a bit more contrite. Here's his response. See if you can see what's wrong with it:
Right, enough about yesterday. I apologise to everyone offended by it. If that's not enough for some, so be it. Life is too short.
This, remember, is an apology. It sure has the word in the sentence. But the second phrase 'everyone offended by it' is a giveaway. Joey's cross he got caught and cross that some people are offended by what he did – implication: he's not. It's no apology, yet it's the way that many people – politicians, sports stars, celebrities, say they're sorry.
It got me thinking about church life. I hope you don't have Joey Bartons in your church, but we're sinners and so we do do things that cause upset. In some ways, it doesn't matter whether we're in the right or the wrong. Our aim is not to please ourselves but serve others. And when we step over the mark, sorry is needed. In fact, delving into OT law (remember that?) we might sometimes need to go further. For the principle there is not just 'sorry' but restitution. Put things right. And then some.
If our covenant communities are going to be real communities we cannot afford to apologise like Joey. Preacher – take the lead.